Archive for July, 2008

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Solar power brings more land speculation

July 24, 2008

I shouldn’t be surprised to read, in Fortune, that speculators are buying up sites with good potential for solar power generation. The article indicates that these are largely desert areas near major cities of the West, and particularly the Mojave near Los Angeles. Prices have increased from $500 to $10,000 (or more) per acre. Much of the site is government (BLM) land intended as a nature reserve; it’s not (currently) for sale but can be leased (prices not discussed in the article.) Read the rest of this entry ?

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Trip Report: KC Transit

July 20, 2008

My recent trip to Kansas City involved a conference at a hotel which doesn’t have regular bus service, but can be reached by KCATA’s Metroflex. It’s a route-deviation service; you call 24 hours ahead and they drop you off at any point within the area served by the particular route. Unfortunately the Megabus terminal at 3rd and Grand is a distance from the 10th & Main Metroflex hub, but two or three KCATA routes make the connection even until fairly late at night.

Going to the conference hotel worked pretty well and I was dropped off right at the hotel entrance. Returning, the bus didn’t show on time, I called and was told that there was no record of my request but fortunately the bus was nearby and would be diverted. True enough, except that it drove around the hotel and didn’t come to the entrance. I ran after it, with luggage, managed to flag it down. Turns out that the small buses go to the hotel, but the big buses have to stay on the public street. I suppose locals learn to deal with this, just as Chicagoans learn that some of the announcements on the ‘L’ are incorrect because the operator pushed the wrong button, or the right button the wrong number of times, or was required to push the button even if it makes no sense.

Connecting back from Metroflex to Megabus, I got a brief ride on their version of BRT, known as MAX. Actually I had some trouble finding the Max stop, but downtown KC has lots of friendly homeless people and one of them showed me the way. The Max bus itself is something I’ve never seen, with low-floor bowling-alley seating on the right side and forward-facing seats on a raised platform on the left side of the bus.

KCATA doesn’t publish a system map, nor do they display one on their web site, but they were happy to mail me a more or less complete set of hardcopy schedules. Each schedule contains a map for that route, so it was possible to piece together how to get where I needed to go.

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Trip Report: St. Louis MetroLink

July 20, 2008

On my way home from Kansas City I stopped overnight in St. Louis, mainly because MetroLink has built two extensions since I was last there. Stayed at the Drury Hotel near Union Station, very nice conversion of the old railroad YMCA. All hotels in downtown St. Louis seem expensive, but at least this one is a very comfortable place with helpful staff, a fine breakfast, and good usable Internet computer in the lobby.

Metrolink is really nice as a railfan experience and as a transit service. On my trips trains were always fast, always pretty much on time, rode well, never excessively crowded. One shortcoming is the noise level, which isn’t much less than Chicago’s ‘L’. The high level of “security,” mainly Securitas contract guards, made me very uncomfortable. Securitas staff even handled the one fare-check that I experienced, so I suppose they are able to issue fines or summonses. There were also some uniformed Metro “public safety” staff.

Everybody was very friendly, except one Securitas guy who decided that I could not take a picture of a Union Pacific train while standing on a MetroLink platform.

It is curious that MetroLink has a long extension into Illinois, all the way to Scott Air Force Base. Much of this distance is thru rural areas, there’s apparently not much ridership, presumably there’s a political story to why it was built. But going there is great as a railfan experience, 55 mph thru woods and over creeks, few stations to interrupt the pace.

Took a walk thru downtown St. Louis. There doesn’t seem to be much commerce there anymore, just a lot of old buildings being converted to residential, and some government offices. MetroLink does go to Clayton, a major suburban office center, where there is a public washroom at the bus terminal. To a Chicagoan, this is an impressive amenity.

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Trip Report: Megabus

July 20, 2008

Took Megabus to Kansas City last week (July 8). Buses now load at the curb on Canal just south of Union Station, an open sidewalk with no weather protection. Megabus does have an agent who checks tickets in advance so buses can load relatively fast. We took off about 15 minutes late, bus about 70% full, everything fine. Just before St. Louis, the A/C failed. Driver dropped us off at Union Station and drove away, assuring us that the bus would return with a relief driver. About 30 minutes later that actually happened. On to Kansas City, we paused at a truck stop to try to fix the AC but the only result was to put us an hour behind schedule. On arrival in KC, there was a crowd waiting to board for an immediate departure back to St. Louis.

Returning July 13, we had one of the new Van Hool double deckers. Pretty nice bus in many respects, but the seats are a bit cramped. Also, there are no overhead luggage racks on either level, just the baggage compartment behind the passenger area. And it seemed we had a bit of trouble maintaining speed up hills. But at least the AC worked fine. The bus was perhaps 60% full. I got off at St. Louis, where quite a crowd was waiting to board for Chicago.

I could have taken Amtrak for almost the same fare, but chose Megabus because Amtrak’s StL-KC trains have such a poor on-time record. As it happens, a colleague who took Amtrak said they were only a little late.

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Land rent is for fighting over

July 7, 2008

One problem with private collection of land rent is that people spend their energy fighting over it rather than doing anything productive.  Today’s Tribune carries an example.  In the 1950s, some 400 Chicagoans started an agricultural community near downstate Ullin, 350 miles away.  It prospered for a while, but after the founder’s death in 1978, a schism developed.

The struggle and the lawsuits that followed, members now concede, wasn’t so much about the group’s name, but power, control and money. And there was lots of money.

Over the years, as the Israelite Bible Class had farmed less and less, the group had leased land to local, non-member farmers, a business that generated thousands of dollars of annual revenue.

Also, the farm itself, on the banks of the scenic Cache River, had considerably increased in value since the group purchased it in the mid-1950s, after forming a not-for-profit corporation in 1953.

Today the central court case over ownership, which has been appealed repeatedly, remains active, although after more than 30 years of litigation no one seems too inclined to push it any further.

The issue of rent and land value could not have arisen if the rent were not privatized.

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Lava Lamps patent-free too?

July 1, 2008

A sidebar in today’s Chicago Tribune certainly implies that, like Coca-Cola, lava lamps are manufactured without patent protection, but as a trade secret.  Invented in 1963, the lava lamp’s patent would long since have expired (tho lawyers seem to know ways to effectively extend such things).

btw, the manufacturer says it isn’t officially called a “lava lamp,” but rather a “Lava brand motion lamp.”

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Renegade Economists on broadcast and pod

July 1, 2008

Melbourne radio 3CR’s weekly Renegade Economists show is now available by podcast.  To my knowledge this is the first podcasting, and the only current radio broadcasting, by any Georgists.

Main presenters Karl Fitzgerald and Alice Bleby are associated with Earthsharing Australia, whose numerous activities now include a filmmaking competition.