Saturday, 17 September 2011

09:09 – The video of the Reno air race crash was up on YouTube shortly after it happened. Reading the article in the paper this morning, I was surprised to see that the pilot was 74 years old. Now, at 58 years old myself, I’m certainly no ageist, but it strikes me as insane to allow a 74-year-old man to fly a high-performance aircraft in close proximity to crowds of people on the ground, if indeed it can be considered sane to allow anyone to do so. As the paper described the race, there were aircraft flying wingtip-to-wingtip 50 feet (15 meters) off the ground at speeds exceeding 500 mph (800 kph). From the video, that wasn’t taking place when the crash occurred, but even so. Current speculation is that the crash was caused by mechanical problems rather than pilot error, but again, even so. We may never know if reaction time was a factor, or if a pilot 40 or 50 years younger might have avoided hitting the spectators. Maybe not. Maybe no pilot could have avoided those spectators, but again, even so.

When I saw the news headlines the other day–“US Postal Service proposes to end overnight delivery”–and so on, I assumed they were talking about Express Mail. They weren’t. They were talking about reducing the first-class mail service standards. As things stand, local mail is delivered the next business day, with “local” having a pretty broad definition. For example, we have one-day service between us and Greensboro–30 miles away–but also to and from Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill (~90 miles), and usually Atlanta (~250 miles) and Washington DC (~350 miles).

Now, the USPS would like to eliminate that service level, changing first-class standards from 1-3 day to 2-3 day. That would apparently allow them to shut down a pretty large number of distribution centers, cut their staff by about 35,000 employees, and greatly reduce evening overtime work. I’m in favor of all that, but it must be said that it will significantly impact those of us who get discs from Netflix. As things stand, we along with most of the country have one-day service both directions. If I receive a disc on Monday and return it Tuesday, Netflix logs it in on Wednesday and sends me another disc to arrive Thursday. I return that disc Friday, they log it in on Saturday and ship the replacement disc to arrive the following Monday. Going from one-day to two-day service doubles the transit times and cuts the number of discs one can get on any given plan significantly. Of course, Netflix will be delighted by this if it comes to pass, since it’ll cut postage costs way down for frequent renters. On balance, I’m still in favor. As Barbara said, so what? I just bumped our plan from $16/month for one disc at a time to $20/month for two at a time. Worst case, I’ll bump it to $24 for three at a time.

09:45 – I see that CNN and Money Magazine have ranked Winston-Salem #6 among the 25 best places to retire. The image in the article is of a street in Old Salem, with some of the taller buildings in the city center visible on the skyline. Although the article says that we’ve had a cultural renaissance, that’s actually nothing new here. Winston-Salem has been known for decades as the city of the arts. The crowning jewel is the North Carolina School of the Arts which, along with New York City’s Julliard and Tisch, is on nearly everyone’s list of the top three arts schools in the nation, and by no means always as #3.

The article lists state income tax as a factor but ignores property taxes, which are low in Winston-Salem (and, generally, in North Carolina). When Barbara and I considered moving to New Hampshire, which has no state income tax, we were surprised to find that a house similar to our own, on which we were paying something like $2,000/year in property taxes, might have property taxes literally five to ten times that much.