The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Lavra

No one should visit Kyiv without seeing the Kievo-Percherska Lavra (Києво-Печерська лавра), the Monestery of the Caves, founded in 1015:

We didn't go into the caves (and I couldn't have photographed them anyway), but we did explore the grounds. (For what it's worth, Lonely Planet recommends getting there early and going straight to the caves. Next time.)

Complete view of the main entrance to the upper Lavra:

Dormition Cathedral:

Progress in transportation

Tom Vanderbilt on Slate points out that U.S. rail travel was better in the Harding administration than it is today:

[T]he most striking aspect of [1940s train timetables] is found in the tiny agate columns of arrivals and destinations. It is here that one sees the wheels of progress actually running backward. The...Montreal Limited, for example, circa 1942, would pull out of New York's Grand Central Station at 11:15 p.m., arriving at Montreal's (now defunct) Windsor Station at 8:25 a.m., a little more than nine hours later. To make that journey today, from New York's Penn Station on the Adirondack, requires a nearly 12-hour ride. The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis via the Olympian Hiawatha in the 1950s took about four and a half hours; today, via Amtrak's Empire Builder, the journey is more than eight hours. Going from Brattleboro, Vt., to New York City on the Boston and Maine Railroad's Washingtonian took less than five hours in 1938; today, Amtrak's Vermonter (the only option) takes six hours—if it's on time, which it isn't, nearly 75 percent of the time.

What happened? I put the question to James McCommons, author of the forthcoming book Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service. As with most historical declines, there is no single culprit but rather a complex set of conditions.

In sum, cars, trailer trucks, and airplanes happened. On the other hand, as Vanderbilt mentions, other countries seem to manage. The Madrid to Barcelona train in Spain (which travels mainly on the plain) gets passengers between the cities quickly enough to compete seriously with air travel. Imagine if the Acela went near its top speed from Washington to New York, and got people to Penn Station in under two hours. Do you think the Delta Shuttle would have problems competing against that?

Interesting article.

Overlapping architectural eras

I had the good fortune to stay with friends in an apartment building constructed only in the last few years. Much of the housing stock in Kyiv reaches back to Soviet times, showing individuality only by varying levels of maintenance performed by each owner. Fortunately, many of these apartment buildings have given way to newer ones. They're still...how does one say?...ugly:

In one of the oldest section of the city, Podil, the mix of pre-Soviet buildings and modern advertising looks a lot more like Western Europe. Here's a view of vul Petra Sahaydachnoho from a cafe near Poshtova Square:

St. Michael's

I found myself distracted today by 22°C sunny weather and a 3-hour client meeting. Moving on: more photos from Kyiv, of St. Michael's monastery (Михайлівський золотоверхий монастир):

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Incidentally, you have to be this tall to go on this ride:

(Yes, it's cliché, but sometimes the classics are best.)

Post-trip catching up

After returning home yesterday evening, I'm now caught up on my email (including the 2,400 server status messages and 4,400 spams caught by my filter, my sleep, and Parker's walks. Now I'm going through the several hundred photos I took, so watch for those over the next few days.

But where, in fact, did I go? Ah. That's still a mystery. But here's a clue: this photo, from last Thursday morning's approach to the first airport I saw that day, shows an eyeful—including the spot where thousands of trains have met their Waterloo:

More, I hope, later today.

High-speed rail corridor in Illinois? Define "high-speed"

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a Tribune article about how the U.S. lags the rest of the industrialized world in rail technology. The Economist this week continues the discussion:

There are reasons, however, to be cautious. First, the cost of any one project far exceeds the money available. California, which has the most advanced plan, would connect the state's biggest cities with trains running at more than 200mph. In November Californians approved $9.95 billion of bonds for the project. On top of this, officials hope to get $12 billion-16 billion from Washington. The plan is expected to cost $40 billion in all. But the stimulus contains only $8 billion for the whole country.

Second, many plans would make trains high-speed only in a relative sense. Proposals that are cheaper than California’s are also much slower. A plan for the Chicago-St Louis line, for example, would speed up trains from 79mph to only 110mph. Multiple road crossings require trains to move more slowly than in Europe. Adding to the problem, most passenger trains run on track owned by freight railways. Congestion makes service less reliable.

I'm actually sad to see $2 gasoline again, because I think a couple years of gas prices around $4 (or even $9, like in Europe) would finally give us a decent rail system. So the next time I fly to London I'll take solace in the Heathrow Express when I get there, and try to forget about the Blue Line that brought me to O'Hare. (Though, in fairness to the CTA, in the past two years they have cut the trip from the Loop to O'Hare from an hour and a quarter down to 40 minutes.)

Beginning of Quarter Round-up

All of these are true, and all of these are appropriate for April Fool's day:

  • Punzun Ltd., my software firm, proudly announced record earnings yesterday, earning a net profit of $0 on $0 of gross revenue and ($0) expenses (all figures in millions). It's the best quarter we've ever had, 11% better than our last record in 4th quarter 2004.
  • Mark Morford, on GM's "recovery:" "Behold this weird new Camaro. It is, in sum, exactly the wrong car at exactly the wrong time with exactly the wrong attitude attached to exactly the wrong hopeless hope for a return to a rather crude automotive golden era that never really existed in the first place."
  • The Justice Department is halting its prosecution against former U.S. Senator Stevens (R-AK), figuring he's suffered enough. This, you remember, comes after the conviction. Yes, it's April Fool's day, but no, this isn't a prank.
  • Congress is set to repeal the ban on travel to Cuba. The loudest opposition came from U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who said the measure would prop up the Castro regime, though one expects not for any longer than the Castro brothers' walkers would, given they're both in their 80s.

Finally, the creaking, old Weather Now demo project is getting an injection of mojo. I'll have more when I release it for real, but meanwhile you can check out the Beta version. (It's actually a ground-up re-write, even though it looks the same. Really. It's cool.)