Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 Movie Recommendations

My girlfriend and I are movie fanatics. We watch around 15-25 movies every month, most of them through Netflix. I am a notoriously tough grader of movies. I only give out a handful of 5's a year, so I think that the group is pretty interesting to recap. In reverse chronological order of when I saw them:
  • Edge of Darkness, a Mel Gibson cop thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration
  • The Secrets in Their Eyes, a crime story investigating a cold rape/murder case that effectively weaves in a storyline of old love. An exceptionally well done movie that won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.
  • City Island - Andy Garcia, Juliana Margulies, and Alan Arkin all star in this movie about a family who come to grips with their secrets that they keep from each other.
  • Whip It, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut. It's not just another Ellen Page coming-of age story. It's witty, funny, and downright good. I wasn't expecting much so I just got blown away.
  • The Fog of War, a documentary about Robert McNamara that makes you question what you really know or feel about the former Secretary of Defense. In some ways, a man so powerful became just a cog in the wheels of government - I wouldn't full abdicate his complicity in Vietnam but I would definitely refrain from calling him a warmonger after watching this film.
  • Tetro, a story about two brothers who reunite after many years apart. It's not a movie with a plot that is very engaging, but this Francis Ford Coppola movie definitely is.
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a fantastic kid comedy. You can absolutely tell that the SNL writers had their hands in the storyboards which absolutely adds to the movie's value. And
  • Will Ferrell: You're Welcome America, hilarious 90-minute video cut from an even longer stand-up routine Will Ferrell performed in NY to close out his 8-year run as the premier George W. Bush impersonator.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Haiku - Repo 105

Today, the repo 105 was back in the news with the indictment of Lehman auditors Ernst & Young for its complicity in the largest bankrupty in US history.

Leverage too high?
Bring down with window dressing -
repo 105.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fix the damned DC Metro system

This week's commute built up and led to a "Network" moment - "damnit I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" so I wrote out my plan to fix the Metro system. In the interest of full disclosure I am a purely Metro train rider (commute from Takoma to McPherson Square) so my ideas are biased towards that part of the system. Though I have tried to include complaints I've heard of the bus system from sources like UnsuckDCMetro.

Here is my three pronged plan:

1. Client satisfaction

a. Make the performance at peak, weekday hours the Metro’s highest priority.

i. The goal should be one train every five minutes while “peak of the peak” charges are in effect, one train every ten minutes at other times.

ii. No customer should have to wait more than twenty minutes for a train at any station throughout the system.

b. Either reduce the fares or increase the service to the outlier stations (i.e. past Silver Spring or Grosvenor on the red line). The injustices committed to these mainstays of the Metro system are a travesty.

c. Turn on the computer systems.

i. Air brakes have made passengers sick and some customers have left the system as a result.

ii. A year and a half is long enough for the safety studies to be complete and upgrades to the software made. Let’s get our trains moving more efficiently and less like a wild amusement ride.

d. Upgrade turnstiles – the software AND the hardware.

i. NYC had a major push to reduce the ability to steal from their subway – this could reduce crime inside the Metro and make it safer for clients.

e. Improve our appearance

i. No more broken tiles or cordoned off shelters

ii. Revisit the engineering to our dark and dreary stations (Gallery Place and Metro Center). As ambassadors for our nation’s entire public transportation system these should be shining beacons of light that make domestic visitors proud and international visitors jealous.

f. Pause the silver and purple line expansions

i. We need to stabilize the existing system before making large capital expenditures on additional infrastructure

2. Financial

a. Immediately sell off 20% of non-revenue generating trucks, spare parts, and other idle equipment. Look for more to cut.

b. Immediately lay off 5% of the workforce. Keep an option to lay off an additional 5%.

c. Start the capital planning for the addition of a third rail to the system’s lines like in New York City. “Single tracking” is one of the largest complaints and a big inefficient drain on the city’s productivity when they occur.

d. Reduce fare complexity even if the changes are not revenue-neutral. Fare mapping is a waste of the customer’s time.

e. Increased transparency of the budgeting process

i. Resources should fairly match its source. For example, Vienna should have a great station.

3. Employment

a. Institute ghost shoppers – the result of their quarterly feedback forms the basis for a station manager’s pay raise or annual bonus.

b. Repeal the “bid system” for escalator maintenance. Make the people responsible for the escalators accountable. But provide them with the support they need to be successful.

c. Two strike system for sleeping/texting/reckless driving on duty – a warning and a termination. No more suspension with pay for violating rules.

d. Don’t cave to the unions.

i. There are plenty of people who both deserve and are in need of jobs. Bring on the scabs.

UPDATE 1 on 12/20/10: Addition under 2.f. More advertising revenue/corporate sponsorships. I am positive that Metro riders could deal with more billboards and skinned railcars or with the name "Citigroup L'Enfant Station" if the advertising and sponsorship revenue went towards: lower fares or structural improvements.