Thursday, December 27, 2007

Summing up Christmas 2007

The Family and friends have been thoroughly briefed and updated, delicious feasts that have not been seen in months have been consumed, Presents and cookies that were wrapped and prepared with care have all been opened and consumed.

Even though the Economy and Media would tell us differently, The Wambach family (like most American Families) enjoyed a very bountiful Christmas and received a majority of the gifts that were on their lists.

Franky J got his new 80 GB Ipod, a major upgrade from his second generation Ipod; my mother received a new Ipod Nano as well as a Digital Camera of her own: The Canon Powershot SD870IS. She will have fun mastering it and taking pictures while on-campus. And my grandmother Marie, joined the 21st Century by receiving a cell-phone. It will take her a little bit to get used to it, but she will get the hang of it. Franky J’s present to all the Family Members was quite impressive, a photo calendar from Flickr of the Frank’s adventure in Glacier. I got my father the new Senseo one touch coffee maker, simply because I will more than likely use it as much as he does. A major gift of the Holiday this year was coffee. My brother gave my folks coffee from Tilly’s Bean in S. Minneapolis, while I gave my Aunt Andrea and her Husband Andrew three of Peace Coffee’s most popular blends (MPR, Twin Cities, and Medium Sumatran). Our house has been enjoying the Peace Coffee as well this winter.

I too received a majority of the items on my list. An item a look forward to diving into was the AIA Guide to the Twin Cities by Larry Millet ; one of my favorite urban historians, that I got from my Aunt Andrea while her Husband Andrew gave me Battlestar Galactica: Razor on DVD. I also gave a gift to myself this year with the first component of the new computer I am building (after the Beast decided to knock my graphics card out of commission): The Antec Sonata III Black 0.8mm cold rolled steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 500W Power Supply.

I found a great deal @ and had the fortune of having it delivered on Christmas Eve. Now I must watch the deal sites for prices to drop on the other crucial components: Processor, Motherboard, Memory, Graphics Card, Hard Drive, and possibly a new DVD-R drive. Franky J gave me The Orange Box: Half Life – 2, Episode 1, and Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2; I look forward to playing this and other killer apps once the project is complete.

But the most surprising present was from my folks, they gave me money: Money to put towards a new camera, computer, GPS device, or whatever else I need. For a long time I have thought about breaking into the DSLR market with either a Canon Digital Rebel XTI or the Nikon D40X; both are similarly equipped and priced starting now in the low $600 range. However, I am hesitant to make that plunge when a camera that is a step below the DSLR’s such as the Canon S3IS or the Canon S5IS both very well equipped but would be a much improvement over my existing point and shoot.

So, now comes the hard part of researching, reading reviews, and venturing out into the world of consumer electronics to find what I am seeking. Wish me luck, and I hope everyone in the blogosphere had a wonderful Christmas and is looking forward to a great 08.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Holiday's are upon us once again!

Funny how I always intend to update this blog, yet I never find enough time. I can't count the sheer number of times that I have started a blog post with that sentence. Hmmm. Anyway, thanksgiving has come and passed and now we are in the full on rush towards Christmas. What I find really amazing is that it has been a years since my return from my study abroad in Norway, and 6-months since I graduated from the University of Minnesota.
Onto the topic of this days post:

Andrew's Christmas List for 2007
  • Timex Men's Ironman Triathlon 42 Lap Combo Dual Tech Watch #T56371. Available at Great for work, casual, and dress up
  • Antec Sonata III Black 0.8mm cold rolled steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 500W Power Supply. Look for deals on this case as Christmas approaches on or
  • Socks – Casual, Dress, and Work
  • Work Clothes – Carhart etc. for working in the truck and outdoors
  • Wood Splitting Axe or Maul with a Friberglass handle for the Lake
  • Red Wing Boots or steel toed
  • Pajama Bottoms – Nice ones
  • Gift Cards: Target, Amazon, Express, REI
  • Thundercats DVD’s: Season 1 Volume 2, Season 2 Volumes 1 & 2
  • Animaniacs Volume 3 DVD
  • Canon Digital Rebel XTi 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens or The Nixon D40X, Your choice based on price.
  • Wood-working lessons with Dad
Updated Items Decmber 7th, 2007
  • Accesories for IPod Nano: Griffin Technologies Tune Buds in Silver or Black, and the Griffin technologies Itrip for Nano or Ipod Road Trip (this includes the Itrip as well as car charger w/dock connection for Ipod and Ipod Nano's). Both of these products can be found on my Amazon list as well, but prices may differ at major electronic retailers.
  • Coffee. Ground or whole bean. Would like Coffee from Espresso Royale in Dinkytown either their Hennepin Blend or if they have a good holiday blend would be nice for all of us to enjoy over the holidays.
  • REI Tree Print Beanie

Other items as well as these listed above can be viewed at my Amazon Wishlist
My Wish List

My Brother's list can be seen here: Franky J's Christmas List

Kristen (the GF) is getting set for the Holidays as well, seeking things for her new apartment in South Minneapolis as well as work clothing for her new job as an HR rep at Metro Dental Care. She has the best list so far this holiday season.

I know I talked about this last year, more and more it is becoming harder to know what to ask for, when the gifts bcome more expensive and less "needs" and more wants. However, this year I "need" a lot of things, but also have a good mix of wants. We'll see how the holidays unroll, and hopefully I can get my brother to write a post about Friends Thanksgiving that happened a couple weeks ago.

I close this post on a important note, the Twin Cities and Minnesota recieved its firts signifigant snow fall of the year, not bad right? Well for a lot of motorists the mix of icy roads with blowing snow lead to cars in the ditch, and minor accidents. My Dad and I were on our way home today from spending 2 nights and a day at the Cabin; we were 12 miles from home when the 96 Explorer hit a rough patch of ice and spun-out on East bound Highway 10; smashing us into the Concrete Median. Thankfully, niether my Father nor myself was seriously injured or did we hit another vehicle. We think the Explorer is totaled. It was quite an innconvenience, and now the folks have to start car-shopping for a replacement vehicle. (UPDATE) We've been looking at the car listings, and my Dad has test drove several already; the folks have liked the Ford Escape and the Ford Fusion.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back in My Element

This week I attended a Transportation field hearing at the Anoka County Court House. I was asked to attend and prepare testimony before the committee by Transit for Liveable Communities. I was impressed with the large turnout and the number of proffessionals working on transportation in the Northwest Metro who provided some great testimony on the state of our infrastructure, systems and sources of funding road and transit improvements, and where improvements need to be made.

Here is the statement that I prepared, and for time constraints limited to two paragraphs:

Transportation hearing Anoka County

I am a resident of Brooklyn Park – like most of the residents of the Northwestern suburbs I work in Minneapolis. Sometimes I drive and sometimes I take the 766 Metro Transit bus from the Noble Park and Ride. Either mode, it takes me an average of 45 minutes to an hour to travel 15 miles.

We need improvements in both roads and transit to reduce travel times, improve efficiency, and ensure the safety of our transportation system.

Better roads and transit will require setting priorities and finding revenue sources. In the Northwest Metro we now await the day that the Northstar Commuter rail line stops in our communities and eases many of our commutes. This is a major victory for transportation in Minnesota and the Northwest Suburbs. However, there is still more to be done. The completion of Highway 610, fixing the Devil’s Triangle (Intersection of 85th Ave, Highway 169, and CR-81), and the establishment of a dedicated transitway in the form of Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail Transit for CR-81. And we need an improved North South road, a 252 without stoplights or an improved highway 10. We should push to keep these projects a priority in Minnesota.

To help keep these projects a priority, reliable sources of funding will be required in addition to the MVST amendment. A gas tax increase would help fund roads and brides (as constitutionally stated) while a regional sales tax could possibly be levied for transit improvements as has been successfully demonstrated in other similar sized Metropolitan Areas.

The issue of transportation affects everyone in Minnesota. We need Bipartisan efforts based on reality and a comprehensive vision for the future.

Before my Testimony, a representative from Ramsey stated that more leadership was needed from the committee. Representative Hortmann (DFL 47B my District) responded that the DFL majority and the committee are willing to negotiate and compromise, however, the Governor has to participate as well.

In the beginning of my testimony I thanked the committee for their hard work and leadership and stated that we have great leadership and representation from the local and county levels in state government and that the State is lacking in its leadership, that the real person who should be at these field hearings is Governor Pot-Hole Pawlenty himself.

It felt good to be surrounded with citizens and proffessionals who are passionate and concerned about the future of our state and region in regards to transportation and the affect it has on quality of life and economic and social vitality for the Midwest.

Since graduating from College in the Spring and looking and finding employment I haven't been able to enjoy reading up and emmersing myself in Transportation, particullary HSR. I have been continueing to follow the CA HSR plans and press releases. Although, one can argue that more exciting things are happening here with State government and the DFL's calling for the removal of Carole Molnaue as the head of MNDOT; it will be interesting to see how this is resolved.

Gophers play Ohio State this evenning, we will see if the weather holds. Right now, Purdue is kicking the snot out of Norte Dame 23-0 at the half. Gophers will more than likely get slaughtered, but it still should be a fun (if not infuriating) game to watch. Been meaning to write about the new job, and I think I will try and get some pictures of our store and talk about my posiition and the awesome new truck we recieved last week.

Until next post,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

When the professionals are kicked out of Government…

…The results can be tragic.

I have not written in a while, and I have not posted my own photographs of the site because I have not been there to document it. Personally, I didn’t feel the urge to rush down to the river crossing (at the time of the collapse I was at my cabin in Northern Minnesota with my mom and Kristen) and take photographs while first responders and survivors risked their lives to get as many people out of harms way. In fact, a part of me is ashamed of all the people who flocked to the bridges, or to buildings with the best views for glimpses of the tragedy; at the Riverfront Guthrie in DT Minneapolis, staff began asking people if they had tickets for the evening performances, it was getting that crowded in the many observation decks and viewing areas of the theater. It was as if on-lookers were trying to become the next National Geographic photographers and the assignment was to document a catastrophe in your local community. I cheered when I read that two photographers were arrested by Minneapolis police for jumping security fences. I am sure that if one were to check Flickr by searching I-35W Bridge collapse, they would find close to 1,000 pictures. /End of Rant.

I have not written for a while for a number of reasons: In my last post I had a job with the City of Minneapolis and that job has since come to a close in Late July/Early August and I have been spending the last few weeks job hunting for the fall. On July 15th, my Grandfather Wallace J. Wambach passed away unexpectedly at the age of 82 from a heart attack. My brother, has a great post about one of the many memories with “Umpa”. I have been slow in deciding what to write about for my memory of my Grandfather, recently we had been chastising each other about the condition of the Cabin’s sanitary septic system and that I should be the one to inspect it.
I have been spending as much time as I can with the KU, who at the time is also applying for jobs. So far this summer we have been rollerblading quite a bit at the Three Rivers Park Recreation area (also known as Elm Creek Park), Kristen has been brushing up on her tennis skills in an attempt to teach me, and enjoying some of the mid-summer blockbusters including Transformers (my favorite), Harry Potter: The order of the Phoenix; but more on that in another post.

Onto the topic of the post:

While the reasons behind the I-35W Bridge collapse are still to be determined by the NTSB, and perhaps will be for some time, the blame and finger pointing is in full swing. I can’t believe the sheer number of cries from Anti-Tax citizens taking shots at Light Rail and Mass Transit projects as the number one culprit in this disaster. This is particularly interesting, considering that LRT and Mass Transit often REDUCE the number of cars on the road by providing ALTERNATIVES for those to get to and from their destinations.

However, the problem that plagues American government has persisted since the Republican take-over of the early to mid 80’s; when Moderate/Conservative Republicans made alliances with powerful Anti-Tax/Anti-Government entities (namely those who would lead the Neo-Conservative Republican Hi-jacking of the party) and removed professionals from many of the large departments in State and Federal governments. These professionals were replaced with Political appointees to enforce the agenda of the sitting administrations.

Recently the Star Tribune published a great editorial describing this very problem.

Another Bridge, a different outcome
August 22nd, 2007
Braun, a professional civil engineer, headed the Minnesota Department of Transportation from 1979 to 1986, serving Republican Gov. Al Quie and DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich. In 1982, he said, he saw corroded steel plates at the Smith Av. High Bridge, and heard the same thing from inspectors he'd heard for three or four years running: "There is oxidation on the plates, but it is no worse than last year."I just decided by myself that I was going to close the bridge," he recalled. The decision came out of the blue. "At that time, we had no funds programmed for the bridge; it was not on any priority list."
Nevertheless, the decision stuck. The old bridge was closed and a new bridge was built in its place. "Do what you think is right," was how Braun remembers the response of Quie, his boss, in the face of opposition by business owners adversely affected by the closure. "Quie was an absolute straight arrow," he said.
The shutdown began on a Tuesday. "A reporter asked me how the bridge could be safe on Monday but not safe on Tuesday," Braun related. "A good question. I responded that I could not predict when the bridge could fall down. It could be this afternoon, next month, next year, five years from now or never, but I was closing it on Tuesday. ...

But Braun exemplified other desirable traits in a transportation leader. He was an engineer, able to question inspectors and analyze data as only a professional can. He was decisive, and had earned the trust of the governor who backed his decision. And he was courageous. When a lawsuit was threatened over the High Bridge closure, he said in effect, "bring it on." A judge who ordered the bridge kept open would be shouldering the responsibility he bore as commissioner, and "I could sleep a lot better at night," he said. No lawsuit ensued.
None of Braun's successors at MnDOT's helm have had civil-engineering backgrounds. (Today, none of the department's three top leaders is a civil engineer.)

Star Tribune Editorial Board
Copyright 2007 Star Tribune.

August has been a very tragic and trying Month for the officials and citizens of Minnesota: to paraphrase Don Shelby of WCCO TV; we have endured draught, a bridge collapse, and now damaging floods in the South East of the state. With luck, these tragedies will lead to a galvanizing movement to fully invest in America’s declining Infrastructure.

I should also note, that the State of Minnesota should consider itself lucky that there were only minor casualties (13 confirmed as of August 21st, 2007) though many would argue that this tragedy should have never occured in the first place. It could have been far worse, and the low number reflects the excellent first responders and citizens this state has.

I have always been, and will continue to be proud of being from Minnesota.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Marty Seifert’s (R-Marshall) Top 5 “other places to get money before taxes”

From Todays Minneapolis Star Tribune: Gas-tax shift poses plenty of pitfalls; Representative Marty Seifert was mentioned near the closing of the article:
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, who labored to hold his tiny caucus together against a gas- tax increase last session, maintained Tuesday that "there are other places to get money before taxes."
In response to that statement, here is our short list of alternative revenue sources; enjoy.

5. Replace the bridge bake sale

4. Republican Talent Show…oh wait nevermind

3. Tolls on ALL Minnesota Bridges…It’s a fee, in keeping with Pothole Pawlenty

2. Carol Molnau Dunk Tank at the Minnesota State Fair

…and the Number 1 “other places to get money before taxes” for Minnesota’s Transportation crisis is....

1. Naming rights for the I-35W bridge.

You can create your own list at home for alternatives sources of revenue and send them to Marty Seifert c/o and your state representatives.

Update: August 9th, 2007

Other great ideas that we have had submitted to us:

"Win a date with Norm Coleman!" silent auction. His wife could take the photos.

Raffle tickets to the governors fishing trip

and lastly

"Bridge Rememberance Christmas Wreath" And in an especially sentimental touch, $35 for each one

Sunday, May 20, 2007


First things first...I had my commencement from the University of Minnesota Sunday May 11th at CLA's morning ceremony. To quote my girlfriend Kristen, who has worked for the graduate school for a number of years, "Commencement does not equal graduation" and I am now one of several thousand University of Minnesota graduates eagerly awaiting my diploma. Kristen, who graduated from CEHD in Family Social Science, had her commencement earlier in the week. I finished out my final semester with a B average, and was pleased with a B- in Financial Accounting and a passing grade in German 1001 having opted to take the class pass/fail in hopes of learning the language a bit before making a return trip to Europe with Kristen sometime in the near future.
To celebrate, we had some of the family over for Burgers and Cake. Sunday was also Mother's Day, and my mother got a neat present: the Yankee Flipper Bird Feeder. My folks have been battling the squirrels in the backyard, and the flipper is designed to support the weight of birds, however, when a squirrel lands upon the bar, a motor turns on and begins to spin the platform tossing the squirrel off of the feeder.

The second major update is...I got a Job. Tomorrow, Monday May 21st, I start my 4 month paid internship with the City of Minneapolis as a Code Enforcement Field Inspector. I found out a number of weeks ago after filling out several applications, attending interviews, and finally receiving a call that I was offered the job. I am very excited and hope this will lead to other opportunities possibly in the city of Minneapolis or the region.

I have uploaded some new pictures on facebook and on flickr. Kristen and I made our first trip up to Tulaby Lake for the summer and saw all of the work my Dad and Mom have done; replacing the back-bedroom ceiling plaster with wooden panels, painting the walls to add more light, and put in Pergo laminate flooring. The wood flooring replaces the aging carpet and we hope to continue it into the other bedrooms and main hallway before tackling the coming remodel of the Cabin Kitchen. I hope to write a dedicated post with photos to the work that my folks have done with the improvements, as soon as I can grab the photos from my Dad's .Mac Homepage or off of his MacBook at home.

More to come as the summer progresses, I have a couple of topics that I have been meaning to write about bouncing around in my head: What I would do with $120,000 dollars (no saving or investing just straight spending), Green Building and Tax Increment Financing, and whatever else comes into my head.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A few sections from the Thesis

A day away from graduation and completion of my Undergraduate career from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. I turned this baby in two weeks ago, but have wanted to put up some sections ever since I started, so without further delay, here are a few pieces of the long awaited thesis.


The Need for High-speed rail in the Midwest

Between January 2005 and January 2006, the federal Department of Transportation recorded 9,805 flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago (ORD), a distance of 334 miles (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2007). While air and automobile travel dominate the regional market of the Midwest, an intercity high-speed rail (HSR) service with speeds of 200kmh/125mph or greater could feasibly compete with or substitute for regional air carriers and automobiles in fixed travel corridors with distances of up to 650 kilometers/400 miles or less (Gimpel & Harrison, 1997). This paper describes the reasons for renewed interest in passenger rail in the upper Midwest, the history of passenger rail service in the region, and the plans currently under consideration for implementing high-speed rail in the upper Midwest.

A Point of Crisis

In a speech to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Skinner (2000) stated that a major crisis is needed to galvanize the public and force a policy change in transportation. Since 2000, two major crises, the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists who hijacked airplanes and Hurricane Katrina, have made our need for new transportation options apparent.
In the closing chapter of his book: New Departures: Rethinking Rail Passenger Policy in the Twenty-First Century, Anthony Perl (2002) described the effects of September 11th, 2001 on the transportation industry. Immediately after the attacks, all air travel in the United States and Canada was grounded in the hope of preventing any further attacks. Many travelers on the East Coast, stranded from grounded flights, rediscovered the nation’s intercity rail system. Perl writes “For the five days following the attacks, Amtrak’s ridership was up 17 percent to around 80,000 passengers” (p. 265). Perl and others have argued that passenger trains have an important role in developing “a more robust, integrated network that can provide redundancy and multiply the available mobility options” and to not just be a fall back for a “vulnerable air transport network” (p. 266).
The second crisis, Hurricane Katrina, struck New Orleans, Louisiana on August 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina engaged the USA in a discussion of the impact of unpredictable climate disasters associated with global warming. Writing pre-Katrina, Perl’s (2002) argument that passenger rail adds redundancy to the national transportation systems provides insight into what might have occurred had passenger rail been available as a tool for use in evacuation. Hurricane Katrina crippled Louisiana’s auto infrastructure and prevented large-scale evacuation. If a high-speed rail connection had been in place, in theory, multiple cars could have been brought to Louisiana and people could have been evacuated en masse before the massive flooding began.
The threat of increasing severity of storms associated with global climate change is challenging politicians, business leaders, planners and architects. For example, architects are being challenged to design more storm resilient houses for residents of the upper Midwest (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2007). The nation was also reminded of the impact winter storms can have on travel when air travel in the northeast was shut down in February 2007 and passengers on JetBlue planes were stranded on runways and airports (Newsday, February 15th, 2007). Railroads are less susceptible to complete shut down due to winter storms (New York Times, January 23rd, 2005) because railroad companies use special trains and chemicals to keep rails clear of ice and snow. Had a more extensive rail system been in place, air passengers could have been transferred or rerouted from New York to other airports for international destinations or intercity rail stations for domestic and regional destinations. However, delays due to severe weather are common across all modes of transportation, including trains. I observed this first hand in November 2006 when a snowstorm significantly lengthened my train trip from Oslo Norway to Stockholm Sweden. Despite delays I was able to reach my destination, which probably would not have happened had I been traveling by air.
Just as our increasingly congested regional highways and other automobile infrastructure have resulted in the familiar experience of “gridlock”, congestion of major regional and international airport infrastructure is resulting in “wing lock”(Harrison, 1995). Billions of dollars would be needed to expand existing infrastructure to accommodate increased flights; new runways, new terminals, and storage facilities. The Rochester Rail Link Feasibility Study (2003) suggests that investment in a high-speed rail line could provide service to regional destinations eliminating the need for regional air carriers and reducing the need for costly airport expansions.
The crises of the early 21st century have pointed out the weaknesses of our transportation system. Improving passenger rail services would provide redundancy to our transportation system.

Current Proposals for High Speed Rail in the United States

The current demand for high-speed rail projects in the United States can be partially attributed to the success of high-speed rail in other parts of the world. For example, China completed construction of a Maglev train that runs from Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road station in Shanghai and has been operating at revenue service since January 1st, 2004. China’s Maglev operates at a maximum speed of 430-kmh/267 mph. Alan James states that despite the recent collision involving the Transrapid Maglev at its test facility in Germany, that China’s “exceptional performance (with Maglev) makes it not only the fastest, but also the most reliable transport in daily service on the Earth” (James, 2006). The French Consortium Alstom systems recently unveiled the V150 TGV that achieved a speed record for wheeled rail vehicles in April 2007 reaching 574.8kmh/357 mph (Bernard, 2007) making it the fastest conventional railed vehicle in the world. Through the success of the demonstration, Alstom hopes to break into new markets such as Argentina, Asia, and the United States. While the Japanese JR-Maglev train still holds the speed record for non-railed vehicles at 581-kmh/361 mph as of December 2003 (Xinhua News Agency, 2003).
The plan that holds the most promise for the Western regions of the United States has been proposed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Their planned system will link major city centers from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco (700 miles) with modern trains traveling at sustained speeds of 220mph/354kmh.

-A Map of the proposed Route Alignment for California's High Speed Rail plan

The California High Speed Rail Authority created a video presentation describing the proposed plan. In the video, Quentin L. Kopp, Chairperson of the High Speed Rail Authority, states that with California’s population estimated to reach 50 Million people by 2030, the demand on existing transportation infrastructure will overwhelm and exceed capacity. Fran Florez, the Vice-Chair of the authority, states “there has never been a greater need for this (high speed train)” and that it will be the best way to address the challenges created by a dramatic increase in population. According to Anthony Daniels, the Project Director of the Authority, high-speed rail presents an opportunity to “tie California together, look after our environment” and keep California as the leader in sustainable practices for the 21st Century. Advocates hope to make this project a ballot measure in the 2008 elections.

Support is Growing

The Hiawatha line, Minnesota’s first light rail line, has been proclaimed across the 7-county metro as a smashing success, exceeding ridership estimates in the first year of operation and spurring redevelopment along the Hiawatha Corridor (Louwagie, 2006). Another major success is the approval of federal funding for the Northstar commuter rail line and the beginning of preliminary engineering for the Central Corridor light rail line. Included with the Central Corridor is the planned restoration of St. Paul’s Union Depot that was awarded $50 Million over the next 5 years in the federal transportation bill (Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, 2003). These local rail transportation projects have renewed interest in regional rail including high-speed. On April 24th, 2007 Lori Sturdevant, a columnist of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote an editorial describing two bonding bills passing through the Minnesota legislature. Both bills include $2 Million to plan for high-speed rail service between St. Paul’s Union Depot and Chicago’s Union Station.
-Representative Jim Oberstar, photo from MPR, speaking to the State Legislature encouraging local funding for transportation projects.
Minnesota’s Representative Jim Oberstar, chair of the U.S. House Transportation committee, was quoted in the article stating “that there has never been a better time in 30 years” to seek federal funding for rail passenger renewal in the upper Midwest. Minnesota’s contribution of $2 Million is small compared to those of Wisconsin and Illinois, but according to Oberstar it will show that Minnesota wants to be included in the project. Overall, Minnesota’s expected contribution to the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) was $325 Million (Sturdevant, 2007). In the article, Sturdevant envisions a spur between the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and the Mayo clinic in Rochester, which will be covered in the next section.

Current Plans for High Speed Rail in the Midwest

The Rochester Rail Link Feasibility study
The Rochester Rail Link Feasibility study was commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the City of Rochester to evaluate options for a multimodal transportation link between the city of Rochester and Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. The study, created by the firm Transportation Economics & Management Systems, Inc (TEMS), “focuses on the concept of Highway 52 as a multimodal corridor and a key connector for the 21st Century” (TEMS, 2003, p. 2). In the study, TEMS outlines three options for high-speed service shown below. The speed and class dictate important elements of required infrastructure such as track, signaling systems, and the different equipment options available.
• Maximum commercial speed of 150+ mph (FRA class 8 track) using Gas-turbine trainsets. This option has higher commercial speeds and acceleration rates than diesel electrics. The majority of Amtrak’s existing rolling stock is diesel electric. Gas-turbines have not been widely used due to higher fuel consumption rates. An example of a gas-turbine is the jet train manufactured by Bombardier, a Canadian manufacturer of rolling stock.

-The Jet Train from Bombardier, uses a 3,750 kw gas turbine instead of the overhead caternary. The train was to be the featured trainset of the Florida Overland Express.

• Maximum commercial speed of 180+ mph (FRA class 9 track) using electric trainsets. Electric trainsets use either AC or DC electric power fed directly to the train through an overhead wire caternary system. The advantage of electric power is that it provides very high peak power inputs, allowing for rapid acceleration rates and high maximum speeds. The disadvantage is the added capitol and maintenance expenses associated with t
he power transmission system. Electric trainsets are available from a variety of large manufacturers including Siemens, Alstom and Bombardier.

-The InterCityExpress (ICE) of Deutsche Bahn top speed of 330kmh/205mph. Other examples of electric systems are Amtrak’s Acela, the French TGV, and the Japanese Shinkensen.

• Maximum commercial speed of 250+ mph (Maglev) using Magnetic Levitation trainsets. Rather than relying upon steel wheels and rails, Maglev vehicles are magnetically levitated and propelled along their guideways. Currently there are two kinds of magnets; electromagnetic and superconducting. Electromagnetic vehicles have magnets located on the undercarriage and are attracted to reaction rails attached to the guideway, while superconducting magnets interact with conductors embedded in the guideway which creates a magnetic force that levitates the vehicle. Two companies manufacture maglev trainsets; JR maglev, a Japanese company and Transrapid International, a German transportation consortium.
(TEMS, 2003, p. 5-6)
University of Minnesota Maglev Train
-I never grow tired of this image. It is a modified JR-Maglev trainset in Maroon & Gold paint job including emblem leading to the phrase; "Even Maglev trains love Maroon and Gold" ;-)

One of the advantages of option 1, the 150+ mph technology using gas turbines is that it can run on upgraded but existing infrastructure, allowing for an incremental approach to investment, “while the two higher speeds require new dedicated systems built from the ground up” (TEMS, 2003, p.5).” Options 1 and 2 were projected to be cost effective, returning a cost to benefit ratio of about 1.4, while the maglev option was projected to have a cost benefit ratio of .56, which is less than 1(TEMS, p. 34). The infrastructure costs of maglev are estimated to be $70 million per mile (TEMS, p. 27). This suggests that while maglev may have high ridership and revenues, they are not high enough to offset the higher costs of infrastructure and maintenance associated with maglev’s high tech guideways. Detailed figures from the report and the route alignment can be viewed in the Appendix.
The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative Study
The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) is a “continuing effort to develop an improved and expanded passenger rail system in the Midwest” (TEMS, 2004, p. 4) The initiative was supported through the cooperation of the nine Midwest states and their Department of Transportation (DOT) offices along with a steering committee of key staff from each state agency and Amtrak. This report updates prior reports describing infrastructure and capital equipment costs as well as ridership and operating costs for the expansion of passenger service in the Midwest.
The MWRRI describes potential passenger rail service between a variety of cities including the Twin Cities and Chicago. In this plan, Chicago would be the hub of increased passenger rail service in the region. The plan suggests that efficiencies in the use of equipment and employees could be achieved by cooperation (between states) and that increased ridership could create opportunities for volume discounts. The potential for improved service with lower costs provides attractive alternatives to current travel options.
The elements of the MWRRS plan are to: use current rail right-of-ways to connect rural, small urban and major metropolitan areas; to introduce modern train equipment operating up to 110 mph, and improve reliability and on-time performance. The MWRRS projects that 13.6 million passengers per year would use this system, which is four times higher than the current level of service delivers (TEMS, 2004, p. 9). A fully implemented system would provide 6 trips per day between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The travel time would be 5 hours and 31 minutes. The route is projected to deliver a positive cost benefit ration of about 1.4. The report assumes that the service would make use of gas turbine technology, which could be replaced by electrification at a later date if ridership is high enough to justify the higher costs. The Federal Railroad Administration estimated in 1997 that a Midwest rail passenger system would provide the highest level of economic benefit associated with rail investment, second only to the Northeast corridor.

Rails Contribution to a Sustainable Future

Sustainability “refers to economic development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007). Tied into this is Sustainable Development- that follows the same principle but emphasizes “using renewable natural resources in a manner that does not eliminate or degrade them- by making greater use, for example, of solar and geothermal energy and recycled materials” (Knox & Marston 2004, p. 258).
Currently in cities around the world, the focus of sustainable development is on buildings and the companies that create them. Rating systems, such as the U.S. Green Building Councils (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines, are designed to “promote a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.” The benefits of a LEED certified building are:

Lower operating costs and increased asset value
• Provide a healthy and comfortable environment for their occupants
• Reduce waste sent to landfills
• Conserve energy and water
• Reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions
• Qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances, and other incentives through municipalities
(U.S. Green Building Council, 2007)
However, transportation continues to be a major user of energy and contributor to pollution. Sustainable transportation planning contributes to sustainability by “reducing automobile dependence, increasing use of public transit, and encouraging more reliance on nonmotorized modes such as walking and biking” (Bae, 2004, p. 363). In 1991, Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). This Act introduced the sustainability paradigm into transportation planning. ISTEA broadened transportation policy from increasing mobility to addressing the issues of energy consumption, air pollution and economic competitiveness. Next, in 1998, Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). ISTEA and TEA-21 allowed funds that previously would have been allocated to highway construction to be used to develop walkways, bikeways, and public transit. Regional transportation planning agencies gained influence, and public participation was integrated into the transportation planning process of metropolitan planning organizations such as Minnesota’s Metropolitan Council (Hanson, 2004).
Smith (2003) states that a significant environmental advantage of railroads is their ability to run on clean forms of electricity, thus reducing emissions and conserving hydrocarbon fuels. He uses Switzerland as an example where all trains are electric, and 97% of their power comes from renewable hydropower. However, Electrified high-speed rail systems such as the TGV, ICE, and Shinkensen provide incentives for continued investment and development of better renewable energy sources and further reduction of the United States dependence on fossil fuels. Alstom Systems, a major transportation manufacturer and service provider, is joining the green bandwagon as well. One of their latest rolling stock brands, the Coradia Lirex: X-60 commuter train, was manufactured to reduce environmental impacts by being composed of lightweight materials thus reducing energy for movement. In addition, 95% of the material used to manufacture the train cars is recyclable (Alstom, 2004). Since 2005, Sweden’s Transport Company SL has begun to implement the X-60 and steadily replace its current fleet of commuter trains.
Investment in transportation infrastructure presents an opportunity to influence land use patterns in cities and metropolitan areas. In recent years, urban planners and policymakers have looked at rail transportation to achieve “smart growth” or transit-oriented development guidelines that provide higher densities, mixed-use developments, and increased transportation accessibility. Linked to these investments is the promise of economic revitalization for central cities and limiting the effects of “urban sprawl” often characterized by low-density and dispersed land use patterns and associated with the construction of express highways in metropolitan areas (Giuliano, 2004). By locating stops in existing urban areas, high-speed rail provides an opportunity to reconfigure land use patterns surrounding central stations and specific suburban growth areas. High-speed rail can also connect to local transportation systems such as light rail, commuter rail, and bus services creating regional multimodal transportation hubs that ease passenger transfers from regional to local and from one mode to another.
The Sierra Club includes these benefits in its reasons for supporting high-speed rail:
• HSR terminates at convenient downtown stations and also serves carefully selected suburban train stations
• HSR stations strongly encourage the redevelopment of pedestrian & transit-friendly office districts
• HSR stations are often shared with earth-friendly commuter rail trains that serve numerous far-flung suburban points
• HSR stations often feature direct connections with equally earth-friendly urban transit systems
(Karol, 2003)
With successful rail renewal in other industrialized nations of the world, passenger train stations are no longer just places to pass through to reach a destination. Rather, stations have become the center of activity for communities; with grand common areas for travelers, opportunities for vendors to set up small shops, and connections to other modes of mass transit in the community (Thorne, 2001). A project that ties into California’s high-speed rail plan is the redevelopment of the San Francisco Transbay Terminal into an intermodal hub for bus and rail systems including the high-speed plan, and a new neighborhood featuring San Francisco’s next super tall skyscraper. Advocates claim that the project has the potential to become the “Grand Central Terminal of the West”. The Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) hopes to begin construction of phase 1, the transit center, in 2008 and have the entire project complete by 2019 (TJPA, 2007). Plans for Minnesota include an intermodal station for Minneapolis next to the planned Twins Stadium that provides a connection between the Hiawatha line and the Northstar Commuter rail line (Meyer Mohaddes Associates, Inc, 2002) and redevelopment of St. Paul’s Union Depot that was mentioned earlier in the paper.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Based upon these findings, high-speed rail is needed in the Upper Midwest to add redundancy to the national transportation system, reduce congestion on our over burdened airports and expressways, limit transportation’s impacts on emissions, and continue to encourage sustainable development in our region’s major Metropolitan Areas.
However, Minnesota should be cautious in its pursuit and implementation of high-speed rail with both the Rochester Rail link (RRL) and the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI). A rail connection should still be considered between Minneapolis International Airport and Rochester. Rochester is the third largest city in Minnesota and home to the Mayo clinic, a major international destination. With high costs and limited land associated with expansion of Minneapolis International Airport, a rail line to Rochester would allow for Rochester to expand its airport facilities while reducing the number of cars on highway 52.
However, rail advocates that hope for Maglev trainsets zooming across Southeastern Minnesota at high speeds (including myself) should not hold their breath. Based upon the cost to benefit ratios for the Rochester Rail Link feasibility study by TEMS in which Maglev was below 1 at .56 (did not break even), Maglev remains an alluring but expensive mode choice with the majority of the cost in the construction of the guideway. However, in a few years if a new study results in a more positive ratio due to lower implementation costs as the technology becomes more readily available then the mode could be considered. However, until such time Maglev and Minnesota does not make financial sense.
For the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, there are several changes that should be implemented. These include the creation of a high-speed rail authority for the region, the establishment of dedicated passenger rail right-of-way alongside existing transportation corridors, and eventual electrification of the entire network.
Due to the uncertain future of Amtrak despite continued federal subsidies and increasing ridership on specific routes, high-speed rail in the region could potentially be better served by a unified high-speed rail authority with the ability to contract out services such as operations and maintenance but with oversight by the involved states. This would allow the passenger service to be more entrepreneurially focused and limit the amount of annual subsidy.
Currently, Amtrak’s passenger trains share railroad rights-of ways with freight trains. Due to this, passenger trains must yield to passing freight trains that often results in significant delays or worst-case fatal collisions. Due to this interaction, the Federal Rail Administration requires strict weight regulations for crash safety standards. If the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative were to acquire dedicated passenger rail rights-of-way, passenger and freight rail interactions would be reduced if not eliminated completely. This would allow for faster travel times between stations as well as offer a wide variety of lightweight, fast, and energy efficient trainsets. Grade separation from roads could also be tied into dedicated passenger right of ways.
Lastly, railroad rights-of-way should be electrified through renewable energy sources allowing for rolling stock that draws power directly through overhead caternary systems rather than use gas-turbine trainsets that can only reach speeds up to 150 mph. Electrified trainsets possess the power to sustain high speeds of up to 350 mph, a speed that a few years ago could only be reached with maglev systems.
Almost all of these recommendations result in higher capital and maintenance costs, however, some of these changes would allow for true passenger rail renewal and allow the United States and Upper Midwest to catch up to what the rest of the industrialized world has enjoyed for 40 years. Come the revolution, let us bring high-speed rail to the Midwest.

And so there you have it, I thought about adding in Modifiable links to make it shorter, or to have people jump to or through different sections, but I am afraid I don't have the HTML know how to do it.
Man, 3 AM, time to get to bed.
Nighters Blogoshpere and hopefully these trains will be rolling soon.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Response, A Response!!!

From a previous letter/post.
From the Office of Governor Schwarzenegger:
Monday May 7th, 2007.

Thank you for writing to Governor Schwarzenegger to share your thoughts and concerns about highspeed rail. The Governor appreciates hearing from people who care about the important issues facing our great state.

In November 2006, California voters approved one of the largest bond packages in the state's history. This money represents a considerable down payment on repairing and building our infrastructure and boosting the public services necessary to preserve our quality of life. And, with the tremendous population growth expected for California over the next two decades, the Governor has put forward an even broader proposal that will include funding for flood control, schools, courts and the correctional system.

Because of the critical need for funding these other forms of vital infrastructure, California has a limited ability to borrow money for a full high-speed rail bond measure right now. Governor Schwarzenegger's comprehensive Strategic Growth Plan, and its varying bond components, cannot happen simultaneously with the high-speed rail bond without putting the state into a position of spending General Fund dollars at too-high levels. This approach instead protects California's credit rating and support for other important state programs.

But the Governor's proposed budget does recognize that high-speed rail is a viable transit option worth exploring for the future, and so it includes $1.2 million for staff support of the High-Speed Rail Authority. He is also willing to consider other potential payment options for such a rail system, including private financing.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write and share your thoughts with Governor Schwarzenegger. He welcomes any comments that can help improve the future of California.


Office of Constituent Affairs

-I am very impressed that I actually got a response, and related directly to the topic that I inquired about. While I am a little disappointed that the Governor can not fully fund the measure, I am pleased that he is including funding for the High Speed Rail Authority. Now it will be up to Rail supporters to vote on funding the plan a priority along with the measures in the Governor's strategic plan.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

One of my favorite Quotes

-Just cleaning up the facebook a little bit and thought I would save a quote from Tom Robbin's Jitterbug Perfume:

"Overpopulation. If nobody died, pretty soon it would be standing room only."
"That's one of the standard arguments in favor of death, but it doesn't hold water or whiskey either. We don't have an overpopulation problem, we have a land use problem. We're sprawlin' out all over the place, like hogs in a rose garden, takin' up a thousand times more space than we need. If we were to stress vertical growth instead of horizontal, if we were to build tall apartment complexes instead of acres of one-story tickie-tackies, there'd be more than enough room. If we built tall enough, and we have the technological capability, we could double the world's population and still fit every single one of us into the state of Texas. Comfortably, I might add. The rest of the planet could be given over to agriculture and recreation. And wilderness. We could have elephant herds again. Buffalo on Main Street."

-The reason I like this quote is because it relates to my major in Urban and Regional planning. The only problem in his argument is convincing people to give up their land and single family homes to go and live in large tower blocks, it is not an easy task as Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen now with the slowing of the housing market and the over abundance of loft-condos-high rises etc. that remain vacant.

I wonder what the effect this would have on regional economies, and what events would lead to a building of a "sky-city", similar to depictions of cities in science fiction novels such as Arthur C. Clark's 3001.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kristen wants a cat...

...and here's the source of the desire:

Nora, the Piano playing cat

-The best part of the video is how Nora, nuzzles herself on the keys while playing

Kristen has always been a pet lover and her farm in Dassel always has cats in the big white barn. I want to someday own a cat with Kristen, and name him Agrippa, he could be the general of the house. I would be like, "Agrippa!! Come and get your food!"..And he would be like "MEOW!!" then I'd say "Hey, you don't talk to me like that". It's a lot funnier talking then typing about it I guess.

The only problem is that I am allergic to cats, I haven't been exposed to them as much as Kristen has, so I would need to get some allergy medication to mitigate the nasal effects of the little fur ball.

Enjoy the video of Nora playing the piano and be sure to visit the YouTube link I provided above the embeded clip.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A letter to the Terminator of California...I mean Governor

Having recently read that Governor Schwarzeneggar plans to cut funding for the California High Speed Rail plan, I wrote him a letter asking him to reconsider:

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,
My name is Andrew Wambach, I am a senior Urban Studies undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. This semester I am writing on the topic of High Speed Rail for the United States, specifically the Midwest. During my research, I stumbled upon the California High Speed Rail Authority's presentation on developing High Speed Rail to link California's major city centers by 2030. It is my hope that you will support this plan and be the true moderate Republican you have become.
I have to admit, I was skeptical when you took office. Not being a resident of California it was easy for me to tease and mock along with other Democrats "oh watch out for the Governator", then again our state did have Jessie "the Mind" Ventura, and he helped build our first and so far only Light Rail line.
It was when you began to distance yourself from President Bush and to address the issues of global warming and how California can innovate and prosper by creating new High Tech jobs and leading the way for the rest of the country in solving these problems that you should hope to be a good politician.
In a similar way, High Speed Rail accomplishes this and fits into your plan of renewable energy and sustainable development for California and the next 20-30 years.
While High Speed Rail exists in the Northeast Corridor between New York and Boston, California's plan could have rammifications for the West and Midwest and truly lead to passenger rail rebirth, not under Amtrak, but under the for-profit State High Speed Authoritys.
We need the first one that connects the lartgest state of the Union Governor Schwarzeneggar; California's is the best in regards to ridership, benefits to buisness and redevelopment, and protecting California's environment. Think of the boon to tourism as well.
California is the 5th largest economy in the world, don't be Jeb Bush and slowly kill a project by reducing funding or repealing amendments.
I hope California continues to prosper under your leadership and that the goodwill you have shown to the green revolution was legitimate.
Thank you,
P.S. Have always been a fan of your films, Commando is an all time classic as well as your signature role: The Terminator.

Regards from Minnesota,

Andrew Wambach
University of Minnesota

-We'll see if I get a response. Coming down the the wire in regards to the thesis, seems to be all I can talk about lately. Had a job interview for the summer with the city of Fridley in their Code Enforcement Department as an intern. I should hear back from them tomorrow whether I have received the position or not.

Hoping to have some employment after graduation, so that I can buy a new camera and take some more pictures with the Kristen and myself.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Something that has been occupying a lot of my time

And Finally it is to a point where I can stop. For the past couple of weeks I have been working on a presentation to go along with my Senior Thesis: The Need for High Speed Rail in the Midwest. What began as a few bits and pieces from other movies acquired online at a length of roughly 4-5 minutes, has now evolved into a close to 9 minute project. Last week at our class meeting, I asked my professor if I could use it for the presentation to which she said no :-(.
However, I showed her the clip I was most proud of (Part 3 of the video which I will embed from YouTube) an she said that it looked like I had put a lot of work into it, and that I should be putting this much work into my paper instead.

Here is the finished product:

I am thinking about shortening it and submitting it to the sustainability film contest, submissions are due next week. However, I have a lot to do still with my paper and with only a few weeks left of the semester, there is not a lot of time to waste time...

As for news, Friday morning (April 20th, 2007) I had a job interview with the Minneapolis Housing Inspection services division through the office of Public Safety in Downtown Minneapolis. I feel pretty confident about the interview and should hear back from them soon. I also have applications circulating some of the Community Development positions of cities around the Twin Cities, yet, so far I have only heard that my applications were received but not if I am to have a chance for an interview.
Hopefully I can have some form of employment after graduation (May 11th) and try to figure out where I should concentrate my skills acquired through the Urban Studies Program.

Enjoy the film

Saturday, March 31, 2007

March, Talkin’ about the Madness

March is quickly on the way out, already it will be April 1st tomorrow. March came rolling in like a fury with a massive blizzard that the Twin Cities and state of Minnesota hadn’t seen in 8 years. Minnesota for two weeks was turned into a “winter wonderland”. To celebrate, Kristen and I spent a Saturday in Dassel snowmobiling. I had never snowmobiled in my life, a crime for the average Minnesotan I know.

As the title suggests, the main focus of March was the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the family’s bracket through ESPN. Frank, my older brother, always gets pumped up with this time of year and had a great post at the beginning of the month describing his picks and which teams he was backing. Currently I am sitting in 4th place and have Ohio State winning it all in the final round and they are playing Georgetown in 15 minutes. We’ll see how it goes. Final Four!!!! Woo-Hoo!

March has been a screwy month in terms of weather. From the start we go from blizzards with about 2 feet of snow followed by freezing temperatures to a high of 85 and beautiful sunshine all over the metro last week, and now about 5 days straight of rain.
Pushing Some Snow in Dassel Minnesota with the BobCat

March has also been a pretty hectic time at the University of Minnesota and the State Capitol. The Tax and Property Tax Committees have been hearing bills left and right and keeping us interns on our toes making copies, stuffing folders full of bills and bill summaries, and assisting the pages with their duties in committees. As for the University of Minnesota, Kristen and I are closing on the end of Spring Semester and our undergraduate careers. For classes, I have been busy with my senior thesis on High Speed Rail (HSR) for the Midwest, reading books and articles as well as checking the net for what the rest of the country is doing for High Speed Ground Transportation (HSGT). For example, one of the best proposals is from the state of California and their High Speed Rail Authority. Check out this short (4-minute) presentation of HSR for California: Thanks to user NC3D for uploading and to the HSR authority of California for having it available to the public.

I only wish that the Midwest Regional Rail System/Initiative (MWRRI) was this far along and had this quality of marketing. It makes me consider moving to California and possibly applying to Berkley for my Graduate degree.

Another class I have been working hard in is my Urban GIS class through the Geography department. Some classmates and I are working as a team for a neighborhood organization who need Geo-Spatial data to help them make decisions on where to locate a new facility. Recently in the class we have been working on covering Gravity Models and location-allocation theory. I have also been writing papers for my internship seminar and wrapping my head around Financial accounting at Carlson. I only wish I had taken the class 2 years ago while I was deep in statistics, it would have helped in Private Sector Development.

Spring Break was relaxing, I only went into the capitol for one day and Kristen worked for two. Kristen and I got to spend some time with friends at Lindsey Schempf’s 21st Birthday. Later in the week we spent a few hours at the Grand Rios indoor Water Park in Brooklyn Park riding waterslides and floating in the lazy river. Hopefully we will get a chance soon to take a peak at the Water Park of America in Bloomington. While we planned to get some skiing in this winter, it just wasn’t in the cards and will have to be something we do next season.

In the meantime, my Dad and brother have continued they’re planning for our trip to Glacier National Park this summer. Also, my Dad and I have begun making plans for a small Hiking trip in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee sometime hopefully after graduation.

Another important time of Spring, Kristen and I will be celebrating our third year together next week April 4th. We are hoping to hit up Mancini’s in St. Paul for dinner and maybe catch a few of the Omni Films at the Minnesota Science Museum. Both of us have been working hard applying for jobs and scheduling interviews. Kristen has an interview soon with Americorp and their Admission Possible program, while I may have a potential interview with the Housing Inspection and Code Enforcement for the city of Minneapolis Internship for the summer.

Hopefully as the weather improves I will have a chance to take more pictures and post more on flickr and Picassa.

Not sure when I will have a chance to update again, probably when something exciting happens, or when the weather clears, or I finish my thesis.

Until next time,

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Weekend of Bowling and Fun with friends

Man I am sore from all of this bowling. Friday night, Kristen and I enjoyed dinner with our friends Erik and Audrey at the Downtime Bar and Grill (formerly Mangia’s) in Dinkeytown before heading over to the St. Paul Student Center for some bowling.

From Blog Photos

For those interested in the history of the game and of course Wikipedia’s page on Bowling

Kristen and I have been bowling for a couple of weekends at the SPSC because of the availability of lanes (Unlike Coffman) and the close proximity to Kristen’s apartment, plus the availability of free parking at the Gortner ramp. For most of the games, Kristen beats me giving her the nickname of “the coach”. But because of her coaching, I have been able to improve my game by working on my throw and slowing down resulting in picking up more spares.

Friday night it was packed at the SPSC, but we were able to grab a lane and get through at least one game before Brain and Katrina joined us and we played another before calling it a night around 10:30 PM. I am really glad we had the chance to hang out with our friends and I hope we can do it again soon.

^Here are some photos provided from the KU of the night's activities:

Erik in Motion
From Blog Photos

Watch yourself
From Blog Photos

I believe that was a strike
From Blog Photos

All Smiles at the SPSC

From Blog Photos

Saturday night, my brother Frank and his girlfriend Megan invited us for an “all you can bowl” at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park for their Saturday night Cosmic Rock and Bowl along with our friends Mike and Betsy. We bowled from about 10:00 PM-12:30 AM and got in 3 solid games. In the first game, 4 of my first 5 frames were a strike, and I got a Turkey (3 strikes in a row) in the 5th frame; my final score at the end was 170 probably a new record for the Caboose. However, it was all down hill from there and I didn’t break 100 the rest of the night. Frank and Mike also did well with Frank winning the second game and Mike the third. Kristen had a tough time adjusting to the light and to the differences between the balls at SPSC and Park Tavern but she still had a lot of fun.

Kristen and I had a lot of fun bowling with one another and friends this weekend as well as spending as much time as we could together. We hope we can do it again soon.

A new Definition of National Service

This has been a topic I have been meaning to write about since my return from the strong Welfare States of Scandinavia. While I was there, I met a number of guys my age that had some form of mandatory service in the armed forces of their countries. For example, Halvard, my SUST program director’s assistant, served in the Norwegian Military for 8 months guarding the Royal Family. Another student at the University of Oslo (UIO) served in the Danish Military, and said it was a valuable experience. He had considered going to Afghanistan, but when asked he declined.

Arguments for and against military Conscription aside, I think the United States would benefit from some form of mandatory national service from its citizens. In Norway, it is the form of 6 months-1 year of service in the armed forces or with a non-profit organization or government office for Conscientious objectors. This is for both Men and Women.

I am not suggesting bringing back the dreaded “Draft” of conscripted service into the Army, Navy, or Air Force; I believe these services and the special forces that are associated them: Marines, Navy Seals, The Rangers etc. should remain a volunteer army and highly trained specialized force. However, at the end of the mandatory service, citizens would have the option to pursue professional careers in the armed forces if they desire to.

However, I do think that the National Guard should be refined to as service for the homeland and not be involved in operations abroad (Iraq or Afghanistan). These Citizen/Soldiers as the National Guard often bills itself as, should remain in the United States for purposes of National Defense in the event of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina to prevent events like rapid response teams where left with little to no equipment because their units had been mobilized and deployed to combat zones when they were needed in Louisiana. The National Guard would also assist law enforcement in the event of a Domestic attack or Terrorist attack on the United States. These forces would not be deployed abroad, not even as peace keeping forces.

This would dramatically reduce instances of “Backdoor drafts” or citizens enlisting for assignments that “they didn’t sign on for” as has been heard in the media from members of National Guard units who have encountered heavy amounts of combat in both theaters of the middle east.

Some would argue that institutions already exist too train our young men and women in the realm of national service: The Boy Scouts of America and its counterpart the Girl Scouts of America. However, I personally feel that being a member of the National Guard would have more unifying power of democracy and nation building than service in either of those institutions.

I am interested in others responses to this topic especially from my friend Rory who is currently serving in Iraq and has had many debates about the roles of the US military in the current era with my brother Frank. Check out Rory’s blog: Duty, Honor, and Country .

Some may accuse this post of being socialistic or even communistic in its tone, but maybe that is what the US needs, a return to the era of the New Deal and a belief in the power and responsibility of a government of the people and not an enemy to be feared. I really need to watch V for Vendetta again.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A response to an old question

Way back in September my brother posted this challenge in a post:
Since I have been on a roll with the topic of High Speed Rail lately I thought I would give a proper response as to what I will be bringing back in the Spring of 07...
Here Goes...

I'm Bringin' High Speed Back
It will make up for what the Midwest Lacks
From Minnesota to Chi-Town in under 3 hours flat
take it to the platform...
Get your HSR, that's High Speed Rail baby, Get your HSR, go ahead get goin' with it, get your HSR, that's High Speed Rail, Get your HSR

180 Miles per Hour that's how fast it goes
So you better hang onto your clothes
Just watch that Bullet Train just come and Go
Get your ticket and take it to the station...
Get your HSR, that's High Speed Rail baby, Get your HSR, go ahead get goin' with it, get your HSR, that's High Speed Rail, Get your HSR

So that's what I am bringing back, the rails shall rise again from the ashes. If anyone would like to help me make a vid for this I think it would be sweet and worth a laugh for a presentation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

All right Senior Thesis: Game On

I touched on this topic at the beginning of the New Year, but here are some thoughts that have materialized in the past few days with my Senior Thesis Writing Seminar:

Possible Topics:
From Blog Photos

Too often I have used European examples of High Speed Rail; Not this time, the above image is of the Nozomi Series 500 Shinkansen in Japan from Bullet Trains. According to sources on Wikipedia, The Nozomi can reach speeds of 320km or 200 MPH, but is currently only operating at a maximum of 300 km or 186 MPH.

1) The Need for High Speed Rail (HSR) in the Midwest.
The idea came to me while I was on Study Abroad participating in the Scandinavia Urban Studies Term (SUST) through HECUA last semester. It was very easy and reasonably priced to get on a long-haul train and go from Oslo-to-Bergen in roughly 6 hours. At the end of my term, I attended a conference on the development of High Speed Rail (HSR) corridors in Norway that included High Speed proposals with service from Oslo-to-Trondheim and Oslo-to-Bergen.
This got me curious as to why the United States did not have a High Speed Rail network and what was being done in the field. Over break I began reading a few sources, particularly High Speed Rail Policy for the 21st Century by Anthony Pearl and read over the 2004 Executive Report of the Midwest Regional Rail System
My paper would be similar to these sources of looking at European HSR applications and then determining policy solutions, amounts of financing and sources of financing, as well as feasibility for applications in the Midwest to connect to HSR networks pre-existing predominantly in the Northeast corridors (Acela, formerly the Metroliner).
From Blog Photos
Another picture of the Nozomi 500 Series Shinkensen

2) I-494 Transitway Study
This topic would directly relate to my internship at the State Capitol with Rep. Ann Lenczewski and is a topic that is directly related to the Twin Cities MSA and the South Metro. This would be a preliminary model study of transit options for the I-494 Corridor including: BRT, LRT, and possibly PRT. This study would then be used to inform Rep. Ann Lenczewski to propose legislation for funding of a true study conducted by the Metropolitan Council.
Through my internship I will have contact with major stakeholders involved in the study. However, since there has been no formal study of transit along I-494, it may be difficult to find sources directly related to this topic.

And yet another question, which of these topics would you choose, and which one in your opinion would help Minnesota and the Midwest the most?
Whichever way it goes it should be a fun semester and a interesting senior thesis. Wish me luck.

Photo Contest Time

Got word today in am email from the University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center of a mighty important contest coming up in February:
Past sponsors have included Rail Europe, STA Travel, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and more!

Top 10 photos chosen by popular vote at the Learning Abroad Spring Fair, February 21. Global Link members will determine final winners.

Official Rules:
1. Contest is open to University of Minnesota undergraduate and graduate students only.
2. Photo must have been taken outside of the U.S.
3. Photo must have been taken by the person submitting the photo.
4. Only one photo entry per person.
5. Entries must be color or black and white prints 4" x 6". Digital prints will be accepted only if they are unaltered. E-mailed submissions will not be accepted.
6. Photos will not be returned. Please submit copies of your photo only.
7. The top ten photos will be determined by public vote at the Spring Learning Abroad Fair on February 21st in the Great Hall of Coffman Memorial Union.
8. Winners will be notified via email and must respond to claim their prize by Friday, March 2nd.

So, to help me decide which of my photos from Scandinavia are of the highest quality, contest winning quality ;-), I consulted a former winner; Franky J with his photo from Australia.
See more of his photos at his flickr page.
The following - which have been posted on this blog in other posts are his personal suggestions.

His first pick: My Personal Favorite as well, Pulpit Rock in the Lysefjorden Towering at 604 Meters (And as an update: The one I submitted this morning...February 13th, 2007)
Pulpit Rock/Preikestolen Stavangre Norway

His Second: Along the Oslo-Bergen Railway, one of the most beautiful railways labled by National Geographic Traveler in 2004
View 2

His Third: Eyes Glued to the Window
Eyes Glued to the Windows...

Fourth: If cropped right...
Public entrance to Parliament

My parent's Personal Favorite is of the kids in the T-Bahn which is another one of my favorites and has appeared many times on this little blog.
Oslo T-Bane

That's all for recommendations for now from Family and the brother, but I am wondering what some of my readers (I know there are a few of you out there) would recommend. I sometimes like to add tasks to the end of my blogs, and this one is pretty easy, pick your favorite photo from the Scandinavian Set on my flickr page (link below my profile) and let me know or leave a comment at flickr (if your a member of course).
Deadline is the 15h, so I got some time, which means you (the readers) do too.
I look forward to the comments and thanks Frank for the help.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Now I have to read the book :-D

As the previous post states, I have been talking a lot about the film Children of Men. I have since learned that it was originally a book by P.D. James, a British detective author, and that the book was not in the category of apocalyptic science fiction.
Here's an article from the NY Times comparing the book to the film dated December 28th

Source: Proquest Newsstand
Author: Caryn James (Times Select $$)
Copyright New York Times Company Dec 28, 2006
to view the article online (must be a member or have access from other accounts)

No one should have to choose between Clive Owen and P. D. James. As an alcoholic, unshaven hero in a totalitarian near-future, Mr. Owen holds together the ominous yet vibrant new film ''Children of Men,'' adding to his list of brooding, darkly handsome characters (notably in ''Closer''). But while this Alfonso Cuaron film is inspired by the 1992 James novel, the movie is so purely cinematic, and its plot departs so widely from the book's, that the screen version may obscure how wonderfully rich and unlikely that novel is.(which is why I want to read it)

''The Children of Men'' is not another of Ms. James's famed detective novels, and it is not, as it has sometimes sloppily been described, science fiction. It is a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks urgently to this social moment, a 14-year-old work that remains surprisingly pertinent.(Was that the director's intent, to bring focus back to this "pertinent" piece of literature that has faded into obscurity?) Mr. Cuaron and Mr. Owen have made a film that works superbly apart from the book, but Ms. James's extraordinary novel deserves to be rediscovered on its own.

In both forms ''Children of Men,'' which opened Monday (in select cities, others had to wait until after New Years), is a story of redemption, set in England just decades in the future (the film takes place in 2027), when women have inexplicably lost the ability to become pregnant. Utterly cynical, Theo (Mr. Owen) is drawn into a group trying to protect a woman who has, just as inexplicably, become pregnant and whose child is likely to be used for the despotic government's own purposes.

Ms. James couldn't have foreseen some details the film uses to create a future frighteningly like today: a government department called Homeland Security; a crawl at the bottom of the omnipresent video screens that says, ''Terror Alert: Extremely High.''(not so sure about that, the book was written shortly after the first Gulf War with Iraq, not to mention some terrorists events of the Reagan Era of Iran Contra and the Beirut Marine Bombings, but of course not to the scale of which we see today)

But the social problems she could spot in 1992, like immigration, are even more disturbing now because they are more topical. A member of the novel's ruling Council of England makes a comment that could come from a right-wing radio show in America today. ''Remember what happened in Europe in the 1990s?'' he says. ''People became tired of invading hordes,'' who expect to ''exploit the benefits which had been won over centuries by intelligence, industry and courage.''

Those prescient social themes give the book its resonance, and are far more important than the deft way the movie streamlines the novel: Theo, an Oxford historian in the James version, is a minor bureaucrat in the film's Ministry of Energy; Julianne Moore's character, who enlists his help in protecting the pregnant woman, combines two people from the novel, Theo's ex-wife and a former student he scarcely knows.

As she does so gracefully in her mysteries, in ''The Children of Men'' Ms. James creates a beautifully realized world, making fine points the film has no time for(and is worse off because of those details left out): childless women push dolls in baby carriages, and couples hold christening ceremonies after the births of kittens.(imagine some of the scenes that could have been used for this, not more than a couple of seconds)

And Theo recalls boyhood summers as the poor relation visiting his rich, supremely self-confident cousin, Xan, a character who as an adult holds the title warden of England and is, in fact, the country's dictator. On screen this character, called Nigel and played by Danny Huston, has only one scene, when Theo tries to use this connection to get a travel visa for the pregnant woman.

Moviegoers may wonder why this character pops up at all, or why such an elaborate set was created; we see that he owns Picasso's ''Guernica'' and Michelangelo's ''David,'' whose leg has been damaged. The episode feels shoehorned into the movie, which isn't surprising in a work with five credited screenwriters and a nine-year gestation(five!!??). Even after Mr. Cuaron became interested, in 2001, he went off to direct ''Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'' before returning to the project, which was then altered to suit the post-9/11 world.

Despite those topical additions, Xan is a huge lost opportunity for the film, because he is the vehicle for Ms. James's astute exploration of how certain kinds of tyrants come to exist. The social disorder and pessimism that Ms. James defines so sharply -- science has failed to explain, much less cure, the infertility, and religion is a solace to some but a gaping hole to others -- has allowed this despot to seize control. Parliament is a sham that, as Theo says, ''gives the illusion of democracy,'' and the members of Xan's ruling Council never disagree with him.

This poisonous rule is presented to the public and accepted as a strong, desirable response to threats to the country. The government justifies abuses in the name of a smoothly run society: it condones the forced, slavelike labor of immigrants and encourages the mass suicides of the old. As a Council member explains: ''What we guarantee is freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom. The other freedoms are pointless without freedom from fear.''

That line becomes even more haunting now that the world feels more threatening and freedom has become a buzzword applied to everything from the ludicrous anti-French Freedom Fries to the sober Freedom Tower planned for the World Trade Center site.

The personal motives behind Xan's tyranny are also shrewdly analyzed. Theo asks the once apolitical Xan why he became Britain's ruler, and Xan answers in the cavalier manner we recognize from his boyhood, ''At first because I thought I'd enjoy it,'' adding, ''I could never bear to watch someone doing badly what I knew I could do well.'' By the time power had lost its thrill, he claims, no one in the Council was competent to take over.

When Theo calls him on this self-delusion, Xan replies, ''Have you ever known anyone to give up power, real power?''

Theo fully grasps this explanation and carries its lesson to the underground group that hopes to overthrow Xan's tyranny. ''If you did succeed, what an intoxication of power,'' he says.

That warning comes back to haunt the entire novel, and it's a theme the film could have put to fuller use. In its second half the screen version of ''Children of Men'' all but abandons its social concerns. (We see that immigrants have been forced into camps, but how and why?) It becomes a thoughtful chase movie. And even with Mr. Owen's tough yet stirring performance, Theo is more conventional on screen. Like the film character, the book's Theo has also lost a small child, but he has been responsible for the death, no state for a movie hero to be in.

When the film loses its energy for politics and its taste for ambiguity, that makes the difference between a good movie and an exceptional one. (There are lesser reasons; was it necessary for two characters actually to say, ''Jesus Christ'' when learning of the near-miraculous pregnancy and birth?)

The ending of the novel is brilliantly ambiguous and entirely different from the film's, as the potential for the ''intoxication of power'' falls into unexpected hands. As Ms. James said in an interview when the book came out: ''The detective novel affirms our belief in a rational universe because, at the end, the mystery is solved. In 'The Children of Men' there is no such comforting resolution.'' It is comforting for both moviegoers and readers, though, to have Clive and P. D. as the season's best odd couple.
Author(s): Caryn James
Column Name: Film
Section: E
Publication title: New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Dec 28, 2006. pg. E.1
Source type: Newspaper
ISSN: 03624331
ProQuest document ID: 1186984861
Text Word Count 1236

I plan on finding this book as soon as I have finished the others that are stacked upon my desk, see the movie, read the book, or the other way around and let me know what you think, I'd like to hear people's thoughts.