Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Trained to Be a Big Jerk

You know who can be real jerks? Train drivers. I know--we used to call them engineers. But that was back when the guys who walk through the cars checking passenger tickets were called conductors. Now they are "train hosts." Besides, I'm not calling anyone an engineer unless he has some measure of human courtesy, or at least a scientific college degree.

Yesterday I had occasion to ride Utah Transit Authority's FrontRunner. This is Northern Utah's commuter train, which has been in operation since 2008 and earned a less than admirable safety record. I have ridden it many times before, although I don't ride on a regular basis.

I understand all about train safety. My father worked a long career as a railroad inspector, so we always had safety awareness paraphernalia around the house, and he often talked about how to be safe around trains. I love the Dumb Ways to Die video. (You have to watch all the way to the end for the video to make sense in this context.) I've always thought you have to be pretty stupid to get hit by a train because, as Larry the Cable Guy says, it aint gonna pop out from behind the bushes. It stays on those tracks right there. I tell you all this so you'll hopefully believe I am not someone who goes stumbling in front of speeding trains, tries to beat them through a crossing, or otherwise ignores their deadly potential.

As I was saying, I went to ride FrontRunner yesterday. I bought my ticket and then proceeded toward the boarding platform. There are two sets of tracks: one for northbound trains and one for southbound, with the boarding platform between them, where it can be used for trains on either side. The parking lot/bus terminal/ticket kiosk is across one set of tracks from the platform, and there is no footbridge or tunnel, therefore it is necessary to cross those tracks to get to the platform...

While I bought my ticket a train was pulling to a stop at the platform, bells ringing to signal its approach. By the time I walked from the kiosk to the track crossing, the bells had stopped, passengers had loaded/unloaded, and the bells started up again to indicate Mr. Train Driver was ready to get moving. I stopped short of the tracks and waited. Bells ringing. Train not budging. Waited some more. Still not moving. I looked at the driver. He looked back at me. Actually made eye contact. Still I waited. This went on for several seconds. I looked at him again, gestured with my hand, and made a face that I thought asked, "Well, can I cross?" He didn't do anything. I waited a few more seconds, then thought, I'm not going to stand here all day. So I crossed. And that's when he leaned on his air horn and immediately began moving. This was not a little courtesy honk to get my attention. He blared on that deafening horn for several seconds, so there could be no doubt that he's some kind of infallible god of the rails, and I--the little pee-on pedestrian--had crossed against the right of way.

Actual photo taken at the scene, minutes after the self-important, horn-happy jerk departed.

I'm not one to ever use vulgar gestures, but I really felt like showing this doofus two of my fingers (the middle one on each hand). As I made my way up the platform, he passed by in his Cab of Ultimate Power and Noise, giving me dirty looks. Here's what I wanted to tell him:

"Listen here, Mr. Grouchy-Pants. You guys like to point out that it's so important to be careful at crossings because a train weighs, like, 9000 tons and takes a mile and a half to stop. Well, guess what? It also takes a little while to get moving. Even if you stomp that throttle to the floor, it's going to be 5 or 10 seconds before you really get any speed. So, enough with the 'You stay out of my way!' attitude.

I crossed the tracks before you were even moving. I have never in my life walked/driven/bicycled/crawled/sat down for spot of tea in front of a moving train, and I wouldn't have stepped in front of your stationary one if you'd given any indication you were seriously ready to move. What's the big idea sitting there picking your nose while I wait, and then deciding to get underway as soon as I cross? Looking for justification to be the ornery cuss that you are, or an excuse to deafen someone with your horn?

I hope you get some tainted pastrami in your lunch and it makes your intestines derail five miles from the nearest stop."

For his ignorant behavior behind the wheel of that big, shiny UTA locomotive, this guy, whoever he is, wins a spot on The Bozo List.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Urine Trouble When...

You know what I don't want to see when I've just had a great big cup of Pepsi with my lunch and then I go to a grocery store and spend a long time shopping with Wifey because we're getting enough stuff to last us 2 or 3 weeks, so I really have to find a restroom soon but I'm trying to hold on for a few more minutes?


They might as well play big surf sound effects on the Muzak system.

...and that is what I call Long Run-on Sentence With Punchline In the Form of a Single Picture. You think I should make this a regular feature on the ol' blog?

Friday, March 15, 2013

U.S.A. Number 1!

As the great Dave Barry often writes in preface to his kooky tales, I swear I am not making this up.

I don't know what we were talking about that led to the subject of American history; sometimes boy genius Caleb just comes up with this stuff out of the blue. This morning, he told me the following (and this is an exact quote):

"Guess how we won the British versus American war. [me: How?] Because the British were stupidheads."

Yep, that about sums it up.

And I'm pretty sure the Soviets failed because they were a bunch of commie boogerbrain liars. Who smelled like poo.

King George III by Johann Zoffany

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Blogum

A few little things to point out for you today...

I've been updating some of the other pages here at U by C. See those links near the top of this window? If you click on them, there's more stuff for you to read or look at. (Just in case you're interested.)

. . .

I've had this El Guapo guy in my blog roll for about as long as it's existed, but I want to give him special mention right now, because he's been up to some great stuff over at Guapola. He is a smart, funny, creative, haiku- and limerick-writing, surfboard and guitar collecting, cool blog-having guy from New York, married to a lady named Tmwgitu. And he likes to cook. What's more, he gives music recommendations in every post, and he's not afraid to admit he likes ABBA, or to point out flaws in even the greatest artists of our time. (See his recent comments on Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, for example.) For these reasons, he gets the Unintimidated Seal of Approval, which we don't just hand out to everyone.

Guap, I'll get that seal on its way to you. Do you still have my address, to send the check?

. . .

To round out tonight's updates, I guess it's time for another installment of Stuff George Carlin Said. How about this one:

"No one ever says 'half a week,' although obviously there is such a thing. As in, 'I'll be back in a week and a half.'"

As usual, he's right. What I wonder is who decides this stuff. You can buy half a tank of gas, eat half an apple, drive halfway across Texas, and spend half of your life trying to get Veronica Spillsbury to notice you. You can even go half crazy when she runs off with some other guy, you realize there's still 12 hours of Texas ahead of you, you see half a worm in the remaining apple, or you find you've just spent half of an entire month's budget on 7 gallons of unleaded. But you never do something for half a week, or half a year, do you? Language is a curious thing.

This picture has nothing to do with today's post.
I just thought the blog could use a splash of color.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You smell what I mean?

As I've often told you, loyal readers, I'm an expert on all kinds of topics. I want to share with you something I know about dogs. Actually, I don't know it so much as presume it. I guess you could say it's a theory I've developed about dogs. Let's call it my Theory of Shaggy Dog Eyesight.

Our goldendoodle, Cooper (a.k.a. Cooper the Super Pooper when I want to make little kids laugh, or I'm cleaning up the yard), has thick, shaggy fur. Not quite sheepdog shaggy, but close. When it gets long, it hangs in front of his eyes. We've all seen dogs like this, right? Do you ever wonder why it doesn't bother the dog, causing him to scratch incessantly at his forehead in an effort to remove the offending facial fur? I kind of wondered that...

What fur? Hey, someone across town is cooking bacon!

Then I got thinking. Dogs rely more on their sense of smell, or so we're told by "real" dog experts. It's their primary sense, with eyesight coming in second at best--maybe a close third after hearing.

Does it bother you to wear scented lipgloss? Of course not. But think about it--you smear it on right below your nose. This kind of thing would probably drive Cooper nuts.* Since we rely on sight as our primary sense, we are bugged by something hanging in front of our eyes, but an ever-present scent right by our noses is not a problem. Cooper's out-of-control eyebrows are like a heavy dose of wintergreen Chapstick in front of his second-favorite sense organ.

...and I'm not sure why this is important enough to write about on my blog. It's just something I was thinking about.

* Actually, Cooper doesn't need to be driven nuts. I think he's already there. That's part of what makes him such a fun pet!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown

I'll apologize in advance to those who were enjoying my recent rash of silly posts. This one is much more thoughtful, even intelligent. But I promise I'll soon return to the potty humor and pointless quotes from my five year old.

I love physics. I don't have the math background to understand it beyond a basic, conceptual level, but I like studying it and thinking about it. I think about it all the time. Here's something for you to chew on, and if you're like me, it will make you go, "Whoooa, dude!"

Bill, strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.
Do you realize you've never been in the same place twice? That place where you're sitting right now? Yeah, it's the first time you (or probably anyone else) has ever been there. And it's probably the last time anyone will be there. I'm not talking about your seat in front of the computer in the upstairs bedroom. I mean your place in the universe. Let me explain... (Pay attention! This might be on the test.)

Earth is spinning, no? So at this moment you're in a different spot than where you were a few seconds ago. You keep blazing forward (along a circular path) to new places!

"Oh," you say, "but I'll come back around 24 hours from now, right back to the same place." Not so fast, genius... Earth is also revolving around the sun, so tomorrow the whole place will be in a new spot, about two and half million kilometers from where it is right now.

Imagine a wheel. Like a ferris wheel, or the wheel of a bicycle that is suspended off the ground. Now imagine a point on it, like one ferris wheel seat, or the bike tire's valve stem. As the wheel spins, that point will move into the same place over and over again every time it comes around, right?
Imagine if you were to move that wheel sideways as it spins. The path that valve stem follows through space will be shaped like a corkscrew. The slower the wheel is spinning (or the faster it moves sideways), the more elongated the corkscrew shape.

Now, think of the bicycle tire rolling across the ground. The wheel is spinning, but it is also moving forward, as shown by these two arrows:

The valve stem follows a path that looks like this:

You'll just have to trust me. I may be no good at math, but I'm okay with geometry. (And drawing bikes!)

Still with me? Okay, so think of this big ball we're all standing on. It's spinning, sort of like a bicycle wheel turned on its side, except it's spherical. (If you hold with those who still insist the earth is flat, that's okay; the visualization will be even easier for you. Just ignore the following drawing and substitute a land-and-sea-colored pizza.)

Can you find your house?

Add to that rotation another movement, as the Earth revolves around the sun: (If you still think Earth is in the center, with the sun moving around it, I'm going to ask you to leave now, because the rest of my little demonstration will not work for you.)

This is not exactly drawn to scale, but you get the idea.

The result, or path through space taken by somebody standing on the Earth, looks something like this:

Here, we're viewing the whole thing from above, looking down on the North Pole.

I know what you're thinking... you're thinking that with each year there will be another path, like a pretty Spirograph pattern. Eventually, two of those paths will overlap exactly, so if you stay on your couch every day for years, you will eventually come back to the same place where you were before, right? Guess again! Not only is Earth moving around the sun, but the sun and all the planets are moving within the Milky Way galaxy. That's right, there are more movements going on than we can even keep track of.

On the galactic scale, this motion might be too slow for us to perceive; it takes millions of years for anything to move far enough for us to notice the change. But we're talking about a really ginormous space... you may have moved a thousand kilometers in the time it took to read this sentence--that's nothing on a galactic scale, but it's far enough to support my claim: you will never be in the same place twice.

Thoughts? Please leave a comment. If I get lots of remarks along the lines of, "Couldn't you just share some knock-knock jokes or something?" I'll make this my last physics lesson on U by C. If there's some positive feedback, maybe I'll write more of this kind of stuff in the future. It's all on you, folks.