March 18, 2008

Hail, and Farewell, Sir Arthur.

Arthur C. Clarke died today.

He was a pillar of science fiction, and his vision of the future helped to shape the world we live in today. Like the best sci-fi authors, he was an actual scientist, one of the men who first proposed using satellites in orbit around the earth to facilitate communications. He also developed Ground Approach Radar during World War II, and wrote about its creation the novel Glide Path.

He didn't simply write about aliens and space, he accurately described how we would live there, and how we'd have to adapt. While his 2001: A Space Odyssey script was optimistic in its time frame, much of that world can be found around us today.

This was how Sir Arthur viewed science, a formulation known as "Clarke's 3 Laws of Prediction:"
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is
    possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something
    is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

He was a giant among us, and we are poorer for his passing.

March 12, 2008

Another "I rode the train" Blog

I just want to clear up something; yesterday was NOT my first trip on TriRail. I rode it daily about ten years ago while I was between cars.

Back then, cost wasn’t a factor. I took the train while I shopped around for a new car, and if it had been convenient, I would have kept using it. Back then, I was commuting south into Miami; in fact, it was the exact opposite of my current commute! I dealt with the hell that is I-95 south of the Golden Glades interchange on a daily basis. It was a bumper-to-bumper grind of drivers trying to figure out how to pass each other, and no fun at all. But even then, using TriRail simply wasn’t a workable option.

It wasn’t just the fact that the trains only ran on the hour; that was something that could be dealt with. Mostly, it was getting TO the train in the morning using what Broward County tries to pass off as a bus system. Ten years ago, they had a shuttle that ran in the morning, took a break, and resumed an hour or so later.

Guess when the train I needed to catch left the station?

This gave me two options: either I left much earlier, and sat outside a carpentry shop in one of the worst sections of Miami for an hour, or I could be twenty minutes late.

I did try riding my bike to the station a couple of times; it was a near death experience crossing I-95 on Broward Boulevard. I don’t recommend it.

Here we are, 2008. The trains run about every 30 minutes. Broward has a bus that runs all day from the station through the downtown business district. And gas is worming its way up to four bucks a gallon. Now, taking the train makes more sense than ever

This morning, I’m on one of the fancy new trains. It looks much larger than the old ones, inside and out. I’m in a seat that has a power outlet next to it; I don’t need it currently, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

I have to be in an hour earlier today, and the walk to the office took longer than usual, so I’ve taken a train slightly earlier than the one that gets me there “on time.” I expect I won’t see light in the sky until my coffee break at the office. S’allright.

A couple just sat down across the aisle. They take this particular train every day, and there’s a exclamation of joy as they discover that the center seats (the ones facing each other) is available to them yet again. Over the course of the trip, I realize that they are just “train buddies,” and not romantically involved.

Ah! We’re at Opa-Locka again. I can read the sign out the un-fogged window, but it’s still too dark to see the minarets of the station. I saw them on yesterday’s return trip, which I should write today, but this new train has captivated me.

No table in this car, so my laptop is in my, well, lap. No place to perch a coffee cup, but I did have a cup before the train left the station. Now I’m jonesing for it just a little. My body is waking up, and my bones are protesting the hour and the lack of caffeine. Bastards.

I’m debating putting the laptop away and having coffee, but in my gut I know that that’s a Bad Idea. Let’s face it, it’ll slop all over the place, and mostly on me. I’ll tough it out.

The couple across the aisle greets a passenger who’s just boarded. Chalk that up as a fringe benefit; community.

Ticket check! We’re leaving the Golden Glades. Damn! The cars are already stacking up!

As we cross Hallandale Beach Boulevard, the couple across the aisle read the signs at the Raceway Station; $3.29. “It keeps going up!” he says, “I’m glad I don’t have to worry about it anymore” she replies.

You know what this train needs? Cup-holders.

The Return Trip

So I found the shuttle from the downtown bus depot to the train station

Getting out from the station is easy; the shuttle is right there. I couldn’t find the stop for the afternoon trip yesterday, so I sprang the $1.25 to take a bus that eventually showed up. I was more stubborn today, and finally someone said that a big white bus sometimes stops at the sidewalk and they think it’s the Tri Rail bus, and in short order, one did, and it was. There were no markings on it. The driver stared at me for a moment when I asked if this was the bus to the TriRail station. He slouched and nodded his head grudgingly. “Yeh. Dis it.” Unlike the morning bus, which was one of those shuttle jobs, this is one of those big lease buses, the kind you’d take a group down to Key West in for a day excursion.

There are six of us on board. Comfortable seats, and a radio. Good thing I like loud rock.

Yesterday I got hung up at work, so I took the 5:30 train. Today, I make it for the 4:30 train. But I make it because it’s late. It’s late because of a CSX train. The CSX train means that everyone waiting at Platform 1 (the ‘southbound’ side) has to run UP the very tall staircase, across the bridge, and DOWN the very tall (and steep) stair case to get to Platform 2, where the train is now going to arrive.

There’s some swearing, but we all make it.

Yesterday’s train was very full, but I was in a lead car, and it was later in the day. Today, I’m in the last car, up top, with the tables. I didn’t realize how much I missed the tables this morning.

Just before we split away from 95, I snap some pictures of the traffic piling up. I don’t miss that. The return trip is certainly faster than the trip up, although the same amount of time elapses.

The train wobbles a bit as it curves away. I realize, after this morning, that it’s actually the suspension on the train cars, and not the tracks. The new trains gave a very smooth ride over the same sections that make the old trains shake and shimmy.

We’ve reduced to crawl for some reason. We lapsed the CSX train miles back, so it’s got to be something else. We speed up again just before they call out “Golden Glades Station!”

The conductor is nagging passengers about getting off; I guess he’s trying to get back on schedule. “Welcome to the Golden Glades! Everyone disembark – these are short stops! All aboard! We are now leaving the Golden Glades.”

Really, he said it just like that.

There’s a lot more to see on The Return Trip, being daylight and all.

We’re now leaving beautiful Opa-locka, passing through the quaint recking yards and their stacks of dead automobiles. Rusting steel and rotting tires combine to create rustic heights around the stagnant drainage ditches. Charming.

Next, we pull into upper Hialeah, and its groves of cranes and personnel lifts.

Metrorail transfer; I used to pass through this station a lot, but now I’m on until the end.

The warehouse districts suddenly spruce up before we get to Hialeah Market. I don’t know why. Proximity to the airport, I suppose. We pass through the mess they’ve made of 54th Street by Flamingo Plaza; it’s been dug up for months; it’s gotta be affecting businesses.

I’m packing it in now, we’re almost at my stop, and my battery is down to 54% (forgot to charge it at the office).

Yep. This train thing isn’t bad. Not bad a’tall.

March 11, 2008

Taking the Train

I got to the station a little later than I’d planned, but I still caught the train.

I did manage to find a parking spot, although the lot was badly chopped up by the construction of the Intermodal Center. But it’s free, and I get to the train by 6:58.

It left the station on schedule; a few minutes later it was swaying like a ship on high seas as it crossed an uneven patch of tracks. The rocking continued through Hialeah, but we got through it all right. It does leave me worried about the overall condition of the tracks, however.

I’m sitting in the upper level of car 1012. There are five other passengers, two of whom promptly fall asleep. The other three are students. I pour a cup of coffee from my thermos, and start this missive. There are tables in this car, which makes it easy to work.

I have my camera with me; I didn’t have time to snap any pictures
before getting on the train, and it’s too dark to shoot out through the windows (which are misted over, anyway). I snap a picture of my reflection in the window across the aisle.

Next stop. A couple of people enter my section, I don’t know how many got on the train all told. I pour another cup of coffee; I’m starting feel human.

The train shimmies a little as we traverse the warehouse districts. I toy with the idea of working on some CAD stuff, but it’s hard enough just typing.

7:17. The train blows its horn. It strikes me that it’s calling out "hoooo HA! I need more coffee.

Third stop; where is this? Oh, we’re pulling out already. Never mind. I think it was Opa-Locka. But I never know when I’m in Opa-Locka, and this trip doesn’t change that.

We’re passing through more intersections now, and now there are lines of cars a hundred or so long. Suckers!

I see the highway out the window just before the conductor announces the Golden Glades Station. A handful of people get on here, and there are a few reminders to “stand clear of the doors. I can suddenly see the sky; it’s almost sunrise, and I’m half way to work.

I look at the cars stacking up southbound; but I’m not really that impressed. I see that on my morning drive, and it’s more gleeful to step on the gas while the cars on the other side remain in a bumper to bumper crawl. This isn’t about traffic, its’ about cost savings. My car gets about 28 MPG, and I drive 32 miles to Fort Lauderdale. Even if we say I only use a gallon of gas each way (which I don’t), that would still be about $7 in gas, plus the toll. Call it $8.00

I bought a 12 trip pass, and my round trip costs are $5.52.

Ah, Hollwood Station! I can see out the windows, now. Traffic at the intersections is a LOT denser. A larger group of people get on here; students going to FAU, workers headed for North Broward. We’re more than a dozen in the top of #1012.

I can see an orange glow through the clouds to the east.

Sheridan Street Station; this is the first station where I’ve seen an appreciable parking lot, and FHP trooper keeping watch from his prowler at the far end. Or maybe he’s getting a hummer; the prowler could be empty for all I know.

We’re coming up on the airport, and I’ll pack it in after that. We slow down through a cluster of hotels as we pull in to the station. I’ll fill in the rest on the trip home.

Next up: negotiating my way from the station to my office!

Do I have to use it in a sentences?

The Miami Herald held a spelling bee yesterday.

It wasn't quite like this:

Visit SATURDAY MORNING BREAKFAST CEREAL for more cartoons like this one.

No, I'm serious, go look. The man's a friggin' genius. Well, he's a man, anyway. Or something that frigs.

March 10, 2008

You're not as green as you think you are.

I'm sick of people pounding their chest and claiming to be green simply because they eat 'organic' food and wear birkenstocks.

Buying a hybrid may be a move in the right direction, but it's not enough. And no, Sonesta Hotel, you're not "green" simply because you aren't charging owners of hybrids for valet parking.

Everyone wants to jump on the 'green' bandwagon. I commend that. But it's harder than you think, and I doubt that most of you are as green as you think.

You're not "green" if :
  • you drive any SUV. You just aren't.
  • you drive any high-performance sports car. Green doesn't go 0-60 in three seconds. Ever.
  • your car has more than four cylinders.
  • you don't re-use shopping bags on every trip.
  • you reach for a paper towel instead of a rag.
  • you don't own a bicycle at all (unless you are physically constrained from using one).
  • you take the elevator/escalator instead of the stairs.
  • you let the water run while you wash your hands, brush your teeth, or shave.
  • you've never bothered to figure out if you COULD use the bus or train to commute.
  • you flush the toilet every time you take a leak. No, really.
  • you eat at fast food restaurants; cups, wrappers, straws, even the FORKS get thrown away.
  • you buy pre-packaged meals instead of preparing it yourself.
  • you use any disposable anything.
  • you haven't replaced all your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. Worried mercury? Get real. You're exposed to more mercury opening a can of TUNA FISH.
  • you eat canned tuna fish. Sadly, fisherman have tended to take fish out of the ocean without putting anything back. Fisheries are depleted; guess why.
  • you eat wild-caught fish instead of farmed fish. See above.
  • you eat meat. (and no, I'm not a vegan. But cows and pigs and chickens are major sources of pollution)
  • you don't recycle.
  • you haven't replaced your toilet in the last ten years.
  • you use non-rechargeable batteries.
  • you have more than one TV on at a time. (and frankly, if you have more than one TV).
I'm not accusing you, really I'm not. But it's so easy to SAY we'll be green, and so easy to find a reason not to be THAT green.

Read over that list, and cross off the stuff that you can honestly say "HA! That's not ME." Then see how much is left on the list. I'm not saying you should quit flushing your toilet, but maybe bring in a coffee cup for a refill. Or eat at restaurants that wash dishes instead of throwing them away.