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Saturday, October 31, 2015

R-e-d l-i-g--ht... g-r-e-e-n-l-i-g-h-t... DynamiteBOOM!

Remember the kid game,  
Red light, green light, dynamite Boom! ?


Bummer. You must have led a sheltered childhood.

Anyway, it was a flawed game because it didn't have a yellow light. And yellow lights are what makes the world go 'round say the traffic engineers.

The yellow light governs how smoothly traffic flows through the intersection. If the yellow is too long, too many cars dangerously crowd the intersection. Too short and drivers get caught on camera 'running the red.'

Federal guidelines say yellow lights must last between 3 and 6 seconds. Getting it right to the half-seond would cut red light violations in half. It's a tricky equation however because there are so many variables--speed limit, volume of traffic, grade of the roadway, weather condition, time of day, impatience of the driver, etc.

Studies say ideally you need 4.5 seconds for the perfect yellow. If only 3 seconds are provided, drivers would either have to stop abruptly or proceed through and risk running the red. So getting it "just right" is all of the above plus safety.

A waiting driver's response to the green light is one second. So proper acceleration is another vital factor.

Tony Schumacher
I wonder how eight-time NRHA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher, (nicknamed "The Sarge" befitting his sponsor, the U.S. Army) would handle this. Pretty good, I would guess. Quick on the gas pedal on green, it took him just a tad more than 4 seconds to accelerate to 337.58 mph in 1/4th mile from a standing stop-- a world record.

FYI: Top fuel racers can hit 100 mph in about 4/5ths of a second.

Now when you time a yellow for Tony and his friends, you really do have to get it just right.

Schumacher's Top Fuel car

My road to riches is to come up with 'the golden formula' that produces safe, smooth driving. Can you imagine what saving one second of time for every car at every intersection in the world would do for saving gas? I figure that instead of self-driving cars, we develop self-driving Top Fuel racers. We would not only save an incredible amount of gas and time but we would be able to get from Chicago to New York in less than a minute, not counting bathroom stops.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trade your cow for these magic beans...

TRADE... Your cow for these magic beans, My kingdom for a horse, Anything for a golden touch.

Bartering has never gone away but today, money has become its most popular medium of change.

Money gives an exact measurement, 3 for a dollar, $2.399 for a gallon of gas, etc. The value is set.

However, a new day is dawning with the realization that perceived value of this for that is often in the eye of the beholder and cash is a finite commodity. Trading (and bartering for value) is perhaps the greatest way to create a win-win and save the bucks for something else.

In days past, commodities could be traded for services--a massage for a chicken, shoe my horse and I'll plow your field, Thanksgiving turkey for three haircuts, scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. I saw how well this can work by watching two of my children who barter whenever possible.

A winning 200-word essay for this charming two-centuries old New Hampshire Inn was a great barter opportunity. The owner decided to sell in the same manner she acquired the property 22 years earlier. At the cost of  $125 to enter the contest, you too could have been a winner at better than lottery odds. This is a legal contest of skill however--not a lottery--and comes with its own complications as you can see.

An Alabama couple offered their farm (sheep and goats included) for a winning essay and $1. A similar contest for a  Maryland home allowed the winner to acquire for $100 and a chocolate recipe. 

But say you don't want this valuable Inn for $125 and have something simpler in mind. There are web sites that specialize in this even beyond Craigslist and eBay.

A few years back 17-year-old Steven Oritz bartered a used cell phone a friend gave him for a 2000 Porsche Boxer S Convertible. It took him two years and 14 carefully planned trades but he did it by following the pattern of Canadian Kyle MacDonald.  Here's his story. 

In 2005 MacDonald began with a red paper clip and ended up with a two-story house. Wanna see how he did it? Click here.


WORSE BARTER OF ALL TIME? Without a doubt, Adam and Eve gave up Paradise for a bite of an apple.

Monday, October 12, 2015

All there is. All there was. All there ever will be.

That could be biblical, but it's not.

SILENCE PLEASE! This photo is the pretend library of everything that was ever, is and will ever be in print. NO TALKING! If your eyes are good and you squint, you can see books lining shelf after shelf. It is far, far smaller than the space such a collection would fill. QUIET!

The number of volumes that would actually be, according to the math nerds, is 10 to the power of two million... far too many zeros to list on this page. The premise presumes that each of those "books" are 410 pages, 3200 characters per page. It would require more digital storage than could fit in the entire universe. And imagine, all this from an alphabet that has only 26 letters to work with.

I was taken by the story in Smithsonian magazine that proposed this premise, based on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges who, in 1939, wrote an essay, The Total Library. "Borges imagined a library," said the article, "that held not just every book ever written, but every book that could be written, every book-length combination of characters in every possible sequence. It would contain, along with an almost infinite quantity of gibberish all of civilizations' wisdom, true accounts of the past and future."

This, to my blogging delight, includes all the work of the 'Infinite Number of Monkeys' theory which in itself, is a delight to read.

Borges felt wisdom is useless if it is lost in a sea of nonsense.

Take for example all the political rhetoric churning on a 24/7 basis from one election campaign to the next. Ah, now I see what Borges

The downside: If The Library of Babel actually did exist, all the writers (and monkeys) in the world could take the rest of their lives off. It's already been, or will be written. Sorry New York Times, 'All the news that's fit to print' already has.

The upside: Think of the royalties.

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison 

Sorry Toni, too late.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

United Flight 93, Sept. 11, 2001

Remember where you were that day, 9/11, when you first heard?

This is United Airlines' tail number N591UA on the Newark runway heading to San Francisco that terrible day. This is the aircraft terrorists took down near Shanksville, PA. This plane was aimed at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. just 18 flight minutes away, where Congress was in full session. This is the plane that those on board saved the lives of many more at the cost of their own.

The intended target
Of the four aircraft Al Quada hijacked that day and the many heros that came forward, United 93 was the only plane where those heros were able to effect a change in the terrorist's plan. United 93 was 29 minutes late departing and the passengers on board learned what had already happened that morning. When their plane changed course, they knew they were part of that same plan.

There were 40 in all--33 passengers and 7 crew-- excluding the hijackers. For the last 25 minutes of their lives, all knew their probable fate. All died as the plane, inverted, slammed into the Pennsylvania hillside at 563 mph. The 45 degree angle of impact assured there would virtually be nothing left.

Visiting the just completed National Memorial's Visitors Center tells the sad tale more completely than is comfortable. It tells the individual story of each victim, who they were, how they lived and why they came to be on that flight. It shows where they sat and for some, how they responded. You can listen to some of those  phone calls those last minutes and voices captured in the cockpit. You will cry. It tells how they were able to do something that saved the Capitol and so many of those in it.
Unlike the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, there is more to tell of these 40 because they knew and had time to act. You hear recorded testimony of their planings in the face of an impossible situation. We can sense their emotions as the scenario is played out.

Small fragment of the plane
At the point of impact, there was virtually nothing left of anybody or anything. Diligent forensic work identified every victim by DNA testing. All remain interred at the site which has been over-planted with flowers and grasses natural to the area. It has been fenced as a grave-site open only to family and friends. All are individually immortalized as part of a Memorial Wall that guards the site itself.

Remarkably, one small fragment of a credit card was traced back to one of the hijackers and tied to a money trail leading to new information.

The displays there relived, in most interesting fashion, that whole, infamous day as it unfolded. Seeing it all 14 years later is profound. The story of United Flight 93 and its victims is as good as it can be told. The legacy of those that flight might have inspired others to fight back against terrorists.

This newest memorial, a National Park site, is most visit-worthy and a fitting tribute to those aboard who made an incredible critical difference.

BLOG INSIDER TIP: If you haven't clicked on the link highlighted in the 4th paragraph above, do it now for a nice new review of what you'll see there.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Where has all the humor gone?

Robin Williams... the best!

Where has all the humor gone? Are we so busy worrying that we don't have time to laugh anymore or even think funny thoughts?

Chuckles the Clown of the old Mary Tyler Moore was eulogized as Mary remembered by his favorite line: "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants." Funny or not? I dare you to decide here.

Biggest problem is, to think funny you can't be mad or angry all the time... like most of us seem to be.

The earth is warming, death and killings seem to call for more guns just in case we have to shoot or kill someone ourselves, the stock market controls too many lives, bad guys have all the power of today's killer technology and a mere handful can do more damage than the atomic bomb, omnipresent politics are more divisive than ever, wars never end, refugees flood the earth, the rich get richer, the poor struggle every day, the Congress we elected is one of our least trusted bodies with a primary goal to get reelected... and after all that, we die.

Is that all there is?

Where is the balance? Have we tuned out human nature? We the people... are human... and funny. Sometimes funny ha ha, some times funny stupid. Sometimes they laugh at us, sometimes we laugh at ourselves. I think we have become somberly focused on every negative aspect--real or imagined--that permeates our minds.

In my former life as a magazine publisher, I wrote a column called For Your Information that began in 1962 and continued monthly through 1996. It was a lighthearted attempt to lift spirits and laugh at ourselves. What could be richer than that. I had a section in every column called "Dumb Crooks" and later added "... and Stupid Sounding Lawsuits." It was the best read feature in the magazine and generated the greatest reader response. People love to laugh... they just sometimes forget.

Way before anyone else, I started a trend that resulted in books, stories and television specials of the stupid things we do. Today, Chuck Shepherd has picked up the theme in his News of the Weird that regularly appears in a delightful 24-page monthly newspaper, Funny Times. If you think you might actually enjoy funny news and cartoons (both political and human nature-filled), do yourself a favor and check it out.

Here are a few examples of how funny (and/or stupid and/or ironic or just plain ridiculous) we can be in real life:

  • A Nebraska man is in prison for shooting his girlfriend with a pistol. The 22 caliber bullet cut right through her tattoo that read, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun."
  • Car-jacking isn't as easy as it seems. When the thief ripped-off the ar of a handicapped driver, he didn't know how to use the hand controls. So he got out of the car and handed the wheel-chair bound victim the keys, then stripped off his ski mask and said, "Just kidding." 
  • A woman from Arkansas is suing her college for a classroom exercise of 'musical chairs' that went wrong. She claims in her suit that the game was played wrong because the instructor had asked her and two other students to play with only one chair. The resulting game scramble that ensued, she claimed, cost her two broken fingers and forced her into "years" of surgery and physical therapy. She asserted that "everyone knows Musical Chairs should be two chairs for three people." She asks for $75,000.
  • In Australia, a man about to board a 14 hour flight to Vienna was stopped by authorities who discovered he had 35 geckos under his clothes, all taped to his skin. Sounds like the kind of guy I get stuck next to on a plane.
  • A recent demonstration of 100 people outside Britain's Parliament to protest legislation to curb psychoactive drugs, passed out gas-filled balloons containing nitrous oxide--laughing gas. The demonstration turned funny as the group took hits from their balloons and "erupted in fits of laughter."
  • From the 'New Product' department: A Yom Kipur workaround for "fasting" coffee addicts: caffeine suppositories.
  • Extensive research by Animal Behaviour Science magazine cautions pet owners that they may be petting their cats all wrong! Felines seem to prefer face-caressing, especially between the eyes and ears, and are negatively aroused by tail-petting, especially at the base.
  • The Welsh language is such a severe mutation of the original English spoken in the Middle Ages that it is barely distinguishable from Klingon. In fact, the Welsh government, responding to queries about a possible UFO sighting near Cardiff airport, playfully issued its galaxy-friendly response in Klingon: "jang dvlDa je due luq." And if you wish to say "I cannot understand in Welsh," simply respond "nad oes modd i ddeall Cymraeg."
  • In Arkansas, a man representing himself on a disorderly conduct charge was found guilty. So he took down his pants and mooned the judge. Not one to take a joke, the judge added 5 months for each cheek.
So seriously, laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone, or worse yet, go to jail for 10 months. Sure cure for the frown, the always funny, never blue Funny Times web page

Try not to take yourself so seriously. There's always someone worse off than you.