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And Away Again: A-Kon [Jun. 8th, 2011|08:30 am]
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Tomorrow I take off for A-Kon in Dallas, once more on the train, but this time only a four hour journey on the train itself, plus the hour to get to the train station and having to arrive early there to be sure of catching it.   Since friends drove from near here (about 15 miles away) to DFW to pick up a family member flying in from Brazil, I'm aware that I-35 is down to one lane northbound part of the way, so the train is a wonderful alternative.  Unfortunately, there's only one a day.  More unfortunately, expansion of the I-35 corridor does not include a set of train tracks.  (For reasons known only to the politicians involved in TXDOT, the only rail they'll consider is "high speed rail" from San Antonio to Austin to Dallas, not on the I-35 corridor, and not serving any intermediate communities...which communities are not eager to support high speed rail, oddly enough, since they get no benefit from it.)

At any rate, I'll be at A-Kon over the weekend, helping to launch Ladies of Trade Town, edited and published (due to some difficulties with its originally scheduled publisher) by a friend of mine.   Meanwhile, R- will continue to work on the new rain barn (Cloud Pavilion)  in the hopes of finishing it before surgery is actually scheduled.   Mac-horse appears to be in fine fettle,  drama-queen personality and all.   (We had company yesterday.  He came shouldering in as if to bully the company.  I corrected him, and he gave everyone a look of wounded innocence.  "Me?  Invade personal space?  How can you even think that of a noble steed like me?")  

Company last night helped us with garden produce (that is, we ate sun-ripened, still sun-warm tomatoes and home-grown potatoes.   Every year I forget how much better potatoes are right out of the ground.   The variety of potato that grows best here is a red one; the yield is not high because of  the limited growing season (potatoes not being fond of 100F plus days and very warm nights)  But wow, the difference between our red potatoes and store-bought red potatoes.  Boiled, with butter, salt, and pepper, they're amazing.   We'll have one or two more meals of them, and then we're done: we don't have the space or the climate to grow a lot of potatoes and store them.  The tomatoes are also responding to the heat, dry winds, and warmer nights with a drop-off in flowering.  But again, the flavor of home-grown tomatoes...yum.   I use tomatoes a lot in cooking (canned tomatoes) but rarely eat a "fresh' tomato unless it comes out of our garden.   The peas are over, of course, and the beans are slowly coming on.   Corn this year was a bust: only two stalks came up.   That's not enough to fertilize any ears they make: we'll have to hand-fertilize and hope for one or two ears.  Onions we've got by the bunch, and the chard is now full-grown.

Meanwhile again, Bombadil the tractor is being contrary--rancherfriend thinks it's the override clutch slipping--and sometimes it mows and sometimes the power doesn't get from the drive shaft to the blades and it sort of thrashes the grass without cutting it.   Since I have about 5-8 acres that needs to be taken down before it's another fire hazard, this is inconvenient to say the least.   We're looking for a better fix than sending Bombadil back to the shop, which will keep it for weeks before returning it. 


[User Picture]From: shockwave77598
2011-06-08 01:43 pm (UTC)
They have repeatedly planned to create a high speed rail in a triangular path between houston, SA, Austin, Waco, Dallas, and then back to Houston again. They were talking about it back in the early 90s. They spend money on the surveys and reports (millions in dollars) and then right at the end, the Southwest Airlines folks intrude. At that point the conclusion changes to "Airlines don't need tracks and are cheaper". While on the surface the airline is right (no need to build tracks) the tonnage that can be moved is much less than the rails.

I don't believe we will ever see a working rail system in Texas. It would require taking people's land - a very big no no in rural areas - and would cost a tremendous amount to construct it.

What I believe we will see instead is a Smart Highway system. Components are already being slowly introduced into automobiles a little at a time. In this system, cars can self navigate and avoid collisions, thus reducing accidents and also freeing the driver from having to concentrate for hours on end between cities. It would also move the costs of gear purchasing to the customer - no expensive tracks necessary. It will revolutionize travel -- imagine getting into the car after work, sleeping part of the way to the con, and waking up as you arrive in the city?

Our tomatoes are in such numbers that we can't use them all. But our peas died from the heat.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-06-08 02:56 pm (UTC)
And yet we take peoples' land for highways...they may protest, but they end up having a road there anyway. The people who oppose a particular land-grab still grasp that roads benefit many people (including, later on, themselves.)

The problem with TXDOT's proposed rail is and always has been that it's aimed at moving city people from one large city to another--it is NOT aimed at serving the people whose land would be grabbed. I've talked about a rail line in the I-35 corridor for decades: that's land already grabbed, with communities who would undoubtedly use rail if it were available. They oppose rail because they see no benefit in it--a high-speed rail service that bypasses the communities from which land was taken is an insult.

Yet Texas had, at one time, a very useful passenger rail network, some of which survived until I was in college. As a young child, I could ride the train the 12 miles between my home town and where my grandparents lived. We took the train from McAllen to San Antonio to catch the westbound train to Los Angeles when I was three. And in college, I rode a passenger train from Harlingen to Houston, an overnight trip. (After that, it was a bus.) As with many other things, the choice to support highways and airlines, and not rail, was related to politics and special interests. Car manufacturers/dealers/etc. and the oil companies wanted their interests protected--railways--passenger railways in particular--cut into their profits. Southwest Airlines isn't the only one.

Individual cars are inefficient at moving mass across distance: they spend more fuel per passenger moved. When you factor in the other resources (wear on tires, lubrication, etc.) they're even worse. Even commercial airliners are better at fuel/passenger usage, gas hogs as they are. Even if a car is being run by an automatic pilot, the passengers are still stuck in their seats, having to stop periodically for food, toilet breaks, etc. They'll also be stopped in traffic jams (which will still occur when weather conditions or road construction or just the number of cars/mile outstrips the carrying capacity of the road.) Train passengers can get up and walk around, eat, etc.--and in a sleeper, can lie down flat to sleep--while in transit.

New highway construction for high-volume routes (Interstate, other divided highways) is on the order of $50 million/mile on flat, stable, "open" land, not counting land acquisition--and it takes much more land to build a 4 lane divided highway than to build a rail line...a minimum of 12 feet per lane, plus the shoulder, turning and entrance lanes, and the central division which is often 50 feet wide to allow for adding lanes in the middle.) So land acquisition costs alone are higher than rail, assuming the rail is not hit with special requirements. Construction costs are higher when terrain, climate, and urban conditions are considered (and the same applies to rail, but at a lower rate.)

New single-rail construction for max 80 mph track on equivalent ground (flattish, stable) is much less: as low as $2-3 million in some cases, not counting signals/switches (signals/switches cost $1-2 million.) Double track is much more efficient and sensible in terms of moving trains around, so figure, to be generous, $15 million/mile for double track construction on near-level ground, for non-high-speed rail. (High speed rail costs more.)

Oddly enough, driving or flying or taking the train to Dallas takes about the same time from here.
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[User Picture]From: shockwave77598
2011-06-08 04:15 pm (UTC)
Interesting. We have no train from Houston. We used to have, but now you bus to the train that's halfway to Dallas in order to get to Dallas -- it would be faster to just take the bus all the way.

Trains are more efficient only if they aren't stopping/starting and are full. If you have one passenger, the fuel costs to move that one person are enormous. If the train is full, then you can say that the efficiency is better. As they run on a schedule, full or not, the efficiency will vary.

I had not thought about the issue with people not wanting to give up their land because they would see no benefit from it. Makes some sense, I agree. But making a train that stops at every little town will make the train so slow that nobody would even think of using it. That's the issue with the buses in Houston today -- it takes you 2 hours to get from a suburb to downtown and then another 2 hours to get to the other side again. So if your job was on the opposite side of town, you'll spend 8 hours a day on the bus. This is due to the buses stopping every 20 feet or so (Okay, I exaggerate a wee bit.) In Austin, the buses only stop every other block and I used them for years because they worked. Not only are the buses in Houston worthless, but the train is too -- it runs from downtown to downtown.

It comes down to what a mass transit system is for. If it's to move masses, then it needs to be fast and it needs to go where the people are. If it stops at every watering hole, then it's not moving masses and it's not fast enough to be useful. Dallas's DART can move masses. Houston's metro cannot.

Realistically, we will see smarthighway before we see high speed rail in Texas, for all the reasons you yourself have said. The tech is coming worldwide and the vested interests here love it. So I don't ever expect to see HSrail here while the politicians can pass the buck onto consumers for cars that can do the same job with the existing infrastructure.
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[User Picture]From: tuftears
2011-06-08 06:49 pm (UTC)
Clearly we need train tracks that work on like a ski lift system: if you need to get somewhere, you show up, they rig a seat for you, put it into position, and you get picked up by the next hook that shows up. When you get where you need to be, the hook (computerizedly) drops you off into a receiving mechanism! It'd be awesome!
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[User Picture]From: shockwave77598
2011-06-08 09:58 pm (UTC)
As I recall, Amtrak once had the car train -- you rode in the front while the family truckster was in the back of the train in a carrier vehicle. Not sure what became of the attempt.
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From: 6_penny
2011-06-08 10:57 pm (UTC)
My folks used to take the car/train to Fla for the winter and back ...usually picked it up in DC. Then it disappeared and the only option was something called the auto bus which loaded the car onto a car carrier and provided a bus - with overnight stop at a motel for the trip. The carrier had a lot more potential to damage ones vehicle.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-06-09 01:23 am (UTC)
Still exists on the New York to Florida run, where it was most in demand.
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[User Picture]From: blueeowyn
2011-06-09 07:03 pm (UTC)
The auto-train runs from just south of DC to just north of Orlando. 2 stations. Longest regular run passenger train in the US IIRC. It is very nice and if you use it at the right time of year (or buy early enough) a very attractive price. My DH & I drove to FL (from MD) and took the train back in January (the extra $1000 to take the train down was enough higher than the cost of driving (hotel, gas, etc. calculated based on the normal mileage for the car) that it wasn't practical to take it both ways)

Unfortunately, they have to stop the train in VA (Lorton) since the car carrier portion is tall and won't fit in the tunnels north of there. We got in fairly early (7:00ish for a 9:30 scheduled arrival), very smooth and good food. The "roomette" was smaller than we understood and the 'game table' wasn't big enough for much of anything but we would do it again (either regular seats or a larger room).
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From: zackthedog
2011-06-18 03:17 pm (UTC)

drive time

3 hours, door to door, ma'am, when I was making that drive. Miss doing it.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-06-18 10:41 pm (UTC)

Re: drive time

I will not ask if a) you kept to the speed limit or b) leapt over the construction.

I've made it to the southern outskirts of Dallas in three hours once. The rest of the time, driving, it's been longer, and usually involved sitting (or crawling) on I-35 for much longer than I wanted to be there. Including on the trip home from our first visit.

Of course, I'm an ancient crone who can barely peer over the dashboard and is easily spooked by Dallas freeways... ;-)
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[User Picture]From: keristor
2011-06-08 03:21 pm (UTC)
Imagine going to sleep in your car and finding a blue screen when you wake up. Adds a new meaning to "the system has crashed." There is no way I'm going to trust a computer controlled car unless I've written and debugged the software (OK, there may be a few other people I'd trust, but none of the big companies, I've seen how they develop software) -- and there are no people with uncontrolled cars getting in the way. GPS is as far as I go trusting tech. At least with GPS I can see if it's doing something silly, like taking me to a town with the same name the other side of the country, and if it fails I can read roadsigns.
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[User Picture]From: shockwave77598
2011-06-08 03:55 pm (UTC)
Which is why the tech is being slowly brought into vehicles a little at a time. I was once asked to build a safety device for a car and had to refuse because if anyone got into an accident within 5 miles, even if the device was not on, I'd be drug into court to defend it. Which is the same problem the car makers face with these new tech systems -- how to perfect them while gaining public trust and also avoiding the slavering lawyers just waiting to file papers.

If you don't trust a computer to drive the car, then you must not trust the computers that are flying the airplanes -- planes have been fly by wire since the 757. Oh, but there are now fewer crashes than ever? Gee, I wonder why. The computers will have to be built not to avionic spec, but a similar methodology will have to be implemented. What will actually be implemented in all probability is a dual computer system where both computers get all the same sensor data and think they are running the car. A simple watchdog and relay in teh first one fails if the computer locks or the power on that one goes out. Then the second is in control and an alarm goes off that there's been a computer failure. You cannot enter the autodrive mode unless both computers and all sensors are operational. We in embedded avionics can do this with our eyes shut -- it's called Hot Spare. But yes, the public perception of the computer being as failure prone as the computer on your lap will have to be fixed. it'll be more like the computer in the airplane above your heads, right down to the redundancies.
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[User Picture]From: keristor
2011-06-08 05:12 pm (UTC)
How much do these systems in planes cost? I expect it's rather a lot more than the cost of a family car. Admittedly, if it were made law that every car had to be fitted with one then it would solve the problem, by making cars unaffordable except to a few people (no traffic means the solution is a lot cheaper).

But at a price where ordinary cars have it, I do not trust anyone to do the necessary testing, and install redundant systems. At best, the car might revert to manual mode if something went wrong -- but whether the sleeping driver would be able to take control in time is another matter (I gather from airline pilots that this is a big danger with some of the fly-by-wire planes, the pilots have so little to do once they are at altitude that it takes them a significant time to get back to alertness; fortunately at FL300 or so you do have a fair amount of time usually before anything drastic happens, and a fail-safe mode of "leave the controls in the same place" will usually be the best one, but not so much so on a highway).

Cruise controls going wrong are bad enough...
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[User Picture]From: shockwave77598
2011-06-08 05:57 pm (UTC)
The alarm is to warn the driver that he needs to take control back. Lose one system, computer can still control it, but there's no more backup if anything else goes poof. Safe as can be and the driver has plenty of time to acclimate and retake control. Losing two computers simultaneously will have the same probability as being hit by a meteor while on the way to collecting your winning lotto ticket.

Aircraft avionics cost what they do because of the rules and restrictions in how they are made and because far fewer of them get built. It costs more to make and you can only divide that cost over a thousand units rather than millions as in a car. (In space it's worse, because you'll typically make 10 units and only one will fly.) But on the ground, a great many of the restrictions are unnecessary and won't be implemented, so the costs won't be as bad. Adding a full up self drive system would add maybe 1K to a car today, and next year maybe 600. The next year, 400. The next, 250. The next it will be standard because the car company loses money keeping the non-installed model available. That was how Cruise control entered the marketplace. That is how ABS is going. That's how the self driving system will go as well.

I would like to see them take it even one step further and make it so that on a serious or repeat DUI, your steering wheel gets taken away and you are required by law to let the self guidance handle the car. Then drunk driving will almost cease to be. No matter how stoned the driver becomes they cannot hurt anyone because the car is guiding itself.
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From: zackthedog
2011-06-18 03:14 pm (UTC)


did you check for bucket fragments under the tractor?? :)

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-06-18 10:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Bombadil

Yup. There are some. But they're down there, and not caught in the mower apparatus because we looked.
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