Swiss Army Knife on wheels!

As some of you know, one of my hobbies is model railroading. In following up on that I belong to a few Facebook groups that are in that vein. One is a group called “Switchers and Critters”. Switchers, (in England and a few other places called shunters), are small engines that are used to sort out the rail cars at a railroad yard, to organize them into trains in the order that they may be dropped off. The other, Critters, are a mixed breed, some are shop built, railroad shop that is, for specific purposes or uses. Some are rare special purpose bought by a railroad. In that group I found this “Critter”. With a tip of the Hat to John, I present a Swiss Army Knife on wheels! Seriously this is a vehicle used for maintenance on the Swiss Federal Railway.

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TOTD CMAQ

Traffic signals can operate as a dumb clock. So many seconds of green in this direction, then a yellow clearance interval, then red for that direction while some number of seconds times down for green in the other direction. The engineer sets the times, and then turns it loose.

Old traffic signals in the 1950s operated that way. An electric motor turned a shaft, and on that shaft was a series of cams. Each cam was identified with a signal display. The cam was made with break-off “ears,” so that, as the shaft turned, the cam only made contact with the lead for that display for a portion of the rotation of the shaft.... [Read More]

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I’m happier now…

I have been cleaning my basement of years, (25+), of hording, well sort of hording. In the process I rediscovered a set of three models that I had ordered and were hard to get. They were for my future HO scale railroad. The three were models or kits that when completed would be very accurate renditions of a REAL Steam Shovel. One that was powered by steam! I set these aside knowing they were valuable. When they were available the cost was in the area of $20 each, Now, I don’t know if they are available, but at last look, the company that made them no longer existed.

I went looking for where I put them, sort of wanting to drool over the kits, but I could not find them! I was heart broken, I thought they were mistakenly thrown away or fell into a trash bag and now are a tiny tiny part of landfill.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Three Laws Lethal

“Three Laws Lethal” by David WaltonIn the near future, autonomous vehicles, “autocars”, are available from a number of major automobile manufacturers. The self-driving capability, while not infallible, has been approved by regulatory authorities after having demonstrated that it is, on average, safer than the population of human drivers on the road and not subject to human frailties such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while tired, or distracted by others in the car or electronic gadgets. While self-driving remains a luxury feature with which a minority of cars on the road are equipped, regulators are confident that as it spreads more widely and improves over time, the highway accident rate will decline.

But placing an algorithm and sensors in command of a vehicle with a mass of more than a tonne hurtling down the road at 100 km per hour or faster is not just a formidable technical problem, it is one with serious and unavoidable moral implications. These come into stark focus when, in an incident on a highway near Seattle, an autocar swerves to avoid a tree crashing down on the highway, hitting and killing a motorcyclist in an adjacent lane of which the car’s sensors must have been aware. The car appears to have made a choice, valuing the lives of its passengers: a mother and her two children, over that of the motorcyclist. What really happened, and how the car decided what to do in that split-second, is opaque, because the software controlling it was, as all such software, proprietary and closed to independent inspection and audit by third parties. It’s one thing to acknowledge that self-driving vehicles are safer, as a whole, than those with humans behind the wheel, but entirely another to cede to them the moral agency of life and death on the highway. Should an autocar value the lives of its passengers over those of others? What if there were a sole passenger in the car and two on the motorcycle? And who is liable for the death of the motorcyclist: the auto manufacturer, the developers of the software, the owner of car, the driver who switched it into automatic mode, or the regulators who approved its use on public roads? The case was headed for court, and all would be watching the precedents it might establish.... [Read More]

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I remember when…

I like to tell my kids about how loose things were when I was growing up. My sister and her husband like these little vignettes too. They are ten years younger than me, and a lot of laws/customs changed by the time they got older. Because things are so much different today (and have been for quite some time), they all get a kick out of the following.

Open containers of alcohol in the car. I remember my dad asking his wife to make him a “roadie,” which was their word for a cocktail in a plastic tumbler. They would make their roadies and drink them in the car when taking us out to dinner or going other places in the evenings. Seemed perfectly normal at the time.... [Read More]

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FBI warns about smart TV

FBI warns about smart TVs being ‘gateways for hackers’
Just in time for the busy holiday shopping season, the FBI is dishing out advice on how to keep your home’s tech safe.

I thought this was all a crazy con job, considering the recent reports about the FBI.... [Read More]

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Tesla Announces the Cybertruck

Tesla has just announced the Cybertruck, an electric-powered utility vehicle to be available in three models priced at US$39,900 (single motor rear wheel drive), US$ 49,900 (dual motor all wheel drive), and US$ 69,900 (tri-motor all wheel drive).  The range varies between 250 miles (400 km) for the least expensive model to 500 miles (800 km) for the most expensive.  More details are available on Wikipedia.

... [Read More]

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Trump Trade War to Save the Planet

One of my Facebook friends shared out a tidbit that was new to me.   Giant container ships produce really bad sulphur-based air emissions.   That in itself is not surprising, since they burn heavy “bunker” oil for fuel.   But the extent of their air emissions is staggering.

Just one mega-container ship gives off as many emissions as 50,000,000 cars. That’s right, one ship equals 50 million cars.     The world’s 15 largest ships put out more pollutants (nitrogen and sulphur oxide) than ALL of the world’s cars added up.... [Read More]

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William Phelps Eno’s Rules of the Road

This is a post prompted by questions from Ms. Sawatdeeka about traffic flow and traffic rules. Where did the rules of the road come from? Our story begins in New York City in the 1870s. A nine-year old boy was riding in a carriage with his mother and they got caught in a traffic jam. Horses had to be backed up with a wagon and another carriage, and an hour was spent sorting things out before anyone could proceed.

That was typical for any city and had been the way of things for centuries. People would go the best way they could. Traffic was a problem wherever you went, but at the speed of horsedrawn carriages and wagons, crashes were rare.... [Read More]

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How intuitive is our traffic system?

Ratburger, I’m interested in your take on this.  If an individual from the distant past, say the 1600’s, was plunked down in one of our cities, how long would it take he or she to grasp our traffic system just by riding around in the car with one of us?  This is assuming that our driver is obeying all the rules, of course, and not sailing through stop signs like they do out here.

Also, I’m sure there would be variables with each time traveler: is he/she literate, noticing of color, English-speaking ?  Let’s assume that our candidate is all three. However, imagining an illiterate peasant, as many of our ancestors likely were, might be even more to the point.... [Read More]

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This Week’s Book Review – Moon Tracks

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.... [Read More]

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