Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things, they are gonna change, part 4

As most of you know, it is my post retirement goal to become Ultimate Emperor of the Universe. For those of you joining us late in the program, this goal is not because I fancy myself as some kind of megalomaniac, but rather more as a public service. I figure that if the human race is to survive as a species, somebody is going to have to step up and fish the stupid out of the gene pool and it might as well be me. Plus, I'm retired, so I've got time on my hands for conquest.

With that said, let's talk applied science. Specifically: physics.

Now, when I say "let's talk..." I mean that I'd like to address my neighbors here in the Matanuska Susitna Valley. Specifically those of you who believe that 'science' is like 'religion,' i.e. some kind of arbitrary belief system who's rules only apply to others and not to you. I'm talking specifically to those of you who spent your entire high school and college years covering your ears in science classes and going lalalalala, least you be exposed to something that would make you doubt that Noah and his seasick relatives could have shoveled shit fast enough to keep from being buried gunwale deep in dinosaur manure. I'm talking to those of you who stuck around school just long enough to learn some basic chemistry so you could drop out and start your very own meth lab. I'm talking to those of you who planned on becoming millionaires from your pro-ball scholarships and therefor were just to dammed cool to pay attention when your teachers were trying to tell you how the world actually works. I'm talking to all of you who just can't seem to comprehend, for whatever reason, a very basic concept of high school physics, namely inertia.

The classical definition: An object at rest remains at rest, unless acted on by an outside force. An object in motion remains in motion along a straight line, unless acted on by an outside force. There's a bunch of math that goes with this definition, but let's see if I can explain it in layman's terms so my mouth-breathing neighbors can understand it. If you take a four ton SUV, put a 300.375lb Valley Dweller in it (the .375lb is the weight of the Valley Dweller's 6oz cell phone), accelerate the entire mass to around 80mph on a frictionless surface like, say, the Glenn Highway into Anchorage during a major snow fall complete with freezing rain - well, then that entire mass is going to keep moving in straight line at 80MPH until it runs into something solid enough to stop it, like, oh, a bridge abutment or a tree or a whole shitload of other cars. But, but, but, I hear my neighbors objecting, what about...? So let's just get those questions out of the way right now shall we?

Yes, inertia applies even if you have a shiny, tricked out GMC Enormous Behemoth or Ford Titanic Leviathan with huge manly tires, a bumper-mounted winch, and 40 roof-mounted halogen lights bright enough blind spy satellites. Yes, inertia applies even if you have a car stereo system that causes caribou herds to stampede from over a mile away and no, the thumping base tones that are causing permanent damage to your brain stem will not melt the ice under your tires, sorry. Yes, inertia applies even if you have 4-wheel drive and generation XV anti-lock brakes and 'traction control' no matter what that Subaru TV commercial with the professional driver on the closed course says. Yes, inertia applies even if you have a Jeebus Fish glued to your tailgate giving the finger to people behind you and a 'God is my co-pilot' bumper sticker. Yes, inertia applies even if you're talking on your cell phone, even if the conversation is 'really, really important,' if fact, there might be a little extra inertia in this case. Yes, inertia is a bitch, that's just how it is.

It snowed last night, and we got more today. It's Alaska, it's October, snow isn't exactly a novelty. In fact, it starts snowing here every year around this time. Strangely enough, the snow is always slippery too, not once in my memory has the snow ever been not slippery here on Alaskan highways. Elsewhere in some alternate reality, snow might actually increase traction, I don't know, but not here. Here in Alaska, snow is slippery. You'd think Alaskans would, after years and years and years of slippery snow on highways, wise the hell up. I counted a total of 14 accidents today, on my trip into Anchorage. Major accidents. Upside down, tires spinning in the air, oopsy I'll have to call you back because the rescue crew is here to dig me out with the jaws of life accidents. Tonight it took my wife nearly 3 hours to get home because there were another dozen accidents. And what did all these wrecks have in common? Every dammed one of them involved 4 wheel drive vehicles. At least half the accidents ended with the vehicle upside down in the ditch. Not one of those vehicles was a Yugo, or a Geo Metro, or a shitty beater Ford Escort - and do you know why? Because people who drive Yugos, Metros, and shitty beater Escorts on icy roads are cautious. They are paranoid in the those little tin cans. They slow down. They pay attention. They understand inertia.

So, here's how it's gonna be: After I crown myself Emperor of the Universe, there's going to be some changes made to the driver licensing process. We're going to be adding some science, maybe something like solve for F=ma where F is the force required to stop the mass (m) of a four ton SUV (a)ccelerating like the puck on an air hockey table as it careens towards the ditch. Remember a couple of years ago, people wanted to keep drunks off the roads by adding breatholyzers to car ignitions? I'm thinking of adding something similar, the Physicsolyzer (tm), solve for P=mv, where P is the potential to hold up traffic for hours resulting from mass (m) stupidity times velocity (v) or the SUV ain't starting.

Or maybe it would just be easier to make everybody drive a shitty Ford Escort. Hmmm, I'll have to think about it.

Things, they are gonna change, Part 3
Things, they are gonna change, Part 2
Things, they are gonna change, Part 1


  1. Ha! good stuff here. (hoping I'm smart enough to keep my CJ5 running when you're king.)

  2. Jim, anybody who drives a CJ is de facto smart enough to get a license. I'll make sure I put that in the Imperial Constitution. :)

  3. Yes, inertia is a bitch, that's just how it is.

    And so's my best friend Karma. And her brother, Darwin. Both of whom I see at work in Matanuska Susitna Valley. Unfortunately, though, their work really cannot be accomplished without massive inconvenience to others - hence the 3 hour drive home by Mrs. Future Emperor of the Universe.

    You can ask Barack about that, too.

  4. Ah, well it's good to know that Alaska is like Ohio. First bad snow and all the idiots crash. That clears the highway for the rest of the winter for the rest of us semi-intelligent peoples. It's takes the idiots that long to get new cars. If there is a late spring snow, same thing happens. The past few weeks commute tells me that the idiot factor has gone back up. unfortunately, th eidiots tend to take some of the rest of us out, which is unacceptable.

    I think you need to add in a lesson on friction coefficient and slip rate.

    Having an SUV and 4-wheel drive just means the accidents are bigger, and the truck has to go into deeper snow drifts to haul you out.

  5. And here I was thinking that people up north would know how to drive in snow. Guess not! We saw the same thing every winter when I lived in Indiana.

  6. What I'm about to write does not apply to Jim or Janiece or other WISE members of our nation's armed services.

    In the greater Squarebanks area the location, number, and size of vehicles crashing and/or in the ditch is directly related to whether or not they are affiliated with Ft. Wainwright or Eielson AFB.

    I live 1.5 miles from the back gate of Wainwright. My dad worked on Eielson for almost 30 years, and lived about 3 miles from the gate. I'm understanding about the fact that an airman (and his family) from Florida doesn't know how to drive on snow and might freak out. I'm not so understanding about how they buy a big ass truck that still don't know how to drive, and because it is more powerful than what they expect, they end up in an ugly accident. I guess I shoudl jsut consider it a peril of living in a area with a regularly transient population.

    You can always tell a local because the truck is beat up, or their Subaru is beat up, or they are the person setting out flares and getting out a tow rope so their Escort can help pull and F350 out of the ditch.

    I drove a 1986 2WD/rear-wheel drive Toyota truck for 18 years. I've pulled State Troopers out of the ditch with it. It is now honorably retired in my back yard.

    Confusino and time spent in the ditch to the boneheads!

  7. Tania, it's the same here. At least half, if not more, of the accidents I see on the Glenn have Ft Richardson or Elmendorf AFB stickers on them.

    My personal favorite: the kids who show up from Southern California with their little souped up rice burners. You know the ones: go-cart sized car, gigantic tail fin, air scoop, that soup can muffler/exhaust amplifier thingee (makes the car sound like my lawn mower about 1500 rpm's past redline), blue lights, and about fifteen auto parts manufacturer stickers stuck to the side - like some toy version of NASCAR - and about 1" of ground clearance. Going to impress us hicks with their Calyfornication coolness. I personally love to watch those guys doing about 80 when they hit their first frost heave. And those little spinning hubcaps don't seem to help with the traction much, do they? There is nothing cooler than that car, day-glo paint all scratched up and plastic fairing hanging, with studded tires on black cheapo rims come about December. Heh heh heh.

  8. Jim,

    Apparently you know my neighbors.

    They moved in about a year ago, and they spend more time fiddling with their souped up Honda Civics than they do making sure their house is in working order and their kids are out of the street.

    2 busy with their 2 fast, 2 furious lifestyle, I guess.

    Hopefully they'll get evicted soon (they're renters), and peace can again descend upon the neighborhood. Because they also don't know the meaning of "balancing the bass on your stereo."

    Tania, I think your description applies to not only to transient populutions, but also to transplants in general. I learned to drive here in Colorado, and watching the "Southern Calyfornicans" drive in the first snow of the season is a spectator sport among the natives. Although I suspect some of it is what Steve describes, as well - people apparently can't keep their good driving skills in the brains from season to season.

  9. I learned how to drive in Alaska on my first left turn (I don't know if I told you that story, sir; it might've made me look just a tad stupid, coming from northern Illinois). The thing I could never get over, though, was how this red Miata I always ended up driving home with managed without snow tires. At least, until I started noticing what you just highlighted: it's the idiots in the 4WD behemoths screwing up the traffic in Anchorage.

    If you decide to go through with Physicolizer implementation, I'd highly suggest a three-strike claymore response system be built-in. I'm sure the car dealers up there can get blood out of the upholstery, and it might cut down on the commute.

  10. Oh, THAT's why I'm such a good driver: I've been riding in a shitty beater Ford Escort for the last 13 yrs and 330,000 miles (I am the first owner). In Florida, but the rain here causes a similarly epic number of wrecks. Especially in the first few minutes, when it's just wet enough to lift the oil off the road. Wheeeeee, welcome to hydroplaning!


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