Saturday, November 22, 2014

LRT rant

Last Thursday was a very bad day for Calgary transit. The Light Rail Transit system was hit with three unrelated incidents in one day that turned commuting life into hell. I had wondered if something was up, as I was leaving work and having to wade through people to get to the car.

Let's get a couple things straight first. Actual facts that are true and all:

  • The LRT is one of the biggest and heaviest vehicles in Calgary. Each individual car is about 80 feet long, and a train is 3 cars, soon to be 4. 
  • The empty weight is between 80,000 and 100,000 pounds, depending on which version the car is.
  • Somewhere between 250 and 300 people can cram onto a car, depending on how friendly people are feeling, and if any of them had garlic with lunch
  • So a full, 3 car train weighs in about 400,000 pounds.
  • It runs on about 58.5 Km of rail, and nowhere else.
  • There are more than 300,000 passenger trips on the average weekday.

There have been any number of times the newspaper headlines are "C-Train strikes pedestrian/car/truck/crane". Yes, an actual crane.

Well, no, the headlines are wrong. This has always peeved me. In fact, those things got in the way of the train. Really, the headline should read, "Stupid pedestrian strikes train, inconveniences a hundred thousand people."

The train does not stalk up and down the roads and sidewalks of Calgary, trying to strike the unwary. It's not like the train drivers are paid a bounty for every pedestrian they strike. It goes up and down a set of tracks that are out there in the open for all to see. They are not a secret. They're on maps and everything. There are signs.

Although the train is quiet, it's not silent, nor is it invisible, nor does it have a camouflage paint scheme. The trains themselves have a variety of horns, bells, and other noisemakers and the drivers are not shy about using them. The City and Calgary Transit employs fences, gates, crossing arms, lights, bells, nubbled or painted surfaces, and voice warnings to separate people from the train except when actual loading or unloading is taking place. There may be other safety devices I'm unaware of.

And still, STILL! The train is in collision with other vehicles and people. It baffles me. Well, the suicides don't, you can't protect against that, all you can do is make it a bit more difficult. But one of the first things children are taught about the world is how to cross the street safely. Most children master it by 4 or 5. Yet I see adults every day demonstrating that they've forgotten. They run across the street thinking they can beat the train. Sometimes they don't.

It pisses me off when cars block the cross intersection because the driver thinks they are too important to wait for the next green light. Same with crossing the tracks. They don't want to wait, and will try to zip across thinking they have room for their car. The train cannot stop on a dime. Whatever is in it's way is going to get crunched.

Then the world stops. There is very little redundancy in the system, especially downtown. Once a train stops it doesn't take long for the whole system to stop. Yes, they set up shuttle buses, but the whole resulting mess can be safely described as barely organized chaos. If Canadians weren't such a polite people, it could easily turn into a riot. For me, going from downtown to home using the LRT and bus, the trip is between 45 and 60 minutes. Once the train stops moving it can take any amount of time. Once you're on the train, and it stops, often you can't get off again.

When you count the cost of repairing the damage to the train, the counseling given to the poor train driver who is watching helplessly once the brakes are applied, the damage to the offending vehicles if they are repairable at all, damage to the track or other supporting infrastructure, the hospital care for the idiot that caused the issue or people in the train knocked off their feet, and the lost time for many 10's of thousands of people, it is easily counted in the millions of dollars. 

And as a quick aside, while I'm on my soap box, these are not accidents. They are a caused event. They are mostly caused by people demonstrating incompetence at some of the basic skills of living in a city. There are a few caused by an unexpected medical event, such as a driver having a medical event, but these are pretty rare. Mostly it's pedestrian or driver stupidity.

After one of these, people say that the City should do more to prevent such things from happening. One of the suggested improvement is to build an underground system. Such a thing would be obscenely expensive, and wouldn't solve the problem. Even in underground systems people still jump or fall in front of the train in the stations themselves.

We run a safe society here. We require that devices have safety features. When the train was first built, there were a number of safety features to warn people of the train. More have been added over the years. They review these every time, and have periodically changed procedures or equipment. Short of a chain of humans along every meter of track, I'm not sure what more can be done to protect the idiots from themselves. 

At some point I think you have to step back and say, "there are many safety features, but the most important one was taught to you many years ago. Look both ways before crossing the street, and realize a train could come along in a minute. Behave accordingly, and we may bill you if you cause a collision."

There are days I seriously think what we need to do is mount a cow catcher arrangement on the front of each train, with the purpose being to display a replica of the last person struck, along with their name, the date it happened and why. Such as :
  • He was deep into a Spice Girls remix and didn't hear it and was too lazy to look."
  • He thought he could beat the train, and couldn't.
  • She was late for work and couldn't wait a minute to cross.
There. I feel much better now.

In other news I had a nice swim Wednesday, even though it was spread over two different pools. 100 m intervals, 100 seconds, on 2:30. Good to start.

And technically, I've won NaNoWriMo! I could validate now, but I want to keep going. There's a bunch more story here. I'm really proud of one bit I banged out when I thought the well was dry, then something connected and I was on a roll again. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I'm Nano-ing my brains out

I'm currently at just over 47,000 words, and some days I wonder if any of it makes sense. I'm fairly sure there is a story there, forming the link between Bone, and Elixir, but right now that actual bit of the story is about 10K words tops. The rest is sort of interesting stuff that helps set things up. I see now there is some sinister foreshadowing I like, but I haven't done anything with it yet.

But this is what Nanowrimo is all about, barfing the words out, not worrying if they're the perfect words. When you have something to start with, you can edit towards perfection. You cannot edit nothing.

There's been some interesting ideas along the way. I can see I can tweak some of both books because I had a better idea, if I can fit it all together. Which has made it a bit more of a struggle, in that I'm starting at a known place (figuring out exactly where was a bit of a trick, and I'm not sure I've got it right yet), and there is a known place to end at.

Still, my characters are a chatty bunch, up to all sorts of stuff. It's been fun. Curtis hates it though, he feels he's getting shorted on lap time. Right this moment he's glaring at me. And you, my faithful readers, I know you miss the blog when I haven't updated a bit. Right? Umm, guys, miss the blog? Hello?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Forgive me, I laughed

Today I ended up taking the LRT home, a thing that happens periodically. I ranted about people that don't understand the LRT conga line here, and I was reminded of that tonight. It was pretty crowded but not unbearable.

Why did I laugh? A guy sitting beside the window indicated he was getting off. The woman sitting beside him got up, and wormed her way through a bunch of people, looking around every step. I was positive she was looking for a nook to duck into so the guy could pass her and get out. Meanwhile she's holding him up. She got almost the entire way to the doors, then tried to swim upstream for fear of being pushed off the train.

She finally swapped places with him, and what an interesting look he had on his face as she did it. Then she tried to get her seat back. I laughed. I don't think she knew I was laughing at her, since I was looking at my phone, but really.

There is a polite dance that happens when the train is crowded and a seat opens up. The people nearest it have first dibs, but us being Canadian, we don't want to be dicks about it. Much more often than not it is offered to someone else, at least one of elderly, infirm, pregnant getting first refusal. Many people say, "I'm getting off next stop", or "I sit all day."

In other idiocy stories. My office overlooks the corner that has the Palliser Hotel, my building, the grain exchange and the old Pan Canadian building. The walk lights are slightly different on one side of 1st than the other. I watched a guy assume they had changed and got out to the middle of the street. Then he woke up to traffic turning onto 9th ave in front and behind him. He got honked at several times as he took a few steps back and forth. And then a cabbie looking for traffic the other way nearly took him out because he wanted to go across all the lanes to the cab stand. For a bad moment I thought I was going to have to go outside and be a witness in a homicide investigation.

A couple cat photos to play you out with music. Celina the sweat pervert investigating my scarf after a run. And snoozing cats, how peaceful is that?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Snippet 3

Wednesday was my first 2K swim in a long time, 39:30, struggling with my nose clips the whole way. Yay me!

Here's a snippet from the latest bit of NaNoWriMo. Dwen and Ronnie chatting as a lead up to an important scene.

“Your little nap did you a world of good,” Dwen said. “I’m just chugging along following you, and you’re out there like the equipment would escape if you didn’t round it up and herd it back where it belonged.”

“I know. I’m feeling a bit itchy tonight. Did I really fall asleep on you? I can’t believe that.”

“Complete with snores,” Dwen said with a grin.

“What were we talking about?”

“Nothing important. Shift work chat. You blithered about what you were thinking for the DAF changeover, what a shit Mac is and no argument there, and you were musing about your plans for your next date when you drifted off.”

“Hmmm.” Ronnie looked thoughtful. “I don’t remember any of it. I remember us getting here and talking about the training and how we were going to organize the evening. Can’t believe I drifted off.”

Dwen shrugged. “No big deal. I was going through no sleep thing for a while and that was hard on everyone. A little cat nap every now and then is good.”

“As long as it doesn’t happen driving home after night shift.”


“Did I say who my next date was and my plans?”

“No names, and it wasn’t even gender specific. You were sort of muttering by then. But I suspect the staff at the sports centre are going to object to the two of you doing the sweaty bunny thing in the middle of the track after a chase scene.”

“Really? I must have been talking in my sleep or something. I’ve got plenty of sex fantasies, and some involve being workout sweaty, but nothing involving making out on a track after a workout.”

“Maybe I misheard it. Ouch! Jeez that hurt!”

Ronnie had been looking at the computer. “What happened?”

“Paper cut, on the file folder. Holy cow that hurts, and it’s bleeding pretty good.” Dwen reached for some paper towel.

Ronnie slapped her hand. “Christ only knows what’s on that paper. Let me see. That is a good one! Let me get the first aid kit.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tusk season once again

It starts like this.

That's what it was like after the run. It had warmed up slightly.

That leads almost inevitably to this, the first tusks of the year. Still small because it wasn't really that cold out and it wasn't that long of a run. 6K or so, 53 minutes, nice and easy, being careful on slightly treacherous footing. Maybe an inch of loose snow in places, with a bit of slippery hardpack underneath.

As a reward for suffering through 2 pics of me, you get a good one.

Monday, November 10, 2014

That's going well, so far

Which is an in joke, if you had read the beginning of a novel that I've been working for several decades. Which you haven't. Sorry. Maybe if I tried publishing it, but I'm working on other projects.

The current one is pounding out a bridge between that novel twosome, and last year's Nano book. It's going well, over 5K words today, just over 31K words overall tonight. I can already tell, editing this is going to be a bit of a challenge.

What's that you say, a snippet? You'll have to speak up. Louder.

Saturday was a gorgeous day. Not quite run in shorts and a T, but almost. A couple people were. Michelle and I met up near the dam for an easy relaxed run. I wanted to see how the Sandy Beach bridge is coming along, and I didn't want to run 10 K to have to do it. Almost done, just have to pave the approach. I know lots of people are eager to have it back. But unless they arrived later that day, there isn't going to be any paving or concrete pouring any time soon.

On the way back the sky had these really cool looking clouds, and interesting colours. The photo doesn't really do them justice. The run ended up being 7 K in 56 minutes, with my legs feeling great after. We went around the track at the Glenmore Athletic park, which is sort of weird for me. I've never run on a springy surface like that.

The rose out front has turned some lovely colours. It's all white now.

Yesterday I was trying to write sitting in my easy chair in the den. I had a very tough audience. They have no sympathy at all for a daily word target. They only thing is the petting and affection quota, after the crunchy quota is met.

Stupid blogger and rotating photos. This was the fuel for Monday's writing, after getting back from a very nice swim. Much of it was doing some coaching for a buddy that is coming along really well. My own swim set a new 50 m record for me, 41 seconds with a sloppy flip turn.

The day's writing went really well. I spent part of it out in the lodge. We wanted to see how warm it would get with a fire inside, when it's a windy -15 C outside. It didn't warm up quite as much as I would have liked. Even wrapped up in reindeer hides, I was a bit on the cool side. A lot actually.

I was afraid to put too much wood on the fire because we don't have a proper spark cover grill thingie for it, and cedar sparks quite a bit. The charcoal doesn't flame as much, but it also doesn't throw as much heat. Further experimenting is in order.

Winter has arrived. I'm seriously thinking about running tomorrow, just long enough for a tusk. You've been warned.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The swimming thing

I was chatting to one of the people in my office about why I was eating second breakfast at 8:30. I'd just got into the office after a swim. First breakfast is about 5:30, and if I'm swimming it's pretty light.  Then I need to eat a real breakfast pretty promptly after the swim, or I'm going to be a hot snarly mess. The usual is some granola and nuts poured into some yogurt, with a banana on top. So healthy!

Then we got chatting about swimming, and what with some comments about counting laps not that long ago, and being drained of words by NaNoWriMo, made me think this might be a good blog topic.

First. Getting better at swimming.
It's all about practice. It takes lots and lots of practice, and unlike riding a bicycle you will forget. Oh, technically, you still know how, it's just that you can't really do it. Once upon a time I could swim a 20 minute kilometer and not even get my heart rate into the aerobic zone. Then I didn't for a long time, and it took the better part of a year to get back to that 20 minute pace.

Water feel is an elusive thing. Some days it's there and some days it's not, even if you are swimming regularly. Twice a week barely maintains it. Three times a week, and you'll make a bit of progress. Four times a week is perfect, if you can do it.

Most people try to go faster by working harder. This is a mistake. Drag is everything in swimming. You want to do everything to minimize drag, and body position in the water is huge. Then comes stroke technique, and this is huge, and subtle. It will take the rest of your life. Live with it.

Second. Your times.
Once you can swim a bunch of laps without stopping, if you want to improve, you must know your times. You must, whatever they are. There is no alternative. The only way you know if you're improving is to know you are faster. The clock will tell you this. Your feelings will not. Your feelings will lie.

For almost every swim, I look at the lap clock every lap. I know to within a second or two how long it should take, and if I'm slower, I think about what I'm doing wrong. There's a couple choices. I'm slacking off, I'm getting sloppy, or I blew a flip turn. I fix it and keep going.

It doesn't matter if you take two minutes to go 25 m, or one length of the pool doing a sloppy breast stroke. Thats your time. Work at it. Then one day it will come together and it will be 1:50 instead of two minutes. You'll know you've improved. Think about what you did.

Know your times for everything. So for example, here's my times. Some of you will think these are fast. Some might think they are unbearably slow. It doesn't matter.

My normal swim. I try to pick a lane where I can see the pace clock as I surface from my flip turn. My first few laps will be about 55 seconds, then I'll slow down to my distance pace of 56 to 58 seconds per lap.

My intervals pace for 50 m on 1 minute start is between 45 and 50 seconds. Once I slow down past 50 seconds I take a break, then try again. I'm still working on my 100 m pace.

My all out pace, at the end of a workout is 42 or 43 seconds for 50 m.

I remember these, and try to improve. I would love, LOVE to be able to consistently drop my distance pace to 55 seconds per lap. This takes me from a 19 minutes per K, to 18:20 or so. Then I'll try to get faster yet.

Now, as I said these are my times. They aren't good or bad in any real sense, they just are. Whatever your times are, work to improve them. It happens a few seconds at a time.

Third. Counting laps.
I am a lap pervert. I've never met anyone that counts laps like I do. I've tried to explain a couple times, and people give me a blank look. Let me try again.

Most people count laps like they count anything else. Sometimes they group them, which is why swim workouts are expressed the way they are, and to keep people from being bored. I can't do it that way.

So, imagine that I've started my swim with the digital pace clock at 00:00. I push off and swim 50 m. I look at the clock again when I've done the second flip turn and surfaced, so actually I've swum a hair more than 50 m, but this gets me started on my pattern. Here's how it goes.

00:55, end of first lap
01:50, end of second lap
02:45, 3 laps
03:43, 4 laps
04:40, 5 laps
05:37, 6 laps
06:35, 7 laps
07:33, 8 laps
08:31, 9 laps
09:28, 10 laps (500 m)

See the pattern? Every time I look at the clock, I know that I have swum one more lap, than there are minutes on the clock. As I carry on look what happens.

19:01 20 laps, 1 K and I keep going
19:58, 21 laps, and now I know that instead of one more lap than there are minutes, I've now swum 2 more laps than minutes on the clock, as long as I keep up the pace. I carry on, keeping track of seconds so that I know I'm keeping pace. With my current fitness I'm not likely to drop another minute, but if I do for a really long swim, it turns into 3 more laps than there are minutes. I've only done this a few times.

Now think about if your time is a few seconds more than a minute per lap. Build the same sequence and you'll see that for up to about a K, you are swimming as many laps as there are minutes, and after a while you see the seconds come around again, and you'll know you have swum one FEWER lap than there are minutes on the clock.

All I need to do is start at a whole number of minutes and I'm good to go. The other day I pushed off at 33:00. So I know that when the clock is about 52 I've swum 1 K.

To me, this is easy. But then I think SQL is fun.

Now, where was I? WITH a as (SELECT * FROM...


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