The Right Tool

davew's picture

There is an old experiment. You take a bunch of students one at a time and give a them two boards and a rope. You tell him/her to cross a room as fast as possible without their feet touching the floor. Most students tied the ends of the rope around the boards, held the rope in the middle, and shuffled across the room. Some tied the boards to their feet and walked across the room. The average time for these students was a little over two minutes. Then they performed the experiment again with a different set of students. This time the experimenters provided one board and a rope. Without exception these students tied one end of the rope around the board, grabbed the other end, and hopped across the room. These students averaged a bit over a minute and a half. Better. One last experiment and a fresh batch of students. The instructions were the same except this time no boards and no rope. These students crawled across the room on their hands and knees. Their average time was 23 seconds. I was in college twenty years ago when I read about this, but in made an indelible impression. The finding is that our thinking can be handicapped by the tools at our disposal. Sometimes the best solution is no tool at all.

Before I gave up my car I took the time to figure a bunch of stuff out. How to do the shopping, how to get to my hair cuts, and dentist, and doctor, and work, and how to cruise for sweet chicks who are into nerds. Actually I never figured that last part out, but I took the plunge anyway. A couple of things I hadn't figured out yet like how to get back to Iowa to visit my mom. Well it's been a little too long now so I need to figure out how to do it. In the interest of full disclosure I actually I did go back once a while back when my dad fell ill. I rented a car (mea culpa) and drove 14 hours each way (may the Sierra Club have mercy on my soul.) I am bound and determined to get to Iowa again this time without laying waste to the Midwest.

The solution is simple, slick, and actually way more convenient than flying or driving. Did I mention cheap? It's cheap, too. Amtrak! I'd heard about it before, but never ridden it. Get this, from 100 yards outside my front door I catch a little local bus. Five minutes later I'm in downtown. That's $1.50. There I catch the Denver bus to Union Station. That's $3.75. Then I catch the train to Iowa. Add another $83. It will actually be necessary to have a car at the other end, but only for 60 miles (mea maxima culpa) so add another $69. This is a grand total of $245.50! Not too shabby compared to an airfare of $560 plus the mysterious charges that get tacked on after you agree to the rate plus the usurious airport parking charges not to mention the date rape of the lower atmosphere. The other cool part is... remember I said a car takes 14 hours? Well so does the train. Except I don't have to drive. And they'll cook hot food for me. And it's over night so I can sleep away most of the trip without risking a head-on. And I can take my bike if I like. A friend of mine rides this train to Chicago six times a year or so and he says the seats are more comfortable than business class on an airplane. Totally sleepable. Did I forget anything? Oh, yeah. You don't have to strip naked and get probed before you get on a train. You just walk on.

Cars are tools to be sure (as well as some of the people who drive them), but so frequently they are the wrong tool. It's just the guys in the white coats handed us one so we feel obligated to use it for just about everything. Once deprived of this crutch so many more options open up and most of them are better. I may be crawling on my hands and knees, but I'm having the time of my life.

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Re: The Right Tool

Yeah.. it's amazing that the amtrak system isn't used more.

My aunt & uncle live just north of Davis CA and I usually go to their place on thanksgiving. The roads leaving the Bay Area are tremendously horridly crowded on Thanksgiving morning. I once counted it up, that there are something like 10 lanes of road leaving the Bay Area due to the mountains surrounding us and the narrow passes the roads go through. Thus, on Thanksgiving morning and other long weekends, there are loooong backups on the roads. I drove it a couple times and e.g. it would take two hours of stop and stop and crawl and stop and crawl traffic to go a few miles before and after the Benicia bridge.

Then while living in Fremont I had this realization.. Amtrak goes from the Bay Area, through Fremont, to Sacramento. $25 for the ticket, and a three hour trip.

Amtrak trains go through some interesting scenery, sometimes. The Capital Corridor train has part of its travel along the shore of Sisuin Bay and the train tracks are directly above the beach. Meaning you have a great view of the bay. The best part was driving under the Benicia Bridge and seeing the stalled traffic up there. Of course my Aunt lives quite a way from all the train stations. I suppose with a good electric bike with decent range I might be able to make the 15 miles from the Davis station to their house. But fortunately my brother used to live in Sacramento and he took me to our Aunt's house.

I one time took Amtrak from San Diego up to San Clemente as part of a trip to Laguna Beach. That turned out to be a very inconvenient way to get to Laguna Beach, as I coulda flown to Orange Co airport and grabbed a shuttle from there. But I got to ride the train, and that section of Amtrak goes along the coast and has some great views over the ocean. They even have the seats rigged so they rotate and you can rotate them so you have a bench facing out the windows to have a better view of the ocean.

Another plus is most of the seats have tables, and there are normal 120v electrical outlets, meaning e.g. you could work on a computer while running on the charger.

In one of my Europe trips I was in Scotland for 2 weeks. I managed to criss-cross Scotland going to some very remote places without renting a car. Part of the trip was to take Scotrail from Edinborough to Inverness and another line to Fosse (Findhorn). It was sooooooooo very convenient and there are a lot of travelers taking the train in Scotland. The train system is very convenient, goes pretty much everywhere, has plenty of riders, has great services on board the train and in the stations, etc.

And you're right--- travel on trains is so much more convenient than airplanes. If your starting point and ending point are nearby the train lines, that is.

One time I tried to work out train travel from the Bay Area to Lexington KY.. gosh darn it, that's a long and circuitous trip if I ever saw one. Especially since it doesn't appear there's a train south from Chicago going to/through Kentucky. And the trip getting to Chicago is about 3 days IIRC. An airplane trip to Kentucky takes 6 hours with one layover somewhere.

Re: The Right Tool

I was thinking about the first post here...less tools...etc.

You could always just "walk" there! Hey, a guy (55 yrs. old) at our local state university who is mgr. of the Public Radio station on campus got inspired by a couple of books he read (Walk Across America, etc.) and decided to walk from Jacksonville, FL to Washington, DC (NPR)...1000 miles. He did it in less than 60 days...and is now writing his own book about the experience. He also used the "hike" to raise money for the radio station.

This May he is planning another trip...a bicycle ride from Florida to Ontario...and back down to Washington, DC. And he plans to do that in 60 days. Tried to talk him into using an XB600 like mine...but he says that's cheating!

And he plans a third trip the following year where he will kayak from Jacksonville, FL to Keywest. Again, tried to talk him into using a kayak like mine (see other electrics on here) with an electric motor...but again he said that's cheating!

So hey, there's alot more simple ways to get from point A to B...without a whole lot of anything except a sense of adventure!

Gushar

Re: The Right Tool

When you mentioned the experiment with the students, I couldn't help but remember the physical agility tests I took for PD. Though these were much strenuos excersizes including running up a certain amount stairs with duty gear jumping over six foot wall, balancing on a beam, dragging a dummy etc.
But ya it all had to be done in under minutes.

davew wrote

Quote:

The finding is that our thinking can be handicapped by the tools at our disposal. Sometimes the best solution is no tool at all.

agree with you on that as well.

Let me just say I know how ya feel!!
I've done plenty of driving back and forth from the bay area ca to Portland Oregon , 14 hour drives over weekends.
It is not fun, and it is best if you have someone with you. I am not sure about Amtrak though you would have to
get me loaded on dramamine just to ride the train. Last time I was on one I hit every bathroom on each car.
Oh I am going to Portland this month and I am going to find which is more convienent either flying or the train.
Driving is my last last option. Sigh but I haven't been on amtrak in awhile and I am not
sure how I will cope with it! I have a tendency to get motion sickness (Depends on the environment) errr
Usually it's about $100 or more for fuel both ways, then again depending on how hard you drive.

Re: The Right Tool

Quote:

You could always just "walk" there! Hey, a guy (55 yrs. old) at our local state university who is mgr. of the Public Radio station on campus got inspired by a couple of books he read (Walk Across America, etc.) and decided to walk from Jacksonville, FL to Washington, DC (NPR)...1000 miles. He did it in less than 60 days

I wish! Two months off of work. If I could expand your point, however, walking is a good alternative for less strenuous endeavors. Sadly it has gone out of style. I'm working on changing that, though.

Re: The Right Tool

Quote:

I am not sure about Amtrak though you would have to get me loaded on Dramamine just to ride the train.

I never thought about this. I've never suffered from motion sickness myself, but I've seen the effects on other people during a few boat rides. It wasn't pretty. I hope Amtrak works out for you because the ride up to Portland is supposed to be particularly beautiful.

Re: The Right Tool

Meant to include the following link to my post above...about the guy walking to Washington, DC.

http://wuwf.org/events/hike.shtml

Gushar

Re: The Right Tool

Davew wrote

Quote:

I hope Amtrak works out for you because the ride up to Portland is supposed to be particularly beautiful

I am so looking forward to going back home (Ca is where I was born, but Portland is my true home)

I only seemed to get real bad motion sickness on fast moving trains. I particularly love "skunk trains"
those are neat! Regular train rides are okay. I don't get sick on boats atleast houseboats.
However I have been proned to really horrible migraines since I was a teenager.
I used to wake up in the middle of a dead sleep with the room spinning out of control and so forth and wind up in
ER quite a few times. I haven't had a migraine like that in years.

Re: The Right Tool

Davew wrote

Quote:

You could always just "walk"

Damn that would be some serious hiking through the Siskayu's oh and then there is Shasta, sigh. Hmmmm

Re: The Right Tool

I recently saw a smart commercial (I believe in being proactive with the advertising of your business) that claimed a train can move one ton of cargo (10 of my relatives) over 400 miles for one gallon of fuel.

Even if they are exaggerating slightly, thats still very good, plus the diesel-generators can be run on bio-diesel or used/new vegetable oil as available. (You can also say that you went to Iowa on a government subsidized series-hybrid that got 400 MPG)

They are allowed to accellerate slowly and of course, they coast some on the downhill side. If the tracks were electricfied in certain places (only where it would be economical) the liquid fuel use could be reduced, especially in relatively flat cities.

If the trip involves heavy snow on the highway or crowded airports that have flights that get cancelled due to weather (Christmas/Thanksgiving), the train would be my choice.

I lived in Riverside County for a while. The best paying jobs were near Los Angeles, but houses are very expensive. I bought a cheap house an hour away and commuted. I used the van-pool when it was available and also car-pooled when I could.

I saw an interesting DOT experiment one morning at the "park-n-ride" which is advertised as a car-pool meeting place. A normal semi-truck with trailer was parked there, but the trailer was outfitted with windows and seats. Commuters arrived, parked, and entered the trailer. Then, they began reading the newspaper and consuming their coffee with bagels while waiting for the driver to arrive. I'm not sure what the benefit over using a normal bus would be, but it was interesting.

They put in light-rail a few years back, and IMHO it works quite well.

When an earthquake shut down the 10 Freeway for 11 months, the "Red-Line" was repaired in less than a month and they just added more runs to handle the extra passenger load. (a place for a folding lithium E-Bike would've been sweet, and quite the status symbol)

Re: The Right Tool

spinningmagnets wrote

Quote:

I saw an interesting DOT experiment one morning at the "park-n-ride" which is advertised as a car-pool meeting place. A normal semi-truck with trailer was parked there, but the trailer was outfitted with windows and seats.

I thought that was an interesting experiment; however, in Oregon they have a lot of lakes and rivers. There was one thing that I used to do all the time in Wilsonville Oregon was take their fairy boat across the river. All you did was you drove your car onto the fairy boat (with the engine off afterwords and remain in parked).
It was only a quarter or a dollar for a fee, shoot don't remember.
This boat could take like 6 or 10 cars across the river, it was a short ride but it was always a lot of fun. I don't remember where the starting point was. I think it was just at the end of Tigard from where the boat traveled and into Wilsonville. (I used to live in Tigard)Southeast Portland

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