dr_phil_physics: (wmu-logo)
Wednesday ended up being a good day -- a very productive day.

It almost wasn't.

Late Tuesday night a storm rolled through while I was preparing handouts for a Wednesday meeting. Yes, I have surge protectors -- even on laptops -- but still. If things are going bad, then you just know they'll go all the way to putrid if they have a chance. Meanwhile, the forecast for Wednesday had a nasty line of thunderstorms rolling through Kalamazoo and the US-131 corridor between 11am and noon -- just when I would be expecting to arrive in K-zoo.

Why don't you leave earlier, Dr. Phil? Sure. If I had planned on leaving early, say on a school day, I would be going to bed earlier -- not working on a number of things on the computer until after 3am. I've been using mornings as nap time after getting up with Mrs. Dr. Phil and getting armored up in my foot brace. Left to myself, I'm afraid I tend to go to bed around 4am... I am not going to try to stupidly function on 2-3 hours of sleep.

What was bad about the forecast wasn't just rain, but big storm. 60mph winds. Hail. See, I work really hard to keep my bad foot dry. It was storm water getting into an open blister on my foot which probably caused the initial infection back in April 2013 -- and I'm still recovering from that. Also I still have a hole in my foot, though these days it doesn't go down to the bone. And it's one thing to get in and try to be careful when one is teaching. But for a meeting? Pfft. Alas, rescheduling was going to be complicated.

But by 7:35 in the morning, the Weather Channel app on my Kindle Fire HD was showing that the line of storms wasn't going to come in until 1pm. That was the time of the meeting, so I'd already be on campus. In fact, it never did rain -- percentages were dropping steadily during the day -- not until after dinner in the evening.

So after a nap, quick check of emails, bathroom, a hard boiled egg -- we added an egg to my diet to bring my protein levels up and promote healing, but it's easier to mess with the egg at home (grin) -- I gathered up my stuff and headed out. Time out logged in the Blazer was 10:11.

Gas has been flirting between $2.38.9 and $2.89.9/gal for the last month or so. And then it's been going down -- "$2 gas for Labor Day" said the pundits. Until last week when it shot up 30¢ one day and 30¢ the next, eventually pinging up at $2.99.9/gal for regular. Seems a BP refinery in Indiana was unexpectedly down. This after the gas mavens were already nervous about a West Coast refinery outage, even though there's no way for gasoline to easily cross the Rockies, so their shortage shouldn't have affected Midwest prices. Anyway, this morning regular was $2.87.9, making midgrade $3.07.9 -- except I had a 75¢/gal coupon from Family Failure -- which made it $2.32.9/gal. "$2 gas for Christmas" say the pundits this week.

Don't you love it when your 75¢ discount just happens to be magically eaten up by the 60¢ spike plus the 20¢ grade differential?

The drive in was mostly sunny, with some big clouds playing in between blue patches of sky. It was humid and unfortunately, the A.C. on the Blazer has been getting more and more anemic with each passing week. We'll take it in for a recharge tomorrow. But I couldn't just open the windows. I've been on doxycycline for over a year, and while I've not had much problem with it being a photoreactive antibiotic, in truth I am a little mole person who doesn't get much direct sun. And I needed the UV protection of the glass.

But I got in. My usual handicapped parking space was there. I made copies of the handout I'd written in the wee hours. No problem with making the 1pm meeting.

See I'm teaching PHYS-1070 Elementary Physics this fall -- the 29th time I've taught this course -- and we are switching to a free online Physics textbook. One that we're using for PHYS-1130/1150, the full year course. For the one-semester PHYS-1070, I've been working on chopping it down to a reasonable amount of material. The meeting was about the PHYS-1080 lab course, which is getting completely updated for the first time in a long time. To put it another way, some of the labs previously used had been typed... Making it all interesting is that the three largest group of majors taking this course are pretty different -- Aviation, Speech Pathology and Exercise Science. Good meeting. The lab people have been working hard.

Oh, and while I was on campus, I downloaded the textbook onto my second Kindle Fire HD -- 93MB took about 15 seconds. This is what happens when the WiFi nodes are hooked up to gigabit Internet. At home the DSL is the limiting factor, not the WiFi. My students will have no excuses. (big-grin)

Lunch back at my office. Then a 3pm conference call with the care facility in North Carolina where my mother is these days. Hmm, is it still a conference call when only one person is on the other end? Anyway, things are stable. Stable is good.

Rechecked the Weather Channel app -- no rain until at least 8pm now. No particular reason I had to stay until 5pm or later, so Elvis Left The Building at 4:35. Campus is pretty empty right now. By next week things will begin hopping. So, I took this opportunity to go left, instead of right, out of Lot 61. HEY! They finally fixed the road markings! A couple of years ago they changed the left and right turn lanes onto the street into a single exit lane, to make the entrance lane bigger. Because they had created a new bus stop, taking up a chunk of the parking lot and they needed the clearance for the buses to make the turn. But they put in the new new bus stop last year -- or was it the year before -- freeing back up all the parking spaces. Unfortunately, they left only one exit lane. So normally I turn right and at 5pm I'd be stuck behind all these idiots waiting to turn left onto a traffic jam.

Anyway, the point of my turning left was to go down to Parking Services and get my '15-'16 campus parking hangtag. Yes, as part of the Part-Time Instructors union contract we finally got real parking permits. Before I had to get a temporary permit every semester, which was taped to the far side of the windshield and had to be peeled off and moved if I was driving a different vehicle.

Next week they'll be lines out the doors with grad students, part-timers and some campus apartment dwellers all getting parking. Today? No line. Two wads of people obviously together -- and three clerks. So at 4:45, I was in and out in minutes. Don't even have to sign any stupid paperwork anymore either.

Coming out there was another SUV in one of the 15 minute business parking spots past my Blazer in the Handicapped parking. A black family was standing around their tailgate. In the middle of the parking lot lane was a trio of blonds. Apparently the girls on the right had realized that the college student girl on the left with her family was in their dorm -- and they'd gone over to help the family figure out the byzantine paperwork and parking procedures. Ah... one group of students feeding the hard won arcane knowledge to the next student. Gotta love college.

Easy drive home, except for playing sun battles again. Amazing how you end up with drivers arm in both directions between morning and evening. How is this fair? (evil-grin)

We're getting closer to being operational for Fall 2015...

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal

Made It!

Sunday, 3 March 2013 22:27
dr_phil_physics: (wmu-logo)
Spring Break

Every year I mention that when WMU load balanced the days off between the Fall and "Spring", i.e. Winter, Semesters, they moved Spirit Day from the Friday before Homecoming to the Friday before Spring Break. Thus we celebrate our university's school spirit by... leaving.

This semester I've been giving exams and quizzes on Fridays, but with Spirit Day on Friday, Exam 2 was given in both classes on Thursday. To my great relief, the weather held off on Thursday, so nearly everyone got to the exam. And with a beautiful day on Friday, people were able to start their Spring Break without dire weather, too.

GVSU is also on Spring Break this week, so Mrs. Dr. Phil is filling in some vacation days so we can goof off together.

Another Swing and a Miss

Two Sundays ago I shot this little hut in the snow (DW), but only after I did my errands and I lost the sharp shadows of the sun and the blue sky. Last Sunday I had to run out again -- and didn't take a camera. Durn it! Not only was the blue sky and sharp shadows there, but if I'd been in position with the 70-300mm mounted, I might have caught two snowmobiles carving out the path around the hut. Missed it.

To add insult to injury, I did take a camera with me on Saturday, but a week of rain, freezing rain, snow, temps in the 40s, lots of rain and then sun had the snowmobile tracks just a faint shadow of their former neat lines in the snow. I did take a couple of pictures, but they're on "film" from the Nikon F4s and being developed.

Meanwhile, I used the little Sony a couple of times and managed to get a few pics this last week:

Winter Storm Rocky arrives just north of Allendale on my way home Tuesday. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

These next shots on Wilson Avenue Wednesday are reminiscent of the shots from Friday the 13th 2012 (DW).

Our driveway was heavy thick mush, and I had a helluva time getting in and out of the turnaround just to be able to GO down the driveway. By the time I cleared Ottawa County on Wednesday morning, it was pretty much full speed on the highways. But the flocking on the trees along Wilson Avenue was certainly pretty. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Another shot. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Monday is supposed to be lovely, but Tuesday the next storm looks to clip up with 6" of wet heavy snow. We're going to be working at home on Tuesday, methinks. (grin)

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)
Nearly Fifty

By the time I left work on Monday, I took my coat off as I loaded up the Blazer and it was pleasant. 47°F. I'll try to remember in August if it is 47°F in the morning that I called it pleasant. (grin) Left early enough to drive up to Chevy for a much overdue oil change. Had to wait for a while, as the vehicles ahead of me were taking advantage of a tire rotation special. Just before I pulled in, the first rain drops appeared.

Rained all night. We knew the temp was going to drop and the snows come and it would be icy in the morning. But the driveway was almost clear by midnight.

Drop By Twenty

Checked the weather and road reports at 6:10am, not great but not too terrible. Twenty minutes later, though, and everything had deteriorated. Freezing conditions, Allendale was down to 26°F and the snows had just started. By 7am they've given up reporting all the accidents, "slideoffs too numerous to give". It's a combination of ice and the gusting winds up to 45mph. The '96 Blazer may have 4WD, but it has a high enough profile that it is subject to getting blown around. I can't cancel classes on my own anymore, but the department found people to cover and hopefully do some useful problems for my students.

In previous years, I used to take pride in the fact that if I canceled classes, the university -- which never closes -- eventually closed, too. Twice I got to work to find the place had closed, once at WMU and once at Hope College. This year, the ice over such a long commute has made me cautious, though I have driven through a lot of terrible stuff this semester. If I'm not comfortable starting out, you know it sucks big time.

Mlive.com reported from this morning: "Came in to GR from Holland. Freezing rain and high winds. A normal 42 minute drive to work took an hour and a half this morning. Average speed this morning = 21 mph." Doesn't sound too bad until you consider my commute runs over seventy miles each way and goes through a series of choke points that are traditional skating rinks and accident magnets. When it gets up to 2½ to 3 hours AND you have to worry about every other driver and truck sliding into you, blown sideways by the wind, you have to rethink this driving thing.

Here in Allendale it's been snowing horizontally all day.

Naturally at 1pm when I broke out the D1 and the 70-300mm the snow lightened -- with enhancement you can almost see the distant tree line. Not now. We're just short of a white out at 2pm. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Speaking of places that "never close"...
Michigan Tech Closed at Noon

Michigan Technological University is closed at noon today, Tuesday, February 19, due to severe weather. Classes will not be held. Only personnel responsible for essential safety, building, grounds, and residential operations should report for work. The Career Fair in the Student Development Complex will remain open until 6 o'clock this evening.
Dr. Phil

UPDATE: That is Michigan on the right... all of it.

Satellite view. (Click on photo for larger.)

UPDATE2: And another country heard from:
All GVSU classes and activities cancelled at 4 p.m.


Wednesday, 13 February 2013 22:22
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)

On the drive home today, the odometer on The Teal Machine, the 1996 Chevy 4-door 4WD S-10 Blazer, rolled over the 300,000 mile mark. I was heading west on the M-6 freeway, about milepost 2.5, just before Exit 1 (8th Avenue) and just past the Ottawa County line.

I don't remember the original mileage... oh wait, here it is from April 2006: 110,000 miles (DW). So I've put almost two-thirds of the miles on this truck. It's been a good ride so far over nearly seven years.

Twas a beautiful day -- sunny, warm, dry road, full highway speeds.

Pictures or it didn't happen.
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)

Checked the TV to find that the expected freezing rain was causing some issues this morning. Just about every Ottawa County school was closed today due to icy roads, including Allendale. Alas, our NPR station, WGVU, had a computer network failure and couldn't give us SkyView Traffic updates. WTF? Haven't you guys heard of phones? Turning on the TV? Listening to the radio, like WOOD-AM, which also uses SkyView Traffic?

Epic fail on a sliding driving morning.

Worse, because of yesterday's rains, the radio in the 1986 Blazer decided it wasn't going to work -- it's a grounding problem and usually not a problem in the winter.

So I had to go off to the south without knowing what the roads were like. The roads were glazed, which wasn't so much of a problem as the gusting winds coming and going. 4WD needed to keep the front end tracking against the sideways gusts. Like Thursday, not too much new slop until I hit Standale -- Wilson and M-45.


Had to drive to Holland on Sunday, so filled the tank. $3.79.9/gal for regular, 15¢ higher for midgrade, minus the 15¢/gal gas coupon. (grin) Monday night, gas had jumped to $3.88.9/gal, which meant midgrade and higher would be above the four bucks a gallon level. Just in time for the State of the Union.

I've been re-reading my entries from four years ago. Gas was half the price it is today. The economy IS feeling somewhat better, so the oil companies are back to gouging.

Meanwhile, On Campus

Though it doesn't directly affect me, now that I have a handicapped hangtag, our dept. chair has been on a campaign to get more faculty parking spots in Lot 61. Naturally, being a physicist, he backed up his letters with data. Last week the Parking Office said, Huh, guess you are shortchanged. And today, the north row of spaces changed from student "W" to faculty/staff "R".


Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)
No, Prudent

While the rest of the nation is watching the northeast as two storms merge to form Snurricane Nemo and New York to Boston is supposed to "get it", the northern part of Nemo came through Michigan last night.

The irony is that yesterday, Thursday, was the first morning commute in some three weeks that I was able to drive at full posted speeds the entire way. Roads clear. It was sunny in Kalamazoo. In Grand Rapids, though, the afternoon was already picking up half a foot or more of wet heavy snow. This wasn't the dry lake effect snows we've been getting. It was near freezing and there was a lot of water content, making for slushy, slidey road conditions, plus bands of freezing rain.

K-zoo was in the 3-5" snowfall range. Our house was just south of the one-foot plus range. Our neighbor plowed our driveway twice by 10pm -- probably a good move on his part since the heavy wet snow would be tough for his little plow to work on in large scale.

But even while the sun was shining in my office yesterday afternoon, I advised my department chair that it was possible I wouldn't be driving in today. I was expecting a very long commute and on Fridays we just do a quiz in class. So I arranged to have people cover the quizzes and emailed PDFs of the quizzes to the office last night.

I was right, of course. Traffic cameras showed slow driving. I've already pushed past 2½ hours on the drive in just this week due to icy conditions. Why drive in, risking life-limb-vehicle, just to be late to a quiz and give another?

Of course the sun came out this morning and it looked all white and pretty. But I know I made the right choice.

Pictures Or It Didn't Happen

The back deck was completely clear before Thursday afternoon. And because it was warm enough, I was able to open the sliding screen door and shoot. It may not look so bad now, but the roads early this morning were coated with a thick slurry of shit. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

This morning, the snow cap on top of the heat pump was at least a foot high. With the temps in the upper 20s and bright sunshine, it had been whittled down to 6-9" by 1pm. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Rather impressed myself with getting the Nikon D1 to deal with the overblown snow highlights, even while shooting through a window screen. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Icicles forming quickly from the roof melt. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (kate-winter-coat)
Saturday Afternoon

Snow day on Thursday for WMU, then lake effect snow bands all the way through Saturday afternoon in places. The sudden cool off and then frigid freeze after Wednesday night plus snow put down a nice layer of ice on the roads. Friday's commute in the morning was slow and cold at 11°F in Allendale. At times speeds on the highways was down to 25-30mph and 40mph on the freeways. This wasn't helped by the fact that there was bright sun south of Grand Rapids and many people thought they should be able to drive faster.

Coming home on Friday, my gauge is to check the reflection of headlights off the road surface in my rearview mirror -- quite glazed, actually. So I probably annoyed some people with my caution. (grin) By Lake Michigan Drive, the lake effect was creating vast clouds of airborne snow with every passing cars. Maintaining sight of the edges of the roads was not easy.

By 3:30pm Saturday, though, there was brilliant blue sky to the north, so I threw my cheap old 12mm f8 Sigma Fisheye on the D1, set it to f11 and took a quick shot through the sliding glass door. Followed by a couple of pictures with the 35-70mm lens at 35mm. I can tell that I am getting comfortable working with the Nikon digital SLRs, because I've regained my form of holding a camera and getting interesting shots without benefit of looking through the finder (double-grin) -- the part of the sliding door without the screen is behind a table and with the snows and cold, there's a good chance the sliding screen door wouldn't open if I tried it.

Boosted the contrast and darkened the shot to show the deep blue of the sky. The old fisheye isn't very sharp, so brightening it for detail didn't seem worth the trouble. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

View north out the deck showing the thick frosting on the trees. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Second shot looking northeast. I liked the look of the fluffy ridge of snow that hadn't yet blown off the railing. And even without using the finder, that ridge fits perfectly in the curve of the trees. Sometimes I amaze myself. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Meanwhile The Inevitable Rises

Beginning of last week gas was $3.38.9/gal for regular. I had a 50¢ and a 10¢/gal coupon for the Family Fare grocery gas station, so even with buying midgrade I was able to get gas under three bucks for once. Too often when I've had big coupons the price jumped so I end up paying what I would've before the increase. By afternoon the price had jumped 20¢/gal. And by Friday, it was up another dime to $3.68.9/gal, then $3.75.9/gal by the time I got home.

With the higher prices and the biting cold wind, I really resent standing there waiting for gas pumps to ask questions and think about the reply. Enter your ZIP code. Do you want a Car Wash? Do you want a receipt? Come on, it's not like you've never asked those questions before, you silly computers, and have to decide what to do with the NO and YES inputs.

The Neighbor

The guy across the road from us got a new toy -- a four-wheel ATV with a blade. He saw Mrs. Dr. Phil working the snow scoop during the first snow storm last week and he knows I'm walking with a cane these days. So when he runs up and down his longer driveway, he's been zipping up and down our 250 foot driveway and clearing off the daily accumulation. It's really nice of him. We got a $25 gas station gift car for him last weekend, since he didn't want anything for it. Right now I think he's really enjoying his new toy.

On Wednesday when I was hooking up the recycling bin with the garbage can inside to tow it back from the road, I noticed that there was several pieces of slag from the driveway in the square opening of the Blazer's Class III receiver hitch. That was odd until I realized that when I backed out in the morning I'd crunched up against the snow bank from the plowing -- presumably there were driveway stones picked up in the plowing. (four-wheel-drive-grin)

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (kate-winter-coat)
Tuesday Is The New Monday

Since I had MLK Day off yesterday, today is the first workday of the week. And the list of school closings and road incidents was long. Temp in Allendale this morning was about 4°F. Windchills at -12°F. But we both managed to get out early. Mrs. Dr. Phil because she was due downtown GR at 8am. Me, because I expected my 1¼-1½ hour commute to take 2 hours today -- which it did.

Actually, the drivers I saw were all behaving themselves. I only saw one vehicle in the ditch and it was going the other way on I-196, on a stretch identified as slippery on the traffic reports. The early birds are the ones who usually ignore reality and forget what winter driving weather is like. So we were driving at 10-20 mph under the speed limits the whole time -- mostly 15mph under. The roads were icy, but only twice did I find myself in a lane which felt a little squirrelly. Reduced speeds, lower gear, 4WD and an easy touch on brakes and steering, did just fine. Maintain good intervals. Use four-way flashers when traffic slows ahead to warn those behind. All covered.

The sun is playing hide-and-go-seek, but it is amazing how much more pleasant the drive is when there's light. (grin)

Heading west on the M-6, I realized that there were very bright sundogs on either side of the sun. Didn't have any Nikons today, so this is with the little Sony. The dark angled bit on the lower left is from one of the little lens cover petals which apparently has been sticking lately -- it's freed up now. This is on the ramp from M-6 West to US-131 South. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Second shot showing the sundog on the right side. You'd think the first picture was blurred, but that's actually snow and lens flare on the green signs. THIS shot is blurred, so I'm not putting in a larger version.
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Getting ready to go to second class. My office is 63°F. Why?

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (kate-winter-coat)
When We Lived In The U.P. We Called This Monday

As I write this at 5pm on Monday, MLK Day (Observed) and Inauguration Day (Observed), it's 9°F outside. News reports the roads as slick -- it's been snowing all night. But the lake effect here outside Allendale is nowhere close to the 6-14" predicted.

I won't mock the weather, though. Even if we had much tougher Januaries in New York, Chicago, the U.P. and here in previous years, the mild winters of late mean that the local drivers aren't used to the skating rinks. And they forget the basic Physics which suggests that road salt doesn't do much at 9°F. I'd thought of going to the P.O. Box today, but with being off at WMU for MLK Day, there was no reason to go out and test the roads in the middle of the day. So I caught up on sleep, and watched the TV coverage from D.C. And edited lots of photos from the weekend.

Backyard at 4pm. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

View out the garage -- you can still see Mrs. Dr. Phil's tire tracks from this morning, not fully filled in. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

On The Way To ConFusion

With an Alberta Clipper bearing down on the Great Lakes, I kept a "weather eye" on the weather, so to speak. But Friday dawned as a cold but partly sunny day -- actually warmed up to the upper 20s or so by the afternoon. By the time I got to ConFusion, the weather was still clear, but the wind picked up. Biting wind. While I hid in the hotel on Saturday, the winds roared through, gusting up to 60mph and Sunday morning there was a report of some 96,000 homes without power.

Looking west to go south to go east... at the edge of campus, on the way to Dearborn/Detroit by 3pm. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2013 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Dr. Phil

A Couple of Things

Wednesday, 9 January 2013 14:07
dr_phil_physics: (Default)
Been Scarce With Updates

You'd think that with the holidays I'd have more time for blogging on LJ/DW, and I have a number of things I need to blog about, but this year we once again traveled down to Greensboro NC to visit my mom. That's two days of driving down and two back, plus the days spent in G'boro. Plus the day we delayed after Christmas to allow Winter Storm Euclid to slide on south of us through Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. That was a day delay well spent -- other than a couple of flakes we saw in the last hours of the drive home, and I do mean flakes, we had decent driving weather.

The New Semester and Such

Classes began on Monday the seventh. Once again teaching two classes -- PHYS-1070 Elementary Physics (for the 26th time) and PHYS-2050 University Physics I (for the 22nd time). About a hundred in the one and seventy-five in the other. In 1110 Rood, the "regular" Physics lecture hall, which has railings along the stairs, which are a big help. (grin)

It's funny how we get into routines and rhythms. Last two semesters I taught, I had classes at noon and 1pm. This time it's 10am and 1pm. (1) I have to get up earlier -- ugh. Haven't done a 6am wakeup every day in a couple of years, it takes some getting used to, especially since my "perfect" timing has me going to bed at 4am. (evil grin) (2) The last two semesters I'd finish my two classes and have my lunch about 2pm. So... why is it that my Pavlovian response to leaving my first class at 11am is that I'm hungry? And I can barely "make it" to noon before I get out my sandwich? We are such creatures of habit.

At least I now have a handicapped parking hangtag, so I don't have to walk from across most of the Lot 61 when I get in.

Gas Prices

Gas fell down to $3.18.9/gal for regular the other day. AND we had another grocery store 50¢/gal discount coupon, which miraculously Mrs. Dr. Phil was able to use to fill the Bravada with on Monday morning -- before gas shot up to $3.38.9/gal. For once the discount coupon didn't go to make up the price jump. (supreme evil grin)

I was looking at my blog entries from early 2012 last night and I was screaming NO-OOOOOO! as the gasoline pundits were predicting $4 and $5 gas by the summer. Saying such things aloud gives them carte blanche to go ahead and do it, don't you know? So today they said that we were unlikely to have $4 gasoline through about June. Don't worry, some excuse will come along to ruin the summer vacation driving season.

A Pleasant Review

Yesterday I had a few minutes before class to kill, so Googled myself looking for reviews of my stories. Found one from November by a Hungarian blogger named Bogi (Boglárka) Takács, for my story "End Run" on Giganotosaurus. I really enjoyed her review, because she "got it" in terms of what I am trying to do with my military SF stories.
I thought this would be one of those "we are trying to emulate Golden Age SF" stories which I find deathly boring, but it wasn't. Instead of the glorious space military yadda yadda, it was surprisingly slice-of-life, and the plot revolved around an engineering mishap. I found that so refreshing! Yes, things go wrong - sometimes in really mundane ways, but still with spectacular (and horrifying) results. Space SF either tries to be blandly perfect or absurdly gritty, it's always good to see a story that manages to present a more balanced and realistic future.

Imagine my surprise when Jim C. Hines mentioned Bogi Takács' blog in his updated Hugo Best Fan Writer nominations musings. And the World-SF blog also wrote today about looking beyond North American borders for the Hugo Best Fan Writer noms. I've added Takács to my Blogger reader.

It's a small world out there. Big, and small.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (seasons-best-kate)
The Blue Line Club

As 2012 winds down and folks become reflective, I'll point out that for the last couple of years I've been limping around and (hopefully) growing a new leg nerve. A process expected to take two to three years as such nerves grow at the rate of fingernails.

As mentioned before, stairs are the worst, but I've taken to use a cane for assistance, and as that removes a hand from usefulness, I tow my crap from car to office with a little collapsible plastic OfficeMax cart. This semester the faculty parking lot has been overcrowded and I've frequently had to either park at the far end or sit 20-30 minutes before a spot opened up.

A colleague broke his ankle in the Fall and has been scooting along with one of those knee scooters -- hell, he could move way faster than I could -- and he'd gotten a temporary handicapped hang tag. With winter coming and no idea how mild or bad it'd be, the prospect of dragging the cart in AND making an early class was not pleasant.

So I got a handicapped hang tag.

I Love My Doctor

I figured that I'd qualify for a 3 or 6 month temporary, but when I got my application form back from the doctor, he'd put me down for a permanent handicap, and bless his heart he listed morbid obesity not nerve damage as the cause.

So I'm good into 2017 on this tag.

I'd really like to not have to use it in a year or so, but I'll take it.

Notes On Those Blue Lined Spaces

By gosh, they work.

But there are things I've never thought of. Like what do travelers do? You'd have to choose between parking at a train station or an airport, and having the hang tag with you if you're renting a car at the destination.

But at the moment I don't have worry about this.

Less than an hour to go until 2013... and in this small way, next year will be better than this year. (grin)

Dr. Phil

Morning Drives

Saturday, 6 October 2012 17:22
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)

I don't drag along the Nikon D1 commuter bag with me every day, but my equipment bag does have the little Sony digital with a Carl Zeiss zoom lens. It's autofocus is much too happy locking onto the front windshield, so I lose some pictures, but at least I have a camera. (grin)

A week ago Thursday the sun was hiding behind a bank of clouds and the gaps created these lovely glory rays shooting over half the horizon. It persisted for the first forty five minutes of the drive, but in the beginning it looked like Allendale was blessed. This pattern continued in the evening, too, but those pictures weren't very good.

Sun rays basking glory over Allendale -- from 84th Avenue fields. (Click on photo for larger.)

The Flock Struts

Last weekend I wrote about the elusive wild turkeys (DW) and the large flock which has taken to crossing some of the roads about a mile, mile and a half, from us.

This Thursday morning I had to stop on Warner to let the big birds calmly strut across the road. It had rained overnight and between the dark clouds, the sun rising and the wet, it looked pretty amazing. While waiting, given that there's about 20 birds in this flock, I got out the Sony to try one shot. Of course, I had to look up at the rear view mirror because of the tire screeching noise behind me. Seems that this Toyota was all hell bent on closing the gap to the Blazer, which meant it was going in excess of 55mph, decided that they were going to pass me -- and then saw all the birds and was trying to brake and shimmy on the wet road, as they were not practicing driving under safe conditions. I wasn't too worried, they were screeching to a halt quite a distance away. But what-ta-id-iot.

I didn't correct the exposure, because you can see more of the turkeys this way. (grin) (Click on photo for larger.)

Two driveways up a second grouping of turkeys had just crossed and were standing around. Yesterday, I slowed in that area and saw about two dozen waiting at a driveway about to cross. There's a K-O-A campground nearby, and Mrs. Dr. Phil said that the other day someone reported early morning turkeys walking around that place.

It's like Hitchcock, but more stately and in slow motion.

Dr. Phil

New Year Week 2

Wednesday, 12 September 2012 21:37
dr_phil_physics: (wmu-logo)

Back to classes. Back to work. Survived the week one parking free-for-all where they don't ticket students in the faculty lot. And before you think it's just whining, remember my current difficulty in walking -- I just can't go to a distant lot and then walk up hill to my office like I used to.

Using i>Clickers in my two classes -- the first time for me -- now that the university has settled on the third clicker brand in five years and most of my students have used them in other classes. Not using them for grading this semester, but the stats are interesting so far. As long as the answers are A B C D or E. (grin) Physics Dept. wanted the clickers that had numeric keypads, dammit. (double-entry grin)

Huh -- for $10 you can buy an app to run i>Clicker without using a clicker. And was amused to see a student raid the batteries from his calculator to run his clicker. I think he needs to buy some new batteries.

Decided I needed a clean new Windows 7 machine for the i>Clicker base station to plug into. Went by Best Buy a couple weeks ago and picked up an Asus Eee PC 1025C notebook for $199. $199! Dual core Intel Atom processor, 1.6GHz clock, 1GB memory, 320GB HDD. Weighs like two pounds. Named the machine KATNISS since I bought a Blu-Ray copy of The Hunger Games at the same time. (grin) This is the machine I did Iron Chef Flash Fiction (DW) at WorldCon with, as well as gave my PowerPoint which I'll report on Real Soon Now.

Of course if parking eased in week 2, commuting has gotten worse in week 2. One of the construction sites is creating a four mile twenty minute backup on the way home. Grrrr. Mostly avoided the worst of the construction summer woes, even on my trips to Atlanta and Greensboro.


Gas is running around $4.09.9/gal for regular, though my local gas station has upped its grade differential from 11¢/gal to 15¢/gal -- and as I usually get mid-grade for the 1996 Blazer, this is relevant. The last two tanks I've filled on the way home in Wayland and though regular is the same price, the Shell's differential is only 10¢/gal. Whoo-hoo.

Except the last couple of days I've seen two people reporting that gas is running around $1.85.9/gal in Cincinnati. WTF? That's 45% of the price here! I mean, you might be able to get a tanker truck of gas at retail Cincy prices, truck it up here and make money AND lower gas prices. It's like 380 miles!

I. Do. Not. Get. It.

Dr. Phil

PS -- Lots more WorldCon coverage coming!
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)
First Time In The Office In A Couple Of Weeks

Been busy. It was 100°F+. I melted my catalytic converter. Went out of town. Had company. You know, what with not teaching during Summer I/II, the usual. Of course I knew that when I did make it into the office, I'd spend some time fighting with my computer because everything, no matter what settings I actually give it, ABSOLUTELY HAD TO UPDATE AND RUN MASSIVE SETUP PROGRAMS RIGHT NOW!!!!! So everybody collides and no one, especially the poor sop who owns the computer and would, silly me, actually like to get any work done on it, gets anything done in a timely fashion.

Add In The Laugh Track

So naturally, when I went into the garage to load up, back out and drive off, I was struck that the 1996 Blazer looked a bit... odd. Not tall enough. A quick inspection showed that, naturally, the left front tire was flat.

Now long time readers will note that I have this odd relationship with vehicle woes, in which I comment that sometimes these things happen at just the right time. Serendipity if you will -- big believer in it. Oh, you won't be disappointed here.

This is a two car garage and the right side tires are right up against the east wall, so that there's no way to get to them short of backing out. But it was a left side tire, and Mrs. Dr. Phil was long gone, so other than moving the recycling bin a few feet, the tire was perfectly exposed.

And the valve stem was up on the top.

And my AC powered compressor was still sitting on the side desk and easy to pick up, set it on two toolboxes sitting next to the tire, plug into a power strip sitting right there and hook it up to the valve stem.

Tire pumped up from flat pretty easily. Indeed, it wasn't completely flat, starting out around maybe 6 psi gauge pressure. I took it up to 40 psi -- recommended is 36-38 psi -- and while I could hear a slight hissing sound with the compressor off and disconnected, a hiss isn't going to drain a tire in five minutes.

So it was easy to go off to Chevy and pull it into the entry bay. There, one of the usual guys came over with a spray bottle -- he could hear the slight hiss as soon as I shut off the engine -- and spraying around, found the leak right about in the center of the tread area. Didn't even have to rotate the tire to find it.

Choice between putting on the spare and coming back for the fixed tire tonight, or just fixing it Right Now. The latter was estimated within a half an hour. Turned out to be a moment longer, but only because they took care of some corrosion on the aluminum wheels, so I won't have a bead leak on that wheel in the near future.

So now I'm running later than planned, but I'm up on I-96. I knew there was some kind of construction on US-131 through the heart of Grand Rapids, but decided to chance it anyway. One lane down from Leonard to 76th Street, which is most of G.R. But traffic was light and we moved at the appropriate 60 or 45 mph, as needed, and so really it was no bother at all.

The next-to-the-perfect parking spot was open when I got to Lot 61.

So yeah, it all could've been much, much worse. Still annoyed that I had to get any work done, but it all went swimmingly. And much, much better than if I couldn't have held the tire pressure on reinflation, had to call and wait for AAA to change the tire, take the flat into the shop and pick it up later.

And of course the computer has settled down after I left it have all its hissy fits, while I played Solitaire.


Dr. Phil


Saturday, 9 June 2012 13:42
dr_phil_physics: (Titanic-Hat)
Staying Up Most Of The Night

Left to myself, I tend to stay up late -- work, write, watch all sorts of bizarrity on cable. When Mrs. Dr. Phil was in Nicaragua, I reverted to form and went to bed around 4am every night. (grin) Ah, the advantages of not having any classes to teach.

Indeed, some of the hardest teaching time for me was getting assigned an 8am class, which required a 4:55am wake-up.

Or Not

So... what in the world was I doing setting a Saturday morning alarm for 3:55am? Well, Mrs. Dr. Phil had a 7am flight from GRR to San Antonio, change in Dallas. Boarding scheduled to start at 6:30, so we aimed to arrive at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport at 5:30. 40-45 minutes to get around to the opposite corner of Grand Rapids. Quick breakfast, dress, and well, you can see how we arrived at 3:55am.


On the other hand, it was a perfect day for driving. And fascinating how many people were being dropped off for all those early flights.

There was the time that I delivered Chicago Tribunes in Evanston as a relief driver, and worked from 1-6am. On the way home, I grabbed a Coke at a 24-hr McDonalds on 28th Street and while in the drive-thru line -- yes they were backed up at 5:45 on a Saturday -- I said hello and chatted with a young man folding up boxes from the McD semi being unloaded on the other side. Asked him when his shift started, 4am, but he lived 2½ miles away and had to walk in, so his wake up was 2:30am.

Oh the horror, the horror.

(Mrs. Dr. Phil just e-mailed from San Antonio -- got in, got room despite hotel snafu, lunch, nap, minor league ballgame outing tonight, conference. Yay, travel.)

Meanwhile, Prometheus 3D at the Holland 7, 4:50pm...

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (construction-zone-speed-limit)
The Orange Barrels Are Arriving

Michigan's seasons: Color, Gray, Mud and Construction. And Monday seems to be the start of the latter. It's hard to tell -- there are either two or three construction zones on US-131 between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. The one is either really long or broken into two pieces. Looks like they've erected a solar recharged portable camera tower in one spot, presumably to monitor traffic backups.

This cannot bode well. (grin)

Gas Relief

After surging past the four buck barrier to $4.15.9/gal, the price has been dropping a few pennies every few days since before Easter weekend. I think I saw $3.74.9/gal this evening, after $3.79.9 this morning.

Perhaps were being conditioned to fatalistically accept the higher prices this summer. Or perhaps the economy can't support the four buck outrage.

Oh well. It was a really pretty drive today. There's a small joy in that.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)
The Gray Quiet

Last night the fog rolled in, not on little cat feet, but huge furry man-rending tiger paws. Because of the first full day of March Madness, the local CBS news was on after midnight. They were already reporting that Grand Rapids had zero visibility and the fog was expected to linger until 11am. By 3am, using the light by the garage, I didn't have even 30 feet of visibility. So I went to bed figuring that (a) the schools would be delayed or closed as they often are in spring and fall due to fog and (b) if it really was zero visibility, I might have to declare a fog day of my own.

At 6:55am, though, I noted that I could see a headlight moving on Warner, 250 feet down the driveway, albeit slowly. Amazingly the traffic reports indicated that people were behaving themselves and there were no accidents to report early on. The MDOT traffic cameras on US-131 showed strong haziness, but you could see the cars and traffic was moving at a reasonable pace.

So I left half an hour earlier than usual for a Friday and figured I'd see what was what. There was a very bad crash a couple miles west of us, at 120th Avenue and Lincoln, and the trooper reported the conditions as "pea soup". But our road wasn't bad, no problem running at 40-50mph. M-45 45-55mph. Pretty much full speed the rest of the way. Sun broke through just past Plainwell/Allegan. Fog stopped in K-zoo, pretty morning when I got to campus.

The traffic lights in the murk were prettier on 68th Avenue at this intersection, but there's a Right Turn on Red, so I didn't stop to take that picture. (grin) (Click on photo for larger.)

By The Way

A couple of weeks ago I started seeing a truck equipped with a Trailer Tail. From a distance it looked like it had a pouch or a hump on the back, but as I got closer I realized it was hollow and just a fairing to cut down on the turbulence behind the flat rear of the semi-trailer. Like the fairings covering the exposed undercarriage of the trailers or those over the cab to cover the flat upper face of the fronts of trailers, I'm assuming that trucking companies wouldn't pay money for these unless they provided some savings. In the case of the Trailer Tail, it'd be one more thing to have to undo before opening up the doors.

So far I've only seen this three times -- and twice I'm pretty sure it was the same truck.

Trend or trendy? (Click on photo for larger.)

Dr. Phil

Suddenly Spring

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 22:45
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)

Monday it rained. Mrs. Dr. Phil saw wormsign on the sidewalks -- normal earthworm type, not Dune type. (grin) Tuesday night there were peepers in the distance -- tonight the peepers were deafening at the 84th Avenue cedar swamp.

And with a forecast high of 77°F today, it may have hit eighty. At least according to one sign along US-131 that's pretty reliable.

Oh, and though I didn't see them in time to slow down or get a camera out, along one of the 70mph curves on the M-6 this morning, there were three large wild turkeys strutting along the edge of the gravel.

Spring. Brings out the wildlife.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)
As Promised -- Or Threatened If You Prefer...

Here are some of the photos I shot during the long ice drive home yesterday (DW). All taken with the Nikon D1 and the 35-70mm AF Nikkor.

Coming north out of Kalamazoo on US-131, the road at first seemed wet, but between the small amounts of new snow being blown onto the road and the rapidly dropping temps, there was a lot of spray being kicked up and the road was already slippery. (Click on photo for larger.)

North of here I tried calling Joe Chicago's Pizza to bring home a Chicago stuffed pizza. But they didn't answer the phone. (And yes, this was done with the Bluetooth Borg implant and handsfree.) Finally gave up and called Mrs. Dr. Phil at home and said it was a good day for Campbell's Tomato Bisque soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. (grin)

North of the wall into Mordor -- milepost 70 or so between Wayland MI and the Kent County line south of Grand Rapids. There is getting to be a layer of slippery mess to drive through and speeds have dropped from 65mph at K-zoo to 45-50mph here. Amazingly only passed one wreck on US-131. (Click on photo for larger.)

The early snow was creating more white flocking on the trees. When I left WMU, it was very pretty on the hill curve down to the next stop sign. But I didn't get the camera out at the time, because I was driving down the hill curve to the next stop sign in 2nd gear and 4WD. There's a tendency for cars to zoom down the hill and then slide into the intersection. Though I don't do that. (in-control-grin)

The radio indicated that things were bad on the M-6 into I-196 at the Kent/Ottawa county line. But everyone seemed to be driving at reasonable speeds. You can see the 30-40mph winds sliding some snow across the road -- it's always trouble when the snows come out of due north. (Click on photo for larger.)

Even before I finished the curving ramp onto I-196 I could see traffic was slowing. First off, was this slide-off just past the end of the merge lane. (Click on photo for larger.)

And then we slowed down to a crawl at the 44th Street/Rivertown Parkway exit. Note to other drivers -- that space between me and the next car is called a cushion and not an invitation for you to put your bumper right in front of mine. And you behind me? We're slowed down to under 5mph and we're all sliding slightly as well because the road conditions strongly suggest you BACK THE FUCK OFF OF MY BUMPER. (Click on photo for larger.)

This was the cause of the delay. You can't see the damage to the rear of the car, but thankfully the state trooper had blocked the lane. You can see the tire tracks going over the rumble strips on the left, my left tires slipped off the edge of the pavement, but I got back on with no problem. (Click on photo for larger.)

Haven't called them yet, but Joe Chicago's website was still up. I am assuming that maybe the road conditions along 44th Street meant that they were either giving up on a Friday night or hadn't gotten staff in to do the evening business. And not that they'd gone out of business again. (hopeful-grin)

Last night I saw moonlight flooding in at 3am and spotted two bright stars out the window. Clear and sunny for a while this morning, it's been gray and on-and-off snow all the rest of the day. Weather Channel shows a thin band of lake effect running straight down the Lake Michigan coastline. Not a lot of snow and with the roads scraped, there seems to be no problem with people racing along Warner Street at highway speeds. The problem with a warm winter isn't the snow, it's the ice.

Dr. Phil

UPDATE: I'd thought Holland would take the hit from the thin band of lake snow, but it drew further south inland. Guess Kalamazoo was a mess all day. And Berrien County, south and west of Kalamazoo, got more than 15" of snow.

Temps down to 10°F last night -- going to 9°F tonight.

Strange Day

Friday, 10 February 2012 22:48
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-driving)
Today Was One Of Those Odd Days

I had a ton of things to do before my classes and managed to do most of it. Handed back Exam 1 to both groups. Had to sort some papers and get some backlogged quizzes to my grader, who probably left early anyway, but I got it done. (grin) A rather productive day, in a weird way.

The weather was supposed to turn today. Not so much snow as cold and wind. I thought I'd try to leave at 4pm. But as I started to pack up at 3:55, I picked up my lunch bag... and it was heavy. Huh. I never got around to eat it. So I sat and took a minute.

By the time I got out and cleaned some slush off the Blazer, logged in and drove off in low gear, it was around 4:30pm.

I got home over two hours later.

The traffic guy on WLAV-FM said it was the worst number of wrecks and slide offs he's ever tracked. Over sixty in Kent and Ottawa County.

Actually it wasn't too bad for the first half-hour/forty-five minutes on US-131. Slow but not unreasonable. But driving under the overpass at Exit 64 Wayland, it was driving into Mordor. It got dark. And everyone slowed. The new style beam style wipers kept shedding big chunks of ice, when then rattled up and over the roof in the wind.

Even slower on the M-6. Radio reporting that the Kent-Ottawa County border was bad -- I'd be crossing it three times. Curving onto I-196, things rolled slower and slower -- down to 1st gear 4WD and 5 mph. Trooper blocking the middle of the highway -- had to cross the rumble strip and half off the pavement to get around. Wilson was slow, M-45 less traffic but the road was squirrely. The temp had dropped from 35°F to 18°F in less than an hour.

I'll post pictures. (grin)

Dr. Phil


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