Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You can’t beat the train. Its not like cutting in front of a car. Moron.

Today I saw this story about three people who were injured after being dragged (inside their vehicle) 250m by a moving train. They are injured but largely OK I believe.

The level crossing had excellent visibility and the train had already entered the intersection before the car moved in front of it. It was a copper ore train carrying a full load.

Some background on trains.

First, some train jargon. Impress your rail industry acquaintances!

A train is only called a “train” when it has locomotives and wagons joined together. Locomotives joined only to other locomotives are called a “Consist” (pronounced Con-sist not Cunsist). Wagons joined only to other wagons are called a “rake”. Rail people get really upset when you get that wrong.

I spent 4 years working in the railway industry and let me tell you, a train that can stop within 250m is traveling pretty slowly. Either that or its short. I am assuming that this train was pulling the largest load possible (given the available locomotive power), which is the most fuel efficient and the industry norm. Due to the low friction of railway tracks and the fact that a locomotive uses roughly the same fuel no matter what once it is rolling, the more wagons the train can pull, the more efficient. The only limiting factor is the locomotive’s ability to hold the train stationary on a hill with its weight alone. One car too many and the whole lot slides backwards and no amount of braking will stop it.

The word “shunting” was used in the news report which within the rail industry also implies very slow travel. “Shunting” refers to the slow maneuvering of the train back and forth, in and out of adjacent tracks, picking up more and more waiting rail cars. A freight train could be up to 1.8km long depending on how many locomotives are hooked up. A 500m+ long freight train is very common. Especially in mining applications.

Also, in an emergency stop, stopping within the distance of a single train length is considered to be excellent.

So a 250m stopping distance implies either a 250m train or a very slow train. Considering it was a copper ore train and that fact that ore trains are notoriously long, I’m betting on the latter.

So here’s the interesting part about what happened. The vehicle evidently made a last second dash across the tracks trying to “cut-off” the train. It is highly plausible that the driver of that vehicle thought they could make it across the tracks in time. Especially if the train was moving as slowly as it was. They may have been wrong about how fast the train was traveling but I think the real reason was less obvious than that. As for why they decided on a last minute dash, if you have ever been stuck at a crossing waiting for a train to shunt you will know it takes forever. I can understand their haste to beat the train. Stupid to the max but understandable.

The real judgment error however, was probably that they probably assumed that cutting off a train requires the same kind of “timing” employed when cutting off another car.

(My impression of a game show buzzer. Yeah, its so real.)

When you cut off a car in the street the other driver hits the brakes. Often quite considerably, and often right from the moment that they realise how much of a fucking moron you are. Real fast in other words.

So drivers out there who are in the habit of cutting other drivers off will tend to have a very distorted “feel” for how fast the other vehicle can be traveling before they realise its best to abandon the attempt. Drivers that routinely cut off other drivers tend not to comprehend how much of a role the skill of the other driver played in avoiding disaster. They tend to assume it was their own sharp judgment and honed ( “hooned” ) driving skills that let them capitalize on a gap that other “lesser” drivers could not. Idiots.

Which is why arrogant dickheads like the ones I describe get hit by trains. A train virtually doesn’t brake when you cut them off. Their speed is essentially unchanged when they hit you and that fact is what makes trains so much harder to “beat” than cars.

It’s much like failing to notice that someone has been helping you jump across a gap every day. Then one day you make the attempt when your invisible helper is off sick and you break every bone in your body. You thought you were making the whole jump by yourself but you can really only jump half as far. Duh.

TL:DR When the other driver doesn’t (can’t) hit the brakes, even a slower vehicle, that you would normally duck in front of easily, will hit you. Plus you’re an idiot.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Penny Wong and Sophie Allouache have a baby and it’s boring. Fantastic!

Penny Wong (Federal minister for finance) and Sophie Allouache (partner and public servant) finally give birth to their first child. Australia has taken a step further into equality and rationality by openly welcoming a high profile politician who is both gay and a new parent. Had Penny Wong begun her career in the US, I am quite certain she would not have seen the political sucess and electorate acceptance she has seen here.

THAT is why the birth of her first child within a long term gay relationship is news.

[Read More…]

A higher proportion of male geniuses may not be biologically determined after all.

When it came to the debate over whether there were more male maths geniuses than female, it always bothered me that the data appeared to demostrate a larger number of men at the extremes of IQ (both low and high), while women tended to be bunched in the middle, be it with an identical average score. This difference has been assumed to be universal and thus biological.

[Read More…]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Man builds miniature 12 cylinder engine. From Scratch. In spanish. Coolness.

Chas from Hague sent this link to me after reading my blog post linking to an “explosion engine video”

I work with high horsepower 16+ cylinder engines every day so this video spoke to my heart. I wont count this as a DIY because lets face it, you probably don’t have the Skillz.

No audio commentary. Just some nice classical music. Titles in Spanish but the translations are obvious even if you don’t speak a word. Especially if you know your engines.

Very cool. Even more so if you need to learn the Spanish names for engine components. I don’t. But memorized the lot anyway. I’m a loser. Its true.


Two attractive women working in IT? Together? Pure. Fantasy.

Minor debate has fired up in parts of the Australian IT community over whether this ad is sexist.


[Read More…]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How you dress says a lot about your self-awareness. You don’t have total freedom. Yet.

Women are going to hate me for saying that what they wear matters. I know this.

Recently I saw this article in The Age Online. In short, it describes how women sitting in a university waiting room (waiting to participate in a study) reacted in a “bitchy” way toward a planted woman who entered the room wearing very revealing clothing. The inference was that dressing in a revealing way will lose you friends. Anywhere.


[Read More…]

Monday, December 5, 2011

How I failed at office skepticism.

This is a story that dates back to an earlier era. Internet 1.0 if you want to put it that way. Back in the days before Facebook where email was still the number one way to share weird links, jokes, worms, email chains and provide “status updates”. Except nobody knew they were called status updates yet. I’m just trying to use language the kids will understand. But I still think this story translates well to Facebook and other social mediums.

A popular type of email that was eagarly awaited in the office was the “Amazing” email. Amazing emails were full of incredible images or stories meant to shock, awe and warn of as-yet-unknown horrific dangers. Only about 5% of all amazing emails had any basis in fact whatsoever. If that. But people wanted to believe. Photoshopping was not so well known back then and an image spoke 1000 words. Usually rubbish words.

[Read More…]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Female engineers. You suck at selling yourself.

Women working in male dominated fields are painfully aware that at least some of their colleagues will have trouble seeing them as professional equals. I am in my early 30s and I still occasionally have colleagues that see me as the resident graduate trainee. While it is progress if you consider attitudes towards female engineers from 20 years ago, “graduate” status meant that my work was assumed to contain more mistakes than male colleagues at the same skill level. Not helpful. On the other hand, If your organisation openly admits to having a female hiring quota, you may face an even tougher battle changing the perceptions of your make colleagues. Even if you were not hired as a result of the quota.

But colleagues are not the number one haters. The biggest battle professional women face is with their own minds. I’m not saying that genuine discrimination from colleagues doesn’t exist, but that each woman’s worst discriminator is herself. In short, if a woman suspects that her colleagues might consider her to be more junior and less experienced than she really is, she will live up to the stereotype and tend to perform worse.

[Read More…]

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Stuff Works: Dancing Squid

Discovery Networks Explains the famous “Dancing Squid” video. Thanks to this rather eerie video, thousands of people were creeped into learning more about the basic chemistry of life just because they saw this squid “dance”.

And no, it did not feel even the tiniest amount of pain. You can’t if you don’t have a brain. Or a head for that matter.

Send Bruzynski to HELL (or the atheist equivalent)

A short but important note:

If you have ever encountered someone trying to raise money (often well over $100k) to get treatment at the “Burzynski clinic”, gently (and tactfully) explain to them that they will not get the cancer treatment they seek.

Radiohead recently got sucked in when they donated a guitar to help raise money for a young cancer patient to attend this clinic. There are many who falsely assume such expensive treatment cannot possibly be fraudulent. Burzynski has had good PR for far too long and its time the world was told how this man preys on the weak, promising them life while watching them die and then turning to strip their greiving families of money. The lowest of the low.

Burzynski charges exorbitant rates, applying a treatment that doesn’t work and never has, offering dangerous false hope to terminally ill cancer patients (who all end up dying anyway). Anyone who exposes his fraud is immediately met with legal threats and harrassment.

When there were one or two bloggers he could take each one on directly. But he can’t sue thousands of people! ;-) which is why I am spreading the word.

This man deserves to be in jail. Spread the word.

Read about the teenager Burzynski is currently targeting with legal threats

Last but not least. Sign the following petitions:

  1. Force the FDA to investigate Burzynski

  2. Petition asking Burzynski to release research and clinical data.



Feasibility is an engineering based blog designed to reach other STEM people. Non-STEM people are also welcome! I try to give good advice and well-reasoned opinions but please don’t hesitate to disagree with me. This blog exists because I realised that I live in a metaphorical bubble and that simply wont do. Nup.


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