Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stuck in Snow

I live in Southern Ontario, where we are having the most snow in 55 years. Our little side street does not get plowed right away, so there are lots of cars that get stuck on the street. I like to help if I can, not only because it makes people happy, but because with the stuck cars, even the snowplow can't get in..

Here is a summary of advice I have if you want to help people stuck in snow.

When I see a car that is stuck on the street near my house, I get my plastic snow shovel and walk over to ask them if they need help. Usually they are pretty grateful for any assistance. The shovel is always needed, because there is only so much pushing one person can do. Plastic is best because drivers are scared that I will scratch their cars with a steel shovel. And important point: APPROACH CAUTIOUSLY or you could get run over or trapped if the driver does not see you. Even if they see you, be careful about approaching the car: the tires may start spinning any time, and once, a driver slammed the door on my finger by mistake. That hurt for two years.

First I find out where they are going, and try to discuss a plan with them. Sometimes I advise them on where they should go - like maybe back to their driveway if it looks like their vehicle will not make it to the main street and it's a good option to get off the street and wait for the plow. If they don't live on this street, they are happy to get back to the plowed main road. One driver got stuck just trying to turn onto our street and would not take my advice to go back. He was driving a custom lowered car with no ground clearance and wide summer sport tires. Very bad combination! I couldn't help that time, he was still there when I got back home an hour later. And my finger was still swollen up from getting trapped in his door.

Once the plan is made, it's time to shovel out from around the wheels. Make sure they don't try gunning the engine while you are shovelling. Clear an area about 2ft in front and behind all four tires. Unless the car is perched on a snowbank (yes it happens) that should be sufficient.

Next it's time to drive. Sometimes I drive it myself. Usually it's the women who are most comfortable just to let me drive. Sometimes the men just need a little coaching - mainly to not spin the tires if the car is motionless. That is not helping, just hole- digging.

If they are already in a hole that can't be shovelled away (ice or hard pack snow), we need to rock the car a little to get it out. That can be done even with an automatic transmission, but it does need some coordination between the pushers and the driver. Once the car starts rolling back and forward in the hole like a pendulum, it can usually break free with one big push.

Then, if the plan is followed, the car can follow the tracks of the other cars back to the street. And I can go home and let my heart rate settle down to normal. Maybe 60 years old is just too old for this excitement!

It takes a bit of experience to judge the road conditions and the car's ability to deal with it. In my opinion, the best cars have four wheel drive and winter tires, in fact I have not come across any stuck vehicles like that on our street. I guess we just don't get enough snow here or maybe their drivers know something about driving in snow. Funny thing is, I don't actually see any people stuck here with the worst combination: rear wheel drive and all season tires - maybe it's because they never even make it out of their driveways.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wind Chill

Another in my public service series. This time on temperature. I guess you could call it a pet peeve of mine when radio stations broadcast "Wind Chill" temperatures instead of thermometer temperatures. For example, Colleen Jones on the national CBC morning report calling the wind chill number the "real temperature".

Wind chill temperatures are lower than the thermometer temperatures because they indicate what it would feel like if you were running around outdoors in the winter WITH NO CLOTHES.

Given that I never do this, I would appreciate it if you could just give me the real temperature, then tell me the wind speed and direction.

I do understand the need for radio and TV stations to make their broadcasts more exciting, but seriously, you are getting a lot of people confused. Now they think water freezes at a higher temperature if there is wind, and all sorts of nonsense.

Wind Chill temperatures have no meaning unless you have bare skin exposed to the wind. If it's -10c and there's a wind blowing, a parka hood works well at keeping the wind off your face. Invented by Eskimos and still the best!

ANSWER TO YESTERDAY'S QUESTION: 251 km before it reaches the border. (Sorry I forgot to include the speed of the plane in the question, as many of you will know it is impossible to answer the question without it. So it's 2137 kph.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hot Pursuit

This may be the start of an educational series on phrases that are not well understood. "Hot Pursuit" is what is happening in the picture to the left. In terms of international diplomacy, if the female turtle were to cross an international border, say the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the male turtle would have to stop at the border. Hot pursuit does not have to mean that the pursuit is done at high speed, only that the pursuit is close enough to be able to clearly identify the target of the pursuit.

Some people misunderstand the meaning of Hot Pursuit. For example in the phrase "After the suicide bomb attack, we were in hot pursuit of the perpetrator". Why is that wrong? Because generally speaking the most obvious perpetrator is dead, leaving you with no obvious pursuit option. The best you can do is an investigation, which might lead you to some person or place across an international border. But an investigation is in no way a hot pursuit.

Actually, the way many battles are fought, especially in Afghanistan, if there is any pursuit it is over very quickly. Coalition and NATO forces generally call in air support, and at the relative speed between someone running in mountainous terrain and an F16, the hot part of the pursuit is over almost when it begins.

So your homework for the day? If a Taliban assault vehicle departs at 4:00 at a speed of 1.5 km per hour, and an F16 leaves an air base 10 km away at 4:07, when will the F16 obiliterate the Taliban assault vehicle? Answer in tomorrow's blog post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Canada Has it's Own Problems

Canada's minority government has run into a little snag.

First let me explain to Americans what a minority government is. And from what I've seen, maybe a few Canadians should skim this paragraph as well as a refresher. In a parliamentary system, the country is run by a Prime Minister, not a President. The prime minister is usually the leader of the biggest party in parliament. But because more than two parties are allowed, that means that sometimes the leader of the biggest party does not have enough members in parliament to pass a bill if everyone else votes against it. This is what is known as a minority government. Normally, the ruling party will make a deal with one of the smaller parties for support, and all is well. But the rules of parliament state that if a government bill is defeated for any reason (this could even happen theoretically with a majority government at any time), then a new government needs to be formed. First, the leaders of the opposition parties have a chance to form an alliance and choose a leader. If this happens, the Governor General will appoint the alliance leader as the new Prime Minister. And that's how we get a new government without a general election. If that doesn't work, the next option is to call another general election, and let the chips fall where they may. This may be repeated as many times as necessary.

That's what is basically happening now. In our last general election, we got a Conservative minority government. Then the Conservatives introduced a bill that would effectively bankrupt all the opposition parties. I don't even want to say if the bill was good or bad, which is besides the point anyway in this particular discussion. The key element of the bill is that it united the opposition parties in that most noble of causes, self preservation and obviously, (remember we had a minority government) together they had enough votes that they could defeat the government bill. The three opposition parties met together and picked the Liberal leader as their coalition leader.

From all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I see on the internet, it seems that many Canadians slept through History classes. I know this subject was covered there, I taught Canadian History many years ago. OK fellow Canadians, the rules are there and they are the same in most parliamentary democracies from Australia to Zimbabwe. Any government bill is defeated at any time for any reason, the government falls. Play the game accordingly, and no complaining about the rules - which should have been understood beforehand. There is no "Coup d'etat" happening here. Not yet, anyway.

The Story of Horsepower vs. Torque

This post is a followup to my previous post about the SAAB Youtube video. Actually that video no longer appears on the SAABUSA website, and the ad agency that produce the video no longer works for SAAB, so sorry if I made it look like an official SAAB video.

Anyhow, how did this trumped up controversy ever get started about torque and horsepower? Here's a bit of scientific and historic background.

You want to see the ultimate torque monster engine? Check this Youtube video.

Think of a hamster versus a horse. Which one has more power? You're right if you said horse. Which has more torque? If you put the hamster in a hamster wheel, you can measure torque. Put a horse in a similar wheel and you also have torque. The maximum torque is the measure of the weight of the hamster times the radius of the wheel. True even if the hamster is asleep but strapped to the wheel. Same with the horse. But if the hamster's wheel is 60,000 times bigger than the horse's, the hamster will have more torque. The horse will always have more power than a hamster regardless of wheel size.

Torque does NOT take speed into account. Strangely enough, acceleration does not measure speed either. You can have acceleration even if a body is motionless! For example, when the light turns green at a drag strip, acceleration immediately can go to maximum at the same instant that the car begins to move. Speed increases throughout the race, but the acceleration is at about its maximum before the car even crosses the starting line, and actually stays pretty constant throughout the race. (Say about 1.2 g, which is one way of measuring acceleration)