Posted by: bkivey | 24 June 2011

Taking My Vents To Go

Oh Deer!

I had to do some work in a couple of cities yesterday so a colleague and I went on a little 500-mile tour of Oregon with stops in Roseburg and then over to the coast to Coos Bay and finally back to Hillsboro. A long day that started at 0400 and ended at 1800. The driver had a satnav unit, Tom-Tom in this case, and this was my first experience with in-vehicle GPS. The unit worked as advertised, although it got confused when it turned out that two towns adjacent to each other had the exact same street addresses. The problem was solved by a human (me) reading Mapquest directions.

Unfortunately, along the way we hit a deer on US 101 while traveling up the coast. There’s not much you can do when a couple of stealth deer conceal themselves in a the long grass in a drainage ditch and then decide to leap in front of a large truck. I only saw the deer a couple of seconds prior to impact and the driver didn’t see the victim deer until he was on top of it and never saw the second deer. The truck sustained a dent in the bumper; the deer was much the worse for wear.

The incident caused me to wonder if biologists could add an RFID capability to the fauna they love to tag so that satnavs might be able to announce something like “Deer, 100 yards on right.”

And no, we didn’t paint a silhouette on the fender.

Second Verse, Similar to the First

An idea I got while watching windsurfers on the Columbia River in the vicinity of Hood River, OR:

This part of the Gorge is famous in windsurfing circles for its constant summertime moderate-to-strong winds funneled by the Cascade foothills and high desert plateau on either bank. The wind blows against the flow of the Columbia River, itself no small watercourse moving at a fairly good clip toward the Pacific. The combination of wind and water creates conditions of interest to the seasoned windsurfer.

The Columbia is also the major thoroughfare between the agricultural and mineral production areas of three states and the ports on the coast. Some of this production moves by truck , more by rail, but a large amount moves by barge. Big honkin’ towboats move strings of barges that may be three wide and a quarter mile long up and down the river. These maritime melanges are not maneuverable to any great degree, yet I have time and again watched windsurfers cut across bows, fail to yield right-of-way, and generally tempt fate. I have not yet heard of a sailboard getting run down, but one wonders when a sailor might gain a whole new perspective on f=ma.

 Driving Me Crazy

At one time I was doing work in Hawai’i, and my boss and I would brave the hell known as the Honolulu commute daily. I’ve previously noted that drivers in Honolulu tend to treat traffic laws in the same laid-back sense they treat much else in life: Nice to have, but if they don’t suit the moment, no worries, hoaloha. This can lead to some frustrating driving moments, as well as hair-raising near-misses.

Being creative and technical people, we spent the time waiting in traffic devising a method by which we could communicate our displeasure to offending drivers. The usual mainland methods don’t really fit in with the Hawai’ian culture, and we weren’t sure that flipping the bird to a 300-pound Polynesian was particularly healthy. Something a little more anonymous was required.

We hit upon the ides of a low-power transmitter/receiver equipped with a simplified keyboard. The idea was that you typed in a quick message, or used pre-set function keys for the more common epithets, and the message would appear on a screen, or preferably HUD, of the offending vehicle. Perhaps a trackball or joystick could be used to aim the message at the transgressor, unless everyone around you was getting on your nerves, then you could go wide-beam. We passed much time in traffic coming up with appropriate messages.

Our working model was instant messaging; too bad we didn’t realize we’d hit upon a precursor to Twitter.

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