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

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.

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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.


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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.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Industrial robot love fest.

A while back I was asked by my boss to look into automating a few processes on a production line using industrial robots. I had to present my findings in a super boring meeting which I wont replicate here. You should thank me.

What I discovered while I was doing my research was the story of the Kuka KR500 industrial robot. Capable of lifting 500kg like it was nothing, the KR500 was Kuka Robotic’s highest selling robot a few years back. I could watch the KR500 do its day job endlessly and never get tired of it…..

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Awesome Engineer. Asshat Engineer #2 George Cayley and Harold Camping

Many engineers struggle with skepticism. More-so it appears, than most other science and technology professions. I have a theory as to why. But not all engineers suffer this deficit. To demonstrate, every now and then I will present you with two engineers. I will contrast one who has used his education and experience to further mankind through the advancement of technology, with one who hasn’t. It will be up to you to judge who the Asshat is. I warn you now that the answer will be blindingly obvious. If you have trouble making your decision I suggest you consult Conservapedia or your bible.

This time I have chosen Sir George Cayley, 6th Baronet (27 December 1773 – 15 December 1857) and Harold Camping (still alive sadly).

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Awesome DIY #8 Cool Paper Plane.

The reason this paper plane caught my eye was that the nose was folded in exactly the same way my father taught me to fold it when I was about 5 years old. He taught me the art of folding the perfect paper plane during a rare period of mental stability which to this day is one of the few happy memories I have of him.

I have never forgotten how to do it and have never seen anyone else construct a paper plane in the same way since. The nose at least. Granted I haven’t really looked. That said, my father’s paper plane never had a tail like this one does.

They fly GREAT :-)


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Awesome Engineer. Asshat Engineer.

I have blogged about engineers and their lack of skepticism not so long ago and may have given the impression that engineers can’t help but rattle on and on about crap they don’t fully understand. So I am starting a new blog series called “Awesome Engineer. Asshat Engineer”. From now on I will present you with two engineers, one that has stuck to what they are good at and excelled, plus one that has drifted into babbling mindless bullshit. I wont be telling you which is which because it will be bloody obvious.

Today we have Nikola Tesla and Henry M. Morris.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Returning to work after a career gap is tough going. Babies or not.

Firstly, before I begin, I can really only speak for women in engineering here. This is mostly based on my personal experience as well with a tiny bit of research that appears to back up my observations. As for women in non-science and engineering fields, please feel free to contact me and let me know what your experiences have been!

Back to the topic.

I don’t have any children yet but I have taken a hiatus from my career for 3 years and then attempted to return. I imagine my experience would be similar to a woman returning from a long stint (a couple years) raising her children. The key similarity here is that what you do during your hiatus is completely unrelated to your chosen career. Even if it is related, it really depends on how you go about leaving. If you are flipping desks over and storming out in a huff your boss wont want you back no matter what. Obviously.

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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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