Friday, April 10, 2009

How do traffic lights work?

A friend of mine wanted me to prove to him how traffic signals (lights) knew when a car was waiting to cross an intersection or make a controlled turn. I had consistently told him that most systems (especially on rural or country roads) use an "inductor" loop-style circuit that senses the magnetic field of the stopped car to tell the system a vehicle is waiting.

The car's mass, most of it some type of metal (frequently steel), acts as the inductor material in the loop of wires placed in the ground. You can frequently see the loop of wires at the stopping points of an intersection with a traffic control light (the wires are typically covered by a black rubber compound). The car's mass has a magnetic field and that field is sensed by the circuit in the ground which is read by an induction meter. When the meter value changes the system knows there is some considerable mass (car) waiting for the light to give it the indication to proceed.

This is precisely why it can be difficult to get a traffic signal to change for a motorcycle. It is also why it is nearly impossible for it to change for a bicycle or human being. The system was set up to measure the field of an object with considerable mass (in all cases, a motor vehicle) and the above mentioned objects have little mass with even smaller magnetic fields because of it.

There are many other types of traffic control systems but the most common is the induction-style circuit. Timed systems that change on a schedule with no consideration of actual traffic flow are common in urban areas with many intersections and consistent traffic patterns. There are also dual-systems that utilize both technologies in many cities. It just depends on the right system for the specific application.

For more information on traffic signal (light) systems you can read the How Stuff Works article regarding this subject. It also explains induction circuits in more detail.

- Mitch G

Friday, April 03, 2009

Why Such Beatings on Obama?

I'm not going to write much here but I wanted to link the commentary from James Carville about Obama's presidential day on April 2, 2009. He says, and I complete agree, that Obama had a fantastic day as President of our great country.


I'm getting really frustrated with all of the conservative right-winged individuals in this country posting online how much hatred they have towards Obama. He has been in office for a little less than three months and is doing more than most presidents have in that amount of time.

I'm reading complaints that the economy is still in the tank, that the government is now in control of our lives and we are becoming a socialist country, all this blah, blah, blah because of Obama. What people FORGET to mention is that we are in one of the biggest holes of ALL TIME and it isn't just the government's fault--the fault falls on the shoulders of ANYONE who overextended themselves or became greedy with others' money. Time is needed to fix major problems like those our country is facing and drastic action is necessary to do so to prevent a bigger collapse.

Patience is a virtue. Let's all get some or pretend to have it if you can't figure it out permanently. You'll help everyone. The best thing we can all do is channel our energy (anger or sadness) into productivity to build this country up again to what it was and should ultimately be!

If you are afraid the country will be, or is now, a socialist nation, just look at REAL socialist countries and tell me how similar we are. Research is good to do before making bombastic claims. I hate reading them, and wouldn't, except they pop up everywhere. The beauty of a democratic society is that if things get out of hand we, the people, still have ultimate power and if enough of us agree that we need change we can make it happen. It did during the last election. It is a great example. It is quite simple. It has been done before and can be done again, if necessary. Until we know what is necessary the claims need to stop so progress can be made.

Sometimes we need to sacrifice for the good of the nation. This may be one of those times. Why don't we all pitch in and do it? The complaining is getting terribly old. Someone has to take control and make the big decisions... I say we let that happen and figure the rest out when we have a solid foundation again.

If you disagree with me, please post and tell me why and for the sake of a good argument please have something to back it up. I am definitely fired up and ready to take this to debate. Too many people are too negative in this country right now.

- Mitch G

Your Kids Aren't That Special

I really need to stop with this CNN reading but I can't help myself!

Articles like this one titled, "Parents, your kids aren't that special," are the little gold nuggets I find every day! This article, an excerpt from Jack Cafferty's "The Situation Room" on CNN, is exactly how I feel 99.9% of the time when out and listening to people's children complain, act out and disrupt.

Jack's commentary is spot on... parents, your kids are not that special. Children deserve discipline. They must be taught what is appropriate behavior and what is not--especially when in public. I am not a fan of physical discipline and I certainly don't condone it and the good news is that all research indicates it is not necessary. With steady parenting (the biggest component), proper techniques, and a healthy dose of trial and error you can teach your children to be human beings from a young age... seriously!

Obviously being a parent is not a perfect science, in fact many would say there is no science to it all. As a sociology major from the University of Washington who studied human behavior I have to respectfully disagree. While being a good parent is a learned skill and certainly not genetic, you can be effective right out of the box using proven steps.

Start by doing your research (yes you can research being a parent and it is OK!), remember to be compassionate (you are raising a human, not an animal), and most importantly, establish fair but firm boundaries. Fair but firm means keeping a steady hand--not a vise-grip--and recognize that children are children and they do not yet have the ability to manage their emotions like you do (or like we all hope you do).

NOTE: If you don't have the ability to manage and effectively channel your own emotions... don't have children; you are doing them, you, the world and me great harm.

It is important to recognize that you and your child can teach each other things. It is OK. You can learn from your child--it is encouraged. Please do it. They may help you understand yourself better. Your child could quite possibly--and likely will--open your mind to new and better ways of interpreting life that you would miss on your own! The innocence of youth has a funny way of doing that. Don't squash it. Listen, you may be surprised by what you hear.

With all this said, I am not attempting to give parenting instructions here. I am also not saying that each method works for each parent and child. There are variations... many of them. Ultimately the responsibility always falls on the parents for a child's behavior. Please, don't neglect them. If you can't parent, don't have children.

I get upset when children are unruly and lash out with no restraint but it is your job as a parent to resolve the issues with your children and you owe it to them to do so. You are the only one who can set your child on a path for proper societal integration. Do it. For you, for them, for me and for everyone else on this planet who may have to deal with them now or in the future.

- Mitch G

Robbers Steal $100 million from Harry Winston Paris

I just had to post this quickly as a result of my complete shock...


Apparently four robbers held up a Harry Winston jewelry store near the Champs-Elysee's in Paris. They not only got away with nearly $100 million in jewels in roughly 15 minutes but the store had been held up not 14 months earlier!

The store is located around the corner from a police station and the robbers STILL got away. I'm completely amazed and wish I had more details because it is hard to believe. It sounds easy.

Not only is there an armed security guard at the door of my local Tiffany's store in an ENCLOSED shopping mall but there are roaming armed city police within minutes, if not less, from the location. Should there be a problem a half-dozen or more armed law enforcement personnel would be on site before you could beathe.

I guess I figured a Harry Winston would be better protected. Arrogance maybe? Who knows. I just don't know how a store such as H.W. could allow something like this to happen with no resistance whatsoever.

Does anyone know more about this? I want to know more. I realize this was a while ago now but I finally got around to writing about it (like most of my other posts I've been putting off).

- Mitch G

Gas Guzzling to Gas Sipping... Hummers?

The title does pose a strange question... can gas guzzling, classic American cars as well as some late model vehicles (ahem... Hummer?), become fuel sipping econo-cruisers? According to Johnathan Goodwin of Wichita, Kansas they most certainly can!

Goodwin's company H-Line Conversions specializes in converting gas guzzling Hummer off-road vehicles (H1 and H2 models) into economical (and environmentally friendly) bio-diesel cruisers. The details of the CNN story is here and H-Line Conversion's web site is here.

The H2 Hummers go from 325hp, 8-12mpg binge gas drinkers to 650+ hp, 25mpg, bio-diesel and earth-friendly wonder trucks. The conversions are not cheap but the positive environmental impact is high--not to mention you will have one of the most unique vehicles on the road.

What really caught my eye was the conversion of rock legend Neil Young's classic 1959 Lincoln Continental from a big-block gas guzzler to a gas sipping hybrid gas-electric land yacht. Not only is the Continental one of the biggest and heaviest cars America ever produced but it is nearly 19 feet long and still, with the conversion, can achieve nearly 100 miles per gallon!

The conversions aren't exactly cost effective but they make a great statement. I would call them a great topic and centerpiece for conversation. If I ever decide to spend enough of my money to buy a gas guzzling truck or classic car I may consider a conversion like this to make a statement and spice things up a bit!

Very cool.

- Mitch G