Monday, February 28, 2011

On Traffic Circles


From the start, just so that there can be no confusion, I'd like to state word for word what the official legislation in South Africa has to say about them. There are two types of traffic circle. Those that are called roundabouts are identified by a circular sign, and the law states that they should be treated as follows:

"Indicates to the driver of a vehicle that he or she shall move in a clockwise direction at the junction ahead and he or she shall yield right of way to traffic approaching from the right, within the roundabout, where such vehicles are so close as to constitute a danger or potential danger."

The other type, called a mini circle, is indicated by yield sign with arrows in the centre and has completely different wording in the law.

"Indicates to the driver of a vehicle approaching a mini circle that he or she shall yield right of way to any vehicle which will cross any yield line at such junction before him or her and which, in the normal course of events, will cross the path of such driver's vehicle and that the driver shall move in a clockwise direction within such junction and attempt not to encroach on the mini-circle."

It is surprising that traffic circles seem to cause so much confusion, because the law is very clear on how they should be treated in each case. The modified and distorted version of the roundabout's rules that everyone loves to state and apply to all traffic circles, regardless, is as follows:

"Give way to traffic coming from your right."

The closest the actually law comes to saying anything like this is the phrase "yield right of way to traffic approaching from the right, within the roundabout"". It is incredibly unfortunate that those last three words get dropped, because they change the meaning completely.

Now that all of that has been established, I can get onto the absolute idiocy of the "give way to traffic coming from your right" rule in the form that an alarming number of people apply it.

Consider a hypothetical type of circle for which this rule applies, and consider the stupid but possible situation at this circle where no one is nice and everyone follows and expects the the rules to be followed to the letter - because people are much meaner when they're protected by a one and a half ton steel cage. Now consider a very busy main road running north/south, with predominantly northbound traffic at a certain time of day. Consider one of these hypothetical circles at the intersection of this main road with a side street crossing from the east and west. Now consider a day of busy traffic, an hour or two before the start of peak time. Northbound traffic on the main road gradually picks up, until there is a steady stream. The side street's traffic volume would lag behind that of the main road by an hour or so, since the majority of traffic faced with a choice will choose the main road, as long as it is flowing steadily. Any traffic approaching along the side street from the east is immediately allowed to enter, but traffic from the west must wait, potentially until the end of peak time, or until someone is nice enough to break the rules and let them through. Understand that this is independent of which street has more traffic, is immutable, and is essentially arbitrarily defined. Also understand that it is rather stupid that a traffic law be arbitrarily defined.

To see the danger of such blindly applied arbitrariness, consider if, on some day, the traffic on the main road is at a standstill, with a steady flow of vehicles approaching from the side street on the east. In this case, whenever the traffic on the main road moves forward, allowing space for another vehicle to pass through the circle, it is always the right of way of the vehicle waiting at the side street. Assuming that there is just enough traffic to keep the side street fed with a steady stream of cars (very much possible during peak time), then the traffic on the main road will never be allowed to go. Consider how stupid this is.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

On a Laminated Plastic Thousandth Folded Shoe: Part II


If you don’t really care for the comfort of your chair, maybe you should see how much better it could be if you could replace the chair’s base with something with more haste. Attaching ramjets under the seat may generate too much heat, so we'll try insulated pods at the end of steel rods welded to each wing, or the tail or something. You’d need a motor to get going and to keep your chair from slowing. You’d need to take friction into account, and here’s something else to think about – those the ramjets will not go unless they have some air flow. It would actually be quite neat to program AI into your seat, so that you chair would always know exactly where to go, and do route optimization through distance minimization. The problem here, alas, would probably be it's mass which would definitely be too great for you to manually relocate. You’d need a secondary engine to move into position. The other issue is extent so, unless its wings are bent, your chair will not be able to fit under the table, but soon this will not matter – I’d like to modify the latter...
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On a Makeover


By first putting on my graphic design hat, and then by putting on my web design hat, and after learning some very basics of CSS, and broadening my fluency in HTML considerably, I have done a bit of a redesign of the whole Alphanumeric Sheep Pig site.

Special thanks are due... Mainly to the developers of open source software out there, especially Notepad++ 5.8 (which I used for all of the code editing) and Gimp 2.6 (which I used for all of the all of the graphic design, except for some cropping that I did in Paint).

Also, thanks are due to those who put intelligent posts on the internet that helped with tricky little bits that I couldn’t work out alone:
  • quackit.com for explaining style sheets and backgrounds in CSS.
  • blogbulk.com for the information on how to completely customize the next/previous buttons into a full navigation bar.
  • phydeaux3.blogspot.com for the random post button which actually works in any environment.
  • hubpages.com for the line of code that hides Blogger’s default navigation bar.
  • Ando of course Google for tirelessly giving search results for all of my stupid questions.
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

On the Asparagus Revolution


Interestingly, it is not unfeasible. With the amount of unnecessary asparagus hate out there, I would not be at all surprised if there was a violent asparagus uprising if any of the plants were to actually develop sentience. You may be happy believing that no rebellion is likely any time soon, but bear in mind that almost all of the world’s asparagus is grown in China. Is it coincidence that the highest concentration of asparagus farms happens to be in the country with the highest human population density? I don’t know, but it does stink of military plot.

Most importantly, it would be truly terrifying if they rebelled because the human race is outnumbered. The world’s asparagus production is well into millions of tonnes per year, compared to the roughly half a million tonnes of humans born every year (based on 140 million births at 3.7 kg each). Asparagus plants mature within a year, whereas humans can take 15 years to reach maturity (physical maturity – most never get to mental or emotional maturity). Asparagus is also planted in rows, essentially military formations, and that is how they spend their lives. They are rarely found alone, and those that are generally wild and not repressed and kept in slavery, and are very unlikely to revolt.

Admittedly, asparagus is definitely not the only plant that is so exploited: kept with thousands of other plants in a single field; never allowed to move, except for a single forced relocation at the age of one year; and kept only so that it’s attempts at producing offspring may be devoured by the human masses. And yet despite their miserable existence, they are still largely disliked.

It is true that the asparagus’ berries are poisonous, but that is hardly a reason to hate them. In fact, the only edible parts of the plant are its young shoots. Sure, these shoots do have very little in the way of flavour and have a rather uncomfortable texture, and contain little apart from water, but they do go quite well in salads and make an amazing pizza topping (especially when combined with lots of garlic). They certainly do not deserve the dislike thrown upon them.

When the asparagus plants revolt, and I am sure they will, I will be one of the first to take their side. When they are growing people in fields and eating their foetuses before they get a chance to form properly, don’t you come crying to me.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

On Libraries Part III


It's not the first time I'm whining about something like this, but a study released last week that found that kids who use more libraries are more likely to read more was all over the news. However, it was actually a mission to track down the actual study (See Clark, C. and Hawkins, L. (2011). Public Libraries and Literacy, National Literacy Trust, London.) This amused me (as usual) for two reasons.

The first is the obvious one – not so much the “duh!” factor of the study (so much so that I have no idea why it was newsworthy when so much valuable, less obvious research is never heard of in the public domain), but the fact that the main conclusion reported by the news was inconclusive based on the data anyway. While it is possible that using a library may turn a child into an above average reader, I don’t think that this is the case. Personally, I think above average readers are more likely to go to the library.

It’s like saying people who go to Chinese restaurants are more likely to like Chinese food (rather than saying that people who like Chinese food are more likely to go to Chinese restaurants).

The other reason is that this study was so widely mentioned and quoted, yet not even one media report gave the name or the authors of actual report. If I was on Wikipedia, I’d quietly add a {{fact}} tag and move on, but there is no way of doing this in the media. It is amazing though that people take what the media says as (at least probable) truth, but there is so much debate about referenced scientific reports that get published.
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