Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I get a daily email designed to keep me up to date on current engineering issues. It’s a clearinghouse for infrastructure, legal, and research that the National Society of Professional Engineers thinks I should know. It’s mostly links to stories of the day, so it tends to cluster on certain issues for an extended period of time so I tend to get daily reminders of whatever engineering issue is in the public eye. Right now it’s ‘fracking’ mostly. Nuclear power was the big one for awhile after the Japan earthquake, but it’s finally tapering off.

A couple of years ago it was all about the safety issues on the Metro, the Washington subway line. There was a big accident just about exactly two years ago that killed 9 and injured 80. After the accident the Washington Post went digging and published a series on the history of unsafe practices of the Metro. A quarter of the safety staff positions were vacant. That’s a lot of empty spots in an extremely important area.

So, guess what was rushed into my head last month when the escalator spit me out on the platform of the DC Metro station at Ronald Reagan Airport? Yeah, being an engineer is usually good because I know how safe things are, but in this case not so much.

And when we were in the tunnel under the Potomac and had to stop for another train to pass, I totally didn’t think about this story a train stopped less than 35 ft from the train sitting on the tracks in front of it, and then heard the train behind him stop within 20 ft of his own train. Not even a little bit. (I did contemplate the wisdom of having the military’s administrative HQ so close to a heavily populated city, but that’s for a different post.)

Apparently it’s a bit of a problem figuring out who is in charge of the Metro since it spans local government jurisdictions in Virginia, Maryland, and the District. Not to mention that a lot of federal employees ride it and most of Congress keeps an eye on Metro since they spend a lot of time in the District. I didn’t read this part until I got back, but they’re still having the same problems two years after the big accident.


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I’ve been to Memphis quite a few times over the last ten years or so, but on my last trip I discovered something new. We were cruising the I-240 loop around the south side of Memphis when I had to pull a double take (fortunately, I wasn’t driving). There’s a giant tub of ice cream on a pole out in front of the Klinke Brothers plant right next to I-240.

The view from the interstate

Of course I had to Google that when I got back to my computer. Deciding what search terms to use stretched my Google-Fu skills but I found some interesting info. Turns out 2012 happens to be the 25th anniversary of the giant tub of ice cream. It was originally built in 1987 by Klink Brothers as an advertisement for their Angel Food brand of ice cream owned and manufactured by Klink Brothers. I’ve never noticed Angel Food in Nashville, but apparently it was a big regional brand in the Memphis area at the time. In 2006 Klink Brothers discontinued the brand and licensed the trademark to an ice cream company in Arkansas, so they could focus on all the Baskin Robbins franchise stores they own. So they had to take down the sign and change it from Angel Food to Baskin Robbins ice cream.

Overhead shot for size perspective.

I gathered a few interesting facts about the ice cream sign from my internet surf (most of them from the Memphis Business Journal):

  • It cost $15,000 to erect back in 1987, but Klinke execs are confident it “paid for itself in the first six months”.
  • It’s 20 ft in diameter and hollow.
  • It could hold 24,000 gallons of ice cream if you filled it with its smaller cousin commonly sold at the grocery. Someone actually did the math.

Changing the branding from Angel Food to Baskin Robbins took three days and required a crane to take the tub off its pedestal so a crew could work on it at ground level.

I grabbed my photos from Google Maps but you can see better ones if you follow the links above. As a long time Nashvillian I’ve felt pretty good about our superiority over Memphis, but this giant ice cream tub calls all that into question. I may have to send this post to someone in the offices over at Nashville’s Purity dairy.

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For the less literal, more artsy minded folks out there, here’s another interesting Game of Thrones map to follow up my last post on the topic.  Artist J.E. Fullerton put together some great full color stylized maps with illustrations of lots of the characters and creatures from the books.  He also has detail maps of a lot of the story locations.  It’s too bad he isn’t able to sell these because they would look even better on my wall than the last map I posted.  I understand that George R.R. Martin, author of the series is putting out a map folio sometime this fall so I hold out hope Martin acquired these to include because I’d love to legally own them.


Once again, thanks to io9 for bringing these to my attention.

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Game of Thrones map geekery

I’m a huge fan of maps. As a kid I used to love to drag out my dad’s Rand McNally road atlas and study it before any big trips. Half the fun was always looking at all the places I was going to see and imagining what it would be like. I don’t spend as much of my free time looking at maps these days, but I’ve been known to lose an hour or two of my life on Google Maps. It’s pretty much the ultimate dream for that little kid. A road map AND real satellite photography to see even more stuff…

The map love also extends to fake maps. That may even be why I started reading fantasy as a kid, the really good fantasy books always had maps in the front. I remember reading Sword of Shannarra and constantly turning to the map in the front so I could follow the characters’ travels. (And complain about the low quality of the map.)

So I was pretty excited when I ran across this serious looking map for the Game of Thrones saga. The internet is lousy with GoT maps, and HBO has a really nice interactive version to go with their Game of Thrones show, but this one is extra special. The map itself was created by a dedicated fan, but another fan went back and traced the paths of the various major characters on the map so it’s easy to visualize where everyone is going. There are some physical problems with the map. It’s so high resolution that I can’t zoom out to see the entire continent without losing all the detail even with dual 17 inch monitors, and it’s very difficult to keep track of which line goes with which character since it covers thousands of pages worth of travel (5 books worth). Some of the more popular areas get pretty muddled.

I’d be lieing if I said I wasn’t tempted to print it out poster size on the giant plotter at work that we use for bridge plans. It would make a really good wall display if the wife would let me hang it. Many props to serMountainGoat for putting together the original map and PrivateMajor for putting on the character lines. serMountainGoat’s animated timeline feature is also pretty great. And a hat tip to io9 for showing me this in the first place.

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