Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013, We Hardly Knew Ya

Our New Years Eve celebration is getting out-of-hand. It started with me taking down the Christmas lights from outside our house. As I was carrying them into the basement, I missed the last step, fell down hard on the concrete floor, and totally raged my ankle/foot. I also ripped a gigantic hole in the crotch of my jeans. In order to avoid the same issue, Carson is no longer wearing his pants. He's down to his shirt and onesie. Mackenzie keeps pulling off her sling in protest. Sarah has downed a half of a glass of wine. I've iced my foot, finished my wine, and opened a beer.

Crazy, I tell you.

If you can remember back to January, this is what I wanted to work on: writing on my blog, getting healthier, and taking more pictures. Let's see how we turned out.

The pictures have been taken, mostly of our two little people. Did I take as many pictures as I had hoped? Of course not. I don't have enough time to do such a thing. But I did a better job of capturing moments from our lives during this year. With two little people to photograph (and a smoking hot wife), I had plenty of opportunities to take pictures and I feel like my effort in 2013 was a huge step up from the previous year. I'll consider this a win.

My health is basically the same as when I last wrote this. I did take a step in the right direction - I had my brother (certified personal trainer) to give me a workout that would be effective and quick. I did try some of the exercises one day. I'm going to be slim and trim in no time. Workout resolutions are a waste of time and I knew it from the beginning. Glad I joined the majority in this failure. Maybe in 2014. . .

As for the blog, I was striving for twelve blog posts during the year. Not including the introductory resolution blog and this one, I managed to crank out nine blog posts. Since I set the rules can change them at any point, I will allow the resolution blogs to count. This puts me at eleven for the year. Crap. Still short. Maybe if I break this blog into two posts. . . The point of this goal was to get my writing going. In 2012, I wrote a total of two. TWO!! That is awful and pathetic and horrendous and whatever other descriptive word that is similar. I am excited that I managed to crank out nearly a blog post a month. Truly, sitting in front of a computer putting my thoughts into words that are enjoyable to other people is a cathartic experience. I hope to keep this trend going (or improve) in 2014. This should be easy as I have four (yeah, four) blogs in draft mode. Game on, people.

So if you are keeping score at home, it looks like I won the pictures, lost the workouts, and tied the blog posts. (I don't care if 11 is less than 12. My blog, my scoring.) Not too shabby.

I hope any of you who are reading this are closing out 2013 with grace and style, just like the Flicks are. May your 2014 be full of excitement, successes, and happiness.

Until the next post,

Update: After I posted this blog, my AMAZING cousin Terri reminded me that I had posted a story of Carson's arrival on our family blog. This puts me at 12 blog posts for the year. Let's call this a WIN!! Thanks, Terri!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

When Will It Stop, Colorado?

When the news came over the radio, my head dropped in disbelief. It happened again; Colorado felt the collective breath of the state escape from its lungs. Another high school; another emergency; another troubled student looking for solutions through violence. Again, a multitude of questions flooded our brains.

I wish I had the answers.

When you start listing off the places: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Washington Navy Yard, and now Arapahoe (plus the multitude that I am missing), it is evident that there is a problem. Troubled people are using violence to attempt to solve their internal issues. All of these instances only have one singular thing in common: innocent people were brutally and unjustly murdered because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other than that, every scenario contains its own variables and conditions that make it impossible to determine a common denominator. Each gunman was troubled, but in different ways. Each shooter had their own motives and rational behind their actions. Each shooter came from a different background. The characteristics of each tragedy and their perpetrator splash across every corner of the spectrum. If there is so much diversity in the people doing these heinous acts, what can we attribute for this insanity?

Do we blame media? Violence (and gun violence specifically) in video games, movies, television, and music is a topic that is discussed as a source of the problem after each of these tragedies (most notably after the Columbine tragedy). The argument is that a submersion into these make-believe and violent worlds could numb a person towards actual violence in the real world. A person might start believing, after being immersed in these fantasy worlds, that violence does indeed provide an avenue to solve problems. While this is entirely a possibility, I have a hard time believing that violence in the media caused these people to make the decisions they did. Every friend of mine at some point has watched 'The Boondock Saints' or 'Die Hard,' anxiously awaiting the next episode of 'Breaking Bad' or 'The Sopranos,' listened to Eminem talk about Kim, and played every violent video game on the market from the cartoonish 'GoldenEye' to the fantastical 'Halo' series to the realistic 'Grand Theft Auto' or 'Call of Duty'. Yet they are not violent people. In fact, millions of people are exposed to these same forms of media. How is it that only a few people are unable to maintain an appropriate gap between the fantasy world full of violence and the world we actually live in? The media is not the source of the problem.

Do we blame the lack of gun control in this country? The argument is that restricting access to guns would end these types of crimes. Would tougher gun regulations have stopped Karl Pierson? In this particular case, Karl walked into Arapahoe High School with a shotgun and shells that were legally purchased in the days preceding the tragedy. Stricter gun laws would have had no effect on Karl's purchase as he had no prior history of illegal activity that would have raised a red flag. The only way to stop this purchase would be to ban guns completely. No one with an ounce of common sense would think that this is a viable solution. If you make guns illegal, people will still own guns. Period. Self-defense, hunting, and our historical protection from oppressive government will always be used to provide a legal means for owning arms. Lack of gun control is not the source of the problem.

Do we blame the decline of religion in our society? The argument is that more people are moving away from religion (20% of Americans list their religious affiliation as "none") and this movement is causing a degradation to the societal mores that once were held sacred. This argument clearly draws a line separating good and evil, with religion siding with good and everything else siding with evil. Doing the math, this equates to mean that non-religious people are not good; even evil. That statement is ludicrous. Human beings across the globe respect the lives and property of others with or without an organizational structure telling them that they have to do so. I would go so far as to argue that people inherently are good toward others, regardless of their belief structure. Humans are social animals who rely on human interaction for their emotional needs. It is in our nature to operate and function as a group in a society, religious or not. National decline of religion is not the source of the problem.

Blaming external causes for these inexplicable tragedies is a waste of time. The individuals committing these heinous acts are acting the way our society allows them to act: as individuals. This is where the problem gets scary. How do we as a society identify and fix the problems of individuals for the greater good of the group when the group numbers over 317,000,000 in just our country alone? A minuscule minority, for whatever reason, believe that violence solves problems. That violence is a negotiation tactic. That violence can replace open and honest conversation. That violence is THE SOLUTION. Who are these people making the conscious decision to let violence solve their problems? And how do we convince them that their solution is not right?

I wish I had the answers.

I will not even pretend to understand what the Davis family is experiencing this holiday season. Their 17-year-old girl was taken from them suddenly, unexpectedly, and brutally. I do know that I spent a few extra minutes with my little people after the news broke. I can only hope that tragic story of Claire Davis heightens our concern for our fellow man. Kindness, empathy, and humanity will most likely not eradicate evil from the world, but it won't hurt to give it a try.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Empty Lanes

Nearly every element of a highway is intentional. Signs, pavement markings, barriers, shoulders, signals - they all have a purpose. I feel like most people understand this concept.

Also, I am not an asshole.1 Really, I am not.2 However multiple times on my daily commute, people automatically assume I am.

I design roads for a living. A professional roadie. As is true of any person in their chosen field, my career path has given me a greater understanding of the "why's" associated with my chosen profession. "Why is there guardrail in that location?" "Why does the traffic light operate that way?" "Why are roundabouts showing up everywhere?" "Why is this road construction lasting as long as it has?!!" (Obstruction in the clear zone, because of the interconnect with the adjacent signal, because they are 1000x more efficient than a signal a lot of cases, and road work takes time impatient people!)

On this divided highway, the median guardrail was installed between opposing traffic lanes to maintain separation of the vehicles in the case where a vehicle were to drive into the median. Easy.

Roadway design isn't that hard, is it? (No joke, every other type of engineer tells us this all the time. We apparently do the easiest engineering ever created.)

There is, however, one element that people refuse to understand its purpose. This element shows up everywhere on normal streets and in constructions sites and is misused 100% of the time. This confounding element is an ending lane of traffic.

Picture yourself in a construction zone. Traffic is backing up entering the cone zone. At the front of the line is a flashing sign with three chevrons telling you that the left lane is ending. What is the natural reaction of every human on the planet? Get into the right lane immediately.

Picture yourself on I-70 westbound approaching I-25. There are four lanes of traffic as you near the interchange. The left lane and left-center lane are through lanes continuing on I-70 WB. The right-center lane allows through movements to WB I-70 and turning movements exiting to I-25. The right lane is an exclusive exit lane to I-25. Which lanes does every single westbound I-70 vehicle use? The two left lanes.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Now take those same two scenarios and ride with me. Scenario #1: We are driving in the left lane as we approach a construction zone and the left lane is ending. Where do I go? Nowhere - I like that left lane. Scenario #2: We are driving westbound on I-70 approaching the I-25 exit ramp. Which lane are we driving in? The right-center lane. In both situations, I cruise past the logjam of vehicles in the occupied lanes and merge into traffic at the designated merge point. And this is why people assume I am an asshole every single day. In reality, I am not an asshole. They are just stupid.3

Just like the guardrail and the traffic signals and the signage, travel lanes are there for a reason. That reason is to efficiently move traffic from one location to another. By clogging up only some of the lanes, you are doing the exact opposite - restricting traffic unnecessarily. Since I do (pretend to) design roads for a living, let us take a look at what always happens when a lane drop appears. I, obviously, am the yellow car.

As you can see from this example, ten vehicles are attempting to go north towards a lane drop. There are six cars sitting on the side road that would like to either go north with the crowd or go E-W through the intersection. Because all the idiots got into the right lane, super idiot #1 is blocking the WB traffic from continuing on their ways, even if they have a green light. "But wait a second, Mike. No one would stop in the middle of the intersection and block traffic like that!" These words were actually uttered to me by NO ONE EVER because we all understand how IQ drops when behind the wheel of a car. Of course the intersection is blocked. Rude and moronic people do this all the time. Notice that as I am trying to get into the through lane (again, the yellow car), Johnny Jerkface in the second car is desperately trying to stop me from joining in the parade. This is also an accurate representation of humanity on the road. Even though I am attempting a maneuver that is completely legal, all other drivers do their utmost to ensure that I do not cut in line. To review this setup: I'm mad because no one will let me in. Car 2 is mad because he thinks I'm cheating. The cars going E-W are mad because they are stuck at a green light. And moron car in the middle of the intersection is mad because the cars in front of him are not moving forward and he is getting honked at. So much anger.

Now let us look at the same situation done correctly. Here we have the same ten vehicles going north and six going E-W. This time, the traffic is correctly using the dropping lane of traffic and the cars are proceeding into the cone area doing the zipper - one car per lane right at the merge point. Who ends up mad in this scenario? I am not mad because I am seamlessly merging into traffic without grumpy Johnny Jerkface trying to squeeze me out. Johnny himself is not mad because he does not feel cheated by any other drivers. The E-W drivers are not mad, because they will be able to move onward with a green light. All ten northbound drivers are happy because a fair and smooth system is in place to reduce delays. And the moron car in the middle of the intersection is not getting screamed at for blocking the intersection because he is not blocking anything.

At this point, can you possibly say that I am wrong? If you still have some doubt, I will let the Minnesota Department of Transportation close this up for me. Also, this video.

Now stop honking at me.

Until the next post.

1Not necessarily true 100% of the time.
2Still not exactly the truth.
3"Don't say stupid, Dad" - Mackenzie