My Photo


  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

    "Explains physics to the layperson and specialist alike with abundant historical and cultural references."
    -- Exploratorium ("10 Cool Sites")

    "... polished and humorous..."
    -- Physics World

    "Takes 1 part pop culture, 1 part science, and mixes vigorously with a shakerful of passion."
    -- Typepad (Featured Blog)

    "In this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations."
    -- Fast Company ("The Top 10 Websites You've Never Heard Of")
Blog powered by Typepad
Bookmark and Share

« meme's the word | Main | fragments from the fodder file »


Something you didn't mention here is the wisdom of a drawbridge on the Washington Beltway/I 95.

That's what the Wilson Bridge is. And the new one, too. Somehow, I don't think that the new bridge is going to solve the problem of shutting down six lanes of DC rush hour traffic for several minutes to let a ship pass.

I'll stop here before I describe my 80 miles of commuting per day from home into DC and back.


How opportune: just last weekend I drove from North Carolina to NYC and back. That's over the I-95 drawbridge, through the NJ turnpike toll plazas and over Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens on I-278. And then again in reverse. Don't bother asking why. . . .

At least I didn't have to cross the George Washington Bridge. Oh sweet Moloch was **that** something I never desire to repeat.

Concluding thought: even a Fascist society is only secure as long as conditions do not change. How well do you think that Nazi planet in Star Trek could adapt to melting ice caps?

The cartoon about "if everyone else took the bus..." is so so where it's at. It represents the consequences in this modern society. Fortunately now less people get caught in traffic jams on the Internet superhighway - but they can be just as frustrating(?) but at least one is not sending up more exhaust fumes, just steam (water vapour is ok)

Panic?, gosh Jen, not wanting to be pedantic, but only certain types of people live in fear, fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fear of dying. I was rather thinking you were one of those that cruise thru life with no hate or fear. After all what good are martial arts or a blackbelt if you are still going to worry that your next trip might be your last ... hmmm dunno dunno do I wanna dwell on that one?
Here's wishing you a panic free evening

I think your reading comprehension slipped there a bit, Quasar. The whole point of the concluding paragraph was precisely that it is pointless to live in fear and allow panic to overtake our lives. At no point did I say I was fearful or panicked. I fly a lot, and will continnue to do so, and I won't lose any sleep over whether a given flight will be my last. Mostly, I'm just annoyed at not being able to take my water bottle on an airplane anymore...

None of which has _anything_ to do with practicing martial arts, or having a black belt, BTW. I do not define myself by that. The person makes the black belt, not the other way around.

Blake, I hear ya on the George Washington Bridge! I don't actually own a car -- not for idealistic reasons, it's just not practical, since parking around here is a bitch -- but I occasionally rent one, and I've made many a drive to NYC. That bridge is the devil's handiwork. Somehow I always seemed to hit it at rush hour, too...

I think a case could be made that if you have traffic troubles, your public transit is inadequate. Especially for these enormous metropolitan areas, the train system needs to spread at pretty high density deep into the surrounding areas. I have friends in DC who drive twenty minutes to the nearest metro stop and then take that in. So forget repairing the roads! Build more train lines! And don't run them the way NYC does! If you have to drive (and you don't intentionally live in the middle of nowhere), then the transportation system is broken.

I have to fly this Saturday. At least I'm not flying to the UK, where you are allowed to carry on a small plastic bag containing your wallet, keys, ID card, and passport. The most annoying part is that it's entirely an illusion of security.

Hi Jen, I said some people, and I said I didn't think to include you among them. Glad you are crystal clear on that one.
Indeed it is not the cloth makes the person, and I wasn't having a dig at martial arts, since having watched the original 'grasshopper' king fu serious with David Carradine, I know matial arts are about self-control rather than chaotic action.
[the guys invariably answer, "'Cause I get to blow shit up." Jane shrugs: "Well, there you go."]
Of course, if one can casually lob a shell some 8o miles with pinpoint accuracy, one has to fully understand one can be hit with equal accuracy. It is a law of physics, a cosmic law, a law of Nature.

So let me lob best wishes your way hoping the same return onto me ... see I really I'm just a self-interested ego, self-preservation kicks in. lol!

Beaty offers these handy tips: (1) Maintain a large space ahead of your car. (2) Encourage one, two, or even three cars to merge ahead of you. Yes, we know this is hard, but try to be the bigger person. (3) If traffic slows to a complete stop, still try to keep two car-lengths of space open ahead of you. (4) Never "punish" merging drivers by closing your gap. Apparently, this really works.

I have observed this in action on the "South Loop" of Nashville, TN. I habitually leave several car lengths open ahead of me on the I-40 overpass that runs between the I-65 interchange and the I-24 interchange. A lot of vehicles have to cross all the way from the left side of the 4-lane overpass to the right in just a few hundred yards, and a similar number need to move from right-to-left. The opening I leave ahead of me in the center lane facilitates their lane changes, and very few actually stay in my lane ahead of me. It is my (potentially self-important) experience that the overall speed of traffic moving across the overpass increases significantly during my trip through.

Hey, I'm an anecdote!

The Onion got it right when they wrote about how 98% of U.S. commuters favor public transportation for others:

As one who does not own a car, I am available to accept effusively expressed gratitude from all car-owning denizens of the city of San Francisco whose roads would be even more congested if it weren't for my sacrifice. Believe me, even in this compact city, riding Muni is no pleasure (see I sure enjoy getting a break from the late trains and slow, crowded buses by using City Carshare ( time to time, because I get kind of tired of propping up Muni on my long-suffering, exceedingly patient back. Public transit is only going to be profitable enough to work the way it should (frequently, smoothly, cleanly) when most of us don't opt out of the system.

The new Wilson Bridge is indeed a drawbridge, but I notice that it is a much higher drawbridge. I think the powers that be decided that they couldn't get away without a drawbridge at all for various engineering reasons, but at least this way it doesn't have to open nearly as often. In fact, back in June when the new span was open for "outer loop" drivers and the "inner loop" folks still had to use the old bridge, I heard local traffic guru-ess Lisa Baden announce a drawbridge opening for the old span but not the new one. So, there's some hope at least...

Kristin, let me know if the car-owning denizens in the Bay Area ever get around to expressing their gratitude. It would be positively inspiring if it happened. I'm still waiting for my neighbors in the building to express graitude that _I_ don't own a car, given the shortage of parking spaces.

As for public transportation, I rely on it myself, and while DC's Metro system isn't bad, it sure ain't perfect. I'm reminded of a scene in the movie SINGLES, set and filmed in Seattle, in which one character pitches a "Supertrain" project for commuters to the mayor, to combat growing gridlock (even back then, it was a huge problem). The mayor gives him literally one minute of his time before saying no, and explains it thusly: "People love their cars."

The last Friday of every month is Critical Mass in San Francisco. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically a party on bicycles riding randomly through the city. While I believe most people are in their cars extremely agitated about being delayed by bicyclists goofing off, there are a lot of people that genuinely applaud the exposure it gives to the zero-emissions, zero-oil consumption, and zero-energy vehicles a very large group of people ride to their works everyday. We can hear it in their voices when they yell out their support while we're riding by them.

Your website has a useful information for beginners like me. 225657926

I’ve experienced the synchronized flow of traffic. Driving to work in downtown Washington, one day all three lanes of cars were moving at a nice, steady, speed-limit-obeying pace. No one jammed on their brakes, jumped lanes, or did anything unpredictable. As a result, traffic flowed. Really, really flowed. I got to work 10 minutes earlier than usual.

I've always contemplated the cause effect relationship of traffic jams, and even tried to relate any or all of the observable factors to the actual phenomena.

Bringing up the unpredictability of human behavior is why I didn't fully figure it out. Even though the shared goal of forward velocity does give way to unconcious uniform behavior, 300,000 individuals a day gives way to about 298,000 that are self centered enough to break a possible synchronized flow.

People are Douch bags, and with all the freedom we have, people can remain ignorant to things that could drastically improve the human condition. You should send a chain letter with the threat of increased traffic jams for 7 years if you don't abide by the laws of physics, and forward the laws on to your retarded friends.


I like the cartoon and feel myself a little appealed. In the last 20 years the number of cars exploded. But maybe this problem will be solved when the price of fuel will continue rise.

Great article! But just a heads up: The german town is called "Duisburg", not Duisberg. The name of the university is different accordingly. But nice to see the science of my university going around. :-D


The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.