A Simple Lesson

In writing.  Great antidote to the public school’s unspoken lesson in writing, which is to write longer.  “Give me a two-page essay!”

Yeah, its the guy from Inception.


Categories: Education, Writing

Mouse Transit

November 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Just got back from a trip to Disney World.  Took my mother and her friend – and my wife! – for a five-day, non-thrill-ride tour of the parks.  A good time was had by most.

I often talk and write about Disney World.  I am a fan.  And I also mourn for the Disney of old, who seemed to give a better deal to their guests and had a better vision of what they wanted to accomplish.

If there is one place where Disney is really falling down, it is in their internal transit system.  The monorail is okay and their many ferries do pretty well.  But the bus system is terribly strained, to the breaking point.

It is either feast or famine.  The buses are either very empty or very full – and by “very full,” I mean every seat and every square foot of floor space is taken.  People are encouraged to push in as tight as they can get, some standing where they cannot even grab a handrail.

Now these buses often run at highway speeds on Disney World’s many roads.  It does not take too much imagination to envision one of these fully-packed buses striking a car, bus, stanchion, or rolling over in the ditch.  This kind of accident would have a body count, without a doubt.  Please understand, during the morning rush to the parks and the evening rush back to the hotels, the buses are generally just this crowded.

Adding to the problem, many guests are on scooters or wheelchairs and these take time to load and unload and take a lot of space inside.

I do not have an obvious solution.  The Disney folks must sit around thinking about this very problem.  I don’t think that adding another monorail track would solve the problem – neither does Disney or they would have done so already.

But I don’t think the monorail is the right template in any case.  Instead, they should consider something more along the lines of Tomorrowland’s People Mover.  Running on elevated tracks, cars holding no more than four people, propelled by linear induction, loading and unloading passengers on moving platforms, these cars would run slowly and closely together in the stations but would separate and speed up between stations.  The tracks and stations would all be covered, helping keep the cars lightweight.

Naturally, the system in Tomorrowland only has one station and is, therefore, easy to control.  The new system I have in mind would take that basic system and add more complexity to make it work well for people.  The track would not have to be one big loop; there could be a high-speed switching mechanism allowing branching and there would also be a branch leading into each station.

The first thing a guest would do upon entering a station and again when getting in a car is to select his destination and, if there is more than one person in the car, different destinations can be selected if wished.  Cars would only enter a station if one of the passengers had selected it or if it was empty and there were passengers waiting.

There would be a few depots along the way where excess cars can go and wait for demand to pick up, thereby simplifying routing and saving power.  There would have to be a few quick response teams – mechanic and EMT – driving around on Disney World’s streets, ready to respond to problems as they arise.

Each hotel, theme park, and other destination would be its own station and there would need to be at least one cast member at each station when open.  But compared to – what? – a hundred bus drivers on a shift, that probably constitutes a savings.  Maybe, depending on the level of automation, some stations might be unmanned during quieter periods, with random inspections by security and local cast members.

The theme parks would, in some way, have higher capacity stations, maybe multiple stations.  It would behoove Disney to stagger the closing times of their parks, which they probably already do for the sake of their bus and road systems.

For all the scooter drivers and the handicapped?  Maybe this system could be designed to accommodate them in a manner that does not act as a weight on the rest of the guests.  Maybe special cars that would synch up with a particular spot on the rotating platform where the needful guest is already waiting for it.  If not, perhaps a separate van service, like many cities run for those with mobility issues.

Thinking more about it as I type, this would need to be a very flexible system, with many branches, parallel tracks, and very scale-able.  This would allow Disney to introduce it in phases and work out the bugs as it grows.  It would be everything that the monorail system and the bus system are not.  It would be a twenty-first century answer to today’s problem, not a twentieth century answer with bright paint.

What I am describing could well be a billion dollar system.  Still, Disney has been known to spend that sort of money from time to time.  Maybe it would be worth it to them not to have their guests wasting so much time getting around their campus, not spending money.  To get from a park exit to a hotel can easily take over an hour sometimes.  And the increase in safety has to be worth something as well.

I do not expect that they will build something like this, however.  But they have to do something – the bus system is well past the breaking point already and only getting worse.  As for myself, next time I go, I may well use Uber to get around Walt Disney World.  When you are spending hundreds of dollars a day already, spending another twenty or thirty dollars for transportation can be a wise investment, if it gives you more time to enjoy.

Maybe that is the twenty-first century solution.

Categories: Disney, Pet Peeves, Travel

How it Began

How did we get into this whole renovation thing?  Not too hard to figure out.  Like so many of you, the house was too small.

Built twenty-five years ago, the house is a Cape Cod, 24X40, so about 1000 sf on the first floor, 500 sf upstairs, and the basement was finished around fifteen years ago, adding another 1000 sf, though it really doesn’t seem like it.  But it really comes down to usability.  For instance, the living room, with a brick wall fireplace on one whole wall, low windows, and archways in bad places, is extremely tight with just five people.  The kitchen is a small L-shaped thing with a triangular pantry closet and there is really only one place to stand in it to get things done and, of course, not enough storage, so we keep bulk supplies in the basement, where they really are not convenient.  Upstairs bedrooms, well, it is a Cape, so most of the walls only come up to shoulder height or lower.

So, when we came back from Missouri in 2007, we came up with a plan.  Well, blueprints too, but that is not what I meant.  Our master plan was simple: 1) sell the house in Missouri to help finance the construction, 2) buy a small-ish house in a neighboring hamlet to live in during renovation and allow the boys to go to a better school district, and 3) renovate the house.  This was, of course, the summer of 2007 – you remember what happened next.

Skip ahead a few months, we had a house in Missouri that we were not going to sell anytime soon and were looking into renting out, we had the temporary house, and we had our house with no possible way to finance a renovation.  Fine.  Fate smiled at Destiny and all that.  It was pretty much all we could do to keep up with three house payments.

But we did have plans drawn up – actually the winter before we came home.  This was a good plan for the time, with two boys entering high school.  We got a larger Master upstairs, plus something the architect dubbed a media room and a Master Bath.  Even a small balcony to sit on.  Larger living room, larger kitchen (now to be eat-in), a separate dining room, a bedroom to replace the one that was to become the dining room, and – blessed event – a garage!

I am sure we would have been comfortable in that house.  A pity we never got to build it.  Instead, we spent over five years scraping by, for the most part, renting the houses when we could.  Instead, the house fell deeper into a state of disrepair, because I only have rudimentary home repair skills and why fix something you are planning to replace soon?  Instead, we lived in a holding pattern, waiting for the world to change.

We now have a very different set of plans, based on the boys becoming young men and soon to be starting their own independent lives.  Also, we wanted something closer to single-story living, to help us through our golden years, which may still be a couple of decades off – hopefully – but we sure do not want to do another renovation then.

In a later edition: the long terrible tale of how our current house plans evolved.  Warning: that story contains viscous high-pressure salesmen.


Categories: Building

A Breather

We are in the new (old) house.  Moved on Wednesday.  Still boxes everywhere and no idea where lots of things got to.  My Kindle managed to get packed somewhere – the packers were packing anything that didn’t move, except the food.  Luckily, I found a copy of “Time Enough for Love” lying around, so I am rereading that until I find the Kindle, which I have not been able to do, because…

I had to get back to work after numerous days off.  Then, after work on Saturday, we went to a costume party.  In Forest Hills.  To those not on Long Island, this is the one part of Queens that does not look like Archie Bunker would live there.  A very nice colony of brick homes that may be a hundred years old by the looks of them.  Then on Sunday, we went to a birthday party.  For a two-year-old.  In Connecticut.  That pretty much killed the day.

So, today was our first day in about a week and a half without some official thing to do.  We mostly did some stuff around the house and went to Costco to get things we need.

But now we have things we must do.  Tomorrow.  The Building Department, in a fit of governance, has decided that, by building out the back of the house, to pool in our back yard will become a pool in our side yard, and this requires, well, requirements.  Simply put, we will need a variance, which we are assured we will get, after jumping through significant hoops and paying significant dollars.  More on this later.

Meanwhile, I am just hoping to rest up, get some of my energy back, and get this house in order while getting a few last items out of the other house.  Construction will start soon, supposedly.

Haven’t heard from the bank in a while.

Categories: Building

And So it Begins

There are men outside my house right now, tearing down two trees of somewhat fond memories.  One dog is cowering in his pen amidst the sound of buzzsaws, while the other, conveniently, lies next to me on the floor in this room that just happens to be farthest from the destruction.

Why are these trees coming down?  Because we are renovating.  After years of false starts, we are finally started on the journey.  I will later, as time permits, give a synopsis of the last year or two that took us to this point.  For right now, there are numerous short-term deadlines, many of which have to be done so that the foundations can be poured before the freeze and the El Nino snowstorms.

Sunday, we take the dogs up the island to a two-week boot-camp with a professional dog trainer, where they will be joined by their cousin (sort of) Ollie.  This will be good for them and us, but it will most especially get them out of the way for…

Moving, a week from Wednesday.  We are moving just next door, to the house Mrs. Vanguard grew up in, where we will spend the coming months as this house is majorly gutted and rebuilt.  We still have a lot of stuff to get ready and having the dogs out from under will be better for them and give us much more flexibility.

The project, in a nutshell, is to build out on the first floor in three directions and also add a garage.  We will gain a new master suite, first-floor laundry and pantry, a new kitchen, nook, and dining room, and a usable-sized living room.  It is all an experiment in single-story living, which should help us immensely during our golden years.  More later.

For now, I have to make sure the younger dog hasn’t hung himself in frustration, then take some promised pictures of the destruction.

Should be a fun couple of weeks.


Categories: Building

Turn of the Century

No, no excuses, just haven’t written in a long time.  Last night, when I wasn’t sleeping (large Coke at the theater, late dinner), Carousel of Progress entered my head and spun in there for some time.

If you are not familiar with this Disney attraction, it debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, then was moved to Disneyland for several years until it was moved to Disney World in the 1970s.  It is presented in a carousel theater – that is, the outside ring of theater seats revolve around a core of six stages.  The first and last stages are used to load and unload, welcome and thank, the audience, leaving the other four stages to tell a story.

In the Carousel of Progress, the story is technology in the home, shown in snippets of under five minutes each.  Each chapter is hosted by the father of the house, the family dog at his feet.  He lauds his world to the audience, telling us how wonderful life truly is with all these state-of-the-art appliances.  He calls out to members of his family, who are spread throughout the house, each with their own story to tell.  Although the family appears very similar in each scene, the dog’s name seems to change every time, so maybe they are not supposed to be the same people – which only makes sense, with twenty years between chapters.  These chapters break down as:

1: Turn of the century, maybe 1907.  Pre-electrical home technology: kerosene lamps, coal stoves, ice boxes, hand pump at the sink.

2: Middle of the Roaring 20s: Electricity, cables strewn all over.  Lighting, fans, irons.

3: Post-war 1940s: a much less transient-looking use of electricity: modern kitchens, radio, early TV, Formica counter-tops.

4: Today.  Naturally, today has changed a bit since 1964 and the attraction was updated several times to try to keep up.

The ride was originally sponsored by General Electric, so the focus is naturally on electrical gadgets, but a few other things are noticeable, not the least of which are fashions in clothing and furniture.  Through the show, one is allowed to view slices in history, at twenty-year intervals.

Except. of course, it isn’t.  Twenty years, that is.  The gap between scenes three and four started at twenty years, in 1964.  Fifty years have now gone by and that gap is now seventy years.

Which is why I am telling you this.  This long-time bastion of Tomorrowland has long been a favorite of mine and that of many others, but it must be of less and less consequence to the younger generation.  This theater tells a tale of time travel, but most of the story it tells is in the relatively distant past.  Do the differences between 1905 and 1925 really resonate with an audience looking back from today?  In 1964, it was all well within living memory.  Today?  It has been a century.  No matter what updates are made to the final scene, the rest of the show must give the appearance of sameness.

As the attraction loses relevance, it will also lose ridership.  There have long been rumors of its closing and, were they to come up with a good replacement, Disney probably would.  I would not like to see that happen.

So, what to do?  I see two possible courses, beyond replacement:

1)  Go retro.  Put the final scene squarely in 1964.  There are three networks on television, Beatle haircuts are considered shocking, Lyndon Johnson is in the White House, Walt Disney is in Burbank, and Viet Nam is not quite seen as anything of major importance.  Let people see the ride mostly as it was originally presented in 1964 and draw their own conclusions.  Still, while many would be curious to see the show in this configuration, I do not know how many repeat customers it would bring back – and it does little to address the relevance issue.

2)  Increase the gap.  Ax the second scene entirely.  Go from 1907 directly to 1947.  Forty years!  Scene three becomes 1987.  Scene four remains “Today.”  Increasing the gap to forty years, I think, would increase the relevance of the ride, as the scenes would show a much clearer evolution of home technology, easily distinguished:

1:  Scene pretty much unchanged, 1907 shows the pre-electric home.

2:  1947 shows the electric home.

3:  1987 shows the electronic home.

4:  Today shows the connected home.

Increasing the gap makes the change much easier to see and gives the show a much longer lifespan.  If the show is still running in twenty years and the gap between scenes three and four is then sixty years, it probably won’t seem as noticeable as the seventy-year gap they have today.  Somewhere in the middle of the century, they can retool the ride again with fifty year gaps.

The reason Disney probably won’t do this is, of course, money.  Going retro would not cost them too much, but increasing the gap changes every scene but the first one.  Since, I assume, they are still using the original ride system, we are talking about either making massive changes on an analog system or ripping it all out and replacing it with their latest digital systems.  General Electric sponsorship is long gone and Disney is reticent to change their attractions if they cannot get a sponsor to pay for it.  Still, the final scene of the connected home would allow for a fair number of soft plugs should, say, a Google or an Amazon wish to make a go of sponsoring it.  And after fifty years, Disney should have a more than a few good clues on how to greatly enhance the presentation itself, while leaving enough of the original show to please the Disneyphiles.

Not only has this show been a crowdpleaser for years, the function of the ride itself has allowed it to be a haven of sorts on crowded park days – a ride you can get into fairly quickly, sit down, relax in the air conditioning, and enjoy a show for twenty minutes.  That the show is really good is just icing on the cake.  It deserves to be saved.  It really deserves to be given a new lease on life.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

Tap, tap, tap

Hello?  Is this thing still on?

No excuses, just got distracted by many things:

It is winter in the home heating business.  Add to this, we got a new dispatcher the first week of December – and guess who had to train her.

We are trying to renovate the house.  The world seems very slow to let us impoverish ourselves.

Raccoons in the attic.  Oh, wait!  One learned to tour the house through the walls and ceilings.

Add a Boston Terrier, following said raccoon.

A trip to the vet with an aging Boxer.

A trip to Mackinaw Island.  Murder mystery in an old hotel.

A trip to Europe – Germany and France, primarily.  Basically, two weeks of heavy drinking and eating.

Minor health emergencies.


Various work projects.  Hope to have an online customer application done soon.  Next up?  Invoicing.

Nope.  No writing.  Maybe soon.  If I remember how.