Thursday, February 04, 2010

How's That Work?

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had this inordinate desire to know how things work. Sometimes, it bordered on being an obsession.

Clocks got taken apart when I was little. Road construction was analyzed. Most toys like electric trains, an Etch-a-Sketch, a Lite-Brite, an Easy-Bake Oven and a G.I. Joe all got disassembled, rendering them useless. (And no, it wasn't my G.I. Joe -- like I would have ever had one of those.)

Another example: About twelve years ago, I lived in Toronto which has lots of streetcars. I was really curious how their electrical connections to the wires above could switch from one wire to another. You know, when the tracks of the streetcar would split, how did the overheard thingy connected to the electric wire above switch from one wire to another?

Here is the No. 504 streetcar in Toronto, one that I rode every day.

See the connection to the electric wire above? Whenever the streetcar would come to a split, as in a street intersection and the streetcar would turn the corner and change to another street, the connection above had to change from one wire to another. But how???

It drove me crazy. I almost got run over a couple of times while standing in the middle of an intersection, analyzing the wire connections overhead. (I finally figured it out – thank GOD!)

The other day, I saw a photograph of a San Francisco cable car. As you know, they operate by grabbing on to a moving cable under the street. In the photo, the cable car was approaching an intersection where two cable car lines crossed one another.

Oh my GOD! How did that work? If there are moving cables under the street and the cable cars are connected to those cables, how do they cross one another without getting tangled up?

Cable cars also switch from one line to another. Wow! That’s even more perplexing.

I immediately called a friend of mine who had recently moved to San Francisco and asked him how that was possible.
His answer?

“I dunno. Why?”

I was incredulous. How could he not know? He lives there! Hasn’t he stood in the middle of an intersection to figure this out?

That would be the first thing I would have done once I got to San Francisco. Geez!

Thank god for the internet. I was able to find out how the cable cars negotiated crossovers and switches without having to fly there. (Here it is, just in case you're interested.)

Sigh . . . . Life can continue.


At 2:20 PM , Blogger QuotidianEditorialist said...

Just in case you are not already privy to this lovely website. I am similarly obsessed. Surprised? I didn't think so.

At 11:17 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

You're the only person I know who is so obsessed with how stuff works. *grin* (I guess your friend Pati Mc is, too. :) )

Maybe you missed your true calling as an engineer.

By the way, who's your friend who recently moved to San Francisco? We should go visit him and ride the cable cars! :)


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