Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Sunday, December 24, 2006

It's Christmas

Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish all of my readers a very merry Christmas. Hopefully you got/will get all of the presents you wanted.

For an additional couple of presents, I just finished posting two new entries below this one. Yes, I posted them today, but I altered the dates to read when I would have posted them had I been more ambitious and not put off writing them until this afternoon.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

5 Years ago Today

Exactly five years ago today, I created this blog. Happy fifth birthday, Mitch’s Blog!

The internet has changed a lot since that day five years ago. Back then, almost nobody aside from the early-adopters of new technology had any idea of what a blog was. Blogs had not yet gone mainstream; the media treated them as a new, obscure internet invention that only a margin of those using the internet would probably ever make use of.

Indeed, I would have never known what a blog was or had heard about Blogger back then either if I hadn’t been an ardent viewer of Tech TV, the (now-defunct) cable-tv channel that was devoted to computers, the internet, and technology in general. Blogs had gotten a lot of acclaim on the channel back in 2001, and a seemingly large majority of the channel’s fans and hosts had a personal blog by the end of that year. A couple days before Christmas, I decided to join the herd and get one too.

Few people know this, but the original reason I started this blog was to communicate with family. Although I did want to be able to create entries that resembled emails, what I really wanted to do was share things such as photos and videos. The septillion photo and video sharing websites that are around now weren’t around at the time. I figured starting a blog to achieve this would be a whole lot easier than the alternative of starting an entire website from scratch. Naturally, I was correct.

Blogger has certainly come a long way since 2001 as well. Although it was well-known at the time among those who had heard about blogs, running a blog using Blogger wasn’t exactly seen as the most desirable thing to do. Instead, if you had the programming know-how (and, in general, the money to spare for website hosting), you would implement a proprietary blog publishing system like the one called Movable Type. This was because the service provided by Blogger was as bare-bones as possible. RSS feeds were unheard of, and, although it's hard to believe now, it wasn’t even possible to leave comments on individual entries. Additionally, hosting your blog with Blogspot meant that you had to deal with a barrage of popup and other unsavory ads.

Of course, Blogger has added a lot of useful features and become much better since then. Both blogs and blogging in general have also gained widespread notoriety and ubiquity. Through it all, though, this blog, the one without a witty name (witty names are another thing that weren’t very common in 2001) has been here. With any luck, I hope to have this blog going strong for another five years and for many more pentads* after that!

* Among other things, a pentad is a period of five years

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Riding the Iron Horse

With the exception of physics, all of my finals went well. Actually, comparatively, physics wasn’t so bad either. My score was better than the average, an unimpressive 45 percent. That's a solid D under the grading scale for that class.

Even though the last day of class before the start of the three week intermission between semesters was Friday, the 15th, I took advantage of the fact that my last final was in the morning two days earlier, on Wednesday, and came home on Thursday morning. For the second time in my life, I came in on an Amtrak train.

Riding Amtrak home at least once during the school year was something I had always intended to do last year. However, my actions ended up being entirely different from my intentions. Even though I knew precisely when the daily Empire Builder was scheduled to arrive in Grand Forks, precisely when it was scheduled to arrive in Staples (the nearest stop to Brainerd), and precisely how much a one-way ticket cost, I never did take it.

I vowed to change that this year. With the federal government increasingly pressuring Amtrak to cut money-losing, long distance routes such as the one of the Empire Builder, I figured if I didn’t ride at any time during this school year, I might not get any more chances.

So I thought it over during the summer and somehow came to the conclusion that the best time to ride the train for the first time would be during the three-day Veterans Day weekend. I think part of my reasoning had to do with my assumption that the train would be a lot less crowded on the day preceding Veterans Day rather than the day preceding Thanksgiving.

In any event, I made my mind up to ride home for the three-day weekend. By about the end of September, a funny thing happened: my roommate and a few friends decided that they were going to go to a concert in the Twin Cities during the Veterans Day weekend and that they were going to take the Empire Builder from Grand Forks on the same morning that I was planning on taking it. I thought this was great news, since it meant I wouldn’t be traveling Amtrak for the first time completely by myself. Shortly after I had heard about all this, I took the next step forward and ordered a ticket to ride from Grand Forks to Staples on the morning of November 10th.

And right around the scheduled arrival time of 12:57 AM on that day in Grand Forks, I boarded the train. As it turned out, I actually kind of did have to ride by myself, since the conductor placed all of the people I knew toward the back of the train and me in front. Still, I had an enjoyable experience. The ride from Grand Forks to Staples was comfortable, fast (average speeds are 70-80 mph), and, at a price of $25, right around what the gas would have cost to drive a car the same distance.

Something else that made the experience enjoyable was that I had brought my police scanner along so that I could listen to the behind-the-scenes operating aspects of the train that I was riding on. There is a bit more radio communication involved in operating an Amtrak train simply because, unlike on a freight train, the conductor is not in the locomotive cab with the engineer. In any event, as I was listening, I made sure to write down notes. I thought they would be a good way to remember my trip.

Skipping ahead to December now, I liked riding Amtrak from Grand Forks to Staples so much in November that I decided to take it home again last Thursday, the 14th. Though the train ended up being an hour late coming into Staples – which meant it came in at around 5 in the morning – I still had another great trip. As in November, I brought my scanner along and wrote down notes along the way. I thought posting them would be a worthwhile addition to my blog.

First, however, it might be necessary to have some background information. The route I took is outlined in blue:

An overview of the route; click on the picture to see a larger version
my route on Amtrak

A detailed look at my route through Fargo/Moorhead
my route through Fargo/Moorhead

It might also be worthwhile to know that a (defect) detector is a device mounted alongside tracks that is able to scan passing trains for defects such as dragging equipment, shifted loads, or overheated axle bearings. In general, after a train passes completely over a detector, the detector transmits a computerized radio message that will either list the defects it found or simply state "no defects" if there are none. Many detectors, in their radio transmissions, will also include a count of the total number of axles on the train that has passed through as well as the current ambient temperature. Click here for an mp3 file of a typical "no defects" transmission from the detector located at the Knollwood Drive crossing in Baxter.

Additionally, a (track) warrant is a document that grants a train authority to move between two specific points on a rail line. For reasons I don't see necessary to discuss, my train only needed to obtain track warrants to move between Grand Forks (called FO Switch in railroad jargon) and Fargo (West Yard Limits Dakota Junction) and Detroit Lakes (CTC Richards Spur) and Wadena (CTC Wadena).

Here are my notes...

The lead locomotive was Amtrak 165

01:19 - AMTK 165 gets a warrant between Station Sign FO Switch and the West Yard Limits Dakota Junction

01:33 - Arrive at Grand Forks 36 minutes late to pick up approximately 35 passengers and let off approximately 15

01:42 - Depart Grand Forks 45 minutes late, with a delay stemming from all the luggage in the luggage car

02:01 - No defects at milepost 79.0 (Buxton, ND) detector (52 axles)

02:24 - No defects at milepost 52.7 (Grandin, ND) detector

02:38 - Notify the Dilworth Terminal Dispatcher that we've passed Argusville, ND; the dispatcher says that we'll be meeting up with a crewless coal train at Dakota Junction and the Lincoln, NE to Dilworth, MN freight train (H-LINDIL) at the Fargo Yard Office

02:43 - No defects at milepost 32.7 (Harwood, ND) detector

02:48 - Encounter red signal at Dakota Junction; stop and get talked
past it by the Dilworth Terminal Dispatcher

02:49 - At station sign Dakota Junction, pass a crewless coal train bound for Cohasset, MN

02:51 - Having entered the yard limits at Dakota Junction, void warrant between Station Sign FO Switch and the West Yard Limits Dakota Junction

02:55 - Stop at the Fargo Yard Office to meet up with a 7,000-some foot H-LINDIL

03:01 - With the H-LINDIL past the yard office, receive authority to proceed to the Fargo depot, proceed to Moorhead Junction and then continue east to Dilworth

03:04 - Arrive at Fargo 51 minutes late to pick up approximately 30 passengers and drop off approximately 17

03:15 - Depart Fargo 1 hour and 2 minutes late, with a delay once again coming from all the luggage in the luggage car

03:26 - Pass the westbound Amtrak 7/27 train near the Dilworth Yard Office

03:29 - Exit the yard at East Dilworth and begin going up what's generally referred to "the hill" leading out of the Red River Valley

03:31 - Receive warrant between CTC Richards Spur and CTC Wadena

03:37 - Pass a United Parcel Service train west of Glyndon

03:39 - No defects at milepost 240.5 (Glyndon, MN) detector

03:46 - Pass underneath the wooden bridges west of Hawley

03:53 - Pass unknown type of train west of Lake Park

03:57 - No defects at milepost 221.2 (Lake Park, MN) detector

04:07 - Arrive at Detroit Lakes 57 minutes late to pick up 1 passenger and drop off 5, including two people traveling in a sleeper car

04:10 - Depart Detroit Lakes 1 hour late

04:12 - Pass double-stack container train in eastern Detroit Lakes

04:17 - No defects at milepost 203.0 (Frazee, MN) detector

04:29 - Pass unknown type of train in Perham

04:42 - No defects at milepost 174.1 (Bluffton, MN) detector

04:48 - Having passed CTC Wadena, void warrant between Richards Spur and Wadena

05:00 - No defects at milepost 151.6 (Staples, MN) detector

05:06 - Arrive at Staples 57 late to pick up 1 passenger and drop off
1 passenger (me)

05:08 - Depart Staples 59 minutes late

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Spring Schedule

I’m dropping in again to say that I picked out all the courses I’m going to be taking next semester. Actually, I did it a few weeks ago, but I just haven’t had the ambition to write anything about it until now. And that’s only because I really don’t want to start studying for the 5 finals I have to take in the first three days of next week.

At any rate, my schedule for next semester will go as follows:

8:00-8:50 – Chemistry 342, Organic Chemistry II (M,T,W,F)
9:00-9:50 – Math 265, Calculus III (M,T,R,F)
10:00-10:50 – Physics 252, University Physics II (M,T,W,F)
11:00-11:50 – German 308, Second Semester German III (M,W,F)
12: 00-15:00 – Organic Chemistry II Lab (T)
15:00-17:00 – University Physics II Lab (W)

All in all, not that interesting of a schedule. I’m going to like being done with class at noon again on Mondays and Fridays, and I’ll also really like having 5 hours of lab spread out over two days rather than having 5 hours of lab all in one evening. What I won’t like is not being able to guiltlessly sleep in on Thursdays, since – unlike this semester – I will have a class on Thursday mornings. I’ll continue to have just one class on that day, however.

Chemistry and physics next semester should more or less be a continuation of the chemistry and physics courses I took this semester. At least with regard to the subject matter; I will have different professors for each class, so I’m expecting teaching styles to be vastly different. And based on what I’ve heard, I’m also expecting there to be a lot more homework for both of these classes.

German next semester will be with the same professor as I have this year, so it should pretty much be exactly the same – I doubt I’ll have any problem with it. In some ways, German II here last year was harder than German III this year because the professor I had for German II emphasized listening and speaking activities much more than the professor I have for German III does.

Calculus III is a class I should have taken this semester, but I opted not to so that I could take Meteorology I in the evening this semester. Needless to say, I’ll be going into the last math class I need to take without the benefit of having had any math class in the past 7 months. Being as calc has never given me any problems before, I think I’ll be fine, but it’s hard to say right now.

Speaking of meteorology, I wanted to take ATSC 240 – Meteorological Instrumentation – next semester, but I couldn’t because it meets at the same time as German III. The only other meteorology class that I would have met the prerequisites for would have been ATSC 231 – Aviation Meteorology. Although I could fit that class into my schedule, I’m not going to. Taking it would mean I would have to deal with having 19 credits and being a non-aviation student in a class specifically geared for aviation students. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to fit the fall-only ATSC 210 – Meteorology II – into my schedule for the 2007 fall semester.

That’s all I have for right now; I suppose I should get to work on studying for those 5 finals.

Previous Posts

Four Years Have Passed
Winter of 2007-08 Musings
7th Annual Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials
Another Birthday
A Beltated Update
2007 Vacation: Day 10 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 9 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 8 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 7 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 6 Summary


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Mitch's Blog Copyright 2001-2012 Mitch Wahlsten -- All Rights Reserved
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of Mitch Wahlsten and the participants
Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001