Friday, February 16, 2007

First of all, let me apologize for the past couple of days.
I haven't been sleeping. At all.
Right now, it is almost midnight and I'm at work on a Friday night, preparing to patch a kajillion servers in six hours.
Next week we may have our automated patching system in place, but that doesn't help us at all right now.
I've been back and forth between home and work many, many times at different times of day.
As you may know, Houston traffic (especially with our new shiny construction on I-10) is ugly.
What you may not know (though Shana can confirm) is that I have a traffic-related mutant gift.
There are some crappy mutant gifts to have. Toad comes to mind.
Mine is worse. Whatever lane I choose, reality warps around me to make that lane slower than everyone else's. I'll never get into the X-Men that way.
Anyway, this means I've spent a lot of time in traffic. I've watched the patterns from the bad end and even read a few articles on "traffic jam theory" since I found out I know someone who knows someone who works with that theory professionally. Can you imagine doing that? Predicting where and why traffic will suck while sitting somewhere it isn't? Knowing the secret ways where traffic flows like mysterious chemicals at an 8th grade party?
I'm going to share a traffic tip in this post. If it works for me (and it does) it will work for anyone.
Here goes:
On any stretch of highway, traffic falls into predictable patterns of behaviour. At times, the cars spread out with loads of room between them, zipping along in a well-choreographed dance of freedom and acceleration. Then they slow down, congest, clump up. Cars slowly make it past that portion (which usually centers around an entrance or exit ramp) and then accelerate madly again before the next bottleneck, where the pattern repeats.
I've seen this described as a stretching and relaxing rubber band.
I prefer the school of thought that equates traffic to a spring. The cars clump up, add energy and compression to the spring, and then are thrust forward suddenly, only to hit the next compression point.
Now, adding acceleration at the end of the congested area doesn't help that congested area, and there is only a short-term gain for the car which has just broken free.
The key here is to reduce compression on the way into a congested area.
This isn't one of those "if we all do this together traffic will be awesome" tips, people.
If you do this, your time in traffic will lessen, as well as that of those around you.
I drive the same way home everyday if I don't see at least a dozen traffic helicopters hovering over it from way off. I know where the entrances and exits are. I aim for them.
The congestion happens when people hit the clumped up areas and then don't let people merge.
If traffic is allowed to interlock like teeth on a zipper it moves freely.
Head directly for the slow lane (the one with merging traffic) and slow down more.
You can slow down a lot more, actually. If you move slower than the clump in front of you and allow people to get off the ramp into the slow lane in front of you, the congestion goes away before you reach it.
It happens quickly, too. No one has ever had time to honk at me from behind.
I do about 20 miles one way on a completely nasty highway every day. This has reduced my drive by 15-20 minutes every trip.
Also, by letting in other drivers I think there is some Karmic bonus. I need all the good Karma I can get, as I'm still trying to pay off a lot of Karmic debt.
There are times when this won't work as well. Surface streets are ruled by traffic lights and crosswalks, and neither of them cares if you slow down in advance.
Also, all the deceleration in the world won't help you in the event a truck jackknifes and spills beer, M&Ms or Legos all over the freeway. I've seen all of those happen since moving to Houston, by the way.
I am a horrible driver. This is not an exaggeration. I know where my skills are, and maintaining a constant speed and not crashing into stuff is not one (or two?) of them.
This still works for me.
Okay. Thus ends my traffic advice. I'm going to patch some servers.

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