Who’s To Blame For NYC Subway Delays?

If you’ve ever been on the subway in New York City, you know it can be a frustrating, overwhelming experience.  It’s crowded, and hot, and the trains never seem to run on time.  In fact, a recent study determined that, in July, 72,000 subway trains ran late.  That’s a hefty 32 percent of all subway trains on the system.

Who’s to blame?

subway-doorThe New York Metropolitan Transit Authority says the subway riders themselves are one of the causes for the many delays.  The apparent problem is that riders aren’t letting the trains leave on time. If passengers are rushing to the train and the doors are closing, they don’t wait politely for the next train.  Instead, they shove their backpack or arm or leg into the gap, prevent the train doors from closing, and then when the doors open as a result they elbow their way into the already crowded cars.

In short, one of the problems is that . . . well, the vast majority of the NYC subway riders are pushy New Yorkers.  They’ve been conditioned through years of experience to behave in precisely that way in public places, whether it’s in the subway or ignoring “Don’t Walk” signs and dodging traffic on gridlocked Manhattan streets or cutting in line and getting into arguments about it.  And their pushy New Yorker conduct inevitably delays the trains, contributing to the crappy statistics for trains running on time.

The MTA is trying to deal with the problem by having train operators be less tolerant of the arm in the door practice and by having people in the stations as observers, in hopes that riders under the watchful eye of the MTA will behave more appropriately.  A platform controller quoted in the article linked above says, however, that even with the watchers, more courteous rider behavior “is not really catching on.”

Who’d have predicted that New Yorkers would continue to act like New Yorkers?  If the MTA really wants to have the trains run on time, it had better come up with a better solution than hoping that New Yorkers act politely in anonymous public places.

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Testing The Young Gun

Tomorrow night the Ohio State Buckeyes play under the lights in Dallas, Texas, where they will be matched up against the TCU Horned Frogs.  It will be a coming out party of sorts for Ohio State’s new quarterback, Dwayne Haskins.

For four years, J.T. Barrett held the QB position for the Buckeyes with a vice-like grip.  He was a terrific leader and a real winner — literally.  He set just about every offensive record that a quarterback could set, and under his guidance the Buckeyes achieved great success — but they never quite got to the mountaintop with Barrett at the helm.  Some Ohio State fans, possessed of the loftiest expectations, complained that J.T. didn’t have the arm or the accuracy, and was too quick to pull down the ball and run.  That very vocal segment of Buckeye Nation has been clamoring for a drop-back passer at the QB position.

usatsi_10422300-2Well, now they’ve got one, and his name is Dwayne Haskins.  In two games, he’s looked terrific.  Haskins has completed almost 80 percent of his passes, has averaged 270 yards through the air per game, and has thrown for 9 touchdowns against only one interception.  And, so far, at least, his passes are a thing of beauty — arriving on time and hitting receivers in stride and in the hands.  Haskins looks like the real deal.  He may just be the pure passer that Ohio State fans have been dreaming of since Woody Hayes made “three yards and a cloud of dust” synonymous with the Buckeye offense.

But . . . not so fast, folks.  Oregon State and Rutgers, Ohio State’s first two opponents, aren’t exactly national championship contenders.  TCU is a different story.  It’s been in the talk for a berth in the college football playoffs in recent years, and this year it’s ranked in the top 20 going into the game.  And its head coach, Gary Patterson, is a reputed defensive mastermind who will be sure to throw lots of blitzes and weird coverages at Haskins, who’s a redshirt sophomore who will be making only his third start, in hopes of enticing him into turnovers.  TCU knows that if it can get a signature win over Ohio State it will rocket up the rankings and be part of the college football playoff chatter, so we can expect that they’ll leave everything on the field in trying to baffle Haskins and beat the Buckeyes.

Right now, Dwayne Haskins is the young gun.  Tomorrow night, in Texas, we’ll get a better sense of how truly he fires under pressure.

Standby Status

For the last leg of yesterday’s three-hop trip from Boise to Columbus, I was on “standby status.”  My flight from Salt Lake City was to get in to Detroit at about 7:20 p.m., and there was a flight from Detroit to Columbus at 7:55 that was sold out.  I was put on the standby list for that flight, and the ticket agent told me that I would be number two on the list.  If I didn’t get on the standby flight, I was confirmed for a seat on a flight two hours later.

metro_airport_inside_mcnamara_terminal_20130916171656_640_480Standby status is weird.  It’s by definition contingent, of course, but it immediately spurs analysis of the key factors that will affect whether you will make it on the standby flight, as well as lots of wishful thinking.  I knew the Detroit airport is huge, and the 35-minute time period between landing and taking off was ludicrously tight, requiring the incoming flight to be on time and the standby gate to be within reasonable sprinting distance of the arrival gate.  (Reasonable sprinting distance, that is, for a 61-year-old guy who doesn’t jog for exercise.)  If I was going to make it, all of those factors, none of which were under my control, had to go my way.

But even if those dominoes fell, I still needed some confirmed passengers to not show up for their flight.  Well, sure, that could happen, right?  After all, I was only number two on the list.  Maybe some incoming flight would be delayed by weather or mechanical issues, or a few of the confirmed passengers on the standby flight just wouldn’t show up.  I found myself hoping that some of the faceless passengers on the confirmed flight would just miss their flight so I could get a seat.  I was a bit ashamed of hoping that fellow travelers would experience such misfortune, but the urge to get home two hours earlier overwhelmed all basic instincts of human kindness and brotherhood.

When the pilot on the flight from Salt Lake City announced that we would arrive in Detroit early, it looked like the dominoes might just fall my way.  But when I emerged at my gate, ready to run, I learned that the standby flight was itself delayed and wouldn’t be leaving until after my confirmed flight.  Alas!  I therefore immediately shucked off my standby status and strode forward into the Detroit airport as a confirmed passenger, wishing nothing but good for the world.

Hold The Mayo, Already

The Gleeful Retiree has many good qualities, but — knowing I find mayonnaise appalling — he enjoys tormenting me with breaking news about mayo-related culinary developments.

p-1-should-we-give-the-new-mayonnaise-ice-cream-a-chanceSo, on any given day, I might check my email and find a story about how great it is to serve mayonnaise with french fries (or “Belgian frites,” according to Martha Stewart), which sounds pretty disgusting.  But the topper came when he sent a link about mayonnaise ice cream, which undoubtedly could replace Ipecac as an effective vomit-inducing agent.  Just thinking about it makes me cringe — and I’ve got to believe that that reaction is shared by 99.9% of the food consumers of the world.

What’s going on here?  Is there some mad scientist somewhere who is hell-bent on trying to develop a mayonnaise-based variation on every beloved food item?   What’s next?  Mayo-flavored Cheetos?  Mayo Snickers bars?  Mayo brownies?  The mind reels — and my stomach sours — at the possibilities.

Burt’s Best

I was sorry to read of Burt Reynolds’ passing today.  He was a huge Hollywood star in his heyday, but he never seemed to take himself, or his acting ability, too seriously — which is an all-too-rare quality in the film and television industry these days.

longest-yeard-470x350Reynolds’ death has caused some people to debate what was his best movie.  I think Deliverance is great — and Dueling Banjos clearly was the single best song — but for my money the original version of The Longest Yard can’t be beat.  It came out when I was in high school, and it combined everything that would appeal to an adolescent boy — sophomoric humor and pranks, football and football players, a ridiculously implausible plot, crotch hits to bad guys, and the use of Burt Reynolds’ overwhelming sex appeal to convince the warden’s pasty-faced, beehived secretary (played wonderfully by Bernadette Peters in one of her first big roles) to part with some much-needed game film.  In fact, you can argue that no single movie is more calculated to appeal to teenage males.  And watching it, even now, remains a guilty pleasure.

RIP, Burt Reynolds, aka Paul Crewe.  Adolescent boys of the ’70s salute you.

Do Laptops Help Students — Or Hurt?

An economics professor at the Ohio State University named Trevon Logan decided to ban laptops from his class.  The results surprised him: student grades improved significantly.  What’s more, the professor reported that student reaction to the laptop ban was very positive, with students stating that the policy “(1) encouraged them to focus, (2) helped them take better notes, (3) kept them engaged, and (4) increased their enjoyment of the course.”

laptops-lectureProfessor Logan’s experiment is part of a budding movement against student laptop use in favor of old-fashioned pen and paper note-taking.  He was motivated to adopt his ban after reading a New York Times article from a University of Michigan professor, Susan Dynarski, who concluded that “a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.”

Professor Dynarski thinks there is a cognitive reason for the apparent negative effect of laptops on academic performance.  She has written:  “Learning researchers hypothesize that, because students can type faster than they can write, a lecturer’s words flow straight from the students’ ears through their typing fingers, without stopping in the brain for substantive processing. Students writing by hand, by contrast, have to process and condense the material if their pens are to keep up with the lecture.”  (And these comments do not even mention the other issue with laptops — with the internet a few keystrokes away, how many students are tempted to check on their email and their favorite social media websites during lulls in the lecture?)

I think these Ohio State and Michigan professors are on to something.  Trying to take verbatim notes of a lecture on a laptop, which is apparently what many students do, is more of a typing exercise than a learning exercise.  Handwritten notes, in contrast, require the student to make judgments about what is really important, which in turn requires the student to listen more carefully and assimilate the material.  The combination of active listening and the use of hand and eye to create notes on a piece of paper all facilitate retention — and therefore better grades.

This doesn’t mean laptops are bad, it just means that they aren’t especially well-suited to the unique process of learning.  We should keep that in mind the next time an educational initiative announces, with great fanfare, that every targeted student will be receiving a laptop.  It might be better to hand them notebook paper and a pen instead.

The Happy Piper And The Colossal Thud

Our modern world of devices and gizmos specializes in sounds as well as visuals and electronic advances.  The acoustic element might be overwhelmed by all of the technological wizardry, but it’s just as crucial to the whole experience — and in my view, pretty intriguing, too.

s-l300I’m not sure who picks the sounds, or what process they follow, but it’s got to be a pretty interesting job.  For example, the remote log-in process for our firm’s computer system requires you to follow several password steps and work through multiple stages of security.  If you successfully navigate all of the safeguards, you get a little audio cue that tells you you’re in.  It’s a rising three-note piping sound that makes you think that Pan is gleeful, perhaps even prancing, about your success in obtaining access.  On the other hand, if you’ve made a false move or mistyped a letter or number in a password, you get the sound of a colossal thud, as if a pallet of bricks has crushed a roomful of outdated electronic equipment and old Blockbuster videos.  It’s the quintessential sound of failure.

Wouldn’t you like to know what other sounds were considered for these purposes?  How many thousands of snippets of sound were evaluated and tested on focus groups before the final sounds were determined?  It’s hard to argue with the happy piper, but I wonder whether the initial notes of Trumpets Voluntary, or the first few chords of Ticket to Ride, were among the finalists?  And while the colossal thud conveys, quite effectively, that you’ve flopped, how about a descending two-note foghorn sound, or the crash of breaking china?

And don’t get me started on ringtones.