It looks like jumping instances killed my old post, so I'll do this again:
An #Introduction: I'm an astrophysicist (#Astronomy #Astrophysics #Science) at NASA JPL & Caltech studying #BlackHoles at the dawn of time (with the occasional #SciComm); a fan of being outdoors (#running, #hiking, #camping, #climbing); a #PublicTransit user who dreams of #HighSpeedRail in the USA; an MSU Spartan alum (#GoGreen); and a liberal who just wants a better world, gosh darn it. #Introductions
I'm trying to be mostly not as political on here as I am on Bird Land, but ...
My friend and fellow Astrophysicist Louis Abramson has, over the past few years, started getting more involved in trying to solve the problems of his community. This year, he's taking it to the next level and running for California's Assembly.
In addition to being my friend, Louis is also a deep thinker and a man of action. In March 2020 he took action and initiative to take care of his community, organizing a massive food bank for his elderly neighbors. For this, and many other reasons, he's an inspiration to me as a fellow scientist.
But this isn't about him -- it's about me, knocking on doors to canvas for him. I think of myself as very politically keyed in, but canvassing is a whole 'nother level. This post is just to say -- find someone who inspires you and go talk to your community on their behalf. It's surprisingly (and possibly counter-intuitively) rewarding! #LosAngeles
After #camping in Idaho, my tent got drenched, and, while it had some time to dry off, I wanted to give it a chance to air dry in the warm, dry breezes of the Los Angeles Basin. So of course it starts raining after I set my tent up outside...
(One of these days I'm going to upgrade from the kit lens on my a6300...)
15 years of Steam have softened me. I had forgotten how much of an ordeal it used to be to install games. Yes, I agree to the EULA. No, I don't want your bloat. Yes, put a desktop shortcut. Here's the Start Menu location I want you to use. Here's a full screen splash as the progress ticks toward 100... #EmperorBattleForDune
Despite the warnings from two of you, I'm going to attempt it. Step 1 of installing any 20+ year old game: figuring out how the bleep to install it on a modern computer (GOG, where are thou?) PCGamingWiki says they have an install patch, which is good, as installing from the AutoRun didn't work.
Just a reminder, you can see all the recommendations of accounts to follow ever made on FediFollows organised into nice categories at:
As I post about more recommendations, they will automatically appear in this directory under whatever hashtags I've used on the post.
Also, many of the categories have multiple pages now. To see the next page click on "show older" at the bottom of the page.
A brief aside here: if you look at the population density of Oregon, you'd realize how silly this route is. Going N/S from Portland to Ashland--Medford (metro pop ~ 300k) instead of Klamath Falls (pop ~ 70k) would serve more people, and, if you're going to cut over the Cascades from Eugene, why not hit up Bend (metro pop ~ 200k)?
Well, it all comes down to the needs of freight rail in 1905. Amtrak is the result of 1970's Rail Passenger Service Act, taking over the passenger service of the major railroads. The Southern Pacific's Cascade (Oakland - Portland) and Coast Daylight (LA - SF) were merged into the Coast Starlight, which meant the route of the still-operating route follows SP (now Union Pacific) trackage. And in the early 1900's, the SP (among others -- I'm simplifying) needed a way to speed up operations. The current route is what was built back then, allowing for faster movements between OR and CA. But it's certainly not optimized for passenger connections...
The train then cuts back across the Cascades (having slipped over them once before at night) toward Eugene. As wonderful as the trip up the coast was, I think this is the most impressive part of the journey. We're taking the Pengra Pass route here -- following along the coast of Odell Lake, reaching Cascade Summit at 4,852 feet, and then heading downhill toward Eugene via the Salt Creek.
There are gorgeous views here. The train runs through Douglas Fir forests, over streams, under snow sheds, along lakes, and into canyons. Even in late April, there's still abundant snow to be seen. #Oregon
After the Bay, it gets dark, and even in summer I don't expect you'll see much past Sacramento, especially since the lounge car windows are tinted. On the way up, Shasta loses out to sleep.
Around 8 AM the following morning, the train rolls into Klamath Falls, Oregon. It's the closest stop to Crater Lake, too, but first the train passes along the shore of Upper Klamath Lake, with views of Mt. McLoughlin in the distance. Then into the Fremont-Winema National Forest with some excellent views of the Williamson River. Finally, before reaching the mountains, you get a view to Crater Lake National Park; although you can't see the lake, Mt. Scott is clearly visible, as are some of the ridges forming the crater's bowl. (Reminder: There are alt text captions on these images if you want any more context)
Thomas Connor is an astrophysicist at NASA JPL and Caltech, currently studying black holes and working on the NASA NuSTAR satellite. You can follow at:
Connor has a website at https://thomasconnor.org
The account is personal so you may also see posts about non-science stuff too like public transport and running.
This corridor is part of the Capitol Corridor route. In a dream future, with frequent SF-Sac high-speed trains, this choke point needs dealt with. But Amtrak's usage of freight rail is an issue here.
Let's try to build a new bridge. It needs to be 160 feet above the water to enable continuous ship traffic. If we want a 0.5% grade to get to this bridge (to make it easy for freight to handle), that's, uh, what, about 6 miles? Oh boy. If we make it passenger only, we can get a much steeper grade, but then things get more complicated with maintenance and funding. Combined with the roughly one mile long crossing here, that's a lot of bridge to build either way.
So, anyway, I guess that's why I was the only one in the lounge excitedly taking pictures as we came to this bridge. View from the shore and then mid-crossing, of poor quality due to lack of light.
(Note: StreetsBlog did a better rundown than this last year: https://sf.streetsblog.org/2021/06/16/new-bridge-proposed-to-eliminate-rail-choke-point/).
Now, at this point, some of you may be grumbling: you said you'd talk about trains, and this is just a travelogue! Well, don't worry -- because we're about to talk shop.
After Oakland, there's a problem. The route is being pinched by the San Francisco Bay to the west and the Berkley Hills to the east. The best way out of this mess is to cross the Carquinez Strait at Benicia to skip the hills east of Vallejo.
And so, there is a rail bridge there -- supposedly the second-longest in North America, the Benicia-Martinez Railroad Drawbridge. Here's the problem, though: unlike the road bridges that flank it, the drawbridge isn't high enough to permit ship traffic, and so it needs raised whenever ships request it. As such, we have a potentially significant choke point in western rail traffic, as both freight and passenger rail can be delayed at any time.
Picture of Meat
One of the standard features of Amtrak dining is that they sit you with whoever shows up when you show up, and you eat with strangers. Luckily, they still have limited services (coach class couldn't hit the dining room yet), and I was able to ask for my own booth.
While I'm a vegetarian ~95% of the time, I make exceptions -- basically when I'd be an inconvenience, when I'm traveling somewhere known for their meat cuisine, or when it's a meaningful opportunity. I decided that it was worth having a steak, being an Amtrak signature and all. Also the lobster crab cake + the cheesecake, with a glass of wine and some bubbly water, as darkness descended over the Bay. I chewed on some meat as we passed the Oakland Coliseum.
Swinging into Garlic-famous Gilroy, the sun starts to hit the horizon (in late April; experiences will differ depending on time of year and if the train is on time). It was at this time that my dinner reservation came up; I had booked the last possible slot, both because I like to eat late and because I wanted as few people as possible around. Dinner is a fixed price selection right now ($45!) from three appetizers, entrees, and desserts, plus a complimentary drink. Meals are in the dining car, which, let's be honest, is straight up classy.
After SLO, the route cuts over the hills and into the Salinas Valley (John Steinbeck land). Things aren't as pretty here, but, being done with work, I headed to the viewing car. With floor-into-ceiling (ish) windows, and the ability to quickly look in both directions, these are a great way to see what's going on on the journey. Or, in my case, to read. The cafe is below, with snacks, drinks, and food.
Astrophysicist at NASA JPL / Caltech --- Runner --- Failed hipster --- Bad at Jokes
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