Saturday, January 29, 2011

Snake Oil Revisited

Just over a year ago I posted about my unfortunate experience with various allergy medicines. At the time I had been suffering from a globus sensation (the feeling of a having a lump in your throat) due to post-nasal drip. The Zyrtec I was given made me drowsy, but did little else, and the Flonase gave me frequent and profuse nosebleeds.

This past fall (i.e., weed season when my allergies are at their worst) I started having sinus problems again. The pressure and inflamation got so bad that it started to affect my ears, which gave me vertigo. I couldn't look from one computer screen to the next without a wave of dizziness. After several weeks of this, I finally conceded to go to the doctor. Apparently the view up my nose and in my ears was worse than usual, so he prescribed me antibiotics and Flonase (yes, the nosebleed stuff).

The antibiotics didn't really do anything, suggesting that bacteria doesn't have much to do with my sinusitis. It's probably being caused by allergies and is being worsened by a cold that's going around in our family. As for the Flonase, it turns out that I had probably been using it wrong before. I may not have been putting the tip of the spray bottle far enough in and I was allowing the medicine to spray towards the septum. Apparently directly spraying Flonase at that area can thin the skin and result in nosebleeds; you're supposed to spray away from the septum and towards your eye. Also, my congestion may have been so bad that the spray wasn't getting very far up the nasal passages.

This is where the Neti pot comes in. The Neti pot originated in ancient Hindu practices and has become popular with the alternative medicine crowd. Normally I have little faith in such things, but I'm willing to try anything if it works. The device looks like a small tea pot and is used to flush out the sinuses. I had never heard of it until a friend of ours posted about his positive experience. A little while later we received a free NeilMed Neti pot thanks to my wife's ongoing crusade to take advantage of every product promotion possible.

To use the Neti pot, you mix warm water with a mixture of salt and baking soda, tilt your head over a sink, and then pour the solution into one nostril and allow it to run out the other. Yes, this is as weird as it sounds. And it actually works.

Effective, but undignified

WebMD (in which we put nearly as much credence as in a real doctor), says this:
The basic explanation of how the Neti pot works is that it thins mucus to help flush it out of the nasal passages.

A more biological explanation for how the Neti pot works has to do with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia that line the inside of the nasal and sinus cavities. These cilia wave back and forth to push mucus either to the back of the throat where it can be swallowed, or to the nose to be blown out. Saline solution can help increase the speed and improve coordination of the cilia so that they may more effectively remove the bacteria, allergens, and other irritants that cause sinus problems.


In studies, people with very severe sinus symptoms found relief from using the Neti pot or other nasal irrigation system daily. Three times a week was often enough once symptoms subsided.
Recently, I've had pretty good results by irrigating my sinuses with the Neti pot followed with a dose of Flonase. Although not exactly a cure, this has reduced the pressure and prevents most of the vertigo. At this point I'm happy to have any relief at all.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Movies, Part III

The Third Man (1949)
Despite the wide variety of movies I've seen over the years (especially since I joined Netflix), I'm ashamed to admit that this is my first film noir. Well, I guess it could be my second if one were to assume that Fritz Lang's M (1931) counts as film noir. I think M is usually considered to be proto-noir, though.

The film is set in post-World War II Vienna, which has been divided into four zones under the control of the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, respectively. Western writer Holly Martins (who's male, despite his name) arrives in Vienna expecting to get a a job with his friend Harry Lime. However, he quickly learns that his friend was hit by a truck and killed a few days before. While looking for information on what happened to his friend, Major Calloway of the British Army contingent informs him that Lime was a racketeer. Specifically, he was stealing penicillin from the local hospital through a now missing inside man and selling it on the black market. The penicillin at the hospital was diluted to hide the theft, which led to numerous deaths and medical complications. Martins can't believe that his friend would be involved in such a thing and begins to investigate the details of the accident.

During his investigation, he comes across several of Lime's friends, who give him conflicting stories and seem to be of questionable character. Their stories do agree that only two of Lime's friends were present when he was hit, but this conflicts with the statement by a porter that there were actually three men with him at the time of the accident. This porter is murdered shortly after confessing what he saw. Martins soon begins to seek out this third man in order to question him. Lime's girlfriend, Anna, for whom Martins begins to have feelings, urges him to forget about the whole thing and to return to America.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

One evening, after leaving Anna's apartment, Martins realizes that he's being followed. The person following him turns out to be Harry Lime himself! Martins chases him but his friend escapes. When Martins gets the British involved, it's revealed that the body in the coffin is the inside man from the hospital and that Lime has been crossing from zone to zone through Vienna's sewers and hiding out in the neutral areas between zones. Clearly it was Lime himself who was the third man. Later, during a confrontation between Martins and Lime, our hero realizes that his friend is a cold hearted villain who sees people only for their potential monetary value. Although Harry doesn't want to help the international police forces capture Lime, a trip to the hospital to see the results of his friend's crimes starts to tug at his conscience.

End of spoilers.

I tend to watch lower budget b-movies, so most of the films I've seen from around this era don't have the quality of acting and writing found in The Third Man. The editing and pacing are excellent and hold the attention of the viewer even during the slower sequences. For me, the most memorable moment is the movie's famous "Ferris wheel scene"; this consists entirely of a conversation between two characters, but it's so well written and filled with such menace and suspense that it's definitely the high point of the movie (no pun intended).

Weekend Movies, Part II

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) may very well be the father of modern science fiction horror. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Herbert West: Reanimator) his stories often focused on the Old Ones; horrifying cosmic beings that came to Earth eons before humanity and continue to be worshiped by various cultists worldwide. Unfortunately, Lovecraft's stories have often been considered unfilmable with most attempts yielding mixed results.

In 2005 the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society released The Call of Cthulhu. Realizing the limitations of their resources they decided to produce the film as if it had been made in 1926; the year in which the short story was written. The movie is in black and white and is silent. The few murky shots of Cthulhu are executed using a period-appropriate stop motion technique. Scenes of Cthulhu's island city of R'lyeh are created using simple but effective sets that wouldn't be out of place in a German expressionistic film like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Additionally, the film benefits from an efficient 47 minute running time.

With a few minor deviations, The Call of Cthulhu follows Lovecraft's original short story. A man recalls his investigations into the Cthulhu cult that had originally been the obsession of his recently deceased great uncle, who had been an archeologist. Although the story is not told in chronological order, his great uncle began his research in 1908 when a police inspector showed him a hideous idol and told him of the bloody cult ritual that he had broken up. Along with the cult, his great uncle began to research strange dreams of an ancient city and a horrifying creature that had been haunting people worldwide. All these unrelated events seemed to revolve around a creature called Cthulhu. The man picks up the investigation where his great uncle left off and eventually discovers that all evidence points to the reawakening of the creature. Finally the man finds the account of the sole survivor of a crew that had the misfortune of finding R'lyeh and the horror that lives on it.

This film was obviously a labor of love. Not only does it do Lovecraft's story justice, but the filmmakers also went out of their way to make the movie seem like it was from the appropriate era. Subtle details that I noticed included dark makeup around the actors' eyes and the use of focused light on a page to draw attention to specific words or passages. They even digitally inserted dust, flaws, and hairs to give the film the appearance of having been made in the 1920s. All this effort isn't completely able to hide the modern origin of the film: despite efforts to soften the image many scenes are too sharp to have been filmed in the 1920s and the higher frame rate of the modern camera (24 frames per second or higher versus 16-18 frames per second) better captures fast moving images (e.g., running actors, flames), which adversely affects the film's antique feel. These are minor complaints, though. I very much enjoyed the movie and look forward to more films from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Weekend Movies, Part I

As much as I love movies, it often takes me a lot of effort to finally decide to watch one. The problem is that when I finally choose to see a movie I like to devote my full attention to it; I don't often want to commit two hours of my evening to any one thing. However, sometimes I get the urge to watch a cluster of movies.

War of the Gargantuas (1966)
I've seen a lot of weird kaiju movies over the years, but this film and its predecessor, Frankenstein Conquers the World, a.k.a. Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), are some of the weirdest by far.

As we all know from Frankenstein vs. Baragon, the undying heart of Frankenstein (the monster, not the doctor) was delivered by the Germans to Japan in the waning days of World War II. The heart was irradiated while it was being examined in Hiroshima and eventually regenerated the monster. Although the now mutated monster grew to an enormous size (about 100 feet tall; smaller than Godzilla's 200+ feet, but still pretty big), the creature was basically friendly. However, the military still considered it dangerous because it was blamed for the depredations of the underground-dwelling Baragon.

Now we have War of the Gargantuas, which was called Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira in Japan. The more human, loincloth-wearing Frankenstein from the previous film has been replaced by a hairy, ape-like animal. Although it appears that several main characters from the first movie show up in Gargantuas (including the American scientist running a laboratory in Japan; what's a gaijin doing in my kaiju eiga?), the characters' names have been changed. It's almost as if the filmmakers wanted to make a sequel but were ashamed of the movie of which they were making a sequel.

Anyway, as is mandatory in any kaiju film, ships at sea are being attacked by a large, green monster (called Gaira in the Japanese version). Gaira isn't just interested in sinking the ships, he's also eating the crews. Doctor Paul Stewart and his staff are brought in to investigate since they had been studying a so-called gargantua (Frankenstein?) in their lab prior to its escape several years before. Stewart claims that their gargantua was harmless and begins to believe that there are two creatures when reports of a monster start to surface in the mountains.

During one of Gaira's forays on land, it's attacked and almost killed(!) by an unusually effective Japanese Army. Just as they have him on the ropes, Gaira is saved by a larger brown gargantua (Sanda, who's apparently supposed to be Frankenstein from the previous film). When samples of both monsters' cells are compared, it's theorized that Gaira was most likely produced when some of Sanda's tissue ended up in the ocean and grew into a new monster.

Although friendly towards each other at first, Sanda doesn't approve of Gaira's propensity towards eating people and the two begin the titular "war of the gargantuas". This fight ends up in Tokyo (of course), which is required to be destroyed in nearly all kaiju films. Fittingly, the ending of Gargantuas makes as little sense as that of Frankenstein.

Every minute the human actors are on screen is deathly boring and Netflix only has the American release of the film available for instant viewing (I hate dubbed films), but the city-smashing nearly compensates for it. This is a movie for serious daikaiju fans only.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
This direct-to-video animated movie is similar to the popular Batman: The Animated Series but with a degree of violence that you could never get away with in children's programming. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening scene where the Joker beats a captive Robin (the second one, Jason Todd) with a crowbar. Todd is killed in a subsequent explosion and Batman blames himself for his death.

Several years later a masked vigilante called the Red Hood appears in Gotham City. In contrast to Bruce Wayne's Batman, who has sworn to fight crime but will never take a life, the Red Hood leaves a trail of bodies. Reasoning that no one can ever fully eliminate crime, the Red Hood tries to control and limit it by using terror to take over one of Gotham's criminal syndicates.

In desperation, an opposing syndicate under the crime lord Black Mask breaks the Joker out of Arkham Asylum in exchange for the elimination of the Red Hood. Ironically, the Joker was the original Red Hood and had been in that disguise when he was knocked into the vat at the Ace Chemical Plant. I'm sure I'm not spoiling anything when I say that Batman intervenes in the showdown between the Red Hood and the Joker.

The animation is good, the voice acting is solid, and the storyline is interesting. I've become used to more reality-based Batman stories thanks to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, so it took a while to get used to a few of the more fantastic elements of the story (e.g., Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pit). Either way, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a worthwhile film for any superhero fan.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Saga of the Window Well

Last night we had our usual weekly video call with my parents on my wife's laptop. After talking for a while upstairs, I brought the computer down into our basement office. About two or three minutes later, around 6:30 PM, I heard the sound of water pouring onto the carpet right behind my computer. In a panic I looked for the source of the sound and found that there was a pool of water on the nearby window sill. Just outside of that window well is where we tend to heap up the snow when we shovel the driveway. Underneath that heap was the end of the pipe that's supposed to drain runoff from the roof into our driveway. The packed snow had prevented the runoff from draining properly and had sent it into the soil instead. With our recent above-freezing temperatures, the snow melt had completely saturated the soil and it had started to drain into the window well. Once the well was full to the level of our window, it had started to drain into the house.

I threw some towels on the sill, but it was obvious that water was continuing to drain into the well and that the towels weren't going to last for very long. Fortunately we were able to get a hold of some good friends of ours across the street who lent us their wet/dry shop-vac. This let us suck out just enough water to keep it out of the house, but we realized that it was a temporary solution and that there was a lot more water than the shop-vac could handle.

Thank heavens we have good neighbors. Another friend and his son came over and shoveled the snow away from the window well and the drainage pipe. Then they climbed into the well and started a bucket brigade. We figure that they bailed out at least 80 gallons before the water was drained down to about an inch above the gravel in the well. Although we had bought ourselves some time, we could see that water was continuing to drain into the well through the crevice between the corrugated steel portion of the well and the foundation of the house.

By this time (about 8:30 PM) I had removed the sliding portion of the window from the frame and we started siphoning the rest of the water into a bucket inside the house. For two hours we had a continuous stream and were swapping out buckets every ten minutes. We drained about 50 gallons over those two hours. By 10:30 PM we could tell the well was filling at a slower rate because the siphon would break after draining about two gallons; we started allowing 10 to 20 minutes of collection time before removing the water. Unfortunately, since a very visible and nearly constant trickle continued to flow through the crevice, we were reluctant to stop. Soon we had the nagging thought that we might actually be dealing with a broken pipe rather than a water drainage problem.

At about 12:30 AM, I encouraged my wife to go to bed. Desperate to determine if I was dealing with a broken pipe or just a lot of drainage, I normalized the amount of time I allowed for the water to collect in the well to exactly 10 minutes. After each interval, I would siphon the water out and measure how much I had collected. I then plotted the results on a spreadsheet, which indicated that the drainage was gradually decreasing. (I recognize that this isn't typical behavior for normal people, but it's expected of an engineer.) By about 3:00 AM my collection rate was effectively zero and the visible trickle of water had stopped.

This definitely wasn't how I wanted to spend my evening. I ended up sitting next to an open window in near freezing weather for about eight or nine hours. We didn't have any fancy pumps so siphoning involved sucking the water into the tube by mouth (my wife and I both ended up with a lot of grit in our teeth). And since I didn't get to bed until about an hour before I have to get up to get ready for work, I called in an emergency vacation day. Even taking a vacation day I ended up getting only four hours of sleep.

At the same time, we were actually very lucky. I happened to step into the office minutes before the water started pouring into the house so it didn't fully soak into the carpet. No damage was done beyond some small areas of peeling paint. And we were most fortunate because we have friends that were willing to lend us their equipment, their Sunday night, and several hours of hard work to help us bail out the standing water in the well.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

If You Type Two Spaces After a Period, You're Doing It Wrong

It's nice to be vindicated every now and then.

Much of my time at work is spent writing technical procedures. Many of these procedures are shared between several engineers, which results in conflicting formatting and typography. My perpetual struggle is with coworkers who put two spaces after each period.

Like them, I also used to insert two spaces after a period. This was how I was taught in my high school typing class (one of the most useful classes I've ever taken, and that includes college and grad school). However, in my technical writing course at BYU, we were told to use only one space. It was explained to us that all novels, professionally published books, and technical journals use a single space since the double space wastes room (which costs money). Ever since then, I've followed the one-space rule.

Recently, an article was brought to my attention in which technology writer Farhad Manjoo confirms what my technical writing professor told us. According to the article, the one-space rule was settled upon by typesetters in Europe and the United States in the early 20th century. However, because of the monospaced type of manual typewriters, which would give a skinny letter like "i" the same space as a wider letter like "w", it was difficult to distinguish the spaces between letters from the spaces between sentences in typewritten documents. Thus, the two-space practice was borne. The necessity of the two spaces became obsolete in the 1970s when electric typewriters allowed the use of proportional fonts.

Since the reason for using two spaces ended nearly 40 years ago, typographers argue that only one space should be used. In an amusing bit, Manjoo shares the opinion of one typographer:
"Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong," Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. "When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay," she told me. "I talk about 'type crimes' often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It's a pure sign of amateur typography."
It's not just a matter of opinion, the author argues, it's actually a specified practice in several professional manuals:
Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.)
In other words, "If you type two spaces after a period, you're doing it wrong."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Family Time

Our extended family was very generous to us this past Christmas and we received more gifts than we know what to do with. A couple in particular have given us some good family time.

Trivial Pursuit Family Edition
My wife and I are huge fans of Trivial Pursuit and own well over a dozen versions of the game. We have a couple of the Disney versions of the game that we've played with our older kids (older meaning slightly less than 8), but Disney questions can get old after a while. This Christmas we were given the Trivial Pursuit Family Edition, which has general knowledge questions. Like the Disney editions, it has cards with harder questions for adults as well as cards with easier questions for kids.

The difficulty of the adult questions is equal to, and possibly slightly less than, the questions found in other editions of Trivial Pursuit. Since our kids are a little younger than the game's recommended age, we were worried that they'd get frustrated. However, between our children's perspicacity, a small amount of assistance from mom and dad, and actual age appropriate questions, they were able to compete with us and ended up loving the game.

Electronic Snap Circuits
This electronics set was given to our oldest daughter with the understanding that daddy would provide some guidance. It's effectively a large, easy to use breadboard kit that's similar in principle to the ones I used years ago in an introductory course in electrical engineering and an instrumentation class. The kit has both basic components (resistors, capacitors, LEDs, switches, etc.) as well as more complex electronic parts.

This particular kit has instructions for assembling about 300 different circuits. The manual is straightforward and has useful illustrations as well as descriptions of what each circuit is supposed to do, how it works, and how it builds on, or is a modification of, a previous circuit. However, it certainly doesn't hurt to have an engineer for a dad who can provide further explanation. I helped my daughter with the first few circuits until she could build just about any of the circuits in the manual. It's encouraging to see how excited she is to use the kit and to experiment. Maybe I'll be able to get an engineer out of at least one of my kids.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Overly Detailed Analysis of Cartoon Humor

Yesterday I was watching disk 3 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume Three with the family. The disk focuses on pigs in general and Porky Pig in particular, with many of the cartoons coming from the mid- to late-1930s. It's unfortunate that many people will avoid older movies or cartoons, especially if they're in black and white. In fact, many of the lower ratings found on for the Golden Collection sets are from people who don't like the older cartoons. Through these cartoons and movies like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Them! I've been trying to show my kids that some of the best stuff was made when their grandparents and even their great-grandparents were young.

The difference between the sensibilities of the '30s and what's considered acceptable today was best illustrated by the 1937 short Porky's Romance. In this cartoon Porky proposes marriage to his chocolate-loving girlfriend, Petunia Pig. She laughs at him, which drives him to attempt suicide(!). However, the branch from which he tries to hang himself breaks and hits him on the head, causing him to dream about married life with Petunia. As "time munches on", Petunia becomes fat and abusive towards Porky while he does all the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. When he wakes up to find Petunia saying that she'll marry him after all, Porky runs off.

When was the last time you saw a cartoon character attempt suicide?

Unlike most of today's entertainment, Porky's Romance derives humor from speech impediments (Porky's stuttering), the failed suicide of the cartoon's protagonist (Porky tries to hang himself), obesity (Petunia's post-wedding consumption of chocolate makes her fat), spousal abuse (Petunia hits Porky over the head with a rolling pin while their piglets shout "hit him again, momma!"), and animal abuse (Porky kicks Petunia's annoying dog). The mere fact that such things are no longer acceptable in children's entertainment makes the cartoon even funnier. When I asked my daughters which of the shorts we watched that day was their favorite, my oldest said it was this one.

Although I love cartoons from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, I've recently been impressed by how funny modern cartoons have become. While the cartoons made from the '60s to the '80s seem to represent the nadir of animation, the '90s and '00s gave us great shows like Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Phineas & Ferb, and a host of others. It's notable that the current crop of cartoons are funny for different reasons than those from the Golden Age of animation.

As a long time amateur history enthusiast, I'm fascinated by the shift in what Americans think is funny or culturally acceptable. This can be seen in the the enormous differences between a 1930s Porky Pig cartoon and a 2010 episode of Phineas & Ferb. The early cartoons relied mostly on violence and broad stereotypes for their humor; Wile E. Coyote got most of his laughs from explosives and anvils while some of the funniest Bugs Bunny cartoons ever showed Daffy Duck being blasted repeatedly with a shotgun. When this became socially unacceptable in the '60s, the offending elements were stripped out without anything to take their place. The resulting cartoons were dull and perfunctory (can anyone honestly say that The Smurfs or The Snorks are funny?). In the 1990s cartoons began to reintroduce some of what made the Golden Age cartoons so funny by including limited violence (I would credit Tiny Toon Adventures for this). At the same time they began to rely more on wordplay, character interaction, and farce. The end results were cartoons that are funny but are very different from the cartoons of more than 50 years ago.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sheriff Woody's Anachronistic Pull-String

While watching Toy Story 2 the other day, I starting thinking about the movie's revelation that the Sheriff Woody doll was based on a character from a show called Woody's Roundup. The show was supposed to have ran from 1950 to 1959 when it was canceled. According to Stinky Pete the Prospector, "children only wanted to play with space toys" once Sputnik launched and the space race was on.

Given this background, it can only be assumed that the pull-string equipped Woody, Jessie, and Stinky Pete dolls were manufactured in 1959 or earlier. Because I can't help but to think about such things, the thought came to me; 'did pull-string operated talking dolls even exist in the 1950s?'

After a little searching, I found that talking dolls were being made as early as the late 1800s. However, the first pull-string doll was Mattel's "Chatty Cathy", which was released in 1960. A variety of other pull-string dolls were made by Mattel in the '60s and '70s.

Of course, since Woody and the rest of the Roundup Gang are supposed to predate Chatty Cathy, a Sheriff Woody doll should be unable to say anything (at least not with the pull of a string), let alone be capable of normal human speech. Strangely, I find the fact that Toy Story 2 depicts a pull-string doll at least a year too early harder to accept than the idea that the doll is effectively alive and sentient.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You've Got to be Kidding Me

According to a recent BBC article:
Saudi Arabian officials have "detained" a vulture on accusations of being a spy for Israel, media reports say.

The griffon vulture was carrying a GPS transmitter bearing the name of Tel Aviv University, prompting rumours it was part of a Zionist plot.
Apparently the GPS transmitter attached to the endangered vulture was being used to report the bird's location, altitude, and speed. It makes one wonder; if the Israelis were actually using the bird for espionage, why did they stamp the name of one of their universities on the equipment the vulture was carrying?

This accusation comes shortly after last month's claim from an Egyptian governor that Israel had released a shark off the coast of an Egyptian resort to attack vacationers. I would think that Israel, which may have been involved in the creation of the Stuxnet virus, could do better than using vultures and sharks for nefarious purposes.

No wonder Israel has a hard time living with its neighbors. As one writer has said; "They are hated in large part because the people who hate them are mad."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Some Post-Road Trip Thoughts

I just got back from Christmas vacation, which we spent in southern California with my parents. Not counting the multitude of stops that the five-month old Son of Atomic Spud requires, the trip involves 16 hours of driving each way (which we spread over two days). Now I'm a cautious and consistent driver. I use my cruise control as much as possible and never set it more than five MPH above the speed limit. I would prefer to always maintain the speed limit (which I do when the limit is 75 MPH or higher) but I would get rear ended if I actually went 55, 65, or 70 MPH. Unfortunately, many drivers are a bit less cautious than I am. Here are a few annoying/dangerous habits that my fellow drivers displayed during our 32 total hours of driving:

How Hard is it to Use a Turn Signal?
It's a small lever that you use to signal to others that you're going to be changing lanes. It's there to protect you and those around you, so why don't you use it!?! I saw dozens of drivers make lane changes without ever signaling. Often they did so with very little clearance between them and other cars. One truck almost clipped me when he cut in front of me without ever using his turn signal. Fortunately I had seen him do the exact same thing to someone else a few minutes earlier and was keeping a close eye on him.

It Defeats the Purpose of Speeding if You Kill Yourself Trying to Get There
Every so often you would find some speedster weaving in and out of lanes just to get a few feet ahead. They would start in the fast lane, but when that was just too slow for them, they would zip into the next lane (or two) over in an attempt to pass other cars. The worst of them would actually use the Carpool, Express, or Truck/Slow Vehicle lanes (which are separated from the rest of the freeway with solid white lines) in order to do this. Californians did this far more often than drivers in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, or Idaho.

Stop Riding my Bumper!
The rudest speedsters would follow cars they thought were going too slow with about three to five feet between them. I don't like to park that close to another car, let alone drive that close to them at 75 MPH. In a couple cases the car in front would try to change lanes to let the other guy go ahead. However, since the guy in front didn't use his turn signal, and since the guy in back got tired of waiting for the slowpoke (who was actually going well above the speed limit), both cars ended up changing lanes simultaneously. The five foot space became two and they almost had an accident.

I've lived a significant period of time in California, Utah, and Idaho and have gotten to see how people in each of these states drive. I have to say that the best drivers are Idahoans. They're not perfect, but they're more courteous and have more respect for good driving habits and the rules of the road. And since they have a lot more of it than California or Utah, Idahoans are a lot better at driving in poor weather.


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