U.S. High Speed Rail Woes Don’t Translate to Freight

Part of the Civil War history I was exposed to in high school emphasized the advantages the North had over the South in industrial capacity and infrastructure.  One of the examples that stuck with me the most concerns rail lines.  Specifically, the North had more lines of the same gauge (distance between the wheels) than the South.  That meant that freight or passengers didn’t need to be offloaded as much when moving from one line to another.  Things could travel faster.

I was reminded of this when the Knight Science Journalism Tracker pointed out this excellent examination of freight and passenger rail in the U.S. Written by Brian Palmer for The Washington Post, the piece describes the differences between freight and passenger rail and explains why while passenger rail in the U.S. is woefully inadequate, the country actually does a fine job with freight, transporting a much higher percentage of it by rail compared to Europe.  And while that would be great coverage for a newspaper, Palmer goes further to discuss the two options the U.S. has to modernize its passenger rail, an effort that has received emphasis in this administration via stimulus funding.  It appears that the country will try and use both – upgrading existing rail in places and laying new tracks in others.

While this is all great, it will take a lot of time for much of this to come to fruition.  This is true of all significant infrastructure changes, even the kind of changes to the waterways I discussed earlier this month.  Hopefully the country will have the patience to keep supporting it through the eventual changes in power that may make high-speed rail look like a tempting political target.  Once realized, improved rail should have many benefits, not least of which is a reduced reliance on autos and possibly a lessening of demand for short airline trips.

Robots and Parasites on TV, Oh My

Since I missed noting Grant Imahara’s (of MythBusters and general robotics fame) appearance on The Late, Late Show until it was actually on the air in the Eastern time zone, I thought I’d try and make up for it by posting video.  If you’d like to watch the full episode, go check it out via the CBS website (the link will die within a couple of weeks).  If you’re just interested in Grant’s segment where he and host Craig Ferguson supposedly answer viewer messages and e-mail on science topics (but talk more about science fiction), it’s embedded below.

Imahara constructed the show’s robot skeleton sidekick (who can be seen in the clip), Geoff Peterson.  And if anyone is dying to answer the question of the molecular bonds in the first question, please comment.

If you missed Dan Riskin’s appearance the following night, similar links are available for the whole show (again, a temporary link) and his segment.  Had I picked up on his appearance earlier this summer on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, I’d have likely recognized that Riskin would be promoting his Animal Planet show, Monsters Inside Me.  It focuses on parasites, and is at least as gross as it sounds.  While the segment with Ferguson is not focused on parasites, and does cover a lot of Riskin’s scientific background, some folks may not care for descriptions of worms and related nastiness.