Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thank You MNDOT and 911 

When we Minnesotans drive in the winter, we assume our great snow removers will do their job and we can go merrily on our way. And, for the most part, that is true. However, once in awhile we need help - this is my story of 36 hours of major car problems.

I love driving manual transmission cars, just love it. Perhaps because I feel more in control, perhaps another reason but simply put, they are fun to drive. I'm pretty easy on clutches, too. I sold a previous car with 150,000 miles on it and the original clutch. My current car's first clutch lasted 65,000 miles, the second one, 109,000 miles. One might conclude, I'm ok with clutches.

Monday I'm tooling along 35E and notice with every shift, the odometer needle approaches the red line and hovers there before declining. Hmmmm Then I start smelling something burning. Hmmm. Then I discover I can't accelerate over 60 mph so I pull off the road. I call my husband, AAA, the dealer, and lay back for a nap. Along comes MNDOT. The driver had noticed me sleeping and stopped to check. I explained the situation; he marked my car with an orange X so others would know help was on the way. The great thing was he stopped and asked. My car gets towed to the dealer and clutch gets replaced.

Tuesday, I pick up my car with the new clutch - fine. I drive to my class four hours later. As I'm approaching the 35W SR 65 split heading into Minneapolis, I hear a very unusual, fluttering noise. I turn off the radio and the noise is still there. I try to steer and it's hard to turn the steering wheel. Looking for a place to get out of speeding traffic, I aim for the sand barrels between the two roads only to discover I had no breaks. OOOOOO, not good. I stay in the right lane, call 911 assuming that I'm going to need a cop car to protect me from getting rear-ended because I now have no acceleration, no brakes, a totally useless new clutch, minimal steering and am searching for some place to get off the road (there are no shoulders in that section of highway).

Very, not good. However, someone was watching me because just past the I94 overpass on SR 65, there's a 50' patch of grass which gratefully had been half plowed by MNDOT. I manage to coast to the snow and get off the road by 6" - but I'm off the road where cars are continuing to whiz by me. 911 connected me with a tow truck; I wait; call my students and suggest they wait (or we need to find another night for class). Tow truck arrives, takes me to my class and tows in the car. Unfortunately, 48 hours later we hear that I need a new engine.

While these two days' events were rather frustrating, MNDOT came through both times, as did 911. Thanks to all of you. I need a new car but no accidents, I didn't freeze, and all will be well.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

It's Minnesota. It snows 

There's approximately ten inches on the ground here today. The university chose not to cancel classes today, though several other colleges and most school districts did. It made for great hilarity to watch the campus email list burst to life with complaints about coming in and faculty canceling classes, etc.

A significant number of faculty, perhaps more than 10%, live in the Cities and drive the 70 miles to St. Cloud to teach. About the same number of students do as well; many others come in from the north, west and to a lesser extent the south. Unlike many places, we have our own meteorologist on staff (a delightful guy, fellow Boston sports fan) who provides to the public information used by the university in its decision whether to close the campus.

So there are two types of errors you can make. You can cancel school when it isn't necessary, and you can not cancel school when you should have. Your goal is to minimize the sum of the two types or errors. The faculty and staff, of course, prefer to close school. What about students? Some will already be here, in the dorms and living in nearby apartments. They lose a class if you close. Some additional students who did not look for a closure message will get in their cars and begin driving. The faculty from the Cities who came this morning said they had no idea it was bad here because I-94 was fine until the exit before the university exit ... at which point it went from clear to crappy without any intermediate conditions. The students were probably already coming here.

I've been here when they close the campus (for at least night classes) and you always see students who didn't get the message. And for them, a night class is once a week so canceling one is a significant part of the course. Do their costs count in deciding how to minimize both types of errors? Faculty and staff aren't the best judges of this -- they are much more vested in one type of error than the other.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Last Snow? 

It's March 31 and the heaviest snow of the year is still coming down - at least 4" and up to 8" by tomorrow morning. I do not recall as heavy a snowfall as this, ever. It is so dense, it's almost unpackable. No snowmen this time.

A few photos for our guys in Iraq who visit this site periodically - enjoy it guys. Once this melts, this ought to be it - then again, we thought so last week.