Sunday, March 30, 2014

Road Rules

Connecticut Road Rules: a compilation of what I've learned from other drivers.

Video: Driver making a left turn on red, because most
drivers know that you can ignore the red light at this intersection.

1. If someone is in front of you, no matter how fast they are going, regardless of whether or not they are passing the cars in the right lane, bully and harass them by flashing your lights, honking your horn, and threatening to rear-end them if they don't get out of your way.

2. If the posted speed limit is 25, you should be doing 45.

3. If the posted speed limit is 45, you should be doing 65.

4. If the posted speed limit is 65, you should be doing 80.

5. If the posted speed limit is 55, just ignore it; everyone knows the speed limit was raised to 65 years ago.

6. Shoulders are for passing on the right.

7. Bicycles should remain on sidewalks; if someone is stupid enough to ride their bicycle on the side of the road, honk your horn and curse loudly at them.

8. Ignore yellow lights; if the light turns red, keep going, especially if the car in front of you is still going.

9. Slow down, but don't stop, for stop signs.

10. Closer = Faster. If the car in front of you isn't less than three feet behind the car in front of it, that driver is going too slow.

11. If you've got three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, weave in and out of each lane, because you will magically get out of the traffic jam and reach your destination faster.

12. Drive like you own the road and everyone else is trespassing.

13. When switching lanes, use your turn signal after you've already moved into the new lane.

14. If you get stuck behind someone doing only 10 or 15 miles above the posted speed limit, go around them, and then pull back into their lane before you've finished passing them, just barely avoiding hitting them.

15. If there's only one lane and it's a no-passing zone, but the car in front of you is doing the posted speed limit, or even ten above the posted speed limit, you are justified in passing them on the wrong side of the road.

16. If you're driving on a narrow city street, especially if you're driving past a park or through a residential area, go faster. If a kid or pet darts out in front of you and you hit them, it's their fault for thinking they could cross the street.

17. Never stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street.

18. If you're driving a Lexus, especially if it's an SUV, you are entitled to be extra rude and aggressive, because, after all, you're in a Lexus and you're Special.

19. When passing on the right, honk your horn to startle the other driver and to let them know that you hate them because they temporarily prevented you from doing 80 in a 55 zone.

20. If you want to turn right on red, and the car in front of you isn't budging for whatever reason (pedestrian crossing the street, oncoming traffic, etc.), honk your horn to force them to get out of your way.

21. If you want to turn right on red, and the car in front of you isn't budging even after you've honked your horn, go around them on the left and then make the right turn in front of them.

22. Never be courteous or considerate of other drivers; after all, you are the only one who matters.

23. If you're about to make a left turn, pull to the right; if you're about to make a right turn, pull to the left. It will confuse the heck out of other drivers, and it will make you feel like you're driving a big ol' 18-wheeler and own the road.

Remember, driving is a competition, and you can't win if there's another car in front of you! Be rude, be aggressive, and they'll regret ever existing!

(Disclaimer: this is intended as satire, as a way to voice the frustrations I feel driving in Connecticut.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

City Ready-Mix Concrete Co.

There are certain landmarks I drive past regularly, always meaning to stop and take a closer look, always meaning to find out more about what it is. The City Ready-Mix Concrete structure is one of those landmarks.

City Ready-Mix Concrete plant, 434 Harper's Ferry Road.

City Ready-Mix Concrete has been at Harper's Ferry Road since the 1950s. I haven't been able to find any information about the company, but I did solve the "mystery" of why concrete plants have towers and long conveyer belts.

City Ready-Mix Concrete plant, 434 Harper's Ferry Road.

Depending on the set-up, the long conveyer belt runs from a quarry to the processing plant. Either before or after being placed on the conveyer (from what I can tell, there are a couple of different plant types), the rocks and gravel are broken down into small bits.

The tower, better known as a silo, is used to store fine sand. The sand and the broken-up rocks from the quarry get poured into a mixer, combined with some water, and then squirted out as concrete.

High-quality concrete involves chemists monitoring the relative chlorides, sulfates, alkalis, and solids. There are a number of different recipes for making concrete. The ancient Egyptians used lime and gypsum. Today's manufacturers use materials including limestone, clay, gypsum, minerals, and various chemicals.

In modern manufacture, cement is used as the paste to hold together the bits and pieces (aggregates) of concrete. That's right: cement and concrete are two different things.

There's another abandoned concrete plant nearby, in Torrington. I've driven by it a number of times over the years, and always wondered what it was. Now I know.

Old concrete plant at a quarry on South Main Street in Torrington.

Ready-mix concrete is still in demand, and there is at least one ready-mix company still in business in Waterbury. Sega Ready Mix Concrete is in the industrial complex on Chase River Road in Waterville. Their silo and conveyor belt are visible from Route 8. If I have time this summer, I'll see if I can get a tour of their plant--and some answers to my lingering questions about how concrete is made!

Sega's conveyor and silo.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


As reported in today's Hartford Courant, the last surviving woman to have worked for Waterbury Clock painting radium onto watch dials has passed away at the impressive age of 107. Mae Keane spent two months in 1927 working with radium, following the instructions to bring the tip of the brush to a fine point with her lips. Luckily for her, she was not very good at the job and was transferred to another job. Those two months were enough to cause lasting damage: Keane lost all of her teeth when she was in her 30s and suffered from pain in her gums for the rest of her life.

As I understand it, when radium is ingested (which happens when you use your mouth to point a brush containing radium paint), the body treats it like calcium, absorbing it into your bones. Without sufficient calcium, bones crumble. Since radium is radioactive, it quickly causes bone cancer. Many of the women who worked for Waterbury Clock and other companies using radium died horrific deaths from radium poisoning.

For more on the "Radium Girls" and their history, I recommend this article from 1996.

Although the dangers of radium were obvious, and very public, by 1928, using radium on watch dials continued until the 1960s. As of February 1, 1963, the sale of pocket watches with radium dials was banned in New York City, on the grounds that they exposed their owners to excessive levels of radiation. Wristwatches, however, were still considered safe.

By 1967, the general public was growing increasingly concerned about exposure to radiation. An article focusing on the dangers of X-rays mentioned that millions of bedside alarm clocks had radium dials, and compared the risk of wearing a radium-dial wristwatch to 30 years of nuclear fallout, a top concern of the '60s.

Manufacturers eventually abandoned radium in favor of less dangerous luminous compounds, but it wasn't out of concern for workers' safety: it was a response to public fear of being exposed to radiation by their watches.

A while ago, I had the opportunity to "play" with radium (don't worry, I did not touch it, breath it, lick it, or otherwise put myself in danger). I was given access to a box of Fitrite Radium Outfit, which has instructions on the label for coating the hands of a watch with radium. It would have been sold to watch repair shops, not used in factories.

The label design suggests it might be from the 1930s.

Inside the box: small metal containers for the radium paint, a radium spreading stick,
and a razor blade for scraping off excess radium from the watch hand.

The radium paint in strong lighting.

The same container in complete darkness. I didn't have at tripod with me, so it's very blurry.