Thoughts on Making Amtrak Better

I've long been a fanboy of Amtrak. The slow pace and great scenery suit my travel style. In the media, there always seems to be some buzz on train travel, why it's not used more, how to improve it, and, lately, why high speed rail is the answer. After having my train to Montana cancelled yesterday (see Convenience below), I started thinking about what can be done to Amtrak better. I came up with 3 main categories which I see needing to be addressed to make this government-owned corporation a truly viable travel option.

Price: Amtrak isn't cheap. In many cases, it is more expensive than flying. The price structure is not simple, either. Different times of day cost more, prices go up closer to travel date, some discounts can only be applied x number of days before hand, etc. If ticket prices were lowered and/or the price model was simplified, this would definitely encourage more ridership which could help streamline things and lead to higher revenues.

Convenience: On this, Amtrak actually rates pretty well. Strong positive points come from the wonderful comfort afforded by rail travel (ability to walk around, dining cars, lots of leg room, etc.), less intrusive security, and more conveniently located stations. Points against include limited schedules (only leaving certain towns in the middle of the night) and extremely poor reliability* (for example: for the past 4 weeks, the train from Sacramento to Denver has been, on average, almost 1.5 hours late, one time being 12 hours late and another 7). Addressing this reliability issue isn't simple because of the ownership structure of the rails, but it is worth it in the long term for all the potential gains, not only in reliability but also as a way to address cost.

Speed: To spend 48 hours to travel what would take 3.5 to fly (Seattle to Chicago) is kind of a big deal. For those who have that kind of time, it can be great, but that doesn't describe a very large portion of the population. To broaden it's market, Amtrak could introduce faster trains (as proposed by the Obama administration), more direct routes, or find other time saving measures.

(My personal thoughts on high-speed rail: *)

I want to see Amtrak become a more feasible option for travel, but for that to happen, I see at least one of these three things needing to change. Faster trains at the same price and convenience, cheaper prices at the same speed and convenience, or more convenient trains at the same price and speed. (My vote is for optimizing cost, as it is the great equalizer, but that's just me. I am kind of a penny pincher.)
Wednesday March 2 2011File under: transportation

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The Great Egg Off

Every time I get into a discussion regarding the keeping of chickens*, it inevitably comes up that "farm fresh eggs taste better". I love eggs and would eat them every morning if the fear of cholesterol wasn't instilled me at a very early age, but I've never really been able to notice a difference in taste. Recently, at my current housesitting gig in Portland, I was presented with a perfect opportunity to find out for sure. I call it the Great Egg Off.

The concept: three eggs (one from Ginger, one from Olive, and one from Trader Joe's), three tastings, a few observations along the way, and one final champion.

Observations:
GingerOliveTrader Joe's
• Hardest shell*
• Darkest, thickest yolk
• Quite small
• Super strong inner membrane on the shell
Least tasty
• Watery albumen
• Weird shape
• Weak, thin shell
• Biggest by far (although smallest yolk)
Second tastiest
• About what you'd expect from any store bought egg (not super yellow yolk, not super hard shell, not super big or small)
Tastiest

Surprisingly, the store bought egg wins the tastiness contest (although just barely edging out Olive)*. But that doesn't mean I'm sold on store bought eggs. The piece of mind of knowing that the eggs came from my own back yard, that I know what the chickens ate and how they were treated, is enough for me to choose farm fresh every time.

Sunday February 27 2011File under: food

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FC 135 - Overreaction is at Least an Action

All they've been able to talk about on the news is the storm that's blowing in, how commutes are going to be crazy, and to tune in for the latest school closures, etc. Well, the "storm" arrived today and there was some snow. And then about an hour later, it melted. But that was enough to cancel school, work, and put chains on the public buses. While out walking the dog, I saw a couple of school kids playing basketball in short sleeves. I'm not saying Portland is full of a bunch of wussies, but....

Anyway, it all got me thinking about how different places react differently to weather. In Wisconsin, a couple inches of snow doesn't even rate a call to the superintendent, I bet. In, say, Portland, merely the mention of snow in the forecast pretty much seals the deal.

Anyway, if you don't think this comic is funny*, I hope you can at least find humor in this mass overreaction to snow that so characterizes unaccustomed places. Because that's what I was going for.
Thursday February 24 2011File under: comic

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Flubbed Beard Opportunity

Recently, I shaved off the biggest beard I've had in a long time. It was big—ridiculously big. I haven't had one so big since my ill-fated appointment at the DMV almost 4 years ago.

Anyway, as I'm wont to do, I thought it a great opportunity to do a fun in-betweener beard. It was decided that it should be a 18th century old-timey mariner beard/chops*. So I went to work. But in the 10 or so pictures I took at the various stages of completion, I didn't get even one good shot. Alas. So goes life as a self-shot photographer.

Oddly enough, the last time the beard fully came off was in this same backyard in Portland. I never got around to posting the picture of that, so here it is: the always classic halfbeard.
Tuesday February 22 2011File under: beard

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Winter Hiking in PDX

The Columbia River Gorge, just outside of Portland, offers some great, easily accessible, gorgeous hiking (previously covered here). Finding myself in Portland and with a willing hiking partner, I set out to enjoy and explore on what turned out to be a gorgeously sunny winter day.

The hike we chose was Eagle Creek to High Bridge* just 45 minutes up river. The terrain was easy and well-maintained, if a little muddy in parts. The scenery was amazing, with gorges, waterfall(s), views, and a beautiful river.

We saw quite a few people setting out from here loaded with backpacks, presumably for multi-day hikes. This made me so jealous that I just about tried to teach the dog to feed the chickens and vice versa here at my current housesitting house and set out on a backpacking trip of my own. Next time I will plan better and make it a reality.

Yep, with such an amazing taste of the outdoors, I'm planning at least one more good hike before I leave the Portland area. Any readers out there want to come along?
Sunday February 20 2011File under: Portland, hiking

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FC 134 - A Clown and a Ninja Walk Into a Bar...

Funny how a comic can pan out. I drew this whole comic except for the clown and ninja with a completely different caption in mind. But with it all together, I found it lacking. Then, with a bam and a boom, this is what I got. I like this much better. It just goes to show you that the original plan isn't always the best and you should always keep an open mind along the way.

For those of you who don't remember back to the early days of Friday Comics, the clown and ninja are an allusion back to these couple comics from over 2 years ago. In reading back over the comments from when those were posted, I realized 1) the body of readers I have is quite different than today* 2) I think there really might be something to this clown and ninja combo. Perhaps I'll add them to the list of my recurring characters along with the Hippie Mafia.
Thursday February 17 2011File under: comic

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Roses Are Red 2011


Roses do pale
Compared to your beauty
Your angelic face
And your smoking booty

Roses are red
I give them to you
As the smallest gesture
That my love is true

Roses are red
Tomatoes are redder
I like my pizza
Covered in cheddar

@};-s are :-)
And signify <3
Emoticons make me LOL
At least sort of

Giving her roses
Might get you humped
But not giving them
Could get you dumped

I gave her my heart
Along with a rose
Then how come I'm not
The one that she chose

It's that time of year again, time for the 5th annual Roses are Red showcase! For you longtime readers, you know the drill. For the first-timers, here are the guidelines:
     1) Poems must basically follow the standard Roses are red rhyme/stress scheme
     2) Your poem must include either "red"" or "roses"
     3) Anonymous posting is totally acceptable
     4) Submit as many poems as you like and be as creative as you like

For inspiration (or to have a good laugh), check out previous years' submissions: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.

(Oh, and I fixed the line break problem, so <br /> after lines is not necessary)
Sunday February 13 2011File under: poetry

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FC 133 - One Mans Trash...

Partially inspired by real life events, partially social commentary, and partially an attempt at being just plain funny, this comic has a lot of parts. It also has a lot of words, not exactly how I prefer my comics. I was debating turning it into a three panel, but that's just so much work (and I was already cutting corners on this with the repeated background). Anyway, I hope I didn't make the font too small that it is unreadable. I know for a fact that there will need to be some reworking for it before it goes in Friday Comics 2: Yep, Another Book*.

So a question for you: did you read the long speech bubble first or the one from the boss? It won't make sense if you read the long one first, but I can see how one might, being that it is higher up. Oh the intricacies of making comics.

While this idea started out as a total joke, I wonder if at some point, somewhere, this idea was actually thought of in these terms, if not in boosting the economy, at least inflating profits at airport stands. I've heard of the government doing crazier things...
Thursday February 10 2011File under: comic

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Greenhouse Building

My greenhouse is bigger than your greenhouse. In fact, when it's done, my greenhouse will be bigger than your actual house.*

Okay, so maybe it isn't mine. It's at the quarry, land of hippies and pirates. But I'm helping put it up and I will be growing lots of yummy things in it for years to come. But before it is used for growing food, it will be used for precious precious dry space, to help facilitate getting moving the shipping container so we can get the warehouse up.

Yep, working at the quarry is satisfying. Seeing the vision ever so slowly come together, being part of shaping the amazing concept, and working with fun people is really exactly what I need right now. And you could have it too. We are now to a point of considering/encouraging/begging for new investors.

Update: I was just so excited the project was happening, I posted before everything was done. Here are a few remaining pictures to round things out. (Thanks to Comrade Jules for the pics!). Big piece of plastic, playing on the roof, dry covered space, c'est fin
Tuesday February 8 2011File under: quarry

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FC 132 - Tie-Dye Tuxedo

Procedural note: I don't how many of you actually read this blurb I include with the Friday Comic or if you read it before or after opening the comic. If it matters, I assume that you are reading this blurb *after* opening the comic, so I don't try to conceal spoilers. If you are in the habit of reading the blurb first, please take that into account. That is all.

I haven't been this excited about a comic in quite a while, not so much for how it turned out (although I'm not displeased with the outcome) but more just for the idea. In my excitement, I was thinking this could turn into a whole series or even a whole new comic! But then I realized I'm just barely getting one comic per week out and adding to that might not be the most feasible thing. There is a chance, however, of the Hippie Mafia making a return in a future comic. Perhaps they could be battled by Moon Man.
Thursday February 3 2011File under: comic

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