Built on Facts

Happy New Year!

Real-life physics can be a pain.

New Year’s Eve I went with an old high school friend of mine to meet some people and shoot fireworks. This concluded at a little before one in the morning, and after that we left. We wanted to catch up on what had been happening some more and so we drove around town for a few minutes before heading to our respective homes. Unfortunately we hit an unfamiliar gravel road (this is kind of a rural area) and in the process of turning around we got stuck in the mud. Well, I say “we”. Both of us were stuck by virtue of being in the same vehicle, but he was behind the wheel so I claim innocence of bad driving.

Call it friction, or lack thereof.

It was pretty slick clay, and so the usual tricks didn’t work. We tried rocking the vehicle, wedging some found pieces of wood under the tires, and a few other things but nothing worked. No friction, no way to turn rotation into forward progress.

About the time I was calling my brother to get my family’s truck to come help, a police car showed up. As you probably know, I do tend to have a libertarian-ish skepticism of lots of public policy involving law enforcement, but in practice of course individual police are usually good people who do a difficult, dangerous, and important job while maintaining professionalism and courtesy. These guys were no exception, and between them and my brother’s truck we tried and failed to get my friend’s truck out of the mud with some old straps the police happened to have. The straps snapped.

Call it tension, or the lack thereof.

After some more ineffectual efforts, one police officer suggested that once the problem was solved we should go buy some real rope and keep it in the vehicle. But since the vehicle really belonged to my friend’s family instead of him (his was in the shop) I wondered if there actually was some rope in there that we might have overlooked. I checked, and there was. So within ten minutes we were out of the mud. Too bad we had spent almost two hours stuck without knowing about that rope. But at least we were out, and we thanked the cops profusely and went home. I typed this and went to bed.

And that was how I spent the first little bit of Anno Domini MMIX. Not ideal, but at least interesting. I hope your celebrations were both ideal and interesting!

Happy new year, and here’s to our continuing exploration of physics!


  1. #1 Carl Brannen
    January 1, 2009

    While I was born in Texas, I grew up in the drier regions of New Mexico (former Texas). One of the problems people like that tend to have is to underestimate the ability of Texas mud to inconvenience a car. My brother had an experience of this sort which started with having to pull a fallen tree off of a fence and, after a succession of vehicles got stuck in mud puddles, ended when the post hole digger on the back of my uncle’s brand new tractor was loose. It extended and dug a hole in the road while my brother was driving down the road. This broke it off.