Great Driving Roads

Recently I’ve found some absolutely wonderful driving roads here in NJ – in Morris and Union Counties, actually.

The first is a series of roads that winds their way through (and around) the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately they are often clogged by cyclists, and of course there’s probably a lot of animals around (turtles, deer, that sort of thing). And the speed limit is rather low, but even still, they are very nice twisty roads – and they just re-paved them the other day, so they are quite smooth & well graded. A really nice drive, whether you go fast or slow.

The second is the roads through and around Watchung Reservation – again, some very fun and curvy roads that are just a blast to… well, blast through. Again, of course, watch out for cyclists, animals, and of course the speed limits. But most fun roads have that speed limit problem… just use your own best judgment when traversing these roads.

That’s all I have for now, but rest assured I will let you know if I find any other great driving roads (and I am always looking). If you know of any great driving roads around here, or around where you are, or even just wherever, feel free to post them in the comments.

Have fun driving!

On the Road: New York

New York drivers are much like their New Jersey neighbors, except without the strange phobia of left turns.

Actually that’s not entirely fair – as you get further away from New Jersey, New York drivers take on a style all their own.

And it’s a fast style.

Although they retain the irritating habit of slowing down for no reason, by and large you are more likely to find New York drivers doing 120% of the posted speed limit on the Interstate – if not more. They do also tend to fall into “lemming” mode and do whatever the person in front of them / around them is doing, regardless of why (which irritates me to no end), but all in all they aren’t bad drivers at all. Though I’ve never driven in New York City… but that’s really a whole different world and doesn’t count.

New York drivers are also less likely to cut you off than a driver from New Jersey, they are more likely to tailgate very, very close to you if you don’t get out of their way.

Still, as I said, not bad drivers at all (all things considered).

Next time: Connecticut!

Behind the Wheel: 2007 Suzuki Forenza

Before I even begin, let me just say I’m not really a car person anymore. I mean, they’re fine and all, but they’re just not what I would choose.

So with that out of the way, let me tell you about my recent experiences with a Suzuki Forenza. I had to rent this car to drive to Laconia, New Hampshire from New Jersey – a drive of about 6 hours (each way). So I had plenty of time to get to know the car.

First, some pros: the car’s ride is very comfortable – both the suspension and the seats themselves. I’d even say that the seats are more comfortable than in my own car, and the suspension is definitely better at soaking up bumps. At least – as long as there’s not 4 people in the car.

This leads directly into the cons: When it was just me riding, the car was nimble, maneuverable, and the suspension saved me from having a sore rear end on the highways and side-roads I traveled (this last winter in New England has not been kind to the Interstate highway system, nor to the roads in general in New Hampshire). The car turns quite nicely (as you would expect) and all in all it was a pretty quiet ride (although there was a bit of wind noise at highway speed).

BUT… when there were 4 people in the car, the suspension was seriously taxed. Bumps that I had driven over by myself and hardly noticed now thrashed the car so roughly that I was worried my passengers would hit their heads on the roof!

Of course, this is what happens when you design a suspension like that – it really can’t be helped that much, but it’s something to be aware of.

Another downside of this car is that the engine is very, very weak. Seriously. I would go to merge onto highway traffic, put the gas right down to the floor (literally) and the car would putter along at its own pace until it was happy. It wouldn’t down-shift like I expected when I stomped on the gas – and even when it did (or when I did, by manually moving the automatic shift lever), it didn’t make much difference. The car was trying very hard to stay in its “power band,” but quite honestly it just didn’t have one. Given that the engine is rated at 127 HP, I found it surprisingly sluggish for what must’ve been a very light car. I suspect that the engine and transmission were engineered more for fuel efficiency instead of power.

Speaking of which, the car did quite well on the fuel consumption scale – averaging about 33 miles per gallon at highway speeds. I was able to make the entire 350 mile trip on just under a tank of gas (about 12 gallons). So no complaints there.

The other side of the coin, however, is that the car is a bit tricky to handle on the Interstate highways. It is a light car, and it gets blown around easily from the turbulence in the wake of a big truck, and going around a bend in the highway at speed, and hitting a joint (such as from a bridge or from road work) can make the car feel like it’s just done a little jump – which is unnerving at 65 MPH!!

So in the end, a nice enough little car, and probably quite suitable if you do a lot of in-city driving, where it’s small size and lack of acceleration wouldn’t be much of a concern. But if you do any serious amount of driving on big highways, or if you need to carry more than 2 people, I’d look elsewhere. Though for such an inexpensive car, you can’t blame it. Still, I wouldn’t drive it and I’d be hesitant to recommend it to anyone else.

The Fundamental Difference Between New Jersey and Massachusetts Drivers

I’ve finally figured it out – the fundamental difference between Massachusetts drivers (of which I am, sadly, one) and New Jersey drivers (which I have been spending a lot of time around lately, for obvious reasons).

I’ve complained before that there’s something unnerving about going to a part of the country where people drive differently. People complain about it as well, without knowing it – it’s why people from other states are always proclaimed to be too slow, too stupid, or whatever. It doesn’t matter where you’re from; people from other states always suck.

However – in this case, I’m just dealing with the two states I have experience with – Massachusetts and New Jersey. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

New Jersey Drivers are suicidal; Massachusetts drivers are homicidal.

When you think about it, it really works well. I’ll leave it to you to think of all the implications. ;-)

On Directions

I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to directions – driving directions, that is. In most cases, I find directions (given by other people) to be unhelpful – I prefer to just get an address and then use either the atlas/map books I have in my car, or Google Maps to find my way. Strangely enough, as an admitted gadget freak, I shun the use of GPS systems.

Why is this, you might ask? Let me explain.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I used to work as a courier in the city of Boston and surrounding areas. Because of this, I learned to find my way around with nothing but a map and an address for the destination. This was in the days before GPS units became common as they are today (although they did exist at the time, I just could never hope to afford one). Additionally, a GPS unit takes time to input a destination, and if you get off track… well, sometimes they’re good at getting you back on track. And sometimes they take you by very strange routes. (Just Google for some stories of GPS units taking people down streets that don’t exist, or telling them to turn off of cliffs – and some people just blindly follow these directions!) As a courier, having a map with a clear view of all the surrounding streets – the “context,” so to speak – was far more helpful than turn-by-turn GPS navigation. So, this might have some bearing on my “direction preference.”

However, I’m also a computer programmer by trade – and computers, as you may or may not know, are very literal. When writing code, you better say exactly what you mean, because the computer doesn’t have any intelligence to figure out what you meant. It will follow your directions precisely.

As such, dealing with ambiguity is a big part of my work – ambiguity is what causes computer systems to fail, what causes good ideas to become lousy programs, and the main reason that people find certain user interface systems difficult to use. So basically you could say that I abhor ambiguity. And most written or verbal driving directions are inherently ambiguous.

Now, I’m not picking on people’s inability to state precise driving directions here – after all, we’re only human! And to state directions as precisely as would be needed to eliminate ambiguity would require such verbosity that you might as well just walk randomly around the Earth, hoping to arrive at your destination, because that would be faster.

Now, atlases and map books are not perfect – roads change, maps can be inaccurate, and road signs can be misleading – but when I’m navigating to a location using only some maps and my own brain, if I get lost, it’s entirely my fault. And as a programmer, I prefer it that way – it’s more natural to me. After all, if a program crashes, it’s not the computer’s fault – it’s mine, for not writing the code correctly.

And that’s why I’m such a stickler when it comes to getting directions from people. Unless I know them very well, and trust their directions to be accurate to the level I require, or if there are special circumstances that require first-hand directions (strange street layouts, construction, or what have you), I’ll just ask for the street address, and find my way there on my own. I’m not trying to be difficult, it just works out better that way in the end.