Keith’s Winter Driving Tips

Some common-sense tips for driving in the snow and ice of winter.

With all the snow & ice hitting us up here in the northeast US, I figured it was time to try and educate people about how to drive in the snow… because, seriously, a lot of people seem to have a real problem with it. So here goes.

Slow down

If you do just one thing while driving in the snow, it should be to slow down. Pretend that everything is happening in slow motion. In the snow, or really any time the roads are very slippery, everything you try to do takes longer to happen. This means you need to do things more slowly/gradually: accelerate slower, brake slower, and turn slower.

Check your tires

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got AWD, 4WD, traction control, anti-lock brakes, etc., unless your tires can get some grip. If you’ve got summer tires, or worn down “all-season” tires, this more than outweighs any advantage from those sorts of systems.

This is especially true if you’ve got low-profile, high-performance sport tires – if you have these sorts of tires on your (sports) car, you should really just stay home and keep off the roads. (And that goes double for people driving luxury SUVs which often come with “sporty” tires which are absolute rubbish in the snow.)

Acronyms don’t make you invincible

This is something that really needs to be drilled into people’s minds. Yes, 4-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) is great, and yes, it gives you extra traction… for getting moving. But keep in mind that when it comes time to turn, or to stop, you still have the same number of wheels (and brakes) as everyone else on the road.

4WD/AWD will help keep you from getting stuck in the snow, but that’s about it.

Clear all the snow from your car

Yes, I know it’s annoying to have to clear all that snow off your car, and it can be tempting to just clear the windows and go… but there are a lot of good reasons to take the extra time and effort to clear the rest of the snow off your car.

If you have a tall vehicle (say, an SUV, which is probably why you don’t want to make the effort to get the snow off in the first place since it’s harder to get at) then all that snow is adding weight to your car, and adding it up high like that makes you rather top heavy – or to put it simply, you’re more likely to flip over.

And let’s also not forget that eventually that snow is going to come flying off your car – and then just think about the poor person behind you.

Turn on your lights

I’m seriously amazed at how many people I see driving in the snow without their headlights on. Many of them are driving white or silver cars, which makes it even worse.

Many states (something like 20 the last time I checked, including New York and New Jersey) have a “wipers on, lights on” rule, and for a very good reason – when visibility is reduced due to rain, fog, or snow, turning on your headlights makes it easier for other people to see (and, critically, avoid) you.

I hope that some of these tips have helped someone out there – driving in the snow really is not that complicated, you just need to keep your wits about you and make sure you have the right equipment.

If you have any winter driving tips of your own to share, feel free to share them in the comments!

Telescope Tale

This is a story about a stupid mistake. I’m sure that many people who read this story will figure out the mistake before I get to the end, but needless to say, I didn’t figure it out, and neither did 3 other camera/telescope experts. So, perhaps there are other people out there just like me who have gotten stumped by this particular problem before. This story is for them – for everyone else, just enjoy laughing at my expense. 😉

For my 30th Birthday, I got a Meade ETX-80AT BB (the “backpack observatory” edition) telescope. Needless to say, I was excited.

So, I unpacked it from the box and set it up for the first time in my house – to get used to it, and make sure all the parts were there. Turned it on, moved it around… worked great! I couldn’t wait to take it out and try it.

So I broke it down and prepared to put it in the backpack, and here’s where the problem cropped up:

The scope wouldn’t fit in the backpack.

I called Meade to see if maybe I had gotten the wrong backpack, or if they had heard of people calling in with a similar problem (maybe I was just missing something?). They didn’t have any help – they would just have me ship the scope back to them and wait over a month for them to have new ones in stock before they’d even ship me a replacement. No thanks.

So I went back to my local camera store (Madison Photo Plus, in Madison, NJ in case anyone cares – very nice people there, as we’ll see) and asked if maybe we could swap out the bag from another one? I had thought that perhaps I had somehow gotten a back meant for a smaller scope – the ETX-70 or something, perhaps.

The people at the store – and this is a proper camera store mind you – wanted to look into it a bit more. They called their Meade sales rep (no help there), and then decided to compare with the floor model.

The scope didn’t fit in that bag, either. Perhaps there was a problem with ALL of the scopes they had??

All of us were sitting there scratching our heads. The scope definitely wouldn’t fit in the bag – it needed at least another inch, maybe two. The 3 camera store people and myself were stumped.

Eventually they decided they would give me a different hard-case temporarily so I could carry my scope around (as I said, they’re nice people) when, on a whim, one of the guys picked up the display scope off its tripod and brought it over to the counter – it was smaller than my scope!

Now, I’m sure there are people reading this who have already figured out the problem, but bear with me here, I’m trying to build drama in this story.

Suffice to say we were confused. They were perfectly happy to give me the display model – maybe we had somehow gotten the wrong scope? But something didn’t sit right with me – they both said 80mm on the end of the tube; they were clearly the same scope… but not the same size…

I examined them side by side to see what was different. The tube on mine was longer than the tube on the display model. I took the dust covers off both scopes and looked down the tube… and saw a metal rod in the display scope. In my scope, that same rod was there, but it was recessed further in the tube.

I showed it to one of the camera store people and a light went off in his head. The metal rod was threaded – it was used to make the tube longer and shorter – THE FOCUS! OF COURSE!

When I had been setting up the scope in my house, I had pointed it out the window at my porch and tried to focus on that. Naturally, that was very close to the “near” end of the focus range. Which naturally extended the tube.

It was a very head-slapping moment. I turned the focus nob back all the way in the other direction, and sure enough, the tube shortened and fit in the backpack just as it should. Problem solved!

All of us admitted that we should’ve known this was the problem, but we were blinded by the mystery of the bag, so we missed the obvious answer.

And so, my tip for any new ETX-80 owners out there is… when you put the scope back in its bag, if it doesn’t fit, just turn the focus nob the other way!

So simple – like many problems once you know what the cause is.

Anyway, I hope that this story helps someone out there… otherwise I’m going to feel really stupid!