Maybe cell phones on planes isn’t a bad idea after all

The eastbound California Zephyr arrives at the Davis train station
It was interesting taking my first long-distance trip outside of California recently. I decided to take Amtrak’s California Zephyr from Davis, Calif. to my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah.
The eastbound train ride was exceptional and it arrived in SLC an hour early. Caveat emptor — the train will more than likely be delayed at least at little bit. For example, the westbound train into SLC was six hours late.
I didn’t turn my cell phone off during the trip and took a phone call from my dad shortly before arriving at a stop in Nevada. This call had me rethinking my thoughts about allowing cell phone use on airplanes.
My call seemed perfectly natural. After excusing myself from the companions I was occasionally speaking, I leaned toward the window and had the conversation quietly. Earlier, another passenger was texting and making phone calls and I could barely notice.
If I could have a reasonable conversation while aboard a train, couldn’t people do the same on an airplane?
Maybe 95 percent of the time, people will be discreet on the phones while flying. As people against on-board phone calls will point out, there are always going to be louts, loud-mouths and people who otherwise will be intrusive. My thinking is that they will be intrusive anyway and cell phones will probably add little to the equation.
After all, two young children boarded the train and they were plenty loud without the need of a cell phone. For what seemed like hours, the pair loudly commented on matters such as the price of the on-board meals and unwillingness to eat dry cereal for breakfast the following morning. Heaven forbid what would happen if they were given cell phones.
Of course, the train truly is a different beast than other forms of transportation. Driving in a car is a distinctly individual experience or one done with families and friends. A plane or a bus is often just a means of getting from Point A to Point B. They turn the seat belt light off, but how many people really feel like moving about the cabin? Most people remain restrained in their sardine-like seats.
On a train, the accommodations are more spacious and people mingle and converse more freely (if they choose). If people get really loud, one can easily move forward in the train and sit in the lounge (which I did at least once).
Despite my earlier reservations, I think cell phones could have a place on board airplanes — provided it costs less than it does to check a bag these days.

Panorama from the fires

Staging at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds
I was shooting some photos around the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds last Thursday just after firefighters had received their marching orders and were about to head to the hills to fight fires. A member of the West Sacramento Fire Department was nice enough to let me climb atop one of their engines. Switching the camera into “stitch” mode, I snapped off a couple of quick photos.
Using computer software, I sewed the photos together into this panorama. Some people around the office enjoyed it, so I’m happy to offer it here as well.
It was interesting seeing so many firefighting vehicles in one place. I hope they were used to maximum efficiency fighting the blazes of the Butte Lightning Fire Complex.

Fire thoughts

Since the fires started on June 21, a couple of thoughts have been in my head.
– Wednesday (July 9) was the initial date Cal Fire estimated for containment of the blazes. Odd how it seemed so far away when it first came out three weeks ago. Now that the first date has passed, I’m wondering when containment will be accomplished.
– It’s interesting how the most destructive fire thus far is the one that wasn’t even detected at first. It took a couple of days for fire officials to find the Camp Fire through the smoke layer. Unfortunately, everyone knows where the Camp Fire has burned since then.
The most important thought is that I hope everyone remains safe during this momentous event.

Outrage: Does Disney endorses cannibalism …

… of robots?
In the latest Disney/Pixar movie, “Wall•E,” the eponymous main character is seen replacing its body parts for others. When the robot’s treads grow worn, he plucks a new pair off his dead brother laying on the side of the road. The same thing when he breaks his eye or a circuit board.
What sort of sick, twisted message is Disney trying to advance here? Can you imagine kids on the playground breaking their arm and trying to grab a new one off their schoolmate?
Actually, I can’t.
I think it’s a great credit to the Pixar team that they were able to create such an identifiable — dare I say cute? — characters such as Wall•E and EVE and yet maintain their non-humanity as robots. EVE has a giant gun as an arm, for heaven’s sake.
Despite my mock outrage, I thoroughly enjoyed “Wall•E” and place it among the top of Pixar’s excellent heap of quality animated films.
Unlike recent Pixar films, such as “Ratatouille” and “Cars,” there was no huge identifiable villain. For various reasons, some robots were set against each other. However, they’re not “evil” — they’re just following the programming set by the human designers.
The two protagno-bots were different in that they were able to somehow exceed their programming. In same ways this transformation was inevitable for a movie (because it would be lame if they didn’t break out of their metallic shells).
Of course, when these metallic antagonists are sidelined, there’s some satisfaction but there’s no great joy. The triumph of “Wall•E” lies not in defeating tangible enemies, but winning something greater — freedom, love and a chance at a new life.
That’s no huge spoiler for the film. As with any great movie, the enjoyment is in the journey and how the story is told. “Wall•E” continues Pixar’s grand tradition of using animation to tell very enjoyable, out-of-this-world stories.