Ferroequinologist, I am not

Despite the insane amount of information the internet holds, sometimes I feel like it’s missing something crucial.  It may be a piece of information, or it may just need to rephrase the existing information in a way that I can grok, but in either case I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that the internet hasn’t anticipated and met my needs.

Here’s a simple example: the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, PA.  Not much there to get, right?  But wait….

I even remember what sparked this knowledge scavenger hunt.  Daniel Maidman mentioned on one of his blog posts that the curve was so important that the Nazis wanted to sabotage it.  I thought um, really?  So I resolved to do my own research.

Wikipedia confirms Maidman’s claims, and also reinforced the special snowflakeness of the curve; it’s an engineering marvel.

Wait.  What makes it to marvelous?  Ok, it’s a curve.  It looks kinda cool from above.  But none of this tells me why it’s so awesome that the Nazis took some time out of their busy schedules to plan some railway tomfoolery.

More research; the mountains make it difficult to build train lines.  That makes sense.  If this line is the only option for shipping stuff, then it would be pretty damn important.  But the thing is, this curve has a name.  This curve has a Wikipedia article devoted to it.  This curve is unique in a way the thousands of other miles of train tracks are not.  What’s so damned impressive about this curve in particular?

I found videos on youtube of trains going around the curve.  At first I felt really left out because I watched them and couldn’t understand the sense of effusive excitement which permeated the comments.  Then I realized that I am missing the part of the brain that lets them appreciate trains like I appreciate a good muffin.

Or maybe sex.

So I kicked around the interwebs some more, reading about how it’s so engineeringly marvelous and all the while missing the answer to my pesky question of why?  I forget where the epiphany hit me; it was probably due to some offhand youtube comment about the gradient of the tracks.  But I realized that the curve’s so awesome because it gave the trains enough space to gradually ascend some really steep terrain that…erm…they hadn’t been able to, before.  And it was built back in the 1850’s, so that’s an amazing achievement in its own right, I guess.  Especially ‘cause it’s still in use.  Or something.

Ok, I guess I’m still waiting for my epiphany.  I suspect that anyone who bothers to write about trains in the internet expects that the only other people who’re going to bother reading it will be able to grasp the obstacles the engineers must have overcome in order to build tracks through the mountains.  Not I.  I need them spelled out to me, with footnotes.

This is the same problem I ran into when trying to understand the Singularity and the arrow of time and the noosphere and….  I can read all I want, but something’s not clicking.

Maybe I’m missing the part of the brain which allows me to grok SF concepts.  Some SF concepts.  For example, I am demonstrably better at handling time travel than Shu is.

Grokking time travel’s still not better than muffins, though.

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