Writing Samples

Here are some writing samples to show the folks at FreethoughtBlogs that I can construct English sentences and paragraphs 8-).

I’ve never been a blogger before, and my only published work has been in the form of papers that I’ve presented at meetings of the ISO standards committee for the C++ programming language.

A Big Decimal Type is a paper I hope to present at the meeting coming up in February.  It’s more of a “What’s your interest?” paper, and so it’s written more in the style of a tutorial to explain what the idea is.

And for an even more technical paper, the standardese for the one new feature of C++11 that can be attributed to me can be found in Non-static data member initializers.  The section called “The proposal” is by Michael Spertus who had the original idea; the rest is my work.

What I’d write for FtB would be in a more conversational style.  Following are examples of what my posts will probably be like, beginning with the text I’d like for the top of the column on the left of the web page.  That’s followed by what could be my “Hello” post, a very short blub that I wrote back in my broadcast engineering days, and a couple of posts introducing an Amtrak trip that I’ll be taking in February.

[what I imagine as the “this is me” blurb on the left]

Bill Seymour always wanted to be a fireman when he grew up, but he never had the vulgate for the firin’, so he became a computer programmer instead.  A wires-and-pliers guy by training and first vocation, he has no academic credentials of any consequence; and as is often the case with autodidacts, his knowledge reflects his interests more than his needs.

He fully supports the A+ idea that, despite not having a preacher to tell him how to act, he’s still obliged to get through the day without being a jerk.

Hello, World

OK, here’s my first post on FreethoughtBlogs.

I’m a retired computer programmer who continues to serve on the ISO standards committee for the C++ programming language.  One of the reasons that I retired from my day job after June of ’22, aside from being 76 years old, is that, for the last several years, I’d been writing nothing but Java, which I found rather frustrating.

I’m also quite the geek when it comes to riding on passenger trains.  I’m not at all nostalgic about them; I just think that trains are a good way to travel today.

I’ll probably write mostly about C++ and riding on Amtrak; but I reserve the right to become obsessed when someone is wrong on the Internet.

For my commenting policy, I’ll start out using PZ’s Pharyngula as a model.  We’ll see how that goes.  If a comment points out some error I made in a post, I’ll acknowledge the error in a comment of my own and fix it like Mano does.

I’ll begin with a very short rant from my wires-and-pliers days, just to have something out there besides this “Howdy” post.  Around the first of February, I’ll describe a trip that I’ll be taking to Issaquah, Washington, to attend a meeting of the ISO C++ committee.

Please feel free to suggest other topics that I might know something about, including digital electronics from the SSI and MSI TTL era (back in the early ’80s I designed and built an EKG machine with a microprocessor in it for Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, implementing my boss’ PhD thesis in a more practical way), and listener-supported FM broadcasting.  I’ve also worked for a couple of commercial radio stations, and I once had a 1st Phone (which is no longer a thing), but I was always weak in the practical aspects of RF, being mostly an audio guy.

Great Moments in Broadcasting

KRAB 107.7 FM Seattle - The Doughnut shop

I remember KRAB (FM, Seattle)* with its programming of Indian classical music, a pipa concert, two hours of Korean temple bells**, things like that, often with European classical music and country blues mixed in.

I remember the old Collins transmitter that sported serial number three, and that we finally had to get a new exciter for since nobody made phasitrons any more.

I remember the antenna up on the telephone pole that you had to go hit with a two-by-four on those rare occasions when the snow started sticking.

And I remember one night when everything, except time, stopped dead.***  What happened was that the accumulated muck and filth in the old converted doughnut shop (sans janitor) had caused the blower that cooled one of the power tubes to stop blowing; and the melted and mangled 7C24 became an objet d‘art that hung around the station for months.

So now you know what I consider my salad days.

*Yes, I was there, although the picture at the top of this post is from before my time.  I’m on the cover of the August ’71 Program Guide just left of the gate.  I’m sitting on a big metal box that housed the electric company’s transformer that supplied power to the transmitter.

Hey, PZ:  do you remember Jon Gallant, a biology professor at the University of Washington?  He’s also in the photo.

I heard rumors, not confirmed by me, that the fellow on the far right, Tiny Freeman, was the engineer in the opening title sequence of Petticoat Junction.  It seems that he was one of the few people who could still safely operate a 4-4-0 American at track speed.

**One of KRAB’s more infamous programs:  the kid playing the temple bells tape thought, “That was cool; I’ll turn it over and play the other side.”  Uh…it was a full-track tape, and so he played the whole thing backwards (and thought that was even cooler).  That was before my time, but it was a well-established part of the station’s tribal lore.

***“…everything, except time, stopped dead” shamelessly borrowed from an essay by the late Greg Palmer written during his time as station manager.  I’m pretty sure it was in a KRAB Program Guide, but I can’t remember which one and can’t find it.  In any event, that wonderful turn of phrase is not my work.

What You’ll Find on Amtrak Trains

I want to begin with a more general post about riding trains in the U.S.  This will be followed by posts about my next Amtrak trip.

Overnight trains that run west of the Mississippi River, and the Capitol Limited between Chicago and D.C., use Amtrak’s double-decker “Superliner” equipment.  All eastern trains excep the Capitol Limited, and currently all corridor trains pretty much everywhere, have single-level rolling stock because many stations have high-level platforms which are too high for Superliner doors, and there are lots of places where there’s not enough overhead clearance for the taller cars.

On all Superliner equipment, movement between cars can happen only on the upper level.


Single-level coaches come in basically two varieties.  The “Horizon” coaches, which are really old, are used only on corridors, but not in the northeast.  “Amfleet” coaches, which have a more rounded appearance on the outside, can have fairly tight seating on corridor trains, but more legroom on long-distance trains.  There are two toilets and a luggage rack at one end of the car.  There are also overhead luggage racks on each side over the seats.

There are also two types of Superliner coaches.  Most have accessible seating on the lower level; some have a locked room for checked baggage instead of the accessible seating.  All have only seating and overhead luggage racks on the upper level.  All the toilets are on the lower level, and there’s a place down there as well where you can store luggage that you don’t want to lug up the stairs.


Single-level overnight trains have “Viewliner” sleepers, all of which have three “bedrooms” with couches that convert to upper and lower berths along with private sinks, toilets, and showers.  A wall between two of the bedrooms can be opened up to give you a “bedroom suite”; an accessible bedroom is the third.

Most Viewliners have twelve “roomettes”, not the roomettes of old, but more like the old open sections (a pair of facing seats that convert to upper and lower berths), but with walls and a door instead of just curtains for privacy.  Each of the roomettes has its own sink and toilet, and there’s a communal shower at the end of the car.

A newer model of the Viewliner, currently used only on the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York, lacks the plumbing in the roomettes and instead has communal toilets at the end of the car, and fewer roomettes to make room for them.  I’ve never ridden in one, so I don’t know the exact configuration.

Superliners have five bedrooms on the upper level.  Rooms B and C, and rooms D and E, are mostly mirror images of each other and can be opened up into bedroom suites.  The sofa-berth modules, which include the room’s main electrical outlet, are rotations, not reflections, the result being that the outlet is near the window in rooms B and D, but on the wrong side of the room (IMO) in rooms C and E.  In room A, the sink-toilet-shower module has a different orientation that results in less floor space.  I’ve heard that some passengers get claustrophobic in room A, but I’m not one of the them.  The good news is that there’s an electrical outlet in the sink area in the middle of room A, and you can run your extension cord where you won’t be in danger of stepping on it.

Superliners have fourteen roomettes, ten on the upper level (room 1 being reserved for the car attendant) and four on the lower level.  None have any plumbing.  There’s a toilet next to room 1 and three others and a shower on the lower level.  Also on the lower level, in addition to a luggage rack, are a “family room”, a couch that converts to adult-sized upper and lower berths and facing seats that convert to child-sized berths, and an accessible bedroom with a roomette-type seat-berth module on one side, a wheelchair lockdown and sink in the middle, and a toilet on the other side with a curtain for privacy.  The family room and accessible bedroom occupy the entire width of the car.

Food service:

Corridor trains will likely have either a “dinette” with a counter in the middle where you can get a variety of snacks, potables, and plastic-wrapped microwaved stuff, and tables on either end.  Some have a “café car” with the counter in the middle, tables on one end, and “business class” seating on the other end.

It used to be that all overnight trains had proper diners where you could have a nice sit-down meal of freshly cooked food.  Unfortunately, COVID was an excuse for Amtrak to cut back on food service, providing only reheated pre-packaged meals, some of which are less awful than others.  They’ve restored real diners to most Superliner trains and to the Lake Shore Limited, but the Texas Eagle and Capitol Limited have “Cross-country Cafés” which serve the reheated stuff.  All the eastern overnight trains except the Lake Shore Limited have only dinettes that serve the reheated stuff.  (The Lake Shore has both a diner and a dinette.)

In any event, meals are included in sleeper fares, but passengers in coach have to pay.

Superliners also have a “Sightseer Lounge” with a café and tables on the lower level.

My geeky setup:

Over the years I’ve enhanced my experience somewhat with three pieces of electronic equipment that I have to plug in (which explains why I felt the need to rant above about where the outlet is in Superliner bedrooms).

I’ll have a laptop displaying a map, and a GPS receiver plugged into a USB port, so I’ll always know where I am. 8-)  In the past, I’ve used Delorme’s Street Atlas, but they went out of business, and I can’t install the older version on my computer’s Windows 10 partition (and it would never have run on Linux in any event).  On this trip, I’ll be trying out something called Maptitude for the first time.  We’ll see how that goes.  I also couldn’t find a Windows 10 I/O driver for my really old USGlobalSat BU-353 receiver, so I’ve upgraded to the BU-353N.  I have no idea what that will improve, if anything.

I’ll also have a scanner that I bought from Radio Shack many years ago, and a small device that can plug into the headphone jack on the scanner and generate a bluetooth signal that feeds my hearing aids.  The scanner is programmed with all the railroad frequencies, so I’ll be able to eavesdrop on the conversations between the conductors, engineers, and dispatchers, none of which are usually of any interest to anyone but a train geek like me.


Sometimes, a dispatcher will give a train some special restriction, like a slow order around some place where the track is being maintained, or some special permission, like permission to pass a known faulty signal or permission to run on unsignalled track.  The dispatcher will issue a “track warrant” in the west, or a “form D” in the east, which the engineer must then repeat verbatim.  I remember one engineer, a newbie I guess, who thought that he could paraphrase the track warrant, and the dispatcher would have none of it.  After two or three repetions, the conductor took over and repeated the track warrant correctly, and the train could continue.  (Minimizing the chance of human error is a really big deal on the railroad.)

I’ll also hear trackside faulty equipment detectors sounding off.  That’ll be an electronically generated voice saying something like:

U P detector milepost three eight five point seven   no defects   repeat no defects   axle count three six   train speed seven nine M P H   detector out
Detectors can warn about any dragging equipment or an overheated axle bearing.  The axle count assures the crew that the train hasn’t separated somewhere.

My Next Amtrak Trip

I’m headed to a meeting of the C++ standards committee in Issaquah, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.  This will be my first train ride since COVID, and I’m looking forward to it.

Date Train From To Accommodation
Nbr. Name When Where When Where
0 Th 2-2 302 Lincoln Service 06:40 St. Louis 12:05 Chicago Biz. Class
7 Empire Builder 15:05 Chicago   Bedroom
1 Fr 2-3 On the Train
2 Sa 2-4   11:29 Seattle
[my feet] [station] [hotel]
 Spend the night at the Embassy Suites
3 Su 2-5  Check out Pike Place Market and the Aquarium
[taxi] Seattle Issaquah
 Begin six nights at the Hilton Garden Inn
4–9 Mo–Sa  WG21 meeting
9 Sa 2-11  Meeting ends around noon…have lunch at the meeting hotel
[taxi] 15:30 Issaquah 16:00 Seattle
8 Empire Builder 16:55 Seattle   Bedroom
10 Su 2-12 On the Train
11 Mo 2-13   16:45 Chicago
 Spend the night at the Holiday Inn
12 Tu 2-14 319 Lincoln Service 09:30 Chicago 14:50 St. Louis Biz. Class

I’m allowing an extra day westbound just in case the Builder gets stuck in a snowdrift…or something.  That also gives me a chance to do some touristy things in Seattle where I haven’t been in ages.  I’ll also spend the last night at a hotel just three blocks south of Chicago’s Union Station because the Builder often runs late, and there’s the danger of missing the connection to the next train home.

Between Chicago and St. Louis, I’ll take a couple of corridor trains.  Prior to COVID, we had four “Lincoln Service” round trips per day, two of which would run through St. Louis, where they would change their names to “Missouri River Runner”, and continue to Kansas City.  COVID was an excuse for Amtrak to cut service; so we now have just three daily Lincoln Service round trips, and only one Missouri River Runner per day.

The Lincoln Service trains typically have four cars, three coaches and a café car with very comfortable 2-1 business-class seating.  I’ll have biz.-class seats between Chicago and St. Louis which will also get me one complimentary non-alcoholic beverage.

St. Louis is also served by an overnight train, the Texas Eagle, that runs daily between Chicago and San Antonio.  Three days per week, one coach and one sleeper from the Eagle get switched in San Antonio to or from another train called the Sunset Limited that runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles.  I might change my mind and get a roomette on the Eagle for the last leg home.  I’ll decide when I get back to Chicago.

Between Chicago and Seattle, I’ll be riding on the Empire Builder.  Trains 7 and 27 run as a single train to Spokane, Washington, where they split in two, train 7 going to Seattle, and train 27 going to Portland, Oregon.  Trains 8 and 28 recombine in Spokane.  Train 7 turns south around Everett, Washington, and then runs down along the ocean, eventually along Puget Sound, and then into a tunnel that leads to Seattle’s King Street Station.  Train 27 heads down to Pasco, Washington, and then along the northern bank of the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington, where it crosses the river and heads back east a bit to Portland Union Station.

The Builder uses Superliners as expected.  The Seattle section usually has a baggage car, a crew sleeper, two revenue sleepers, a diner, and two accessible coaches.  The Portland section is typically just four cars long, a Sightseer Lounge, an accessible coach, a coach-bag, and a sleeper.

More detailed timetables for the trains I’ll be taking can be found here and here.

Beginning shortly will be a series of posts about the trip which might read something like a live blog, but won’t be live.  I plan on a single post per day, probably around bedtime.