Cruise (out of) Control

Ever since the Ferris wheel debuted (at the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago), there’s been an unofficial competition to design and build a taller version.  The original topped out at 80.4 meters all those years ago, while today’s leader – the “High Roller” in Las Vegas – rotates over twice that high.

The “High Roller” in Las Vegas

To complicate the matter, there’s great debate about what defines a Ferris wheel.  The tallest wheels for example – including the High Roller and the London Eye – are labeled “observation wheels” because they’re more than just an amusement.  Newer designs eliminate the spokes and hub to give the illusion of a free-wheeling ring.  Whatever.  Thanks to my acrophobia, even a kiddy amusement park Ferris wheel is thrill-ride enough for me.

Go figure – I enjoy the highest, fastest roller coasters anywhere, but I wimp out when it comes to a standard Ferris wheel.  Why?  Because Ferris wheel gondolas are neither enclosed nor replete with safety bars.  You’re just sitting up there in the open air, 250 feet off the ground, realizing nothing is preventing you from falling (a peek into the mind of an “acrophobe” – you’re welcome).  Conversely, when the roller coaster safety bar ratchets down to the waist, almost taking your breath away, there’s a sense of being one with the coaster, like you can’t possibly fall out.  Much better.

I will never be this guy

Let’s change the channel and focus on big ships.  If you’ve ever taken a cruise, you should be able to name one or more “amusements” you didn’t expect to find in a floating hotel.  Golf driving ranges.  Skeet-shooting.  Water slides.  Again, it’s an unofficial competition.  But what about a roller-coaster, traveling up to 37 mph, with an elegant sweep out over the ocean?  Yep; coming soon to a Carnival Cruise Line ship near you.

I hereby retract my earlier statement about tolerance for roller coasters.  Riding the rails, plunging down towards the ocean and back up to the sky, two hundred feet above the keel of a moving ship – Carnival’s “Bolt” is too much for me and my acrophobia.  Almost a little too much for the coaster’s engineers, too.  They faced a pile of challenges with the design.  What would be the impact of a moving vessel on the gravitational requirements of a roller coaster?  Will the weight of seven hundred feet of track twenty stories above the water tip the ship?  How will the vessel’s structure tolerate the forces of heavy cars speeding here and there?  And what about all that noise?

Put the cart before the horse – as Carnival did – and things get easier.  First design the coaster; then design the ship.  Make the roller coaster cars self-propelled so they don’t depend on gravity.  Eliminate the chains and sprockets in favor of small booster engines to reduce the noise.  Then design a ship keel three football fields in length.  Reengineer the structural elements – from the water up – to accept the distributed forces of the coaster.  Overweight the whole thing so coaster cars can go almost vertical and still not tip the ship.  Behold Carnival’s Mardi Gras – a virtual floating amusement park – breaking the champagne bottle next winter.

I still think a roller coaster on a ship is nuts, but I seem to be out of touch with the latest amusements.  You can already partake in “Sky Pad” – also on Carnival – a bungee-jumping-trampolining-virtual-reality mash-up.  Or Royal Caribbean’s “RipCord”, a column of air for skydiving simulation.  Or Norwegian’s “Ultimate Abyss”, a four-story sort-of toilet bowl, where you’re flushed in circles and dropped down a 200-foot water slide.

If you’ve ever seen Katy Perry’s music video, “Chained to the Rhythm”, you probably laughed at the outlandish amusement park rides, like the coaster with the heart-shaped loop-the-loop, or the pseudo Ferris wheel catapulting riders out into the air.  But considering Carnival’s “Bolt”, maybe Katy’s got a keen eye on the future after all.  As for me, I’ll stay grounded in my local kiddy amusement park.

The future of amusement?

Some content sourced from the 1/8/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “They’re Putting a Roller Coaster on a Cruise Ship”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Sleeping with the Fishes

With Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras celebrations going on this month, you can bet the decibel levels around the world are higher than normal.  Orbit the globe and all you’d have to do is step outside your rocket to catch the sounds of fireworks and blasting dance music.  In this “Year of the Pig”, I find it funny my zodiac animal is the ox.  By Chinese definition I’m “hardworking, intelligent, and reliable”.  But forget about my “oxen” qualities for now.  Today I want to explore my alter-identity as a dolphin.

(Work with me a little, okay? Don’t dump me at Sea World or a performance of “The Little Mermaid”; just hear me out.  My dolphin identity has more legs than my ox.)

First, a question.  How’s your sleep these days (er, these nights)?  Getting your 7-8 hours, are you?  Do you hit the pillow at night and next thing you know it’s sunshine and chirping birds?  Do you wake refreshed and ready to tackle the day? If it’s “yes” to every question, you and your body clock are finely tuned.  To spin it with science, you “respect your circadian rhythms”.  But here’s where it gets interesting.  Body clocks aren’t wound the same way person to person, nor are they set to the same time.  One size most definitely does not fit all.  We are Timexes, Seikos, Bulovas, and Rolexes.  So which chronotype are you?

Chrono-what, you say?  If I steered this post towards a biology lesson, you’d start nodding off right about now (not the way to treat your body clock).  Instead, let’s keep it simple.  Chronotype is essentially your preference for waking early or sleeping in.  We all have a degree of one or the other, and we’ve had it since birth.

Let’s find out more about the “animal” within.  Take the following test from Dr. Michael Breus (“America’s Sleep Doctor!”) – thepowerofwhenquiz.com – and less than a minute from now you’ll know your chronotype.  You’ll also understand more about your propensity for sleep.  No question – I hesitated when I came up dolphin (c’mon, Dr. Breus – I could’ve been a lion, a bear, or a wolf!), but admittedly the description is spot-on.  I’m a light sleeper.  Naps don’t help me.  Attention to detail impacts my productivity (and my sleep).  I hit the sack at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  That’s me.  And that’s the dolphin chronotype.

[Note: the Breus test wants your email to get your animal.  Do it, and then unsubscribe.  Otherwise the good doctor spams your inbox with books, courses, supplements, and other stuff.  You just want your animal.]

To test the validity of chronotypes, I took the Breus test again… posing as my wife.  If my answers for her were correct, she’s a bear (the most common chronotype).  She’s not a light sleeper (Mardi Gras could be booming down the hall and she wouldn’t hear a thing).  She works hard in the day, relaxes at night, and often goes to bed later than I do.  She can sleep later into the morning if she so chooses.  She needs a couple of hours to be fully alert after she rises.  That’s my wife.  And that’s the bear chronotype.

Unfortunately, chronotypes are not as dependable as they sound.  For one, they shift as we age.  For two, they can’t always be respected (i.e. jobs and lifestyle drive us off our body clocks).  Finally, sleep is influenced by myriad factors having nothing to do with chronotypes (i.e. diet and exercise; light levels and sound levels; your dog, who always insists on going out at 3am.)  But chronotypes are built into your DNA, so it behooves you to get to know them a little better.

One last wink of sleep trivia before we part.  You know those nights when you wake up unexpectedly, and you feel completely, utterly out of it?  Like, you can’t even see straight, let alone carry a conscious thought – as if you haven’t slept at all?  That moment is called your circadian nadir; when your drive for wakefulness is at its lowest point.  It happens about two hours before your natural wake-up time.  For me – a dolphin – it’s not as disorienting a moment as most.  But I still feel pretty out of it.  After all, I’ve been sleeping with the fishes.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Can a Night Owl Become a Morning Person?”