Friday, October 23, 2015

My escape velocity from The Martian

As you know if you've seen it, The Martian is a movie all about using science to solve problems -- or more often, redirecting one intended use of science into another. It's also a movie that has a lot to do with things like timing and vectors and velocity, using mathematical calculations to achieve very specific and unlikely outcomes.

Kind of like the calculations I used on Monday night to determine whether I'd catch the last tram home after the movie got out.

It was a 9:30 start for a movie that lasts 141 minutes. Even without trailers, that would get me out at 11:51. But there are trailers, of course, and more than that, there's an even longer period of just plain commercials. (Nice though they usually are, making them almost like short films.)

The last 57 tram ran at 12:12 a.m., with a few more minutes of leeway until the last 59 tram (12:15). And it would take a good five minutes to get from the theater to the tram stop.

It was going to be tight.

As the credits started, I powered my phone on to discover that it was 12:09 a.m. And even though these were the kind of credits that show the actors smiling, triumphant faces and even mete out a little extra story to us, there was going to have to be a sacrifice if I was going to make that tram on time. Maybe not a sacrifice equivalent to the extra millions (billions?) of dollars devoted to going back for a stranded Matt Damon on Mars, but a sacrifice nonetheless.

So I started for the exit, slowed only enough to make sure that my half-finished can of Diet Coke did not spill.

I hurtled down three escalators and out of the Melbourne Central shopping complex, now within only two or three minutes of the tram's expected arrival. If I missed it, it would be a 30- to 40-minute walk home, or -- shudder -- a cab.

As I hot-stepped it down the "footpath" (sidewalk) on LaTrobe Street, my vectors all pointing me toward Elizabeth Street, I saw not one, but both trams pulling into the station. My last two tickets home, and I was almost in danger of miscalculating the necessary velocity and trajectory for making them.

Yet my body -- celestial or otherwise -- did successfully collide with the first of those two trams before it left the station, meaning my choice of time to leave, my velocity and my vector were all calculated correctly.

Thank God for that, else I might have needed to start growing food right there in the middle of Elizabeth Street.

Or hit a 7-11 at the very least.

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