Dr. Gridlock is trying to move into the 21st century with computer technology, but it's a struggle. For example, when I try to perform what should be a simple (ha!) function, I see dozens of icons displayed in the margins of the screen. None of these symbols (unintelligible to me, but known to every teenager) seems relevant to the task. Sometimes, the computer won't do what I want, and then it insults me, with comments such as, "Strike 3, you're out!" I'd fight back if I knew the right keys.
But there's apparently hope for a lot of you folks, because 95 percent of our Dr. Gridlock correspondence (300 communiques a week) comes in via e-mail. Assistant Jessica Medinger retrieves them.
She has found a couple of Web sites in your e-mails that are astounding to this onetime wonder on the Smith-Corona typewriter:
(1) The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has launched on its Web site a display showing how long the wait is at each of its 73 branches. Pick a branch from its list, and the display might say: "Average wait time today at 10:02:52 A.M. is 3 minutes 26 seconds."
Select "Show the historical wait time," and you get charts showing the average wait according to month, year and date.
You can access the Web site from your home, say on a Saturday, and calculate how long a DMV errand will take and how that wait fits with your other tasks that day. My goodness!
The Virginia DMV Web site is www.dmv.state.va.us.
Asked whether the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration had such a system in the works, MVA spokesman Richard Scher said no, but he shouted, "Go, Virginia!"
Sheryl Hobbs-Newman, director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, said her department does not have such a feature but is working on it.
(2) When we asked for nominations for the most attractive license plates in the United States, reader Gabriel Goldberg, of Alexandria, told us about a Web site that shows, in color, the license plates for all 50 states and the District of Columbia--and most of the countries of the world!
I found myself scrolling through this site for some time, noticing, for example, that the license plate of the United Arab Emirates is much more attractive than the drab serial numbers put out by France and Germany. Bet you didn't know that. No wonder people get so mesmerized by their computers!
The Web site is danshiki.oit.gatech.edu/ iadt3mk/.
By the way, the states nominated so far for most-attractive license plates are Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. We're still taking nominations.
I'm not on the technology train into the 21st century yet, but at least I can now hear the whistle.
Framed by the Camera
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
While on the way to an Orioles game last summer, I approached the intersection of Russell and Hamburg streets [in Baltimore]. The light was red for me, but a policeman in the intersection waved us through.
Soon after, I received a citation for running a red light at that intersection. From the photo that accompanied the citation, it was clear that multiple cars were also going through the red light.
It seems that the camera installed at that intersection is not turned off during special events where police are directing traffic.
I chose not to contest the ticket because I live in Silver Spring and did not want to take the time off. Have you heard of anything like this?
This is a first for Dr. Gridlock, but that doesn't mean there isn't a pattern out there.
Rob Weinhold, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said officers giving directions at intersections take precedence over traffic lights. You could have been ticketed if you had failed to proceed.
"It sounds like this is one of those issues we need to work out," Weinhold said.
Rob Murrow, a spokesman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works, said that if you had gone to court and explained, the citation would have been thrown out.
A better option, as you suggest, would be to turn off the system when it is known that police will be directing traffic at an intersection.
Murrow said that he did not know whether that was possible but that he would look into it. "Good idea," he said.
Baltimore has red-light cameras at 12 intersections and has ordered an additional 36. "We're pleased with the results. They have definitely cut down on the number of accidents at those intersections," Murrow said.
Dr. Gridlock has long been a proponent of cameras at intersections to catch red-light runners.
Anyone else running into camera problems?
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.