Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Dear Bob:
Re: "What's All This Vice-Versa Stuff, Anyhow? (Part 2)" (Electronic Design, Aug. 9, p. 107). I take it that in your peripatetic wanderings (Europe, Nepal, etc.), you've never had the joy of visiting St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, have you? There, folks drive U.S.-built steering-wheel-on-the-left automobiles, but drive them on the LEFT SIDE of the road, British-style—just like their neighbors in the British Virgin Islands. (Yeah, scary, man. /rap)

Needless to say, this gives the driver a really different perspective on what he or she sees out the windshield. It's a real hoot if you're a U.S. "mainlander" driving a rental car from Charlotte Amalie to Magen's Bay (over what must be the granddaddy of twisty mountain roads) and meeting a fully loaded tourist bus careering down your side of the road! A truly trouser-filling experience, let me tell you!

Since you're so interested in the effect the British Empire had on the rest of the world's commerce and traffic patterns, I've got one for you: Why does the Australian rail system have three different rail gauges in use?
via e-mail

I just got back from Argentina, where they have 4-ft., 8-in. gauge (NOT standard gauge, as I measured very carefully), meter gauge, and something like 6 ft. THEY did it to ensure that the Brazilians could not run their trains on Argentine rails, in case of war or invasion.

Free enterprise is great. The U.S.A has had broad gauge (6 ft.), lots of 3-ft. gauge, and even a bit of 2-ft. gauge. England has done very similarly, though not much is left but some 3-ft. and standard gauge. I presume Australia is the same. Is that about right? Tell me! (Of course, narrow gauge is MUCH cheaper, and much easier to lay out for rough terrain, severe curves, etc.) Thanks for the comments.—RAP

Dear Bob:
The rules for retirement change daily. For you, retirement on Social Security is possible anytime after you're 62. The penalties for retiring if you have income other than SS are severe, as you have pointed out. (Check! /rap)

There is a bright side to all this, however, if you plan to keep on working. The longer you wait before retiring, the higher your monthly check will be. If you remain employed beyond age 70, the penalty disappears. (OH, REALLY? I didn't know that!! It sounds as if one might advantageously use one's ORDINARY savings before 70, and the tax-deferred stuff after 70? Yeah, right! I should live so long... /rap)

You and I will pay only the marginal tax rate on our total income, not the confiscatory penalty. For those of more tender years, the deal is not as good, since the cutoff date recedes into the future depending on your date of birth. Personally, I'd rather not retire at all, since my experience is that when you stop working you start dying. ('ZACKLY... /rap) Maybe I'll use the Social Security money to go to school. (Or maybe take up TEACHING?? /rap)
via e-mail

Thanks for the enlightenment. If I can't find the weasel words and fine print whereby the Social Security benefits worksheet lets us off the hook at age 70, I'll come back and ask you.—RAP

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
[email protected]—or:

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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