Category Archives: Tools and Technology

Since 1835

Washington’s National Theater quite recently gave up its rope-and-sandbags rigging system: it was one of the last of the “hemp houses.” Rebecca Cooper has the story for Washington Business Journal, and there is good video about the transition to the cables-and-counterweights system (less flexible, but standardized) that most hands know.

Going back a little farther in time, a documentary short from the 1950s shows IATSE Local 22 loading in the National’s touring show of My Fair Lady.

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Some links: 77

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In transit

Joe Palca takes a ride on the personal rapid transit system on the University of West Virginia campus at Morgantown. The system was built in the 1960s-70s.

The concept feels strangely familiar. Somewhere in my boxes of files from B school I may have some lecture notes from Russell Ackoff. I seem to recollect that he had done some consulting on the psychology of transit riders that led him to promote the idea of small transit pods. In his view, what transit riders valued more than speed, or reliability, or short headways, was the ability to control who they shared a vehicle with. Hence, big city busses, not so popular; private automobiles, very desirable.

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The key

Now I know what those gizmos stuck to the sides of office buildings are for, and what they’re called: Knox boxes.

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And then there’s this

Artists are repurposing Solari boards.

ArtsJournal

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On the boards

A very nice piece by April Peavey about the electro-mechanical flip-flapping annunciator boards that have all but disappeared from American train stations. I now know that they can be called Solari boards, after the Italian manufacturer that first introduced them in 1956. Maybe I realized, but have forgotten, that the letters and numbers flap in only one direction, so that the transition from an E to an H, for instance, takes much less time than for an S to an A—and hence the new destination or train name is displayed one letter at a time, as the individual units cycle around. It’s that gradual reveal that I remember, like watching a photograph develop, or like playing the word puzzle from Wheel of Fortune in real time.

Alas, the news peg for this story is that Amtrak is replacing the Solari board in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, where many years ago I would wait for the regional train to New York to take me back to my internship.

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Some links: 76

ICYMI: Linda Poon reports on a genuinely useful application of new, whizzy 3-D printing technology: tactile maps for blind and visually impaired students.

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Altitude

Melissa Block interviews Leslie Shook, the Betty voice of Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets.

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How does it feel

To sweeten a Blue Saturday, Orkestra Obsolete plays New Order’s “Blue Monday” using only instruments and technology available in the 1930s.

kottke.org and @tcarmody

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Glass-enclosed

Corey Kilgannon counts the last four outdoor phone booths in Manhattan.

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Under pressure

Callan Bentley turns the screws on a diamond anvil cell. Pressures inside the cell, a little gizmo smaller than a snow dome, are on the order of 60 GPa. He writes:

  • 60 gigapascals is therefore a pressure equivalent to about 2100 kilometers of depth in the planet – most of the way through the mantle, though not quite to the outer core (which is at ~2900 km depth).
  • A pressure cooker cooks at 0.0001 GPa.
  • Your car’s tires are inflated to a pressure of 0.0002 GPa (2 bars, or ~30 psi).
  • 60 GPa is a lot more than 0.0002 Gpa.

(Sorry, but I had to go to that song.)

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300,000 relays

James Somers explains something that I should have understood before: why they call it an interlocking.

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I’m with you on the illegible part

In a quite useful five-part series, Steve N.G. Howell explains how field notes work and how and what you might want to record, either in the field or in the motel at the end of the day. He saves the best advice for the last installment:

In conclusion, your notes are your notes. Write what you want, but in later years you’ll only have yourself to blame if your old notes don’t contain the information you find you want. If you have time, write it all down. If you don’t, pick and choose. But whatever you do, or don’t do, the main thing is to enjoy birding.

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Some links: 73

One more link to clear out of Instapaper and into a blog post: Nell Greenfieldboyce reports on an application of 3-D printing that actually sounds useful: artificial cowbird eggs for studies of brood parasitism.

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Halfway down the block before realizing that you’re headed the wrong way

A simple, analog solution to SOSED (Sudden-Onset Subway Exit Disorientation): low-profile wayfinding signs on the stairway risers, designed by Ryan Murphy and documented by Vicky Gan. Much more useful than smartphone beacons, also discussed in the post: who wants to be staring at a screen when you and 1,000 of your new best friends are trying to get off the platform and into the light?

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