The Free Universal Construction Kit is a set of plans for 3-d printable thingummies that allow you to connect your Tinkertoy spools to your Lincoln Logs, or your Lego bricks to your K’Nex.
I attended the Strange Loop conference in St. Louis this past week. I got a little time to have a look at the city, which I haven’t seen since I visited my departed friend Jim Wilson in University City many years ago. Ted Drewes is still there, although you can buy a concrete from a vending machine in the airport now.
Richard Serra’s quadrilateral Twain is not in great condition, and the landscaping around it is a bit lumpy and wild (perhaps by design?), but this iridescence caught my eye. And the framing of the courts building across the street is too perfect to have happened by chance.
I was sitting in the hotel, eating my breakfast, idly looking out the window, and I spotted a rather fancy looking building a few blocks away. “Let’s take a closer look,” I thought. “That looks interesting.” Oh, yeah. It’s the Wainwright Building.
I spent a little time birding for the Saint Louis specialty, unsuccessfully, alas. But I did add a light rail system to my list.
The role of sound design in professional live theater, a podcast episode produced by James Introcaso.
I wrote up some notes on A Portable Cosmos, by Alexander Jones, a summary of what 120 years of studying the Antikythera Mechanism (one of my obsessions) have revealed to us.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the extensive reporting by the Times on the shabby state of New York’s subway system, and how it got that way. Here’s a nugget from Brian M. Rosenthal et al.’s kickoff (it’s from November—did I say that I was trying to keep up?):
A bill passed by the Legislature in 1989 included a provision that lets state officials impose a fee on bonds issued by public authorities. The fee was largely intended to compensate the state for helping understaffed authorities navigate the borrowing process. It was to be a small charge, no more than 0.2 percent of the value of bond issuances….
The charge has quietly grown into a revenue stream for the state. And a lot of the money has been sapped from one authority in particular: the M.T.A.
The authority — a sophisticated operation that contracts with multiple bond experts — has had to pay $328 million in bond issuance fees over the past 15 years.
In some years, it has been charged fees totaling nearly 1 percent of its bond issuances, far more than foreseen under the original law….
But records show that other agencies have had tens of millions of dollars in bond issuance fees waived, including the Dormitory Authority, which is often used as a vehicle for pork projects pushed by the governor or lawmakers. The M.T.A. has not benefited as often from waivers.
- Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann write about strategies for mustering grassroots support for transitions in energy sources. How did the German Energiewende reverse the rise in nuclear energy dependence, replacing nuclear power with other renewable sources?
- Andy Newman does a ride-along on New York’s century-old technology: manually operated elevators. (And a map of buildings that still use them.)
- J. F. Meils reviews what’s news in the struggle to fully enfranchise the District of Columbia.
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.
- A stunning 30-minute video documenting the end of Linotyping at the New York Times in 1978.
- Gabrielle Emmanuel’s series, “Unlocking Dyslexia,” begins with its definition.
- A lovely 5-minute video visit by Amanda Rodewald and Nick Bayly to a coffee finca: what’s the connection between shade-grown coffee and our neotropical migrants?
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.
Now I know what those gizmos stuck to the sides of office buildings are for, and what they’re called: Knox boxes.
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.
ICYMI: Linda Poon reports on a genuinely useful application of new, whizzy 3-D printing technology: tactile maps for blind and visually impaired students.
Melissa Block interviews Leslie Shook, the Betty voice of Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets.