Across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: 3

Technology Report

dispenser 1Our first night on the road out from Reykjavík, I encountered this perplexing soap/shampoo dispenser with no visible affordances. Nothing to click or push.

dispenser 2I figured out that the one latchy thing on the bottom released it from its holder.

dispenser 3It still took a couple of minutes for it to dawn on me that you’re supposed to squeeze the entire container to get the gel to come out.


polisher toppolisher frontI saw shoe polishers in a couple of places, but nothing so vintage as this example in the Hotel Holt.


crampons 2crampons 1Crampons let you climb the the glacier. They strap on to your hiking boots with this intricate five-step process that our guide “S” explained.

crampons 3And they work! Here we are after a climb of 200m up Sólheimajökull.


GravelinesSigns in Reyðarfjörður honor French fisherfolk who once worked these waters.


white on bluedecaying white on redBack in Reykjavík, I found a couple of old-school building-mounted street name signs.

standardBut what I mostly saw were these no-nonsense, very legible signs. Out in the country, signs at crossroads (no pic) are rather low-slung. They wouldn’t look out of place next to an airport runway.


yellowLighthouses in Reykjavík are rather pedestrian, alas.

Drop by drop

Joe Palca and Susie Neilson report on a phone-sized device that can test for cholera in 30 minutes. It’s the work of Katherine Clayton and colleagues at Purdue University.

Still early days; more field tests are planned.

[Clayton] knows making a cholera test doesn’t put her on a fast track for financial success.

Instead, she says, her background in engineering has made her feel a sense of obligation to help find solutions to global problems: “That’s what I enjoy — knowing what the future could look like.”

Saint Louis art & tech crawl

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.

faded oneI found another fallout shelter sign, this one exposed to the weather and badly faded.

texture and shinelined upRichard 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.

fancy topcotta cottaI 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.

car 4007I spent a little time birding for the Saint Louis specialty, unsuccessfully, alas. But I did add a light rail system to my list.

double archI found the arch, too! This pair of barrel-vaulted tunnels had been abandoned, but were repurposed by MetroLink. This is the south end of the 8th and Pine station.

Riding the Rarely and Never

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.

The Dormitory Authority? What’s that? DASNY likes to style itself as New York State’s real estate developer. Its Wikipedia article needs some work.

Some links: 80

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.

Some links: 77

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.