City Birds Switch to Singing at Night

According to new research, it appears that British robins have switched to singing at night when in urban environments, in order to be heard:

“There are two ways of looking at these results,” says Fuller, who admits he does not know if the birds that sing at night are vocal in the daytime too. “On one hand, you could conclude that these birds are highly adaptable to the urban environment. On the other, it could be that they are suffering from the poor-quality habitat and having trouble attracting a mate.”

On the Nature of Commuting

The New Yorker has an article by Nick Paumgarten entitled There and Back Again all about commuting and why some people are willing to endure unreasonably long travel times. It focuses mainly on New York City and Atlanta, evidently a commuting Hell. As a bonus, the article also includes a brief etymology of the term ‘commute’:

The term “commute” derives from its original meaning of “to change to another less severe.” In the eighteen-forties, the men who rode the railways each day from newly established suburbs to work in the cities did so at a reduced rate. The railroad, in other words, commuted their fares, in exchange for reliable ridership (as it still does, if you consider the monthly pass). In time, the commuted became commuters.

Spider-Man Week in NYC and Marvel Tourism

Spider-Man is a creature of New York City. Few other cities have the ideal environment of tall buildings in such high density which is perfect for web-swinging. Almost anywhere else and Spidey would spend most of his time just jumping from place to place.

That being said, in honor of the upcoming opening of Spider-Man 3, New York City, is having a weeklong Spider-Man celebration. Events will be everywhere throughout the city, from zoos to libraries to museums.

One blogger, planning for this week, found a copy of a map of the Marvel Universe version of New York City, and tried to find these places in the real world. Here are his photos of Marvel tourist locations

Chicago of “I, Robot”

The movie I, Robot, (very) loosely based on Isaac Asimov’s short stories, takes place in Chicago, in the year 2035. In the movie, the main new addition to the skyline is the US Robotics building. Here are a collection of photographs and charts exploring the architecture and skyline of Chicago from the movie. Attempts are made to place the new building in its setting (complete with a map of where the US Robotics building is located), as well as better understand the skyline design in general.

The Skyscraper Museum’s BIG BUILDINGS

Awhile back, the Skyscraper Museum in New York City had an exhibit entitled BIG BUILDINGS. This exhibit, with an extensive online component, explored the history of really big buildings. Two categories, based on research, were created for these large structures, called Jumbos and Super Jumbos. These are buildings that are extreme, both in height and volume, relative to when they were built. Here is the Jumbo calculation methodology and here are the Jumbos and Super Jumbos built since 1950 (as of 1999, when the exhibit was held). Lots of good pictures and data for the skyscraper enthusiast.

NYC Punster Subway Conductor

From 1973 until 1993, Harry Nugent provided entertainment in addition to information as a conductor for the New York Subway. The IHT had article an about his retirement, which included this witticism, which he used when the train was delayed:

Someone once said that success is a journey and not a destination, and by that definition we’re eminently successful.

Also, in 1995, a brief documentary about Nugent was made.

Network Theory in Cities

Jason Kottke recently pondered what the minimum number of New York City residents one would need to choose, such that these people know every single person in the city:

Any guesses as to the smallest group size? Better yet, is there any research out there that specifically addresses this question? Or is it impossible…are there people living in the city (shut-ins, hermits) who don’t know anyone else?

People have been commenting about it on the blog, where the consensus seems to be about 10,000 people (this sounds pretty reasonable). My two-cents (which can be seen as the first comment on kottke) are reproduced here:

 This is actually a well-established problem in graph theory called the vertex-cover problem. It is NP-hard, which means that there are no really good algorithms for it (although some approximate algorithms are good within a factor of two). In terms of answering this for NYC itself, my guess would be something on the order of 1000 or so. But I don’t have a good reason for that number, just a feeling. You could probably do better by assuming a power-law distribution for the number of acquaintances and derive a better estimate, but I haven’t thought about that in detail.