Fight between Walk/Don’t Walk Sign Guys

Snickers has a new ad that imagines what would happen if the Walk/Don’t Walk guys in the street signs at crosswalks came to life. The Red and Green guys duke it out, apparently hard-wired to fight their opposite color. The graphics are great and it’s an enjoyable and very watchable ad. Most importantly, it stands up to repeat viewings, which means that one will not go insane seeing it more than once on television. (via veryshortlist)

House Built from Big Dig Materials

In the article Salvage Artists in a recent New Yorker, Paul Goldberger wrote about the construction of the Big Dig House. Single Speed Design, at the commission of Paul Pedini, built a house entirely out of leftover materials from Boston’s Big Dig:

 The basic structure is entirely made up of salvaged steel and concrete from the Big Dig—three hundred tons’ worth. Because the materials were obtained for free, and because Pedini was able to do much of the construction himself, the house, which measures forty-three hundred square feet, was built at the strikingly low cost of approximately a hundred and seventy-five dollars per square foot. Yet it doesn’t look like a recycled highway, and it would be among the best contemporary houses in the Boston area even if it had been built the old-fashioned way.

R2-D2 Mailboxes and USPS Jedi Masters

I just noticed that some USPS mailboxes are decorated to look like R2-D2, which is fun and great. I also noticed that there is a web address on them: I went there and the site cryptically announces the union of Star Wars and the Postal Service on March 28. I have no clue what this might be (though Trend Hunter thinks it might be a line of Star Wars stamps). Any ideas?

Indoor Foliage Capital of the World, and Other City Nicknames

I was recently in Scranton (home of, among other things, Dunder-Mifflin), and saw the large sign proclaiming Scranton as the Electric City. It is called this due to being one of the first electrified cities. Buffalo, also one of the first cities to have electric lighting, has the nickname the City of Light.

This all got me thinking: what are the nicknames of other cities? Here are Wikipedia’s list of city nicknames and list of American city nicknames. Both of these are large collections, although curiously, neither contains the nicknames I just mentioned (although presumably, being Wikipedia, this can be easily rectified). The list of city nicknames does have a great subset of agricultural and industrial capital nicknames though. For example, the Collar City (Troy, NY), Indoor Foliage Capital of the World (Apopka, FL), Horseradish Capital of the World (Tulelake, CA).

The Steagles

No, this is not about Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle. The Steagles were a football team for only the 1943 season. They were a merger of the Steelers and the Eagles, due to the military service of many football players. Interestingly, this merger turned out to be the first winning season for Philadelphia.

Lego-Like Buildings

It turns out that there are a lot of buildings that look like they were built out of Legos. I just started a Flickr group devoted to finding all those buildings and places. It is called, appropriately enough, Lego-Like Buildings. Please feel free to join it and add your Lego-like building photos to it.

Note: we don’t want buildings, or models of buildings, that actually were built out of Legos. These are neat, but not the type of neat we’re looking for.

Urban Ants and Heat Tolerance

About a month ago, I discussed the Heat Island Effect (where cities are warmer than their surrounding areas). Well, it turns out that this phenomenon has affected the evolution of the organisms that live in cities, or at the very least, ants. In their paper Urban Physiology: City Ants Possess High Heat Tolerance Angelleta et al. demonstrate that urban ants have a higher heat tolerance than rural ants. Further studies will have to be done on city mice and country mice.

CDC To Cut Funding for Disease Tracking

The CDC is planning to scale back its main disease surveillance system, BioSense, and will now only focus on tracking diseases that occur in the largest cities in the United States. While this might be due to budget cuts, this strikes me as a foolhardy decision. To focus only on the larger cities is to miss the sources of possible outbreaks. While in decades past this might have still provided enough time to stem the outbreak, nowadays, when travel is routine and widespread, epidemics can spread to the entire United States extremely rapidly (here are some flu simulations, for example). By limiting detection to only large cities, this might remove the element of early-warning and possibly make it too late for proper counter-measures (by the time the outbreak is detected, it has already gone national or international). If the CDC has done simulations and studies that show that the lead-time gained is negligible, that would be good to know and would assuage my concerns, but I have not heard anything about that. If you are aware of anything like this, please let me know.

Census 2010: How to Word Simple Questions

A recent article in the WSJ, entitled Census 2010 Plays Six Not-So-Easy Questions (behind paywall), discusses the difficulty of choosing and wording the questions that will go into the 2010 Census. This kind of information is important for many things, from allocating members of Congress to policy planning to learning about the growth and decline of cities. Unfortunately, if the questions are ambiguous or confusing, large groups of people end up not responding, or giving the wrong answer. So they’re trying to be really careful about it:

“You only get one chance with the census,” says Preston Waite, the associate director of the decennial census. “If the wording isn’t right, it’s 10 more years before you can ask that question again. You only get one chance at bat.”

An interesting read.

Braess’s Paradox

Braess’s Paradox, named after Dietrich Braess, is when you add roads or capacity for cars, and thereby worsen traffic (or alternatively, you lower traffic costs by removing roads). Formally, this simply means that the current traffic equilibrium state is not the optimal one. Dietrich Braess, on his website, notes that this concept has applications to computer networks in addition to traffic networks.