Ramblings & ephemera

Better security = reduced efficiency

From Robert X. Cringely’s “Stream On“: Yet nearly everything we do to combat crime or enhance safety comes at the expense of reduced efficiency. So we build airports to make possible efficient air transportation, then set up metal detectors to slow down the flow of passengers. We build highways to make car travel faster, then […]

Should states track cars with GPS?

From Glen Johnson’s “Massachusetts may consider a mileage charge” (AP: 17 February 2009): A tentative plan to overhaul Massachusetts’ transportation system by using GPS chips to charge motorists a quarter-cent for every mile behind the wheel has angered some drivers. … But a “Vehicle Miles Traveled” program like the one the governor may unveil this […]

Give CLEAR your info, watch CLEAR lose your info

From “Missing SFO Laptop With Sensitive Data Found” (CBS5: 5 August 2008): The company that runs a fast-pass security prescreening program at San Francisco International Airport said Tuesday that it found a laptop containing the personal information of 33,000 people more than a week after it apparently went missing. The Transportation Security Administration announced late […]

US government makes unsafe RFID-laden passports even less safe through business practices

From Bill Gertz’s “Outsourced passports netting govt. profits, risking national security” (The Washington Times: 26 March 2008): The United States has outsourced the manufacturing of its electronic passports to overseas companies — including one in Thailand that was victimized by Chinese espionage — raising concerns that cost savings are being put ahead of national security, […]

The importance of escalators in shopping

From “A-Z Retail Tricks To Make You Shop“: Escalators – Multi-level Department stores often use their escalators to encourage you to see more of the store. Travelling either up or down the store you will find you have to walk half way around the level in order to find your next connecting escalator, as opposed […]

Imagining a future of warring balloons

From Tom Reiss’s “Imagining the Worst: How a literary genre anticipated the modern world” (The New Yorker [28 November 2005]: 108): … the first mini-boom in invasion fiction began in the seventeen-eighties, when the French developed the hot-air balloon. Soon, French poems and plays were depicting hot-air-propelled flying armies destined for England, and an American […]

The airplane graveyard

From Patrick Smith’s “Ask the pilot” (Salon: 4 August 2006): The wing is shorn off. It lies upside down in the dirt amid a cluster of desert bushes. The flaps and slats are ripped away, and a nest of pipes sprouts from the engine attachment pylon like the flailing innards of some immense dead beast. […]

Who made money during the era of railroads

From Paul Graham’s “What the Bubble Got Right” (September 2004): In fact most of the money to be made from big trends is made indirectly. It was not the railroads themselves that made the most money during the railroad boom, but the companies on either side, like Carnegie’s steelworks, which made the rails, and Standard […]

Railroads & tolls

From Andrew Odlyzko’s “Pricing and Architecture of the Internet: Historical Perspectives from Telecommunications and Transportation“: Railroads were the dominant industry of the 19th century. … Early railroad charters, in both England and the U.S., were modeled after canal and turnpike charters, and almost uniformly envisaged that railroad companies would not be carriers themselves. Instead, they […]

Turnpikes, roads, & tolls

From Andrew Odlyzko’s “Pricing and Architecture of the Internet: Historical Perspectives from Telecommunications and Transportation“: British turnpikes were a controversial response to a serious problem. Traditionally, the King’s Highway was open to all. The problem was how to keep it in good condition. As commerce grew, the need to maintain roads became acute. At first, […]

Canals & tolls

From Andrew Odlyzko’s “Pricing and Architecture of the Internet: Historical Perspectives from Telecommunications and Transportation“: The modern canal era can be said to start with the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal in England. Originally it was just a means of connecting the Duke’s colliery to Manchester. The parliamentary charter (which enabled him to take over private […]