Red Flag Laws

In 1865, shortly after the first steam-powered horseless carriage appeared on English highways, Parliament ordered that a man must precede it on foot, carrying a red flag by day or a lantern by night, to warn others of the impending noise:

Firstly, at least three persons shall be employed to drive or conduct such locomotive, and if more than two waggons or carriages be attached thereto, an additional person shall be employed, who shall take charge of such waggons or carriages;
Secondly, one of such persons, while any locomotive is in motion, shall precede such locomotive on foot by not less than sixty yards, and shall carry a red flag constantly displayed, and shall warn the riders and drivers of horses of the approach of such locomotives, and shall signal the driver thereof when it shall be necessary to stop, and shall assist horses, and carriages drawn by horses, passing the same.

Vermont passed a similar law in 1894, requiring the owner of a steam-propelled vehicle to have a “person of mature age … at least one-eighth of a mile in advance of” the vehicle, to warn those with livestock of its approach. At night this person was required to carry a red light.

Both measures were repealed in 1896 — by which time the internal combustion engine was already being developed.

Getting There

Designed by architects in Amsterdam and Beijing, the Lucky Knot Bridge in Changsha, China, combines three bridges in one. Inspired by both the Möbius strip and the Chinese knotting art, the 185-meter pedestrian bridge spans Dragon King Harbor River, connecting multiple levels at varying heights (the river banks, the road, and a park at a higher level) while permitting pedestrians to pass from one route to another using “moon gates.”

“Bridges … have a highly metaphorical quality,” Michel Schreinemachers, a partner at Next Architects, told Wired. “They connect not only in a physical sense, but also people, places, needs, and experiences.”

A New Outlook

Sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd found an unusual application for her artistry during World War I, creating prostheses for the dramatic injuries produced by machine guns and heavy artillery. After reading about artist Francis Derwent Wood’s “Tin Noses Shop” in London, she moved to London and opened a “Studio for Portrait-Masks.”

Her copper and silver masks, 1/32″ thick and weighing 4-9 ounces, were founded on facial casts and painted to match the precise skin tone of each patient. Held in place by eyeglasses, many included realistic mustaches, eyebrows, and eyelashes. By the end of 1919 Ladd had created 185 of them, charging $18 for each and donating her own services. The Red Cross called them “miracles,” and in 1932 France made her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_Coleman_Ladd_and_soldier.jpg

Command Performance

This mechanism, recently restored by Michael Start of the House of Automata, was probably fashioned by Blaise Bontems in Paris around 1890.

It’s an example of a lost art, the “singing bird box,” an early variety of automaton introduced by Pierre Jaquet-Droz in Geneva in 1784. The song is produced by a bellows, a whistle, and a system of cams; many of these devices added a mechanical bird that would flap its wings and open and shut its beak while the sound was produced.

Jaquet-Droz also created a stunning mechanical boy who writes custom texts with a quill pen; that unit, which still works, is made up of some 6,000 pieces.

Child’s Play

https://patents.google.com/patent/US6368227B1/en

In 2002 a 7-year-old boy, Steven Olson, patented a “method of swinging on a swing”:

The method comprises the steps of: a) positioning a user on the seat; and b) having the user pull alternately on one chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward one side, and then on the other chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward the other side, to create side-to-side motion.

Steven’s father, Peter, a patent attorney, wanted to show him how the system works. Steven’s submission was approved at first (the patent office said that its technical definition of obviousness “is not necessarily the conventional definition”) but later reconsidered and invalidated, perhaps due to criticism.

A year earlier, to test the workability of a new national patent system, an Australian man had patented the wheel.

The Flettner Rotor

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buckau_Flettner_Rotor_Ship_LOC_37764u.jpg

Canvas sails had been used for thousands of years when German engineer Anton Flettner realized that rotating cylinders might work as well: The spin produces a difference in pressure on opposite sides of the cylinder, and this can propel a ship through the water.

The idea made a splash when it was introduced in the 1920s, and an experimental vessel crossed the Atlantic in 1926, but the rotating drums consumed a discouraging amount of power and Flettner moved on to other projects. The principle has been revived lately, though, in hopes of increasing the fuel efficiency of conventionally powered ships.

Technique

MIT astrophysicist Walter Lewin became renowned for his ability to draw dotted lines on a blackboard.

“The idea is that the chalk should not be too short,” he explained. “You have to push on the board, and if you don’t push too hard, it will jump. If you go a little faster, then you’re in business.”

He explains it further below:

Wave

The world’s largest anamorphic illusion is this startling display in Seoul’s Gangnam District. Measuring 80 meters by 20, it runs for 18 hours a day, the creation of design firm d’strict.

Below is another project by the same creators: the “infinity wall” in the lobby of Nexen Tire’s Central Research Institute, also in Seoul.

Moving Parts

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Detroit_FordMuseum_01.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich., contains an “exploded” 1924 Model T touring car, its parts arrayed in the order of their assembly, echoing the component diagrams in the vehicle’s manuals.

Ford’s assembly line was inspired by the “disassembly line” that engineer William Klann observed in a Chicago slaughterhouse, in which one worker at a conveyor belt performed the same task repeatedly without himself moving. Ford’s line divided his car’s assembly into 45 steps, producing each unit in 93 minutes.