The Billups Neon Crossing Signal

After numerous accidents where the Illinois Central Railroad crossed Highway 7 near Grenada, Mississippi, in the 1930s, inventor Alonzo Billups came up with a one-of-a-kind solution. When a train approached the crossing, motorists were confronted with a lighted skull and crossbones, the glowing words “Stop-DEATH-Stop,” flashing neon arrows indicating the train’s direction, and an air raid siren.

The video here is a simulation; the actual gantry was removed due to a scarcity of neon in the war years. But two photographs survive.

A Portable Bed

https://patents.google.com/patent/US1316469A/en

In 1919, Mrs. Ray Werner patented a military overcoat with an inflatable lining:

The primary object of my invention is to provide a garment, the back of which may be inflated to provide a resilient support for the body of the wearer without removing the garment, thus providing a greater comfort while reclining in a recumbent position.

A separate compartment can be inflated into a pillow. The application was granted that September; I don’t know whether it was ever manufactured.

Battlefield ID

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bayeux_Tapestry_scene55_William_Hastings_battlefield.jpg

The Norman Conquest unfolded before the advent of modern heraldry, so warriors couldn’t be identified reliably by the designs on their shields, and their hoods and helmets tended to obscure their faces. As a result they were often unrecognizable. At the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror had to raise his helmet to show that he was not dead, as recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry (Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, points to him to rally the troops). Combatants began to carry armorial shields early in the 12th century.

Above It All

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Runway_Perspective_(Art_IWM_Art_LD_2123).jpg

When you are flying, everything is all right or it is not all right. If it is all right there is no need to worry. If it is not all right one of two things will happen. Either you will crash or you will not crash. If you do not crash there is no need to worry. If you do crash one of two things is certain. Either you will be injured or you will not be injured. If you are not injured there is no need to worry. If you are injured one of two things is certain. Either you will recover or you will not recover. If you recover there is no need to worry. If you don’t recover you can’t worry.

— W.E. Johns, Spitfire Parade, 1941

Sea Horses

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1808_horse_paddle-boat.jpg

In June 1809, a ferry boat called the Experiment set out from Providence, R.I. for Pawtuxet Village. It was named for an innovative propulsion system: a screw propeller driven by eight horses on a treadmill. Unfortunately the mechanism was poorly realized — even with a favorable wind and tide, the craft made only 4 knots on her outbound journey, and on the return a gust of wind blew her into mud flats, ending her career. She was broken up and sold to remunerate the creditors, and even the patent was lost in an 1836 fire, but the innovation of the screw propeller would find a place in other designs.

Wandering Minds

Here’s a macabre fad from Victorian Britain: headless portraits, in which sitters held their severed heads in their hands, on platters, or by the hair, occasionally even displaying the weapons by which they’d freed them.

Photographer Samuel Kay Balbirnie ran advertisements in the Brighton Daily News offering “HEADLESS PHOTOGRAPHS – Ladies and Gentlemen Taken Showing Their Heads Floating in the Air or in Their Laps.”

The Great Picture

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

After California’s Marine Corps Air Station El Toro was decommissioned in 1999, a group of six photographers set out to convert one of its F-18 hangars into the world’s largest pinhole camera. They made the building light-tight, coated a 34-meter expanse of muslin cloth with gelatin silver halide emulsion, and suspended it 80 feet from the hangar door, in which they opened a 6mm pinhole. After 35 minutes they had an inverted image of former air station, with the San Joaquin Hills in the background.

Eighty volunteers developed the print in a tray the size of an Olympic swimming pool and washed it with firehoses. The finished print fills 325 square meters; it and the hangar hold records as the world’s largest print photograph and largest camera.

Streets and Order

https://appliednetsci.springeropen.com/articles/10.1007/s41109-019-0189-1

This is interesting: USC urban planning professor Geoff Boeing examined the street networks of 100 world cities as a measure of their spatial logic and order.

The cities with the most ordered streets are Chicago, Miami, and Minneapolis; most disordered are Charlotte, São Paulo, and Rome.

“On average, US/Canadian study sites are far more grid-like than those elsewhere, exhibiting less entropy and circuity.”

(Geoff Boeing, “Urban Spatial Order: Street Network Orientation, Configuration, and Entropy,” Applied Network Science 4:1 [2019], 1-19.) (Via Ethan Mollick.)