The Null Device


An Australian human-interface innovation I hadn't heard of until now: the Marshalite, an early analogue traffic signal developed in the 1930s. Unlike modern pedestrian crossings (with the exception of those in some US cities), it not only displayed whether crossing the road was permitted, but gave an indication of how much time pedestrians had to cross, in the form of a clock face. The downside of the Marshalite was that, being mechanical, it was not adjustable, and worked on the assumption that traffic lights had a fixed duration. (And changing the speed of the moving hands is not an option; people would make assumptions about what the hand at a specific position would mean, and could not be expected to look at it long enough to gauge the speed.) At some point, they started adjusting the lengths of traffic lights to better manage traffic, and the Marshalites were all replaced by the now ubiquitous red/green man.

(via Boing Boing Gadgets) australia design human interface steampunk urban planning 1

Last night, I had occasion to watch a Japanese film titled "After Life".

The film (whose Japanese title was the kana transliteration of "Wonderful Life") is set in a sort of limbo, where the recently deceased are given a week to choose one memory from their lives which they wish to keep; the memory is then reconstructed by a team of counsellors and technicians (who themselves once lived and died) as a short film and shown to the deceased, who will then remain in that moment, and that moment alone, for all eternity. The film took place over one week, with one cohort of the recently deceased (among them, a middle-aged woman reliving an exciting affair, an elderly man wishing he had made some mark on the world and a young hipster who refuses to choose a memory on purpose). The film itself has the feel of a documentary; it starts somewhat drily, though gradually, the characters' past lives and all too vivid memories and regrets are revealed.

I found this film poignant and beautiful; the feel of it reminded me a little of another (though somewhat different) favourite film of mine, the Icelandic film Angels of the Universe.

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In the latest round of the War On Tourism Terrorism, the USA will now require visitors to register online 3 days prior to entering the country. I'm guessing that the old system (in which tourists filled a card in on the plane and handed it in at immigration) was letting in just too many terrorists or something. That certainly won't be a problem with the new system; the online registraion process will ask the visitor whether or not they're a terrorist, allowing Homeland Security agents to intercept terrorists (at least the less bright ones) before they leave the plane.

bureaucracy the long siege usa 1