Yeah, Maybe We Shouldn't Fill The Bridges With Concrete
This week's Bridge News is that the UK is, fortunately, reversing course on a rather stupid plan where they were going to just dump tonnes of concrete under former railway bridges in an attempt, presumably, to make their maintenance easier.
Of course, this is an incredibly foolish way to save a few pounds. Not only is it a massive eyesore, it also completely ruins a still useful right-of-way - sure, there's no railways running under these bridges any more, but former railway routes make excellent walking or cycle paths, due to their relative flatness.
Naturally, it'd be even better if the railways could be brought back - just think of how nice a railway network stretching to every town and village could be - but hey, cycling is good too. Let's just not ruin these perfectly lovely bridges, eh?
Finally, Payphones Are Good Again
Payphones. You might remember them - they put actual phones, in the street, that people put coins into to use! Now, I grant you that many of these concepts - like "coins" and "non-mobile phones" - may seem unusual now, but phones are still a useful thing to have.
Telstra, Australia's national telecoms operator, has run the numbers and figured out that not only is collecting coins from payphones costing them a signficant fraction of what the phones bring in, but the running costs of the entire set of payphones is basically a rounding error in their budget these days, so they've just... made them all free.
This is honestly a great idea and something more countries should do, if you ask me. Sure, not everyone remembers phone numbers any more, but to call emergency services, or for people without reliable mobile signal? Great.
Cooling London's Tubes Of Heat
Back in the 1800s the Victorians had a fun idea - why not dig tunnels under London and put trains in them, rather than trying to squeeze trains into an already-crowded city? Many years on, the London Underground is one of the most complex transport networks in the world, but it suffers from a big problem - heat.
See, running electric trains in tiny tunnels, full of people, just dumps out heat. Initially, the naturally colder temperatures of the surrounding soil kept the underground tunnels and stations at a nice, comfortable temperature. Decades of heating, though, has made the conditions underground rather toasty, as anyone who has travelled on the Central Line in summer can attest to.
IanVisits, of London event-tracking fame, has an excellent write-up of some of the approaches being trialled to undo this heating effect - both by pumping heat out of the tunnels (not easy when they're built to small Victorian sizes!) as well as making the trains more efficient in general. It's a long battle, but one that is slowly being won.
Water, Water Every... Oh Wait
Hydroelectric power. It's great - clean, high-output, and generally very predictable. That is, until you enter a historic drought and your reservoirs run very, very low.
California is in said historic drought, and the resulting lack of water is causing a power problem - they're having to turn off some of the hydro plants. Of course, the high heat that accompanies the drought is also causing power draw because of the increased air conditioning usage, among others.
Fortunately, it looks like increased solar installs are helping offset demand a bit, but solar and energy storage are going to need a massive ramp up if this sort of climate is the new normal over there. Solar is great to make power to cool during the day, but it's those hot nights during heatwaves that really cause problems.
We Would Totally Go There But The Engines Mysteriously Stopped
An attempted hijack of the Asphalt Princess, off the coast of the UAE, was stopped this week by the crew cleverly sabotaging their own engines, rendering the ship unable to move and the allegedly Iranian aggressors rather unable to carry out their plans to sail the ship back home - instead, they were stuck dead in the water, and fled once US and Oman warships turned up to help.
Unfortunately, it's part of a rising trend in that part of the world - there was a death caused by a drone incident rather recently, and tensions in general are heating up after a years-long "shadow war" with Iran at the centre. Piracy and aggression against ships has been a more global problem recently, as well - let's hope it doesn't get any worse.
Sea Cargo Is Still Not Very Environmentally Friendly
Globalisation is a fact of life these days - you can buy a consumer product that was designed in Germany, has initial parts manufactured in China, final assembly in Japan and that is then shipped to the USA to be sold. The supply chains that enable all this are marvels in themselves, and they rely very heavily on one mode of transport - sea cargo.
Grist digs a bit into the dirty underbelly of the global cargo trade in this article, which is affected by the very dirty nature of most of the ships that ply the trade. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the biggest retailers in the US rely heavily on sea cargo and some very polluting routes.
Efforts are underway to make sea cargo less polluting - more efficient designs, biofuels, and the very exciting idea of wingsail-based ships - but as long as we have supply chains that criss-cross countries, it's probably here to stay.
Power On The Moon Really Isn't Easy
So, we're excitingly at the point where a Moon base is an actual thing we're drawing up plans for - NASA have selected SpaceX to be the launch provider, Starship is going through tests pretty well - and so now the other hard part comes around - how on earth do you keep humans alive on the Moon for a long time?
Obviously, there are many difficulties with life support, but the number one thing you need? Power. And, unlike the ISS where you can slap some solar panels on it and have batteries during the 45 minutes of darkness, the Moon has days and nights that last two (Earth) weeks. Not quite so easy, especially when the cargo cost of shipping tons of batteries to the Moon is quite high.
Casey goes through some of these troubles and some potential solutions, including points of permanent light, alternate energy storage techniques, and of course nuclear reactors. I'm super curious to see how this aspect of Moon infrastructure plays out - among many others (I can make a strong argument for a Moon monorail, just let me at it).
Climate Change Claims Another Victim: Time
Telling the time is, as I'm sure you can appreciate as a reader of Tales, not easy. Atomic clocks keep time very precisely - so precisely that the Earth's rotation does not quite match up to the supposed 86,400 seconds we have in a day, as the earth spins a little bit slower than that - so we insert leap seconds occasionally to keep things lines up.
Well, that was, until now. See, it turns out that climate change is speeding up Earth's rotation, and much like many other effects of climate change, this is Not Good - though especially in a time sense.
See, a faster-spinning Earth means that we don't need leap seconds any more and, oh boy, are we not prepared for that. A lot of GPS software just assumed they'd keep happening and might start having issues, including one case where a bug will make them suddenly think it's 2002. And if that isn't problematic enough, look out for negative leap seconds starting in a decade or so...
Nobody's Keeping An Eye On PneuTube
Pneumatic delivery systems were once the supposed saviour of all messaging - enough that cities started laying entire networks of them under the streets so messages could quickly whisk between buildings - but then we invented electronic messaging, and for relatively obvious reasons, that won out.
There's still a place for pneumatic tubes, though, and that's for when you want to move more than just messages - banks and shops are one place you occasionaly see them, to move money, but they're very popular in hospitals, moving around patient samples, medicine, and even blood. And, like any niche technology with only a few providers, it turns out they're easily hackable.
I don't think there's enough in the systems to cause direct damage to people, but slowing down sample and medicine delivery in a hospital? That's going to really affect some patients in a bad way. Thankfully most of the flaws found so far have been patched, but like many important pieces of infrastructure, I'm sure way too much of it is totally insecure.
Bowling Balls Are Weird
If you've ever been ten-pin bowling, you've picked up one of those really heavy balls and probably chucked it down the lane without a second thought to what's inside. Well, those ones aren't that special, but professional bowling balls? They're weird.
Designed to encourage spin so that the balls can curve in at the last second to get a strike, they have fun names like Traction Star and Pin Puncher, and there's a whole industry dedicated to making them curve just right (especially in the US, where ten-pin bowling has a considerable competitive scene).
Of course, if you regularly go down your local bowling alley and score reasonably well, you might wonder how much these help - but you might also want to consider that the lanes you're playing on are oiled differently, and actually make it easier to hit the pins than the ones the competitions use!