All Aboard The IBX
Squeezing new railway lines into existing rights of way is becoming a favourite pastime of modern cities - faced with ever-denser cores, and public opinion generally against knocking down huge swathes of buildings, the choice is to go underground or to repurpose what's already there.
London's Overground did this with old freight and passenger lines to great effect, and New York is now looking at doing the same thing with a new line called the Interborough Express - using old freight tracks that run through Brooklyn and Queens, areas that are a lot less well-served by public transport than Manhattan.
They say that the environmental review will begin next year and construction in 2025, which is the unfortunate glacial pace of new infrastructure construction in the West, but hopefully it will be up and running by 2030.
London's Elizabeth Line (née Crossrail) is finally mostly open - I've even had the chance to ride it now - so it's a good time to look at the industrial and interior design of this mammoth project.
The interiors are designed for aesthetics, of course - a consistent look across the whole line - but also for practicality and maintenance. Stations are made out of a "kit of parts" to speed assembly and simplify replacement of components. Technical elements that can be kept separate are, so they can be maintained more easily. The tunnels are gigantic, allowing for an incredible feeling of space even though you're deep underground.
There's also functionality in the design itself - how it encourages movement through to the right places, including changes of colour temperature even; more blue and cold in spaces where you should be moving, and more yellow and warm in places where you should be waiting around. It's a remarkable achievement.
If you'd been to Hong Kong over the last few decades, you will have found it hard to miss the giant, iconic Jumbo Restaurant, a complex of floating restaurant and kitchen boats moored on the harbour, that hosted many famous dignitaries in their time.
Unfortunately, though, they closed up operations in 2020 due to COVID, and then the giant main restaurant boat was towed out of the harbour a few weeks ago, awaiting a buyer. Even more unfortunately, it then sunk off the coast of Cambodia, in conditions that were very much "why on earth did you tow it out here in this weather?"
Sadly, it seems it's so far down that salvage attempts are not going to be worthwhile, so this cultural touchstone will have to remain on the seabed for the foreseeable future.
Making More Noise With Less Moving Parts
Ion propulsion is not just a science-fiction concept - it exists in real life, in two main forms in fact. The first are ion thrusters used for spacecraft, which use electric fields to accelerate a propellant out of the back very efficiently. They don't have a lot of thrust, but they are efficient.
Well, a similar principle works in-atmosphere, using the atmosphere as the propellant, and these "no moving parts" lifters have been around for a while now. Large voltages push air downwards as well as causing what I'd describe as a very ominous buzzing or whining noise (ominous as it would probably kill you if you touched it).
Now, the advantages of these drones are not quite clear - like their space counterparts, they're quite low thrust, and while no moving parts is probably nice for maintenance, it doesn't help that it's still louder than having rotating propellers and is probably even more dangerous to stick your hand in. We'll see how they develop.
Well How Did That Get There?
Things crash into the Moon all the time - meteoroids, satellites, old bits of the Apollo missions. We keep track of what's in orbit, and which spacecraft will collide, and watch them do so - there's plenty of bits of humanity out there. However, it's more unusual that we know there's a spacecraft but don't know who it's from.
Yup, that's right - it's a mystery. It doesn't match any known launch, nobody has claimed it, and even more strangely, the impact crater does not match the standard rocket design with a fuel tank at one end - instead, it seems to be something that had a lot of mass at both ends.
Hopefully we can get something (or someone) up there to check it out relatively soon - it feels like new Moon missions are perpetually around the corner at this point - but for now, I have my own suspicions.
Stand Aside Fatbergs, It's Time For Wet Wipe Island
Wet wipes, the bane of many a sewage utility. While they might say "flushable" on the packaging, it's about as correct as putting "burnable" on tyres - sure, you can, but it's really not good for the environment.
They've been blamed as the catalyst for the many fatbergs found in city sewers around the world, and they are now expanding their reach to block rivers, it seems - specifically the Thames, in London.
Underwater scans have revealed a giant mass of them on the shore of the river, starting to affect the flow, and it's presumably only the beginning until we manage to either convince people to bin wet wipes rather than flushing them, ban plastics being used in them, or both.
A Very Shiny Monument To Power (And Also Old Buildings)
Battersea Power Station has been an icon on London's shoreline for years, but stood abandoned and unused after its power-generating days passed. In the last few years, though, developers have been transforming it and the area around it into fancy flats and apartments, preserving the iconic superstructure of the power station and its towers.
Of course, this was quite forced on them by it being a Grade II listed building - a designation in the UK that really limits what you can do with the outside of a building - but they also preserved and restored the two control rooms inside, and they're wonderful.
Art deco designs frame the concept of power generation as something worthy of grandeur, from a past era where even mere pumping stations were comparable to cathedrals. I do kind of wish we'd do this more now, though I also understand that sometimes function must win over form.
Control Room A will be open as an events space soon, and I hope to be able to see it in person soon - though given the price of the flats in the development, I don't imagine it'll be cheap to hire out.
It's Getting Hot In Here (According To The Wet Bulb)
Wet bulb temperatures are one of those concepts that should be more commonly known, but aren't - instead of measuring the air's direct temperature, they measure how well the human body can cope in that temperature and humidity via evaporation. It reflects how we can handle hot, dry conditions just fine - sweat and water will keep you cool - but if it's too humid, those won't cool you down, and you'll die.
As this is becoming annoyingly more and more relevant due to climate change, scientists have been investigating what the actual highest wet-bulb temperature humans can cope with is. Unfortunately, it seems it's lower than we thought.
Previously we thought it was 35°C - a temperature that has occasionally been hit in places like India and the Middle East - but this further testing reveals that it's more like 31°C for young, healthy subjects, and even lower for the elderly. Not great news if you live somewhere that's humid.
Counting Cards The Easy Way
What do you do if you're an enterprising magician wanting to know exactly how your deck of cards is arranged? Well, one way is to get very good at sleight-of-hand and deck manipulation, but the other way is to put invisible infrared barcodes on them and use a camera to immediately work it out.
It's probably better for practicing tricks and knowing how things are going, but if you see a magician near you carrying a Raspberry Pi and an iPad around near their decks of cards, you should be just a little suspicious.