My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: if only our own infrastructure were as strong and natural as living bridges.
I've blogged a lot about bridges, I know (Sir Bridges Blog-a-Lot, eh?) but I haven't yet explored living bridges.
Meghalaya, a state in north-eastern India, is one of the wettest places in the world, getting close to 500 inches of rainfall a year. Almost three-quarters of the state is forested. One of the indigenous tribes living there, the War-Khasi, build living foot bridges from the roots of the Ficus elastica — a variety of rubber tree.
Photo by Arshiya Urveeja Bose [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
To grow the bridges, the Khasis create root guidance systems out of halved and hollowed betel nut trunks. The roots are channeled to the other side of the river, where they are allowed to bury themselves in the soil on that side.
The bridges take 10 to 15 years to grow strong enough for regular use; once they do, they last incredible amounts of time with no maintenance: since they're still growing, they actually continue to grow stronger and stronger over time. Some of the older bridges are five centuries old. Many of the older, stronger bridges can support 50 or more people at once.
The most famous of the bridges, the Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge, is actually two of those bridges, with one stacked directly over the other. Local dedication to the art has kept the bridges alive and prevented them from being replaced with steel. (Steel, frankly—and with all respect to those dealing with, ahem, yard ramps—doesn't have anything near the lifespan of the root bridges and aren't nearly as sturdy.)
The root bridges aren't the only living bridges around. In the Iya Valley in Japan, there are bridges woven out of living wisteria vines. They're much less common, and only three remain. They're built by growing immense lengths of wisteria on each side of the river before weaving them together—a process that must be repeated once every three years.
These wisteria bridges are much less sturdy than the Khasi root bridges, with wooden planks spaced over seven inches apart, and they apparently shake wildly while you're on them. By all accounts, these things are terrifying to cross, which makes sense: they’re widely thought to have been designed originally for defense. The original bridges didn't even have railings.
My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: see something where nothing exists? It's okay: you're in good company.
Everyone plays the game as kids—the one where you look for objects in clouds, right? Even the least-imaginative kids could at least see sheep. Well, it turns out there's a name for it, and it's actually pretty important.
It's called pareidolia. Broadly speaking, this is the brain's ability to perceive a familiar pattern in a stimulus where none actually exists. Other examples: mountainsides that resemble faces and trees that look like people.
People aren't the only entities that experience pareidolia. Computers do it, too. Google has a program called DeepDream that specifically sets out to exploit this, and it produces some really, really weird results. (DeepDream especially sees a lot of dogs.)
Pareidolia is fairly important in science, and it causes a lot of problems in archeology and paleontology. Amateurs are constantly picking up rocks they mistakenly think are arrowheads, dinosaur eggs, or bones. This happens so much that there's a specific name for rocks like this: mimetoliths. This also includes larger rocks, like the mountainsides that look like faces.
The most famous applied use of pareidolia is the Rorschach inkblot test, which is supposed to give insight into a person's mental state. A fairly successful tool, we’ve used the Rorschach continually since the early 20th century—fairly astonishing, since psychology has thrown away so much from that time period.
If you're familiar with the tabloid-fodder “Jesus appears on toast” articles, you've stumbled on another example of pareidolia. (And we know a woman who saves pieces of firewood because of, well, all those faces she sees in them. Apparently, they make for good company. We hope she has enough non-faced wood to keep warm this winter.)
It also sees extensive use in art, which is unsurprising. Many optical illusions (like the famous one that could either be a lamp or two faces) are good examples. Leonardo da Vinci wrote about pareidolia as a tool in art. Pareidolia is one of the main reasons cartoons work so well, making it easy for us to assign complex emotions to simple line drawings of people.
Pareidolia isn't good or bad—just reflects an aspect of how our brains interpret the world—but can also lead you astray. This phenomenon is also probably one of the coolest oddities involved in discovering how our brains work.
Yard Ramp Guy Blog: National Ramp Coverage
And speaking of pareidolia, this week my friend The Yard Ramp Guy is seeing umbrellas and The Munsters in his ramp maps.
Click HERE to experience the ramp world through his eyes.
My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: alternative search engines. WolframAlpha'ing, anyone?
Q: What is the average weight of a panda?
A: 170-290 lbs.
There are a lot of different search engines out there, but most people never feel the need to go past Google. For the most part, I'm with them. I have discovered a few specialty search engines that I visit on a regular basis. Most of these are simply engines that search inside a specific website, usually Wikipedia. There are a couple exceptions, though. The biggest one is called WolframAlpha.
Q: How many people have the given name McCoy?
A: 1649 estimated to still be alive in the United States.
Strictly speaking, WolframAlpha isn't a search engine at all. It's a computational knowledge engine. Its creator, Stephen Wolfram, designed the engine to answer factual questions by using its curated internal database of information. This is a very different function than search engines, which provide a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer.
Q: Motorcycle traffic in Germany?
A: 11.1 billion vehicle miles per year.
WolframAlpha can perform arithmetic, trigonometry, algebra, and numerous other mathematical functions. It contains population estimates from around the globe. It records weather data from the past in the database. And so this computational knowledge engine can use all of this information, along with its countless volumes of other information, to calculate the answers to a huge number of questions.
Q: Melting point of teflon?
A: 327 degrees Celsius. (620.6 degrees Fahrenheit)
Not to say that Wolfram Alpha is perfect. Its databases don't contain anywhere close to even a significant percentage of human knowledge. It doesn't know the average speed of a turtle, for instance, so you couldn't use it to figure out how long it would take one to cross the United States.
A fun Twitter account I ran into the other day is dedicated entirely to sharing odd questions that Wolfram Alpha can't answer. My personal favorites:
- “Hectares of cotton crops needed to make a superhero cape for every land mammal.”
- “Total work done against gravity to make a cupcake rise while baking it, in calories?”
- “Most common English misspelling that changes the word's Scrabble score by more than 4?”
And knowledge crawls onward…
Q: Anchorage, Alaska weather on 7/7/07?
A: Overcast, 54 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit, wind 0 to 7 mph.
Q: Most frequently erupting volcano?
A: Stromboli, in Italy.
Q: 20 gallons of gloss paint?
A: 14,000 square feet, assuming it has a spreading capacity of 690 square feet per gallon.
Q: How long did the Paleoproterozoic Era last?
A: 900 million years.
Q: x+y=10, x-y=4
A: x=7, y=3
Q: What's the temperature of the solar wind?
A: 31,000 Kelvin.
Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Inventory Management
Any time someone calls out the emperor's new clothes, I'm all in. This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy does just that, and then shows us how his business has been more efficient than a backordered cleaning cloth.
Click HERE to wipe the slate...cleaner.
My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: what's the angle on ramps? It's a protracted conversation.
A gazillion people out there refuse to learn math after a certain age. Just absolutely refuse. In my experience, many of them frequently refuse math as much as possible. I can't say I get this, but enough people do it that, well, it's definitely a thing.
This causes a lot of problems for those of us who don't mind math—especially when we need to explain a concept that relies on that math.
As an example, let's look at describing ramp angles. Specifically, why do ramps have particular angles?
First off, we’ll choose the type of ramp. Wheelchair ramps, for instance, have an allowed ratio of 1:12. This means it's allowed to increase one inch in height for every 12 inches in length, which means about 3.58 degrees.
By comparison, the steepest road in the world has a 19-degree slope, a 35% grade (using the US system for determining road slopes). We figure this using a pretty simple equation called “rise over run.” (You just divide the rise, or the increase in height, by the run, or distance, then multiply it by 100. We're failing in our effort to avoid math, though.)
Why is the angle so much lower on wheelchair ramps? Well, we need to delve into some more math—in this case, the basic principle behind ramps:
Lifting an object always takes the same amount of work, no matter what method is used. An elevator works just as hard as you do to lift something; it's just capable of lifting more. A ramp lets you spread that work out over more time. You're still working hard, just not all at once.
So, the reason wheelchair ramps have such an angle is to minimize the work necessary for someone to get into a building. Many yard and loading ramps have steeper angles because we often have more limited room to fit the ramp, and we’re willing to make our workers do a bit more to earn their pay.
Take a look at how I described road grade and wheelchair ramps, and then see how I described the general principle behind ramps. One has more numbers than the other, but both contain essentially the exact same amount of math. I simply used words to describe it more heavily in the latter and provided examples in the former.
This really leads me to believe the problem isn't with math itself, but the way we learn it in schools. Using more real-world problems instead of pure math might really help make it more interesting. That, and actually providing the schools with enough support to do their jobs.
Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Forklift Ramps Across the Nation
This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy just plain does me proud: Two simple maps pinpoint the company's reach and saturation throughout the country...
Click HERE to geolocate.