Things 59: Building Projection, Plant Sculpture, and the Train Problem

(Originally sent October 2009)

I saw Surrogates, which was a strong enough concept (with relevance to the kind of changes we will see in the coming decades, even if we don’t quite achieve fully robotic avatars affordable by 98% of the population) that it maintained interest despite the weak writing and characters.

Technology unlocks surprising things. Witness the kind of trompe l’oeil magic that can now be achieved by virtue of having a powerful enough digital projector:

If you like that, there’s more here.

Highlighted in the final part of last week’s issue of The Week, this article from pseudonymous postman Roy Mayall casts an interesting light on the current wrangling with Royal Mail.

Key quote from towards the end:

“There is a tension between the Royal Mail as a profit-making business and the Royal Mail as a public service. For most of the Royal Mail management … it is the first. To the delivery officer … it is more than likely the second.”

The current ongoing (in)action would seem to stem directly from this tension.

Sculpture/carpentry/architecture with living plants.

I suspect this would seem less benign if the same modificiations to a natural form could be carried out within minutes instead of over the course of years.

I mentioned this puzzle in a recent discussion stemming from Things and it sparked a lot of interest. Here is a version only slightly modified from the way I originally heard it from Laurence:

Trains leaving station A only go to station B. A single from A to B costs £3. A return from A to B and back again costs £5. A woman walks into train station A for the first time in her life. She goes up to the counter and hands the cashier £5. Without either of them saying a word she is given a return ticket and leaves happy. How did the cashier know what she wanted?

The original version, along with many other puzzles, can be found here:

(Note that I think this puzzle should now be filed in the first section).

Before you are tempted to ask someone for help with this puzzle, please see this warning / subtle hint.

-Transmission Ends


Things 45: Ant Colony Sculpture, Maunder Minimum, Photoshop Effect

(Originally sent April 2009)

What happens if you fill an underground ant colony network with concrete, let it set, then excavate the resulting sculpture? [Removed, try this – metatim 18/08/2015]


The sunspot cycle typically lasts 11 years. We are currently undergoing an abnormally long period of low (and therefore cooler) activity, still going 12.8 years after the last solar minimum, which some speculate heralds the beginning of a new Maunder Minimum. However, NASA say this is unlikely and will not have a significant effect on global warming.

The links
Maunder Minimum

How unusual is current activity:

NASA’s take:

I like it when you get a complete story in the few seconds of conversation you hear as you walk past someone. I overheard this:

Teenager: … and then he says-
Adult [interrupting]: “Why have you got no clothes on.” I told *you* that joke.

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last time I asked what you could buy for less than £5 which consists of the largest number of things, where the number of those things is written on the packet/box/tin. For those still working on it, do not click on the following link which goes to the best answer I’ve been able to find – 5,000 things for £2.71.
[Update – the same idea can now yield a score of 10,000 – T.M. 16/4/11]

This time, the question is simple: why do house front doors almost always open inwards?

It is reasonably well known that photo manipulation is common on magazine covers, but it’s good to be reminded of how much distortion actually goes on sometimes, in examples such as this:

An interesting collection of images demonstrating the point the other way round can be found in these front covers of an apparently forthcoming edition of the French Elle magazine.


Things 86: Better Train Journey, AI vs Car Insurance, Underwater Sculpture

I see quite a few videos of ‘what the future will look like’, and most of the time I find them to be unconvincing. However, this view of how a simple train journey could be improved with some simple interface / screen / disposable printing ideas  seems much more sensible:

Steven Steinberg has some really excellent musings on the plausible future of weak AI – including its effect on the car insurance industry, which is much more interesting than it sounds. Long, but well worth preloading on your smartphone to read on the tube, or however you fit long-form content into your life these days.

I was doing a bit of ego searching when I came across a quote from me two years in the past, which I had completely forgotten and perhaps unsurprisingly found very appealing. Under this photo I had uploaded to Flickr:

I respond to a comment and made this irrational leap of logic:

“It is in all artists’ best interests to work in the field of robotics.”

I remember reading about these underwater sculptures a long time ago. Placed in 2006, this 2009 gallery shows how the ocean has made some really great aesthetic enhancements.

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked about some very strange sequential spikes in searches for numbers on Google Trends. Richard worked out that it must be people search for the latest fansubbed episodes of the anime series Bleach, which is pretty much confirmed by checking the search terms associated with these numbers over on Google Insights for Search.

Another mystery solved!