Fun fact: The first three-colored traffic lights were installed in 1920. No one seems to have written down the exact day that these ubiquitous devices arrived on the scene, but it was sometime before October, at the intersection of Michigan and Woodward Avenues in Detroit. Happy 100th birthday sometime before October, traffic light! You’ve been annoying commuters ever since!
“The world’s first traffic light was a manually operated gas-lit signal installed in London in December 1868. It exploded less than a month after it was implemented, injuring its policeman operator. Earnest Sirrine from Chicago patented the first automated traffic control system in 1910. It used the words “STOP” and “PROCEED”, although neither word was illuminated.”
But the one the majority of us see today (and every other day of our lives, like it or not) is 100 years old. Before traffic lights, humans were placed at intersections to direct traffic. What could possibly go wrong? I can’t imagine a more tedious or more irritating job on earth, and this is coming from someone who opens drawbridges for a living.
Between the exploding gas light and our current tried and true one, several designs were tried out throughout the world, some with semaphore flags, which weren’t particularly effective at night. No two were alike, it seems, and that must have caused no end of confusion. I’m impressed that society survived.
The idea to control multiple intersections at once, and do so automatically, didn’t come about until March, 1922, in Houston, Texas. Traffic lights were not introduced to South India until 1953, and it seems they’ve been ignored ever since.
I also happen to know from personal experience working with the Department of Transportation that while most lights used to be encircled in black tubes to reduce glare and increase visibility, most locations have gotten away from that because birds would use them as nesting sites and block the light. Now if anything, most lights have a shade cover across the top for glare reduction and to reduce water intrusion.
While doing research for this post, I came across this article that discusses why the colors red, green and yellow were chosen for traffic lights. Basically, red is the color with the longest wavelength, so it can be seen from a greater distance than other colors. It was used to indicate danger long before traffic signals became a thing.
There’s no indication as to why green has been used for Go. Blue is on the opposite side of the color wheel from Red, and that’s the color Japan used for many years, but the rest of the world hopped on the Green bandwagon. Yellow was chosen because it has a shorter wavelength than red, but not as short as green.
So there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about traffic lights but were afraid to ask. You’re welcome.
It is very unusual for me to direct my readers to blog posts by other authors, but this one really spoke to me. It’s about the oldest known bridge in the world, located in Iraq. As a bridgetender, I have an obvious interest in bridges, but this story also appeals to me as a history lover and a feminist.
Archeologists are working to preserve this 4000 year old bridge in Tello, Iraq. Not only are they learning about the rich history of the area through the many artifacts that are being uncovered, but they are also training several female archeologists in a region that had all but been destroyed by ISIS until quite recently.
Once the preservation is complete, the plan is to create a visitor’s center to encourage tourism and education in the area. This bridge is also a symbol of pride for the Iraqi people, as further evidence of their rich architectural heritage. Even though the waterway that this bridge used to span is long gone, this structure is still bridging a gap, and I find that impressive.
I encourage you to check out this blog post, along with its attached video which was produced by the British Museum. It’s really quite fascinating, in a geeky, historical, bridge-loving kind of way.
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I have always hated looking in the mirror, even as a child. The image of me in my head has never matched the one I see in the reflection. I’m always surprised. And the older I get, the more that surprise turns to shock. If it weren’t for bad hair days and a penchant for getting spinach in my teeth, I’d remove every single mirror from my house.
I wonder what a world without mirrors would be like? Would we be less vain and self-absorbed? Would we spend more time caring about others and less time focused on ourselves? Would our priorities change? Or would we just take even more selfies?
Driving would become a bigger challenge, that’s for sure. I would be a lot more hesitant to change lanes on the interstate. But I think I’d be willing to take that risk in exchange for a little less self-criticism.
There was a time when mirrors didn’t exist. But even then, people tended to gaze into pools of water. Thanks to Narcissus, though, too much of that was considered, well, narcissistic.
And yet, we couldn’t leave well enough alone. According to Wikipedia, people have been struggling to come up with a decent mirror for centuries. They made them out of polished stones in Turkey starting around 6000 BC, and from polished copper in Mesopotamia 2000 years after that. These mirrors were quite precious and most likely only used by the very rich.
From the beginning, the biggest challenge with mirrors was obtaining a flat surface. Without that, the images would become warped. And if there were bubbles or impurities, the image was cloudy. Depending on the substance you used, the image wouldn’t reflect colors accurately, either. It makes you realize where the term, “through the glass, darkly” came from in the Bible.
In the 16th century, the people of Venice, long known to be experts in all things glass, perfected mirror making. But it was no mean feat. These mirrors were still considered luxuries. So much so that, again according to Wikipedia, “in the late seventeenth century, the Countess de Fiesque was reported to have traded an entire wheat farm for a mirror, considering it a bargain.”
Nowadays, and pretty much since the industrial revolution, mirrors are mass produced. Everybody’s got ‘em. Most of us have them in just about every room in our house. It was a several-thousand-year struggle to get to this point, but here we are.
And here I am, still wishing that the darned things didn’t exist. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were the fairest of them all, or if, at the very least, I looked like I think I do.
Every once in a while, I’ll drive past a pretty little park in downtown Seattle. I keep meaning to stop and check it out on foot, but that would require parking. And this is a city where parking is hard to find, and expensive when you do. So I’ve contented myself with merely admiring this place as I rush past. But now that I know more about it, I’m definitely going to have to change that.
It’s a park with four lovely old pillars, standing all alone, like soldiers. They prop up nothing but the sky. This park is a tiny respite from the urban sprawl while also presiding over some lovely views. In addition, apparently, it’s a dog park, and I’m all for those.
But recently I came across this post in Atlas Obscura. (It’s a fascinating website, by the way. Check it out. You’ll learn stuff.)
This particular post describes this park in more detail, in all its fascinating historical context. The pillars in the park used to grace the front of the Plymouth Congregational Church, whose congregation first started meeting in Seattle in 1869. The church was known for its stance on social justice issues.
At a time when Seattlites were expressing their hatred of Chinese immigrants, this church supported immigrants’ rights. They also supported women’s suffrage. Later, they hosted Martin Luther King Jr. during his only visit to Seattle.
Sadly, the church had to be demolished after the 1965 earthquake, but the congregation donated the 4 original pillars to the city, and they now stand in this lovely little park. The church is still going strong in a new location. That makes me happy.
Now, as I pass this park, I will think of it as part of Seattle’s liberal legacy. I’ll gaze on its elegant beauty, and smile even wider than I used to. When you think about it, history is everywhere you look. Sometimes you just have to do your homework.
I had the opportunity to visit yet another small-town museum, this time in Burien, Washington. The Highline Heritage Museum highlights the Highline region, which comprises the cities of White Center, Burien, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and part of Des Moines, Washington.
I’m always delighted by what I learn in these earnest little museums, but this one was particularly impressive. First of all, the displays were extremely well crafted and kept my interest. They were fun, colorful, and interactive.
They had displays relating to the region’s archeology, indigenous history, war efforts, pioneers, aircraft industry, school histories, and the Highline Times newspaper. And that list barely scratches the surface. I learned so much there that it’s potentially going to generate 4 more blog posts.
Museums of this kind make a community more vibrant. They allow you to gain a deeper understanding of a region’s culture and history, and that provides you with a stronger sense of place as you walk the streets. I highly encourage you to visit your local museums and support them.
This museum, in particular, is even more remarkable when you consider that the vast majority of it is run by volunteers. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by for a visit. Also purchase something from the gift shop and/or make a donation. Consider it an investment in the region.
More and more of my friends are in their 80’s now. The older I get, the more that will happen. I see them as precious gifts.
I have no idea what life must be like in one’s 8th decade. I hope to find out myself one day. But as it stands, I have a great deal of admiration for all of these people.
Making it to 80 is no small accomplishment. It means you are overflowing with life experience. You are a survivor. You have seen and done things that most of us can only dream of. You have lived and loved and laughed and cried and fought and struggled. And here you are. Did you imagine you’d reach this mountain top? What a triumph!
You have watched the world unfold, and have been an active part in its unfolding. You have been there and you have done that. You know what it’s like to live at a time that was less comfortable and convenient. But because of that, you know that it’s possible to live without a cell phone and a microwave and 257 TV channels. Does our dependency on such foibles make you inwardly laugh?
You have most likely not been appreciated nearly as much as you deserve to be. People think they’ve heard all your stories, but they’ve barely scratched the surface. They probably aren’t asking the right questions. Shame on them.
When I see these friends, I know I’m gazing into untapped depths, and I wonder what I’m missing. People in their 80’s are diamonds walking amongst us, and should be cherished as such. The rest of us can only hope to travel that many times around the sun, and do it with such style!
It occurs to me that there are many things that I do in the course of a day that I have absolutely no explanation for. They’re habits, pure and simple, and originate in the ancient past. They have nothing to do with my current reality, but the idea of discontinuing these actions makes me very uncomfortable.
For example, I say God bless you when someone sneezes. According to Wikipedia, there are several possible explanations for this. Perhaps at some point, people thought that your soul could shoot out of your body when you sneezed, or your heart could stop, or, even worse, it could open your body to invasion by evil spirits. Another theory is that sneezing was often the first sign of the plague, so you better bless that person as quickly as you can, because they probably weren’t going to be around much longer. If any of the above is true, then those of us who sneeze while alone are doomed. Personally, I say God Bless You so as not to be perceived as being rude or inconsiderate.
I also cross my fingers for luck. Apparently, this is mainly a Christian thing. It started off in Roman times, when making a sign of the cross was believed to ward off evil. I’d forgotten that children also do it when telling a lie, or to invalidate a promise. That’s an interesting juxtaposition, when you think about it. Something I didn’t know was that in Vietnam it’s regarded as a sign of female genitals, and it is considered to be as rude as giving the finger is in this country. Good information to have if I ever go to Vietnam. I basically do it to cover my bases. It can’t hurt, right, unless you’re in Vietnam?
Another thing I do is knock on wood, so as not to tempt fate when I mention something going potentially wrong. “I hope we don’t get an earthquake (knock wood).”
I was always taught that that dated back to the Druids, who believed spirits resided in trees. Knocking on wood was a way to acknowledge that you believe in them, so as not to anger them and cause them to make the bad thing come to pass. I’m also reading in Wikipedia that some believe you’re waking those spirits up so that they can protect you, or that the knocking sound would prevent evil spirits from hearing what you say and acting upon it. Again, for me, it’s a cover my bases type thing.
If I know all these things really hold no power, why do I do them? I like to think of myself as a scientific, analytical person. But… you never know.
I think a lot more of life consists of these strange little gestures that are out of context with the modern world than we’d care to admit.
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