Date: February 27th, 2004
Cate: Regular

1 smoot in feet

Two high-strangeness stories came in off the feeds today. The first: Unit of measurement elected head of standards board

Back in 1962, some fraternity at MIT used one of their pledges, Oliver Smoot, to measure the Harvard Bridge. This became part of MIT and general geek folklore, and today even Google recognizes the Smoot as a unit of measurement.

Just recently, the very same Oliver Smoot was elected to be the President of ISO, the people who define internationally the units of measurement used for, well, everything. I can’t put it better than overstated:

Is it just irony that a unit of measurement was elected to be the Grand Poobah of international standards? Or is it that Smoot has been cast into this position by that one fateful night, unable to escape his role as a measuring stick? Or perhaps he is an obsessed megalomaniac who will settle for nothing less than the Smoot being recognized as the basis for all measurement?

In any event, I’m sure his position is quite deserved, as in the past he has shown us all that he is a great ruler.

As I was still recovering from that one, this came in: For Exercise in New York Futility, Push Button.

Millions of dutiful city residents and tourists have pushed them over the years, thinking it would help speed them in their journeys. Many trusting souls might have believed they actually worked. Others, more cynical, might have suspected they were broken but pushed anyway, out of habit, or in the off chance they might bring a walk sign more quickly.

As it turns out, the cynics were right.

The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on, according to city Department of Transportation officials. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined.


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