Friday, October 26, 2007

Enter the Goldfish

I've been making some progress on one of my projects: a web-based puzzle site with games from Heaven & Earth. Allow me to present the site Clockwork Goldfish and its first game, Figure Ground! So far you can only play the original 48 scenarios, but I'm working on adding creation tools as well. Enjoy, and please forgive the spartan appearance... consider it a work in progress.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Viewing the World through Etymologically-Colored Glasses

Today's random project idea: a text reader that color-codes each word by some etymological factor, such as country of origin or how old the word is.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Traffic Calming

We're discussing speeding in my neighborhood these days. Traffic calming is an important piece of the pedestrian-friendly puzzle. Fortunately, there's been a lot of energy in this area around the world recently. In many cases, conventional wisdom is being turned on its ear.

Some keys to effective traffic calming:
  • Perceived Danger. People have a safety threshold, and they drive right at the edge of it. Children and toys in the street, parked cars on the side of narrow roads, exuberant foliage that limits visibility, all serve to raise people's perceived danger and slow them down. Of course, this perceived danger can be accompanied by actual danger; we certainly don't want any of these kids to get hit. With this in mind, the question becomes how do we increase perceived danger while simultaneously decreasing actual danger. Fortunately, studies have shown that streets that look dangerous are often quite safe, due to the change in people's behavior. The key is to make the dangers and uncertainties as obvious as possible.
  • Antagonism vs Cooperation. The trouble with traditional traffic calming techniques such as speed bumps and stop signs is that they only serve to increase the antagonistic relationship between cars and pedestrians. Drivers are resentful of these periodic impositions and so they gun it between devices, wrapped up in their own inconvenience, paying even less attention to the pedestrians. Instead, you want to encourage brotherhood and cooperation between drivers and pedestrians. They need to relate to each other as people. In fact, just making eye contact and a friendly gesture is enough to slow a driver down.
  • "Going Somewhere" vs "Being Somewhere". We all have two modes, whether on foot or in a car: "going somewhere" on the highway or down a hallway, and "being somewhere" on a quiet residential street or a living room. In the former, our mind isn't really on where we're at; we're already thinking about where we're trying to get to. In the latter, we're present to the moment and responsive to the situation around us. In the case of streets, what mode you're in is greatly effected by the design of the street and the buildings that face it. Residential streets should feel like a living room, like a place you'd like to slow down and enjoy. Of course every city needs a mixture of of both modes; the trick is to make the distinction obvious.
With the above in mind, here are some suggestions for calming our streets:
  • Decorative "gateways" at the borders between the "going somewhere" streets and the "being somewhere" streets, so people feel like they're entering a special space, rather than just passing through.
  • Cobblestones at intersections or throughout the street.
  • City Repair-style murals on the surface of key intersections.
  • Benches on the side of the road, facing the street, to encourage the visible presence of people.
  • Paint the edges of the street to reduce perceived lane width.
  • Prominently displayed children's art, to show that children are present, in a more effective way than "Children At Play" signs.
  • Roundabouts, which tend to slow people down without the antagonistic effect of speed bumps and stop signs.
  • Block part of a lane off with planters.
For an interesting take on the subject, I recommend the book Mental Speed Bumps.