Earth 911

Need to know where to take those “hard to recycle” items? Your new best friend is Just type what you need to recycle and where you are. You’ll get a list of places you can bring that item, with an impressive amount of detail.

Something simple like “corrugated cardboard” brings up Longmont’s single-stream curbside recycling as the first result. That’s easy. Something trickier like “cell phones” finds a list of nearby stores that will accept them. I brought a pair of old phones to Staples today, and a burned-out compact fluorescent light bulb (the first I’ve ever had burn out) to Lowe’s.

Being able to find a place to recycle everything from packing peanuts to batteries on a single website makes the chore of disposing of recyclable trash more than a little easier.

The 1940 Census

Data collected in the national census are kept private for 72 years. That means any information you gave in 2010 will not be made public until 2082. It also means everything collected back in 1940 just became public this year — in fact, only a couple weeks ago!

For the first time, the National Archives have scanned all 3.8 million pages of census data and made them available online, so you can now browse through all the information you could hope to get about people in 1940.

Naturally, the first thing you’ll want to do is the same thing you did when satellite imagery first came to Google Maps: find your house. Since all the 1940 data are hand-written (the iPad wasn’t a big seller back then), you’ll have to first find your “enumeration district” based on a search for your town and a description of each district’s boundaries and then scroll through the pages of records for that district.

Of course, that’s only possible for houses built before 1940. Our house is only a decade old and we met its first and only other owners when they sold it to us, so we’ve learned really all we can about its short and not-so-storied history.

Paging through the town’s records is still fascinating. The 1940 census asked about occupation and salary, which I find particularly amazing. At a sugar factory here in town, an electrician took home a $1,230 salary, while the unmarried 36 year old woman next door, living with her parents, got only $300 as a chambermaid at a hospital.

Predictably, there are efforts now to index these pages to make them searchable. The website FamilySearch is championing the effort, and anybody can volunteer to participate. I indexed a few pages myself this morning, and it’s easy to do.

However, I was sad to discover that of the 35 fields recorded in the census records (from “Was this person seeking work?” to “Highest grade of school completed”), only 11 are available to index. Street address, occupation information, and most other interesting demographics are omitted. It will be possible to search by name, but questions like “What was the average value of a home?” or “What percentage of homeowners were single women?” will be impossible to answer, despite the data having been recorded. And although Colorado’s records are “99% indexed”, I can’t find anywhere to actually search them.

Plus, FamilySearch is “A service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and that should probably make everyone a little nervous anyway.

After indexing three pages, I closed my account, and I won’t be contributing further to the project.

But the raw images from the National Archives are still worth a long look, if only to enjoy imagining the block of Judson Street where lived then a switch-board operator, a 15 year old errand boy (working at his parents’ shop), a telegraph operator, and (I swear I am not making this up) a “cereal chemist” for a flour mill.

Interstates as Subway Diagram

Interstates as Subway Diagram

Interstates as Subway Diagram

I loved this the moment I read the title: Interstates as Subway Diagram. Designer Cameron Booth crafted this map of the Eisenhower Interstate System in the style of a subway map, emphasizing connections rather than literal geography.

If you’re planning a drive from Los Angeles to Denver, for example, the route is obvious: I-10 to I-15 to I-70.

In the era of Google Maps we can obsess over the literal geography of a trip in a way never before possible, even previewing an entire cross-country trip in Street View before ever getting into the car. But on the Interstates, you’re in a world of exits and interchanges where the geographical details of when the road ascends a hill or veers north are wholly irrelevant.

This map embraces that spirit, and is a work of art in its own right.

Booth sells posters of the map (36 by 24 inches) for $49 with shipping, as well as a similar diagram of numbered US Highways. His Flickr feed includes some other transit-themed diagrams (e.g., the TGV routes in France or Europe’s E-Road network) along with more than a little photography.

(via Lifehacker)

Atomic Energy Lab

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab is clearly the greatest toy ever invented.

No. U-238 Atomic Energy Lab

No. U-238 Atomic Energy Lab

I had a pretty fancy “200-in-1” electronics kit of my own as a kid with a light bulb, buzzer, and other components for building radios and other basic circuits. Unlike the U-238 Atomic Energy kit, mine did not include four separate radioactive elements or a certificate to order replacement radioactive elements when the included samples inevitably “deteriorate” over time.


Auditorium: The Game

Auditorium is perhaps the most interesting browser game I’ve ever played.

A stream of white particles flows across the screen, and by strategically placing controls in its path you can redirect it towards audio “audio containers” that make music as the particles flow across. The result is a beautiful song that sounds just right only when the stream is properly flowing through each container.



The full game costs $10, but you can try several “acts” for free (without any form of registration or account required — you just visit the website).

Richer, Healthier, Luckier


This comes from Gala Darling from two years ago. I also belatedly like her December Activity Guide giving something to do every day of “the month of Christmas”. Most of the suggestions could be just as applicable in January: “Carry chocolate coins in your purse & give them to people who make you smile” and “decide to do Twelve Dates of Christmas”, for example.

Image Text:

If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank,  your wallet, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week. if you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of improimprosimprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation you are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering. If you can read this message you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read it at all.

Bicycle Lift

The Bicycle Lift

The Bicycle Lift

Have you ever been enjoying a pleasant bike ride when an enormous, unconquerable hill ruined the entire outing? Norway has solved this problem with Trampe: The Bicycle Lift.

Position your bicycle beside the rail and stand on the metal footplate, which when the machine is activated will propel you (and your bicycle along with you) up the hill. The website gives some instructions:

While standing astride the bicycle, put your left foot on the left pedal. Furthermore, place your right foot in the start slot of the start station. Stretch your right leg backwards determinedly while still keeping your right foot in the start slot. Remember, you are preparing for the coming push from the soft start mechanism.

From now on, the lift will carry you.

This is a brilliant if not entirely practical idea. Norway’s is one of only two bicycle lifts in the world.

Payment for Services Rendered

When an oxygen tank on Apollo 13 exploded, astronauts had to depend mainly on the Lunar Module systems, designed only for landing on the moon, to carry them safely through space.

According to Futility Closet, when the crew had returned safely to Earth, Lunar Module manufacturer Grumman sent a bill for services rendered to Command Module manufacturer North American Rockwell.

Inspection:                      $     20.00

Towing Charge @ $1.00/mile        300,000.00

Loss of altitude vehicle           24,100.00
 $20/day plus .08¢ per mile

Battery charge                          5.00

Air conditioning @ $5.00/day           25.00

Room and board @ $40.00 each          600.00
 per day

I haven’t been able to find any confirmation this actually happened, but it’s the sort of story that’s so fun I’m choosing to believe it’s true anyway.