Mexican artists ride abandoned passenger rails in an Earthbound "spacecraft"

Calling themselves Los Ferronautas (or "railanauts"), Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene documented the impacts of the privatization — and subsequent immediate closure — of Mexico's passenger rail lines. Their home-built vehicle could travel on the rails or on the ground, from Mexico City to the Atlantic.

[Video Link]

Jet Capsule futuristic yacht pod

The Jet Capsule 0001 Livello 22

This is the Jet Capsule, currently in use as an escape pod on the Boing Boing luxury liner currently adrift somewhere in the Arctic Ocean. The Jet Capsule holds eight people and can be customized with many of the luxury amenities one might expect from a full-size yacht, from fine wood flooring to bathrooms and kitchens to interior projection systems and LED mood lighting. There is even an "armored capsule" configuration featuring a reinforced steel shell and bulletproof glass. Base price for a Jet Capsule is $250,000. Jet Capsule

Elon Musk's hyperloop can't escape the high cost of infrastructure development

Elon Musk wants to build a pneumatic tube transportation system capable of whisking people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. (Xeni told you about this back in July.)

Technologically speaking, it's a perfectly possible thing to do, writes Tim Fernholtz at Quartz. The problem is the high cost of infrastructure development, something have everybody (whether they want to built a train, a highway, or a futuristic hyperloop) tends to underestimate. That's particularly a problem given the fact that whole idea behind Musk's hyperloop is that it could be a cheaper replacement for an expensive high-speed rail line already under development.

Elon Musk plans Hyperloop high-speed train

The “Hyperloop,” a hybrid new form of transportation proposed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, would shrink the duration of a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles to 30 minutes, at a speed of almost 800 miles an hour. [NYTimes.com]

Bike lanes led to 49% increase in retail sales


Back in November 2012, the New York Department of Transportation released a report called Measuring the Street: New Metrics for the 21st Century, which had some compelling figures on the way that local business benefits from bike-lanes, for the fairly obvious reason that cyclists find it easy to stop and shop, as compared to drivers, who are more likely to continue on to a mall with a big parking lot, or shop online.

In many ways, these data come as no surprise. We know that when towns invest in bicycle infrastructure, people will ride more — the number of people traveling by bicycle increases when there is infrastructure to make traveling by bike safe and easy.

We also know that people who travel along a street by bicycle have fewer barriers to stopping at a local business than people who travel along the same street by car. It's very easy to hop off a bicycle and find a place to secure the bike; not so with finding parking for an automobile. In fact, a recent study suggest that bicycle riders tend to spend more at local businesses over the course of a month.

This new study makes it clear: investing in bicycle improvements boosts small businesses. And what town or city doesn't want to boost activity at local businesses?

NYC Study Finds Protected Bicycle Lanes Boost Local Business (via Kottke)

This history of the car in L.A.

After living in L.A. for a year without owning a car — an experiment brought on by a lazy reaction to his car battery dying — Paleofuture's Matt Novak has written a fascinating piece about the history of Los Angeles transportation. It's a history that includes doomed monorails, oil derricks at Venice Beach, and a cameo by Roger Rabbit.

Suburban Express bus-line sends bullying, cowardly legal threat to Reddit, discovers Streisand Effect


A convicted cybersquatter named Dennis Toeppen now runs the Suburban Express bus service that is used to take students home from university in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa to Chicago. Suburban Express attracts many online complaints from riders who object to the company's policy of fining riders $100 (charged automatically to their ticket-purchase credit-card) if they present the wrong ticket when they board, and other, similar policies -- and who allege that the company hunts down its online critics and bans them from riding.

But Toeppen and Suburban Express went too far when it threatened a volunteer Reddit moderator with a defamation suit for failing to police the company's critics on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign subreddit, where a banner read, "Don't ride Suburban Express! They're likely to sue you, have terrible reviews, and also this." The banner implied that an anonymous Reddit commenter who accused Suburban Express critics of of being "lonely virgins" was run by Toeppen or his representatives.

The ensuing negative publicity (and a stern note from Ken "Popehat" White) frightened the bullying, cowardly company into withdrawing its threat. But with any luck, the company's public conduct will warn its potential customers away and make the offers presented by its rivals more attractive. If I was running a competing bus service, I'd be buying ad space on the subreddit in question, running ads that say, "Ride with us, we don't fine you, we don't ban you for complaining, and we won't threaten to sue you if you aren't happy!"

The company has developed a bad reputation online, with reviewers on Yelp and commenters on reddit sharing stories of what they claim are the company’s cutthroat business practices. For example, the company's ticket policy includes a "ticket fraud" clause that hits riders who hand the wrong ticket to a driver with a $100 fine, charged to the credit card used to purchase their ticket. "In the event that ticket is used to obtain transportation on another day or at another time," the company's policy statement reads, "or to or from a Chicago area stop other than printed on your ticket, you will be charged full fare for the trip you actually rode PLUS $100 penalty. You will also be permanently banned." The company also has a history of suing passengers for violating its terms and conditions—it has filed 125 tort and contract damage lawsuits against passengers this year alone, according to a report from a student newspaper.

The terms of service don't include not speaking ill of the company online, but apparently they might as well. Some commenters have accused the company's owner, Dennis Toeppen, of hunting down negative reviewers and banning them from the company's buses.

The Internet cauldron of opinion boiled over for Suburban Express after an incident on March 31. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate student Jeremy Leval took to Facebook, describing a driver he saw make derogatory comments to an international student who was having difficulty understanding him—“If you don’t understand English, you don’t belong at the University of Illinois or any ‘American’ University," he reportedly told her.


Update: Aaand here it is: a rival company, Peoria Charter, is advertising to Suburban Express customers with a campaign that stresses that they don't sue their customers. They're offering $2 off if you book tickets on their coaches with the promo code "nolawsuits" -- thanks, Murph!

Express to Internet Hate: Bus company threatens redditor with lawsuit [Sean Gallagher/Ars Technica]

The rise and fall of the personal car

“The replacement of the car is probably out there. We just don’t fully recognize it yet.” — a really interesting story on the historical patterns of technology adoption and decline, and how those patterns might apply to the things we think of as absolute and necessary as much as they applied to the steamship or the landline.

Science of L.A.'s 'Carmageddon' proves (shock!) that cars cause much of LA's air pollution

Suzanne Paulson, UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, saw "Carmageddon" as an opportunity to make use of a "natural experiment." She and a colleague "measured pollutants in the air during the LA freeway shutdown last year, and have now released their findings.

Air quality near the normally busy highway improved by 83 percent that day last July, relative to comparable weekends. Elsewhere in West Los Angeles, the improvement was equally dramatic. Air quality improved by 75 percent on that side of the city and in Santa Monica, and by 25 percent throughout the entire region, as a measure of the drop in ultrafine particulate matter associated with tailpipe emissions.

"We saw what we expected: you take motor vehicles away, the air gets really, really clean," Paulson says, "which tells us that most of the pollution is from motor vehicles from one type or another in this area."

More: L.A.'s 'Carmageddon' Produced Dramatic, Instantaneous Air Quality Improvements (The Atlantic).

Another "Carmaggedon" just took place in LA. Wonder if there will be more science to come from this edition.

(Image: Dallas Traffic 10/19/11 1227pm, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from nffcnnr's photostream)

As car service app Uber grows, D.C. council pushes to regulate

I absolutely love the smartphone app Uber, which allows you to order car service on demand, instead of trying to hail or call a cab or order a black car. It became an essential tool during my radiation treatment for cancer in LA, when treatment made me too weak to drive, public transportation didn't serve the route I needed to get to the hospital, and I was just too flaked out to arrange rides in other ways. When my friends Tara Brown and Sean Bonner "gifted" me some Uber credits, I tried it once and was hooked. Uber wasn't a luxury for me, but a truly practical service.

It is also the very definition of a disruptive technology: as Napster was to the recording industry, Uber is to taxi unions. And, not coincidentally, the guy behind it is Travis Kalanick, who was once sued for $250 billion by the MPAA, RIAA, and NMPA over his now-defunct P2P search engine Scour.

In his latest round of pissing off legacy industries by building great internet-based services, Kalanick has managed to upset the forces that represent Washington, DC area cab drivers. And the DC city council is now considering regulation that would mandate much more government oversight over Uber's operations, and severely cramp its style. Snip from WaPo:

The regulations, among other things, would require drivers and companies to obtain licenses to be renewed annually; require companies to operate at least 20 vehicles, with at least 10 percent of them wheelchair-accessible; and require the vehicles to be painted black and meet age and model standards.

Also in the proposed rules is a ban on “demand pricing” — a direct shot at a key part of the Uber business model, which hikes prices during periods of high demand to guarantee a supply of cars.

“I would ask the D.C. Council to figure out what problem it is trying to solve,” Kalanick quipped this week. “Sedans didn’t all of a sudden grow horns and get a pitchfork.”

Read more: D.C. Council weighs limo regulations (Washington Post, thanks, Miles O'Brien).

Critiquing the flying car in 1944

During World War II, a time when most manufacturing was concentrated on the war effort and Americans were living with ration books and scrap metal drives, advertising became a very strange thing. Companies wanted to make people aware they still existed, even though they weren't currently offering much for sale and unnecessary consumption was being discouraged. More importantly, the companies wanted Americans to associate their brand name with the promise of life after the War. So, what you got, were a lot of advertisements touting what this or that company was going to do just as soon as the Germans and Japanese were defeated.

The image above comes from a 1944 advertisement by the Association of American Railroads. That room is actually the lounge car on a train — or, rather, the hypothetical lounge car on an imaginary train that might be built after the War is over (provided the development of air travel and the construction of the interstate highway system don't doom the train industry to a slow decline). Basically, you had a lot of time when companies had little more than dreams to offer, so the dreams just kept getting bigger and bigger.

At the Paleofuture blog, Matt Novak writes about this ad as part of a larger trend, and offers up some examples of how the tendency to make big promises about the future of technology was being heavily critiqued even as it happened. Novak's posts help make sense of some of the more-ridiculous branches of midcentury futurism. For instance, by 1944 techno-dreamers were already beginning to imagine a future with a flying machine in every carport. At the time, it was helicopters, but it's not much of a leap to catch up to the more-iconic flying car.

The trouble — as pointed out in a 1944 issue of Science and Mechanics — is that owning a flying machine comes with safety and social concerns that make it a hard sell in the real world:

Read the rest

TSA dumps Grandpa's cremains all over airport, laughs at distraught relative as he picks bone fragments off the floor

John Gross of Indianapolis claims that a TSA operative at the Orlando airport opened up the tightly sealed jar, labelled HUMAN REMAINS, which bore his grandfather's ashes, and then proceeded to butterfinger Grandad all over the terminal. Then the TSA person laughed at him, while he got on his hands and knees and started picking up bone fragments. Most of his grandad ended up in the carpet. From RTV6:

"They opened up my bag, and I told them, 'Please, be careful. These are my grandpa's ashes,'" he told the station. "She picked up the jar. She opened it up. I was told later on that she had no right to even open it, that they could have used other devices, like an X-ray machine. So she opened it up. She used her finger and was sifting through it. And then she accidentally spilled it."

Confrontation With TSA Agent Leaves Grandpa's Ashes On Floor (via Consumerist)

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Awesome DIY transportation

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

I don't have much information on this piece. I don't know who made it, or when. But I do know that it is a hand-made wooden bicycle, produced by a clearly incredible everyday artisan somewhere on the continent of Africa. It's also Mike Lynd's favorite exhibit at the Birmingham, England, Thinktank Science Museum, where the bicycle is part of a larger section dedicated to transportation innovations.

A quick Google search tells me that a tradition of hand-made bikes with wooden parts exists in lots of African countries. I found a video of a man in Malawi riding a bike he built from recycled metal tires attached to a 2-by-4 frame; cart-like wooden bikes built in Rwanda and in the Congo to carry goods and belongings over long distances; and some stories on Jules Bassong, a wood sculptor who toured his native Cameroon on a wooden bicycle he made in 2008.

Impromptu jam in a NYC subway car

In this video from the NYC subway, a singer named Jessica Latshaw, bearing a small uke, finds herself sitting across from a gentleman with a fine pair of bongos. The two begin an impromptu jam session, emceed by a random gregarious stranger and captured for posterity by a subway rider with a camphone. The performance is just fine, and it's clear from the footage that the rest of the car is having a fine time.

In theory, it's possible that the whole thing is a fix, "buzz marketing" from Latshaw and co, and if so, well, it's an extraordinarily nonobnoxious example of the form.

okay- what you are about to watch is a true new york experience. what originally started out as a typical nyc subway ride (sitting across from guy who smelled like urine) turned into an awesome performance by two people who have never met before. i captured the whole thing on video.

never a dull moment on the nyc subway (Thanks, z7q2!)

Freaky airplane landing videos

My new obsession: Cockpit landing videos taken during approaches into technically challenging airports. 

Yesterday, Phillip Bump posted a link on Twitter to a detailed rant, written by a pilot, about why pilots don't like to land at (or take off from) Washington DC's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. That post is pretty  interesting, especially if you've ever wondered—as I had, while waiting on the tarmac at National last fall—how large jets manage land and take off from that airport while simultaneously avoiding all the no-fly zones that are very, very close by. (Hint: It is difficult, and occasionally terrifying.) But the money shot is at the end, where you can watch a video that will show you the pilot's eye view of a National Airport landing approach. 

Turns out, there is a whole, beautiful genre of YouTube videos devoted to this kind of thing. The video above is one of my favorites, showing the approach in to Hong Kong's old Kai Tak airport. Closed in 1998, Kai Tak had one of the most challenging landing approaches in the world. It involved flying at heights of less than 1000 feet over the top of crowded neighborhoods and close to nearby skyscrapers, then executing a sharp right-hand turn, while continuing to lose elevation. Oh, and, the turn had to be done without the help of the Instrument Landing System. Instead, pilots made the turn based on a checkerboard marker painted on the side of a hill. And the runway ended in water. And the wind was often less than favorable to this kind of maneuvering. Fun! 

The video above is a bit long, but if you fast forward to about 3:00 minutes in, you'll see the best parts. By that point, you can see the checkerboard marker off to the left and get a feel for just how low these planes had to be. Although, frankly, I'm having a hard time deciding which is freakier: What these landing looked like from the sky, or what they looked like from the ground

Video Link