(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘transportation

“All roads lead to Rome”*…

Spanning one-ninth of the earth’s circumference across three continents, the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by premodern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents.

Conventional maps that represent this world as it appears from space signally fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information. Cost, rather than distance, is the principal determinant of connectivity…

ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World reconstructs the time cost and financial expense associated with a wide range of different types of travel in antiquity. The model is based on a simplified version of the giant network of cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes that framed movement across the Roman Empire. It broadly reflects conditions around 200 CE but also covers a few sites and roads created in late antiquity…

For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.

Taking account of seasonal variation and accommodating a wide range of modes and means of transport, ORBIS reveals the true shape of the Roman world and provides a unique resource for our understanding of premodern history.

Ancient transportation and travel: “ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World.”

* The proverb “All roads lead to Rome” derives from medieval Latin. It was first recorded in writing in 1175 by Alain de Lille, a French theologian and poet, whose Liber Parabolarum renders it as ‘mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam’ (a thousand roads lead men forever to Rome)

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As we plot our paths, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Sylvan Goldman introduced the first shopping cart in his Humpty Dumpty grocery store in Oklahoma City.

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“Like so many named places.. it was less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts– census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to its own freeway”*…

Dallas-Fort Worth has one of the world’s most extensive urban freeway systems. It is the product of the pro-growth ambition of political and business leaders, and has empowered the ambition of real estate developers, big business, the technology industry and entrepreneurs. The North Texas cultural spirit to think big and build big has guided the ongoing growth and expansion of Dallas-Fort Worth freeways, a transportation system which has propelled North Texas to be among the most economically successful regions in the United States in the post-World War II era. Dallas-Fort Worth Freeways documents the origins, politics, influence and resulting urban landscape of North Texas freeways…

The very complete– and lavishly illustrated– history of the Dallas-Fort area’s motorways: “Dallas-Fort Worth Freeways.”

See also the same author’s equally remarkable “Houston Freeways.”

* Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

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As we watch for our exit, we might send motile birthday greetings to Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, he was born on this date in 1725.  In 1769, Cugnot, a military engineer, invented the world’s first fuel-propelled vehicle–a gun tractor commissioned by the French government.  The following year he produced the first mechanically-driven “horseless carriage”; his steam tricycle, driven by a steam engine, carried four passengers and was the forerunner of the modern motor car.

There are reports of a minor incident in 1771, when the second prototype vehicle is said to have accidentally knocked down a brick or stone wall, either that or a Paris garden or part of the Paris Arsenal walls, in perhaps the first known automobile accident.

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, monument à Void (Lorraine)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 25, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Every spirit makes its house, and we can give a shrewd guess from the house to the inhabitant”*…

 

house numbers

 

Where did the very idea of assigning numbers to homes come from? As Deirdre Mask writes in her fascinating new history of street addresses, The Address Book, house numbering is a product of the Enlightenment, and was undertaken originally not to aid citizens but to make it easier to tax and conscript them. “House numbers exist not to help you find your way,” Mask writes, “but rather to help the government find you”…

The familiar American address system of odds and evens running concurrently down opposite sides of the street comes from Philadelphia, where Clement Biddle established it in 1790, according to Anton Tantner’s odd and delightful Address Numbers: Pictures of a Forgotten History. It was also in Philadelphia that the idea of assigning each block its own 100-number range was pioneered, in 1856. Both systems have spread across the world, though other systems still persist: the “horseshoe” method of numbers running sequentially down one side of the street and then back on the other side, so that No. 1 sits across from the highest number on the block; a “distance scheme” in which the number on a house refers to its distance from a given point. There are still plenty of places in the world where addresses are not used. In most towns in Costa Rica, for example, locations are given narratively (“fifty meters west of the town hall,” etc.), since houses have no numbers and, “as in the song of U2,” writes the Costa Rica News, “the streets have no name.”…

Think of your address numbers as your house’s earrings. Your house projects a certain aesthetic to your neighbors, intentionally or unintentionally, a set of visual cues that can be read along lines of class, taste, aspiration, and style. The numbers on your house do more than identify your address for the postman; deployed properly, like the perfect pair of earrings, house numbers accentuate a harmonious visual message in concert with the design around them. Sometimes that message is one of individuality: My house, the numerals say, reflects my own personality, and is unlike any other house you might encounter. Sometimes it’s a message of conformity: My house fits in securely with all my neighbors’.

I recently walked every single street in my ZIP code in the Northern Virginia suburbs, cataloging the house numbers I saw along the way and mapping them, block by block for 1,114 blocks. This absolutely scientific survey yielded significant data about how styles of house numbers propagate across neighborhoods and significant observations about how house numbers “speak” to the passersby they address…

Serif or sans serif?… Dan Kois (@dankois) explores what that can tell us: “How people style their house numbers.”

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we do a number, we might recall that on this date in 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, landmark legislation that funded a 40,000-mile system of interstate roads that ultimately reached every American city with a population of more than 100,000. Today, almost 90% of the interstate system crosses rural areas, putting most citizens and businesses within driving distance of one another. Although Eisenhower’s rationale was martial (creating a road system on which convoys could travel more easily), the results were largely civilian.  From the growth of trucking to the rise of suburbs, the interstate highway system re-shaped American landscapes and lives.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 29, 2020 at 1:01 am

“First we eat, then we do everything else”*…

 

food flow

How food flows between counties in the U.S.: each line represents the transportation of all food commodities, along transit routes, like roads or railways.

 

My team at the University of Illinois just developed the first high-resolution map of the U.S. food supply chain.

Our map is a comprehensive snapshot of all food flows between counties in the U.S. – grains, fruits and vegetables, animal feed, and processed food items.

To build the map, we brought together information from eight databases, including the Freight Analysis Framework from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which tracks where items are shipped around the country, and Port Trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows the international ports through which goods are traded…

Food counties

These nine counties — mostly in California — are most central to the overall structure of the food supply network. A disruption to any of these counties may have ripple effects for the food supply chain of the entire country.

 

Megan Konar, one of the principal investigators on the study, explains in fascinating detail how food gets to your home… and lists some of the bottlenecks and vulnerabilities to which we’d be wise to pay attention.  Read the study in full here.

* M. F. K. Fisher

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As we dig in, we might send well-preserved birthday greetings to Nicolas Appert; he was born on this date in 1749.  A confectioner and inventor, he is known as “the father of canning.”

In 1795, Napoleon, who famously understood that an army travels on its stomach, had offered a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food and transporting it to its armies.  Appert, who worked 14 years to perfect a method of storing food in sterilized glass containers, won the award in 1810.

Interestingly, that same year (1810), Appert’s friend and agent, Peter Durand, took the invention to the other side.  He switched the medium from glass to metal and presented it to Napoleon’s enemies, the British– scoring  a patent (No. 3372) from King George for the preservation of food in metal (and glass and pottery) containers… the tin can.

One of Appert’s/Durand’s first cans

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

“These days, the bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does”*…

 

Late 19th-century Americans loved railroads, which seemed to eradicate time and space, moving goods and people more cheaply and more conveniently than ever before. And they feared railroads because in most of the country it was impossible to do business without them.

Businesses, and the republic itself, seemed to be at the mercy of the monopoly power of railroad corporations. American farmers, businessmen and consumers thought of competition as a way to ensure fairness in the marketplace. But with no real competitors over many routes, railroads could charge different rates to different customers. This power to decide economic winners and losers threatened not only individual businesses but also the conditions that sustained the republic.

That may sound familiar. As a historian of that first Gilded Age, I see parallels between the power of the railroads and today’s internet giants like Verizon and Comcast. The current regulators – the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican majority – and many of its critics both embrace a solution that 19th-century Americans tried and dismissed: market competition…

The current controversy about the monopolistic power of internet service providers echoes those concerns from the first Gilded Age. As anti-monopolists did in the 19th century, advocates of an open internet argue that regulation will advance competition by creating a level playing field for all comers, big and small, resulting in more innovation and better products. (There was even a radical, if short-lived, proposal to nationalize high-speed wireless service.)

However, no proposed regulations for an open internet address the existing power of either the service providers or the “Big Five” internet giants: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Like Standard Oil, they have the power to wring enormous advantages from the internet service providers, to the detriment of smaller competitors.

The most important element of the debate – both then and now – is not the particular regulations that are or are not enacted. What’s crucial is the wider concerns about the effects on society. The Gilded Age’s anti-monopolists had political and moral concerns, not economic ones. They believed, as many in the U.S. still do, that a democracy’s economy should be judged not only – nor even primarily – by its financial output. Rather, success is how well it sustains the ideals, values and engaged citizenship on which free societies depend.

When monopoly threatens something as fundamental as the free circulation of information and the equal access of citizens to technologies central to their daily life, the issues are no longer economic.

Stanford historian Richard White unpacks an important historical analogue; read it in full at “For tech giants, a cautionary tale from 19th century railroads on the limits of competition.”

[Image above: source]

* Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things

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As we wonder if The Invisible Hand is giving us the finger, we might recall that it was on this date in 1852 that Henry Wells and William G. Fargo joined with several other investors to launch their eponymously-named cross-country freight business.  The California gold rush had created an explosive new need, which Wells, Fargo and other “pony express” and stage lines leapt to meet.  It was after the Civil War, in 1866, when Wells, Fargo acquired many of their competitors, that it became the dominant supplier.  (Ever flexible, they adapted again three years later, when the transcontinental railroad was finished.)

From it’s earliest days, it also functioned as a bank, factoring the shipments of gold that it carried.  Indeed, when Wells, Fargo exited the freight business as a result of government nationalization of freight during World War I, the bank (which merged with Nevada National in the first of a series of “transformative transactions”) continued to operate as “Wells, Fargo,” as indeed it does (albeit under unrecognizably evolved ownership) today.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

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