Water you up to LA?

Ever wonder where Los Angeles gets enough water to continuously supply their massive population? Here’s a hint, it’s slightly imported.  This is a really interesting web-based tour (with actual locations and directions if you’d like to experience it first hand) including photos of the massive LA Aqueduct along its 233 mile voyage from Owens River that started over a hundred years ago.

A self-guided tour of the Los Angeles Aqueduct via KCET.

Poveglia ain’t no place for sissies

A quarantine station, a dumping ground for plague victims, more recently a mental hospital — the tiny island of Poveglia in the Venice Lagoon has served many unpleasant purposes over the years, but today it stands empty, a crumbling collection of abandoned buildings and weeds run riot just two miles from the glittering palaces of the Grand Canal.

Legends and rumors about Poveglia are nearly as pervasive as the weeds, and they read like a horror story: that so many people were burned and buried there during the black plague that the soil is 50% human ash; that local fishermen give the island a wide berth for fear of netting the wave-polished bones of ancestors; that the psychiatrist who ran the mental hospital was a butcher and torturer who went mad from guilt and threw himself from the island’s belltower, only to survive the fall and be strangled by a “ghostly mist” that emerged from the ground.

An intriguing look into a very much abandoned island near Venice Italy. But not just your run of the mill island, this one has a pretty sorted history.

Starting as a battlement to protect the port, these three closely linked islands quickly were converted into a modern day “customs” inspection port for incoming and outgoing ships. Later the island was used to quaranteen sailors with the plague, and a final resting place for those who succombed to their ailments and were burned then interred; reportedly in the one hundred thousand plus range. It’s said that 50% of the island soil is ash from human remains.

Finally, it was transformed into a mental hospital, where supposedly horrible experiments were performed by a physician that was trying to cure insanity. He reportedly jumped to his death from a tower after apparently suffering from the same illness he sought to cure. This is reportedly the most haunted place on the planet, if you subscribe to that school of thought.

Strange Geographies: The Happy, Haunted Island of Poveglia via Mentalfloss

Other references on this topic:

The Island of Madness
A night on the haunted Poveglia Island in Italy
Poveglia Island (via Wikipedia)

Oh, and Peyton says Hi.

Where “SCRAM” comes from

The control room harkens back to a more analog era, when instruments on the wall looked like not much more than a piece of spiral graph paper behind glass and there was a noticeable lack of computer screens. There’s also the all-important SCRAM button, for emergency shut-down of the reactor. A museum sign explains the history of the acronym, which comes from an earlier plant, Chicago Pile-1, and a rather rudimentary-sounding emergency system.

The Chicago plant is notable for being the first to reach a state in which its nuclear-fission chain reaction was self-sustaining. Despite that achievement, however, emergency precautions at the time weren’t very high-tech, at least by today’s standards. Those precautions included workers suspending a thin rod of cadmium from a rope so that it dangled above a hole in the reactor. They used cadmium because it can slow down or stop a nuclear reaction by absorbing neutrons, hopefully stemming a disaster. But there was no automatic mechanism to make the cadmium fall into the hole. Instead, a museum sign explains, a “sturdy young male physicist stood by the rope, holding an axe.” (You can’t make this stuff up.) If something went wrong, he’d “swing his axe and cut the rope, plunging the rod into its hole and shutting down the reaction instantly.” That earned him the name “Safety Control Rod Axe Man,” now SCRAM for short.

Add this to the list of jobs I never want to have! Tour the World’s First Nuclear Power Plant via The Smithsonian Magazine. 

Experimenting with the six hour working day

A Swedish retirement home may seem an unlikely setting for an experiment about the future of work, but a small group of elderly-care nurses in Sweden have made radical changes to their daily lives in an effort to improve quality and efficiency.

In February the nurses switched from an eight-hour to a six-hour working day for the same wage – the first controlled trial of shorter hours since a rightward political shift in Sweden a decade ago snuffed out earlier efforts to explore alternatives to the traditional working week.

At Svartedalens, the trial is viewed as a success, even if, with an extra 14 members of staff hired to cope with the shorter hours and new shift patterns, it is costing the council money. Ann-Charlotte Dahlbom Larsson, head of elderly care at the home, says staff wellbeing is better and the standard of care is even higher.

And Svartedalens isn’t the first comany to try this, Toyota and Brath have also had great success, proving that a convential eight hour day doesn’t necesessarily mean better output or a higher quality of work.

Via The Guardian: Efficiency up, turnover down: Sweden experiments with six-hour working day

Barcode history is probably more interesting than you thought

It had been calculated that only ten digits were needed; the barcode had to be readable from any direction and at speed; there must be fewer than one in 20,000 undetected errors.

Based largely on morse code, and originally intended to streamline the checkout process at a supermarket, the barcode has a pretty interesting history. Iterate, iterate, iterate; and eventually success ensues, as does widespread adoption of new and useful technologies.

Read more about it here, via the Smithsonian Magazine.