Thursday, September 30, 2010

Normal Shweebs?

An inventor in New Zealand has come up with a way for commuters to get to work by traveling in a pedal-powered tube, called a Shweeb, that hangs from a monorail.  The shape of the Shweeb makes pedaling more efficient than pedaling a bicycle, so people don't have to worry about not having enough energy to make it move. And if someone pedaling slowly is approached from behind by someone in another Shweeb who is pedaling faster, the rear Shweeb can join up with the front Shweeb and help increase the speed of the slow-poke.

It's environmentally friendly, provides a workout, and is more personalized than taking mass transit! But would it work in snowy, windy, stormy Normal?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Normal Indoor Positioning Feature Future?

This is an article about indoor positioning. Basically, as I understand (or misunderstand) it, it's like a navigational system for people to use at indoor venues such as grocery stores, malls, and college campus buildings. Looking for the salad dressing at a grocery store? Use the positioning system. Looking for a particular classroom or a particular class (depending on which way the system is set up)? Use the positioning system. Heaven forbid anyone use signs or, even worse, actually ask someone for directions! Wouldn't want to have to put any thought into looking for the product/destination. And you sure don't want to have to interact with another human being.

 [Sigh!] Is this really necessary? Stores and campuses in Normal aren't really that large that someone needs electronic navigation. And in real life, products and classes get moved around. Just deal with it without electronic assistance.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Normal Nuggets of History

Time for a trip to the Normal Library's book sale! This time, I got three books about the history of McLean County and one old map/brochure of Illinois. I've already discovered a few interesting items in the books.

One chapter in The Way It Was In McLean County 1972-1822 by H. Clay Tate (1972) describes the infamous incident of a mob of locals breaking into the jail, dragging horse thief/murderer Charles Pierce out of the building, and hanging him from a tree "at the northwest corner of Market and Center streets." Oddly, there were no witnesses to identify anyone in the mob so no one was charged for this murder.

Another chapter describes recreational activities over the years in McLean County. Regarding baseball: "Indoor baseball held at the Coliseum often drew crowds of 1,000. Bloomington joined the Three Eye League in 1898. The league disbanded around 1940." Maybe they couldn't find enough three-eyed players to participate??

And it's hard to believe the variety of businesses in this area: 20 cigar manufacturing plants, a caramel factory and 150 other candy factories, an overall factory, four woodworking businesses, six brick yards, a brewery, a pork packing company, two flour mills, two feed mills, a canning factory, coal mines, etc.

It will take me quite a while to go through these books and learn more about this area. The pictures are also interesting -- Eastland Mall being built, Veteran's Parkway (nee the Belt Line) being constructed. I really appreciate people who take the time and effort to record this information so it's available for those of us who want to know what this area was like in the past.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Normal Needs "Smart" Traffic Lights

Here's an article about traffic lights with minds of their own. The idea is to have traffic lights that "talk" to nearby traffic lights and to monitor current conditions so they can do what is best to keep traffic moving. Currently, there are traffic lights that take into account the traffic needs at that one intersection, but that isn't as good as having traffic lights that can also take into account the traffic that will be coming from nearby intersections.

This is supposed to cut down on lights that go through preprogrammed cycles, which leave you sitting at a red light when there is no cross-traffic. And it is supposed to be better than lights that are timed down a particular street (e.g., Veteran's Parkway), because that timing doesn't take into account fluctuations in traffic or accidents that may cause back-ups.

I like the traffic lights that change when they "sense" the presence of my vehicle at (or approaching) the intersection. The "dumb" lights, on the other hand, need some education. Or they need to talk to the smart lights and learn how to respond to changes in traffic.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Normal Green Buildings = Healthy, Happy Workers

An article (quoting a study) suggests that people who work in LEED certified buildings miss fewer hours of work and are less stressed and less depressed than people who work in "conventional" (i.e., non-green) buildings.  With an increase in LEED certified buildings in Normal, employee health and productivity should increase. And employers with businesses in those buildings have a good reason to require employees to work even longer hours and to work additional days: it will make them healthier and happier!

[The best line in the article is the reference to the "lame-stream media." Very appropriate.]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is Normal Fashion Normal?

The article "On Fashion's Night Out, Normal Hits the Streets" on the New York Times website discusses Fashion Week in New York City and how the fashionistas this year look more like "normal" New Yorkers. So, what is "normal" fashion in Normal? Are there fashion trends around here and if so, are they concentrated among the college students?

Fashionable footwear in Normal seems to reflect extremes: flip-flops and boots. I've seen flip-flops worn in winter and boots worn in summer. Good old medium-blue denim jeans are more common than the overly baggy jeans or the skin-tight-with-trendy-holes jeans. And the popular tops for young females remain the low v-necks over tanks or camisoles. Anyone out of college seems to subscribe to the "whatever is most comfortable" rule of fashion (e.g., no teetering around on uber high heels, no tights that look like jeans or whatever those things are, and no fancy multi-layering-with-loads-of-jangly-accessories). (If you are beyond college and you try to wear the trendy clothes that college students wear, you might want to re-think that.)

Being surrounded by college students and academics, I don't get a chance to see the popular fashions among the corporate set. Someone from State Farm or Country Financial will have to cover that.

There isn't a "Fashion Week" or even a "Fashion Day" in Normal, and there doesn't seem to be any social pressure to be 'fashionable' around here. Maybe we could call our style "Comfortably Normal."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Normal's Big Green Boxes?

Here's an idea: transform a large, empty retail space into a place that grows organic herbs and vegetables. Called "big green boxes," these could potentially provide year-round produce for local residents, restaurants, and institutional cafeterias.  They are described as containing fish tanks from which the water circulates out to the growing areas and then back to the tanks (after being filtered). The fish thus fertilize the crops.

Kind of an interesting idea. But if it didn't work out, it might be difficult to transform the green box back into retail space. On the other hand, if it's probably not going to be purchased for retail use any time soon and might even be torn down, an old store as a place to grow  increasingly popular organic produce might be a good idea.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Normal's Dream HSR!

We think high speed rail that moves us 100-150 mph is exciting but that's nothing compared to a train that would run 5,000 mph through a proposed tunnel from New York to London!  This project ranks #9 on the top ten list in the article "Most Ambitious Transportation Projects of the 21st Century."  Can you imagine a train going that fast and derailing?  Or hitting something on the track? I prefer the current speed of trains, thank you very much.