The town of Drachten in the northern part of the Netherlands took its main traffic intersection and changed it drastically in 2003 -- all traffic signs and lights were removed! Below are pictures from before and after the rebuilding of the city square.

My favorite note from the summarizing report is that respondents think the traffic situation is less safe now (appendix 6c from the report), whereas the number of accidents has fallen to under 20% of previous levels. I think something called the Peltzman effect is behind the discrepancy between the increased safety but decreased view of safety. When human beings feel safe, they might engage in riskier behavior. By playing on the fears of people, the intersection has (so far) been much safer. I have previously blogged about this effect in a post on condoms.

Oddly enough, people ranked the "quality" of the re-designed space much better than before, even though they thought the re-design was less safe. In addition, the transit times across the intersection improved.

I think this effect has strong implications for how we can misunderstand our own rationality, and helps explain why it is important to study information objectively by examining accident rates and transit times, getting a full picture of how our emotions steer us in all situations.

Tip of the hat to reddit for still providing signal, even though most of your links are now noise.

Copyright note - the publication with these pictures didn't include explicit copyright information, but did contain a logo for a sponsoring institution, a Gemeente, meaning they should be in the public domain. If you are a random visitor with more information, please let me know if you are aware of the copyright situation of these photographs.


Drawing the US

As a follow-up to my earlier post, I drew the U.S. today. I managed to get all the states, though a few have some major issues. I colored in what I meant to draw, and I'm not really sure what happened at the MO / IL / KY border...hmmm...

If you think you can do better you should give it a shot!


Farewell, Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug has died:
Norman E. Borlaug, the plant scientist who did more than anyone else in the 20th century to teach the world to feed itself and whose work was credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives, died Saturday night. He was 95 and lived in Dallas.
In high school biology class, we had a population unit that included articles on Borlaug. As a fellow Iowan, Norman Borlaug was the center of several important discussions, especially his premonition that "If the world population continues to increase at the same rate, we will destroy the species."

There are a lot of slow, dangerous effects that we hear about every now and then - I think that people, myself included, don't think enough about the drastic increases in population that will come with better health-care and nourishment in every part of the world.


High SNR Sentences: Identifying You in Data

It was found that 87% (216 million of 248 million) of the population in the United States had reported characteristics that likely made them unique based only on {5-digit ZIP, gender, date of birth}.
The sentence was from a CMU researcher working in 2000 on 1990 census data. Unfortunately the paper is behind a wall, but a different, available paper with a decent methodology puts the number at 63%. I was not comforted by the lower estimate. Tip of the hat to Ars Technica for an interesting discussion on "anonymizing" data.


Drawing the US from Memory

I used to challenge people to draw the US from memory, it was usually hilarious when people who weren't from the mid-west tried to draw the region. I can do a respectable job, I almost always hit all the states and the shapes aren't too bad...but holy cow, Al Franken, you're my hero.