Stop, look, and listen: A tour of the world’s red crosswalks

My favorite thing about traveling is the little things. And with Google’s Maps, you can celebrate those without going anywhere. Here are “stop walking” signs from cities around the world.


As expected, Europe has a lot of diversity, particularly Switzerland:

Geneva, Switzerland has this skinny person
Lucerne, Switzerland has a lanky Giacometti type
Zurich, Switzerland also goes lanky, but a little more of the Age of Aquarius, Platonic ideal, smooth edges, hard ideas style that you get in that city.

More of Europe:
Berlin, Germany is v. different.
Vienna, Austria, which put these up during a recent Eurovision contest, gets the prize.

Oslo, Norway means business!
Stopping and going, Brussels, Belgium has style

North America

The huge US is depressingly homogeneous, especially in comparison to the much smaller Switzerland. Maybe there’s a monopoly in the US traffic-light market?

St. Louis

Zooming out to the rest of North America doesn’t seems improve things, though I admit I could have looked harder.
Montreal, the least Anglophone Canadian city, deviates from the US mold by only a bit, by hollowing out the hand. It’s “walk” guy is better though — I’ve got a picture of one below.
I pathetically couldn’t find any lights in Mexico City and haven’t checked other major Mexican cities, though I’m guess that border towns at least will look American.


In Africa, I tried Addis Ababa, Lagos, Accra, Nairobi, and even Cairo, but Google hasn’t shot any of them. I only found Streetview in South Africa. Here is Pretoria

East Asia

There is also very little Streetview in China. I tried Beijing, Shanghai, and a few other Chinese cities. All I found was Hong Kong. I guess that by the time we come to envy China for not having been scanned, Google will have them scanned too. China has over 200 cities of population over 1,000,000. There are only 9 in the US that big. Other parts of east Asia, like Japan and South Korea, are much better.
Hong Kong is realistic enough to automatically have its identity fizzed out by Google’s algorithms.
Tokyo, Japan. Looks like a worker. I was told that, in Japanese, the word for jaywalking translates to “red light, don’t care.”
Seoul, South Korea

South Asia

I didn’t have any luck finding lit crosswalks in south Asia, but that could be my problem.

Southeast Asia

In southeast Asia, I only looked in Manila, which only recently went up on Streetview in the past year I think, but they mostly only have crosswalks in their upscale neighborhoods, and, in-line with the USA-philia over there, those few look very much like the American ones

Middle East

In the Middle East (and outside of Israel), I only found usable intersections in Dubai, whose lights look like the Swiss ones above. Only connection I can think of is that that’s where they keep all their money

Israel has more. Here is Tel Aviv. Pretty manly, right? Wait till you see Sao Paolo.

South America and Latin America

South America is also very diverse. I only looked a bit, and many cities are unscanned, but it seems that there is a lot more interesting variety there than in other parts of the world. In fact, you can find different lights in the same intersection! In Santiago you’ll see a silhouette of the “walk” light — sprightly fella — and a more generic “walk” light guy walking in the other direction. These two really are from the same intersection.
Santiago, same intersection, walking guy walking the other way
Bogota, Colombia
It looks like Sao Paolo, Brazil has a burly burly strong man. I can’t figure out if the crookedness adds to or subtracts from his apparent virility.

“Walk” lights

“Walk” lights are harder to catch in Streetview than “stop”s. That said, I got a not-bad collection of those too. The lessons above stick: the US is homogenous; variety happens elsewhere. And, outside the US, the walker tends to be green and walk to the left instead of the right.
London, UK
Moscow, Russia
Tokyo, Japan
Seoul, South Korea

If there is some important cross-walk of the world you think I really missed out on, I’m happy to add more.

Ouroboros and the failures of complex systems

This is a little intense, it should be enough to just watch enough of the initial seconds to satisfy yourself that Ouroboros exists. I’d post a photo, but the photo I saw seemed photoshopped. That’s how I found the video.

A complex system has failed to integrate the proper information into its decision. I’d guess that the cause is a badly designed environment (what looks like a zoo enclosure) presenting an otherwise well-designed snake with exactly the wrong pattern of information. That said, the mere fact of the Ouroboros myth makes it conceivable that this can happen in the wild.

Ouroboros from Wikipedia Was this a failure of information diffusion in a distributed local-information system? Or was it a failure of a properly informed top-down system suppressing the right information and amplifying the wrong information? We don’t know, we don’t really have the language to articulate that question in a manner that it can be answered. In that respect this is not just a failure of a complex system, but a failure of complex systems, the field.

The “Ant well” is less ambiguously a failure of a decentralized system. It happens in the wild, when the head of a column of army ants short circuits. Millions of ants start marching in circles until too many have died to close the circuit. And here is a magically functional decentralized system. What does decentralized mean here? Does it mean the same thing in all three examples? How is it different from bottom-up, feedback, distributed, local, networked, hierarchical, modular, or any other concept? We’re still working on that. At least there’s more video than vocabulary out there.

Undrugs: Sugar pill may work even when you know it’s sugar pill

You’re sick? Here’s a sugar pill. We know that it can’t work. Take it anyway. You’ll feel better.

Introduced starting at 9:54. I think the interview is boring before then; he rambles.

My crush on the placebo effect started at Berkeley in Prof. Presti’s molecular neurobiology course. He introduced us to a very carefully controlled study showing that naloxone, a drug that can stop opiate overdoses, can also neutralize placebo pain. That’s a big deal. It can take pain that you started to feel only because you thought you were feeling it, and make that pain go away. The placebo effect is not just psychological, it’s chemical, and it can be influenced by chemistry. That means we can harness it.

I was so addicted to the placebo effect that I started collecting “the last week” of pills from all of my friends on birth control. I quickly amassed hundreds of sugar pills, an impressive drug collection even by Berkeley standards, even more impressive for its mystical power over the psyche. If I thought I was getting sick, I would take one so I could think I was getting better. And it really did always make me feel great, at least while telling that joke.

We don’t understand the mind, the brain, or the relationship between them. That’s true even though we have the perfect tool, drugs. Understanding consciousness will mean being able to describe mental states in chemical terms. Drugs change chemistry and cause predictable changes in mental states. They are they reason we know anything at all about the biological basis of consciousness. Of course, what we know is very little, and that it’s very complicated. The placebo effect is my favorite example: I described the effect of drugs as one-directional “drug -> brain chemistry -> mental states.” But the placebo effect seems to turn that chain on end: “sugar pill -> mental states -> chemistry.”

Enfascination 2012

Some things take time, but it only takes an instant to realize that you have no idea what’s going on. This epiphany—every time it happens—is punctuated by the sound of 500 stars around the universe literally exploding, dissolving their planets and neighbors in flaming atoms, in silence. It happens every instant, forever. As right as you were, it’s impossible for you to know how right.

Enfascination is a very tiny event that celebrates the act of being
caught. You have five minutes to share something that you think is
fascinating—that’s the only rule. You will find that the people you
are sharing with are fascinated too, and you will be caught by things
you’ve never thought to catch.

The 2012 Enfascination Lectures
Why: I would love for you to share.
When: Saturday, May 5th, or “Thinko de Mayo,” starting at, say, 5PM.
Where: Probably in the basement of Woodburn Hall, on the IU campus
Really?: Probably, maybe not. I just made this all up now so times and places can change. Check this webpage for updates.

This year’s occasion is my 30th birthday, but this is the ninth year that I’ve been hosting this birthday lecture series. Past topics have included Counting the Permutations of Digit Strings, Conceptions of Time in History, Chili Peppers, How to cross a glacier, The Singularity, Indiana Jones, Rural desert water distribution systems, Hexaflexagons, Small precious things, Wilderness Camps as Commodity, DIY Cooking, Roman Emperor Deaths , Joy of Science, Salt , Three Great Banquets in Italian History, How to Sharpen a Chisel, Some Properties of Numbers in Base Ten, The Physiological Limits to Human Perception of Time, Geophagy, Pond Ecology, Superstition: For Fun and Profit, Counterintuitive Results in Hydrodynamics, The Wolof Conception of Time, Arctic String Figures, The Seven Axioms of Mathematics, Dr Seuss and his Impact on Contemporary Children’s Literature, Motorcycle Life and Culture, Cultural Differences Between Japan and the US, Brief history of the Jim Henson Company, Female Orgasm, Insider Trading: For Fun and Profit, Film of Peter Greenaway, A Typographical Incident with Implications for the Structure of Thought, Cooperative Birth Control, Tones in Mandarin, Unschooling and Deschooling, Q&A: Fine Beer, DIY Backpacking, Chinese Nationalism in Tibet, Biofuels, The Yeti, The Health Benefits of Squatting, The Big Bang, How to Pick Stocks Like a Pro, Food Preservation Technique, or Managing Rot, Demonstrations in Number Theory, Rangolis, Kolum, The Hollow Earth, Edible Mushrooms: For Fun and Profit, Human Asexuality, A History of the California Central Valley Watershed, An Account of the Maidu Creation, Rural India, German Compound Words, Manipulating Children, Physics of Time, Animal Training on Humans, Constructed Languages, This Week’s Weather, The XYZs of Body Language, Light Filtration Through Orchards, Our Limits in Visualizing High Dimensional Spaces,Twin Studies. There is video for some of it, notes for others, collected here.

see you there,