Spare Easter Eggs? Here’s a little experiment in complexity…

 

Consumed too much chocolate? Sugar overdose? Unwanted Easter eggs stacking up? Before you start baking chocolate cakes, please do this little experiment for me: smash the eggs on the floor and measure the size of the fragments. They might just reveal some amazing universal laws of complexity, self-organisation and fractals.  I’ve banged on about power laws and city size elsewhere on this blog – basically city sizes (and lots of other things in the universe) follow eerily consistent power law size distributions. In Paul Krugman’s take on this subject – the excellent and very readable Self Organising Economy –  he mentions that if you throw a Grecian urn at a wall the resulting fragments will follow a power law and that the exact power shape (the slope of graph) will be unique the shape and materials of that urn.   It appears that fragmentation processes follow the same distributional patterns as Earthquakes, meteorites, tree branches, companies and cities.  Krugman doesn’t say much more on the Grecian urns and the internet hasn’t got much either so i wanted to test this idea myself. Unfortunately I have few Grecian urns at my disposal, and none that i can smash for the purposes of a poorly subscribed amateur blog. Conversely, chocolate eggs are in abundance this time of year, and I figured a refrigerated chocolate egg would be sufficiently brittle to use in lieu of priceless antique urn.
Grecian urn, probably expensive
So here are the steps (with details below):
1) Refrigerate chocolate Easter egg
2) Drop egg from height onto clean surface
3) Weigh or measure fragment sizes
4) Sort and plot on chart
5) Eat chocolate egg fragments
6) Send me your results…

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Why air pollution is holding back the most disadvantaged kids

Analysis released today by The Guardian and Greenpeace, showing that over a thousand  schools are located near dangerously polluted roads, is a welcome contribution to the growing concern about impacts of air pollution in cities (a map and list of polluted schools can be found here). Traffic pollution is bad for all residents and workers in cities, but there is a social dimension which is still getting patchy acknowledgement: traffic is strangling social mobility.  Its not just that schools are dangerously polluted, but the poorest pupils are the most exposed, and this affects health and academic outcomes.

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Disconnected networks & the rail replacement bus

Too many regions in the UK suffer unreliable rail networks, due to lack of connectivity and redundancy. This is exposed  each weekend when thousands of passengers suffer the ordeal of the rail replacement bus. The truth is that too much of the UK rail network scores poorly on measures of network robustness and connectivity and whole regions are vulnerable to the loss of single links – planned or otherwise.  What can we learn from other networks, such as the internet, or the brain of a roundworm to make our networks more robust?

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Millennials and the polycentric workplace

Workplaces in the UK are reaching a tipping point.  More bosses are recognising the benefits of flexible working, and more staff are realising they can be more productive varying their location.  According to Lancaster University’s Work Foundation 30% of workplaces allow flexible hour and this will increase to 50% by 2020.  The five day, routine point to point commute will no longer be the norm.

The reasons are diverse and fast-moving.  Part-time and self-employment in the knowledge economy is growing.  Millennials are taking a more relaxed approach to physical work-space, and companies, realising the potential  savings are enacting clear desk and locker policies.   Vodaphone estimate that UK businesses could save £34bn by “freeing up desk space and working flexibly”.   The world kept spinning when staff worked from home during rail strikes and the 2012 Olympics, and  we are recognising the benefits of spending more time at home with family instead of on overcrowded transport networks.  New technologies with increasing internet access and cloud working are enablers.  It adds up to major changes to demand on transport networks –  operators and transport agencies need to adapt their business models.

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Google timeline is fascinating (and slightly terrifying)

Imagine video recording your entire life.  Some of your friends on Facebook may seem dead keen on doing this (and sometimes on behalf of their very young offspring), but few have gone whole-hog and stuck a webcam to their forehead for posterity (or ex-post analysis).  To be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to relive my less sober nights in high definition, but sometimes I regret not getting some recording of the key moments especially ones taken for granted.  So I for one was delighted to discover today that unbeknown to me Google has been stitching together my every move for the last three years (actually I had a deep suspicion this was happening).  Every journey, from the mundane local food shop, going to the cinema, or staggering up Everest Base camp – its all there, along with some attempts to assign transport mode to journeys.

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Ipswich expanded town: missed opportunity or lucky escape?

Residents of Suffolk might lament the influx of Londoners as house prices in the Southeast push the London commuter bubble well into East Anglia.  But in 1966 Shankland, Cox and Associates (SC&A) were commissioned by Harold Wilson’s government to plan an expansion of Ipswich to accommodate at least an additional 70,000 Londoners.  The plan never came to fruition, as other New Towns were built instead.   Two elements of the Ipswich expansion debate have left  legacy of traffic congestion on  Ipswich today – a hot topic of conversation in the town.  The first was the advise, by at least two independent consultants to develop to the West was not followed through.  The second was an assumption that the road network within Ipswich would be upgraded whichever side of Ipswich was developed.  What actually happened was incremental expansion in most directions, but especially to the East and no new road provision into the town centre.

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From Suffolk to China: Zipf’s law in action

In any country  if you rank all the cities by population, these populations will follow the same pattern worldwide.  The law is so strong that you could use this as a geeky party trick: give me the population of the largest city in a country and I will tell you the population of the 50th largest.  It is a remarkable feature of cities that their populations follow not only follow a power law, but that the distribution is identical across the planet.

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