The Mathematical Institute for Statistical, Scientific and Logical Inquiry into Natural Knowledge (MISSLINK)

MISSLINK is devoted to the collection of earthly pearls of wisdom, to the nurturing of erudition, to the development and respect for education. We are THE location for the sagacious, lore-collecting, semi-demi-omniscient being of today. Today's luminescent material: Traffic lights. A MISSLINK report on spoon survival. From our Australian MISSLINK affiliate. MISSLINK has an opening for a Statistician. A MISSLINK report on why the moon glows.

  1. Why is the Green on the bottom? Green light is heavier than Yellow light which is heavier than Red. That is why the Green light is on the bottom of traffic lights and the Red light is on top. If they did it the other way around traffic lights would be top heavy.
  2. Why are the lights sometimes sideways or the colors reversed in non-US countries? It is a well known that laws vary in different countries. For example, the laws of physics change depending on where you are (see black hole*). In other countries, they use different light bulbs, and the light has different properties. Also, since traffic lights are an older technology in the US and have been in use longer there, it was more necessary to accommodate the natural alignment of the colors in the manufacturing process. With newer manufacturing processes (6 sigma, ISO 9700, just-in-time light signaling) and modern high-tensile materials it is no longer so necessary to put Green on the bottom.
  3. Why do traffic lights rock back and forth? Because the lights alternate. The green light turning on gives a push backwards to the signal, then as the green dies out and the yellow turns on, a different push is given, at a different level. Then the red comes on a gives an even longer push, but at a different lever arm to the location where the signal lamp is connected to the poll or wire to which it is attached. The consistent oscillation of the lights causes the familiar rocking of the traffic signal. Most drivers stare at these signals at every intersection. If the rocking is strong, it can make weak-stomached drivers sick to their stomachs (see mal-de-mer*). This explains the staining on the left side of most traffic lanes at traffic-signal controlled intersections. (07/02/2002)
Today's questions
  1. Why did Kurt Weill cover a Door's song? The Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) was released by the Doors in 1967. Yet Kurt Weill managed to write this song or around 1930! How could he do this? This is clearly a question for Peter Schickele, the intrepid biographer of PDQ Bach. (07/02/2002)
  2. We are all creatures of habit and have at various times experienced seeing the same event occur day in and day out, possibly every Monday to Friday on the way to work or school. We often say that we can set our watches by so-and-so as he (or she) executes some behavior at a regular time. But, since we are there to witness this behavior, could not the other person also set their watches by our behavior of watching them? Or should they wait until we actually set our watch before setting their watch? (07/02/2002)

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