How to Play Football With Nails and Popsicle Sticks

Well, actually if you do that you’ll be infringing a patent. I love reading patents, but I rarely understand them. This one I do, since it uses words I understand, like ‘roofing nails’ and ‘elastic bands’:

clipped from

A board game for at least two individuals to play. The board game is a modified form of soccer that uses roofing nails pounded into a flat surface as “players,” a marble as a soccer ball, and a pair of Popsicle sticks as shooters. In addition, an elastic band is wrapped around into a rectangular fashion to have a rectangular-shaped playing field.

The Good Cable Guide

As promised to readers of the column (sorry, subscription only) on and in this week’s The Asian Wall Street Journal Personal Journal, here’s the full list of tips from Robert Bellows of Cable-Safe:

1. View Cable Management as an Important Safety Issue Perhaps the most important tip in keeping our cables organized is to realize that the collection of cables and devices cluttering our office floors is more than an unsightly mess, it is a clear and present safety hazard. Tangled cable clutter causes trips, falls, and excessive dust buildup that can result in overheating of devices and needless risk of fire. According to the NFPA, one of the most common causes of fires is physical damage to electrical cords. Other than fire, the most common hazards are the everyday yanks, pulls and cable snags causing unintentional system shut downs, data loss, or damage to equipment connections. This in turn causes expensive and frustrating communication or production downtime.

2. Absorb Excess Cable Length A significant cause of cable clutter is excessive cable length. A good way to absorb this length is to simply loop the excess length of each individual cable into a 10” to 12” bundle. Tie the bundle at both ends with Velcro or cable ties to form a long dog-bone shape that is compact and lays fairly straight. The loops on data cables should not be too tight. If you can fit two fingers side-by-side inside the loop, you can be sure the loop is not kinked.

Note: While absorbing excess length is the objective, it is good to leave enough extra length in the cables to allow moving computer equipment without having to disconnect cables.

3. Keep Cables Separated. Avoid Bunching Cables Into A Single Mass One quick & dirty method of “organizing” cables is to gather the whole pile into one or several large bunches with cable-ties straps. This will get them out of the way for a time, but the first time a cable has to be removed the whole mess will have to be pulled apart cable by cable. This consumes valuable IT time that could be spent more productively. To avoid this, first loop and tie all cables individually then bundle them together in small groups that are easy to separate.

4. Eliminate Unused Cables As we upgrade our computer systems we are constantly switching cables. Unused cables add significantly to cable clutter and can simply be removed or coiled up and stored at its source.

5. Avoid Mixing Data Cables With Electrical Cords It is good practice to keep data cables separated from power cords to avoid the potential of electromagnetic crosstalk.

6. Throw Some Light On The Subject Taking a moment to point a a good light source under the desk before starting will make the job easier, faster and will help avoid mistakes.

7. Label Cables & Their Ports Label each cable and both connecting points before disconnecting any cable. This saves a lot of time and eliminates improper reconnects.

8. Use Adhesive Cable Clips Liberally Before organizing, have a good supply of adhesive cable clips on hand. These help track cables from port to port without having to lay on the floor. Clipping cables in keeps cables separated and avoids tangles.

9. Establish a Cable Flow If possible, it helps to group cables that are going to the same destination into a similar arch or path. This “flow” of cables looks neater and help keep cables separated and tangle-free. Cables outside of this flow can be placed into their own path with adhesive cable guides.

Thanks, Robert.

Urine, Corrosion, And The Decay Of Bridges

You have to feel sorry for designers, particularly bridge designers. How can you factor in all the variables that will determine whether your bridge survives?

Take for example, a bridge in Palembang, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Built between 1962 and 1965, the 1,177-meter long and 22-meter wide bridge was named after the then president, Sukarno. When he fell from grace it was renamed Ampera (short for Amanat Penderitaan Rakyat or the Mandate of People’s Pain, according to The Jakarta Post, In Memory Of The Suffering of the People, according to others. They were difficult times and bridge namers were not given to levity). It is a distinctive-looking bridge, with two tall towers standing like guillotines above the Musi river. It is, in short, the pride of the region.

photo by Audy Mirza Alwi

It has been repaired a few times. The Post says it was renovated in 1981 after fears that flaws in the original construction might cause it to collapse. More recently the Japanese have funded (PDF) efforts to rehabilitate the bridge, especially after some serious underwater damage (mindful, no doubt, that the bridge was originally funded by war reparations from the Pacific War.) Despite some problems (like ships bumping into the bridge), the Japanese were able to report in late 2002 that “The project has contributed positively, based on the master plan, to urban development”.

Well, up to a point. Last Friday, The Jakarta Post carried a story headlined “Bridge in Palembang may collapse due to excessive urination”. Not really much more needs to be said, but let’s spell it out. The bridge is sloping. This ‘irregular slant’ had been confirmed by Professor Annas Ali, a highway and bridge expert at the public works office who conducted research on the bridge recently (presumably by standing on it and noticing that he was not standing, as we engineers call it, ‘straight’).

Upon further inspection officials noted that, in the words of the Post, “one of the reasons for the apparent structural deterioration was due to the frequency of people urinating on one of the steel pillars of the bridge, causing it weaken due to the corrosive forces of human urine.” This deterioration can be measured since you can actually feel the bridge ‘resonating’. This was proven by the head of the city’s transportation office, Syaidina Ali, who advised the Post reporter to ”try standing on the Ampera bridge. If the traffic passing on the bridge is heavy, you can feel it moving quite a bit.” Presumably he did not advise standing under the bridge in case a colleague was corrosion testing.

If someone had been, it wasn’t anyone from the highway and bridge department at the Palembang Public Works Office, whose head, Azmi Lakoni, was quoted by the Post as saying that his office had not yet done research on the condition of the bridge. But Mr Lakoni did agree on the urine theory. “The office has not yet done thorough tests on the slant of the bridge,” he said, ”but we are concerned that one of its main support piers has been weakened by urine, as it is a popular spot for locals to relieve themselves.”

This is not the only problem facing the bridge, and it’s another bitter lesson for bridge designers. “Another problem that was pointed out,” the Post report continues, “was that people had stolen pieces of the bridge.” This is always a hazard for bridges, but not uncommon in Indonesia (or Australia, thanks to Taka. As the Post explains: “In 1998, when the country was simultaneously in a state of euphoria and confusion sparked by the reformasi movement, thieves were known to have dismantled some parts of the bridge” by climbing the two towers and removing bits of them. It’s not clear from the report whether they were euphoric or confused when they did this, but one can only hope they were not relieving themselves.

My advice to tourists thinking of visiting the area: Avoid the bridge until this whole problem is sorted. But if you do find yourself in the area you now know of a good rest stop.