Category Archives: Technology

Libraries' mysterious motion-sensor sinks

Why do the motion-sensor sinks in the restrooms around here work so poorly? [3586C]

[written in answer space:  It's all part of the water conservation initiative and the idea is that a majority of people will get frustrated enough to resort to antibacterial no-rinse-required spray.]

Interesting theory, Secret Scribbler.  But it’s more likely imprecise technology than the administration’s plot to force us to use antibacterial no-rinse-required spray.  As evidence I present the fact that, while washing my hands recently and standing a good distance from the Cormatic Automated Touchless Towel Dispenser, that device shot out the prescribed quantity of paper towel.  “What the hell,” I exclaimed, at which point the Cormatic responded by dispensing another quantity of paper towel of the exact size.

Magic carpet rides in Perkins Library

Why is the elevator for the Polisci department so sketchy?  [3589B]

[written in other hand:  It's actually a TARDIS.]

Sometimes it feels like a TARDIS (Doctor Who’s Time Machine, for all you non-nerds), Secret Scribbler.  It’s taken me on all sorts of crazy rides when I’ve only pushed 2.  Fortunately, when the original portion of Perkins Library is renovated, old Otis (which has been in operation since 1949), will be mercifully put down.

Odd structures

I’m studying abroad and I have seen a few of these odd structures in London. They are circular in base, bigger than the Duke library, and about 6 stories tall, though they vary. They are made only of steel supports, but do not seem to be involved in any construction. They don’t hold anything up either. What are they there for? Do people in London just like to remember using erector sets as children? Cheers.

Do they look old? These sound like tanks for the storage of gas. In particular, I think they’re associated with the storage of coal gas (derived from coal). There was steel scaffolding around the cylindrical tank. It could be that the tank part in the middle has been removed, leaving only the scaffolding. Some of the really old ones used a brick curtain around the outside rather than steel scaffolding. You can google words like “gas storage tanks” and “industrial archaeology” and look for images.

35 pence a minute

Why are phone calls so ridiculously expensive in Europe, particularly land line calls in Britain? What is the US doing so well that Europeans are not?

ANSWER PERSON RESPONDS: There are different regulatory structures and historical backgrounds between the telecommunications systems in these different places. Note that, in general, mobile phones are cheaper in Europe while wire phones are more expensive.

One article (search the database Historical Abstracts) suggests that the government owned telegraph service in Britain tried to limit competition from the fledgling phone companies in the late 19th century, making their development more difficult and expensive. Reformers in the USA pushed to regulate the privately owned telegraph monopoly, Western Union, and there were less restrictions on the development of telephone service and a regulatory environment that forced cheaper rates.

Delay when downloading files

When I download files on my Apple MacBook Pro there is a slight delay between when the save/open with window opens and the “OK” button activates. The delay is long enough that I think it is abnormal. Am I crazy? Do you know of anything like this happening to others? (Note: I use Mozilla Firefox, but I’m not sure if that matters.)


ANSWER PERSON RESPONDS: I’m not familiar with this issue, and perhaps you are crazy. If this delay is annoying enough to be a problem, I recommend contacting Duke’s OIT help desk at 684-2200 or There may be some sort of permission-checking going on to make sure you’re authorized to download something over the Duke network (I assume you’re using wireless here on campus).