Saturday, February 24, 2007

The house doesn't always win

What are the odds of winning the lottery? For an Australian syndicate, they were nearly 100%. Back in 1992 a clever group of investors figured out they could buy all 7.1 million possible numbers in the Virginia lottery, thus ensuring that they win the $27 million prize.

The Australian syndicate, International Lotto Fund, collected about $3,000 from 2500 investors. These not-lucky investors will collect an average of $10,800 paid in yearly installments of $540. The foolproof plan almost failed when they ran out of time, acquiring only 5 million tickets. They won anyhow.

The Virginia State Lottery grudgingly agreed to pay up. The rules say tickets must be purchased through a lotto terminal, but the Australians bought theirs in bulk from a grocery chain. Despite this technicality, Virginia decided it would be bad publicity to refuse.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Transporter Bridges

There are really only four ways to transport cars or people across a river: Over, under, on, or through. In other words, bridges, tunnels, ferries, or fords. We'll leave out the myriad of impractical variations, such as catapult, dirigible, parting (i.e. Moses), teleporting, etc. Basically, if you want to get across without getting your feet wet, your options are limited.

While in Newport, Wales (UK) I came across another variation: the transporter bridge. Transporter bridges are an old idea, first developed in Portugalete, Spain in 1893. The basic idea is that you build a giant gantry crane and lift things over the river. Vehicles drive on to the gondola, and operator transports them across and deposits them on the far bank. This configuration has several advantages in situations where you need an extremely tall bridge without an extensive on-ramp and off-ramp.

The bridge at Newport was built in 1906, and is currently still in operation. The gantry is 242 feet tall, and has a 592 foot span over the river Usk. Remarkably, this massive iron contraption is powered by only two 35 horsepower electric motors.

For various reasons transporter bridges haven't caught on - there are only a few of them around the world. Transporters have a limited capacity - about six cars, and take eight minutes to cross. They have all the annoyances of a ferry without the boat ride.
© 2008 Raoul Rubin