Monday, December 18, 2006

Heads, helmets...
The two professors' respective recent accidents, one fatal, in Hanoi, which I mentioned previously, has apparently caused quite a stir according to this article. Nothing else new stated in the article. "Lots of motorbikes, lots of crashes, lots of deaths... etc, etc"

Wonder how many of those upset people wore helmets to work today. My friend who used to work in traffic safety along with Mr Greig Craft, who's mentioned in the above link, said even the Viet Duc emergency ward doctors, despite seeing countless serious if not fatal head injuries from day to day, don't wear helmets - if they won't, who will? Especially when so many other Hanoians have such glamorous haircuts, which a helmet would just do no justice to, if not ruin for the night.

This is from a Boston Globe article on Papert(full piece here):
Strangely, shortly before the accident, Papert had been discussing how to build a computer model of Hanoi's notoriously chaotic traffic. He found it an interesting instance of a theme closely associated with his work: "emergent behavior," or the way that large groups of agents following simple rules, with no central leader, can spontaneously create sophisticated systems and activities. Examples include schools of fish, anthills, bee swarms, and, apparently, Vietnamese motorbike drivers. Like bees, Hanoi motorbikes move in swarms, unrestrained by laws, lanes, or traffic signals. Somehow, the swarm self-organizes to keep people moving and, mostly, not crashing into one another. Papert was fascinated, and spent his first days in Hanoi talking with his former student, Northwestern computer scientist Uri Wilensky, about how to model the city's traffic flow. As the two were crossing a six-lane road separating their hotel from the university, Papert was hit by a motorbike. Traffic in Hanoi is a self-defining flow of merging groups. Lights are few and often ignored, and divisions between lanes are determined less by lines on the ground than by a shifting, implicit group consensus. "Hanoi is one of the first places I've been where traffic really is organic," says Wilensky. "It really is more like a herd of buffalo." The system would be impossible without a large reserve of tolerance and informality. Newcomers to Hanoi, who are often unable to figure out how to cross the street, are told to step into traffic at a steady pace; the motorbikes will part around you. When the city began introducing traffic lights some years ago, a Vietnamese performance artist went to one of the busiest intersections in town and videotaped himself repeatedly crossing against the light to see whether traffic would make way for him; it did. "People were still nice," as he put it -- they hadn't yet embraced the tyranny of traffic lights. But there's a problem: as Vietnam grows richer, the number of motorbikes and cars on the street is rising furiously. From 2002 to 2004, the percentage of Vietnamese households owning motor vehicles went from 22 percent to 33 percent. These new vehicles are pouring into a hopelessly inadequate grid of winding alleyways, ancient dike roads, and Soviet-style highways. And as density rises, drivers behave more aggressively: 9,400 Vietnamese died in traffic accidents in the first nine months of this year.


oslo davis said...

you wearing a helmet these days?

Jon Hoff said...

Hey there. Just stumbled over your blog. Good stuff....we had quite a discussion about helmets over here: