The Reason Behind Those Brightly Colored Balls Along Power Lines

If you've ever driven past those colorful balls strung up along a power line, you might have wondered about what purpose they serve—a thought that usually disappears as soon as the balls have faded from your rearview mirror. Though we sort of wish they were rogue holiday decorations local governments forgot to take down, the truth is that they’re actually used for aircraft safety.

According to electric utility company Edison International, the balls are called visibility marker balls (or just marker balls, for short), and they help make power lines more obvious to low-flying aircraft like planes and helicopters. Though you might not have realized it, you usually spot marker balls near mountain passes, deep valleys, major freeway crossings, and airports—all locations where aircraft tend to fly at low altitudes, running the risk of getting tangled up in the hard-to-see cables.

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates these marker balls and details their specifications in the Advisory Circular No. 70/7460-1L [PDF]. The diameter of the balls must be at least 36 inches on wires that cross canyons, lakes, and rivers, but the FAA allows 20-inch spheres on power lines fewer than 50 feet above ground level and within 1500 feet of an airport runway end. They should be spaced evenly at roughly 200-feet intervals along regular wires, and with less space (30- to 50-feet) intervals on wires near runway ends.

If there are fewer than four marker balls on a given wire, they should all be “aviation orange,” the fluorescent hue you probably associate with some communication towers. Otherwise, they should alternate between orange, white, and yellow to provide the highest level of visibility to approaching aircraft.

According to a 1983 article from United Press International, the marker balls first gained popularity in the early 1970s, when Arkansas’s then-governor Winthrop Rockefeller noticed electric wires whiz by as his aircraft started to land and decided something should be done to make them more obvious to pilots. The article also notes that the benefits go beyond aviation—the markers also help geese and boats steer clear of inconspicuous cables.

If you’re wondering by what magic the marker balls get installed on hard-to-reach power lines, it sometimes takes one helicopter and a very plucky technician. Check out the video below from T&D World to see exactly what that looks like. (The especially thrilling bit starts around 2:10.)

Now that one road-related mystery has been solved, find out the function of those black tubes sometimes stretched across the road.

[h/t Edison International]

The Reason White Castle Slider Burgers Have Five Holes

White Castle
White Castle

While it’s not often mentioned in conversations about the best fast food burger on the menu alongside staples like Shake Shack or In-N-Out, the White Castle slider burger still holds a special place in the stomachs of those who enjoy their bite-sized convenience. In 2014, TIME even named the slider the most influential burger of all time, with its debut in 1921 helping begin our nation’s obsession with fast-service burgers.

Peel the bun off a White Castle burger and you’ll find the square meat patty has exactly five holes. Why? Thrillist writer Wil Fulton went looking for an answer to this gastronomic mystery. It turns out that the holes serve a very functional purpose.

In 1954, a Cincinnati-based White Castle employee named Earl Howell stuffed his location’s suggestion box with a note that said the patties might cook more quickly if they were pierced. The reason? The franchise steams its burgers on the grill, and the holes allow the steam to better penetrate the stacks of patties (usually 30 burgers tall) that are piled on the grill at one time. No one has to flip the burgers, and they wind up coming out of the kitchen faster. The steam also picks up the flavor of the onion acting as a bottom layer, allowing it to spread through the stack.

Howell’s idea soon spread from Ohio to White Castle restaurants nationwide. The company facilitates the creation of the holes by puncturing a “meat log” and then slicing it and sending the patties to locations.

If you enjoy their distinctive flavor, the holes have a lot to do with it. Enjoy.

[h/t Thrillist]

We've All Been Riding Escalators Wrong, According to the Manufacturers

Rattankun Thongbun/iStock via Getty Images
Rattankun Thongbun/iStock via Getty Images

If you live in a city, you probably know that the "rules of the road" when it comes to riding escalators are similar to those on an actual road—and should be taken just as seriously. Stand in the right lane, walk in the left lane, and never, ever block traffic by stationing yourself between the two.

But what if we told you that the one clueless tourist with a hand on each rail and a foot in each lane was actually riding the escalator correctly? According to the CBC, escalator manufacturer Otis Elevator Company recommends that “users stand in the middle of the escalator with hands on both railings for maximum safety.”

Lifehacker pointed out that Otis’s official list [PDF] of safety advice online doesn’t expressly mention using both handrails, but does encourage people to “keep a steady grip on the handrail” and “stand in the center of the step and face forward.” However, even if the passenger in front of you is standing in the middle with just one hand on a rail, you still wouldn’t have an easy time continuing your uphill climb without asking them to move.

Speaking of your uphill climb (or downhill march), it’s less efficient than you think it is. While choosing to walk might shave a few seconds off your personal commute, studies have shown that if all people stood, using both escalator lanes instead of leaving one for walking, the machine could ferry about 31 extra passengers per minute.

It’s not the only argument against walking on escalators. The CBC cites studies in Japan and China that suggest walkers not only increase the likelihood of escalator accidents, but they also contribute to the degeneration of the machines themselves.

While speed-walking city slickers might balk at the idea of standing still, hopefully this information will at least help them view stationary rail-huggers as safety-conscious citizens rather than oblivious nuisances.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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