Clive Thompson

Why speed bumps made from Silly Putty are a good idea

Silly Putty has an interesting property. It's soft when you squeeze it slowly, but rock hard if you hit it with a hammer. Someone came up with the good idea of making speed bumps (or "sleeping policemen," as they cleverly call them in the UK) out of a Silly Putty like substance. That way, slow drivers get a smooth ride, but the faster you go, the more the bump punishes you. It would be fun to design the speed bump in such a way that it rips the undercarriage out of any car going twice the speed limit.

[via Clive Thompson] Read the rest

Accepting unhappiness makes you happier, feeling bad about feeling bad makes you feel worse

"We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health," says Iris Mauss, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

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Make: a small-apartment-sized storage table from Ikea magazine boxes

Jules Yap takes to Ikeahackers to describe how you can use four Knuff magazine boxes to form a storage-top for a small-apartment-sized coffee table, using an Ikea stool for your base. Read the rest

This public toilet scans your face to make sure you don't use too much toilet paper

Beijing's Temple of Heaven is one of the world's most popular tourist spots. As such, it has a busy public restroom. The administrators felt that people were using too much toilet paper so they installed a toilet paper dispenser with facial recognition. If you received your 2-foot-long segment of toilet paper in the last 9 minutes, you'll have to wait to get more.

From Mashable:

In the short time it's been up, the system has already cut down usage to a fraction, temple staff said. According to the Beijing Evening News, each washroom average four rolls of toilet paper, compared to 20 rolls before.

But some have reported that the facial recognition process — which is supposed to take three seconds — can take up to a few minutes, and that it has not been reliable.

Some Weibo users have also responded with incredulity.

"To be honest, 60cm is a bit too little," said a user.

[via Clive Thompson] Read the rest

Link Rot: only half of the links on 2005's Million Dollar Homepage are still reachable

In 2005 a young man from England created a website called The Million Dollar Homepage and sold advertising space on it. The page is a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid (1,000,000 pixels) and he sold the pixels for $1 each. The page has 2,816 links in it. A recent analysis of all the links reveal that only 1,780 are still reachable.

From Harvard's Library Innovation Lab:

Over the decade or so since the Million Dollar Homepage sold its last pixel, link rot has ravaged the site’s embedded links. Of the 2,816 links that embedded on the page (accounting for a total of 999,400 pixels), 547 are entirely unreachable at this time. A further 489 redirect to a different domain or to a domain resale portal, leaving 1,780 reachable links. Most of the domains to which these links correspond are for sale or devoid of content.

The 547 unreachable links are attached to graphical elements that collectively take up 342,000 pixels (face value: $342,000). Redirects account for a further 145,000 pixels (face value: $145,000). While it would take a good deal of manual work to assess the reachable pages for content value, the majority do not seem to reflect their original purpose. Though the Million Dollar Homepage’s pixel canvas exists as a largely intact digital artifact, the vast web of sites which it publicizes has decayed greatly over the course of time.

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A traveling neon salesman's sample-case, 1935

This old Mental Floss post collects salesmans' miniatures from the 1930s, including mausoleums, swimming pools, Persian rugs, and more -- but the gem is this gorgeous neon sample-case. Read the rest

Algorithms try to channel us into repeating our lives

Molly Sauter (previously) describes in gorgeous, evocative terms how the algorithms in our life try to funnel us into acting the way we always have, or, failing that, like everyone else does. Read the rest

How to replace yourself with a very small shell script

Data scientist Hillary Mason (previously) talks through her astoundingly useful collection of small shell scripts that automate all the choresome parts of her daily communications: processes that remind people when they owe her an email; that remind her when she accidentally drops her end of an exchange; that alert her when a likely important email arrives (freeing her up from having to check and check her email to make sure that nothing urgent is going on). It's a hilarious and enlightening talk that offers a glimpse into the kinds of functionality that users can provide for themselves when they run their own infrastructure and aren't at the mercy of giant webmail companies. (via Clive Thompson) Read the rest

What a 19th-century rebellion against automation can teach us about the coming war in the job market

Our friend and frequent Boing Boing contributor Clive Thompson has a piece in the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine entitled "Rage Against the Machines." He explores the 19th century Luddite Revolution, the first rebellion against automation, comparing it to the upcoming robot workforce revolution.

I didn't know that pre-industrial textile workers were well-paid and had lots of free time. No wonder they fought so hard against textile automation!

At the turn of 1800, the textile industry in the United Kingdom was an economic juggernaut that employed the vast majority of workers in the North. Working from home, weavers produced stockings using frames, while cotton-spinners created yarn. “Croppers” would take large sheets of woven wool fabric and trim the rough surface off, making it smooth to the touch.

These workers had great control over when and how they worked—and plenty of leisure. “The year was chequered with holidays, wakes, and fairs; it was not one dull round of labor,” as the stocking-maker William Gardiner noted gaily at the time. Indeed, some “seldom worked more than three days a week.” Not only was the weekend a holiday, but they took Monday off too, celebrating it as a drunken “St. Monday.”

Croppers in particular were a force to be reckoned with. They were well-off—their pay was three times that of stocking-makers—and their work required them to pass heavy cropping tools across the wool, making them muscular, brawny men who were fiercely independent. In the textile world, the croppers were, as one observer noted at the time, “notoriously the least manageable of any persons employed.”

But in the first decade of the 1800s, the textile economy went into a tailspin.

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The odd pleasures of reading Proust on a mobile phone

Author Clive Thompson once wrote an essay about the experience of reading War and Peace on his iPhone. On his blog, he writes about how Sarah Boxer read Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, all 1.2-million words.

From Boxer's essay:

Soon you will see that the smallness of your cellphone (my screen was about two by three inches) and the length of Proust’s sentences are not the shocking mismatch you might think. Your cellphone screen is like a tiny glass-bottomed boat moving slowly over a vast and glowing ocean of words in the night. There is no shore. There is nothing beyond the words in front of you. It’s a voyage for one in the nighttime. Pure romance.

In a curious way, I think reading Proust on your cellphone brings out the fathomless something in the novel that Shattuck calls “the most oceanic—and the least read” of 20th-century classics. It makes you feel like Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo in his submarine, which is just right.

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Dice so nerdy, they make other dice seem not nerdy

Eric Harshbarger's weird, laser-engraved dice are a tour-de-force: a pair of D6s for figuring out where to go for dinner in NYC; another D6 to figure out which die you should roll; an all-20s critical hit D20; Sicherman D6s that have different faces to a normal D6 pair, but the same probability distribution; punctuation mark dice (I've had students who were definitely using these); dice for indecisive people, and so on. Read the rest

Second Life's Trump army lays siege to Bernie Sanders's virtual HQ with swastika cannons

Bernie Sanders's fans in the venerable virtual world Second Life have established a HQ, "a Roman-themed hangout space in a peaceful meadow, where Bernie supporters often gather to share news of their favorite candidate," but their peace was shattered when Second Life's Donald Trump supporters laid siege to the building, firing virtual guns whose rounds exploded into swastika flags at Sanders central. Read the rest

A look at digital habits of 13 year olds shows desire for privacy, face-to-face time

Sonia Livingstone, an LSE social psychology prof, gives us a peek into the results from The Class, a year-long, deep research project into the digital lives and habits of a class of 13 year olds at an ordinary school. Read the rest

Silicon Valley is raiding tech academia: “Uber would like to buy your Robotics Department”

Silicon Valley is raiding technology departments of universities around the U.S.—can tech academia survive?

"The Computer Girls," 1967 Cosmopolitan magazine article on women working with technology

Back then, the women themselves were sometimes called “computers.” They used these machines to compute.

Using hand-held cubes to organize Spotify

I love this prototype by Roy Martens: a set of Sifteo cubes that run Spotify, allowing you to trigger songs by moving the blocks around. Read the rest

I'm Clive Thompson, the next guestblogger

Hey folks! I'm Clive Thompson, and I'm a journalist who writes about the impact of technology and science on everyday life. I'm the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For the Better, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and Wired. I also blog at The Message on Medium, and play guitar and harmonica in the DeLorean Sisters.

I'm going to be guestblogging here for the next two weeks, which I'm really excited about because Boing Boing was one of the early blogs that inspired me to start my own, Collision Detection, back in 2002! Read the rest

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