Introduced in 1964, the PicturePhone was a fascinating, ahead-of-its-time technology that ultimately failed miserably — costing Bell half a billion dollars. The Engineer Guy explains what went wrong.
I really dig his series on great tech failures. They're all great examples of lessons that I learned studying the electric grid and the development of large-scale energy infrastructure. The technologies we end up using weren't inevitable winners preordained by the quality of their engineering. The best technologies often fail. And tech failures happen not because of engineering alone, but because of a complicated interplay of history, culture, technology, and society.
Harvard engineers created a self-assembling lamp whose components are printed, including some of the electronics.
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I'm fascinated by conspiracy theories and their origins. I'm also fascinated by the real people behind click-bait and spam email scams. This story brings them both together.
Reporter Zack Beauchamp went looking for Frank Bates, the face of a "FEMA hates this!"/"The secret Obama doesn't want you to know!"-style online ad campaign that sells overpriced dehydrated food (and lots and lots of fear) to middle-aged conservatives. He quickly discovered that Bates doesn't actually exist. Instead, the company Food4Patriots is the work of a salesman named Allen Baler who was just tired of working in an office and wanted to run his own business.
Unlike Bates, Baler doesn't live off-the-grid. He doesn't appear to be under any threat from FEMA and/or the Obama administration. It's not even clear that he's particularly conservative. But Baler is making an awful lot of money pretending to be Bates.
I wouldn't normally link to ThinkProgress, which generally seems to exist for the sole purpose of getting liberal people outraged about things. (I'm not particularly fond of the Outrage-Industrial Complex, no matter which side is participating.) But this story is a fascinating look at what goes on behind the scenes of scammy ad links you see all over the Internet and I think it's worth reading.
Baler started dabbling in this field in his free time after work. His first foray — a campaign he refers to as “How To Train Your Pug Dog” — got noticed by his boss, who told him to choose between making cheapo pug training videos and his “multiple six figures” salary. Baler chose pugs.
The key to Baler’s successful move into affiliate marketing was something called Clickbank. Clickbank offers thousands of products, often some kind of informational guide, which affiliate marketers can pay for the right to market. The site accepts a wide variety of products in all kinds of niches,” so affiliate marketers, almost always sales people rather than experts in the industry they’re marketing for, may not be able to tell if what they’re hawking is actually good (in an email, Clickbank said that they use a “product review process” that “aligns with industry standards.”) From a financial point of view, it doesn’t matter: producers sell their “books,” affiliate marketers have something to market, and Clickbank gets a cut of the sales plus flat fees for using the service.
The 4Patriots empire grew out of Baler’s ClickBank experiments. His first really successful Clickbank campaign was Earth4Energy, a guide to going off-grid that he found on Clickbank — and one that many other Clickbank marketers hawk in various guises. If you look at the site, it’s basically identical to Power4Patriots, only with a different voice and different persona delivering the sales pitch.
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Writing in The Believer, B. Alexandra Szerlip offers a fascinating profile of Norman Bel Geddes, the man who built the Futurama at the 1939 New York Worlds' Fair. I didn't know that Bel Geddes had started out with elaborated electro-mechanical games and that these game him the skills and insights he needed to build the Futurama.
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From an editorial by the New York Times editorial board:
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will consider whether law enforcement officers during an arrest may search the contents of a person’s mobile phone without a warrant. The court should recognize that new technologies do not alter basic Fourth Amendment principles, and should require a judicial warrant in such circumstances.
Read: "Smartphones and the 4th Amendment." NYTimes.com
Tesla Motors reps won't tell the Los Angeles Times, but city officials in the small California town of Lathrop told a reporter that "work is underway converting a 431,000-square-foot facility that once housed a Chrysler-Daimler distribution center into a Tesla factory." More: Is Tesla planning another electric car factory in California? [latimes.com]
In 1972, Polaroid introduced its iconic SX-70 camera. It was an evolutionary leap from the groundbreaking "Land Camera" invented in 1947 by Polaroid co-founder Edwin H. Land (image right). LIFE has posted a gorgeous gallery of SX-70 photos from a time when instant photography was still in the realm of magic. The shots were taken by LIFE photographer Co Rentmeester who had a chance to put the SX-70 through its paces before it was available for purchase. #nofilter
The Wall Street Journal has a story about the birth of the iPhone (which I am still a little startled to realize is only seven years old ... I think my memory is merging iPhones and iPods into a sense of the presence of a single iThing). In an accompanying blog post, they shared this photo taken by Apple engineers, showing the system that was used to test out prototypes of iPhone software before its release. According to the blog post, the system "tethered a plastic touch-screen device – code-named “Wallaby” – to an outdated Mac to simulate the slower speeds of a phone hardware."
Update: Don't miss Dean Putney's opinion piece, "Oculus was the future of gaming. Now it’s the future of Facebook."
Facebook today announced that it has "reached a definitive agreement to acquire Oculus VR, Inc., the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for a total of approximately $2 billion." The deal includes $400 million in cash and 23.1 million shares of Facebook common stock, and provides for an additional $300 million earn-out in cash and stock based on "the achievement of certain milestones."
Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam, the 40th Discworld novel, comes out in the US today. I reviewed it back in November for the UK release; here's what I had to say then: it's a tremendous synthesis of everything that makes Pratchett one of the world's most delightful writers. It's a curious thing: a fantasy novel about modernity and reactionaries, a synthesis of technological optimism and a curious sort of romantic mysticism.
MIT engineers are developing "soft robots" with bodies made of silicone that is actuated by fluid flowing through veins in the material. They've just demonstrated a soft robotic fish.
“As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you," says Daniela Rus, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.