mug

The Mug, Scaffold of Office Work

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

In cupboards, a mug is just a mug. But in the office, a mug becomes the fundamental prop of the professional.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
librarycard

Is the Library Card Dying?

After centuries of innovation, it faces an uncertain future.

by Sara Polsky

In the pre-computer era, library cards were just one part of a complex system that kept track of book loans and returns. But the need to issue a physical card at all may be disappearing. With smartphone apps, cardholders can input their numbers and produce a bar code that can be scanned, with no need for the actual card.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
Virgina Cottage in the Cotswolds

A History of Wallpaper’s Deception

For centuries, the wall covering has helped people construct new realities inside their homes.

by Jude Stewart

The flipside of wallpaper’s affordable appeal was that it received a stigma it’s never fully gotten rid of. Wallpaper “has never quite thrown off the taint [of] being a cheap imitation.”

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** FOR USE WITH AP WEEKLY FEATURES **  Spaghetti and Meatballs as prepared by food writer David Rosengarten reflect what he says is an American pairing of Italian foods, photographed in his New York City kitchen, Friday, May 28, 2004. Rosengarten says meat was not originally served with pasta. He laments the fact that meatballs rarely appear on American menus today, seeing them as one of the ethnic foods that are disappearing from the American dining scene.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Not Your Grandmother’s Meatball

The hearty Olive Garden staple is a far cry from the dish that Italian immigrants first brought to the United States.

by Marissa Landrigan

The meatball is a staple of Italian restaurants across America, from the lowly Olive Garden to the white tablecloths of upscale Manhattan eateries. But the meatballs you’ll get at Olive Garden are nothing like those found in Italy. Writing in Smithsonian, Shaylyn Esposito explains that Italian meatballs, known as polpettes, are considerably smaller than their American brethren.

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smalltoys

The Season of Small Toys

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

The names of Lego toys in the 1980s show that the age of excess was ramping up, replete with all the hyperbolic promises of eternal growth in newly-unregulated industry.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
A view of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in preparation for the first flight test of NASA's new Orion spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida October 1, 2014. The launch vehicle was moved from the Horizontal Integration Facility to the launch pad at complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and it is being raised to its vertical position.    REUTERS/Mike Brown    (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR48J8T

What Engineers Can Learn From the Design of the Penis

The mechanics of the erection may have applications for robotics.

by M. Sophia Newman

The concept of using the design of the penis for other purposes is part of an established field called biomimicry, the science of applying nature’s design lessons to human problems.

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sun

Our Reactor in the Sky

A Mini Object Lesson

by Anya Groner

Though humans organize our schedules around the clock, Daylight Savings reminds us that our lives, like our planet, revolve around the sun.

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storageunit

Finding Solace in a Storage Unit

The facilities occupy a complicated place in American life.

by Abigail Greenbaum

We refuse to let go of our possessions, even as our lives propel us away from them. Our stuff and our hearts are hard to separate.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
toweldispenser

How to Vanquish the Automated Towel Dispenser

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The toilet is the ultimate venue of control. It’s where you start to learn control, as a toddler, and where you eventually lose it, as a golden ager. And yet, today’s toilet has abandoned its role as the temple of control.

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A student holds an Obama bumper sticker at the Tatnall School near Wilmington, Delaware November 4 2008. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer  (UNITED STATES)  US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA) - RTXA8I3

The Slow Death of the Political Bumper Sticker

Why the campaign staple has been falling out of favor

by Simona Supekar

Sales of bumper stickers have been dropping. Some blame it on digital and social-media advertising as replacements for the stickers, buttons, and campaign pins of yore.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
Portugal Cork's Comeback - A worker picks a cork stopper in a quality control line at a factory in Santa Maria de Lamas, northern Portugal, July 19 2011. Women sitting next to conveyor belts of stoppers check for tiny defects such as "split ends" and "worm holes" that might let air seep into a bottle and spoil the wine. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

How Millennials (Almost) Killed the Wine Cork

A new generation of wine drinkers came of age with screw caps and plastic bottle stoppers, but cork producers are mounting a campaign to win their loyalty.

by John Gifford

Though it has recaptured some market share in recent years, the cork industry is now fighting against the newly discovered appeal of plastic and aluminum. Much of cork’s current struggle can be attributed to one group in particular: Millennial wine drinkers, a generation that has less of an allegiance to traditional cork closures.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
stapler

Still a Staple of Modern Life

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Everything about the stapler reeks of a time gone. The all-metal body. The satisfying and audible cha-chunk of its operation. The details, too, like the rubberized pads in its undercarriage to prevent shifting on the desk or table while the violence of paper fastening is enacted.

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blackstar

The New Starman

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

There is the not-so-subtle correspondence drawn between aerial velocity and road speed. Acceleration obliterates both space in front of us and time behind us. But we no longer have the old promises or futuristic fantasies of space travel.

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A high-magnification microscope is shown during a tour of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, November 5, 2009.  REUTERS/Jason Reed   (UNITED STATES HEALTH SCI TECH) - RTXQDXX

How the Microscope Redefined the Fact

By making images, not words, the most reliable source of information, the device changed what it means to know.

by Aaron Hanlon

17th-century scientists understood the limitations of the human senses. Our eyes can only do so much observing on their own; they need lenses to see things far away, and to see the minute details of things up close.

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fingerlessglove

Fingerless Gloves for Winter Superheroes

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Today, fingerless gloves are practical tools before they are outerwear, sportswear, or fashion. Fingers have become the tools that make the difference between sub-human and super-human action for us ordinary folk, via technology rather than ability.

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Flowers and prayer cards are pinned to a tree with a scar that residents claim looks like Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican representation of the Virgin Mary, in West New York, New Jersey July 14, 2012. Hundreds of onlookers have gathered daily around makeshift shrines at the base of the tree in the New Jersey town across the Hudson River. REUTERS/Keith Bedford (UNITED STATES - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT) - RTR34Y6Y

Like Baseball Cards, but for Funerals

Funeral cards are reminders of loved ones who have passed away—but when the names on the cards belong to strangers, they’re also collectibles.

by Michael Williams

On the surface, funeral cards look like Catholic trading cards, adorned with religious figures like Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a popular saint. On the backs of these 4.25-by-2.5 inch cards are the names of the deceased, their birth and death dates, and brief prayers or poems. The lure of memorial cards extends beyond a morbid fascination with death.

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Hot water is poured onto La Bendicion coffee from Nicaragua in a coffee filter, at Irving Farm in the Manhattan borough of New York September 23, 2014. Coffee roasters are buying coffee beans in bulk from Colombia, exploiting low comparative prices and reflecting new flexibility by U.S. roasters who had become over reliant on a single country for premium arabica. To match story USA-COFFEE/ROASTERS     Picture taken September 23, 2014.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY) - RTR48KLZ

When the Coffee Machine Is Just a Human

How pour-over takes the automation out of the brewing process

by Andrew Pilsch

Pour-over coffee values deliberation, flavor, and quality, treating coffee as something to be savored rather than pure brain fuel.

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Uniformed attendants hold coat hangers to check coats for guests arriving for the "An Evening Honoring Valentino" gala benefiting the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in the Manhattan borough of New York City, December 7, 2015. The event honored Valentino Creative Directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli.  REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTX1XNFY

The Wire Hanger’s Flexible Symbolism

Its design hasn’t changed much over its short history, but its meaning has.

by Ravi Mangla

While most first-generation devices have faded away to make room for more modern iterations, the malleable wire hanger has endured, with startlingly few modifications, for well over a century.

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eskimo

No, There Are Not 100 Eskimo Words for “Snow”

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The number of “words” for snow in Eskimo languages is a misnomer, a strange lost-in-translation sort of way of explaining that you can use “snow” and its variant terms in as many different sentences as you wish.

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blueapron

Blue Apron and the Thing About Dinner

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Blue Apron does something funny to dinner: it turns it into a predictably good thing to make and consume. It seems to come out just right, every time. This is profoundly weird, if you think about it: the idea that every meal should be perfect. What life is this?

Read this essay at The Atlantic