Reels of sewing thread are displayed during the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in London, October 8, 2014. The show which includes over 600 exhibitors and 300 workshops is the largest textile and craft event in Britain.     REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN  - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS TEXTILE)   - RTR49F4C

How Home Sewing Personalized Fashion

For generations, families have relied on thimbles, needles, and thread to transform the clothes they have into the clothes they want to wear.

by Frances Katz

Repairing clothing is more intimate than creating them. Compared to a sewing kit, even the most space-age sewing machine can seem cold and dull.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
ketchup

Ketchup’s Forgotten Wisdom

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The classic condiment dispensers of yore, with their cylindrical, plastic bodies and needle-tipped openings: these are the most functional vessels for doling out dollops.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
In this Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 photo, Dr. Russell Dohner wears a stethoscope around his neck as he tends to patients in his office in Rushville, Ill. When Dohner started practicing medicine in Rushville in 1955, he charged $2, the going rate around town for an office visit, but has since raised the fee to $5. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Why Doctors Still Need Stethoscopes

The instrument may have outlived its use, but it hasn’t lost its power.

by Andrew Bomback

The stethoscope isn’t a tool, anymore, but a metonym for bedside manner.

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steelplate

The Steel Road Plate, Accidental Traffic Calmer

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

America’s decaying infrastructure can be seen in high-profile disasters like the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. But other, more mundane infrastructural nuisances plague our cities far more regularly. Among them: the increasingly ubiquitous steel road plate.

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A local farmer checks refrigerators at a home appliance market in Zhangqiu county, Shandong province January 28, 2008.  Each rural family in Shandong and two other provinces are now entitled to a 13 percent government rebate on the purchase of up to two television sets, two refrigerators and two mobile handsets. The subsidies are part of a battery of policies by Beijing aimed at spurring domestic consumption and improving the lot of the country's roughly 740 million rural residents, who make up 56 percent of the population but have not benefited nearly as much from the economy's roaring growth as people in cities.  Picture taken January 28, 2008.  To match feature CHINA-ECONOMY/APPLIANCES     REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA) CHINA OUT - RTR1XCM4

Why Refrigerators Were So Slow to Catch On in China

The technology was once considered superfluous, until contemporary capitalism made it a necessity.

by Michael Strickland

The usefulness and necessity of the refrigerator depends on a number of factors that are not obviously related to the thing itself, from food packaging to the layout of communities to the length of school lunch breaks.

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A woman walks along a wooden bridge across the river of Usolka in the village of Taseevo, northeast of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, October 3, 2014. Picture taken October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin (RUSSIA - Tags: SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT) - RTR48WDF

Learning From the Swinging Bridge

What rickety, rural suspension bridges can teach us about modern infrastructure

by T. Hugh Crawford

Rural swinging bridges were (and still are) vernacular architecture based on local knowledge and materials, but technically, they are suspension bridges just like the Golden Gate.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
texteditor

The Pleasure of the Text Editor

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

When it comes to word processing, all too often white-collar workers produce documents when all they really need is text.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
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.

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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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
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.

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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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
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.

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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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic