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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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?

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Ten Thousand Years of the Mortar and Pestle

The culinary tools still look more or less the same as they did in their earliest days

by Kate Angus

Modern-day mortars and pestles, no matter the composition, connect their owners to this ancient culinary and material history. The design has changed very little over the past several millennia: When you use it to grind spices into powder or make food into paste, you’re using essentially the same tool as the Aztecs, the Celts, the Sioux, the ancient Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Romans, to name just a few.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Airport Restroom

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The reverie of travel has long ceased for most leisure travelers; mere survival is the goal.

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When Does Bread Become Toast?

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Is bread toast only insofar as a human toaster perceives it to be “done?” Is bread toast when it reaches some specific level of nonenzymatic browning?

Read this essay at The Atlantic
Hundreds of Monarch butterflies fly at the Pedro Herrada butterfly sanctuary, on a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan, February 1, 2011. The Monarchs are the only migratory insects in their species and travel 4000 kilometres (around 2500 miles) twice a year between their summer home in Canada and their winter home in Mexico.   Picture taken February 1, 2011 REUTERS/Felipe Courzo (MEXICO - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS) - RTXXEM2

The Butterflies’ Great Migration

Each year, a new generation of Monarchs flies south for the winter—but habitat loss is making the journey harder.

by Sallie Lewis

With the growing threats of climate change and habitat loss, the Monarch’s numbers continue to drop every year, and its fate looks increasingly uncertain. The number of Monarchs migrating from the U.S. has dropped by 90 percent in the past 20 years.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
Ocular prostheses are made for a social programme benefiting those unable to afford one, in Cancun March 6, 2015. Specialist Doctors for Maxillofacial Prosthetics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Autonomous University of Campeche in conjunction with the System for Integral Family Development Cancun, as part of the programme, treated more than 100 people with various visual impairments. REUTERS/Victor Ruiz Garcia (MEXICO - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY) - RTR4SDZB

The Prosthetic Eyeball Is a Work of Art

Making a realistic eye takes more than technical skill.

by Tate Williams

Partially because they’re made to blend in, prosthetic eyes aren’t something that the average person knows much about. Many would be surprised to learn, for example, that false eyes are not spheres and they’re not glass, and haven’t been for quite some time.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR DISNEY CONSUMER PRODUCTS - Elijah Catrone, of Queens, N.Y., listens to a talking action figure as Force Friday kicks off at Disney Store in New York's Times Square, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, to celebrate the launch of merchandise for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Photo by Stuart Ramson/Invision for Disney Consumer Products/AP Images)

Our Action Figures, Ourselves

How a children’s toy can be an identity marker for adults

by Nolen Gertz

The tension between fantasy and reality, in turn, led to the trait that would come to define the action figure’s enduring appeal: its ability to take on new meanings at the hands of its owners.

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A worker hangs up a curtain to cover an installation showing the encyclopedia of German publishing house "Brockhaus" designed by German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl one day ahead of the official opening of the Frankfurt book fair, October 8, 2007.  REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach (GERMANY) - RTR1UPH1

Encyclopedias Are Time Capsules

How collections of knowledge remain useful even after they’re outdated

by Justin Nobel

Chaos cannot be tamed, but it can be recorded for posterity. And there is perhaps no object more lasting than the encyclopedia. An attempt to organize the knowledge and history of our world, encyclopedias also can transcend our world.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Gifts that Keep Giving

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Books really are gifts that keep giving. A good book is read only to be reread (sooner or later), or better, circulated in short time among friends or family members—read by many people.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
Alba Gil Quiros (L) from the Spanish island of Tenerife brushes a resident's hair at the SenVital elderly home in Kleinmachnow outside Berlin May 28, 2013. Facing an acute shortage of skilled applicants among its own workforce, German institutions in the care sector increasingly turn to southern European countries to hire trained nursing staff who are willing to work abroad despite the language barrier in order to escape unemployment at home. The SenVital home for the elderly outside Berlin has accepted five qualified nurses from Spain as their staff, providing eight months of language training and additional care schooling needed to attain the German nursing concession.  Some 100 Spaniards applied for the ten vacancies SenVital had advertised across its various houses.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter (GERMANY  - Tags: HEALTH BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - RTX103ZO

The Untold Stories of the Hairbrush

How a beauty tool can be a symbol of love, power, or identity

by Antonia Malchik

Quietly, these hairbrushes play a role in shaping their users’ identities. In various places and at various times in history, hair has been seen as a signifier of status or a means of identifying with a certain community, something to show off or something to hide.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Autumn Oak

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Among those who dwell under oak canopies, the experienced will learn to sweep, rake, or blow the leaves and acorns off of porous surfaces quickly. But even the vigilant can’t keep up with nature.

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The Racial Symbolism of the Topsy-Turvy Doll

The uncertain meaning behind a half-black, half-white, two-headed toy

by K. Tait Jarboe

It’s unclear whether topsy-turvy dolls were first created to reinforce racial and sexual power dynamics or if they were something more subversive. Either way, the dolls have since the beginning been reinterpreted and appropriated.

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A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice July 26, 2012. Picture taken July 26, 2012.  REUTERS/Eric Gaillard (FRANCE - Tags: HEALTH) - RTR39FM9

The Implant That Helps Fight Cancer

How the medical port, placed under the skin to facilitate the flow of drugs, makes chemotherapy a part of a patient's body

by Anna Leahy

Approximately 650,000 people undergo chemotherapy treatment annually in the United States. The medical port has become an integral part of treatment for many of them.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Fonts We Love to Hate

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Let’s take a trip back in time to revisit the worst fonts of each decade since fonts became usable on computers.

Read this essay at The Atlantic