I Can Never Have Too Many Mechanical Pencils

This is why.

by Steven Poole

A good mechanical pencil is a beautifully-made object. A mechanical pencil doesn’t require sharpening and is always the same length, so that its weight and handfeel remain constant. It is obviously an improvement, a superior piece of gear.

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Baseball’s Long and Complicated Relationship With the Bunt

Despite claims that it’s self-defeating, as the playoffs heat up, the “small ball” strategy can go a long way toward winning the World Series.

by Randy Leonard

Baseball’s bunt—that quirky technique in which a hitter pivots to face the pitcher, grips his bat like a lacrosse stick, and tries to deaden the ball into that grassy no-man’s land in front of home plate—has been under attack for years. Yet every fall, when the toil of 162 games begins to wear out the muscles of big sluggers and only playoff pitchers take the mound, the bunt reemerges.

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The Modest Pleasure of Boxed Wine

Wine in a box is affordable, ecological, and delicious—and its time has come.

by Megan Kaminski

Quality boxed wine is quietly making its way into homes, though much of the box’s previous stigma still exists. Just as screwcaps experienced a meteoric rise from bottles of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill to bottles of Bonny Doon’s Le Cigare Volant Réserve, the box is becoming more accepted as a container for quality wines.

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How the Remote Control Rewired the Home

Since the 1920s, it’s been changing channels and changing lives, including yours.

by Caetlin Benson-Allott

This seemingly innocuous media accessory has also changed the way we inhabit our houses and experience our families. The effects of remote controls have cascaded through the home, affecting how we arrange our domestic spaces, whom we share them with, and what we do there.

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Vicks VapoRub and Me

How Vicks VapoRub helps me overcome chronic olfactory sensitivity

by Alison Kinney

My own extensive use of Vicks will be familiar to anybody gripped by that scene in The Silence of the Lambs, where the investigators rub Vicks under their nostrils to quash the smell of a decomposing body. “That’s what I’ve been needing,” I said while watching that film. Vicks goes on smoothly but follows up with a volatile kick, like an irrigation of the nostrils, a salutary tickle, and a sneeze. It’s so strong that, two minutes after I’ve first applied it, I can’t smell anything at all. That is why, for twenty-three years, Vicks has been my armor of choice against the incursions of the material world. With an overactive nose and a tricky stomach, I need Vicks to protect me against the aromatic stimuli that life throws at me everyday—filthy toilets, diesel fumes, upholstery cleaner, perfume.

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The Beautiful, Invisible Game

And how technology can help or hurt our ability to understand the sport

by Miguel Sicart

Goal-line technology threatens to have deeper effects on the game for spectators, particularly when experienced as a televised sport. Goal-line technology risks presenting football as a game with a ball fetish. It christens the ball as central object of the game, the thing that matters more than anything else. This attitude makes sense in an era of individual stars (Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar) and televised spectacle, where the game is mediated through cameras that zoom on the player with the ball as he advances, dribbles, and scores. But that is the wrong way to understand football.

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Manifestos: a Manifesto

The 10 traits of effective public declarations

by Julian Hanna

Performance is part of the manifesto’s materiality, its existence in the world. Marinetti made art into a kind of Punch and Judy show, full of pantomime fisticuffs and bold, simple story lines: Destroy the past, embrace the future. From Dada manifestos in the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 to the radical street theater of the 1960s to Lars von Trier’s scattering of red leaflets printed with his “Vow of Chastity” into the audience at a Paris cinema conference on the future of film in 1995, the manifesto—manu festus, “struck by hand”—has always been about striking gestures.

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Working Around God: Technology, the Pace of Life, and the Shabbos Elevator

Theology and technology in New York City's elevators

by Dominic Pettman

The anxious mass of tenants watch as the elevator door opens, yet they do not budge. The “HL” on the display panel, designating “holiday,” announces that this elevator is now a sacred space. The doors stay open, as if deliberately teasing the huddled masses in front with its welcoming maw and its promise of instant upward mobility. But the doors soon shut again, with not a soul aboard, moving at a snail’s pace, floor-by-floor, like some kind of urban Marie Celeste.



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Impressions from the Face of a Corpse

The death mask’s uncanny capacity for portraiture

by Luke A. Fidler

The death mask is something between a creepy portrait and a contact relic. I shiver each time I brush one, for no matter my scholarly remove I can’t help but feel the presence of the dead under my fingertips. For inert matter, especially matter that speaks so stridently of death, the death mask trades on a weird liveliness. It’s an uncanny object, one that spurs us to reconsider the matter of portraiture and commemoration.
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The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals

On the mechanism of the beckoning cat and other talismans

by Beatrice Marovich

It shouldn’t be particularly controversial for me to point out that humans are constantly objectifying animals. Millions of animals are, quite literally, turned into objects every day for us to eat. The bodies of living, moving animals become steaks, cutlets, chops, breasts without bones. In the age of industrial agriculture, the lament against our use and objectification of other animals has become commonplace. Academic ethicists, documentary filmmakers, growing numbers of vegans—all wonder at the ability of animal life to endure as we humans continue to use them as means to our own rather ravenous ends. The claim that many animals are objectified should be, then, a rather obvious point. I suspect the stranger claim is that living, moving animals are also treated as talismanic objects.

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A Terminal Condition

How presumed-dead technology lives on

by Charles MatherJosh Lepawsky

And what of the CRT’s death? In the US alone there are 400 million televisions that will be discarded as a result of flat screen technology. Add the 197 million computer monitors sold since 1995 and you have a sense of the magnitude of the problem. The peak of CRTs in the waste stream isn’t expected to happen until 2050 in North America and Europe. And each one of these CRTs has several pounds of lead in the glass screen, not to mention other potentially toxic metals and flame retardants. This explains why many U.S. states banned them from landfills over concerns that potentially toxic material might leach out and poison water and soil. So a CRT’s constituents—its metals, plastics, and glass—can and do keep going as leachates that poison and burden our bodies and the bodies of others; even after disposal CRTs will keep going as the labor and dollars to manage, mitigate, and remediate their remainders.

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‘Being a Programmer, I Decided to Build a Mathematical Model for the Decay of a Shower Curtain’

A rigorous anthropology of the humble bathroom accessory

by Will Hankinson

Running the simulation 10,000 times, I get an average of 724 days between getting fed up enough to re-hang the curtain, not so far off from my two-year real-world cycle. Of course, relying on random numbers, the simulation endures wild extremes. One simulation took just under four months to go from order to chaos while another took seven years—over 5,000 showers!

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How Home Plate Lives Up to Its Name

With a new baseball season upon us, an investigation of home plate's history and meaning

by Abe Stein

Home plate even resembles a home, at least in its most archetypical, crayon drawing form. The pentagonal shape was adopted in 1900 to help pitchers and umpires to better visualize the strike zone. There is no indication that the switch to the house-like pentagonal shape was inspired in any way by the name “Home” but it’s a remarkable coincidence nonetheless. As an impressionable young child playing baseball from age seven, I assumed that part of why Home was so-named was because it looked like every drawing I had ever made of a roofed house.

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The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends

Learning about smart objects from the Karotz Internet-connected toy rabbit thing

by Carla Diana

Even in a moment of ignorance, Curi was completely enchanting. She spoke to me in a human way; she made socially appropriate gestures; she anticipated what I wanted to do. The exchange was so natural that I was able to suspend disbelief long enough to temporarily forget that I was interacting with a machine. I could simply ask it what I wanted to do in an intuitive, human way. My faith in the potential for smart objects to provide helpful assistance while also making an emotional connection was restored.

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Dust, the Ledger of Past Existence

From which we came and to which we shall return

by Michael Marder

We cannot do away with it for good, since no matter how much we try to “clean” it, we only unsettle and move the unbearably light refuse from one place to another. Whatever threats or promises it harbors, we can rest assured that it will eternally return, not as dramatically as ghosts or specters but quietly and cumulatively, like the falling snow.

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"A spoken language works / for about five centuries, / lifespan of a douglas fir"

by T. Hugh Crawford

2014 Every schoolchild learns that trees, as they grow, lay down new wood each year, so the age of a tree can be determined by counting the growth rings, officially called dendrochronology. Not only do those rings mark time and weather (temps & temps, as the French say), but also they are subtle ridges to the hand and form supple patterns both geometric and chaotic, warm and arresting, fragile and strong. Wood remains a constant in 21st century culture, still forming the basis for much of what we do, how we live, and how we mark out our days.
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‘Good for One Screw’: A Brief History of Brothel Tokens

The little coins are best understood not as sort of currency but as tchotchkes in the sexualized-collectibles market, much like the penis-shaped candies sold for bachelorette parties.

by Carly A. Kocurek

“They were made not for meaningful circulation in the exchanges attendant upon the world’s oldest profession, but for the market of sexualized collectibles and gag gifts and are something akin to the penis-festooned novelty items sold for bachelorette parties or the ceramic souvenir mugs shaped like outrageous breasts.”
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Loving the Potato

From humble vegetable to national symbol, it may be the most variously useful food item ever.

by Robert Barry

Only with difficulty can we separate the potato from association with the soil. What other supermarket item sits on the shelf still muddied, like an unwiped bum? To think of the potato is to conjure toiling peasants like Jean-François Millet. When a restaurant serves up fries that resemble even slightly the vegetable they were cut from, they call them “rustic,” or “country style” as if each chip were transported by time machine from some pre-industrial golden age.
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The Secrets of the Jumbo Squid

A writer imagines the final moments and afterlife of a squid that died February 13, 1957

by Denzil Ford

For a first glance, I’d like you to see my death. I died on February 13, 1957. It was a year of an extended El Niño so we were making our way from the southern warm current up past the equator in search of cooler and more abundant waters.

On that particular day the ocean rumbled. And when it does, one or more of us is usually taken. I have seen others fight, squeeze, attack, stab, gnaw, clinch, and I have heard their bodies splash and crank and wheeze as they are lifted up into oblivion in a pool of ink and flashing colors. The day I was taken, I began wondering why.

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What Makes a Good Toilet

On that sanitation workhorse, the pit latrine

by Zach Gershkoff

It would seem that collecting human waste in a pit would pose a health risk. After all, water comes from the ground. In places far from a city, such as my village, people can get water from communal taps built on street corners, but some families will also have boreholes drilled on their property for when the taps are dry, which they often are. Could it be dangerous to have a pit latrine too close to a borehole? Provided that it’s properly maintained, no. A person with healthy kidneys is not going to pass more than a few liters of urine per day, so the flow of fluid into the pit should not be torrential. What doesn’t evaporate may leech into the ground, but contaminants won’t permeate far enough through the soil to reach the water table. Some pits will be lined with bricks or other casing for structural integrity, and it’s not the end of the world if the lining develops cracks. For the most part, a user of a pit latrine will not know or care what, exactly, is under him.
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