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Commentary & Analysis

Around the Web: Looming Automation. Tough Lung Love. Fantasy Fabric. Sea Silk. Tangled Tapes. Cochlear Craziness. Olivetti Oddity. Missing Millennials. Canine Conversation.

An automated digital weaving loom. Hemp cigarettes are apparently a thing. A hat made of silk from mollusks goes up for auction. The Zagat Guide is back in print. Cassette tapes are coming back into fashion, for some reason. Send your ear data to Sony, for some reason. The bizarre tale behind the first desktop computer. Is online advertising the new dot-com bubble? There’s no such thing as a Millennial—or even a Boomer. Salvador Dalí’s Tarot deck. All that and more in WhatTheyThink’s weekly miscellany.

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: November 15, 2019

Dream Weaver

Wow, this automated digital weaving loom would be nice to have for anyone who weaves on a hand loom. Setup for a weaving project often takes longer than the project itself. “Though I have to say there was a lot of pleasure in physically working with the yarns during the setup process,” says our Cary Sherburne. The point of this new loom, the TC2 loom from Digital Weaving Norway, is to make it easier and faster for designers to produce either complex one-off projects or prototypes targeted for later production. Automation is impacting all aspects of the textile industry, from knitting and sewing to—now—prototype weaving.

One Toke Over the Line

Hemp Cigarettes seem to be turning into a big deal. Who doesn’t love abusing their lungs? Anyway, here’s an investment company that has determined there is enough growth opportunity for them to join the clamor—at least six other brands are listed on Amazon, plus roll-your-own solutions. Claims include the ability to reduce or eliminate tobacco smoking and gaining benefits from CBD. What’s not clear is how much CBD is actually absorbed into the body from these cigarettes and whether people still risk lung damage from inhaling the smoke. Note: these are made from industrial hemp, which has less than 0.3% THC content, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. So enjoy the possible health risks without any of that pesky enjoyment.

The Fabric of Our Dreams

Canadian design students will now be able to use the latest technology to make their custom fabric dreams a reality, thanks to a partnership between Epson Canada and Toronto’s George Brown College. The college’s Fashion Exchange officially launched its much-anticipated Leading Innovation in Fashion Technology (LIFT) Lab October 29 at its Fashion Exchange hub.

Sept, Huit, Neuf...

Bye, Valve

If you had a few extra bucks kicking around this week, you could have headed over to an auction at Landmark on the Park in Manhattan and picked up a kicky hat made of an unusual material: sea silk. Not made from silkworms, it instead comes from Pinna nobilis, the noble pen shell, a species of Mediterranean mollusk. 

Measuring up to a meter in height, these large bivalves root themselves to the seafloor by emitting hundreds of fibers, known as byssus (think of the grizzled threads you might find on a common mussel). Once extracted from the shell, cleaned and spun, it possesses a beautiful dark chestnut color, once compared to the “burnished gold of some flies and beetles”.

Sea silk was once highly prized. “The British admiral Horatio Nelson wrote of his intention to send his lover, Emma Hamilton, a pair of gloves made from byssus. Jules Verne chose to dress his narrator in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Dr Pierre Aronnax, in ‘sea-boots, an otterskin cap, a greatcoat of byssus lined with sealskin’.”

Small Batch

Zagat’s Back

Once upon a time, New Yorkers (and dwellers in other cities) chose restaurants using the venerable Zagat Guide. The ubiquitous burgundy-colored guidebooks were the Yelp! of their day (it was the rare restaurant that didn’t post a copy of a glowing Zagat review in its window). It went through some changes of ownership, and was last seen in print in 2016. But as of next year, Zagat’s back in print, baby.

Guy Smiley

Tale of the Tape

OK, as much as some of us are nostalgic for older technologies, we’re not sure we can get on board with this comeback. Says the Guardian: “Forget the vinyl revival. The cassette tape will be back on Christmas lists this year as high-profile artists ranging from Coldplay to Robbie Williams and Liam Payne release albums on a format that has come back from the dead.”

Good Lord, no. It was a horrible format! How many times did you embark on a long car trip with your favorite album blaring out of the tape deck, when suddenly there was a strangulated gurgle (and not a young Geddy Lee) and you pressed Eject to have it vomit out a tangled mass of tape? And it didn’t just happen in the car; even high-end tape decks often “ate tapes” (as we referred to the phenomenon at the time) and you’d have to get out a pencil and laboriously respool it all back onto the reels. OK, auto-reverse was a convenient feature, but vinyl was a much-preferred format.

So why is this of all things coming back?

As with vinyl’s comeback, however, music fans seem eager to embrace the quirks of physical formats, in this case such as winding tapes by hand with a pen and turning it over at the end of each side. Some websites also mention the hiss of the tape as an appealing feature.

Really? Unless you’re a fan of mid-90s Guided By Voices, tape hiss is a bug not a feature. Oh well. Chacun à son goût. What’s next...8 tracks?

“Ear Data”

Olivetti Oiled

Ordered! Engadget has a précis of a new book called The Mysterious Affair at Olivetti: IBM, the CIA, and the Cold War Conspiracy to Shut Down Production of the World's First Desktop Computerby Meryle Secrest.

The world's first desktop computer didn't take shape in a Menlo Park garage or the bowels of a corporate production facility. It was created in a workshop in Northwest Italy owned and operated by the Olivetti family.

Olivetti was known for its typewriters and its first—the first—personal computer, the P101, debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1965. It was a hit. “[E]veryone from NASA to the US military was clamoring for these highly sought after ‘super-calculators.’” However:

Shortly after the P101's debut, Adriano Olivetti, the head of the family suffered a mysterious and fatal heart attack at the age of 58, just 18 months before the company's talented engineer, Mario Tchou, died in an equally suspicious car accident.

Now That’s a Knife

Bubble Machine

Are we in the middle of a new technology bubble? It doesn’t really feel like it, but a long feature at The Correspondent argues that online advertising is the new dot-com bubble. “In 2018 $273bn was spent on digital ads globally. We delve into the world of clicks, banners and keywords to find out if any of it is real. What do we really know about the effectiveness of digital advertising?”

OK, Bloomberg

Says Bloomberg: “There’s No Such Thing as Millennials or Boomers.” Well, that’s a relief. But if so, who are all these people? “There’s no evidence that any sorts of personality traits or character flaws go along with so-called boomers, Gen X-ers, millennials or members of Gen Z.”

There are two real things that are going on, however. One is that as people age, they go through different stages in life — not quite in lock step, since people reach various maturity levels and adulthood milestones at different times (or not at all). But there’s a progression.
And there are events (wars, recessions) and new technologies which may affect those in college or seeking their first jobs differently from those who are older and more established.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

It was really only a matter of time. From Boing Boing:

now there's a dog whose learned to "talk." Not with sign language, but with a soundboard. According to her speech-language pathologist person, Christina Hunger, Stella the dog has already learned 29 words and several phrases. By pressing her paw on the pre-programmed buttons, she has learned to say what's on her mind.

Is there really all that much on a dog’s mind?

They could probably do the same for a cat, but it would be NSFW.

The Sound of Simmering

This sounds like something The Residents would have done. Anyway:

A classical orchestra in Germany aims to "make climate change audible" with a reworking of Antonio Vivaldi's famous violin concertos "The Four Seasons" using algorithms based on climate data.The project reimagining one of the most widely recognised classical works is entitled "For Seasons" and will be performed in Hamburg on Saturday.
A collaboration between musicians, artists and software developers, the composition has been described by its creators as "disharmonic" and "uncomfortable"

Hello, Dalí

Back in the 1970s, Salvador Dalí was approached by the producers of the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die to design a Tarot deck, which was to be used as a prop in the film. Apparently, what Dalí was asking would have blown the film’s budget so the deal fell through, but he ended up designing the entire 78-card deck anyway. It was issued as a limited edition in 1984, but has long been out of print. Now, Dalí. Tarot. is being reissued, along with its instruction booklet. You can preorder it here, and how could you not want to? Perfect for the Surrealist on your Christmas list.

BCC: Jacob Marley

Two Words to Haunt You this Weekend...

Hyena Robots—and they’re no laughing matter.

His Hair Was Perfect

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

November 11

1675: Gottfried Leibniz demonstrates integral calculus for the first time to find the area under the graph of y = ƒ(x).

1821: Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, and philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky born.

1922: Listen: American novelist, short story writer, and essayist Kurt Vonnegut born.

November 12

1945: Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer Neil Young born.

1980: The NASA space probe Voyager I makes its closest approach to Saturn and takes the first images of its rings.

1990: Tim Berners-Lee publishes a formal proposal for the World Wide Web.

November 13

1850: Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist Robert Louis Stevenson born.

1940: Walt Disney’s animated musical film Fantasia is first released, on the first night of a roadshow at New York’s Broadway Theatre.

November 14

1840: French painter Claude Monet born.

1851: Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick is published in the U.S.

1889: Pioneering female journalist Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Cochrane) begins a successful attempt to travel around the world in less than 80 days. She completes the trip in 72 days.

1916: American screenwriter and producer Sherwood Schwartz born.

1922: The British Broadcasting Company begins radio service in the United Kingdom.

1952: The first regular UK Singles Chart is published by theNew Musical Express.

1967: American physicist Theodore Maiman is given a patent for his ruby laser systems, the world’s first laser.

November 15

1926: The NBC radio network launches with 24 stations.

1968: The Cleveland Transit System becomes the first transit system in the western hemisphere to provide direct rapid transit service from a city's downtown to its major airport.

1971: Intel releases the world’s first commercial single-chip microprocessor, the 4004.

November 16

534: Justinian I, who was an Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperor in Constantinople, approves and publishes the second and final revision of the Codex Justinianus.

1889: American director, producer, and playwright George S. Kaufman born.

1904: English engineer John Ambrose Fleming receives a patent for the thermionic valve (aka the vacuum tube).

1914: The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States officially opens.

1938: LSD is first synthesized by Albert Hofmann from ergotamine at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel.

November 17

1749: French chef Nicolas Appert born. He invented the principle of canning.

1790: German mathematician and astronomer August Ferdinand Möbius born. (It’s not true that his life had no beginning and no end.)

1839: Oberto, Giuseppe Verdi's first opera, opens at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy.

1944: College basketball coach Jim Boeheim born.

1947: American scientists John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain observe the basic principles of the transistor, a key element for the electronics revolution of the 20th century.

1968: Viewers of the Raiders–Jets football game in the eastern United States are denied the opportunity to watch its exciting finish when NBC broadcasts Heidi instead, prompting changes to sports broadcasting in the US.

 

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