Your Friday Compilation of 100 YouTube Artists Covering “Stairway to Heaven” in Honor of its 50th Anniversary

Take a Breath

If you practice yoga, you know that a great deal of emphasis is placed on breathing—how to breathe deeply and how that affects your overall health and bodily performance. Now MIT has come up with a new fiber that can not only measure the effect of how a person—a singer, athlete, or patient—is breathing but help regulate it. This is a huge development. MIT’s OmniFiber can be used to create “robotic” textiles, is relatively inexpensive to produce, and could deliver breakthrough change in how breathing disorders are handled.

Wet Suits

As our Cary Sherburne and Debbie McKeegan have pointed out repeatedly on our Textiles page, “fast fashion” is an environmental nightmare, one element of which is carbon emissions. Via Gizmodo, a new paper published by Cornell University’s New Conversations Project in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations looks at how the apparel industry may be forced to change in the wake of COVID, pointing out one little bit of what might be considered poetic justice: many of the world’s apparel industry’s biggest manufacturing are located such that they are susceptible to climate change-driven flooding and heatwaves.

The study’s authors looked at top manufacturing cities in Asia, including Dhaka, Bangladesh; Guangzhou, China; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It’s overwhelmingly apparent that sea level rise is going to create a serious flooding problem in many of these key manufacturing regions; in one of the worst-case scenarios, in Ho Chi Minh City, almost 55% are in the flood zone.

… As the paper explains, sea level rise is not the only climate threat facing garment factories. High heat can also create dangerous working conditions in crowded and non-air-conditioned factories, something that’s also a major concern for other types of factory workers, including in the U.S. While the Cornell researchers didn’t do a full analysis of how heat could impact factories, they did note that under a worst-case emissions scenario, temperatures in China could rise as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), while Indonesia is set to see a 95% increase in heat waves by the end of this century.

Even if the industry doesn’t react to these potential threats, maybe one positive outcome will be an increase in apparel that is water- and fireproof.

All Maps Amazing and Terrible, Part the Infinity

“Harcourt Fenton Mudd!”

Here’s what sounds like a magical marriage. Via Laughing Squid, Shane Wighton of Stuff Made Here invented a motion-tracking robotic painter that he called “Janksy.” What would Janksy paint? Of course: a mural of Wighton’s wife glaring at him. Commented Wigton, “So I haven’t shown my wife what I’m painting. I’ve kept her completely in the dark and it’s time to see what she thinks about all this. Hopefully, she thinks it’s amazing, but I can see why having your face 20 feet tall on a wall might be a little weird.”

Just a little.

The upshot? “His wife was less pleased but found the humor in it.”

Write Time

This is an interesting idea, although one can see how it might get annoying fairly quickly. Consider: the “author clock,” a digital display that tells the time using quotes from books that happen to mention the current time rather than moving hands or digits. Says Gizmodo:

Made from recycled ABS plastic paired with an oak wood housing, an electronic paper screen refreshes with a new book quote every minute, from a database of over 2,000 that we’re going to assume are sourced from works in the public domain as selling a novelty clock that relies on them isn’t exactly fair use.

Apparently the clock doesn’t let you request favorite authors (the opening line of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four would be great for 1 pm), but you can have it censor any quotes which may contain profanity, although it couldn’t be worse than some of the things we have shouted at the clock first thing in the morning.

Word Problems

Phoning It In

What will the smartphone look like in 10 years? (Actually, the smartphones 10 years ago looked pretty much like those of today, just less powerful. Anyway.) The Verge offers up two possibilities: “it’s either completely unknowable or disappointingly predictable.” So, like predicting anything.

Absent some breakthrough, we’ll likely have much more impressive versions of the things we can buy today. Nearly every time somebody says that there will be a massive breakthrough in five to 10 years — be it self-driving cars or augmented reality — the safest bet is that they’ll be making the same prediction five years later. 

Even with iterative updates, smartphones will be radically better than they are today, and they’ll be different in some ways, too. The screens will be brighter and fold in different ways, the cameras will be so advanced that they’ll threaten to obviate even higher-end SLRs, and the digital assistants inside them will be smarter.

And small improvements can lead to big changes. As they point out, a decent camera in the original iPhone could arguably be responsible for the advent of Instagram. There can be other cultural and even economic shifts. For a while, the advent of the smartphone killed the watch market—until smartwatches combined the two. When’s the last time you bought a calculator, or indeed a camera? If you use Spotify, you may not have physical music anymore. And so on. And other components can lead to other cultural shifts.

Take ultra wideband, for example. It’s the chip in top-end phones that allows them to locate other devices in space and also transmit small bits of data — to unlock a door, for example. Right now, it’s used to locate gadgets in the couch cushions, and there’s a promise it’ll unlock your car door soon. But just as we didn’t initially realize that GPS + Data = Uber, we don’t really know yet what else UWB could unlock (pardon the pun). I could guess, but such guesses often end up looking like the naive predictions of overly optimistic futurists.

But even if successive generations of smartphones have less splashy and exciting new features, they’re still going to be an inextricable part of our lives, alas. “[T]hey’ll become more familiar and (forgive another pun) part of the fabric of our culture. We’ll begin to more clearly see that phones function as a kind of fashion. That they will follow yearly trends that will be a lot more about style than function.” Consider yourselves warned.


Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! Swedish fabric developer Grafren launched a new graphene-coated textile, which they branded G-HEATEX, which the company says is the world’s first active heating fabric. Says Graphene-Info: “According to Grafren, G-HEATEX fabrics supply powerful and uniform heat, while being soft, flexible, breathable and ultralightweight. Grafren’s patented technology is based on an ink made only from graphene (which makes it extremely friendly for the environment).”



Are you a company looking to attract workers to move to your location? What incentives would you offer? We can think of a few off the top of our heads, but what about free grandparents? It’s a crazy idea, but it just…might…work. Says ABC News:

Greensburg, 50 miles (80.47 kilometers) southeast of Indianapolis, will offer the free babysitting service for the next six to 12 months as part of the program it's calling “Grandparents on Demand.” Kids are also guaranteed to have a fill-in grandma and grandpa on Grandparents Day at school — a perk for those moving far away from family.

… A local couple, Tami and Dan Wenning, volunteered to serve as grandparents to children from the first five families that agree to move to Greensburg under the program. If more new residents make the move, other grandparents in the community “are more than ready” to step in and help, Tami Wenning said.

Any takers? Well, yes!

Just two weeks after the initiative launched, more than 1,000 applications have rolled in, said Evan Hock, co-founder of Indianapolis-based MakeMyMove, an online directory that connects remote workers with such offers around the country. Hock said the unique incentive has been a “big contributor” to the influx of interest, and considerations are now being made to scale-up the Greensburg program, depending on housing availability.

And of course on grandparent availability.

We do admit, though, that being veterans of “print on demand” the idea of “grandparents on demand” (GOD?) does conjure up images of 3D printing and robotics, perhaps in a kind of “I Sing the Body Electric” episode of The Twilight Zone kind of way.

AI-Yi-Yi, Part the Infinity: Zilliness

Estimating the value of real estate is not for the faint of heart, even if you’re human. But, as it turns out, artificial intelligence is even worse. CNN offers a post-mortem on Zillow’s unsuccessful attempt to use AI to create a “Zestimate” (oy) of a property. And so confident was Zillow in its Zestimates, that they would represent an initial cash offer from Zillow Offers to buy the property. How did that work out?

[T]he company is shutting down that business, Zillow Offers, entirely.

The decision, announced last week, marks a stunning defeat for Zillow. The real estate listing company took a $304 million inventory write-down in the third quarter, which it blamed on having recently purchased homes for prices that are higher than it thinks it can sell them. The company saw its stock plunge and it now plans to cut 2,000 jobs, or 25% of its staff.

…It also highlights how hard it is to use AI to help make expensive, real-world decisions, particularly in an ever-changing market that can be hard to predict months or even weeks out, and with prices that can be based as much on feel as on clear data points. Zillow CEO and cofounder Rich Barton explained the shuttering of Zillow Offers by citing "unpredictability in forecasting home prices" that "far exceeds" what the company had expected.

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You have probably heard the phrase, “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” a folksy metaphor for a situation that can’t be undone or reversed. However, we may need a new analogy, since, via Laughing Squid, Joel Hartlaub of Joel Creates had indeed invented a “handheld toothpaste manipulation device” that will “retube” excess toothpaste. We’re not sure why this would be necessary—few of us have major toothpaste spills even on our klutziest of mornings—or why its added ability to “dispense toothpaste onto over 100 toothbrushes in under three seconds” would be desirable. At any rate, check out Hartlaub’s raison d’être:

Bear with Us

It’s good to have a mission and purpose in life, even if it is putting toothpaste back in its tube. Now take Jason Chou, a 3D artist from Covina, Calif. Via Boing Boing, last March, Chou decided that his purpose in life was to Photoshop Paddington Bear into every movie—or, as he admits, until he forgets. He’s up to around 250 or so. (In college, was he an ursa major?)

Some of them are quite arty.

What’s a Meta For?

Marley & Me

As the Christmas season approaches, it’s time (we hope) for everyone to dig out their copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the opening of which contains the line “Old Marley was dead as a doornail.” Grammarist tells us that the phrase “dead as a doornail”—meaning “unequivocally dead”—dates from at least the 14th century (it was used on the poetry of the time), and seven Shakespeare used the phrase in Henry IV, Part 2, spoken by Jack Cade, who was leading a rebellion against the king.

Brave thee! Aye by the best blood that ever was broached. And beard thee too. Look on me well: I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

 —Henry IV, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 10

Which raises the question: why a doornail? Over at Laughing Squid, Canadian armorer Malcolm P.L. explains how the phrase has its origins in carpentry. When a doornail—yes, a nail used to attach things to doors—is driven all the way through the door, then the protruding bit hammered back into the wood so it resembles a staple is called “dead nailing.” It’s a process long used in rustic homes and is the origin of the phrase. He demonstrates the process:

I’m a Writer—You Do the Math

Scanty Claus

Well, the labor shortage is now getting real: there is a shortage of Santa Clauses. Says Boing Boing:

Santa bookers (a real job, supposedly) are struggling to fill Christmas parties with Santas. Today's labor shortage, which greatly affects industries such as service and retail, has stretched all the way to the North Pole, causing a tight demand for bearded, heavy-set, older men with a jolly disposition. 


A WSJ journalist spoke to Santas around the country. Former Saint Nicks cite Covid concerns and lifestyle changes as reasons they're done with Santa gigs, and the Santas who are sticking around are demanding better pay. Brian Wilson, who works for an Orange County Santa network, told WSJ about the raise that Santas are getting.

The Wall Street Journal points out:

Available Santas know they are hot commodities. "The ones that are working have raised their price," [Brian Wilson] said, noting that Santas he works with are currently charging between $175 to $300 an hour, depending on where they live and the number of hours for the gig—asking about $50 more than usual.

So if you fit the part and want to make a few extra bucks this holiday season, the opportunty is there. 


Doors of Perception

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

November 8

1602: The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford is opened to the public.

1674: English poet and philosopher John Milton dies (b. 1608).

1847: Irish novelist Bram Stoker (Dracula) became undead born.

1898: Canadian-American actress and singer Marie Prevost born. (Despite the story in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon (and a song by Nick Lowe) Prevost was not eaten by her dog.)

1918: German typographer and calligrapher Hermann Zapf born.

1972: HBO launches its programming, with the broadcast of the 1971 movie Sometimes a Great Notion, starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda.

1973: The right ear of John Paul Getty III is delivered to a newspaper together with a ransom note, convincing his father to pay US$2.9 million.

November 9

1818: Russian author and playwright Ivan Turgenev born.

1914: Austrian-American actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr (not Hedley) born. (During World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, unused at the time, but the principles of which were incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of CDMA and Wi-Fi.)

1934: American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author Carl Sagan born.

1953: Welsh poet and author Dylan Thomas dies (b. 1914).

1967: The first issue of Rolling Stone magazine is published.

November 10

1728: Irish novelist, playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith born.

1947: English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer Greg Lake born.

1969: National Educational Television (the predecessor to the Public Broadcasting Service) in the United States debuts Sesame Street.

1983: Microsoft introduces Windows 1.0.

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.

1855: Danish philosopher, author, and poet Søren Kierkegaard dies (b. 1813).

1922: 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.

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 the New Musical Express.

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