A Tiny Radio Show about Design with Roman Mars
It's hard to overstate just how important record album art was to music in the days before people downloaded everything. Visuals were a key part of one's experience with a record or tape or CD. The design of the album cover created a first impression of what was to come. Album art was certainly important to reporter Sean Cole, one particular album by one particular band: Devo. This is the story of Devo's first record and the fight over the arresting image of a flashy, handsome golf legend on the cover. Plus, Katie Mingle gets the backstory of the Langley Schools Music Project LP, a haunting and uplifting outsider artist masterpiece.
A wheelchair in a storage room at the Smithsonian is a jumping off point for a discussion of Ed Roberts, growing assertiveness of disability rights activists, and curb cuts. [more inside]
Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the buildings we live in shape the kinds of people we become. His aim was nothing short of rebuilding the entire culture of the United States, changing the nation through its architecture. Central to that plan was a philosophy and associated building system he called Usonia. [more inside]
Frank Lloyd Wright was a bombastic character that ultimately changed the field of architecture, and not just through his big, famous buildings. Before designing many of his most well-known works, Wright created a small and inexpensive yet beautiful house. This modest home would go on to shape the way working- and middle-class Americans live to this day. And it all started with a journalist from Milwaukee. [more inside]
The NBC chimes may be the most famous sound in broadcasting. Originating in the 1920s, the three key sequential notes are familiar to generations of radio listeners and television watchers. [more inside]
In the summer of 1961 the upper stage of the rocket carrying the Transit 4A satellite blew up about two hours after launch. It was the first known human-made object to unintentionally explode in space, and it created hundreds of fragments of useless space junk. Some of these pieces were pulled into the atmosphere where they burned up but around 200 of them are still up and orbiting today. At the time, people were not all that concerned about a few bits of metal floating around in the vastness of space. But like the ocean and other frontiers, space isn't endless as it first appears. Space Trash, Space Treasure
Few forms of contemporary architecture draw as much criticism as the McMansion, a particular type of oversized house that people love to hate. McMansions usually feature 3,000 or more square feet of space and fail to embody a cohesive style or interact with their environment. Kate Wagner, architecture critic and creator of McMansion Hell, is on a mission to illustrate just why these buildings are so terrible.
On the night of February 27th, 2010, a magnitude of 8.8 earthquake hit Constitución, Chile and it was the second biggest that the world had seen in half a century. The quake and the tsunami it produced completely crushed the town. By the time it was over, more than 500 people were dead, and about 80% of the Constitución's buildings were ruined. As part of the relief effort, an architecture firm called Elemental was hired to create a master plan for the city, which included new housing for people displaced in the disaster. But the structures that Elemental delivered were a radical and controversial approach toward housing. They gave people half a house.
Many material trifles, such as Silly Putty, started as attempts at serious inventions, but in rare cases, the process works in reverse: something developed as a gag gift can turn into something truly heroic. Invented by high school prankster Alan Whitman using a home chemistry set, the "worst smell in the world" began as a novelty, but eventually came to serve a higher purpose.
From rock-paper-scissors, to tennis, to Mario Kart, every game is a designed system and all games are grounded in the same design principles. One popular game in particular has a mixed reputation with game players and designers alike: Monopoly.
Indian philosopher and mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had a vision: he would build a Utopian city from the ground up, starting with 64,000 acres of muddy ranchland in rural Oregon. [more inside]
On the night of March 30, 2005, the Powerball jackpot was 25 million dollars. The grand prize winner was in Tennessee, but all over the United States, one hundred and ten second-place winners came forward. Normally just three or four players guess all but the last digit and claim a secondary prize, but this time something was clearly different. Lottery officials were flustered, unsure if there was a computer glitch or a hack in the system, but when they asked the winners how they picked their numbers each had the same response: from a fortune cookie. [more inside]
By the late 1980s, AIDS had been in the United States for almost a decade. AIDS became the number one killer of young men in New York City, then of young men in the country, then of young men and women in the country. Despite the gravity of the AIDS crisis, in the late 1980s there was little public acknowledgement of AIDS. A group of artists in Manhattan decided to change that. [more inside]
More than 90% of all automobile accidents are all attributable to human error. For some car industry people, a fully-automated car is a kind of holy grail. However, as automation makes our lives easier and safer, it also creates more complex systems, and fewer humans who understand those systems. Which means when problems do arise—people can be left unable to deal with them. Human factors engineers call this “the automation paradox.”
On the evening of May 31, 2009, 216 passengers, three pilots, and nine flight attendants boarded an Airbus 330 in Rio de Janeiro. This flight, Air France 447, was headed across the Atlantic to Paris. The take-off was unremarkable. The plane reached a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The passengers read and watched movies and slept. Everything proceeded normally for several hours. Then, with no communication to the ground or air traffic control, flight 447 suddenly disappeared. [more inside]
An exploration of the history of barbed wire.
Reports of palm theft have appeared in LA, San Diego, and Texas; palm rustling also gets a mention in Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. What the palm tree* means to America, what they're worth, and how they've democratized the California Dream. [more inside]
Portlanders have a tradition when visiting their airport: taking a picture of their feet. It’s not to show off their shoes, but rather, what’s under them. They are documenting the famous PDX airport carpet. [more inside]
A few months before the end of the world, everyone was saying their goodbyes ... Roman Mars tells the story of the end of an online community. [more inside]
At some point in your life you've probably encountered a problem in the built world where the fix was obvious to you. Maybe a door that opened the wrong way, or poorly painted marker on the road.
The idea of the mascot came to America by way of a popular French opera from the 1880s called La Mascotte. [more inside]
The rise, fall, and afterlife of Austin's famed Moonlight Towers.
If you are looking at a computer screen, your right hand is probably resting on a mouse. To the left of that mouse (or above, if you’re on a laptop) is your keyboard. As you work on the computer, your right hand moves back and forth from keyboard to mouse. You can’t do everything you need to do on a computer without constantly moving between input devices. There is another way.
Right now there are fewer than 200 active trademarks for sounds. A surprisingly small number, considering that sound has the power to make - or break - a brand.
New Yorkers are known to disagree about a lot of things. Who's got the best pizza? What's the fastest subway route? Yankees or Mets? But all 8.5 million New Yorkers are likely to agree on one thing: Penn Station sucks.
Jon Mooallem writes brilliant stories about the weird interactions between animals and humans, interactions that are becoming ever weirder and more designed. This episode features two stories: Jon talks about Teddy Bears vs Billy Possums, then selections from Jon's book "Wild Ones" with live with musical accompaniment from the band Black Prairie. [more inside]
In our current digital age, the hashtag identifies movements, events, happenings, brands—topics of all kinds. The “#” didn’t always have this meaning, though. It’s had a few different lives... [more inside]
Hanging in the garage of Fire Station #6 in Livermore, California, there's a small, pear-shaped light bulb. It is glowing right now. This lightbulb has been glowing, with just a couple of momentary interruptions, for 113 years. Episode page at 99pi.org →
You see them on street corners, at gas stations, at shopping malls. You see them at blowout sales and grand openings of all kinds. Their wacky faces hover over us, and then fall down to meet us, and then rise … Show page on 99pi.org with photos and more info →