- How digital tools and marketplaces are leading to greater variety and lower risk in designing and producing textiles. The stylistic trends mentioned in the article are also an indication that the glassy-smooth minimalism of the iPhone era is feeling stale and contradictory - the black and white expanses of space age surfaces have long signaled the optimism of scientific progress: that through embracing high technology we would transcend our base animal natures and enter a time of reason, peace and plenty, with our basic needs fulfilled so that we can focus on grand questions and rewarding pursuits. Technology has improved many things but in certain regards the world feels far less stable. A hunger for expressive aesthetics that call back to nature and the human hand instead of the sharp, smooth lines of the mechanically perfect is a natural response to the promises of technological progress going unfulfilled.
- Some superb data visualization work from Brown University on statistics and probability.
- A promising noncombustible, all-solid-state battery technology is being developed at University of Texas Austin. Batteries are one of the more complicated sustainability variables in a cleaner-energy future - current state of the art Lithium based batteries which rely on dirty supply chains and have stability issues especially over longer term use. The road from promising research to widely-available commercial technology is a difficult one, but hopefully we will have a cleaner, safer alternative to Lithium-based systems in our near future. Side note: how awesome is it that this research group is headed by a 94 year old? It's never too late to contribute to a better future.
- One of the worst consumer product recalls we've seen in a long time in terms of ratio of incidents to units in use: Ryobi leaf blower has had over 10,000 incident reports of fan blades breaking and flying out either end of the device out of ~120,000 sold. It would be great to see a tear down and analysis of the failure's origin, whether it was in design, engineering or manufacturing.
- Always on voice-based interfaces like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home are relatively new (Apple's Siri is 5 years old) and a new generation is growing up with those devices as a consistent presence ready and willing to answer their questions near instantaneously, if imperfectly. While the article seems to be mostly concerned with manners and whether bots you can boss around will lead to making similar demands of people, maybe more concerning is that platform filter bubbles could begin forming even earlier in life. While there are benefits in terms of ease of use in voice interfaces, that so much is hidden behind the curtain makes it more difficult to discern quality of information when all answers are delivered in the same familiar and softly-authoritative voice. Given that sources are opaque, it might be best for these bots to take a step back and acknowledge a more limited range of expertise: help us to order pizza, set reminders, and cue up our favorite songs instead of trying to explain still-developing geopolitical stories.
- A startup called Skelmet is using a scanning app and data analysis to design and print better-fitting sunglasses. They're continuing a trend of additive manufacturing being leveraged for bespoke goods like orthotics, or earbuds, but those business models haven't had the best outcomes, with pivots and shutdowns being common despite initial optimism about "mass customization." Rain Wang, one of the founders, says that as an Asian woman and serious athlete, she had a hard time finding glasses that fit properly. Hopefully Skelmet can figure out the business side and more people can have what they wear actually work for them.
- A new study on trolling finds that the creatures lurking under the bridges of the internet are really all of us. While truly dedicated, malicious trolls exist (the kind of people responsible for doxxing, coordinating harassment campaigns, etc.) much of the ill will thrown about online comes from ordinary people. The study found some correlation of troll activities with time of day and week, suggesting that these anti-social behaviors may be as much about a bad mood finding a target as it is about genuine contempt. As more and more of our communication time is logged with keyboards and screens, a better understanding of how the means of conversation can impact discourse for the worse may prove key to unwinding our sharpest political divisions.