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The Mary Sue

The Nexus of Pop Culture and the Uncharted Universe

When we talk about sexual harassment and assault, we often talk about the role of men in the fight against these things. What can men do besides just, you know, not harassing and assaulting women? How can they stand up for women? How can they resist being complicit cogs in the nonstop misogyny machine?
Author: Vivian Kane
Posted: November 20, 2017, 10:36 pm
If Warner Bros. feels salty about Justice League getting beat by the "B-team of Marvel," they should recognize it's also being outdone by their own B-team.
Author: Princess Weekes
Posted: November 20, 2017, 10:29 pm
Laura Dern's Last Jedi character, the purple-haired Admiral Amilyn Holdo, will reportedly butt heads with Poe Dameron as she defies stereotypes about female bosses.
Author: Marykate Jasper
Posted: November 20, 2017, 10:05 pm
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is reportedly planning to overturn the 2015 Open Internet Order, and they're reportedly hiding their plan to do so by releasing it the day before Thanksgiving.
Author: Marykate Jasper
Posted: November 20, 2017, 8:28 pm
The mastermind behind the Helter Skelter murders of 1969, whose very name became "a metaphor for evil," has died in California. He was 83.
Author: Kaila Hale-Stern
Posted: November 20, 2017, 8:08 pm
2017 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people.
Author: Princess Weekes
Posted: November 20, 2017, 7:41 pm
No one is perfect, and no one knows everything. The best any of us can do is learn from our mistakes and work toward doing better. It seems that director Spike Lee is doing just that with his 1986 feature film debut, She's Gotta Have It, which he's adapted as a 10-episode series for Netflix.
Author: Teresa Jusino
Posted: November 20, 2017, 7:39 pm
Make the Road is a New York organization dedicated to issues affecting the lives and rights of Latinx and working class communities of color. High school sophomore Gisele Mendez, who is a Make the Road youth member, showed up to a town hall with her congressman Dan Donovan, to talk about one of those major issues: DACA and the Dream Act.
Author: Vivian Kane
Posted: November 20, 2017, 7:19 pm
The capital city of Ankara in Turkey has placed a ban on public LGBTQ events indefinitely, citing concerns about safety when it is really about the preservation of conservative "moral values."
Author: Princess Weekes
Posted: November 20, 2017, 5:47 pm
We're all used to seeing outlandish Skyrim mods. (The Thomas the Tank Engine characters as a replacement for dragons is a classic.) Good natured, mod-based hijinks are par for the course. What you might not be expecting, however, is the troubled current state of modding culture. The modding scene is getting frighteningly misogynistic, and it only takes a cursory glance at the Nexus to see it.
Author: Amy Josuweit
Posted: November 20, 2017, 4:21 pm
Despite making 95 million at the box office, this was a disappointing weekend number for Warner Bros. with estimates earlier projecting the film to make in the $110 million range this weekend. The movie's budget is said to be around 300 million. Next stop: Aquaman.
Author: Princess Weekes
Posted: November 20, 2017, 4:01 pm
Disney has dropped a second trailer for Ava DuVernay's adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and it is seriously beautiful.
Author: Marykate Jasper
Posted: November 20, 2017, 3:58 pm
Lena Dunham is probably one of the most influential voices in feminism today. Sadly, her feminism has often ended up being painfully and dangerously white. This weekend, Dunham and Jenni Konner released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, defending Girls writer Murray Miller against the allegation of assault made by actress Aurora Perrineau.
Author: Princess Weekes
Posted: November 20, 2017, 3:39 pm
Hiromi Tsuru, the voice of Dragon Ball's Bulma (as well as Ukyo Kuonji from Ranma 1/2, Naomi Hunter from Metal Gear Solid, and more), passed away on November 16th at the age of 57.
Author: Charline Jao
Posted: November 20, 2017, 3:22 pm
Following allegations of sexual harassment from two women, Jeffrey Tambor has announced he will not return to the Amazon series.
Author: Charline Jao
Posted: November 20, 2017, 1:32 pm
It is November, which means that everyone who really cares about Stranger Things 2 has already watched it. They've gone through the think pieces, and now the question is ... when are the new toys coming out? Well, Funko is here to let you know.
Author: Princess Weekes
Posted: November 20, 2017, 1:25 pm
"She should be able to know that she can walk through any door — even if the door is not there. If you start walking towards it, it will appear for you. And it’s not only for black girls but all kinds of girls — and boys too. A hero doesn’t have to be defined so narrowly.”
Author: Charline Jao
Posted: November 20, 2017, 1:00 pm
In this SNL skit, Bruce Wayne is holding his annual food drive when he hears some honest feedback about Batman's obsession with brutalizing low-level criminals.
Author: Marykate Jasper
Posted: November 19, 2017, 11:35 pm
Today (Sunday), hundreds of protesters marched through Washington, D.C. and gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to demand action on behalf of Puerto Rico.
Author: Marykate Jasper
Posted: November 19, 2017, 10:25 pm
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Rian Johnson said The Last Jedi "is very much about Rey trying to figure out how she fits into all this."
Author: Marykate Jasper
Posted: November 19, 2017, 8:50 pm

The Oatmeal - Comics, Quizzes, & Stories

The oatmeal tastes better than stale skittles found under the couch cushions

Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: October 25, 2017, 5:29 pm
My new book came out today!

If my dogs were a pair of middle-aged men is now available for purchase.

View

Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: September 26, 2017, 2:21 pm
Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: September 25, 2017, 6:18 pm
Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: September 25, 2017, 4:23 pm
Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: September 22, 2017, 5:52 pm
Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: August 4, 2017, 3:31 pm
Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: July 27, 2017, 7:20 pm
Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: July 27, 2017, 7:08 pm
Nausea vs Boredom

A comic about looking at your phone.

View

Author: Matthew Inman
Posted: July 27, 2017, 6:45 pm

GeekMom – GeekDad

Raising Geek Generation 2.0

Geek Daily Deals on great tabletop games and puzzles from Ravensberger. Get the best Sous Vide cooker ever at the best price ever!

Click through to read all of "Geek Daily Deals Nov. 20, 2017: Tabletop Games Sale; Get the Best Sous Vide Cooker for Under $100" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Ken Denmead
Posted: November 20, 2017, 3:30 pm

The neighborhood cat took a specific liking to us, and she started to feel like ours. But was she really, when she looked so well-cared for?

Click through to read all of "The Continuing Story of the Cat Who Tried to Adopt Us" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Amy Weir
Posted: November 20, 2017, 3:00 pm

The best idea for a LotR series? One where the creators can have room to play in Tolkien's world.

Click through to read all of "6 ‘Lord of the Rings’ Shows I Want To See On Amazon" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Corrina Lawson
Posted: November 20, 2017, 3:00 pm

Dakster gives her top 5 reasons you should check out Madam Tussauds in Orlando, Florida.

Click through to read all of "A Geek In Orlando: Top Five Reasons to Visit Madam Tussauds" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Dakster Sullivan
Posted: November 20, 2017, 2:00 pm

Trypticon the largest of the Titans Return 2017 class and a must for Transformer collectors.

Click through to read all of "Trypticon – Great For Collectors. Not So Great For Kids." at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Dakster Sullivan
Posted: November 20, 2017, 12:00 pm

The GeekMoms share their suggestions for tech-related gifts this holiday season.

Click through to read all of "GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide 2017 #1: Tech" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Sophie Brown
Posted: November 20, 2017, 11:00 am

Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce has been a favorite of mine since 1977, and it's about time he received his due.

Click through to read all of "Why I Love Black Lightning: Comic Beginnings to Television Show" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Corrina Lawson
Posted: November 19, 2017, 5:00 pm

Get ready for the winter season with some favorite Christmas and holiday ghost tales sure bring a chill to those dark, cold nights.

Click through to read all of "Welcome Winter With Some Chilling Christmas Ghost Stories" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Lisa Tate
Posted: November 19, 2017, 3:00 pm

Dakster checks out the Orlando Eye and gives her reasons and tips for visiting the attraction.

Click through to read all of "Geek in Orlando: Top 5 Reasons to Visit the Orlando Eye Attraction" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Dakster Sullivan
Posted: November 17, 2017, 4:00 pm

Follow Patricia on her journey through the Peer Revue process, transforming from science geek to... stand-up comedy sensation?

Click through to read all of "STEM + Stand-Up Comedy = Peer Revue!" at GeekDad.

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Author: Patricia Vollmer
Posted: November 17, 2017, 2:00 pm

Worry about the risk of fire when everybody forgets to water the Christmas tree? Let this elf help.

Click through to read all of "Evergreen Elf Lets You Know When Your Tree Is Out of Water" at GeekDad.

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Author: Ruth Suehle
Posted: November 17, 2017, 12:00 pm

Newt's coming back, y'all--along with a young Dumbledore played by Jude Law--when 'The Crimes of Grindelwald' comes out November 18, 2018.

Click through to read all of "Geek Links: ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’" at GeekDad.

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Author: Nivi Engineer
Posted: November 17, 2017, 10:30 am

We all like to offer up thoughtful, meaningful gifts for teachers that let them know how much we appreciate the fact that they tolerate--I mean, nurture--our children for a good portion of the day.

Click through to read all of "What Teachers Want: Homemade Teacher Gift Poll Results" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Nivi Engineer
Posted: November 16, 2017, 4:30 pm

In this month's Between the Bookends, Lisa, Rebecca, Melissa, Sophie, and Chris share their favorite books from the last month.

Click through to read all of "Between the Bookends: 9 Books We Read in Oct-Nov 2017" at GeekDad.

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Author: Sophie Brown
Posted: November 15, 2017, 3:00 pm

Blankie Tails: the fuzziest way to be burritoed!

Click through to read all of "Blankie Tails at PlayFair 2017" at GeekDad.

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Author: Karen Walsh
Posted: November 13, 2017, 3:00 pm

Patricia explains how 'Cars 3' brought back numerous memories about her sons' love of the franchise.

Click through to read all of "6 Ways ‘Cars 3’ Brought Back Memories" at GeekDad.

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Author: Patricia Vollmer
Posted: November 13, 2017, 11:00 am

Dust off them wands, folks, there's magic afoot. The Augmented Reality game 'Harry Potter: Wizards Unite' is on its way, but the magic is around you now.

Click through to read all of "‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ Is a Dream About to Come True" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Nivi Engineer
Posted: November 12, 2017, 7:00 pm

On this Remembrance Sunday, we at GeekMom and GeekDad remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in conflict.

Click through to read all of "Remembrance Sunday" at GeekDad.

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Author: Sophie Brown
Posted: November 12, 2017, 11:00 am

Art-o-mat has repurposed cigarette vending machines into one-of-a-kind art galleries and has given a creative outlet to arts and art lovers of all kinds.

Click through to read all of "Why the Art-o-mat Vending Machine Is My Kind of Art Gallery" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Lisa Tate
Posted: November 11, 2017, 5:00 pm

Geek Links: Did Stan Lee announce that a Black Widow movie is in the making? Courtesy: Marvel Cinematic Universe (Facebook Fan Page)

Click through to read all of "Geek Links: Did Stan Lee Just Announce a Black Widow Movie?" at GeekDad.

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Author: Evil Genius Mum
Posted: November 11, 2017, 3:22 pm

You know about PAX Aus 2017. You know there were some sweet games displayed. And you know it was loads of fun. So here's what happened...

Click through to read all of "PAX Aus 2017: So Here’s What Happened…" at GeekDad.

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Author: Evil Genius Mum
Posted: November 11, 2017, 3:00 pm

Typically, when an American Jew thinks of World War II, their entire story is one of loss. But this story is about a different kind of loss, and something wonderful gained.

Click through to read all of "Of Family and Service" at GeekDad.

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Author: Dani Weiss-Bronstein
Posted: November 11, 2017, 11:00 am

Why do people still like to say my boy and girl are "one of each," when their gender is just one small part of who they are? They are one of a kind, not one of a type.

Click through to read all of "One of Which? On Labeling Babies by Gender and More" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Amy Weir
Posted: November 10, 2017, 8:00 pm

My eight-year-old son and I have spent the last few months trying out several apps aimed at older children. Here we share four he has enjoyed.

Click through to read all of "Four Amazing, Educational Apps for Older Kids" at GeekDad.

If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!

Author: Sophie Brown
Posted: November 10, 2017, 3:00 pm

EPBOT

Geekery, Girliness, & Goofing Off

Nothing kicks off the season of twinkly lights and glitter-bombed greenery like the Festival of Trees, am I right? So earlier this week John and I made our annual trek to the Orlando Museum of Art to find some new decorating ideas to steal borrow.
Who's pumped??

 K, let's jump right in.

This year's lobby tree was SO SHINY:

Let's head into the exhibit itself for my first favorite, though, a sweet snowy scene:
The warm yellow lights shining through the tree almost look pink from a distance, and help break up all that white.
I like when designers theme the gifts, too; look at the furry present! Ahhh! Now I want all gift wrap to be fuzzy.

The best part may actually be the tree's sponsor, though: it was a teeth-whitening service.

Well played, guys. Well played.
Usually I break up wreaths and trees into separate posts, but I'm feeling willy-nilly today, so let's head straight down the Decked Hall:
 
It's about twice this long, and filled to the brim with wreaths (on full-size doors!) and mini trees galore.

 I'm a big fan of themes, so loving this little musical magnolia tree:

The trumpet topper with the blast of glittery sprigs is especially awesome - and the sheet music garland!

 This little owl wreath reminded me of the one at Diagon Alley:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: November 19, 2017, 12:00 am
I mentioned this before, but John and I are throwing a Potter Christmas party again this year, this time with a Fantastic Beasts spin.
I've been gleefully sharing process shots of some of our many projects over on my Instagram Stories the last few weeks, but I thought I'd compile them all into one big progress post here, you know, for posterity. So let's see how many things you can guess we're making!
I plan to turn several of these into tutorials, btw, which I'll start sharing soon. There's just too much to share all at once after the party, plus I think it's fun to ramp up the antici....
...pation.
So I hope you'll forgive the semi (and outright) spoilers.
First, some background silliness:
Learning is fun!
For those of you who judged me for having a tree up the day after Halloween: IT'S FOR WORK I PROMISE. Or at least for lots of experiments.
That's one of the best parts about starting prep so early; John and I've been trying a few things we've never seen anyone do before, so it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out WHY no one's ever done them before. You know, like piping a fog machine through your Christmas tree. [NOTE: DO NOT ATTEMPT.] [Although it was pretty fun 'til the smoke alarm went off.]
I really want to show you the videos I took documenting our attempts, but they include a pretty major spoiler. I promise I'll show you our hilarious smoking tree once the spoilery thing is revealed with its own tutorial, though.
Speaking of which, here are some obvious hints:

I painted these one at a time with simple craft paint and water. Tedious, but I like what a difference they made. If I were to do them again I'd go darker, though; as the feathers dried they lightened up much more than I expected.

I should mention here John is very against this post, and while proof-reading it he kept yelling out across the house: "You're showing them THAT? And this?! There won't be any surprises left!"

Oh yes, there will.

More silliness:
I haven't posted these next pics anywhere yet:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: November 16, 2017, 7:56 pm
There's a small fan-run event here in Orlando (and also LA) called "Dressed To The 9 3/4s," held in the Wizarding World sections of Universal. It's essentially Dapper Day with a Harry Potter twist (um, YES PLEASE), so yesterday John and I went along with a few friends to check it out!

I really liked the low-key, friendly vibe of this event. Disney's Dapper Day (which is next weekend) has gotten SO big that Disney had to ban official group meet-ups, so it's more intimidating to strike up conversations and meet fellow Dappers, what with everyone going their own way.
Here at 9 3/4s, though, it was a small enough group to allow everyone to be together, chatting and mingling about, but large enough that you still felt part of a group. The outfits ranged from fun to fabulous, and to put a sparkly cherry on top, most of the new Christmas decorations are up now around both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley! So prepare for lots of outfit shots *and* magical scenery:
 (I've decided I need to embiggen all my Snitch ornaments now.)

The toothbrush! So wrong, so funny.
Here's the whole group all together:

Several more showed up later, but this gives you an idea of how many we had. And I'm sure it'll keep growing every year!
John and I even found some Huffley things in our own closets to wear, though I forgot to get a picture of us together. (Oops.) Here are the photos I shared over on Instagram:
I sewed the little felt badger face on my $10 Walmart purse late the night before, and both it and my wand holster were a big hit. 
And John's show-stopper shot:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: November 13, 2017, 10:40 pm
Some of my favorite finds this week:
This "South Asian Wonder Woman" by Deepica Mutyala is absolutely stunning:
Found via the RPF group, where Susan always shares the best stuff.
***
Over on Instagram I've started following Lady Arcoiris, who makes some of the most incredible clay and resin jewelry:
She hand-sculpts the tiny figures, then embeds them in resin to form her "Bubble Worlds." (And yes, the sell out fast, ha.)

Dying over this Zero pendant, plus look at little Luna!

Go follow her for so much more.

***

I'm endlessly fascinated by antique automatons - always have been - and some great ones passed through my feed this week. First there's the Joueuse de Tympanon, built for Marie Antoinette in 1772,  which STILL PLAYS TODAY:
Then I stumbled across some videos by Robo Theater, a German puppeteer doing an apprenticeship in Japan, I think? Anyway, she took these at Susumo Higashino's Karakuri Ningyo exhibition. (Google tells me "Karakuri Puppets" are what the Japanese call their automatons, so look up that term for more goodies.)
This one paints different pictures:
And this one does a many-stepped magic trick:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: November 10, 2017, 7:46 pm
I know, I know, that took forever. I bet some of you don't even remember that we made a Figment dragon rocker.  But we did, and it looked like this:
We later donated it to Give Kids The World, where it lives in a playroom on property.
(Life Goal Achievement: UNLOCKED.)
Since we put so much work into it - and enough of you expressed interest - John and I've been working to make a printable template to sell on Etsy, just like we did for our AT-AT. To do that we had to build another rocker, though; our Figgy was a little too small, and the template wasn't perfect.
So John took our original rough paper templates, scanned them, smoothed out the imperfections in Illustrator, and up-sized everything by about 15%. He also simplified the design a bit, to make assembly easier. Then we began the tedious task of making another dragon rocker from scratch, and photographing the whole process for the instruction manual.
This time I used a different color scheme to show you can also make this a more generic-style dragon; it doesn't have to be Figment:
This would be super cute for medieval or fantasy themes, or even dinosaurs if you take the wings and horns off (Stegosaurus, anyone? :D) I'm also hoping someone makes one in pink, because how cute would a pink dragon be.
 
 The only noticeable difference construction-wise is this new design only uses 2 layers of MDF for the body instead of 3. That makes construction much easier, while still being just as strong and cute.
 Well, maybe not so cute from THIS angle, but all rockers look weird head-on. 😀
Also like the AT-AT rocker, we've formatted the template so you can print it on your home computer; you just tape the pages together and cut everything out. As for difficulty level, if you're comfortable with a jigsaw and a power drill, then this is in your skill set.
The step-by-step instructions are filled with pictures and diagrams, and are written at a beginner's level. (I can say that because *I* understood them well enough to write them.) If you hit a snag, though, John's e-mail address is right there in the download, and he's great at walking people through trouble-shooting.
Right! That's enough sales pitch. If you'd like the template and instructions - all 39 pages of them - then you can grab the digital download in my Etsy shop for $20.
But wait, there's more!
Maybe building your own dragon rocker is a little too daunting right now, but you still want one. 
Well, as circumstances would have it, we happen to have ANOTHER dragon rocker we don't plan to keep. This one. So, er... any of you want it?
If so, and if you're local to Orlando (or willing to travel or pay for what I can only assume will be extremely expensive shipping), then comment below! Tell me who you want the rocker for, or what kids' room theme it's going in, and I'll pick my favorite to win this one. I'll announce the winner in my very next post, so remember to check back!

UPDATE: It was really hard to choose, gang, so in the end I narrowed down my top picks and then had a random number generator do the rest. And the odds were in Noreen Kelly's favor! So please shoot me an e-mail, Noreen, and we'll arrange a time for you to pick up your new dragon. 🙂

Author: Jen
Posted: November 8, 2017, 7:30 pm

Ages ago I spotted a girl at the parks wearing a baseball cap with pom pom Mickey ears, and fell in love. I've since learned they're from Tokyo Disneyland (of course), come in all different colors, and cost about $60 on ebay:

I forgot about it until earlier this year when I saw Melissa make her own pom pom hat in pink over on Instagram, and fell in love all over again:

A post shared by Melissa (@incindysshoes) on
SO LET'S MAKE ONE.
You Will Need:
- a plain baseball cap (this one is $3 at Michael's)
- two pom poms in a matching color (These came from a friend's pair of new shoes, ha. Where do the rest of you buy pom poms? I NEED MORE.)
- your choice of iron-on Disney patch
I found this sweet sequined Mickey patch on Etsy for just $3.50 with shipping - YES PLEASE - and it worked great, but obviously you can go nuts here picking any cute patch.
Ironing a patch on a round hat is a little tricky, but you've got this. You just need a large metal or oven-safe glass bowl, like this:
Secure your patch in place with 2 straight pins through the ears:
... then put your hat over the bowl, a wash cloth over the hat, and start ironing the patch in small sections:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: November 6, 2017, 7:00 pm
Some of you *may* have noticed it was John's birthday yesterday. We spent the later part of the day at Magic Kingdom, mostly so we could see the new fireworks show, Happily Ever After. Anyway, John tells me if I'm going to spend so much time on my Instagram Stories then I should at least put them somewhere more people will see them, SO... prepare for photos, videos, and disjointed Disney rambles. 😀
John in his birthday suit outfit. Look how blue he is! 
And here's the kind of cutting-edge commentary you get in my Stories:
Yep, two days after Halloween Disney had already switched to full Christmas mode - though the castle lights and the big tree aren't up yet at Magic Kingdom.

Not that I'm complaining about Christmas decorations, of course. 😀 Plus I love the Dapper Dans. If it ever comes up in conversation you WILL hear about the Disneyland Dans and how they rode their bicycle-built-for-4 just for me that one time, because it. was. AWESOME.
Oh hey, here's some stuff I haven't posted yet: cool new phone cases!
 The Madame Leota one has a 3D sculpt of her face on the back, just like the tombstone. Love it. The Figment one is the wrong phone size for John, but then he tells me he'd rather have the perfect Hufflepuff case instead? So hey, if you have any recommendations...
And this one has fun little sparkles in it:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: November 4, 2017, 3:58 am
For Halloween I asked you Facebook followers to share your costume photos, and BOY DID YOU. If you haven't seen that thread, then I *highly* recommend scrolling through the over 400 photos, because your fellow Epbot readers are SERIOUSLY talented. You guys dressed as everything from burning books to whomping willows, plus you dressed your kids, your pets, and your horses?! Yep. I was blown away, and it kept me hugely entertained while I was on Door Duty for the approximately 3 billion trick-or-treaters who flocked to our house.

In hindsight, I think our last-minute Halloween decorating may have had something to do with the extra crowds:

A post shared by Jen Yates (@epbot) on

Spoopy dragon!
I'm telling you, put a giant dragon skeleton on your roof, and you'll have a Field of Dreams situation on your hands real fast. (It also moves and shrieks, but we turned that off so it wouldn't scare the littles.)
(Oh, and it's from Big Lots, but we got it several months ago.)
But back to your costumes.
Again, you should go see everything for yourself, since photos are still coming in, but here are a few of the ones that grabbed me so far:

Because every character is better with a little Wonder Woman thrown in, am I right? 
And speaking of Ms. Prince:

Aaa! If only every princess dress was this lovely... and came with a sword down the back. 😀

The car! The Weasley wig! The dad who probably got called Groot all night! Hee! Love this.

 INCONCEIVABLE. The dog is an ROUS!

And another great family cosplay:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: November 1, 2017, 6:40 pm
A lot of you know John and I are currently addicted to Overwatch, the online mutliplayer battle game. Since I first wrote about it in June we've both gotten quite a bit better, learning, leveling up, watching tips videos, and generally falling headfirst into the fandom.

There's a problem with Overwatch, though, particularly as you reach the higher levels. Something gamers calls "toxicity." We'd read about it, of course, but since neither John nor I use voice chat in the game, we figured we were immune from the nastiness and bullying you hear about in discussion boards and comment sections.

John's more of risk-taker than I am, so after a few months he jumped into the harder aspects of the game: 3 on 3 battles, and even the officially ranked Competitive Play. These are where the serious players come out, and it made John feel good to hold his own with increasingly skilled teammates.

This is more John's story than mine, so I'm going to let him tell you what happened next:

"A couple weeks into playing, I was doing pretty poorly and we lost. All of a sudden, a little icon popped up on the bottom of my screen, showing I had a message from one of my teammates. That never happens. Surprised, I opened it and read, “Why don’t you learn how to aim. You suck.

Ouch. I did my best, the other team was better, no big deal, right? But here was this random person telling me I sucked.

I'll be honest, I didn’t want to play anymore after that. I moped around, I thought about responding with something snide or mean. What, like this guy never had a bad game before? 
A day or two later I shook it off and started playing again, but sure enough, there were more angry messages. Teammates blaming me for our losses, even when I did well, or angry because of the character I chose. (The perils of being a Symmetra main.)

That's when I had a sinking thought: what if ALL private messages in Overwatch are like that? Mean, critical, lashing out? So I did a little Googling, and yeah, they are. That's pretty much all the players use the messaging feature FOR. I guess that’s what they mean when they say a game is toxic.

I decided then and there to be different. I decided that every chance I got, I would send notes of encouragement and praise to fellow players, whether they were on my team or playing against me. 
“You're a great Hanzo.”

“You killed me SO MUCH. Awesome!”

“That was unbelievable. You are so, so good.”

Just short little things, since I'm typing with a controller. A lot of times it's just an "awesome Reaper" - or whatever character they played.
The reactions were amazing, once people got past their suspicion. Everything from a simple "thanks" to returned compliments to friend requests. So many friend requests. Because NOBODY DOES THIS. When you see that message icon pop up, it’s always somebody being mean to you. That’s just the way it is. But because this small touch of kindness was so unexpected, it was so much more powerful."

Jen, jumping back in here.

John and I talked about this over lunch back at Dragon Con, about how sending a positive message in Overwatch was completely subverting everyone's expectations, and whether that was even a good thing.

"You realize just by messaging people you're making them think something bad is coming, right?" I asked. "I mean, that little ding from a DM is awful; it scares the crap out of me."

"Yes," John said, "But people only expect the message to be bad because they've only gotten bad messages, or read that they're all bad. What if they started getting good ones? What if they got so many good ones they stopped expecting DMs to be mean?"

I sat there and thought about all the times I'd already watched John lose a game in Overwatch, all angry and frustrated, then immediately message the person on the opposite team who'd killed him the most times - and tell them what a great player they were. I thought about the day I found him looking blankly at his laptop, game system off, because the first of several strangers had told him he was terrible at doing something he loved.

I sat there in that noisy food court, looking at this guy who'd made the impossibly hard choice to repay evil with good, and marveled. Sure, it's only a game. But it's more than that. It's a tidal wave of angry people lashing out in frustration, ruining people's days, hurting feelings, ostracizing and excluding behind a veil of online anonymity -  and here's my hubby, pushing back, one DM at a time.

I know most of you don't play Overwatch, but you do interact with people online. So I'm issuing a little John Challenge today, to you and to myself: Put more positive than negative into your fandoms, your tribes. Stop yourself the next time you feel like lashing out online, and instead find someone to praise. Give a little unexpected kindness. That's the best kind.

And if you do play Overwatch, let me challenge you to send out a compliment in-game this week. Bonus points if it's to someone you just lost to. (This challenge is also for me, since I've never messaged anyone before!) Let's make it a habit to send out at least one nice note every time we play. Maybe make that your signing off routine, after your last game.

It's not much, I know. It's just a drop against a tidal wave of toxicity. But drops have a way of running together, growing stronger, and forming a flood.

So pass it on.

PS. I found these memes while I was looking for a good Overwatch screenshot, and they made me LOL:

(For you non-players: Anna has healing darts in-game; she has to shoot you to heal you. :D) 

***

Now let's announce this month's art winners!

My wild card winner is: Max Martin
The winner of the Marvel Roundup print is: Wordwitch
And the winner of the Sailor Moon print is LizSie

Congrats, you three, and please e-mail me your mailing addresses!

Author: Jen
Posted: October 30, 2017, 7:44 pm
Time for my favorite art finds this month!
I'm really liking Heather Hitchman's use of line art with just a touch of color:
 
 She also has full-color works like this:
Her shop has over 140 listings, go see the rest!
 
 ***
 These Potter Princesses by CJ Major are too cute:

Ariel found the Triwizard Tournament egg! Love it!
 And for my fellow Overwatchers, CJ's "flip" posters showing the characters with an alternate skin are suuuper cool:
You can hang them either way! 
 ***
TJ Lubrano from the Netherlands has just stolen my heart with this Hedwig print:
And continuing the book theme, she also has this Cogsworth & Lumiere print that lets you choose from a bunch of different quotes:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: October 27, 2017, 5:00 pm
Helloooo my lovely fellow procrastinators! You're out there, right? Scrambling to put together last-minute Halloween costumes for yourself and/or your Next Generation?

I AM HERE TO HELP.

Assuming your last-minute cosplay needs a sword. 

(If not, grab yourself a string of battery-operated lights, an old rotary phone, and go Joyce Byers that shiz. :D)

I'm also here to help with future cosplays and/or nerdy weapon displays, because this metal tape trick (and the painting, of course) has lots of great uses. And full disclosure: while I've used metal tape on things before, I learned this particular application from the man, the myth, Adam Savage. (You *do* watch all of his One Day Builds, right? It's Maker crack, I'm telling ya.)

First, grab yourself a dollar sword from - you guessed it - the dollar store:

Or splurge and get one of the fancier plastic ones from any costume shop.

I like these Dollar Tree ones because they have some gorgeous detailing on both the hilt and the blade:

In fact, the hilt's paint job isn't bad as-is, but that blade? UG. So plastic. Much bad.

Ah, but watch how easy this is. First unscrew the hilt to get that out of the way:

And save the screws on a piece of sticky-side-up tape on your work surface:
(This little trick has saved me many lost screws over the years.)

Now grab a nice long piece of metal tape:

And carefully smooth it over your plastic blade:
See how I'm peeling the paper away a little at a time?

Once the tape's on, trim off the excess & rub the whole blade down with the back side of a spoon. That adds an extra gleam and some great streaky texture to the metal:

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 24, 2017, 5:00 pm
I've been meaning to show these to you guys for a while now: remember when I asked what fandoms you wanted to see in our next batch of Epbot magnets? Well, John and I tallied up the most-requested ones, and put together 5 new designs! 
Wanna see?
 Here we go, in no particular order:
You want a revolution? I WANT A REVELATION:
... of our new Hamilton 'bot! I think this is our first pin/magnet to break the "Epbot in cosplay" format, but I just love that Botty silhouette. 😀
I have a hunch that this will be our most popular in the new batch:
SPOCK 'BOT. 
(I suggested John add the falling tribble, and now it's my favorite part.) 
Next is the happiest colors of the bunch:
Pony 'Bot! (Or Pinkie 'Bot?) John worked so hard getting the word design right on this one, and I lurrrrrve it. (I almost want just the "My Little Epbot" on a pin!)
To be honest this next one is our least favorite of the bunch, but let's see what you guys think: 

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 22, 2017, 3:59 am
I've got several projects in the works right now, but I thought you guys might like to see this one I just finished up. It's not a home run by any means, and I'll tell you where things went wrong and what I'd do differently, but I hope this inspires some similar craftiness out there:
I MADE DIS. Wha whaaaaat.
This is probably a good time to mention our Harry Potter Party will have a Fantastic Beasts spin this year, so many of our guests (ourselves included) will be dressing up as 1920's era witches and wizards.
Say it with me, now:
AWWWW YEEEEAH.
My struggle, of course, is finding ways to make a generic Flapper style a bit more magical. Since the President in the movie is wearing a funky headdress I started there. (Plus I just really like headdresses. :D)
As always I've done this on the cheap, so you could recreate your own for as little as $10 or $15, depending on how fancy you get with the jewelry. The primary materials are stiffened Friendly Felt (much stronger than the floppy kind), glue, and beads.
Close up of the jewelry bit:
The center piece is a combination of elements - I'll show you how they went together in a sec.
In fact, let me walk you through the whole build, starting with this simple mock-up John put together at the very beginning:
This was to test the shape on my face, so the strap is just taped in place.
I knew I needed something pretty spectacular for a focal point, so I went digging through my jewelry drawer of cast-offs. I found this $6 necklace and liked the wings:
I needed it to be gold, though, to match my dress.
We don't have a great gold paint at the moment, so instead John applied faux gold leaf with a little spray adhesive:
Spaaaarkly.
Testing the fit:

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 19, 2017, 4:42 am
It's Monday, you need these smiles.
***
Last week Neil Gaiman shared one of the sweetest things I've read in ages, but it wasn't written by him. It's by Paul Magrs, who in turn is recounting a story HE heard from one of his friends. Mild spoiler, it's about David Bowie, and you're going to love the Goblin King even more after you read this.

Take five minutes and go read what happened here.

***

Regal Robot shared a few photos from a magical place in Switzerland called The Greisinger Museum, and LOOKIE:
 
This is the museum entrance. Wha whaaaaaaat. Even better: most of the museum rooms are underground.

And check out the staircase leading down!
As you may have guessed, The Greisinger Museum is dedicated to all things Middle Earth. It opened in 2013, and you can find more photos and info on their website.
It does my heart good, knowing places like this exist.
***
This little girl Groot spotted at the Knoxville Fanboy Expo is giving me life:

I can't stop staring at her perfect Groot feet!  (Watch 'til the end to see the big smile under the mask.)
***
One more convention vid, this time from New York Comic-Con. I think I've watched this half a dozen times now, because strangers being silly together just makes me happy:

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 16, 2017, 7:56 pm
It's prime Halloween craftin' time, guys and ghouls! So let's plumb the dusty Epbot archives for some of my favorite tutorials to get those creative sparks flying.
First, let's talk COSTUMES. 
For easy last-minute accessories I've made a lot of fun stuff with cheap ol' craft foam, like this steampunk/post-apocalyptic respirator mask:
Again, all craft foam, though it looks more like real leather than the one I *made* with real leather!  Grab the free template and read the full tutorial here.
These foam wings are perfect for would-be dragons, bats, and other figments of your imagination:
I'll walk you through making your own here.
How about some foam bracers for your battle armor?
I've got the free downloadable templates (including the rose design!) here. You can modify these for all sorts of armor, or just throw them on with a battle-ready Belle or Alice outfit.
If you're rocking more of a Snow White vibe this Halloween, then you NEEEEED this poison apple:
The green glow is so intense it almost looks white here, but trust me - it is VERY green. I'll show you how to make it for just $3, right here.
How about a quick dollar store ray gun build?

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 13, 2017, 7:33 pm
I realize most of you haven't had your lives consumed by Overwatch, the online multi-player game John and I just can't quit, so I thought I'd put all my favorite Dragon Con Overwatch cosplay together in just one post. This way you Overwatch muggles can feel free to breeze on by, while I and my fellow addicts can all go ERMERGERSH together and dish about the Halloween event that just dropped, because HOW ARE THERE STILL NO NEW ORISA SKINS, and what is Mei supposed to be, and how awesome does Eichenwalde castle look now?! 😀

I originally planned to show you the best cosplay I found of every single Overwatch character - because oh yes, I *FOUND* every single character - but to quote Inigo from Princess Bride, "No, there is too much. Lemme sum up." 
So these will be the best cosplays I found overall, regardless of character.
Starting out with a bang and BWEEEE, because LOOK AT THIS BASTION:
 
His light even changed from red to blue!
I seriously didn't think this character could even be cosplayed, so I stood around gawking for ages. It took me several minutes to realize the cosplayer's eyes are fully exposed - see them? Because of Bastion's head light it was especially hard to see into the neck area, so that's a brilliant design strategy, right there.
Two more:
The weathering, the clean lines, the puppetry-aspect for the long arms - I am just so, so impressed.
I love this Zarya so much I couldn't pick a favorite photo - so you get all 3: 
Seriously, this IS Zarya.
LOOOOOOOOVE.
There were several excellent McCrees around, but this one was my favorite. Not only were the details NAILED, he also went the extra mile with the best light-up effects:

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 11, 2017, 6:34 pm
I'm back with more Dollar Store spookery! This time we're taking two plastic shields, skulls, and battery tealights...
... and turning them into a pair of creepy wall sconces!
Muahahahaaaa! 

Admit it, these would look great in the guest room. Over the bed. When your in-laws visit.

(This is as close to gore as I get for the holiday, btw - though I was going for more of an "old and dusty" look.)

Also I really struggled with these pics; my back room is so dark! Which is great for ambiance...

 ...but not so much for photos. 😀

Since I already had the tealights, hot glue, and craft paints, both sconces cost me less than $5 to make. Oh, cheap crafts, how I love you.
I'm sure you already get the general gist of how everything goes together, but let me walk you through the nitty gritty.
In addition to the skulls, shields, and lights,
YOU WILL NEED:
- a craft blade
- hot glue & gun
- craft paint in brown, black, red, & bright orange
- a heat gun or hair dryer
- nips (or small scissors)
First, flip the shield over and cut off the strap and plastic rivets holding the dragon emblem on:

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 9, 2017, 4:00 pm
It's been another tragic week here in the States, so I know we all have to dig a little harder to find hope and goodness, light and laughter.
So lemme show you what's been making me smile lately.
First, this Harry Potter wedding has so many magical details:
 
Not to mention incredible photography!
I like how intricate the centerpieces are:
And one last shot for the sheer WOW WOW WOW factor:
Read all about it (the groom proposed here in Orlando at Diagon Alley!) here at the photographer's site. Found via Thunder Dungeon, which put together a convenient slideshow of all the Potter-themed photos, in case you don't want to comb through everything. (And yes, there's lots more!)
***
In crafty news, I always love watching Creative Mom's videos, but this month she really blew me away with her Halloween fairy house:

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 6, 2017, 3:30 pm
Ahhh, it's been too long! Have you missed my Dragon Con meanderings as much as I have? (Don't answer that.) (But here's part 1 and part 2 if you missed them.)

Tell you what, let's dive back in with John's favorite photo from the whole con:

[Cody Dills

It's like an antique oil painting of some European king, am I right? This guy had the pose (and wardrobe, of course) down to a T.

Side Tangent: John and I have a running disagreement over whether to show cosplayers their photos on the camera right then and there. I think it's bothering them and would rather move on, but now that we have this new flash John wants everyone to see. So after this shot - and a quick whispered argument - John actually took my camera from me and chased the cosplayer down to show him his photo, while I pretended to be fascinated by a nearby floor plant.
The cosplayer apparently loved the shot, but I still maintain it's better to take up as little of someone's time as possible. When I cosplay myself it actually unnerves me when photographers insist on showing me their cameras - it means they have to come very close (sometimes too close) and they often end up blocking other people trying to take a photo at the same time. So, at the risk of all of you agreeing with John... thoughts?
Egadz, one photo in and I'm already side-tracked and talking too much. Onward!
 These photos were taken at Dragon Con's annual Mechanical Masquerade, the big steampunk ball where it's pitch black inside and impossible to take any photos without flash. This year's theme was Wild West, so I really love this Western Superman and Wonder Woman!
Two more highlights from the ball:
Now let's head back out to the Marriott for a fabulous Victorian take on some of the Avengers:

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Author: Jen
Posted: October 3, 2017, 6:00 pm
Confession: I have somewhat mixed feelings about Halloween. On the one hand, I can't stand gore or jump scares, but on the other, it's the one time of the year when the rest of the world gets to play dress up with us cosplay nerds. AW YEAH. 
So when it comes to decorating for Halloween, well, I really don't. BUT! I love - LOVE - crafting for it. I find the key is I don't like anything real life scary or dark, but fantasy stuff? HECK YES SIGN ME UP. It's the difference between movies about serial killers and movies about dementors: as long as I'm planted firmly in fiction, I can enjoy a much higher creep factor. 
Which brings me to today's quick craft. I started thinking I'd make some cute fairy skeletons like these ones by Hilda that are all over Pinterest:
I couldn't find the butterfly wings at my dollar store, though, so instead I came home with these dragonfly wings:
I also grabbed a plain white candle in a jar - that thing on top. These are all from my local Dollar Tree.
With those $3 worth of supplies - plus some hot glue and a little craft paint - I made this:
Creepy fairy skeleton candle!
And since that obviously needed a good display area, I also set up a mostly Harry Potter themed vignette for it:
I'm sure you can spot the one item glaringly NOT from the Potter 'verse, ha. Turns out I'm sorely lacking in the "creepy potion bottle" department.
Again, this is undeniably macabre, but since all I see is magic and fantasy I'm cool with it. Plus I like displaying things John and I have made, and there are 5 different craft projects just in this photo. (Though I've never done a tutorial for the leather book covers. Maybe someday?)
Getting back to the candle, there are actually two fairy skeletons tied back-to-back around it:

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Author: Jen
Posted: September 30, 2017, 2:30 pm
Since I do these art roundups at the end of the month, I decided to get a jump start on - you guessed it - geeky Halloween goodness! Now let's. get. SPOOPY.

Starting with these villainous vixens by Artist Abe, aka Abraham Lopez. Abe draws some of the cutest Harleys anywhere, AND he has this fabulous DC/Haunted Mansion mashup to boot:
You can grab these and SO many other awesome prints here at Abe's Etsy shop.

 

***
The Addams Family counts, right? I mean, they're creepy AND they're kooky.

Medusa Dollmaker has a gorgeous style, and she draws fantastic owls:

Loooove the sepia tone on this one. Go shop these and more at her Etsy store.
***

If you're looking for a subtle way to spook up your art, then how about this homage to The Shining?

I love that this is completely innocuous unless you get the reference. So good.  Grab it at Designs By Myranda.

***

For my fellow steampunks, let's not forget my man Brian Kesinger and his fabulous Otto & Victoria prints:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: September 27, 2017, 6:55 pm
I have the worst super power ever, you guys.
It manifests itself every month, and it's the ability to consistently and completely forget that I even have a menstrual cycle, much less when it's about to start.
 
 This feels appropriate here.
Thanks to an ablation years back I don't bleed much - if at all - but I still get the full force of all those jerkwad hormones running amuck, setting fire to the virtual curtains of my metaphorical Happy Place. And since those crank up way in advance of Day 1, it's a real sneak-attack situation.
Now, before you yell at me, I do keep a calendar. In the kitchen. Which I forget to look at.
So every month I'll be blissfully bopping along with my "s'all's good"s  and my "emotional stability," when I'm suddenly clothes-lined by what I like to call the Grumpies, because that puts a cutesy face on the black pit of rage-soaked misery and sudden onset desk naps.
Usually after that first day I realize what's going on and take steps to mitigate the fallout (cough cough PILLS cough), but I'm not gonna lie: getting there is a rough ride.
Cut to last week, when The Day had arrived, I of course had no idea, and John and I had a reader meetup to get to.
Now cut to the car ride there, where things were already tense because of those rascally lil Grumpies, and I was tired and hungry and attempting to eat a McDonalds hamburger.
As (bad) luck would have it, this was the first time in recorded history that a McDonalds hamburger was not only hot, but burn-my-fingers hot. So I fumbled the wrapper, yelped at the sudden burn, and then I kid you not, peeps, that burger TOOK FLIGHT.
It sailed through the air, the burger patty somersaulting free from the bun, and all three pieces landed - ketchup side down, natch - on the car floor in front of me.
"POOP!" I shouted, because no matter how angry or frustrated I am, I NEVER admit to swearing on the internet.
John, who was driving, reached a red light and stopped the car. He leaned over, and together we considered the burger pieces on the car floor. A long moment passed.
John started to chuckle. It rumbled through his chest, eventually erupting into an all-out belly laugh.
I started to sob.
***
 
If you'd asked me why I was crying at that moment - and if I'd been able to answer - I'd have told you it wasn't over a spilled burger. It was over a million tiny guilts and frustrations and inadequacies. Because depression - even a temporary, hormone-sparked brush with it - puts a wide-angle lens on your life. It zooms out and shows you every failure, not just the one right in front of you. Depression whispers, "You're about to disappoint everyone, just like ALL THESE OTHER TIMES which I will now conveniently play for you in high-def here in your brain." And boom, you're off, reliving the worst moments of your life over and over and over again.
I stared at that silly hamburger on the floor and relived a boss screaming at me that I was fired. I felt the helplessness from when John was deathly ill in the ICU. I saw in distorted detail how awful I looked in that last picture someone posted online, and hated every part of myself for not trying harder. I felt the terror of my last panic attack, the loss of the last time John and I argued, the guilt over my agoraphobia keeping us from traveling. I stared into that wide angle lens and could find no hope, no reason to keep going.
Because depression lies. 
I learned that from The Bloggess, and in dark times I cling to those two words: Depression lies. Our feelings lie. That wide-angle lens is a lie, a one-sided distortion that will only drag me down further the longer I look into it.
John and I eventually made it to the meetup, where I felt even more guilty and puffy and inadequate, but I was there and I smiled and I did my best. Then I came home, took my meds, pet the cats, and slept it off.
The next day was better.
The day after that, better still.
Depression lies.
Remember that, peeps. Remind each other. Remind me.
And while you're at it, maybe remind me to to watch the calendar better next month. Eesh. (Or, I dunno, you guys have any good apps for that?)

Author: Jen
Posted: September 25, 2017, 7:53 pm
The amazing news is that John and I finally got our power back on Day 9 after Irma, yay! 
The less-than-amazing news is all that stress and travel and going from sweating to freezing multiple times a day took its toll, and I've been sick since Day 8. Boo.
Being a drippy puddle on the couch has given me extra sifting time online, though, and I found some gems I think you're gonna love.
Starting with these AWESOME LABYRINTH PINS:
Officially licensed and sold by DKNG
had to buy the Worm, of course, and now I want to put together a Disney-bounding type outfit to wear it with. (Is that too weird for Dapper Day, since he's not Disney? Because now I also want to craft John some Ludo horns/ears he can wear with a brown suit and a pin that just says "FRIEND." :D)
The pin is just as gorgeous in person, btw, and only costs $10! (Not sponsored - I just know I'm not the only Labyrinth lover here.)
***
Theme Park Tourist published a long-read on the Holy Grail of Dizgeekery this week: the complete history of Journey Into Imagination, home of Dreamfinder and Figment.
As always there are some stellar trivia nuggets in here - like why there are hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling of The Land pavilion - plus plenty of photos and videos to walk you through one of WDW's most beloved attractions of all time.
I especially recommend this one if you never experienced Journey Into Imagination in its original form. Clear your schedule for the next 20 minutes and go dive in.
***
Speaking of adorable dragons, this photo crossed my feed this week and I am in love:
This dragon (and baby dragon!) hangs outside a famous puppet museum in Lubeck, Germany.  Naturally I went digging for more, and found the museum's website and another angle of the cuteness:
It's so perfect! And look at that patina!

::Begins brainstorming places to hang a dragon off the house::

***
Presenting the most epic Soapbox Derby Car OF ALL TIME:

» Read More

Author: Jen
Posted: September 21, 2017, 8:49 pm
Our power may still be out [whimper], but Dragon Con cosplay waits for no one.
Well, except me for a few days. But I've started lugging my Mac desktop around to friends' houses and setting up on folding tables and nightstands to get working again, so on your mark...
get set...
GAWK:
Because how magnificent is this winged Maleficent? Complete with her own mini-me!
As I've been describing my favorite Dragon Con finds to friends this week, this one keeps making the list:
[Milo Wesley & virylduck as Jane] 

It's Jane's dad from Tarzan, Professor Porter!!

I've never seen him cosplayed before, and that prosthetic nose & 'stache is perfection - not to mention he even has the pose down with that little pot-belly stance, ha.
I'm so impressed by this Tom Servo of MST3K that I have to show you a comparison shot:
She's even wearing slinky bracelets to mimic his metal arms! Such clever design work.
Another awesome take on a character: warrior Jasmine from Aladdin!
I like Rajah's face on her shield - that's a nice touch.
  
IT'S DAVID S. PUMPKINS, Y'ALL:
(If so, just click the link for the SNL sketch. No way I can explain it.)
Best of all, someone told me these three were camping out around the elevators and doing the dance when the doors opened, which fills me with irrational amounts of nerd joy.
GoT's Aegon the Conqueror with Visenya & Rhaenys, sharing a few pints:
 
It turns out Lilo & red-headed Mertle STILL don't get along:
Mertle brought up the biting incident again, and I think Lilo's exact words were, "Because she's a poopy head."  😀

 This Wonder Woman was bopping along to one of the many dance-offs in the Marriott lobby, and I couldn't stop staring at her glorious cloud of hair:

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Author: Jen
Posted: September 18, 2017, 6:38 pm
I know it's wrong of me, but I am thoroughly enjoying John's sweat-soaked descent into madness post-Irma over here. Turns out all you have to do to tap the depths of this man's literary creativity is deprive him of air conditioning, cold drinks, and Overwatch for a few days. Observe:

It started with Weird Thoughts about spiders:

Then this happened on Tuesday:

Which really brought out his inner poet:

 

John composed this with literal tears of silent laughter running down his face, while I watched from across the room wondering if he was having some kind of fit.

That night it hit over 80 degrees inside, so John went to sleep in his man cave where there are more windows to open. I woke up to the following update:

 Which got SO MUCH BETTER thanks to our friend Chris:

 Admit it, you sang along. I know I did.

The next day John started to come around on cold showers:

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Author: Jen
Posted: September 16, 2017, 1:30 pm

Hyperbole and a Half

Power is intoxicating. Everyone loves having the ability to make their decisions into reality — to think "this should be something that happens," and then actually be able to make that thing happen. 

It is also dangerous. 
And it is especially dangerous when applied to four-year-olds. 
Four-year-olds lack the experience to wield power responsibly. They have no idea what to do with it or how to control it.

But they like it.

The dinosaur costume was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. The previous Halloween, which was the first Halloween I could actually remember, my parents had dressed me as a giant crayon, and the whole experience had been really uncomfortable for me.

But being a dinosaur felt natural.

And powerful. 

The feeling had been slowly intensifying ever since I put the costume on that morning, and, as I stood there in the middle of the classroom, staring off into the distance in an unresponsive power trance, it finally hit critical mass.

I had to find some way to use it. Any way. Immediately.

The other children screamed and fled. The teacher chased me, yelling at me to stop. But I couldn't stop.  I was a mindless juggernaut, a puppet for forces far greater than myself. I had completely lost control of my body. 
All I knew was that being a dinosaur felt very different from being a person, and I was doing things that I had never even dreamed of doing before.

Of course, I had always had the ability to do these things — even as a person — but I didn't know that. I'd just assumed that I was unable.  As a dinosaur, I didn't have any of those assumptions.  It felt like I could do whatever I wanted without fear of repercussions.

The repercussions were also exactly the same as they were before I became a dinosaur.

I just experienced them differently.

My parents had to come pick me up at noon that day.  The teacher explained that it must have been all the Halloween candy.  "Some kids really can't handle sugar," she said.  "It turns them into little monsters."

I suppose it was a reasonable enough conclusion, but it only served as a distraction from the real problem.

The thing about being an unstoppable force is that you can really only enjoy the experience of being one when you have something to bash yourself against. You need to have things trying to stop you so that you can get a better sense of how fast you are going as you smash through them. And whenever I was inside the dinosaur costume, that is the only thing I wanted to do.

The ban on sugar provided a convenient source of resistance. As long as I was not supposed to eat sugar, I could feel powerful by eating it anyway. 
I'm sure the correlation started to seem rather strong after a while. I'd find some way to get sugar into myself, and then — drunk on the power of doing something I wasn't supposed to —I would lapse into psychotic monster mode. To any reasonable observer, it would appear as though I was indeed having a reaction to the sugar.

My parents were so confused when the terror sprees continued even after the house had been stripped of sugar. They were sure they had gotten rid of all of it. . . did I have a stash somewhere? Was I eating bugs or something?

They still weren't suspicious of the costume.  

I lost weeks in a power-fueled haze. I often found myself inside the costume without even realizing I had put it on. One moment, I would be calmly drawing a picture, and the next I'd be robotically stumbling toward my closet where the dinosaur costume was and putting myself inside it.

It started to happen almost against my will.

Surely my parents made the connection subconsciously long before they became aware of what was really going on. After weeks of chaos, each instance punctuated by the presence of the costume, I have to imagine that the very sight of the thing would have triggered some sort of Pavlovian fear response.

They did figure it out eventually, though.

And the costume was finally taken away from me.

I was infuriated at the injustice of it all. I had become quite dependent on the costume, and it felt like part of my humanity was being forcibly and maliciously stripped away.  I cursed my piddling human powers and their uselessness in the situation. If only I could put on the costume . . .  just one more time.

But that was the costume's only weakness — it couldn't save itself. I had to watch helplessly as it disappeared inside a trash bag. 
There was nothing I could do.

And so my reign of power came to an end, and I slowly learned to live as a person again.

Author: Allie
Posted: October 2, 2013, 8:53 pm
I remember being endlessly entertained by the adventures of my toys. Some days they died repeated, violent deaths, other days they traveled to space or discussed my swim lessons and how I absolutely should be allowed in the deep end of the pool, especially since I was such a talented doggy-paddler.

I didn't understand why it was fun for me, it just was.

But as I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren't the same.

I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse's Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled.  I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience.

Depression feels almost exactly like that, except about everything.

At first, though, the invulnerability that accompanied the detachment was exhilarating. At least as exhilarating as something can be without involving real emotions.

The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief.  I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn't have to feel them anymore.

But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there's a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don't feel very different.

Which leads to horrible, soul-decaying boredom.

I tried to get out more, but most fun activities just left me existentially confused or frustrated with my inability to enjoy them.

Months oozed by, and I gradually came to accept that maybe enjoyment was not a thing I got to feel anymore. I didn't want anyone to know, though. I was still sort of uncomfortable about how bored and detached I felt around other people, and I was still holding out hope that the whole thing would spontaneously work itself out. As long as I could manage to not alienate anyone, everything might be okay!

However, I could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.

Everyone noticed.

It's weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it's frustrating for them when that doesn't happen. From their perspective, it seems like there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you've simply lost track of, and if you could just see how beautiful things are...

At first, I'd try to explain that it's not really negativity or sadness anymore, it's more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can't feel anything about anything — even the things you love, even fun things — and you're horribly bored and lonely, but since you've lost your ability to connect with any of the things that would normally make you feel less bored and lonely, you're stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how boring, lonely, and meaningless it is.

But people want to help. So they try harder to make you feel hopeful and positive about the situation. You explain it again, hoping they'll try a less hope-centric approach, but re-explaining your total inability to experience joy inevitably sounds kind of negative; like maybe you WANT to be depressed. The positivity starts coming out in a spray — a giant, desperate happiness sprinkler pointed directly at your face. And it keeps going like that until you're having this weird argument where you're trying to convince the person that you are far too hopeless for hope just so they'll give up on their optimism crusade and let you go back to feeling bored and lonely by yourself.

And that's the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn't always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn't even something — it's nothing. And you can't combat nothing. You can't fill it up. You can't cover it. It's just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.

It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.

The problem might not even have a solution. But you aren't necessarily looking for solutions. You're maybe just looking for someone to say "sorry about how dead your fish are" or "wow, those are super dead. I still like you, though."

I started spending more time alone.

Perhaps it was because I lacked the emotional depth necessary to panic, or maybe my predicament didn't feel dramatic enough to make me suspicious, but I somehow managed to convince myself that everything was still under my control right up until I noticed myself wishing that nothing loved me so I wouldn't feel obligated to keep existing.

It's a strange moment when you realize that you don't want to be alive anymore. If I had feelings, I'm sure I would have felt surprised. I have spent the vast majority of my life actively attempting to survive. Ever since my most distant single-celled ancestor squiggled into existence, there has been an unbroken chain of things that wanted to stick around.

Yet there I was, casually wishing that I could stop existing in the same way you'd want to leave an empty room or mute an unbearably repetitive noise.

That wasn't the worst part, though. The worst part was deciding to keep going.

When I say that deciding to not kill myself was the worst part, I should clarify that I don't mean it in a retrospective sense. From where I am now, it seems like a solid enough decision. But at the time, it felt like I had been dragging myself through the most miserable, endless wasteland, and — far in the distance — I had seen the promising glimmer of a slightly less miserable wasteland. And for just a moment, I thought maybe I'd be able to stop and rest. But as soon as I arrived at the border of the less miserable wasteland, I found out that I'd have to turn around and walk back the other way.

Soon afterward, I discovered that there's no tactful or comfortable way to inform other people that you might be suicidal. And there's definitely no way to ask for help casually.

I didn't want it to be a big deal. However, it's an alarming subject. Trying to be nonchalant about it just makes it weird for everyone.

I was also extremely ill-prepared for the position of comforting people. The things that seemed reassuring at the time weren't necessarily comforting for others.

I had so very few feelings, and everyone else had so many, and it felt like they were having all of them in front of me at once. I didn't really know what to do, so I agreed to see a doctor so that everyone would stop having all of their feelings at me.

The next few weeks were a haze of talking to relentlessly hopeful people about my feelings that didn't exist so I could be prescribed medication that might help me have them again.

And every direction was bullshit for a really long time, especially up. The absurdity of working so hard to continue doing something you don't like can be overwhelming. And the longer it takes to feel different, the more it starts to seem like everything might actually be hopeless bullshit.

My feelings did start to return eventually. But not all of them came back, and they didn't arrive symmetrically.

I had not been able to care for a very long time, and when I finally started being able to care about things again, I HATED them. But hatred is technically a feeling, and my brain latched onto it like a child learning a new word.

Hating everything made all the positivity and hope feel even more unpalatable. The syrupy, over-simplified optimism started to feel almost offensive.

Thankfully, I rediscovered crying just before I got sick of hating things.  I call this emotion "crying" and not "sadness" because that's all it really was. Just crying for the sake of crying. My brain had partially learned how to be sad again, but it took the feeling out for a joy ride before it had learned how to use the brakes or steer.

At some point during this phase, I was crying on the kitchen floor for no reason. As was common practice during bouts of floor-crying, I was staring straight ahead at nothing in particular and feeling sort of weird about myself. Then, through the film of tears and nothingness, I spotted a tiny, shriveled piece of corn under the refrigerator.

I don't claim to know why this happened, but when I saw the piece of corn, something snapped. And then that thing twisted through a few permutations of logic that I don't understand, and produced the most confusing bout of uncontrollable, debilitating laughter that I have ever experienced.

I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

My brain had apparently been storing every unfelt scrap of happiness from the last nineteen months, and it had impulsively decided to unleash all of it at once in what would appear to be an act of vengeance.

That piece of corn is the funniest thing I have ever seen, and I cannot explain to anyone why it's funny. I don't even know why. If someone ever asks me "what was the exact moment where things started to feel slightly less shitty?" instead of telling a nice, heartwarming story about the support of the people who loved and believed in me, I'm going to have to tell them about the piece of corn. And then I'm going to have to try to explain that no, really, it was funny. Because, see, the way the corn was sitting on the floor... it was so alone... and it was just sitting there! And no matter how I explain it, I'll get the same, confused look. So maybe I'll try to show them the piece of corn - to see if they get it. They won't. Things will get even weirder.

Anyway, I wanted to end this on a hopeful, positive note, but, seeing as how my sense of hope and positivity is still shrouded in a thick layer of feeling like hope and positivity are bullshit, I'll just say this: Nobody can guarantee that it's going to be okay, but — and I don't know if this will be comforting to anyone else — the possibility exists that there's a piece of corn on a floor somewhere that will make you just as confused about why you are laughing as you have ever been about why you are depressed. And even if everything still seems like hopeless bullshit, maybe it's just pointless bullshit or weird bullshit or possibly not even bullshit.

I don't know. 
But when you're concerned that the miserable, boring wasteland in front of you might stretch all the way into forever, not knowing feels strangely hope-like. 

Author: Allie
Posted: May 9, 2013, 2:55 pm
This isn't a real post. I'm going to post the real post tomorrow. But it feels like there should be some sort of intermediate thing to prepare everyone for the abrupt change of speed ahead.

Here's a picture of an airplane.

I realize that airplanes don't look like that, but this has been a hard year for me and learning how to draw planes accurately wasn't exactly a priority. I maybe could have chosen to draw something else, but I started drawing the plane, and there was already too much momentum.

Anyway, I feel like this is becoming way more about planes than I had anticipated. Let's move on.

If, at any point over the last eighteen months, you've wondered what was happening to me and why it might be happening, my post tomorrow should explain everything.

I've been working on it for the better part of a year (partly because I wanted to get it exactly right, and partly because I was still experiencing it while attempting to explain it, which made things weird), and I'm relieved and excited and scared to finally be able to post it.

At this point, you're all probably wondering what is it? What's in the post?? Is it airplanes? And no, it unfortunately has very little to do with airplanes.* It's a sort of sequel to my post about depression. It is also about depression. In parts, it might get a little flinch-y and uncomfortable, and if I succeed in making you laugh during those parts, you're going to feel real weird about yourselves. But it's okay. Just let it happen. I WANT it to happen. Because it makes me feel powerful, and also because there are flinch-y, uncomfortable things everywhere. Seeing them is inevitable. If we can laugh about some of them, maybe they'll be less scary to look at.

Okay, so that's what's going to happen tomorrow. Hopefully this transition post makes the experience less jarring for everyone.

*As it turns out, there is a plane. I had forgotten about it (it's small and not the main focus of the post) and the coincidence was entirely unintentional. I'd never tell you there aren't going to be planes while being fully aware that there's a plane.

Author: Allie
Posted: May 9, 2013, 1:26 am

Crappy Pictures

(illustrated with crappy pictures®)

Wait, before we get into the post I have to tell you something. I have to tell you that I started a newsletter. The …
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The post Yet Another Childhood Product Mascot...

Author: amber
Posted: November 13, 2017, 7:23 pm
Here are the single panel comics from October that were shared on social media.       Comments are closed because this is just …
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The post Single Comics...

Author: amber
Posted: November 2, 2017, 5:19 pm
Food bloggers. Ever think you wanted to be one of those? It seems easy at first. Make a food thing. Take photos of the …
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The post I love food bloggers but I could...

Author: amber
Posted: October 25, 2017, 2:30 am
Hi. It’s official-ish. I can now draw the picture I’ve been thinking about drawing ever since I drew the “pause” button one. Can you …
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The post...

Author: amber
Posted: October 4, 2017, 3:23 am
Hi there. It’s been a long time, no? Why am I on pause? How many bags of money do I make on my books? …
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The post I’m still on pause so don’t get...

Author: amber
Posted: January 21, 2016, 6:36 pm
I’m on pause. Sometimes a pause is short because you just have to pee or go camping. But sometimes a pause is long because your heart …
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The post Crappy Pause...

Author: amber
Posted: March 6, 2015, 6:14 am
Hey, guess what? My book was released today! It was released! Which makes it sound like some sort of wild animal. But anyway. It’s …
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The post Happy Holidays...

Author: amber
Posted: December 30, 2014, 7:19 pm
Why? Why does Crappy Husband always do this? My second book, Marriage: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, comes out in 12 days. Pre-order the book from the …
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The post...

Author: amber
Posted: December 18, 2014, 7:18 pm
The holidays are coming! Let’s all panic and stuff. You might think I’d be writing a bunch of holiday themed posts right about now, …
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The post Non-Crappy...

Author: amber
Posted: December 12, 2014, 8:02 pm
Remember our Crappy Couch? Well, I got a couch cover for my birthday! Yay! The couch cover sat there leaning up against the crappy …
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The post Do Not Display Competence...

Author: amber
Posted: November 19, 2014, 9:12 pm

99% Invisible

Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org.

A proud member of Radiotopia, from PRX. Learn more at radiotopia.fm.

When a new movie comes out, most of the praise goes to the director and the lead actors, but there are so many other people involved in a film, and a lot of them are designers. There are costume designers and set designers, but also graphic designers working behind the scenes on every single graphic object that you might need in a film. It’s Annie Atkins’s job to design them.

Hero Props

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 14, 2017, 10:57 pm

Back in the 1950s, St. Louis was segregated and The Ville was one of the only African-American neighborhoods in the city. The community was prosperous. Black-owned businesses thrived and the neighborhood was filled with the lovely, ornate brick homes the city has become famous for.

But driving around The Ville today, the neighborhood looks very different. Some buildings are simply rundown or abandoned, but others are missing large chunks entirely. Walls have disappeared. The bricks are gone. "We call them dollhouses," says local Alderman Samuel Moore, "because you can look inside of them."

People have been stealing the bricks.

Dollhouses of St. Louis

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Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 7, 2017, 4:25 pm

New York was built at the mouth of the Hudson River, and that fertile estuary environment was filled with all kinds of marine life. But one creature in particular shaped the landscape: the oyster. It is estimated that trillions of oysters once surrounded New York City, filtering bacteria and acting as a natural buffer against storm surges.

Over time, pollution and other environmental changes killed off that oyster population. But a group of landscape architects are designing artificial oyster reefs to help protect the city and foster a better relationship between the natural and built environment along this coastal edge.

Oyster-tecture

Support Radiotopia

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 31, 2017, 10:25 pm

There are a lot of Gothic churches in Spain, but this one is different. It doesn’t look like a Gothic cathedral. It looks organic, like it was built out of bones or sand. But there’s another thing that sets it apart from your average old Gothic cathedral: it isn’t actually old.

Gaudí wasn’t able to build very much of his famous church before he died in 1926. Most of it has been built in the last 40 years, and it still isn’t finished. Which means that architects have had to figure out, and still are figuring out, how Gaudí wanted the church to be built

La Sagrada Familia

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 25, 2017, 1:30 am

The United States is one of just a handful of countries that that isn’t officially metric. Instead, Americans measure things our own way, in units that are basically inscrutable to non-Americans, nearly all of whom have been brought up in an all-metric environment. Most of the world uses meters, liters, and kilograms, not yards, gallons, and pounds. With so many industries and people crossing borders with so much fluidity, why has the U.S. not fully committed to the system the rest of the world uses? The answer is complicated.

Half Measures

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 18, 2017, 7:00 am

It’s hard to overstate the vastness of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. It spans roughly 50 blocks, which is about a fifth of the entire downtown area of Los Angeles. It’s very clear when you’ve entered Skid Row. The sidewalks are mostly occupied by makeshift homes. A dizzying array of tarps and tents stretch out for blocks, improvised living structures sitting side by side.

The edge of Skid Row is clearly defined and it wasn’t drawn by accident.  It’s the result of a very specific plan to keep homeless people on one side and development on the other. And, perhaps surprisingly to outsiders: it’s a plan that Skid Row residents and their allies actually designed and fought for.

The Containment Plan

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 11, 2017, 3:30 am

Among the most important advances in sports technology, few can compete with the invention of the sports bra. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s interest in athletics surged. But their breasts presented an obstacle.

Bouncing breasts hurt, as women getting in on the jogging craze found out. Then some friends in Vermont had an idea to stitch a couple jock straps together to build a contraption to keep things in place.

This featured story was produced by Phoebe Flanigan and edited by Peter Frick-Wright, with music by Robbie Carver and Dennis Funk. XX Factor: How the Sports Bra Changed History was originally aired on the Outside podcast, a production of Outside Magazine and PRX.

The Athletic Brassiere

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 3, 2017, 11:13 pm

Ponte City Tower, the brutalist cylindrical high-rise that towers over Johannesburg, has gone from a symbol of white opulence to something far more complicated. It’s gone through very hard times, but also it’s hopeful. It’s a microcosm of the South Africa’s history, but it’s also a place that moves on. And to this day, this strange concrete tube at the center of Johannesburg’s skyline continues to play the same role for newcomers that it has for decades: serving as the diverse entry point to the city.

Ponte City Tower

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 26, 2017, 5:29 pm

Around the world, there is a lot of buzz around the idea of universal basic income (also known as “unconditional basic income” or UBI). It can take different forms or vary in the details, but in essence: UBI is the idea a government would pay all citizens, employed or not, a flat monthly sum to cover basic needs. This funding would come with no strings attached or special conditions, which would remove any potential stigma associated with receiving it. In short: it would be free money.

There’s been a lot of recent excitement around the idea, especially after an experiment launched by the Finnish government started in early 2017. It has the public and the media wondering: how will recipients react to getting this unconditional source of income.

The Finnish Experiment

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 19, 2017, 9:14 pm

Coal miner stickers started out as little advertisements that the manufacturers of mining equipment handed out. Even before the late 1960s, when mining safety laws started requiring reflective materials underground, miners used those stickers to stay visible to each other in the dark mines.

As time passed, the stickers evolved. They became more personal and started to tell miners’ stories. And the mine companies themselves started printing stickers for their workers. Stickers went from simple ads to signifying an identity. And as their role changed, stickers also came to serve as a kind of currency among miners.

Coal Hogs Work Safe

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 12, 2017, 10:14 pm

Computer algorithms now shape our world in profound and mostly invisible ways. They predict if we’ll be valuable customers and whether we’re likely to repay a loan. They filter what we see on social media, sort through resumes, and evaluate job performance. They inform prison sentences and monitor our health. Most of these algorithms have been created with good intentions. The goal is to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements. But it doesn’t always work out like that.

“I don’t think mathematical models are inherently evil — I think it’s the way they’re used that are evil,” says mathematician Cathy O’Neil, author of the book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. She has studied number theory, worked as a data scientist at start-ups, and built predictive algorithms for various private enterprises. Through her work, she’s become critical about the influence of poorly-designed algorithms.

The Age of the Algorithm

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 5, 2017, 11:45 pm

Monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place. In 1905, one such memorial was put up in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, to commemorate Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had died in 1877.

This week, we feature the story of an imagined plaque that could accompany this statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Nate DiMeo originally produced this story for his show The Memory Palace under the title: Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Council has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery.

Notes on an Imagined Plaque

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 29, 2017, 9:47 pm

Tech analysts estimate that over six billion emojis are sent each day. Emojis, which started off as a collection of low-resolution pixelated images from Japan, have become a well-established and graphically sophisticated part of everyday global communication.

But who decides what emojis are available to users, and who makes the actual designs? Independent radio and film producer Mark Bramhill (Welcome to Macintosh) took it upon himself to find out and, in the process, ended up developing and pitching his own idea for a new emoji.

Person in Lotus Position

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 22, 2017, 9:13 pm

On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually — that’s the name British colonists gave it centuries ago. The swamp covers about 190 square miles today, but at its peak, before parts of it were drained and developed, it was around ten times bigger, spanning roughly 2,000 square miles of Virginia and North Carolina.

And it’s understandable why people called the swamp “dismal.” Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees. It’s humid and soggy, filled with thorns and thickets, teeming with all sorts of dangerous and unpleasant wildlife. The panthers that used to live there are now gone, but even today there are black bears, poisonous snakes, and swarms of yellow flies and mosquitoes.

Hundreds of years ago, before the Civil War, the dangers of the swamp and its seeming impenetrability actually attracted people to it. The land was so untamed that horses and boats couldn’t enter, and the colonists who were filing into the region detested it. William Byrd II, a Virginia planter, called it “a miserable morass where nothing can inhabit.” But people did inhabit the swamp, including thousands of enslaved Africans and African Americans who escaped their captors and formed communities in the swamp. This “dismal” landscape was the site of one of the most remarkable and least told stories of resistance to slavery in American history.

The Great Dismal Swamp

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 15, 2017, 10:42 pm

Imagine for a moment the year 1800. A doctor is meeting with a patient – most likely in the patient’s home. The patient is complaining about shortness of breath. A cough, a fever. The doctor might check the patient’s pulse or feel their belly, but unlike today, what’s happening inside of the patient’s body is basically unknowable. There’s no MRI. No X-rays. The living body is like a black box that can’t be opened.

The only way for a doctor to figure out what was wrong with a patient was to ask them, and as a result patients’ accounts of their symptoms were seen as diseases in themselves. While today a fever is seen as a symptom of some underlying disease like the flu, back then the fever was essentially regarded as the disease itself.

But in the early 1800s, an invention came along that changed everything. Suddenly the doctor could clearly hear what was happening inside the body. The heart, the lungs, the breath. This revolutionary device was the stethoscope.

 

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 9, 2017, 1:09 am

When the tape started rolling in old analog recording studios, there was a feeling that musicians were about to capture a particular moment. On tape, there was no “undo.” They could try again, if they had the time and money, but they couldn’t move backwards. What’s done is done, for better and worse. Digital machines entered the mix in the 1980s, changing the way music was made — machines with a different sense of time. And the digital era has not just altered our tools for working with sound but also our relationship to time itself.

Part of the new Radiotopia Showcase, Ways of Hearing is a six-episode series hosted by musician Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi), exploring the nature of listening in our digital world. Each episode looks at a different way that the switch from analog to digital audio is influencing our perceptions, changing our ideas of Time, Space, Love, Money, Power and Noise. In the digital age, our voices carry further than they ever did before, but how are they being heard?

Plus, we have a little bonus, classic episode of 99pi, featuring Sound Opinions.

Ways of Hearing

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 1, 2017, 11:39 pm

In Spain, they do the lottery differently. First of all, it’s a country-wide obsession — about 75% of Spaniards buy a ticket. There’s more than one lottery in Spain, but the one that Spaniards are the most passionate about is … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 25, 2017, 6:04 pm

This is the story of an ad campaign produced for the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. Perennial runner-up in the sports shoe category, Reebok, was trying to make its mark and take down Nike. They chose two athletes, plucked them … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 18, 2017, 11:55 pm

Most people are familiar with at least one version of the birth control pill’s packaging — a round plastic disc which opens like a shell and looks like a makeup compact. But the pill wasn’t always packaged this way. The … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 11, 2017, 10:45 pm

This is the story of a curvy, kidney-shaped swimming pool born in Northern Europe that had a huge ripple effect on popular culture in Southern California and landscape architecture in Northern California, and then the world. A documentary in three … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 4, 2017, 9:27 pm

The 1968 Olympics took place in Mexico City, Mexico. It was the first games ever hosted in a Latin American country. And for Mexico City, the event was an opportunity to show the world that they were a metropolis as … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 27, 2017, 9:10 pm

“You should do a story…” is the first line to a lot of the conversations you have when you work at 99pi. This week we look into a bunch of those stories suggested by our listeners and present them to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 20, 2017, 7:01 pm

In the 1992, the Baltimore Orioles opened their baseball season at a brand new stadium called Oriole Park at Camden Yards, right along the downtown harbor. The stadium was small and intimate, built with brick and iron trusses—a throwback to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 13, 2017, 11:02 pm

Special introductory episode to a new podcast produced by Roman Mars and Elizabeth Joh. Professor Elizabeth Joh teaches Intro to Constitutional Law and most of the time this is a pretty straight forward job. But with Trump in office, everything … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 8, 2017, 8:53 pm

In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the height of the baskets, he inadvertently created a design problem that would not be resolved for decades to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 7, 2017, 12:42 am

In 1987, three years after moving to New York City, Maggie Wrigley found herself on the edge of homelessness. She was trying to figure out where to stay, when she heard about an abandoned tenement building on the Lower East … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 30, 2017, 10:34 pm

The Brazilian soccer shirt is iconic. Its bright canary yellow with green trim, worn with blue shorts, is known worldwide. The uniform is joyful and bold and seems to capture something essential about Brazil. But it was not always this … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 23, 2017, 9:31 pm

This episode was recorded live as part of the Radiotopia West Coast Tour. It was the middle of the night on March 27, 1964. Earlier that evening, the second-biggest earthquake ever measured at the time had hit Anchorage, Alaska. 115 people died. Some … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 16, 2017, 10:01 pm

In the town of Colma, California, the dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one. Located just ten miles south of San Francisco, Colma is filled with rolling green hills, manicured hedges, and 17 full size cemeteries (18 if … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 9, 2017, 11:06 pm

For most people, electricity only flows one way (into the home), but there are exceptions — people who use solar panels, for instance. In those cases, excess electricity created by the solar cells travels back out into the grid to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 2, 2017, 9:49 pm

In most wildlife films, the sounds you hear were not recorded while the cameras were rolling. Most filmmakers use long telephoto lenses to film animals, but there’s no sonic equivalent of a zoom lens. Good audio requires a microphone close … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 18, 2017, 10:28 pm

Los Angeles is rich with architectural diversity. On the same block, you could find a retro-futuristic Googie diner next to a Spanish-style mansion, sitting comfortably alongside a Dutch Colonial dwelling, all in close proximity to a Deconstructivist concert hall. In … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 11, 2017, 3:45 am

We’re based in beautiful downtown Oakland, CA which is a port city in the San Francisco Bay. Massive container ships travel across the Pacific and end up here. From miles away you can see the enormous white cranes that pull … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 4, 2017, 6:24 pm

When Warren Furutani was growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s, he sometimes heard his parents refer to a place where they once spent time — a place they called “camp.” To him “camp” meant summer camp or a … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 28, 2017, 10:18 pm

On the night of December 8, 2013, a huge crowd gathered on a tree-lined boulevard in downtown Kiev, Ukraine. The crowd was there to watch as a statue in the boulevard was pulled down by a crane. The toppled statue … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 21, 2017, 9:57 pm

Logos used to be a thing people didn’t really give much thought to. But over the last decade, the volume and intensity of arguments about logos have increased substantially. A lot of this is just the internet being the internet. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 14, 2017, 9:59 pm

In the 1980s, the United States experienced a refugee crisis. Thousands of Central Americans were fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, traveling north through Mexico, and crossing the border into the U.S. [Note: Just tuning in? Listen to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 8, 2017, 12:27 am

In the 1980s, Rev. John Fife and his congregation at Southside Presbyterian Church began to help Central American migrants fleeing persecution from US backed dictatorships. Their efforts would mark the beginning of a new — and controversial — social movement … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 28, 2017, 11:47 pm

As the world entered the Atomic Age, humankind faced a new fear that permeated just about every aspect of daily life: the threat of nuclear war. And while the violent applications of atomic research had already been proven, governments and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 21, 2017, 10:11 pm

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 15, 2017, 12:52 am

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 7, 2017, 9:52 pm

Eponym (noun):  A person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named; a name or noun formed after a person. An eponym, almost by definition, has some kind of story behind it — some reason it … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 1, 2017, 12:31 am

Winifred Gallagher, author of How the Post Office Created America: A History, argues that the post office is not simply an inexpensive way to send a letter. The service was designed to unite a bunch of disparate towns and people … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 24, 2017, 10:28 pm

On January 3, 1979, two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department went to the home of Eulia May Love, a 39-year-old African-American mother. The police were there because of a dispute over an unpaid gas bill. The officers approached … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 18, 2017, 12:41 am

Part 2 where host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite “Mini-Stories.” These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and architecture that can’t quite stretch into a full episode, but we love them … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 10, 2017, 10:02 pm

Host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite “Mini-Stories.” These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and architecture that can’t quite stretch into a full episode, but the staff loves them anyway. Roman talks … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 20, 2016, 5:47 pm

The urban grid of Salt Lake City, Utah is designed to tell you exactly where you are in relation to Temple Square, one of the holiest sites for Mormons. Addresses can read like sets of coordinates. “300 South 2100 East,” … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 14, 2016, 12:41 am

In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine preserve in the world at the time. The expansion closed 490,000 square miles of largely undisturbed ocean to commercial fishing and underwater mining. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 6, 2016, 11:10 pm

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. Many companies have tried to trademark sounds but only around … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 29, 2016, 10:07 pm

Dollar stores are not just a U.S. phenomenon. They can be found in Australia and the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Mexico. And a lot of the stuff—the generic cheap stuff for sale in these stores—comes from one place. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 23, 2016, 3:44 am

Through a combination of passive and active acoustics, architects and acousticians can control the sounds of spaces to fit any kind of need. With sound-proofing and selective-amplification, we can add reverb or take it away. We can make churches sound … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 16, 2016, 2:47 am

People who write the White House know that the president himself will most likely not see their message. Many of their letters start with phrases like, “I know no one will read this.” Although someone does read those letters. And … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 8, 2016, 4:20 am

Every now and again, a truly great athlete shatters all previous assumptions about what’s possible to achieve in a sport. When this happens, opposing teams scramble to find ways to stop them or slow them down. In basketball, teams tried … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 1, 2016, 11:04 pm

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 25, 2016, 7:04 pm

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 18, 2016, 4:44 pm

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 11, 2016, 6:59 pm

On September 11, 1973, a military junta violently took control of Chile, which was led at the time by President Salvador Allende. Allende had become president in a free and democratic election. After the military coup, General Augusto Pinochet took … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 4, 2016, 11:47 pm

Reporter Whitney Jones argues that R.E.M.’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging. Longbox Please Vote.

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 27, 2016, 10:54 pm

Who decides that the color this season is “mint green” or that denim jackets are “back?” Of course, there’s top-down fashion, where couture houses and runway shows set a trend that trickles down through the rest of the industry. Then … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 20, 2016, 11:40 pm

Large portions of San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Seattle, Hong Kong and Marseilles were built on top of human made land. What is now Mumbai, India, was transformed by the British from a seven-island archipelago to one contiguous strip … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 13, 2016, 7:21 pm

Infrastructure makes modern civilization possible. Roads, power grids, sewage systems and water networks all underpin society as we know it, forming the basis of our built environment … at least when they work. As Henry Petroski documents in The Road … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 6, 2016, 10:15 pm

In many ways, the built world was not designed for you. It was designed for the average person. Standardized tests, building codes, insurance rates, clothing sizes, The Dow Jones – all these measurements are based around the concept of an … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 23, 2016, 11:53 pm

Founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, the Bauhaus school in Germany would go on to shape modern architecture, art, and design for decades to come. The school sought to combine design and industrialization, creating functional things that could be … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 17, 2016, 12:30 am

The largest body of water in California was formed by a mistake. In 1905, the California Development Company accidentally flooded a huge depression in the Sonora Desert, creating an enormous salty lake called the Salton Sea. The water is about … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 9, 2016, 7:01 pm

In 1996, President Bill Clinton and the Congress undertook a reform effort to redesign the welfare system from one that many believed trapped people in a cycle of dependence, to one, that in the President’s words, would give people “a … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 3, 2016, 2:16 am

The US military buys a lot of foam ear plugs. Visit any base and you’ll find them under the bleachers at the firing range, in the bottoms of washing machines. They are cheap and effective at making noise less … noisy. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 26, 2016, 11:45 pm

In 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on a scale model that could test flooding in all 1.25 million square miles of the Mississippi River. It would be a three-dimensional map of nearly half of the continental United … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 19, 2016, 8:12 pm

In the late 1950s, the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research embarked on a mission to study the personalities of particularly creative scientists and artists. Researchers established categories, grouping analytical creatives together (including scientists and mathematicians) as well as artistic … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 13, 2016, 2:46 am

Benches in parks, train stations, bus shelters and other public places are meant to offer seating, but only for a limited duration. Many elements of such seats are subtly or overtly restrictive. Arm rests, for instance, indeed provide spaces to rest arms, but they … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 6, 2016, 2:00 am

It started with a place called the Stonewall Inn. Gay bars had been raided by police for decades. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people had been routinely arrested and subjected to harassment and beatings by the people who were meant … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 29, 2016, 12:22 am

In 1968, an Italian industrialist and a Scottish scientist started a club to address what they considered to be humankind’s greatest problems—issues like pollution, resource scarcity, and overpopulation. Meeting in Rome, Italy, the group came to be known as the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 22, 2016, 12:22 am

In 1968, the police department in Menlo Park, California hired a new police chief. His name was Victor Cizanckas and his main goal was to reform the department, which had a strained relationship with the community at the time. Cizanckas … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 14, 2016, 11:24 pm

September 3rd, 1967, also known as H-Day, is etched in the collective memory of Sweden. That morning, millions of Swedes switched from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right. The changeover was an unprecedented … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 7, 2016, 10:15 pm

Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over the community which had once been mostly single family homes and small businesses. Around this time, developers offered a … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 31, 2016, 11:47 pm

Sub Pop Records has signed some of the most famous and influential indie bands of the last 30 years, including Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, The Postal Service, and Beach House. Over time, the stars and hits have changed and the formats have … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 25, 2016, 1:55 am

“Für Elise” is one of the world’s most widely-recognized pieces of music. The Beethoven melody has been played by pianists the world over, and its near-universal recognition has been used to attract customers for companies as big as McDonald’s  and as small as your … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 18, 2016, 1:42 am

Neighborhoods are constantly changing, but it tends to be the people with money and power who get to decide the shape of things to come. New York City has an especially long history with change driven by landlords and real … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 11, 2016, 2:32 am

The Bellevue-Stratford opened in 1904 and quickly became one of the most luxurious hotels of its time, rivaling the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The building was an incredible work of French Renaissance architecture. It was 19 stories high, had over a thousand … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 4, 2016, 4:32 am

Humans form cities from concrete, metal, and glass, designing structures and infrastructure primarily to serve a single bipedal species. Walking down a familiar city street, it is easy to overlook squirrels climbing in trees, weeds growing up through cracks in … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 27, 2016, 1:30 am

Starting in the late 1990s, the government of Taipei began looking into how they could turn global attention to their city, the capital of the small island of Taiwan. The initial idea was to create two 66-story office towers, which … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 20, 2016, 1:57 am

In 1939, an astonishing new machine debuted at the New York World’s Fair. It was called the “Voder,” short for “Voice Operating Demonstrator.” It looked sort of like a futuristic church organ. An operator — known as a “Voderette” — … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 13, 2016, 2:40 am

In the late 1960s, a civil rights leader named Floyd B. McKissick, at one time the head of CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) proposed an idea for a new town.  He would call this town Soul City and it would be … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 6, 2016, 1:26 am

Israeli buses regularly make international headlines, be it for suicide bombings, fights over gender segregation, or clashes concerning Shabbat schedules. One particular ill-fated megastructure, however, has been at the nexus of various lesser-publicized conflicts: a building in Tel Aviv designed … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 30, 2016, 1:58 am

The last hundred years or so of food advertising have been shaped by this one simple fact: real food usually looks pretty unappetizing on camera. It’s static and boring to look at, and it tends to wilt under the glare … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 23, 2016, 1:43 am

In San Francisco, the area South of Market Street is called SoMa. The part of town North of the Panhandle is known as NoPa. Around the intersection of North Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville, real estate brokers are pitching properties as part … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 16, 2016, 2:04 am

Centuries ago, Germany came up with a way to keep books that contained “dangerous” information without releasing them to the general public: The Giftschrank. The word, a combination of “poison” and “cabinet,” has a variety of meanings in different contexts. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 9, 2016, 3:10 am

Situated in the middle of the Mojave desert, over a dozen miles from the nearest pavement, a lone phone booth sat along a dirt road, just waiting to become an international sensation. Mojave Phone Booth 760-733-9969 The piece was produced by … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 2, 2016, 12:50 am

There is an epidemic of terrible doors in the world. But when Don Norman got frustrated with them, he ended up changing the way people everywhere think about design. Video by Joe Posner of Vox, featuring Roman Mars of 99% … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 27, 2016, 8:05 pm

The middle of the 20th Century was a golden age for road travel in the United States. Cars had become cheap and spacious enough to carry families comfortably for hundreds of miles. The Interstate Highway System had started to connect … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 24, 2016, 2:18 am

All around the country, there stands a figure so much a part of historical architecture and urban landscapes that she is rarely noticed. She has gone by many names, from Star Maiden to Priestess of Culture, Spirit of Life to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 17, 2016, 12:53 am

In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the height of the baskets, he inadvertently created a design problem that would not be resolved for decades to come. The … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 10, 2016, 1:59 am

In the mid-19th century, decades before home refrigeration became the norm, you could find ice clinking in glasses from India to the Caribbean, thanks to a global commodities industry that has since melted into obscurity: the frozen water trade. In … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 3, 2016, 2:07 am

The Iron Curtain was an 8,000-mile border separating East from West during the Cold War. Something unexpected evolved in the “no man’s land” that the massive border created. In the absence of human intervention and disruption, an accidental wildlife refuge … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 27, 2016, 12:52 am

In September 1958, Bank of America began an experiment – one that would have far reaching effects on our lives and on the economy. They decided after careful consideration to conduct this experiment in Fresno, California. The presumption was that … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 20, 2016, 1:14 am

Date labels (e.g. “use-by”, “sell-by”, “best-by”, “best if used by,” “expires on”, etc.) are on a lot of products. Forty-one states require a date label on at least some food product, but there are huge inconsistencies, not just in the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 13, 2016, 4:31 am

In 1950s Soviet Russia, citizens craved Western popular music—everything from jazz to rock & roll. But smuggling vinyl was dangerous, and acquiring the scarce material to make copies of those records that did make it into the country was expensive. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 22, 2015, 11:36 pm

The skyline of beautiful downtown Oakland, California, is defined by various towers by day, but at night there is one that shines far more brightly than the rest: the neon-illuminated Tribune Tower. Each side of the tower says “Tribune” in … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 16, 2015, 4:00 am

For Americans, the sight of pagoda roofs and dragon gates means that you are in Chinatown. Whether in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, the chinoiserie look is distinctive. But for those just arriving from China, the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 8, 2015, 11:47 pm

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 2, 2015, 9:26 am

Superhero costumes for TV and film used to be pretty cringe-worthy. Lately, however, super outfits are looking much better. Costume designers are learning new tricks, and using better technology, but there has also been a change in attitude. They are … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 24, 2015, 11:52 pm

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. The … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 18, 2015, 4:41 am

On April 21st, 1859, an incredible thing happened in London and thousands of people came out to celebrate it. Women wore their finest clothing. Men were in suits and top hats, and children clamored to get a glimpse…of the very … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 10, 2015, 6:58 pm

Ballots are an essential component to a working democracy, yet they are rarely created (or even reviewed) by design professionals. Good ballot design is mainly a matter of following good design principles in general—familiar territory for graphic designers, but not … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 4, 2015, 1:20 am

Households tend to take pantry food for granted, but canned beans, powered cheese, and bags of moist cookies were not designed for everyday convenience. These standard products were made to meet the needs of the military. Reporter Tina Antolini, host … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 28, 2015, 12:36 am

The phrase ‘from Central Casting’ has become a kind of cultural shorthand for a stereotype or archetype, a subject so visually suited to its part it appears to have been designed for that role. Search the news for ‘straight out … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 20, 2015, 7:35 pm

99% Invisible is honored to accept a 2015 Third Coast International Audio Festival award for Structural Integrity, a story of architectural engineering gone wrong, and then covertly made right. When it was built in 1977, the 59-story CitiCorp Center had … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 14, 2015, 3:37 am

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. Purchased in 1981, this expanse was to become both a … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 7, 2015, 3:59 am

When something is lost in the mail, it feels like it has disappeared into the ether, like it was sucked into a black hole, like it no longer exists. But, it turns out, a lot of the mail we think … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 30, 2015, 3:21 am

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 23, 2015, 4:00 am

On a Sunday morning in 1982, in Des Moines, Iowa, Johnny Gosch left his house to begin his usual paper route. A short time later, his parents were awakened by a phone call–it was a neighbor—their paper hadn’t come. When … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 15, 2015, 11:17 pm

There are around 6,000 cargo vessels out on the ocean right now, carrying 20,000,000 shipping containers, which are delivering most of the products you see around you. And among all the containers are a special subset of temperature-controlled units known … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 9, 2015, 4:00 am

In 1860, a chance find at sea forever changed our understanding of marine habitats, sparking an unprecedented push to explore a new world of possibilities far below the surface of our planet’s oceans. Deep sea life, previously thought possible down … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 2, 2015, 4:00 am

Stirling, Scotland is the home of Stirling Castle, which sits atop a giant crag, or hill, overlooking the whole town of Stirling. There has been a castle on that hill since the 12th century at least, and maybe before, but … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 26, 2015, 5:45 am

In communities across America, lawns that are brown or overgrown are considered especially heinous. Elite squads of dedicated individuals have been deputized by their local governments or homeowners’ associations to take action against those whose lawns fail to meet community … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 19, 2015, 4:00 am

No matter which James Bond actor is your favorite, it’s undeniable that the Sean Connery films had the best villains. There’s Blofeld, who turned cat-stroking into a thing that super-villains do, and then there’s Goldfinger—Bond’s flashiest nemesis. Fun fact: the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 12, 2015, 3:46 am

The Bowery, in lower Manhattan, is one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods. It’s been through a lot of iterations. In the 1650s, a handful of freed slaves were the neighborhood’s first residents. At the time, New York was still a … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 5, 2015, 4:03 am

In 1933, delegates from the United States and fourteen other countries met in Montevideo, Uruguay to define what it means to be a state. The resulting treaty from the Montevideo Convention established four basic criteria for statehood—essentially, what is required … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 29, 2015, 4:01 am

By the late 1980s, AIDS had been in the United States for almost a decade. AIDS had be the number one killer of young men in New York City, then of young men in the country, then of young men … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 22, 2015, 3:51 am

So many classic movies have been made in downtown Los Angeles. Though many don’t actually take place in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. has played almost every city in the world, thanks to its diverse landscape and architectural variety, but particular … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 15, 2015, 3:01 am

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 1, 2015, 6:58 am

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 to Paris. Everything proceeded normally for several hours. Then, with no … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 24, 2015, 12:13 am

Sigmund Freud’s ground-breaking techniques and theories for therapy came to be called “psychoanalysis,” and it was embodied, in practice and popular culture, by a single piece of furniture: the couch. Producer Ann Hepperman explores the role of this canonical object in … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 17, 2015, 5:55 am

People who make horror movies know: if you want to scare someone, use scary music. Some of the most creative use of music and sound to evoke fear and anxiety is on the TV show Hannibal. Hrishikesh Hirway of Song … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 10, 2015, 7:57 am

This week on 99% Invisible, we have two stories about the early days of broadcasting and home sound recording, produced by Radio Diaries and the Kitchen Sisters. The sounds that came out Frank Conrad’s Garage in 1919 and 1920 are … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 3, 2015, 3:08 am

On January 3rd, 1961, Che Guevara suggested to Fidel Castro that they go play a round of golf. They drove out to what was then the ritziest, most elite country club in Havana. It was empty—almost all the members had … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 27, 2015, 4:21 am

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, Maryland is a busy place. Anyone who dies unexpectedly in the state of Maryland will end up there for an autopsy. On an average day, they might perform twelve autopsies; on … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 20, 2015, 4:47 am

We live in a post-billiards age. There was an age of billiards, and it has been over for so long, most of us have no idea how huge billiards once was. For many decades, starting in the mid-19th Century, billiards … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 13, 2015, 4:33 am

Retail spaces are designed for impulse shopping. When you go to a store looking for socks and come out with a new shirt, it’s only partly your fault.  Shops are trying to look so beautiful, so welcoming, the items so enticingly displayed and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 6, 2015, 3:06 am

According to legend, Sarah Winchester’s friends advised the grieving widow to seek the services of a Boston spiritual medium named Adam Koombs. The story goes, Koombs put Mrs. Winchester in touch with her deceased husband—but William had bad news. He told … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 28, 2015, 6:59 pm

During World War II, a massive recruitment effort targeted students from the top art schools across the country. These young designers, artists, and makers were being asked to help execute a wild idea that came out of one the nation’s most conservative organizations: the United … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 22, 2015, 4:28 am

The pursuit of lock picking is as old as the lock, which is itself as old as civilization. But in the entire history of the world, there was only one brief moment, lasting about 70 years, where you could put … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 15, 2015, 3:10 am

A month is hardly a unit of measurement. It can start on any day of the week and last anywhere from 28 to 31 days. Sometimes a month is four weeks long, sometimes five, sometimes six. You have to buy … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 8, 2015, 3:57 pm

Eighty years ago, New York City needed another tunnel under the Hudson River. The Holland Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge could no longer handle the mounting traffic between New Jersey and Manhattan. Thus began construction of the Lincoln Tunnel. But this is not a … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 31, 2015, 7:54 pm

United States paper currency is so ubiquitous that to really look at its graphic design with fresh eyes requires some deliberate and focused attention. Pull a greenback out from your wallet (or look at a picture online) and really take … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 25, 2015, 7:37 am

In the mid 1800s, not many (non-native) Americans had ever been west of the Mississippi. When Frederick Law Olmstead visited the west in the 1850s, he remarked that the plains looked like a sea of grasses that moved  “in swells after … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 18, 2015, 6:23 am

The United States Military is not known for being touchy-feely. There’s not much hugging or head-patting, and superiors don’t always have the authority to offer a serviceman a raise or promotion. When a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 11, 2015, 12:13 am

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. To understand why someone would want to steal a palm tree, we need to understand their value—which has a lot to do … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 4, 2015, 3:34 am

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. Julie Sabatier from Rendered has the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 24, 2015, 11:56 pm

A few months before the end of the world, everyone was saying their goodbyes. The world that was ending was The Sims Online, an online version of The Sims. Even though The Sims was one of the most popular computer … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 18, 2015, 3:44 am

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. Mostly, when we … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 11, 2015, 5:27 am

The idea of the mascot came to America by way of a popular French opera from the 1880s called La Mascotte. The opera is about a down-on-his luck farmer who’s visited by a girl named Bettina; as soon as she … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 3, 2015, 9:30 pm

In 1885, Austin, Texas was terrorized by a serial killer known as the Servant Girl Annihilator.  The murderer was never actually found, but he claimed eight victims, mostly black servant girls, all attacked in the dark of night. The very, very dark night of Austin in 1885. After … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 28, 2015, 2:59 am

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 21, 2015, 4:19 am

The first trademark for a sound in the United States was issued in 1978 to NBC for their chimes. MGM has a sound trademark for their roaring lion, as does 20th Century Fox for their trumpet fanfare. Harley Davidson tried to trademark the sound … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 14, 2015, 4:17 am

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. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 7, 2015, 3:27 am

As you probably know, 99% Invisible is a show about the built world, about things manufactured by humans. We don’t tend to do stories about animals or nature. But our friend Jon Mooallem writes brilliant stories about the weird interactions between animals and humans, interactions that … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 31, 2014, 6:52 am

If you want to follow conversation threads relating to this show on social media—whether Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, Tumblr—you know to look for the hashtag: #99pi. In our current digital age, the hashtag identifies movements, events, happenings, brands—topics of all … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 17, 2014, 3:18 am

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. You can see … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 10, 2014, 4:39 am

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 … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 3, 2014, 6:44 am

There’s a little trophy shop called Aardvark Laser Engraving  down the street from our office in Oakland. Its small but bustling, and its windows are stuffed to the brim with awards made of all kinds of materials and in any … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 26, 2014, 4:21 am

This week on the show we’re presenting one of our favorite radio features, “Three Records from Sundown,” about singer Nick Drake. The documentary, by producer Charles Maynes, retraces the roots of Drake’s legend through interviews with Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd. Boyd … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 19, 2014, 6:59 am

Vexillologists—those who study flags—tend to fall into one of two schools of thought. The first is one that focuses on history, category, and usage, and maintains that vexillologists should be scholars and historians of all flags, regardless of their designs. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 12, 2014, 7:11 am

“A Chair is a difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” — Mies van der Rohe. The chair presents an interesting design challenge, because it is an object that disappears when in use. The person replaces the chair. So chairs need to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 4, 2014, 10:18 pm

The Ouija board is so simple and iconic that it looks like it comes from another time, or maybe another realm. The game is not as ancient as it was designed to look, but those two arched rows of letters have … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 28, 2014, 6:37 pm

The first print advertisement for Wonder Bread came out before the bread itself. It stated only that “a wonder” was coming. In a lot of ways, the statement was true. Wonder Bread was the perfect loaf.  “Slow food” advocates have pronounced industrial … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 22, 2014, 7:30 am

When you support Radiotopia, you are making sure 99% Invisible can keep coming to you weekly and you’ll be supporting our entire collective of award-winning, independent radiomakers. Thanks!  

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 19, 2014, 11:14 pm

On July 13th, 1977, lightning struck an electricity transmission line in New York City, causing the line’s automatic circuit breaker to kick in. The electricity from the affected line was diverted to another line. This was fairly normal and everything … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 14, 2014, 6:26 pm

Everyone has tried it at some point. The authorities started turning a blind eye years ago, but it wasn’t officially legalized until the summer of 2014. Finally, after more than 80 years of illegitimacy, the City of Oakland has legalized…pinball … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 7, 2014, 11:17 pm

Straight lines form the core of our built environment. Building in straight lines makes predicting costs and calculating structural loads easier, since building materials come in linear units. Straight lines might be logical, predictable, and efficient, but they are also … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 30, 2014, 11:08 pm

There’s a photograph we have tacked to our studio at 99% Invisible HQ. The photo, taken 1899, shows three men, all looking very fashionable, suspended mid-air on the lifted arm of a giant dredging machine. There are plenty of images … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 24, 2014, 4:31 am

On the southwest corner of Central Park West and 106th Street in New York City, there’s an enormous castle. It takes up the whole east end of the block, with its red brick cylindrical turrets topped with gleaming silver cones. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 16, 2014, 1:54 pm

In the beginning, there was design. Before any other human discipline, even before the dawn of mankind its self, design was a practice passed down from generation to generation of early humans. Today, everything that has been designed–space ships, buildings, … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 10, 2014, 6:13 pm

Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over the community which had once been mostly single family homes and small businesses. Around this time, developers offered a … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 2, 2014, 10:24 am

Cities, like living things, evolve slowly over time. Buildings and structures get added and renovated and removed, and in this process, bits and pieces that get left behind. Vestiges. Just as humans have tailbones and whales have pelvic bones, cities … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 26, 2014, 5:39 pm

IKEA hacking is the practice of buying things from IKEA and reengineering—or “hacking”—them to become customized, more functional, and often just better designed stuff. The locus of the IKEA hacking movement is a website called IKEAhackers.net. It’s a showcase for … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 19, 2014, 9:46 pm

Way back in October 2011 (see episode #38, true believers!), we broadcast a short excerpt of a radio documentary produced by Peregrine Andrews about faking the sounds of sports on TV broadcasts. It was one of our most popular and provocative programs … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 12, 2014, 2:05 am

As humans have developed cities and built environments, we have also needed to develop ways to find our way through them. Sam Greenspan went on a wayfinding tour with Jim Harding in the Atlanta airport. Harding is one of the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 5, 2014, 2:22 am

The best knock-offs in the world are in China. There are plenty of fake designer handbags and Rolexes, but China’s knock-offs go way beyond fashion. There are knock-off Apple stores that look so much like the real thing, some employees … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 29, 2014, 6:57 pm

Reporter Whitney Jones argues that R.E.M.’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging.

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 22, 2014, 1:26 pm

Well before the early 1500s, when Sir Thomas Moore first coined the term “Utopia,” people have been thinking about how to design their ideal community. Maybe it’s one that doesn’t use money, or one that drops traditional family structures and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 15, 2014, 6:47 pm

When designing a commercial structure, there is one safety component that must be designed right into the building from the start: egress. “Egress” refers to an entire exit system from a building: stairs, corridors, and evacuation routes outside the building. Each state’s building … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 8, 2014, 8:52 pm

During the 1961 Berlin Crisis—one of the various moments in the cold war in which we came frighteningly close to engaging in actual war with the Soviets—President John F. Kennedy vowed to identify spaces in “existing structures both public and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 1, 2014, 6:30 pm

The term “hijacking” goes back to prohibition days, when gangsters would rob moonshine trucks saying, “Hold your hands high, Jack!” However, in the early days of commercial air travel, the idea that someone would hijack a plane was scarcely even … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 24, 2014, 4:51 am

As a fashion object and symbol, the high heel shoe is weighted with meaning. It’s also weighted with the wearer’s entire body weight. The stiletto might be one of the only designs that is physically painful but has somehow has … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 17, 2014, 7:20 pm

99% Invisible presents Song Exploder. A song is a product of design. It’s difficult to create an original melody, but that’s only the blueprint. Every element of a piece of music could be produced any number of ways, depending on which … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 10, 2014, 3:33 pm

In just about every movie set in New York City in the 1970s and 80s there’s an establishing shot with a graffiti-covered subway. For city officials, train graffiti was a sign that they had lost control. So, starting in the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 3, 2014, 8:16 pm

When I go into a bank, especially if I have to stand in line waiting to make a deposit, my mind wanders. And one of the first place it wanders to is: how I would rob the place. How could … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 27, 2014, 7:23 pm

The westernmost part of Manhattan, between 34th and 39th street, is pretty industrial. There’s a bus depot, a ferry terminal, and a steady stream of cars. But in the late 19th early 20th centuries, this was cow country. Cows used … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 20, 2014, 6:45 pm

In 1990, the federal government invited a group of geologists, linguists, astrophysicists, architects, artists, and writers to the New Mexico desert, to visit the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. They were there on a mission. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 13, 2014, 7:01 am

About ten miles north of Concord, New Hampshire, off of interstate 93 there’s a little island with a great, big monument on it. The monument depicts a woman, who is holding a hatchet in her right hand and bunch of … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 6, 2014, 6:43 am

If you’ve wandered around Machu Picchu, or Stonehenge, or the Colosseum, or even snuck into that abandoned house on the edge of town, you know the power in a piece of decrepit architecture. And even if you don’t want to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 29, 2014, 4:28 pm

Uniforms matter. When it comes to sports, they might be the only thing to which we’re actually loyal. Sports uniforms are packaging. But unlike any other packaging, if the product inside changes or degrades, we remain loyal. Players come and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 22, 2014, 8:28 pm

When it was built in 1977, Citicorp Center (later renamed Citigroup Center, now called 601 Lexington) was, at 59 stories, the seventh-tallest building in the world. You can pick it out of the New York City skyline by its 45-degree … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 15, 2014, 7:40 pm

The name is important. It’s the first thing of any product you use or buy or see. The tip of the spear. You are bombarded by thousands of names every day. In this daily barrage, only the names that are … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 8, 2014, 7:07 pm

When George Laurer goes to the grocery store, he doesn’t tell the check-out people that he invented the barcode, but his wife used to point it out. “My husband here’s the one who invented that barcode,” she’d occasionally say. And … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 1, 2014, 10:42 pm

When it’s three o’clock in the morning and everything is going wrong in your life, there’s a certain kind of ad you might see on basic cable. Lawyers–usually guys–promise to battle the heartless, tight-wad insurance companies on your behalf. There’s … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 25, 2014, 8:54 pm

Quatrefoil is the name of the four-lobed cloverleaf shape. It’s everywhere: adorning Gothic cathedrals, more modern churches, Rhode Island mansions, mission-style roofs in California, and decorating victorian homes from coast to coast. It’s embroidered on bedding, plastered on wallpaper, and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 18, 2014, 5:47 am

A few years ago, reporter Sean Cole was working on a radio story and needed to interview the rapper Busta Rhymes. Sean was living in Boston at the time, so he did a Google search for “Busta Rhymes” and “Boston” to see … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 11, 2014, 7:19 am

At its peak, the Berlin Wall was 100 miles long. Today only about a mile is left standing. Compared with other famous walls in history, this wall had a pretty short life span. The Great Wall of China has been … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 5, 2014, 1:48 am

It started with some Pittsburgh humor. Pittsburgh-based comedian Tom Muisal does a bit about a GPS unit that can give directions in “Pittsburghese.” Because in Pittsburgh, no one calls it “Interstate 376,” it’s “The Parkway.” It’s not “The Liberty Tunnel,” … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 25, 2014, 10:33 pm

There is a beauty to a universal standard. The idea that people across the world can agree that when they interact with one specific thing, everyone will be on the same page– regardless of language or culture or geographic locale. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 18, 2014, 8:24 pm

You know the saying: you can’t judge a book by its cover. With magazines, it’s pretty much the opposite. The cover of a magazine is the unified identity for a whole host of ideas, authors, and designers who have created … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 11, 2014, 6:27 pm

Like the best of these stories, the two bitter rivals started out as best friends: William Van Alen and Craig Severance. They were business partners. Van Alen was considered the artistic maverick and Severance was the savvy businessman. It’s unclear … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 4, 2014, 4:12 am

On July 28, 1945, an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. A B-25 bomber was flying a routine mission, chartering servicemen from Massachusetts to New York City. Capt. William F. Smith, who had led some of the most dangerous … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 15, 2014, 6:34 am

Elevators are old. They would have to be. Because it is in our nature to rise. History is full of things that lift other things. In ancient Greece, and China, and Hungary, there were systems of weights and pulleys and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 3, 2014, 1:41 am

If you tune around on a shortwave radio, you might stumble across a voice reciting an endless stream of numbers. Just numbers, all day, everyday. These so-called “numbers stations,” say nothing about where they are transmitting from or who they … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 20, 2013, 9:15 pm

Cameron Smith is building a space suit in his apartment. He’s not an astronaut. He’s not even an engineer. Cameron Smith is an archaeologist–on faculty in the anthropology department at Portland State University in Oregon. But Cameron is an explorer … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 3, 2013, 7:03 am

We have seen the future, and the future is mostly blue. Or, put another way: in our representations of the future in science fiction movies, blue seems to be the dominant color of our interfaces with technology yet to come. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 21, 2013, 7:54 am

There is an allure in unbuilt structures: the utopian, futuristic transports, the impossibly tall skyscrapers, even the horrible highways, all capture our imagination with what could have been. Whether these never built structures are perceived as good or bad, they … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 13, 2013, 12:43 am

The story goes like this: Theophilus Van Kannel hated chivalry. There was nothing he despised more than trying to walk in or out of a building, and locking horns with other men in a game of “oh you first, I … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 6, 2013, 9:05 am

I love those moments when you’re walking in your neighborhood and suddenly nothing is familiar. In a good way. Sean Cole began seeing his neighborhood, actually the whole city of New York, with new eyes because of one artist who … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 29, 2013, 7:00 am

99% Invisible started as a side project I made in my bedroom at night, and after two years of making the program, I turned to Kickstarter to see if I should keep it going. To my great surprise, the Season … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 23, 2013, 7:08 pm

We have one cardinal rule on 99% Invisible: No cardinals. Meaning, we deal with the built world, not the natural world. So, when I read Jon Mooallem’s brilliant book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 14, 2013, 11:45 pm

If you are an undertaker in 1878 Kansas City, and you learn that your competitor’s wife works as a telephone switchboard operator and has been diverting business calls meant for you to her husband, you have a few potential courses … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 2, 2013, 11:41 pm

If you were a movie star in the market for a mansion in 1930s Los Angeles, there was a good chance you might call on Wallace Neff. Neff wasn’t just an architect–he was a starchitect. One of his most famous … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 17, 2013, 7:17 am

There’s a term that epitomizes what we radio producers aspire to create: the “driveway moment.” It’s when a story is so good that you literally can’t get out of your car. Inside of a driveway moment, time becomes elastic–you could … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 3, 2013, 8:40 pm

By now, the story is well known. A man sits in the backseat of a cab, sketching on a notepad as night falls over a crumbling city. He scribbles the letter I. He draws a heart. And then an N, … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 22, 2013, 12:18 am

Chicago’s biggest design achievement probably isn’t one of its amazing skyscrapers, but the Chicago River, a waterway disguised as a remnant of the natural landscape. But it isn’t natural, not really. It’s hard to tell when you see the river, … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 9, 2013, 12:10 am

If you grew up watching Warner Brothers cartoons, you might remember seeing the name Chuck Jones in big letters in the opening credits. Chuck Jones directed cartoons like Looney Tunes from the 1930s until his death in 2002. He was … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 29, 2013, 8:18 pm

An ode to an information designer who made life a little bit easier for millions and millions of people: Ladislav Sutnar, the man who put parentheses around area codes. Plus 99% Invisible and Planet Money team up and we talk … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 15, 2013, 7:22 pm

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Alex Goldman was a misfit. Bored and disaffected and angry, he longed for a place to escape to. And then he found Heyoon. The only way to find out about Heyoon for someone to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 2, 2013, 10:31 pm

I’m willing to concede from the get-go that I might be wrong about the entire premise of this story, but Superman has never really worked for me as a character. I preferred the more grounded Marvel Comic book characters, like … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 20, 2013, 5:30 pm

There’s something about rebar that fascinates me. If nothing else because there are very few things that invoke a fear of being skewered. My preoccupation with metal reinforcement bars dovetails nicely with a structure in San Francisco I’ve kind of … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 7, 2013, 6:10 am

Lawyers have an ethics code. Journalists have an ethics code. Architects do, too. According to Ethical Standard 1.4 of the American Institute of Architects (AIA): “Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.” A group called Architects, Designers, … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 28, 2013, 6:36 pm

For the ancient Greeks, sirens were mythical creatures who sang out to passing sailors from rocks in the sea. Their music was so beautiful, it was said, that the sailors were powerless against it–they would turn their ships towards these … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 8, 2013, 10:30 pm

Americans have always had an uneasy relationship with gambling. To circumvent anti-gambling laws in the US, early slot machines masqueraded as vending machines. They gave out chewing gum as prizes, and those prizes could be redeemed for cash. That’s where … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 30, 2013, 12:46 am

Regardless of how you feel about basketball, you’ve got to appreciate the way it can bring groups of strangers together to share moments of pure adulation and collective defeat. That moment when time is running out, the team is down … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 15, 2013, 11:53 pm

On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.” And then the automobile happened. And then automobiles began … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 4, 2013, 12:22 am

Wherever there is sufficient demand to move between two points of differing elevation, there are stairs. In some hilly neighborhoods of California–if you know where to look–you’ll find public, outdoor staircases. The large number of hidden public staircases is part … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 21, 2013, 12:26 am

There was a time when every street sign, every billboard, and every window display was made by a sign artist with a paint kit and an arsenal of squirrel- or camel-hair brushes. Some lived an itinerant lifestyle, traveling from town … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 8, 2013, 6:21 am

There comes a time in the life of a modern city where it begins to grow up–literally. Santiago, the capital of Chile, has been going through a tremendous growth spurt since its economic boom of the mid 1990s. It happened … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 18, 2013, 5:00 pm

Like many cities in Central Europe, Warsaw is made up largely of grey, ugly, communist block-style architecture. Except for one part: The Old Town. Walking through this historic district, it’s just like any other quaint European city. There are tourist … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 5, 2013, 10:43 pm

Though its officially name is JFK Plaza, the open space near Philadelphia’s City Hall is more commonly known as LOVE Park. With its sleek granite benches, geometric raised planter beds, and long expanses of pavement, its success as a pedestrian … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 23, 2013, 6:58 pm

When Eric Molinsky lived in Los Angeles, he kept hearing this story about a bygone transportation system called the Red Car. The Red Car, he was told, had been this amazing network of streetcars that connected the city–until a car … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 11, 2013, 7:22 pm

If you’re not from California, or missed this bit of news, the University of California has a new logo. Or rather had a new logo. To be more precise they had a new “visual identity system,” which is the kind … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 31, 2012, 10:54 pm

I want you to conjure an image in your mind of the white stripes that divide the lanes of traffic going the same direction on a major highway. How long are the stripes and the spaces between them? You can … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 12, 2012, 6:50 pm

When Melissa Lee was growing up in Hastings-on-Hudson, a small town in upstate New York, there were only so many fun things to do. One was buying geodes and smashing them apart with a hammer. (You know geodes, right? Those … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 29, 2012, 11:55 pm

Kowloon Walled City was the densest place in the world, ever. By its peak in the 1990s, the 6.5 acre Kowloon Walled City was home to at least 33,000 people (with estimates of up to 50,000). That’s a population density … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 19, 2012, 9:28 pm

When most people think of camouflage they think of blending in with the environment, but camouflage can also take the opposite approach. It has long been hypothesized that stripes on zebras make it difficult for a predator to distinguish one … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 5, 2012, 7:54 pm

In the Cape Cod town of Woods Hole, buildings are not usually dome-shaped. Producer Katie Klocksin was pretty surprised when she came across one. Katie started asking around about the dome.  She found it was built by the late Buckminster … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 25, 2012, 11:26 pm

On this special edition of 99% Invisible, we joined forces with Andrea Seabrook of DecodeDC to investigate all the thought that goes into the most miniscule details of a political campaign. Andrea was the star of episode #48 of 99% … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 12, 2012, 9:32 pm

Benjamen Walker had a theory that priority queues are changing the American experience of waiting in line. So he visited amusement parks, highways, and community colleges to find out how these priority queues work and who is using them. What … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 2, 2012, 6:27 pm

Pneumatic (adj.):  of, or pertaining to, air, gases, or wind. In the world before telephone, radio, and email, the tasks of transmitting information and moving material objects were essentially the same challenge.  The way you sent someone a message was … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 20, 2012, 4:58 am

I only recently started listening to BackStory with the American History Guys, but it’s already earned a top spot in my crowded weekly rotation. With great stories and lively discussion, the “History Guys” connect our history to the present day. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 10, 2012, 5:15 pm

While we’re gearing up for season 3, we present two pieces from two shows we love: First up, Language Bites from RTE Choice in Ireland. Language Bites is a series of 1-minute programs exploring the origins of popular phrases in … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 22, 2012, 8:13 pm

New Public Sites is an investigation into some of the invisible sites and overlooked features of our everyday public spaces. These are the liminal spaces within cities that are not traditionally framed as “public space” because, quite frankly, they are … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 6, 2012, 8:33 pm

Sean Cole is a poet and he knows what you think of that. He is also a radio producer. One night, drunk and stumbling around the Hudson River with his friend Malissa O’Donnell, he discovered a monument — two of … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 25, 2012, 10:28 pm

What’s the difference between what the public sees and what an architect sees when they look at a building? The hotel on the very prominent corner of Touhy and Kilbourn Avenues in Lincolnwood, Illinois used to be the town’s most … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 13, 2012, 8:29 pm

This is the Kickstarter video for funding the new season of 99% Invisible. If you enjoy the show and want to help keep it going, now is the time to go to our funding page and chip in a little. … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 12, 2012, 4:32 pm

Starlee Kine’s friend Noel works in advertising. In 2003, Noel was working in at an agency in Richmond, VA. Everyone wanted to work on flashy spots like Apple or Nike or Gatorade. Do you know what wasn’t flashy? Insurance. Which … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 28, 2012, 10:09 pm

Goethe said, “Architecture is frozen music.” I like that. Of course that was before audio recording, so now, for the most part, music is frozen music. It’s only very recently in the history of music that we’ve been able to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 14, 2012, 5:37 pm

If you’re a beer nerd, or have a friend who’s a beer nerd, you’ve heard of Belgian beers. Belgians take beer very seriously. Amongst the 200 Belgian breweries, there’s a very specific sub-type: Trappist beers. According to our reporter Cyrus … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 31, 2012, 5:51 pm

US paper currency is so ubiquitous that to really look at its graphic design with fresh eyes requires some deliberate and focused attention. So pull out a greenback from your wallet (or look at a picture one online) and just … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 16, 2012, 11:21 pm

What happens when we build big? Julia Barton remembers going to the top floor of Dallas’s then-new city hall when she was teenager. The building, designed by I.M. Pei, is a huge trapezoid jutting out over a wide plaza. Julia … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 1, 2012, 11:06 pm

Even during the construction of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the deck would go up and down by several feet with the slightest breeze. Construction workers on the span chewed on lemon wedges to stop their motion sickness. They nicknamed … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 18, 2012, 5:35 pm

“Cities exist to bring people together, but cities can also keep people apart” – Daniel D’Oca, Urban Planner, Interboro Partners. Cities are great. They have movement, activity and diversity. But go to any city and it’s pretty clear, a place … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 3, 2012, 7:55 pm

The acoustics of a building are a big concern for architects. But for designers at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, it’s the absence of sound that defines the approach to architecture. Gallaudet is a university dedicated to educating the deaf … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 22, 2012, 7:49 pm

In the US, it’s called a line. In Canada, it’s often referred to as a line-up. Pretty much everywhere else, it’s known as a queue. My friend Benjamen Walker is obsessed with queues. He keeps sending me YouTube clips of … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 9, 2012, 3:23 am

“I have this habit of walking into any door that’s unlocked…You start poking around, going into doors…you find the coolest things…” -Andrea Seabrook, NPR Congressional Correspondent In the eight years Andrea Seabrook has been reporting on Congress, she has made … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 26, 2012, 10:38 pm

Somebody might be able to do a great painting that’s 20 x 30 inches, but you take that down to 1 x 1.5 inches, and it’s a challenge to make it work. -Ethel Kessler, Art Director for USPS Stamp Services … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 10, 2012, 5:36 am

Before the 1850s, dentures were made out of very hard, very painful and very expensive material, like gold or ivory. They were a luxury item. The invention of Vulcanite hard rubber changed everything. It was moldable, it could be precisely … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 27, 2012, 8:17 am

Beauty Pill is band I really like from Washington DC. They have released two EPs (The Cigarette Girl From the Future and You Are Right to be Afraid) and their last album, The Unsustainable Lifestyle, came out in 2004. In … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 18, 2012, 11:19 pm

The Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis became most famous at the moment of its demise. The thirty-three high-rise towers built in the 1950’s were supposed to solve the impending population crisis in inner city St. Louis. It was supposed … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 6, 2012, 4:23 am

“There’s a secret jazz seeping from Washington’s aging Metro escalators – those anemic metal walkways that fill our transit system…they honk and bleat and squawk…why are you still wearing those earbuds?” -Chris Richards, “Move along with the soundtrack of Metro’s … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 19, 2011, 8:10 am

Anonymous is not group. It is not an organization. Rob Walker describes Anonymous as a “loosely affiliated and ever-changing band of individuals who… have been variously described as hackers, hacktivists, free-expression zealots, Internet troublemakers, and assorted combinations thereof.” But when … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 9, 2011, 3:22 am

Paola Antonelli is the Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. Her most recent blockbuster show, Talk to Me, explored the communication between people and objects: from chairs that talk to subway … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 3, 2011, 2:51 am

It’s totally unfair. Hydrox cookies came out four years before the introduction of Oreos, but Hydrox could never shake the image that it was a cheap knock-off, an also-ran. As a consumer product, it’s completely out of your hands if … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 23, 2011, 6:10 pm

United Nations Plaza sits in the center of San Francisco. Most people consider it a complete failure as a public space. Its central feature, at the entrance of the plaza, is a unique fountain that was designed by Lawrence Halprin … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 18, 2011, 7:43 am

It’s hard to imagine a place where more desperate and depressing drama unfolds on a daily basis than a family courthouse- custody battles, abuse, divorce- and if you were to design a place to reflect and amplify that misery, not … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 28, 2011, 8:45 pm

If Dennis Baxter and Bill Whiston are doing their job right, you probably don’t notice that they’re doing their job. But they are so good at doing their job, that you probably don’t even know that their job exists at … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 13, 2011, 11:47 am

If I asked you to close your eyes and mimic the action of using one of the simple human interfaces of everyday life, you could probably do it. Without having a button to push, you could close your eyes and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 29, 2011, 4:06 am

Cities are pretty robust organisms, they tend to survive even when put under tremendous stress and strain. Local industries rise and fall, people immigrate and emigrate, but most of these changes happen over decades. What happens to a city when … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 16, 2011, 6:14 am

I want to be careful not to overstate what it means for a building to die. A building’s worth is an infinitesimal fraction of the worth a person’s life. Even two buildings don’t even move the needle in comparison to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 1, 2011, 11:01 pm

Last year, Steve Burrows CBE (Principle at the engineering consulting firm Arup) spent several weeks in Egypt studying the pyramids through the eyes of a modern day structural engineer. The result, which was presented in a documentary for the Discovery … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 19, 2011, 2:15 am

If you look at the outer hull of commercial ships, you might find a painted circle bisected with a long horizontal line. This marking is called the load line, or as I prefer, the Plimsoll line. This simple graphic design … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: August 4, 2011, 10:44 pm

When I spoke with Allison Arieff about the design of airports, she said to me, if all airports simply played Brian Eno’s album Ambient 1: Music for Airports over the speakers, every airport would be better. I say this to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 28, 2011, 3:10 am

Nicholas Felton is an information designer. Since 2005, he has tabulated thousands upon thousands of tiny measurements in his life and designed stunning graphs and maps and created concise infographics that detail that year’s activities. The results were originally intended … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 14, 2011, 5:48 am

In 1998 Dr. Gary Kaplan, the CEO of Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle received some bad news about his hospital. It was losing money. So Dr. Kaplan started studying how other hospitals were being run to see if there … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: July 1, 2011, 12:31 am

When people critique cul-de-sacs, a lot of the time, they’re actually critiquing the suburbs more generally. The cul-de-sac has become sort of like the mascot of the suburbs– like if suburbia had a flag, it would have a picture of … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 17, 2011, 1:52 am

More and more I’m finding that the first 2-3 minutes of a movie are my favorite part of the film. My life is devoted to the beautiful expression of information, which is why film title sequences hold a special place … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 10, 2011, 12:16 am

There are rules that dicate what you can build and how. Rules of physics and rules of men who sit on various bureaucratic boards and bodies. These rules dictated that if silk magnate John Noble Stearns wanted to build one … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: June 3, 2011, 6:32 am

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, is a federal jail right in the middle of downtown Chicago. It’s a triangle-shaped skyscraper, 27 stories, with tall, super-narrow, irregularly-spaced windows up and down each wall. The outside walls look like old computer … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 20, 2011, 4:15 am

There’s something that links most of the everyday objects presented in “Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design.” But it’s hard to tell exactly what that is just by looking at this collection of wobbly dolls, drinking glasses, primitive … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 13, 2011, 3:48 am

If you were present for any of the presidential inaugurations, from Andrew Jackson to Dwight D. Eisenhower, you saw the solemn oath of office taken between twenty-two smooth, sandstone columns at the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol Building. The … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: May 6, 2011, 4:18 am

youarelistening.to appeared online on March 6, 2011 and I was hooked instantly. The combination of the police scanner and ambient music is an intriguing, and distinctly live, experience (unlike most of the time shifted audio I tend to consume). Its … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 22, 2011, 6:36 am

In 1989, a group called the Berkeley Art Project decided to hold a national public art competition to create a monument that would commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, which began on the University of California Berkeley … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 15, 2011, 7:31 am

Most sound design in architecture is centered around designing for silence. Buildings are trying to block out that constant stream noise from the street and insulate you from those jarring clangs of industry. Geoff Manaugh loves the intersection of sound … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: April 1, 2011, 5:22 am

In 2001, Delfin Vigil was walking the streets of San Francisco and ran across the name “Nikko” carved into the concrete sidewalk. After seeing Nikko once, Delfin began to see the name everywhere. One block after another, there he was … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 25, 2011, 5:18 am

This week, the radio audience heard episode #10, but for you web and podcast listeners, I have a story I did about a year and a half ago, about the reactive music app called RJDJ. I did this piece for … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 21, 2011, 5:53 am

In a recent piece from Urban Omnibus, Vishaan Chakrabarti (Professor at the Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University), wrote about how urban open spaces contribute to political change, “Public spaces like Tompkins Square, Tiananmen Square and … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 11, 2011, 4:42 am

A few years ago, journalist Douglas McGray learned that the largest chain of check cashing stores in Southern California, Nix Check Cashing, was being bought by the nation’s largest credit union, Kinecta. The credit union thought it had something to … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: March 4, 2011, 4:45 am

The New City Hall, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, was the first modern, concrete, civic building in Toronto. When it opened in 1965, it stood out very prominently in the traditional Victorian fabric of the city. The striking concrete … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 25, 2011, 7:27 am

The idea is simple and quite beautiful: if we all shared a second, politically neutral language, people of all different nations and cultures could communicate freely and easily, and it would foster international understanding and peace. This is the idea … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 18, 2011, 5:27 am

Without all the beeps and chimes, without sonic feedback, all of your modern conveniences would be very hard to use. If a device and its sounds are designed correctly, it creates a special “theater of the mind” that users completely … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 11, 2011, 8:03 am

Everyone knows it when they see it. The classic “castle with turrets” periodic table is a beautiful and concise icon that contains a great deal of amazing information, if you only know how to read it. And even if you … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: February 4, 2011, 8:18 am

99% Invisible Extra! The tape rolls as we witness the tearful end of a perfect online world. This is a piece I did for Snap Judgment, based on a story from Robert Ashley’s brilliant A Life Well Wasted internet radio … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: January 7, 2011, 7:37 pm

I’m sorry, but if you don’t love maps, I don’t think we can be friends anymore. Maps are amazing. They are art and story. A representation of where we are and where we wish we could be. They’ve always had … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 17, 2010, 4:49 am

“Sustainable Design is a design philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating the negative impact to the natural environment.” -Jason F. McLennan, The Philosophy of Sustainable Design I like McLennan’s definition of … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: December 3, 2010, 8:17 am

Almost everything in modern life is designed to waste energy. The whole system evolved on a false premise that petroleum is cheap and plentiful and will be that way forever. The awesome Lisa Margonelli, author of Oil on The Brain … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 25, 2010, 1:34 am

Chris Downey explains it like this, “Beethoven continued to write music, even some of his best music, after he lost his hearing…What’s more preposterous, composing music you can’t hear, or designing architecture you can’t see?” Chris Downey had been an … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 19, 2010, 8:38 am

99% Invisible Extra! NASA is figuring out how to take the next great leap into space. The difficulty is, if we leap to Mars, we might not make it back. This is a story I produced last year (Summer 2009) … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 13, 2010, 5:25 am

Privately Owned Public Open Spaces, or POPOS, are these little gardens, terraces, plazas, and seating areas that are private property, but are mandated for public use. City planners require developers to add these little “parks” to their buildings to make … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: November 5, 2010, 7:24 am

It’s weird how much anxiety comes from parking in a city. Beyond the stress of looking for parking, you must contend with the frequently unreliable meters. The signage can be indecipherable. As a point of interaction with your municipality, it’s … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 29, 2010, 7:44 am

Humans need a few basic things to survive- air, water, food, heat, shelter- but just surviving isn’t really enough. We also need familiarity, a little comfort, interaction, a small place of our own. When it comes to designing space habitat … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 14, 2010, 9:16 pm

Before I moved to Chicago in 2005, I didn’t even know cities had their own flags. In Chicago, the city flag is everywhere. It’s incorporated into all different aspects of city life and the design elements are used on businesses, … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 7, 2010, 10:26 pm

At the top of Mt. Olympus in San Francisco, on what was once thought to be the geographic center of the city, is a pedestal for a statue that isn’t there. There’s no marker. You can just make out the … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: October 1, 2010, 5:00 am

It’s a stick with bristles poking out of it. It doesn’t even qualify as a simple machine, but the careful thought and design that went into the creation of the modern, angled bristle, fat handled toothbrush shows just how much … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 24, 2010, 7:54 am

There’s not much that we can do about all the physical matter that’s been designed and built by someone else. It is the way it is. But with the advent of portable devices with GPS, a compass, and a network, … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 24, 2010, 7:46 am

In the beginning, former AIA-SF president Henrik Bull and the Transamerica Pyramid did not get along. The building was an affront to late 1960’s modernist ideals. It was silly. It looked like a dunce cap. Its large scale had no … Continue reading →

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 23, 2010, 9:25 pm

This episode of 99% Invisible is all about acoustic design, the city soundscape, and how to make listening in shared spaces pleasant (or at the very least, possible). It features an interview with Dennis Paoletti from Shen Milsom & Wilke.

Author: Roman Mars
Posted: September 23, 2010, 9:05 pm