The Mall, footage from a dying mall in 1994

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This is The Mall, first opened in Huntsville, Alabama and demolished in 1998. Collected by Highway Explorer in 1994 as this former retail haven was taking its dying breaths, this footage could do quite well with a dark vaporwave (or mallwave) soundtrack. From Highway Explorer:

This footage was shot on a very quiet Saturday night in February 1994 only a few years before its demolition. Books A Million is still there, and Home Depot is there now too. The sculpture used in the fountain sits in the traffic circle between Home Depot and Staples. The site is now called The Fountain.

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Watch the PuppetMaster, a robotic puppeteer, control marionettes

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ETH Zurich engineers demonstrated a system enabling a robot to control a marionette. Although a robotic puppeteer is pretty damn cool, that’s not the point of the research.

“Our long term goal is to enable robots to manipulate various types of complex physical systems – clothing, soft parcels in warehouses or stores, flexible sheets and cables in hospitals or on construction sites, plush toys or bedding in our homes, etc – as skillfully as humans do,” they write in their technical paper. “We believe the technical framework we have set up for robotic puppeteering will also prove useful in beginning to address this very important grand-challenge.”

(via IEEE Spectrum)

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Gorgeous photos of undersea life, in black and white

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Typically, marine photography is done in rich, saturated color — the better to show off the riot of life beneath the waves.

But the photographer Christian Vizl has done it in high-contrast black and white, producing eerily intense ways of re-seeing marine life. You can see the work on his site, and in his new book Silent Kingdom.

From his interview with My Modern Met:

Any particular favorite images from the book or a story behind a particularly interesting photo you’d like to share?

It’s hard for me to choose only one because I have so many memorable encounters with marine life, but one would be two giant mantas touching each other’s tips. I observed this behavior for the first time during the first dive we did in a very remote and special dive area in Mexico called Revillagigedo Islands. The two mantas were swimming directly towards each other when, at the last second before colliding, they would move upwards, positioning themselves slightly to one opposite side so they could touch each other’s tip of their wings. I was so amazed by this behavior that I wanted to capture it. I tried many times and finally the last day of diving in the last minute before having to go for the surface I managed to take this picture in the exact time. I felt so happy!

Some of the images are incredibly striking; in black and white, this school of fish looks like the hull of a ship … Read the rest

The Microwriter, a tiny chording word processor from 1984

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Back in the 80s, the inventor Cy Enfield created this fascinating device — a six-button “Microwriter” where you’d chord combos of buttons to produce the entire alphabet, letting you jot down notes on the go.

Microsoft’s Bill Buxton calls it “the world’s first portable digital word processor” (the front-page photo for this post is from Buxton’s hardware collection) and Open Culture wrote a terrific piece about the Microwriter a few years ago, citing from a 1984 interview Enfield did with NPR, discussing his “aha” moment:

“It occurred to me that … it would be possible to combine a set of signals from separate keys, and therefore you could reduce the total number of keys. But, of course, this involved the learning of chords… difficult to memorize… But how do you make these chords memorable? And, one day, staring at a sheet of paper on which I was drawing a set of five keys in sort of the arch formed by the finger ends, it occurred to me, ah! if I press the thumb key, and the index finger key, anybody can do this just listening now, press your thumb key and your index finger down and you’ll see that a vertical line joins those two finger ends, a short vertical line. There is an equivalence between that short vertical line and one letter of the alphabet. It’s the letter “I.”

Buxton’s site has some scans of the gorgeous user’s manual, including this one:

There are chording keyboards these days, most notably the Twiddler, and stenography tech. Read the rest

How online retailers trick you into signing up for costly monthly memberships

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Some online retailers (usually clothing companies. like Rihanna’s  Savage X Fenty) sneakily insert monthly memberships into customers’ shopping carts, and if the customers don’t remove the subscription from the shopping cart, they’ll get stuck with a $50 monthly bill that can’t be canceled unless they talk to a customer service rep on the phone whose job it is to use every persuasion tactic in the book to prevent the customer from canceling. Note that the cost of the monthly membership isn’t shown in the shopping cart, so it looks like it’s free.

From Nicole Dieker’s Lifehacker article:

I tried shopping at Savage X Fenty, and although the website clearly stated that I did not need to become an “Xtra VIP Member” to make purchases, the site also automatically added a membership to my cart after I clicked on an item. Only after I deleted the membership from my cart was I able to begin the checkout process at the “Basic” (non-member, and twice as expensive) level—and even then, the site kept nudging me to join Xtra VIP.

As Vox notes, Savage X Fenty isn’t the only retailer with these types of membership fees. Fabletics is another well-known retailer with a $49.95 VIP Membership, and although the process of making a non-member purchase is more transparent, the site still uses color and contrast to convince you to become a VIP.

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The Slinky was invented by accident

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Today is National Slinky Day. As Rachael Lallensack writes in Smithsonian, a spring, a spring, this marvelous thing was invented by accident:

In 1943, mechanical engineer Richard James was designing a device that the Navy could use to secure equipment and shipments on ships while they rocked at sea. As the story goes, he dropped the coiled wires he was tinkering with on the ground and watched them tumble end-over-end across the floor.

After dropping the coil, he could have gotten up, frustrated, and chased after it without a second thought. But he—as inventors often do—had a second thought: perhaps this would make a good toy.

As Jonathon Schifman reported for Popular Mechanics, Richard James went home and told his wife, Betty James, about his idea. In 1944, she scoured the dictionary for a fitting name, landing on “slinky,” which means “sleek and sinuous in movement or outline.” Together, with a $500 loan, they co-founded James Industries in 1945, the year the Slinky hit store shelves…

Seventy-two years ago, Richard James received a patent for the Slinky, describing “a helical spring toy which will walk on an amusement platform such as an inclined plane or set of steps from a starting point to successive lower landing points without application of external force beyond the starting force and the action of gravity.” He had worked out the ideal dimensions for the spring, 80-feet of wire into a two-inch spiral. (You can find an exact mathematical equation for the slinky in his patent materials.) It was Betty that masterminded the toy’s success.

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Injured coyote pup gets a sweet pep talk from rescuer

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The internet-famous Chicago native “Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t” talks to an injured coyote he encountered and rescued. The little guy just got a flea bath, and he was on his way to a wildlife rehab facility.

If you’re not familiar with this guy’s YouTube channel, it’s amazing.

“A Low-Brow, Crass Approach to Plant Ecology as muttered by a Misanthropic Chicago Italian.”

The coyote in the video above video is the same sweet critter you see in this previous video about Pitcher Plants, around 30 seconds in. Amazing to watch the rescue.

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Recomendo: a book of 550 recommendations of cool stuff

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This book features 550 recommendations grouped by subject. These “best of” recommendations have been selected from the accumulated pool of 6 brief suggestions Kevin Kelly, Claudia Dawson, and I have sent out each Sunday for the past two years in a free email newsletter called Recomendo.

It’s available as a searchable DRM-free PDF for $1.99, or you can buy a paperback copy on Amazon for .

Sample pages:

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Advanced Basics: Using Transforms In Your ASP.NET Project Part One

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When I first started working on ASP.NET web projects, I wanted to know what web.config files were and all of the different types added to a project.

I experienced them when I started working with ASP.NET back in 2002. Since everyone was so new and didn’t know what "environments" were, I saw them as glorified .INI files in XML format (for you Windows 9x users).

Haskell Kata: withTryFileLock

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This is the first Haskell code kata I’ve put on this blog (to my knowledge). The idea is to present a self-contained, relatively small coding challenge to solidify some skills with Haskell. If people like this and would like to see more, let me know.

Caveat: these will almost certainly be supply-driven. As I notice examples like this in my code, I’ll try to extract them like this blog post.

How to Capitalize the First Letter of a String in JavaScript [Snippets]

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Here is a quick code snippet for the JavaScript version of ucfirst. This code snippet will allow you to capitalize the first letter of a string using JavaScript.

function jsUcfirst(string) 
    return string.charAt(0).toUpperCase() + string.slice(1);

This code snippet will use the JavaScript function charAt to get the character at a certain index.

A Simple JavaScript State Machine

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The benefits of using state machines for building robust UIs is well documented — see, for instance, Edward J. Pring and David Khourshid. Some popular approaches to state machines in JavaScript are described by Krasimir Tsonev.  Some popular JavaScript libraries are jakesgordon/javascript-state-machine and davidkpiano/xstate.

In a previous article, I presented a simple state machine for Java applications. In this article, I apply the same idea to JavaScript UIs. To keep the content brief, I am using jQuery.

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