5 Intriguing Things: Friday, 12/13

Emoji art, Chinese innovation, a robot comedian, 18th-century automata, and the mall of fame.
Emojis by Kyle M.F. Williams

1. The Emoji Art and Design Show, featuring 5IT favorites Cara Rose DeFabio and Fred Benenson, opened in New York at Eyebeam last night.

"...a wide range of mediums from digital prints, sculptures, video and performance art, tackling themes such as emotional ambiguity, symbology, and visual communication. Works in the show explore ideas rooted in both pop and visual culture—appropriating and inserting emoji into the art history cannon, hypnotic moving images, emoji photo apps, inherent translation difficulties, and a desire for more emoji character."


2. Copy-and-twist innovation, as explained in Hamish McKenzie's e-book, Beta China.

"Part of what makes Sina Weibo so effective is that it deftly blends the strengths of the two American social networks, allowing users to share pictures and videos in-line with their 140-character “tweets” — for sake of ease, that’s how English-speakers in China refer to Weibo posts — and build conversations around them in the accompanying comments threads. It’s worth noting, too, that you can say a lot more in 140 Chinese characters than you can in 140 English letters.

Bill Bishop, a two-time entrepreneur and independent Internet analyst based in Beijing, is an avid user of both Twitter and Sina Weibo and has about 15,000 followers on each. He says the Chinese version is a far superior product. “Each post you make on Weibo, you can see if it’s been retweeted or forwarded, or if it has been commented on,” he says. “Each individual message you post on Weibo has potential to become its own full-on conversation between thousands of people.”

Unlike Twitter, Sina Weibo also offers premium accounts for its most dedicated users, charging about $1.50 a month to allow customized homepages, audio posts, and to provide increased security. Soon, premium users will be able to filter posts automatically by importance."


3. The robot comedian. Ha. Ha. Ha. 

"The whole idea of automating something as particular and subjective as comedy—it totally goes against every notion of what comedy and creativity is about. But that doesn’t mean it’s not funny,' said Will Jackson, whose U.K.-based company, Engineered Arts Limited, created RoboThespian. Jackson used to work in advertising, but a few years ago he began dabbling in robots. 'It’s kind of acting by proxy,' he said. 'Maybe if I had the nerve I’d get up and do it myself, but it’s easier to have a robot get up and do it for me.' Development on RoboThespian began in 2005. He has screens for eyes, because, as Jackson explained, 'eyes are the windows to the soul.'

RoboThespian was supposed to be a dramatic actor..." 


4. Eighteenth-century automata should not be forgotten.

"Jacques de Vaucanson (1709-1782) produced some of the most famous historical automata and is regarded by many as one of the greatest automata makers of all time. His most famous work, called ‘The Duck’, was and artificial duck made of gilded copper which ate and drank (it even digested its food like a living duck), quacked and splashed about in water. Vancanson also made the flute and tabor players. The flute player was 5ft 10in tall (1.8 m) and stood on a pedestal. A current of air led through the complex mechanism causing the the lips and fingers of the player to move naturally on the flute, opening and closing hotes on the instrument. It had a repertoire of twelve tunes."


5. The most Instagrammed spot in the world is a mall in Bangkok; last year's winner, the Suvarnabhumi Airport, came in a disappointing ninth.

  1. Siam Paragon (สยามพารากอน) shopping mall, Bangkok, Thailand
  2. Times Square, New York
  3. Disneyland, California
  4. Bellagio Fountains, Las Vegas
  5. Disney World Florida
  6. Staples Center, Los Angeles
  7. Central Park, New York
  8. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
  9. Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) ท่าอากาศยานสุวรรณภูมิ, Bangkok, Thailand
  10. The High Line, New York
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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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