5 Intriguing Things: Tuesday, 12/17

An electronic fork, how karaoke was made, body parts as collectibles, the weirding of telemarketing, and the urbanization of the gray squirrel.
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1. The HAPIfork has begun shipping.

"Eating too fast leads to poor digestion and poor weight control. The HAPIfork, powered by Slow Control, is an electronic fork that helps you monitor and track your eating habits. It also alerts you with the help of indicator lights and gentle vibrations when you are eating too fast. Every time you bring food from your plate to your mouth with your fork, this action is called: a 'fork serving.'"

 

2. A first-person account of the creation of karaoke by Daisuke Inoue.

"So at his request I taped a number of his favorite songs onto an open-reel tape recorder in the keys that would best suit his voice. A few days later he came back full of smiles and asked if I could record some more songs. At that moment the idea for the Juke 8 dawned on me: You would put money into a machine with a microphone, speaker and amplifier, and it would play the music people wanted to sing.

As I had attended a Denko (or Electric Industry) High School, you’d think I could have built the machine myself. But I was always scared of electricity and so graduated without much of an ability to put things together. A member of my band introduced me to a friend of his who had an electronics shop. I took my idea to him, and he understood exactly what I’d envisioned. With my instruction, he built eleven Juke 8s. Each machine consisted of an amplifier, a microphone, a coin box and an eight-track car stereo. Putting the machines together took about two months and cost around $425 per unit."

 

3. On the strange (and strangely popular) hobby of collecting human body parts.

"The collection of Japanese war trophies—which included various body parts, including skulls—was, by all accounts, endemic and uncontrollable. Charles Lindbergh noted numerous such instances in the diaries of his travels to the Pacific theater: 'It is the same everywhere I go,' he wrote. The problem was so widespread that when Lindbergh returned to the States, he was asked by customs officers—almost as a matter of course—if he was carrying any 'human bones' in his luggage."

 

4. The not-so-robotic reality of soundboard telemarketing. 

"Echo is not a pre-recorded messaging platform, automated ROBO call system or a hardware solution that replaces “live agent” interaction with consumers. The Echo technology merely substitutes sound files for the agent’s voice (although the agent can also interject with his or her own voice at any time) and assures positive interactive experiences for the consumer. CallAssistant’s agents interact with callers by selecting the appropriate audio file responses. Agents have access to “hot keys” connected to common conversational responses such as “I understand,” “exactly,” “yeah,” and laughing. The customer experiences a completely natural conversation complete with laughing, positive  affirmation, and most importantly, natural interaction."

+ If you want to catch up on the context for this link, just read this

 

5. A glorious journal article about the urbanization of the gray squirrel

"The conditions of existence for squirrels in American cities improved significantly from the 1870s onward, in large part due to the landscape park movement led by Frederick Law Olmsted. Compared with public squares, commons, and town greens, Olmstedian landscape parks provided much larger and more suitable habitats for squirrels, while also bolstering the justification for introducing and maintaining them. For urban reformers of the time, squirrels and other animals helped enliven urban green spaces and contributed to a bucolic atmosphere that was entertaining, enlightening, and salubrious. The gray squirrel was seen as a particularly desirable park resident, since it was understood to be, as the naturalist John Burroughs would later write, an “elegant creature, so cleanly in its habits, so graceful in its carriage, so nimble and daring in its movements,” and one that “excites feelings of admiration akin to those awakened by the birds and the fairer forms of nature.” Urbanites who encountered such admirable creatures living in the middle of the metropolis would, reformers hoped, be projected into a more wholesome and natural world, if only for a moment. Once landscape parks had been constructed in New York, Boston, the District of Columbia, Chicago, and other cities, it was only natural to populate them with squirrels. These populations ultimately served as the foundation for the dissemination of squirrels throughout the urban landscape."

 

Today's 1957 American English usage tip from Margaret Nicholson is:

A-bomb, atomic bomb, atom bomb. All three forms are used; the second is the original & is better in formal writing.

 

Thanks, Ben

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. 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 Web site 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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