Andrew McGill is chronicling the devices and apps he’s creating this summer and invites readers to join him. Are you an inventor and want to share a project? Please drop him a note: email@example.com.
If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, you’re probably familiar with Capital Bikeshare. And if you don’t, I bet the nearest American city might have something like it: A system of public bicycles available for rent, strategically placed throughout town for point-to-point trips. If you have a membership or a credit card, you can check out a bike at a kiosk, ride it to your destination and re-dock it at the nearest Bikeshare station. It’s one of my favorite things about the D.C. area.
But! There are few things more annoying than wrapping up a satisfying ride and pulling into bikeshare dock ... that is completely full.
There are phone apps out there, like Spotcycle, that publish bike station statuses. But pulling out a smartphone in the middle of a ride doesn’t sound particularly safe. This is a perfect app for a smartwatch, however—a quick glance at your wrist could tell you if you’re headed for an empty station or a wall of docked bicycles.
Using data from Capital Bikeshare, I put together a quick app that pulls the user’s location, finds nearby bike stations and lists how many open slots they have. (Technical explanation here, code here.)
Here’s a GIF of the app in action:
I haven’t yet published the app to the Pebble store, but I’ll do that once I add a few more improvements. Nothing in the works for Apple Watches or Android products at this point, but who knows!
It’s never been easier to be a mad scientist. Back in the day, it took so much work: You had to rent a dungeon, fashion your own Tesla coils, and spend half your life reading cracked leather tomes written your equally deprived predecessors.
Not so anymore. Computers are small, fast and cheap, allowing a D.I.Y. types to slap a microprocessor on pretty much anything, and for less than $50. The internet can deliver a tutorial in an instant and any electronic component within a few days. And easy-to-program platforms have made controlling physical objects with code not only possible, but practical.
All this is great for a would-be inventor. Unless, like me, your drive to work on a project (which seemed so strong in the morning!) somehow gives way to an evening of Alias reruns night after night. Life gets in the way.
So here’s my resolution: Following the lead of WNYC journalist James Keefe, I’m resolving to buckle down and make a new thing every week this summer. It’ll ideally be a real thing—something you can see and could hold, not just ephemeral code powering an app. (Though I’m still keeping the ephemeral code door open if I hit a rough patch.) I’ll document what I’m doing through this thread, as well as more technical write-ups on my own blog. So far, I’ve built a smartwatch app that searches for nearby public bicycles and a silent doorbell for when my coworkers get locked out of the office.
Are you a time-crunched tinkerer? Please join me this summer by sharing your projects: firstname.lastname@example.org. What have you built in the past? What are you working on now? And what should I build next?
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
President Trump’s threats of retaliation for strikes on Saudi oil facilities seem premature.
President Donald Trump says the United States is “locked and loaded” to retaliate against whoever struck Saudi Arabia’s oil refineries on Saturday. But before American forces rain “fire and fury” on Iran, some urgent questions must be answered.
Are we quite sure that Iran is the culprit?
Iranian culpability certainly seems the most plausible explanation for the refinery attack. But given the utter untrustworthiness of both the Trump presidency and Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi government, it seems wise to demand certainty, not plausibility. How confident are U.S. analysts that the attack was ordered from Tehran, rather than by an Iranian proxy acting for its own motives?
Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.
During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.
At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.
I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.
The Liberal Democrats are gambling on the realignment of British politics.
BOURNEMOUTH, England—Standing onstage in front of her party faithful, Jo Swinson had a surprise. At the opening rally of the Liberal Democrats’ conference here at the British seaside, the crowd knew what to expect—all week, rumors had been buzzing that they would be joined by a high-profile defector from a rival party—but they didn’t know whom to expect. Even their own members of Parliament were kept in the dark until half an hour before the announcement.
Swinson, the party’s newly elected 39-year-old leader, said the person she was introducing was “someone who has stood up for liberal values,” and moments later, Sam Gyimah bounded up onstage. Gyimah, born in Britain and raised in Ghana, had once been hailed as the future of the Conservatives—the party of Boris Johnson, which is furiously trying to pull Britain out of the European Union. Just three months ago, in fact, Gyimah had stood for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
In the past year, I’ve been on a mission to pester as many people in my life as possible. The first victim was my editor, whom I abruptly asked one morning to stop messaging me about story ideas on our office’s chat platform, Slack. Instead, I said, let’s talk the ideas out over the phone. I soon did the same thing to a friend who’d texted to discuss a job offer he’d just received. A few weeks later, when another friend texted me for New York City apartment-hunting tips, I asked her my new favorite question in return: Do you want to give me a call?
The phone call has lost its primacy in American communication. By 2014, texting had become more common for Americans under 50. The popularity of text-based communication tools such as WhatsApp and Instagram direct messaging has exploded since. People currently in their 20s and 30s, in particular, have developed a reputation for being allergic to phone calls. The phone call, like chain restaurants and golf, is among the cultural institutions that Millennials might murder.
The U.S. is in the top tier of house sizes internationally—and it’s not just because of McMansions.
America is a place defined by bigness. It is infamous, both within its borders and abroad, for the size of its cars, its portions, its defense budget—and its houses.
Rightly so: U.S. houses are among the biggest—if not the biggest—in the world. According to the real-estate firms Zillow and Redfin, the median size of an American single-family home is in the neighborhood of 1,600 or 1,650 square feet. About five years ago, Sonia A. Hirt, a professor of landscape architecture and planning at the University of Georgia, was working on a book about land-use patterns in the U.S., and when she tracked down the average size of dwellings for about two dozen countries, the U.S. came out on top. Her comparisons were rough because she’d cobbled together her data from various sources, but she found that American living spaces had a good 600 to 800 square feet on most of the competition.
Protests there have demonstrated the enduring appeal of American values and power. But can Washington live up to that promise?
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement, the David to China’s Goliath, is calling out to the land of the free for help—and help may be on the way. The question is whether it will be substantial enough and fast enough, and have the support of the president of the United States.
For months now, a small but zealous contingent of American flag-waving protesters has been a fixture of the huge demonstrations in Hong Kong, including today, when dozens of people again carried the U.S. flag during a rally held in defiance of a police ban. As the struggle to resist China’s tightening grip on the semiautonomous region has intensified, protesters have appealed to the United States in larger numbers and with greater urgency. Last weekend, tens of thousands of protesters marched near the U.S. consulate in the territory, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and carrying signs that urged President Donald Trump to “liberate Hong Kong.” Perhaps more realistically, they also issued a practical plea: for Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would grant the United States further means to defend the territory’s freedoms and autonomy.
For decades, a landmark brain study fed speculation about whether we control our own actions. It seems to have made a classic mistake.
The death of free will began with thousands of finger taps. In 1964, two German scientists monitored the electrical activity of a dozen people’s brains. Each day for several months, volunteers came into the scientists’ lab at the University of Freiburg to get wires fixed to their scalp from a showerhead-like contraption overhead. The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit.
The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants’ brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world—when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph—but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone’s brain actually initiating an action.
Thick clouds of smoke and haze are blanketing much of Southeast Asia, due to largely illegal efforts to burn thousands of acres to clear land for farms and palm-oil plantations.
Over the past month, the annual slash-and-burn efforts to create agricultural land across Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands have led to nearly 1,000 wildfires that are generating thick clouds of smoke and haze now blanketing parts of Southeast Asia. Most of the blazes are illegal fires set to clear land for palm oil and pulpwood industries. Malaysia is pressuring neighboring Indonesia to address the wildfires and step up enforcement to prevent future illegal burns. Its air quality has officially reached “unhealthy” levels, and dozens of schools have been closed.
Ivanka was always Trump’s favorite. But Don Jr. is emerging as his natural successor.
The empire begins with a brothel. It stands, sturdy and square, at the heart of a gold-rush boomtown in northwest British Columbia, a monument to careful branding. The windows of the Arctic Restaurant have no signs offering access to prostitutes—even in a lawless Yukon outpost in 1899, decorum rules out such truth in advertising—but Friedrich Trump knows his clientele.
Curtained-off “private boxes” line the wall opposite the bar, inside of which are beds, and women, and scales to weigh gold powder, the preferred method of payment for services rendered. Word of the restaurant’s off-menu accommodations spreads fast. “Respectable women” are advised by The Yukon Sun to avoid the place, as they are “liable to hear that which would be repugnant to their feelings.”