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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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: email@example.com. What have you built in the past? What are you working on now? And what should I build next?
The generation that grew up with Rebecca Black’s “Friday” isn’t just nostalgic for that novelty tune—it’s making music inspired by it.
Ten years ago, the most Googled name in the world belonged to a wide-smiling 13-year-old girl everyone seemed to be laughing at. She was Rebecca Black of “Friday,” the calendar-themed sing-along that reached megafame by being, in many people’s judgment, the worst song ever. Amid cheesy production by the ARK Music Factory—a now-defunct Southern California firm that Black’s mom had paid $4,000 to make the song—Black’s auto-tuned voice bleated about cereal, front seats, back seats, and “fun, fun, fun.” In the music video, which featured tweens riding around in a convertible, and on talk shows where hosts quizzed Black about why her song was so hated, she never seemed to drop her grin.
There’s no way of knowing how bad things will get in the U.S. In a way, that’s a luxury.
This much is clear: The coronavirus is becoming more transmissible. Ever since the virus emerged in China, it has been gaining mutations that help it spread more easily among humans. The Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom last year, is 50 percent more transmissible than the original version, and now the Delta variant, first detected in India, is at least 40 percent more transmissible than Alpha.
What’s less certain, however, is how the virus’s increased transmissibility will affect the pandemic in the United States. Alpha’s arrival prompted worries about a new surge in the spring, but one never came. The proportion of Alpha cases kept going up, but the total number of cases kept going down. People got vaccinated. Alpha became dominant in the U.S. Cases fell even further. The virus had become more biologically transmissible, but it wasn’t being transmitted to more people.
Leagues are seeing the downside of treating vaccines as simply a matter of personal choice.
When the NBA announced Wednesday that Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul was being sidelined indefinitely under the league’s coronavirus-safety protocols, the next question was obvious: Had Paul been vaccinated?
For COVID-19 concerns to interrupt Paul’s brilliant playoff run seemed particularly cruel—not only because the widespread availability of vaccines has made transmission of the virus largely preventable, but also because the Suns had just secured a spot in the Western Conference finals. Even though Paul is one of the best NBA point guards ever, this week’s development was another unfortunate entry in his long history of medical problems during the playoffs.
The television analysts Matt Barnes and Jalen Rose, both of whom are former NBA players, soon reported that Paul had indeed been vaccinated. But all the discussion of his status raised another important question: Do fans even have the right to know, and do journalists have the right to ask, if a player has been vaccinated against COVID-19?
A common ideology underlies the practices of many ultra-wealthy people: The government can’t be trusted with money.
When ProPublica published its report last week on the tax profiles of 25 of the richest Americans, jaws dropped across the United States. How was it possible that plutocrats such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett could pay nothing in income taxes to the federal government? What sneaky sleights of pen, what subterfuge, what acts of turpitude could have led to this result?
The shock stems, in part, from a disturbing reality: Nowhere does ProPublica assert that these men cheated, lied, or did anything felonious to lower their tax burdens. The naked fact of the matter is that not a single one of the documented methods and practices that allowed these billionaires to so radically minimize their tax obligations was illegal.
My son blames his father and won’t speak to him, but my husband is making matters worse by not apologizing.
My husband used to take our two dogs for walks and would let them off their leash to run in an abandoned field. Three weeks ago, he woke up early in the morning to take them out. Around 9:30, he came down to the basement, where I was working out, and said Lager, our Boston terrier, had run off.
I called a good friend to come help me look for Lager, and we searched for him until dark. We posted pictures of him on Facebook, Ring, and dog sites but heard nothing back. My son, who is 14, also went to look for him. Meanwhile, my husband went out downtown with a friend, and I was disappointed that he would leave while our dog was still missing.
The next morning, there were still no responses to our online posts about Lager, so I was sad and worried. Then my friend who had helped me look for him called to ask what color his collar was; I texted my husband, and he said it was blue. My friend put me on with dispatch, and they said Lager was deceased—he had been hit by a car while trying to come home. I was devastated and broke down, but I needed to get it together so I could tell my son. As soon as I told him, he started to cry and said he would never speak to Dad again, because he killed our dog.
The extent of the former president’s corruption may be too great for Americans to fathom.
A torrent of newrevelations is filling in the picture of how Donald Trump used, and abused, his authority as president. But the disclosures may serve only to underscore how little remains known about all the ways in which Trump barreled through traditional limits on the exercise of presidential power—and highlight the urgency of developing a more comprehensive accounting before the 2024 election, when he may seek to regain those powers.
The Apple TV+ series Physical is a reminder that making people hate their body is a thriving pillar of American commerce.
This is supposed to be the season of unleashed, exuberant exhibitionism. Many of us have swaddled our pale bodies in Lycra and terry cloth for more than a year; the theory of Hot Vax Summer is that we’re long overdue to expose them to the cruel light of other people’s eyes. In the music video for “Solar Power,” Lorde basks on the beach in a lemon-yellow crop top, the symmetry of her rib cage its own work of art. “Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried; it’s over,” she sings, shooing away our literal and metaphorical winter of COVID-19. (Predictably, the outfit she wears—$615 plus tax!—sold out immediately.) I watched most of Physical—Apple TV+’s new series about a 1980s aerobics queen-in-waiting—with this in mind, idly running my hand over and over my unsculpted midriff, fighting the impulse to throw on a leotard and sweat joyfully along to “Space Age Love Song.” This is the conflict at the center of American consumerist fitness spectacle: Even when it’s at its most transparently questionable, the promise is almost impossible to resist.
High-income workers at highly profitable companies will benefit greatly. Downtown landlords won’t.
This year, two international teams of economists published papers that offer very different impressions of the future of remote work.
The first team looked at an unnamed Asian tech company that went remote during the pandemic. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Working hours went up while productivity plummeted. Uninterrupted work time cratered and mentorship evaporated. Naturally, workers with children at home were the worst off.
The second team surveyed more than 30,000 Americans over the past few months and found that workers were overwhelmingly satisfied with their work-from-home experience. Most people said it exceeded their expectations. “Employees will enjoy large benefits from greater remote work” after the pandemic, the paper’s authors predicted. They said that productivity would surge in the post-pandemic economy, “due to re-optimized working arrangements” at some of the economy’s most successful white-collar companies.
Of all the injuries we suffered, mine is the worst. My brain injury has shaken my confidence in my own personality, my own existence.
The worst things can happen on the most beautiful days. My family’s worst day was a perfect one in the summer of 2019. We picked my daughter up from camp and talked about where to go for lunch: the diner or the burger place. I don’t remember which we chose. What I do remember: being woken up, again and again, by doctors who insist on asking me the same questions—my name, where I am, what month it is—and telling me the same story, a story that I am sure is wrong.
“You were in a car accident,” they say. But this cannot be. We’re having lunch and then going on a hike. I had promised the think tank where I work that I’d call in to a 4 p.m. meeting.
“You are in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in New Hampshire.” Another ludicrous statement. I started the day in Vermont. Surely if I had crossed the river to New Hampshire I would know it.
Reducing hours without reducing pay would reignite an essential but long-forgotten moral project: making American life less about work.
The 89 people who work at Buffer, a company that makes social-media management tools, are used to having an unconventional employer. Everyone’s salary, including the CEO’s, is public. All employees work remotely; their only office closed down six years ago. And as a perk, Buffer pays for any books employees want to buy for themselves.
So perhaps it is unsurprising that last year, when the pandemic obliterated countless workers’ work-life balance and mental health, Buffer responded in a way that few other companies did: It gave employees an extra day off each week, without reducing pay—an experiment that’s still running a year later. “It has been such a godsend,” Essence Muhammad, a customer-support agent at Buffer, told me.