99% Invisible

Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org. A proud member of Radiotopia, from PRX. Learn more at radiotopia.fm.

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      280- Half Measures


      The United States is one of just a handful of countries that that isn’t officially metric. Instead, Americans measure things our own way, in units that are basically inscrutable to non-Americans, nearly all of whom have been brought up in an all-metric environment. Most of the world uses meters, liters, and kilograms, not yards, gallons, and pounds. With so many industries and people crossing borders with so much fluidity, why has the U.S. not fully committed to the system the r...


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      29m
       

      279- The Containment Plan


      It’s hard to overstate the vastness of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. It spans roughly 50 blocks, which is about a fifth of the entire downtown area of Los Angeles. It’s very clear when you’ve entered Skid Row. The sidewalks are mostly occupied by makeshift homes. A dizzying array of tarps and tents stretch out for blocks, improvised living structures sitting side by side.
      The edge of Skid Row is clearly defined and it wasn’t drawn by accident.  It’s the result of a...


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      29m
       

      278- The Athletic Brassiere


      Among the most important advances in sports technology, few can compete with the invention of the sports bra. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s interest in athletics surged. But their breasts presented an obstacle.
      Bouncing breasts hurt, as women getting in on the jogging craze found out. Then some friends in Vermont had an idea to stitch a couple jock straps together to build a contraption to keep things in place.
      This featured story was produced by P...


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      28m
       

      277- Ponte City Tower


      Ponte City Tower, the brutalist cylindrical high-rise that towers over Johannesburg, has gone from a symbol of white opulence to something far more complicated. It’s gone through very hard times, but also it’s hopeful. It’s a microcosm of the South Africa’s history, but it’s also a place that moves on. And to this day, this strange concrete tube at the center of Johannesburg’s skyline continues to play the same role for newcomers that it has for decades: serving as the diverse ent...


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      33m
       

      276- The Finnish Experiment


      Around the world, there is a lot of buzz around the idea of universal basic income (also known as “unconditional basic income” or UBI). It can take different forms or vary in the details, but in essence: UBI is the idea a government would pay all citizens, employed or not, a flat monthly sum to cover basic needs. This funding would come with no strings attached or special conditions, which would remove any potential stigma associated with receiving it. In short: it would be free m...


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      33m
       2017-09-19

      275- Coal Hogs Work Safe


      Coal miner stickers started out as little advertisements that the manufacturers of mining equipment handed out. Even before the late 1960s, when mining safety laws started requiring reflective materials underground, miners used those stickers to stay visible to each other in the dark mines.
      As time passed, the stickers evolved. They became more personal and started to tell miners’ stories. And the mine companies themselves started printing stickers for their workers. Stickers ...


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      25m
       2017-09-13

      274- The Age of the Algorithm


      Computer algorithms now shape our world in profound and mostly invisible ways. They predict if we’ll be valuable customers and whether we’re likely to repay a loan. They filter what we see on social media, sort through resumes, and evaluate job performance. They inform prison sentences and monitor our health. Most of these algorithms have been created with good intentions. The goal is to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements. But it doesn’t always work out like ...


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      25m
       2017-09-06

      273- Notes on an Imagined Plaque


      Monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place. In 1905, one such memorial was put up in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, to commemorate Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had died in 1877.
      This week, we feature the story of an imagined plaque that could accompany this statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
      Nate DiMeo originally produced this story for his show The Memory Palace under the title: Notes on an Imagined P...


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      16m
       2017-08-29

      272- Person in Lotus Position


      Tech analysts estimate that over six billion emojis are sent each day. Emojis, which started off as a collection of low-resolution pixelated images from Japan, have become a well-established and graphically sophisticated part of everyday global communication.

      But who decides what emojis are available to users, and who makes the actual designs? Independent radio and film producer Mark Bramhill (Welcome to Macintosh) took it upon himself to find out and, in the process,...


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      33m
       2017-08-22

      271- The Great Dismal Swamp


      On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually — that’s the name British colonists gave it centuries ago. The swamp covers about 190 square miles today, but at its peak, before parts of it were drained and developed, it was around ten times bigger, spanning roughly 2,000 square miles of Virginia and North Carolina.
      And it’s understandable why people called the swamp “dismal.” Temperatures can reach over 100 degree...


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      28m
       2017-08-16