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How Corpses Helped Shape the London Underground

As Mexico City archaeologists sort through the surreal array of Aztec sacrificial skulls recently uncovered while excavating their city's subway system, it's worth remembering that parts of the London Underground were also tunneled, blasted, picked, and drilled through a labyrinth of plague pits and cemeteries. »1/02/14 7:57pm1/02/14 7:57pm

DARPA Tried to Build Skynet in the 1980s

From 1983 to 1993 DARPA spent over $1 billion on a program called the Strategic Computing Initiative. The agency's goal was to push the boundaries of computers, artificial intelligence, and robotics to build something that, in hindsight, looks strikingly similar to the dystopian future of the Terminator movies. They… »12/18/13 8:12pm12/18/13 8:12pm

Megaphones, Parabolic Concrete, and Waterfalls

We were confronted on the street corner by an evangelical wielding a large, battery-powered megaphone. This being a soundwalk, the appearance on this very cold day of the screaming man in the t-shirt was something akin to an act of serendipity. As he burdened us with the fear of eternal damnation, all I could think… »12/14/13 12:08pm12/14/13 12:08pm

How Two West Coast Hikers Turned Brooklyn's Trees into a New Perfume

"Wild" fragrance firm Juniper Ridge has been running a pop-up shop this fall in Brooklyn, where it's been hosting sidewalk distillations of local plantlife—literally making cologne from the trees and bushes of Williamsburg—and running the occasional smell hunt, a short guide to the trees of the neighborhood based on… »11/28/13 10:21am11/28/13 10:21am

A Brief History of Airspace Design

Think Los Angeles at rush hour is bad? Try doing it half-blindfolded with nothing but a radio and a few blinking lights to show you the way. That's how pilots navigate the invisible highways in the sky, and there's a beautiful design that makes it all work. It only took about a hundred years to come up with it. »11/26/13 4:03pm11/26/13 4:03pm

Los Angeles Was Once a Forest of Oil Derricks

Oil extraction is still big business in the Southland, but today locating signs of the industry can require a careful eye. Wells hide in plain sight as office buildings or masquerade offshore as tropical islands. In the back of the Beverly Center shopping mall, one quietly sips from the earth behind a nondescript wall. »11/26/13 9:27am11/26/13 9:27am

A Fake Slum for Luxury Tourists Who Don't Want to See Real Poverty

It's estimated that one in eight people worldwide live in so-called slums, which, in some cities, makes visiting these informally maintained neighborhoods unavoidable. Although controversial, the practice of "slum tourism" has become a popular way for tourists to engage with poverty on a personal level. But why go… »11/25/13 3:33pm11/25/13 3:33pm

Experimental Airport Acoustics Make Travelers Want to Shop More

In an interesting but somewhat obviously biased New Statesman article, the marketing team at audio-engineering firm Biamp have collected a few interesting examples of how architectural acoustics and urban-scale soundscape design affect mood. They mention, for example, the stressful effects of sustained noise on blood… »11/25/13 3:32pm11/25/13 3:32pm

Heathrow Airport Needs Tightrope Walkers Just to Change Its Lightbulbs

Heathrow's Terminal Five was designed to be a soaring, light-filled tribute to the wonders of flight. Five years into its life, though, 60 percent of its lightbulbs are burned out—because there's been no safe or cost-effective way to change them. Now, officials say they've found a solution: Acrobats. »11/25/13 10:35am11/25/13 10:35am

A 3D-Printed Electrical Storage Landscape for the English Coast

I just got a quick collection of snapshots featuring the hundreds of tiny, precision 3D-printed parts manufactured for us by engineers at Williams, the Formula 1 race car company. These were all later popped, clipped, and assembled into huge models for the British Exploratory Land Archive exhibition, a collaboration… »11/20/13 10:14am11/20/13 10:14am

The "Highway of Light" That Guided Early Planes Across America

The dusty landscape of the American West is dotted with enormous concrete arrows. They look like cryptic messages from a primitive civilization — a civilization that was obsessed with westward expansion. And that assessment wouldn't be altogether wrong. But these enormous arrows pointing west tell only part of the… »11/19/13 7:22am11/19/13 7:22am