Architectures of pink tentacles

Are there dots that need connecting between slot machines and Japanese robot drummers?

By Andrew Leonard

Published July 24, 2007 10:35PM (EDT)

The proper care and feeding of How the World Works requires constantly tweaking and adjusting the various information feeds that plug into my personal blog-matrix. If one of the goals here is to consistently illuminate unexpected interconnections between seemingly disparate phenomena (haphazard thought stacking!) then it follows that a steady flow of inward-bound incongruity must be maintained at all costs.

Therefore, I am always on the lookout for new sources of surprise or fascination. But it is not always clear to me, even as I stare like a hypnotized gerbil at some new amazement, how to place it within the context of my various globalization beats. Multiple browser windows end up proliferating on my desktop as I search for ways to fulfill my mandate. More often than not, an obvious way to proceed does not present itself and the window is shut. A globalization blog, she is a harsh mistress, and try as I might, I'm not always able to fit Japanese robot taiko drummers into the Big Picture.

(I did contemplate, in that case, of worrying once again, albeit ironically, about the impact of technological progress on income inequality -- pity the poor human taiko drummer that must compete against such tireless, way-cool automatons -- but after being roundly misunderstood on this topic just last Friday, I think I will pause a few more days before revisiting that subject).

But sometimes maybe it's enough to say: Here's a really cool blog. Or two. I give you Architectures of Control and Pink Tentacle.

Dan Lockton's Architectures of Control is eloquently and perspicaciously obsessed with how objects are intentionally designed to alter human behavior. One recent entry provides a round-up of devices meant to influence humans to voluntarily reduce their energy consumption; another points to a fascinating study of slot machine design, written by two Stanford students.

Pink Tentacle keeps us abreast of Japanese weirdness. In addition to the aforementioned robot drummers and the amazing rice paddy art featured in HTWW last week, its most recent offering summarized Hitachi's scheme to use finger veins as biometric keys. No more credit cards, no need to embed RFID chips in your flesh -- just wave your finger close to a finger-vein reader, and cha-ching.

Both blogs have at least one obvious thing in common. They post judiciously, thereby maintaining superb quality. But I have been unable to construct a grand narrative linking automated taiko drummers to slot machine payout algorithms to doohickeys that glow brighter when electricity rates are higher. I considered linking the thesis of the slot-machine-study authors that casino manipulation represents the danger of allowing markets to be too unregulated with the possibility that we might be able to design our way to energy conservation without requiring a government-mandated carbon tax, but even for How the World Works, that sounded strained.

Sometimes a cool blog is just a cool blog.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works