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Airing Tomorrow on PBS: OBJECTIFIED, a Documentary About Things

Objectified airs on PBS stations in the US on Tuesday, November 24, as part of the Independent Lens series. I highly recommend that you set your DVR to record this film, if you're interested in: documentaries, computers, how things are made, how things work, or why some toothpicks have that little sculpted circular part on one end but are pointy on the other. In other words, I recommend it for everyone.

Objectified is a special documentary: it's basically about nerds, but classy ones, and definitely smart ones. It's about the particular sort of nerd who designs objects (generally known as an "industrial designer") -- objects like your can opener, car door handle, computer mouse, light bulb, toothbrush, the chair you're sitting in right now, and so on. Whether we realize it or not, all of the man-made objects we use are designed by somebody. Some are designed better than others -- and by this, I mean they work better, not just "look cool" or "are high-tech," which are often confused for good design. Objectified is a documentary about those people who design objects, but it's also about objects themselves, filled with little examples of interesting design elements that I had never considered -- flourishes that make something work better or be more delightful to the person using it.

To get back to the toothpick example I hinted at earlier, in Objectified it is explained why certain toothpicks have one pointy end and the other end rounded, with two circular bulges. I had always assumed this was purely decorative. Actually, it turns out that the circular-sculpted-end can be snapped off and used as a toothpick tray, so you can reuse the toothpick, resting the pointy end on the little tray (see a photo here). How could I have used toothpicks my entire life and not known this? Well, if you think that's handy, just imagine an hour of little tidbits like that from designers who brought you all sorts of daily objects -- like the OXO Good Grips folks, designers from Apple Computer, Dieter Rams (famed designer for Braun in the mid twentieth century), and many many more.

Objectified is by the same filmmaker, Gary Hustwit, who made Helvetica a few years back -- that was a film about typefaces and those who create them. According to Hustwit there's a third documentary coming, to finish a trilogy of documentaries about design. I can hardly wait. Here's the trailer for Objectified, which airs tomorrow night (Tuesday, November 24) on PBS stations on the Independent Lens program. If you're setting your DVR to record it, search for Independent Lens and you'll be more likely to find the program.

Note: the version of Objectified shown on Independent Lens has been edited down by 15 minutes to fit the available broadcast slot. If you want to see the rest of it, rent the DVD, which is available now. Also, if you have Netflix, Hustwit's film Helvetica is currently available for on-demand streaming.

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Take a Look Inside the 1987 Consumer Electronics Show
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Since June 1967, the Consumer Electronics Show has provided a venue for tech companies to show off their hottest products for the upcoming year. It’s also become a way to measure the progression of technology over recent decades, as the video below shows.

According to Sploid, the footage was filmed by Art Vuolo at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Chicago in the summer of 1987. The 30-year-old tape chronicles a time when camcorders, VCRs, and “portable” TVs were considered cutting-edge gadgetry. As we know, it would only be a few decades until those items served more of a purpose as kitschy craft supplies than actual hardware.

After watching part one of Vuolo’s series, check out the other three videos from the event which include a Casio synth guitar and an early video phone.

[h/t Sploid]

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Wisconsin Software Company Will Microchip Its Employees
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Typically, pets—not people—are microchipped. But as NBC News reports, one Wisconsin-based company plans to become the first business in the country to offer the tiny implants to its employees.

Three Square Market (32M), a software design firm in River Falls, Wisconsin, will begin providing the chips starting August 1. The rice-sized implants—which cost around $300 each—will be implanted in the hands of staffers between the thumb and the forefinger, and will allow them to purchase vending-machine snacks, open secured doors, or log into their computers with the wave of a hand. The company says the chips are optional.

32M is partnering with Swedish-based BioHax International to install the chips, which were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004. The chips utilize electromagnetic fields to identify electronically stored data, and near-field communications, a technology that's used in contactless credit cards.

Fifty company members—including CEO Todd Westby—are expected to volunteer to receive the implants, according to a company statement. The company will foot the bill for the implants.

32M's microchipping program may sound unconventional, but the company—which owns machines that can use microchips—says it's simply riding the wave of the future.

"We see chip technology as the next evolution in payment systems, much like micro markets have steadily replaced vending machines," 32M's Westby said in the statement. "As a leader in micro market technology, it is important that 32M continues leading the way with advancements such as chip implants."

As microchipping becomes more common, Westby added, people will use the technology to shop, travel, and ride public transit.

The company says the chips are easily removable and can't be hacked or used to track recipients. However, some experts have argued the technology is an invasion of privacy, and that it could lead to heightened employee scrutiny.

"If most employees agree, it may become a workplace expectation," Vincent Conitzer, a computer science professor at Duke University, told NBC News. "Then, the next iteration of the technology allows some additional tracking functionality. And so it goes until employees are expected to implant something that allows them to be constantly monitored, even outside of work."

[h/t NBC News]

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