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How the Pool Noodle Made a Splash for Water Toys

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If you've ever spent a hot summer day lounging in a swimming pool, chances are that you propped yourself up on a pool noodle—that foam tube that has a seemingly endless variety of ways to keep you afloat. While the concept is genius in its simplicity, its invention is fairly recent—and contested.

There are reportedly two men credited with the invention of the pool noodle. The first is Canadian Steve Hartman, the CEO and president of Industrial Thermal Polymers. More than 30 years ago, Hartman went into business with his father, who wanted to make backer rods—the foam tubes used in construction projects to fill in the gaps.

"We always had these foam rods (lying around)," Hartman told Marketplace. "They were gray and nine-footers and it seemed like every time we jumped in the pool, we were playing with these things.”

Soon, Hartman added a splash of color to the rods and attempted to sell them to various stores as a pool toy. His pitch was simple: "We said, 'Well, you float around with them, you hit your brother with them.' It was a tough sell."

Their ally was unexpected—Canadian Tire. The all-service store priced them incredibly low, and they started flying off the shelves. According to Watercrunch, the popularity of the innovation spiked in 1987, when Canadian Tire made a big order for the product. By the mid-1990s, the noodle had gained a following in the United States. Today, Hartman’s success is evident. His company sells 6 to 8 million noodles per year.

But another Canadian, Richard Koster, also lays claim to the pool staple, which he calls the Water Woggle. In 1986, after developing a "pull buoy" to assist swimmers, Koster used the foam components to create foam rods. He encouraged his children to play with the rods in the backyard pool and quickly realized the marketing potential of the project.

While three other companies were producing tubes with white foam, Koster reportedly used tape to make his colorful. By 1987, his solid-colored Water Woggles hit the North American marketplace.

Neither Koster nor Hartman ever applied for a patent, thus other companies are able to produce similar pool toys. "It was our idea, our product," Koster told People in 1995. "But you can't take that to the bank."

Regardless of who the genius behind the pool noodle was, there’s no questioning its staying power. WaterCrunch cites it as the most popular pool toy in North America, noting that annual production on Hartman’s product begins in November.

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Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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Courtesy The Tate
The Tate Britain’s Latest Exhibit Is Curated by an Algorithm
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Courtesy The Tate

Add another job to the list of careers that are going to be taken over by robots. Museum curators, too, should get ready to be obsolete like the rest of us. The Tate Britain’s latest exhibit, Recognition, is algorithmically curated, as Co.Design reports.

Recognition was the 2016 winner of the Tate’s IK Prize, a digital creativity award sponsored by Microsoft that focuses on innovative ways to explore the Tate’s collection of British art. The artificial intelligence program connects the collection to current photojournalism from Reuters, updated minute-by-minute. It was created by Fabrica, an Italian communication research firm, and the French artificial intelligence company JoliBrain.

Screenshot via Tate.org.uk

The exhibition, which will run until November 27, will be ever-changing as new images come in and are paired with art from the collection. The algorithm matches images based on object recognition; the gender, age, and emotions of the people pictured; the image’s composition; and the title, date, and other descriptors of the image.

Online, users can explore ongoing matches and see what similarities the algorithm found between the two images, whether accurate or not. A comparison of Hillary Clinton and Portrait of an Unknown Lady, by Cornelius Johnson, for instance, mislabels several things, including identifying the woman in the painting as a man and the background of both portraits as a blue sky. The responses people have to the matches will be posted on the exhibition’s virtual gallery at the end of the project.

[h/t Co.Design]

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