About 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.
Vintage crosscuts that were made between 1880 and 1930 are often the tool of choice for trail workers who maintain the country’s roughly 112 million acres of protected land. That’s ahead of chain saws and newly made crosscuts. And the reason this old tool has stuck around so long -- even in an age when there’s a newer, better gadget coming out every year -- it goes way beyond the physical saw itself. The rise, fall, and unexpected second life of the crosscut saw is also the story of how America created the very concept of wilderness. The Wilderness Tool
The podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz is a show about the world's most interesting and recognizable sounds. I think of it as almost a sibling of 99% Invisible: lovingly produced and reported deep dives into everyday things that make you see the world differently. In case of Twenty Thousand Hertz, hear the world differently. We’ve collaborated a number of times, but we’re featuring them today because our sibling podcast produced an episode with my actual sibling Leigh Marz, co-author of the book Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. Leigh showed up on a mini-story episode 99pi a few months talking about the ever increasing loudness of sirens as a way of measuring just how loud our world has become. But the story Twenty Thousand Hertz produced tackles the main thesis of Golden more head on. I love how this episode turned out and I’m so proud of everyone involved, that I want to share it with you as a bonus episode. In a noisy, tumultuous world, how can we find inner peace? This episode features two stories about the transformative power of silence. In the first, the Lieutenant Governor of Washington State abandons politics to become a Jesuit novice, and takes a temporary vow of silence. In the second, a death row inmate at San Quentin discovers Buddhist practices that help to calm his mind, and embrace compassion. Featuring Cyrus Habib, Jarvis Masters, Leigh Marz, and Justin Zorn.
Back when whale oil was mainly used as a fuel to burn in lanterns and streetlights, an enterprising man named William F. Nye found a new way to sell whale oil to a rapidly changing world: as a lubricant for all the new fangled machines. Nye specialized in specialization- selling different oils for watches, sewing machines, bicycles. Lubrication has had a largely invisible role in the design of the modern world, but its importance cannot be overstated. A Whale-Oiled Machine
If we’ve learned anything from watching the turnover of tech giants like Yahoo! and MySpace, it’s that internet darlings rise and fall. And there’s something darkly fascinating about watching it happen in realtime. Maybe we’re seeing it now with Twitter and Facebook– some of us will mourn the loss of the communities and connections that we’ve created in the virtual spaces owned by these billion dollar companies... While others will enjoy visiting the graves of these once unstoppable behemoths to tramp the dirt down. Either way, the values and trends and hopes and ambitions that go into the architecture of the virtual world say as much about us as the architecture of the real world. And that’s what these two stories are all about. The Lost Cities of Geo Redux
One study from 2018 found that Major League Baseball umpires blow about 14 calls every game. That’s 34,000 bad calls every year. And it makes a difference. A blown strike call can decide a win or a loss, a championship or six months at home, wondering what could have been. And while umpires are about 97% accurate in calling balls and strikes, Major League Baseball has been considering something drastic. Something to take us up to 100% accuracy. They have a plan to replace human umpires with robots. RoboUmp
In the 1980s a Polish anti-communist group called the Orange Alternative used cute images of a mythical creature with a tiny pointed hat to spread its anti-authoritarian message. That innocent symbol of an impish dwarf amplified a powerful political message to the world, which ultimately contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union. This approach is being used in creative and clever ways today by people protesting Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Orange Alternative
When LA punks were looking for a place to play in the late 1970s, Chinatown welcomed the unruly scene. But it was an uneasy alliance that led to fierce rivalries, hurt feelings, blatant racism, and broken toilets. At the center of it all was a 62 year old Chinese immigrant named Esther Wong, aka Madame Wong, aka The Godmother of Punk. The Chinatown Punk Wars
On Aug. 1, 1942, the nation’s recording studios went silent. Musicians were fed up with the new technologies threatening their livelihoods, so they refused to record until they got their fair share. One Year's Evan Chung explores one of the most consequential labor actions of the 20th century, and how it coincided with an underground revolution in music led by artists like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Subscribe to the fantastic One Year: 1942
In the 20th century, Iowa high school girls basketball was HUGE but it was not the game we know today. In 6-on-6 basketball, the three forwards only play offense. And the three guards only play defense. No one is allowed to leave their assigned half of the court. 6-on-6 still uses the full length of a basketball court, but in a different way than 5-on-5. In 6-player, three forwards from one team and three guards from the opposing team play at one end of the court. Meanwhile their teammates wait at the half court line. This basketball variant made for high scores, quick action, and the girls who played it were local superstars. Six-on-Six Basketball
If you live in South Africa, you definitely know someone who runs ultra-marathons, probably lots of someones. Here, ultras are the stuff of a whole country’s new years resolutions and mid-life crises. They’re the kind of thing that a totally ordinary, not-athletic person wakes up one day and decides they’re going to do -- and then does. In one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, extreme distance running is a sport that feels like it includes everybody. And improbably, that inclusiveness happened during one of the darkest, most divided moments in South Africa’s history – during the final years of apartheid. The Comrades
Back in 2017 we ran an episode about the history of Brazil's iconic, yellow national soccer jersey. We were reminded of that story during the recent world cup, and then again on January 8th as a mob of right wing rioters attacked the Brazilian capital, many of them wearing those iconic yellow shirts. Needless to say the story of the yellow jersey has taken some real twists and turns in recent years, so today we’re going to rerun the original story about the jersey’s origins, and then producer Emmett Fitzgerald is going to update us on everything that has happened since. A Sea of Yellow
This time of year, right in the middle of the holiday season, there's a beloved, frenzied tradition playing out in Filipino households all around the world, with which reporter Gabrielle Berbey is intimately familiar. A Balikbayan box is a huge cardboard box (often weighing over 100 pounds) that Filipinos living all over the world send to family members who are still living in the Philippines. The word Balikbayan literally means homecoming in Tagalog. Balikbayan Boxes
The whole conceit of this show is that if look at the world in the right way, you’ll see stories everywhere. Some of the stories are epic power struggles chronicling the construction of a famous skyscraper or the founding of a city; but other stories are more modest, smaller in scope and scale. We call those mini-stories and they're part of an ongoing, end-of-the-year tradition in which 99pi producers and friends of the show talk to host Roman Mars about something cool and fun that you can tell your friends or family about during a holiday get together. You’ll hear about a very, very long escalator! Beavers dropping from the sky! We’ll hear from Janet, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty! Plus a visit from the queen! Mini-Stories 15: Volume 15
If you’ve ever flipped through the radio dial — not satellite, not podcasts, but good old-fashioned AM and FM radio — you may have noticed something. Right wing radio talk is everywhere. But the airwaves weren't always so dominated by such a narrow range of voices. Reporter and friend of the show Katie Thornton has the story of how talk radio has evolved (and perhaps devolved at times) over the past century, and what all of it means for the airwaves today. The Divided Dial Hear the rest of the the series from On the Media
Wildlife and urban development don’t usually go well together. Roads in particular fracture the habitats of wide-ranging animals. It restricts their movements and makes it harder for them to find food or a mate. But biologists and urban planners have started working together –- crafting a plan to try to help pumas move more safely around the city. And in the process this one cat, dubbed P-22, has turned into something of a celebrity—the symbol of a movement to redesign our cities and make the built environment more friendly to animals. Cougar Town
Los Angeles' El Peatonito is part of a subset of real life superheroes who are more focused on things like picking up trash and taking on civic issues than catching criminals in alleys. These super citizens take their inspiration from comic books but in some ways have more ambitious goals than defeating a make believe villain. They are out to solve big societal problems. Wherever a city is plagued by traffic accidents, or people are living on the streets…these heroes heed the call of service. Super Citizens Check out David Weinberg's brilliant series The Superhero Complex
When people ask me what my favorite episode of 99% Invisible is, I have a hard time answering. Not because they’re all my precious little babies or some such nonsense, but mostly it’s because I just can’t remember them all and there’s no simple criteria to judge them against each other. But the show is definitely in contention for the best episode we’ve ever made. It just has everything– engaging storytellers, brilliant reporting, and a compelling history of a moment when the world really changed. It’s called the Freedom House Ambulance Service. It originally aired in the summer of 2020, when a lot of the fundamental aspects of work, life, health, law enforcement, structural racism, cities were all being questioned by more and more people because of COVID and the George Floyd protests. Kevin Hazzard, who reported the piece, subsequently released a whole book on the Freedom House Ambulance Service called American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America's First Paramedics. It’s new, it’s out now, you should buy it. should read it, it should be on all your Christmas lists. To celebrate the book’s release, I’m proud to re-present to you: The remarkable story of the Freedom House Ambulance Service.
Funiculars are great, which is why the main image from our previous train episode featured one -- except we didn't actually talk about that one during the show. It's a cable car from Wellington, and as it turns out it's one of hundreds of funiculars in this city. Roman and Kurt are back with another series of railroad tales. All aboard! Train Set: Track Two
Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear. Host and producer Avery Trufelman investigates our collectively held beliefs about fashion and explores topics like the intellectual property law behind knockoffs, creation of tartan and the history of plaid, and how a dolls in a rural museum in Washington state saved French haute couture. This new season investigates a style that keeps coming back again and again and again. Previously part of 99% Invisible, the show is now an independent production and a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX.
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