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Vending machines will sell you (almost) anything

Vending machines used to be simple: minor vice, immediate gratification. You put some coins in a slot, decided what snack, candy, or soda you wanted, pulled a knob, and on a good day, watched your item robotically move forward and drop to the bottom of the machine. On a bad day, your ingestible got caught between the glass and metal coil and sadly stayed there. But yesterday’s candy machines are today’s everything machines,...

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Kindness is cool. This online game rewards it.

Imagine a better Internet. Not a faster or more far-reaching web, but a more positive one — an online world that, instead of amplifying our real-life fear, anger, grief, frustration, and self-doubt, offers relief from those troubles. A place where strangers provide support rather than try to tear you down. This is precisely the type of daydreaming that indie game developer Ziba Scott and artist-designer Luigi Guatieri were doing in...

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Remnants of ancient civilizations are all around us. How much can we uncover?

I ride shotgun in a utility vehicle, holding archaeologist Jarrod Burks’s laptop as he drives across a farm in southern Ohio, over the shaved stubble of corn stalks. Back and forth we go at 18 miles per hour, each pass making a T roughly two yards wide and 100 yards long and tall. We’re pulling a trailer with five magnetometers, which measure the Earth’s magnetic field at surface level and below. Burks is using them to look for...

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A 3D printer could make your next meal

The Fantasy As one of science fiction’s alpha franchises, Star Trek has gifted nerd-dom with several enduring tropes and technologies. The transporter. The phaser. The tricorder.  But for functional space-age awesomeness, nothing beats the supremely practical replicator, a 24th-century kitchen appliance that could make any food or drink, on demand, with a simple verbal command. Fans of the Next Generation series will recall that...

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How ‘Match.com for roommates’ could save seniors from homelessness

In the middle of the night in October 2021, Brenda Rose was up with her sick dog, Hazel, searching the web for housing in Portland, Oregon. For 15 months, Rose, 62, had been living on the city’s streets in an RV. The pandemic had wiped out her photography business, and she could no longer afford her rent. When her RV broke down, she was feeling “at the end of her rope.” “I didn’t think I would get to retirement age and not...

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Every city needs a ‘chief heat officer’

The new buildings sprouted like weeds, clinging to hillsides and rising in the cracks between houses. In many neighborhoods, tin roofs on shacks were so densely packed, they resembled a game of Tetris. Everywhere Eugenia Kargbo looked, Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, seemed to be devouring itself.   For years, Kargbo had watched her hometown grow denser and denser, hotter and hotter. Freetown, situated on a peninsula that juts...

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Moon colonies aren’t possible — yet. But NASA is crowdsourcing solutions.

The Fantasy Novelist Emily St. John Mandel, the author behind HBO’s Station Eleven, updates a classic sci-fi trope in her new novel Sea of Tranquility by depicting life on various lunar colonies in the years 2203 and 2401. (Time travel is involved.) The book’s title references the place where humans first stepped foot on the moon. Science fiction has speculated about moon colonies since the beginnings of the genre. Before that,...

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These video games are based on nothing but words

When a friend recommended Tom McHenry’s Horse Master: The Game of Horse Mastery to me, I was skeptical about the idea of a video game with no pictures and no sound. But as the bitmapped text popped up on my computer monitor — a throwback to 1980s-era monochrome computer screens — the game drew me into its bizarre, evocative world. The game opened with a description of a custom-made horse that begins as a larva, sent to you from a...

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The race to save the real-life Atlantis

If there’s a good day for winter snorkeling in Vatika Bay in southern Greece, it’s today, February 26. The temperature is over 57 degrees Fahrenheit on Pounta, a beguiling beach of big, golden sand dunes. The sea is a vivid cerulean blue, smooth as butter. On the coast, between the dunes and the rugged remnants of a Roman quarry, stands a cemetery that dates back before recorded history — 70 rock-cut tombs, which are only the...

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Why are we seeing all these UFOs?

The Fantasy UFO sightings have a strange and specific place at the intersection of real life and science fiction. Whatever explains them, sightings of unidentified flying objects are inarguably real and surprisingly common. According to recent Gallup polls, 41% of Americans believe that “some UFOs have been alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies,” and 16% say they have personally witnessed an unidentified...

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Go to a concert with your friends — without actually being there

It’s February 2022, and Surreal Neil and Super Diamond — a spot-on Neil Diamond tribute act — are playing Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, rocking through “I’m a Believer” and “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.” I’m 2,700 miles away in Boston, but I’m into it. I’m watching on my PC, listening to audio mixed through the club’s soundboard. The hi-def cameras make me feel like I’m floating just above...

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Youth sports is losing referees. This training app could help.

It’s a glorious day for baseball. The sun, high in the sky, casts short shadows across the diamond. My view from the third-base side of the infield grass lets me see the pitcher, the batter, and the runner on second, though never all at once. The man on second drifts off the bag … too far, it turns out. The pitcher spins and throws to second, so quickly that the runner has no choice but to take off for third. I’m impressed by the...

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Remembering wars, through VR goggles

Memory Hall, a windowless, high-ceilinged room in The National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, feels mostly unchanged since its 1926 opening. Dimly-lit oil paintings depict maps of American battle zones in Europe in 1918 — armies of men reduced to color-coded arrows sweeping across the continent. The names of 441 Kansas Citians who died in the war are frozen in bronze. A massive French panorama portrays the leaders of the...