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Cavemen must have been perpetually late, given that humans didn't get around to inventing the sundial until 1500 BCE. The first attempts at measuring time via sun movement were shadow clocks created by the Egyptians and Babylonians. These led to the sundial, an instrument that tells time by measuring shadows cast by the sun on a dial plate. Sundials were our preferred method of timekeeping until the mechanical clock was invented in 14th-century Europe.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Sara Bogush

In 1972, Hamilton introduced the world's first digital watch. Its $2,000 price tag was hefty, but by the '80s, digital watches became affordable for the average person. Now, both technologies have merged in a cool invention, the digital sundial. Created by French Etsy seller Mojoptix, this outdoor clock uses the patterns on a suspended wand to mold natural shadows into a digital-looking time readout. The digital sundial has two major drawbacks: It only reports the time in 20-minute intervals, and it's not very effective after sundown. But it sure does look cool.

Here's the digital sundial in action!

This article first appeared on 9.15.17.


People are sharing things they would 'dis-invent' if they could, and it's food for thought

Even the inventors themselves regretted making some of these things.

Photos by Jisu Han on Unsplash (left) and Renz Macorol on Pexels (right)

Some things haven't turned into the great inventions they were meant to be.

Humanity is amazing, truly. The way we're continually advancing in nearly every arena of learning, the scientific discoveries we've made, the technologies we've created, the innovative improvements that are constantly being made—it's all quite remarkable.

But in all of this forward movement, we haven't alway struck a healthy balance. Technological and scientific advancements are only a net positive when they are tempered with wisdom, thoughtfulness and conscientiousness of the greater good, and there are notable times when those virtues have been lacking.j

Reddit user /leo_78 asked, "If you could dis-invent something, what would it be?" and people's responses highlight how vital it is to think about the consequences of innovations and inventions before they get put out into the world. (In fact, as we'll see, some of the people who came up with these inventions even regretted it later.)

In no particular order, here are some of the top answers:

1. Pop-up ads

"The creator of them even apologized creating them." – ChefExcellent13

"I remember when they went away for a bit and then made a resurgence with mobile. Trying going to any website now that sells something and give it 2-3 secs and you have a “Want 15% off?!” Pop up. Infuriating." – drhiggs

"Any intrusive ads really. Usually when I'm watching Twitch, there will be ads randomly playing right in the middle of the actions/fun parts." – Claudia-Roelands

2. Household appliances tied to subscription services

"We're looking at YOU, H.P.!" – SuperEP1C-FA1L-GUY

"Yo, wait, wtf? When did this happen? You telling me I have to pay $9.95 a month or something so that my dishwasher works? I'm so confused." – Parada484

"A friend of mine had a CPAP that would stop working if you stopped paying. She's dead now. Those two things are not directly related but her health issues that led to her death were certainly not helped by her sleep apnea." – PixelOrange

"Yo, what? I'm hacking anything that comes into my house so that it's dumb as rocks, I don't need super intelligent robots, I want dumb hammers hammering away at dumb nails." – TheUnkindledLives

3. Coffee pods

"Coffee Pods -- they are disgustingly wasteful." – Anim8nFool

"The k-cup inventor regrets how much extra trash they cause." – LittleOrangeBoi (It's true, he does.)

"I won a Keurig through a work raffle. I already hated the idea of it and did some research. The guy sold all his shares in the company before it took off. He tried making reusable ones but Keurig got all legal on his ass before there was enough pressure for them to make their own, but most people just use the disposable ones anyway.

In 2015, enough k-cups were made (and dumped into landfills) to wrap around the planet over 10 fucking times. What an environmental disaster.

I donated the machine to a non-profit my wife works with and they are adamant about using reusable k-cups and not the single use pods. Also I don't drink coffee so it was wasted on me anyway." – vonkeswick

4. Landmines

"Landmines. Seriously. They f**k up people long after wars are finished." – NaughtyDaisyDelight

"There’s an estimated 800,000 TONS of unexploded ordnance still in Vietnam, that would take hundreds of years to clear out. For context, the bomb dropped in Hiroshima had a yield of about 15,000 tons of TNT." – Redshift_1

"There is also the so called red zone or zone rouge in France - from Word War 1...

The zone rouge was defined just after the war as "Completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to Agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible" (Wikipedia) – Drumbelgalf

"I think it’s the most nefarious war machine ever invented. Infrastructure can be rebuilt, land can heal, people can forget and move on. But landmines are forever until some poor child or civilian steps on them and is maimed or killed. You can argue that nukes are worse, but at least we don’t really use them." – WeatherfordCast

5. Impossible-to-open plastic packaging

"The packages they put scissors in… that you need scissor to open. Wtf?" – AnxiousTelephone2997

"Out of everything you could've chosen you chose this one and I 100% get it.." – waveradium

"i get so many papercuts trying to open that sharp strong plastic sealed packaging." – i4mknight

"I would expand that to all single-use plastic packaging." – boondoggie42

6. On-screen tipping prompts…or just tipping in general

"The tipping option when I check out on those computers at the checkout counter." – PotatoshavePockets

"Maybe tips in general. Just pay people for the work they do." – Euphoric_Wolf7227

"This is getting so bad in Canada the default options are starting at 18% and go as high as 25%. I have to hit "other" to enter the long time cultural standard of 15% nevermind that I'm being prompted this on take out and fast food." – ReeG

"It's so refreshing travelling outside of NA to countries that don't do tipping. You go to a restaurant or to just do stuff and the price is what it actually costs you." – 0neek

People added plenty of other things like child beauty pageants, the 24-hour news cycle, the medical insurance industry, HOAs, vapes, reality television and more.

With most of the things people shared, it seems like someone could have or should have foreseen the problems they would create, which highlights how care and compassion for humanity must be at the forefront of innovation and an integral part of the decision-making process of what gets produced and what doesn't.

What would you add to the dis-invention list?


College students use AI to decode ancient scroll burned in Mount Vesuvius

“Some of these texts could completely rewrite the history of key periods of the ancient world."

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E., it buried entire cities in volcanic materials. While Pompeii is the most famous site affected by the natural disaster, the nearby villa of Herculaneum was also laid to waste—including over 800 precious scrolls found inside Herculaneum’s library, which were carbonized by the heat, making them impossible to open and recover their contents.

Which brings us to the Vesuvius challenge, started by computer scientist Brent Seales and entrepreneurs Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross in March 2023. The contest would award $1 million in prizes to whoever could use machine learning to successfully read from the scrolls without damaging them.

On February 5, the prize-winning team was announced.

The team consisted of three savvy college students— Youssef Nader in Germany, Luke Farritor in the US, and Julian Schilliger in Switzerland—working with each other from across the globe.

Each student had a prior individual accomplishment in the challenge before teaming up. Farritor first deciphered a word from the scroll ((ΠΟΡΦΥΡΑϹ, or “porphyras,” which means “purple” in ancient Greek), after which Nader was able to read multiple column from the scroll, in addition to Julian Schilliger creating 3D map renderings of the papyrus.

Nader, Farritor and Schillinger eventually combined their talents to train machine-learning algorithms to decipher more than 2,000 characters. Contest organizers estimated a less than 30% success rate for even less characters.

So, what exactly did the scrolls say? Turns out, the ancient cultures were just as curious about what makes us truly happy in life as we are today.

From the Vesuvius Challenge/ scrollprize.org

The translated text, thought to be written by Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, appears to be a philosophical discussion on pleasure, and how it’s affected by things like music and food. And quite possibly “throwing shade” as stoicism by calling it “an incomplete philosophy because it has ‘nothing to say about pleasure.”

“We can’t escape the feeling that the first text we’ve uncovered is a 2,000-year-old blog post about how to enjoy life,” the Vesuvius Challenge website writes.

The first Vesuvius Challenge resulted in 5% of one scroll being read. For 2024, the goalpost has been moved to being able to read 90% of all four scrolls currently scanned, and to lay the foundation to read all 800 scrolls, and possibly other texts found at the Herculaneum library.

“Some of these texts could completely rewrite the history of key periods of the ancient world,” Robert Fowler, a classicist and the chair of the Herculaneum Society, told Bloomberg. “This is the society from which the modern Western world is descended.”

Using artificial intelligence to create a future has been a prime topic of conversation as of late, but this story is a great example of how AI can give us rare glimpses into the past as well. It's pretty incredible to think about how many ancient mysteries could be solved as technology continues to advance in the years to come.

But no matter how much knowledge we gain, it feels safe to say that pleasure might always an enigma.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Anyone who's ever been on Tinder knows having a cute animal in the photo is usually a big hit.

But what if Tinder profile photos only featured that cute animal? And what if, instead of a millennial would-be hooker-upper, it was the adorable dog or cat itself looking for true love?

That's an idea some animal shelters are toying with.

"We are always trying to come up with ... creative new ways to get our shelter dogs out in front of potential adopters," says Karen Hirsch, public relations director at LifeLine Animal Project in Georgia.

Animal Profile created by Mark Wales

Photo from Pixabay

And experimenting with online dating for dogs and cats might just be working.

The harsh world of pet adoption is extremely competitive: About 6.5 million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters every year, each seeking a good forever home. It's too big a need for shelter operators to just sit back and hope they all get adopted.

That's why you see adorable dogs on display outside the grocery store, partnerships with Uber that will bring puppies directly to you for playtime, and aww-inspiring social media campaigns like dogs in pajamas.

An estimated 50 million people worldwide use Tinder. So LifeLine and other shelters and rescues figure why not give it a shot?

After all, people using online dating apps are already looking for love and companionship — just maybe a slightly different kind.

Hirsch says they recently created profiles for 22 of their dogs and cats.

Animal profiles are also showing up on Bumble, which is home to another 20 million users or so.

Like sweet Duke here.

Animal Profile created by Mark Wales

Original photo from Pixabay

Each pet is assigned to a volunteer who creates the profile and handles the conversations after a match

"In a crowded shelter, pets often get overlooked, but on a dating app, the animal becomes an individual," Hirsch says. "People learn about them and form a 'virtual' attachment."

Plus the witty banter is oodles of fun.

For LifeLine, the experiment is still new. But Hirsch says people are responding to it incredibly well so far.

At the very least, Tinder and Bumble have proven to be great for word-of-mouth awareness-building on the importance of adopting shelter pets. The animals are getting dozens of matches. Hirsch says there have been more than a few online adoption inquiries, as well as people coming into the shelter to meet their "match" in person.

She also notes that one of the matches even became a regular volunteer at LifeLine.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

This new animal dating idea has another upside for apps — and the people using them, too.

Dating experts are finding that people are getting burned out by online dating. Between "ghosting," "cushioning," "the slow fade," and a bunch more of those annoying slang terms, humans out there are wondering if dating apps are even worth the effort.

For romantic love, who knows?

But now that you might just meet the dog or cat of your dreams, that's not a bad reason to keep on swiping.

This article originally appeared on 01.10.18