How an episode of The Simpsons is made

A few weeks before the warm Christmas of Southern California, the writers of The Simpsons — the longest-running sitcom in the US, starring everybody’s favorite family: Homer, Marge, Lisa, Baby Maggie, and their son Bart — take a retreat. The rest of the season, the team breaks scripts in the sterile writers’ rooms of the Fox studio lot, but the creative process always began in a home or the big conference space of a nearby hotel. Each writer brings a fleshed-out minute or so episode pitch, which they deliver with gusto to a room full of funny people. They laugh, take notes, then co-creator Matt Groening, executive producer James L. Brooks, and showrunner Al Jean — a portion of the braintrust from the earliest days — provide feedback.

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From Carine Roitfeld to Heat Tech: how Uniqlo became our favourite shop

The partnership between Uniqlo and Toray may suit the brand’s image as Japanese innovators, but how well does science fit with its new haute-couture approach? I was invited on a tour of the Toray research factory near Kyoto, where we are shown how four different super-thin synthetic fibres are produced, combined and then rigorously tested before being sent overseas to be spun into clothes. After peering at some industrial machines, we are shown into the Technorama, described as an “almighty environment-simulation lab” which we are told can recreate the conditions of the North Pole or the Sahara. Thankfully they have set the lab to a reasonable 10C. An infrared camera points at a model walking on a treadmill in a puffa jacket who stops, unsmiling, and unzips to reveal his T-shirted torso, which glows warm on the screen.

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Why growing old the Silicon Valley way is a prescription for loneliness

Singapore’s old people have never had it so good: now, there’s a robot to help them keep fit and healthy. RoboCoach, their new best friend, offers both encouragement and exercise tips. Its message is unambiguous: get your exercise routines wrong – skipping them no longer seems optional – and you put extra strain on the country’s overstretched public finances. As Singapore’s minister for communication and information put it, RoboCoach “is able to ensure that old people perform the exercise routines correctly so as to get maximum benefit from their workouts”. Free advice to Singaporean authorities: why not couple RoboCoach 2.0 with a fancy wristband like Pavlok, sending an electric shock every time its users slack off and deviate from established objectives?

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The new app that serves as eyes for the blind

Moreover, sensors capable of recognizing emotions on these faces — work that’s part of other Carnegie Mellon research into autism – could make it possible to recognize when those people passing you are smiling or frowning. Researchers also are exploring the use of computer vision to characterize the activities of people in the vicinity and ultrasonic technology to help identify locations more accurately. As Asakawa shared with me, the cognitive assistance research that went into creating the NavCog app has some parallels with the cognitive computing work being performed by IBM Watson. In both cases, there is a growing attempt to improve the cognitive abilities of humans on a real-time basis.

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1940s knitting patterns from the V&A archives

The 1940s in Britain was a high point for hand knitting. Women on the home front could make a contribution to the war effort by knitting for the troops using patterns that were often given away free. Many specialised patterns developed such as the balaclava helmet with ear flaps for use in telephone operations or the mittens with a separate forefinger for firing a trigger in the cold.

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Creative execution can’t save a bad advertising strategy

A wise man in advertising once said that 99% of the world’s failed ads fail before the creative team even gets the assignment. That’s because strategy is critical. Even great creative work can’t save a bad strategy. But what we have here is something else. It’s that rare combination of bad strategy compounded by bad creative, then multiplied by the combined effort of four different companies — three of whom are actually competitors.

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Monsoon named and shamed for not paying staff minimum wage

Monsoon has been named and shamed by the government for failing to pay more than 1,400 workers the minimum wage. The privately owned fashion retailer is one of 115 companies caught in the latest swoop by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which oversees implementation of the pay regulations.

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James Dyson says there’s a VW-style scandal in the vacuum industry

Earlier this month, Dyson is reported to have launched a broadside attack against European regulatory tests in general. “[There are] fridges tested with no food, vacuum cleaners tested with no dust, and washing machines tested at inaccurate temperatures,” said Dyson in comments reported by The Telegraph. “The regulators clearly live in a place that looks nothing like the real world and manufacturers are taking advantage.” Dyson’s allegations follow not only the Volkswagen scandal, but also recent claims that Samsung’s TVs have been cheating energy efficiency tests as well. (Something the company strongly denies.) These incidents, though, are part of wider trend which might be dubbed the “internet of paranoia,” with previously dumb objects now imbued with the software and connectivity to cheat not only regulatory tests, but consumers as well.

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The anatomy of procrastination – and how pupils can beat it

Procrastination is more instinctive than you might imagine. The art of avoidance comes from our lower mammalian brain, which is equipped for survival. It’s adapted to focus on what we need immediately, making it harder to focus on attention-demanding, longer-term tasks.

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Jony Ive talks intersection of fashion and tech ahead of Apple-sponsored Met Gala

Ive, who is hosting the Met Museum’s “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” exhibition next May as cochair, told The Wall Street Journal in a recent interview that beauty can arise from both handmade and machine-made designs. A common misconception the upcoming Met Gala looks to dispel is that thoroughly modern processes like 3D printing and computer aided design somehow lack intrinsic value. “It’s a completely false notion that there is inherent value in what is made by hand, or an inherent lack of value in what is made by machine,” Ive said.

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