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99% Invisible

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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.


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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.






562- Breaking Down The Power Broker (with Conan O'Brien)

Today's episode features #1 Robert Caro superfan, Conan O'Brien. The Power Broker by Robert Caro is a biography of Robert Moses, who is said to have built more structures and moved more earth than anyone in human history. And he did it without ever holding elected office. Outside of New York City, Robert Moses wasn't exceptionally well known. Inside of New York, he was mostly accepted by the media as simply the man who built all those nice parks. But The Power Broker, which is subtitled Robert Moses and The Fall of New York, changed all that. It is a tour de force of journalism, history, and biography. Roman also argues it's really fun to read and is strongly in contention for the best book ever written. But there is something of a catch, which can hang readers up: the book is a daunting 1200 pages long. As influential and amazing as this bestseller is, many people own an unopened copy gathering dust on their bookshelf. But that is a crime because this book needs to be read or at least discussed at length on a podcast. Roman Mars and Elliott Kalan (Flop House, Daily Show) are starting The Power Broker book club that will run through all of 2024 as bonus episodes and in this introductory episode, Conan O'Brien joins us to talk all things Robert Caro. Breaking Down The Power Broker


344- The Known Unknown [rebroadcast]

Roman note: This is one of my favorite episodes of all time. Should be a movie. Enjoy! The tradition of the Tomb of the Unknowns goes back only about a century, but it has become one of the most solemn and reverential monuments. When President Reagan added the remains of an unknown serviceman who died in combat in Vietnam to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in 1984, it was the only set of remains that couldn’t be identified from the war. Now, thankfully, there will never likely be a soldier who dies in battle whose body can’t be identified. And as a result of DNA technology, even the unknowns currently interred in the tomb can be positively identified. The Known Unknown


561- Long Strange Tape

The Cassette tape was great in so many ways, but let’s be honest, they never really sounded great. But because the cassette was so much cheaper and easier to use and portable, a lot of people didn't care so much about the audio quality. They just wanted to be able to use something that they could carry around with them. The cassette’s other big advantage: it was easy to record on. We talked to Marc Masters about his new book High Bias, about the history of the cassette. One chapter about concert bootleggers covers perhaps the greatest success story of the cassette: Grateful Dead live tapes. Long Strange Tape Plus we're featuring a bonus story that we produced in 2016 in collaboration with Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything about a place where cassettes were of vital importance.


560- Home on the Range

In a lot of ways, Lincoln Heights, Ohio, sounds just like any other suburb. If you walk around town, you’ll hear kids playing outside the local elementary school. You’ll hear the highway that takes commuters down to Cincinnati. At the woods on the edge of town, the birdsong is delightful. The town feels calm and peaceful - at least, until the gunfire starts. Most weekdays, it begins in the morning, and lasts through the afternoon. Sometimes it goes past sundown, and occasionally into the weekends. Once the shooting begins, it comes in rapid-fire waves throughout the day. People say it makes it hard to focus or relax, and those who work the night shift say they can’t sleep. The noise of gunfire isn’t from street violence. It all comes from an open-air gun range that’s owned by the Cincinnati Police Department. Home on the Range


559- The Six-Week Cure

In the mid-1900s, people flocked to Reno, Nevada -- not for frontier gold or loose slots, but to get out of bad marriages. The city became known as the "Divorce Capital of the World." For much of modern history, it has been relatively easy to get married, and extremely difficult to get divorced -- and for a time, this was true in the New World as well. But Reno provided the cure: The Six-Week Cure.


558- The Fever Tree Hunt

Most heists target gold, jewels or cash. This one targeted illegal seeds. As the British established their sprawling empire across the subcontinent and beyond, they encountered a formidable adversary — malaria. There was a cure — the bark of the Andean cinchona tree. The only problem? The Dutch and the French were also looking to corner the market in cinchona. And the trees themselves were under threat. This week on 99pi, we feature a story from Stuff the British Stole, a co-production of ABC Australia and CBC Podcasts. So "grab a gin and tonic and come with us to hear how a botanical empire took off — and gave birth to a quintessential cocktail."


557- Model Village

For decades, society has dealt with people with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline by storing them away in unstimulating, medicalized environments. But around the world, a new architectural movement is starting to challenge that old paradigm. Designing environments where people with dementia can live as normally as possible, until the very end. Model Village


328- Devolutionary Redesign

It’s hard to overstate just how important record album art was to music in the days before people downloaded everything. Visuals were a key part of one's experience with a record or tape or CD. The design of the album cover created a first impression of what was to come. Album art was certainly important to reporter Sean Cole, one particular album by one particular band: Devo. This is the story of Devo’s first record and the fight over the arresting image of a flashy, handsome golf legend on the cover. Plus, former 99pi EP Katie Mingle gets the backstory of the Langley Schools Music Project LP, a haunting and uplifting outsider artist masterpiece. This episode was originally broadcast in 2018 Devolutionary Design


556- You Ain’t Nothin But a Postmark

Over a decade after Elvis Presley’s death, the king of rock & roll took over headlines once again as Americans weighed in on which portrait of Elvis would be forever immortalized on a 29 cent US postage stamp. It was put to a popular vote: should the stamp feature an image of young Elvis at the start of his rise, or an older Elvis in his iconic white jumpsuit. The resulting Elvis stamp eventually outsold every single commemorative stamp before and since. You Ain’t Nothin But a Postmark


555- The Big Dig

Over its more than 40 year journey from conception to completion, Boston’s Big Dig massive infrastructure project, which rerouted the central highway in the heart of the city, encountered every hurdle imaginable: ruthless politics, engineering challenges, secretive contractors, outright fraud and even the death of one motorist. It became a kind of poster child for big government ‘boondoggles.’ But the full story is of course much more complicated – and really represents a turning point in how America builds infrastructure. Subscribe and Listen to the full series of The Big Dig. The Big Dig


554- Devil in the Details

This week we have two stories featuring the devil. An infamous "training video" teaching cops how to spot and stop "satanic crimes." And a stretch of highway with the misfortune of being officially named US Route 666. Devil in the Details


553- Cautionary Tales of the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic and distinctive buildings in the world. It took a relative newcomer and architectural outsider to dream it up, but the saga of making this world heritage landmark a reality is a tale for the ages: a cautionary tale. And for Cautionary Tales, I turn to the brilliant Tim Harford. I’ve been dying to hear the story of the Sydney Opera House told in this way, and Tim and his team just nailed it, and I know you are going to love it as much as I do. Enjoy.


552- Blood in the Machine

Brian Merchant is a tech reporter, and he'd been covering the industry for years when he started to notice a term that kept coming up. When he wrote a story that was critical of tech, he'd be accused of being a "Luddite." Like most people, Brian knew at least vaguely what the term "Luddite" meant. But as time went on, and as Brian watched tech grow into the disruptive behemoth it is today, he started to get more curious about the actual Luddites. Who were they? And what did they really believe? Brian has a new book out about the Luddites called Blood in the Machine. And it explores how English textile workers in the 19th century rose up against the growing trend of automation and the machines that were threatening their livelihoods. Blood in the Machine


389- Whomst Among Us Let the Dogs Out AGAIN

All kinds of songs get stuck in your head. Famous pop tunes from when you were a kid, album cuts you've listened to over and over again. And then there's a category of memorable songs—the ones that we all just kind of know. Songs that somehow, without anyone’s permission, sneak their way into the collective unconscious and are now just lingering there for eternity. There’s one song that best exemplifies this phenomenon— "Who Let The Dogs Out" by the Baha Men. The story of how that song ended up stuck in all of our brains goes back decades and spans continents. It tells us something about inspiration, and how creativity spreads, and about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person. Whomst Among Us Let the Dogs Out AGAIN


551- Office Space

In most big cities, there’s a housing crisis. And empty office buildings are creating a different crisis known to urbanists as a ‘doom loop.’ Converting an office into housing can solve both of these crises at once, using one piece of property. This solution just seems so obvious and elegant. But for all the hype around this idea, there are surprisingly few adaptive reuse projects actually underway. Office Space


550- Melanie Speaks

The story of a voice training VHS tape that helped trans women at a time when other resources were hard to access. The way a person's voice changes over time feels like a simple, and overlooked act of magic. Whether intentionally or subconsciously, our voices are products of our environments as much as they are part of us. Today we’re featuring an episode about voices from a series called Sounds Gay, a brilliant show about queer culture, community and music. Plus, guest host Swan Real discusses the universality of voice training with 99pi regular host Roman Mars. Melanie Speaks


549- Trail Mix: Track Two

Welcome to our second episode of short stories all about what may be the original designed object: the trail. If you haven’t heard the first episode yet you should totally go back and listen. It’s a lot of fun. Take this episode with you on your next hike! Trail Mix: Track Two


548- Trail Mix

We deconstruct and examine what might be the original designed object-- the humble trail. We discuss how park trails are designed, what makes a good trail, and...what even is a trail anyway? Trail Mix


547- Cooking with Gas

Back in January, Bloomberg News published a story quoting an obscure government official named Richard Trumka Jr. He works with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates stuff like furniture and electronics and household appliances. Basically, the agency is supposed to make sure that the stuff we buy is safe, and won't kill us or make us sick. The Bloomberg story talked about how a growing body of research shows that gas stoves are really bad for indoor air quality. They let off pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, and they've been linked to heart problems, cancer, and asthma. And in this story, Trumka said the government would look into it, and maybe recommend some regulations on the appliance. Within days, the US went batshit crazy and gas stoves were all over the news. They had become the subject of the latest skirmish in our seemingly never-ending culture war. Cooking with Gas


546- The Country of the Blind

Andrew Leland grew up with full vision, but starting in his teenage years, his sight began to degrade from the outside in, such that he now sees the world as if through a narrow tube. Soon—but without knowing exactly when—he will likely have no vision left. In this episode, Andrew takes us through the fascinating history of alternative reading technologies designed for blind people and discusses his fantastic new book The Country of the Blind, which is out today! The Country of the Blind