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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Who Invented the Cubicle?

January 25, 2016

Personality Desk Signs | UncommonGoodsThe short answer is Robert Probst (1921 – 2000). But Bob was quick to point out that the cubicle and cubicle “farm” as we know them are a far cry from his original intent. Probst, a designer, inventor, and former college art professor, developed the Action Office system in 1960 as head of R&D for Herman Miller. The system was influenced by the German concept of Bürolandschaft or “office landscape,” a way of making open office plans more organic and hospitable through various desk configurations, partitions, and potted plants. Probst’s Action Office was a modular system that could be configured in various ways to suit different corporate environments, but its open angles (not 90 degrees) didn’t box workers in, and its mix of private and common spaces encouraged employees to move around throughout the day. And lest you think that the “standing desk” craze is a recent development, Probst incorporated the concept into his system as a way to improve blood flow. It was only decades later when office floor space costs soared that Probst’s office system was corrupted into the dreaded cubicle farm by large corporations looking to squeeze in as many people per square foot as possible. But however boxy and generic your workspace might be, remember: things could be worse…

Personality Desk Signs | $28

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Do Buildings Know the Weather?

January 18, 2016

Superstar | UncommonGoods

Some of them sure do. Take, for example, Boston’s Berkeley Building (also known as the Old John Hancock Building). Back in 1950, the Back Bay-area building was outfitted with a weather beacon so Bostonians could simply look up for a quick forecast. The beacon flashed both blue and red and was kept lit until 1973 when it was shut off to set an example during the energy crisis of that year. It was re-lit in 1983 and continues to display the weather for all who can crack the code. An easy way to remember the flashing signals: “Steady blue, clear view/Flashing blue, clouds due/Steady red, rain ahead/Flashing red, snow instead.” However, during the baseball season, flashing red spells something much more serious: The Red Sox game has been called off on account of weather. Oh, the horror!

The Northwestern Bank building in downtown Minneapolis was equally weather-savvy in its day. For 33 years – from 1949 until a fire destroyed the building in 1982 – the iconic Weather Ball perched atop it signaled the forecast to Minneapolitans up to 15 miles away, who decoded it via its own jingle. In 2013, a new, admittedly much less spectacular, rooftop “Weather Watcher” debuted not far from the original’s location.

A number of U.S. cities have had, or still have, weather balls and beacons. They’re quaint – unless you perceive them as forerunners of the super-smart buildings of the future.



Superstar | $80.00 – 170.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Can You Lose Yourself to Dance?

January 11, 2016

First Dance Personalized Art | UncommonGoods
Yes, you can!

In what could have been an excellent prequel to the tiny town in Footloose, around 400 people fell victim to a dancing outbreak in Strasbourg, Alsace (now part of France). It all began sometime in mid-July 1518 with just one woman. She stepped out onto the street and—like Baby once she got out of that corner—she danced. And danced. Aaaaand danced. Within a week, the same force consumed about 100 more people.

In what could have been a plot device for a 1940s movie musical, town officials figured the best way to deal with this madness was to just go with it—and so they set up musicians in reserved guildhalls, pipers and all. By the end of August 1518, almost 400 people had experienced the madness and it didn’t recede until early September. Some even died from weak hearts.

So what happened? Compulsive dancing had been seen before, but nothing quite at this Studio 54-level scope. The most popular theory attributes the dance fever to a trance-like state. Things in Strasbourg weren’t too great at the time—the city’s poor were suffering from severe famine and disease—and they also believed in St. Vitus, a saint who was thought to have the power to take over minds and inflict compulsive dance. This belief, along with an ever-unraveling daily life could have led to a trance-like state that made them act out the part of the accursed.

This is all speculation, of course. We don’t know exactly what caused or ended this nonstop dance party, but we do know that a dance craze of this magnitude hasn’t been seen since—unless, of course, you count the Macarena craze of the 1990s, which can still be observed at your cousin’s wedding, your nephew’s bar mitzvah, and on late, late nights at the karaoke bar.



First Dance Personalized Art | $300.00 – 500.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Are There Really Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

January 4, 2016

Film Reel Table | UncommonGoods

This post is about how Bacon brings everyone together. As a vegetarian company, we generally don’t talk about bacon…but in this case, it’s Kevin Bacon, center of the Hollywood universe—at least according to the popular theory / party game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” And now, rather than spending countless hours researching obscure movie cast lists, Google will give you the Bacon separation number in a millisecond. Simply type “Bacon number [name of other actor]” into the Google search field and boom! There it is.

But this got me curious: how well does this work with other people with the surname Bacon? How about British Painter Francis Bacon? Yep—just three degrees. Francis Bacon and William S. Burroughs appeared in Burroughs: The Movie. William S. Burroughs and Don Creech appeared in The Book of Life. Don Creech and Kevin Bacon appeared in X-Men: First Class. How about English philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon? That one’s more of a challenge, but it does work if you combine Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. In the overlap of those two networks (plus some creative license), there are only four incredible degrees of separation between the two Bacons. Behold: Sir Francis Bacon knew William Shakespeare (in fact, some would say he was William Shakespeare), Joseph Fiennes played the Bard in Shakespeare in Love, Fiennes and Elisabeth Shue appeared together in Leo, and Shue and Kevin Bacon both appeared in Hollow Man.

And in case you’re wondering, there are only three degrees between this author and Kevin Bacon: I met and pitched a TV script to Gary Coleman, who appeared in The Great Buck Howard with Tom Hanks, and Hanks was part of the Apollo 13 crew with…Kevin Bacon.

Film Reel Table | $850

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: When Should You Undecorate?

December 28, 2015


Gold Rimmed Serving PedestalTwelfth Night, the end of the traditional twelve days of Christmas, was marked by the unpopular task of taking down Christmas decor—packing away permanent ornaments, and disposing of natural ones like evergreen boughs and holly. It was once considered bad luck not to do so by Twelfth Night (we’re looking at you, guy who keeps all his lights up until Valentine’s Day). Seventeenth-century poet Robert Herrick asserted that failure to make a clean sweep on Twelfth Night could turn every spine on the holly into a malevolent goblin. But Twelfth Night was not just a warm up to spring cleaning, it came with its own festive traditions like a special Twelfth Night cake. A bean was baked into the cake, and whoever found it in his or her slice was crowned king or queen of Twelfth Night, leading the gathering in songs and games. Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedies, was written as an elaborate court entertainment for the season’s-end festivities.

Discover more holiday lore in our Twelve Uncommon Facts About the Holidays post.

Gold Rimmed Serving Pedestal | $368