Starbucks Chairs

Have you ever noticed how newspaper stands just pop up out of nowhere, and then start multiplying? Scientists are only recently starting to understand this miraculous reproductive process.

Newspaper stands, the most basic form of robot, use metal cables and root-chains to tap into a solid metal electrical ground. Once this electrical tap is formed, the newspaper stand can store energy generated by the door pump.


Electrical tap roots eventually split, forming new newspaper stands.

The speed this occurs does not seem to depend on the cycle of the sun. The process is unpredictable, and most scientists agree that it is far easier to build new robots than to study them growing in the wild.

What is it that initiates the reproductive process? Is it the holiday news cycle? Is it the girth of the cable? Will other, primitive proto-robots, such as chairs and oscillating fans also reproduce in this manner?

I've wanted to test these ideas for years, but had a devilish time coming up with an appropriate experiment.

This story really begins with two metal folding chairs I found leaning against the dumpster in the alley. They were light blue, and quite nice looking, but I didn't really need them in my house.  I folded them up and put them in the trunk of my car.

As you can probably guess, folding chairs aren't really that handy unless you buy them for some specific purpose, so they ended up rattling around uselessly back there for a few weeks.

Finally I came up with a plan that would get rid of the chairs and test the robot reproductive cycle: I would tether them to a pole.

My first stop was to Home Depot for some wire cable and aluminum ferrules. The ferrules are soft enough to crimp down onto the cable, locking the cable in place.

Home Depot also provided an excellent place to get rid of my surplus Heinz Tomato Puree.


One meter of 3/16" (5mm) cable was $1.50, and the pack of aluminum ferrules was about $2. Another good option would have been a heavy U-lock, but those are always at least $15.

I know that newspaper stands have a certain amount of human contact, so I wanted to make sure these chairs got put to use. I needed to figure out how to get people to sit in the chairs.

After some thought, I concluded that the most overused chairs in the neighborhood were down at the nearby Starbucks Coffee Shoppe. There must be some...thing about the Starbucks name or logo that makes people eager to sit down.

Cutting out that complicated Starbucks mermaid logo would be a lot harder than a swastika, but the increased sit-traffic would definitely be worth the trouble.



I cut out a paper stencil and sprayed through it onto the chairs.

Most newspaper stands have some paint on them, but I wasn't sure if that was an important detail.

The logo looked fantastic pretty decent, so I started stalking around for a nice fertile place for the chairs to grow.

Knowing that the best clusters of newspaper stands grow in large cities, I decided the best place for this experiment would be nearby San Francisco, California.

please continue reading Starbucks Chairs part 2



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July 12, 2004.

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