May 24th, 2011

pop pop pop pop pop pop pop pop

Pop Pop Boats are toy boats that run on a very simple heat engine. Instructions for how to make a copper coil (as opposed to boiler tank) pop pop boat here.

May 14th, 2011

bike chain wall clock

By Andreas Dober (via designsquish).

April 15th, 2011

a typical spring-loaded solder sucker

A desoldering pump, colloquially known as a solder sucker, is a device which is used to remove solder from a printed circuit board. There are two types: the plunger style and bulb style.

I got my own soldering iron and it came with a desoldering pump. It’s alarmingly satisfying to suck solder. And the noise it makes: Creak, Sklunk!

I’m only posting this because I like the caption for the above image on the wikipedia page for desoldering (“a typical spring-loaded solder sucker”).

December 22nd, 2010


Gerhard Richter’s stained glass window in the Cologne cathedral.

In August 2007, Richter’s stained glass in the Cologne Cathedral was unveiled. It is an 113 square metre abstract collage of 11,500 pixel-like squares in 72 colors, randomly arranged by computer (with some symmetry), reminiscent of his 1974 painting “4096 colours”. Richter designed the window for free. Cardinal Joachim Meisner did not attend the window’s unveiling; he had preferred a figurative representation of 20th century Christian martyrs and said that Richter’s window would fit better in a mosque or prayer house.

Richter @ Wikipedia

Posted in Design, Ha! | 1 Comment »
November 4th, 2010

nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect

Wabi-Sabi (from wikipedia):

Wabi-sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence (三法印, sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常, mujō).

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy and the suggestion of natural processes.

Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it “occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.” “if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.” ” nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant “chill”, “lean” or “withered”. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.

More: Wabi-Sabi.

October 24th, 2010

you’re doing it wrong, Panamarenko

Bernouilli by Panamarenko. Photo by Dirk Pauwels.

Panamarenko is a contemporary Belgian artist whose work is often aeronautical or mechanical in theme. His work had quite a large presence at the recent Xanadu! exhibition at Ghent’s museum of contemporary art this summer. That’s where I saw his Bernouilli (pictured above).

Most of all I like his humour and the idea behind his methodology. From the Xanadu! guidebook:

What Panamarenko does in fact in all his works is not to try to make something work that will never work. What he does is to ask himself how something might work even if it’s approached in a wrong manner. When he makes a flying rucksack with a Suzuki engine like Hazerug (1992-1998), he turns the Suzuki engine upside down because it looks better that way. It doesn’t function because the spark plug is flooded. Then he searches for ten years for ways to make the engine run after all, even though it’s used upside down. Anyone that knows anything about engines sees right away that the engine’s hanging upside down. It’s a joke. Yet from that joke flows an in-depth study from which Panamarenko learns an awful lot. After ten years study and testing he knows why the Suzuki engine can never work upside down. He is constantly acquiring fresh knowledge by saying that for aesthetic reasons something should be able to function even if it’s approached in a wrong way — that’s the funny side of it, because it always starts from aesthetic reasons that interfere with the usual approach of a mechanism and then begins a period of amazing research that can last a long time and that can lead to very many formal and technical results.

The idea of starting with an apparently unworkable concept is appealing to me because it aligns with a recent revelation of mine. Often I am prone to a perfectionism in my own creative work, to the extent that it actually debilitates me or prevents me from starting work in the first place. Recently I’ve discovered that the key is not to set standards of perfection towards which to work, but rather to be constantly aware of the process and to make unexpected or contrary developments work in your favour. To always be open to improvisation, even when you had the “perfect” outcome in mind already. This way there is no point of failure — there is only a rising gradient of difficulty, the end of the process being marked by a gut feeling of arrival.

To start out with perfection in mind is crippling to any creative process. When your initial expectations are (inevitably) disappointed, you can either become frustrated or try to re-evaluate the project. If you become frustrated and upset, you are no longer in the frame of mind necessary to be creative, i.e., open, resourceful, confident, interested.

Perhaps you could see the difference in practice as not seeing the artwork as yours until you have arrived at the end point. If you are attached to a project or artwork from the start, it becomes already an extension of you. And when you see something you don’t like developing in the project — something worrying because unexpected — the initial reaction is to disown the project. To cast it off as a failure, and to either restart or quit at that point. This is like when something unplanned and apparently unresolvable happens to us, or in us, in everyday life; there’s a tendency to be taken by self-pity, which is a way of disowning the self. Of saying “this is no longer my responsibility, I give up”. Just like in life, the solution is a combination of persistence, flexible thinking and a sense of humour.

September 23rd, 2010

art is love is art is whatever

Milton Glaser speaks about art as a cultural unifier, about teaching art, and about holding on to your “capacity for astonishment”.


September 6th, 2010


William Morris:

Laden Autumn here I stand
Worn of heart, and weak of hand:
Nought but rest seems good to me,
Speak the word that sets me free.

Apparently Autumn did oblige in speaking the word that would set Morris free, because he managed to get over his weakness of heart and hand, and continue being an industrious and creative force: textile designer, graphic artist, writer of prose and poetry, political and philosophical figurehead…

Read about him at wikipedia.

September 6th, 2010

design diagnosis

During the nineteenth century an awareness had developed that national style reflected the moral values of a society: if a society was unable to produce good design then the fault lay in its ethical system – a nations art was a symptom of its moral health.

The arts and crafts movement was, first and foremost, an effort to reform the domestic environment. ‘Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,’ Morris advised. And design reformers obliged by eliminating the superfluous and the unsightly from their surroundings. They were single minded in their purpose, hoping to improve living conditions, and, thereby, to strengthen the character of the individual. But they differed in their approach, as there was no clear-cut path to follow in achieving their goal. Consequently, arts and crafts interiors vary greatly, from minute detail to overall character. They are similar in that all unite the useful with the beautiful. Yet they are different, as each is a unique expression of a particular set of influences, including designer, client, time period, location and cultural milieu.

From a brief history of the Arts and Crafts movement at Arts & Crafts Home.

Wikipedia goes into greater detail on the design philosophy of the movement:

The Arts and Crafts style was in part a reaction against the style of many of the things shown in the Great Exhibition of 1851, which were ornate, artificial and ignored the qualities of the materials used. The art historian Nikolaus Pevsner has said that exhibits in the Great Exhibition showed “ignorance of that basic need in creating patterns, the integrity of the surface” and “vulgarity in detail”.

Design reform began with the organisers of the Exhibition itself, Henry Cole (1808–1882), Owen Jones (1809–1874), Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820–1877) and Richard Redgrave (1804–1888). Jones, for example, declared that “Ornament … must be secondary to the thing decorated”, that there must be “fitness in the ornament to the thing ornamented”, and that wallpapers and carpets must have no patterns “suggestive of anything but a level or plain”.

These ideas were taken up by William Morris. Where a fabric or wallpaper in the Great Exhibition might be decorated in a natural motif made to look as real as possible, a William Morris wallpaper, like the Artichoke design illustrated above, would use a flat and simplified natural motif. In order to express the beauty inherent in craft, some products were deliberately left slightly unfinished, resulting in a certain rustic and robust effect.

More at wikipedia.

May 13th, 2010

the happiest gravestone


Annie M.G. Schmidt‘s gravestone is actually uplifting rather than grave.

You look at it and think: “I can’t wait!”.

Ok, perhaps not. But I’ll shelve my envy for later.

March 25th, 2010

Holy recycling, Batman! Here come Hydrocyclone and the Ragger

I’ve sometimes wondered how recycling plants deal with unwanted materials (like staples in magazines, plastic windows in envelopes, etc) mixed up with the recyclables. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to wonder this; Slate magazine has an article explaining the rather ingenious processes involved in pulping paper for recyling.

When bales of sorted paper arrive at a mill, they’re fed into a huge, blenderlike contraption along with water and chemicals. The resulting pulp then goes through a number of purification steps. First, a long chain called a ragger is lowered into the swirling mixture; things like twine and wire wrap around the chain and get pulled out. A metal screen at the bottom of the pulper picks out more contaminants—this should be when your plastic window fragments are removed. Next, the slurry is spun around in a cone-shaped hydrocyclone—which separates out higher-density items like stones and bits of metal (like staples)—and then it’s screened again through a finer mesh. Finally, if the pulp is being made into high-quality product like white office paper, air bubbles and detergents are pumped in to wash away unwanted ink particles.

The answers to more “recycling stumpers” at Slate.

March 9th, 2010

watching between the lines

A six-spoke Geneva mechanism, wikipedia.

Film projectors (as well as film cameras, processing equipment, etc.) use a special mechanism called a Geneva drive to ensure one whole frame is advanced at a time, instead of simply spooling a film continuously. Wikipedia:

The name derives from the device’s earliest application in mechanical watches, Switzerland and Geneva being an important center of watchmaking. The geneva drive is also commonly called a Maltese cross mechanism due to the visual resemblance.

In the most common arrangement, the driven wheel has four slots and thus advances for each rotation of the drive wheel by one step of 90°. If the driven wheel has n slots, it advances by 360°/n per full rotation of the drive wheel.

The device itself is beautiful in its simplicity. There are two variations on the drive (external and internal). More at wikipedia.

January 16th, 2010

moonvilla concept


Here are 3 fun designs (via notcot):

Tree Trunk Garden House.
Beijing Noodle Restaurant design
Moonvilla Concept (as seen above. more pictures)

The Moonvilla has an outer shell/screen that revolves with the sun to regulate the climate inside. Neat. Although I wouldn’t want to be around when the motor is on the blink. Having said that, there is cleverly a little underground level built into the design.

There are no stairs. Due to the lack of gravity on the moon, people can leap from floor to floor!

December 29th, 2009

The Times Skimmer


The New York Times has developed a very clever little gadget — The Times Skimmer — to let you skim their online newspaper in a similarly quick and efficient way to how you would skim a real paper to find the interesting articles.

It seems to be made with netbooks and other mobile devices in mind, because it fits my screen like a glove, whereas their regular site is indeed a bit of a nightmare to navigate efficiently.

Great design solution!

Posted in Design, Site | No Comments »
December 26th, 2009

we should use our wall cavities more…



Here’s a great concept for a built-in extension lead, designed by Meysam Movahedi (via offcolors).

But wouldn’t having many feet of extra coiled cables in every room probably waste a fair amount of electricity over time, as the current would have to travel further?

I suppose, if that were the case, the problem could be overcome by building in a circuit that you can open and close with a switch.

Posted in Design | No Comments »
December 20th, 2009

unsavoury strategies in menu design


Consultant Gregg Rapp tells clients to “omit dollar signs, decimal points, and cents … It’s not that customers can’t check prices, but most will follow whatever subtle cues are provided.”

If a restaurateur has his wits about him, he’s using his menu to manipulate you and make your dining choices the most profitable. So it seems in this feature at the New York Times.

December 1st, 2009

orange/blue film posters

An unknown comic author makes an interesting observation.

From SlashFilm:

I’m sure you’re aware of Hollywood’s overuse of floating heads on movie posters… but have you noticed the excessive use of orange/blue contrast on theatrical one-sheets? David Chen happened to come across this comic illustrating the Blue/orange contrast, although I’m not sure where it originated or who created it. After the jump you will see a ton of examples of orange/blue contrast, however I must warn you — as the comic says, once you see it, you’ll notice it everywhere.

This phenomenon was something I was vaguely aware of but never consciously thought about. Looking at their examples it all seems very familiar.

See the examples @ /Film

November 29th, 2009

(good) ideas for cities

Above: Kids and vegetables living in harmony?
Photo: L.C. Harmon, 1940. Nebraska, USA.

GOOD has a neat brainstorming series at the moment called “Ideas for Cities”. They’re ideas designed to make communities more efficient and progressive.

We’ll post a new idea each day until we run out, at which point we’re counting on you to come up with something smart.

I haven’t read all of the ideas posted so far, but two that I find very appealing/interesting already are Edible Schoolyard:

Cities should provide service opportunities and training for all ages to instill confidence, self-reliance, and pride. One of these programs could be an Edible Schoolyard that is cared for by students and led by professional farmers and volunteers. It would provide 100 percent of the school meals to the student body, and excess food would be delivered to the ill and elderly. In addition, schools would produce zero waste by composting all bio matter. The school could also compost neighborhood bio matter to fund its agricultural efforts.

and Google Analytics for Cities:

Cities could make the success of governance measurable and known. Rather than waiting for the next election to recognize and promote results (or lack thereof), cities could do it transparently. City stats, charts, and powerful infographics would provide a call-to-action for citizens.

See more at Ideas for Cities.

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