Archive for the ‘Industrial Design’ Category
Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
It’s hard to be anything but approving of the tendency toward “green products” that has recently become voguish. However, a lot of these products have dubious positive environmental effect, and seem more like a marketing prank. Too many of them seem to be designed for us to throw all our old stuff into the landfill, buy new stuff that’s carbon-neutral, and then replace it when it breaks in a few years.
Today I’d like to introduce you to a green technology that has existed for centuries, is proven under adverse conditions, and can be a lot of fun. While the average person cycles through disposable ball-point pens, which at best allow you to replace the ink shaft and ball point itself, fountain pens are much less destructive, and can be less expensive, depending on how many ballpoints you buy in a year.
Why fountain pens are green:
I wanted to find an example that for $30 provided a year’s worth of trouble free writing. To figure this out, I had to consult with the online community “Pen Trace” where some helpful people pointed me in the right direction.
Pelikan Pelikano, $18
I picked this sturdy little pen because the Pelikan brand has produced pens that write smoothly and consistently. This is not their cheapest model, because in Europe, fountain pens are not an oddity. This entry-level pen uses a sturdy steel nib, which is the pointy part of the pen that conveys ink to paper, and is made of durable but soft plastic.
Pelikan converter, $5
Normally, these little pens use disposable plastic cartridges, but those are about as green as SUVs, so instead, you can get it to take ink directly from a bottle by using this little gadget. It fits in place of the cartridge, and by using vacuum pressure when the knob is turned, can load up several days’ worth of ink. It also allows you to easily clean the pen.
Pelikan Royal Blue ink, $7
This ink is what you put into the pen. The color is attractive and because it is water-based, it’s easier to clean up and biodegrade than the paintlike ink they put in ballpoint pens.
You might not be able to turn your lifestyle green overnight, but a good way to start is to replace badly designed objects, like disposable pens, with more durable ones that require fewer resource refreshes as a result. Pens are one area we can all improve, since they are a ubiquitous technology and others will imitate what they see us doing.
Monday, November 19th, 2007
The revolution in task-centric, user-centric portable computing continues. From its early days, with the Toshiba T-1000 and Radio Shack Model 1000, coming into the modern time with the AlphaSmart Dana and Palm Foleo, finally blending subnotebook and PDA with the Asus Eee, now maturing for its latest plateau with the Amazon Kindle, portable computing has been a war between those who want portable computers and those who want portable computing devices optimized for information retrieval, perusal and authoring.
As we’re no strangers to the enjoyment of etexts around here, it’s hard not to be a little excited, even if the endless gadgetization of humanity is in itself a bad sign. I have no plans to run out and buy a Kindle, not in the least because I am aware that all of these gadgets just end up as landfill. Most of my resistance, however, is that I like printed books for their superior interface. There is no messing about with plastics, electricity and wireless internet. You can read a book anywhere, even after society’s apocalyptic end when we’ll all be hunkered down in radioactive caves trying to evade the mutant hybrid Wolf-Lizard people.
The name “Kindle” makes me thinking of someone lighting the kindling to burn all the books. Very Fahrenheit 451 and makes me want to hate it before I even see it. – A TechBlog reader in By the Bayou
Tuesday, November 6th, 2007
In terms of price, performance, and features the Asus Eee PC hits the trifecta and could be a game-changer in the mobile market. Thanks to its combination of Intel hardware and a non-bloated Linux install, reviewers found that Asus’s little laptop performs just as well as much larger and more expensive Windows notebooks.
The device does support Windows XP, but Linux seems to be the OS of choice of reviewers for performance and ease-of-use reasons. In this respect, Microsoft has well and truly blown it, because this device is poised to introduce a few million Best Buy shoppers to a pleasantly usable, non-embedded Linux distro.^
Linux is far from perfect (BSD is more fun and more stable, especially in a server environment). Windows is not only good, but getting better. However, there are also many advantages to Linux. Among other things, it encourages people to buy white boxes instead of Macs, Dells and HPs.
For some years people have wondered when Linux would make inroads to desktop computing. After all, it is free. However, it doesn’t work on all hardware, and often takes hours of tedious work to make simple changes to the operating system. Also, it does not have the broad software base that Windows has.
What has made Windows predominant is the convergence of several factors: it’s cheap, because most people burn a CD-R from a friend. It works very intuitively, more so than the Mac, although you won’t see this mentioned in the computer media. It is backward compatible with a giant library of software. Simple changes occur quickly, and the operating system gives a lot of power to its users, even if more than they should have sometimes.
The recent rash of viruses, trojans and other Windows problems gave Microsoft a chance to step up to the plate. Their response was to hurry Vista along, because they do not believe that the older versions of Windows can be safe and still support marketing objectives, like pushing ActiveX and BHOs and other Microsofty standards on the rest of us. In the meantime, Apple is selling more machines, but the pretentious, smug and combative users have made more than one ex-user flee in disgust.
Wal-Mart just began selling its $200 PC which uses a relatively non-bloated Linux installation called gOS and online apps from Google. The future of Linux, like that of Intel competitor AMD, is in being cheaper or free and starting out on the lower-end machines. It’s interesting that the machine to do this might be both lower-end and luxury, in that it gives its users the cheap, durable, uncomplicated laptop users have always said they have wanted.
The last time this happened, around 1988, was when Toshiba brought out the T-1000 laptop. It had no hard drive. It had an ugly, simple screen and a squishy, simple keyboard. But it sold for about $700 discount or used, could take a few hours of battery charge, and if you used shareware word processors and telecommunications software, could do everything a $2500 laptop could do and often could do it longer.
Toshiba promptly forgot these lessons, and maybe Asus will as well, but the users have yet again spoken: they want technology that’s durable, cheap, simple and doesn’t get in the way, and if Windows and HP don’t offer it, they’ll rush to whatever savvy marketer rises up with all the dunces in confederacy against him/her and offers it.
Monday, November 5th, 2007
One of the reasons I find life inspiring is the endless variation of humanity, at least among those who think. They’re like little chaos engines out of control, but they’re making the kind of chaos that breeds new futures, not the kind of chaos that is simply disorder, like an old garage stuffed with junk too useless for anyone to sort through.
Some of these chaotic humans recently invented an Endless Coffee Pot as part of their senior thesis in electrical engineering. They designed, built, and programmed (in C++) a microcontroller-assisted coffee pot that loads itself with coffee, drains out stale coffee, throws out coffee grounds, and maintains a constant temperature. It has an LCD display and would very easily make a vending machine.
According to their paper on the topic, the endless coffee pot (ECP) requires little or no user interaction. “The user would enter the current time, start time, interval of operation and stop time. The other tasks that would require user maintenance would be the loading of coffee pouches into the dispenser and unloading used pouches from the waste receptacle.”
The paper goes on to give us technical specs and a project description. “The core component of the entire product is a ‘run-of-the-mill’ Proctor Silex coffee maker  which performs the basic brewing process. The brain of the product is Mini-Max/51C-2 8051 microcontroller board manufactured by BiPOM Electronics  and interfaces with all sensors, pumps, and motors through the Custom-Built Integration Board (CBIB). ”
Humanity keeps delighting me with its chaos, and the ECP surely qualifies. Some chaos is like lively thoughts on no particular topic, but other chaos is like the mental checklists I do at the end of the night before I fall asleep. These are laundry lists with no order, and so each item no matter how small seems the most important until thinking about it exhausts me, and I drop into the lively chaos of dreams.
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