all art burns / 全美燃


words (and the occasional image) about design

head bumps and reading skills

One of the things the docs warned me about in rehab was that post bonking my head I might perceive reality a bit differently than before. I’ve noticed a few minor kinetic bits here and there, but they’re mostly related to two weeks of being in bed and losing some of my muscles. (I can play catch and walk backwards already, not sure I could do that before the fall…)

However, after bonking my head in the basement I also found the latest Jameco catalog, and something about it just isn’t right.


why have a 3d printer, redux

Awhile back I made a simple stand for the NookColor (that I posted to thingiverse) and sometime in the past few months I apparently lost it, as I can’t find it now.

I discovered this while getting ready to assemble my Mk.7 Stepstruder and realized I could print another pair out faster than I could dig through the entire house looking for the first set I printed.

Which makes me wonder — why can’t I do this when I can’t find the cap for my pen or some random generic plastic part for a battery pack? If it’s easier to print one out than find it, what happens when I find the one that I lost? Toss the one I printed in the Imaginary ABS Recycling Bin?


fear of sentient robots

[something short that I'd like to turn into something much longer, given the time to do some research. --jet]

In the past few weeks there have been a number of news articles and at least four kerjillion blog posts regarding robots and the future of humanity. Robots that power themselves with organic matter, robots that can run like an animal, and snake robots that can hump human legs are all pretty cool, but there’s also a related narrative that we, as humans, don’t know how to deal with sentient robots.

The thing is, we’ve had unstoppable, zombie-like, intelligent actors capable of taking out a single human for at least a century. They have legal status, can own property, can file lawsuits, own weapons, have security forces, and they self-replicate based on available resources.

They’re called “corporations”.

A corporation has almost all the rights of an individual human, save for voting. But in most other ways, they’re better than any single human. They can store and process data in vast quantities and faster than a single human. They can make intelligent decisions about how they interact with you based on your purchasing history, your medical history, your entertainment preferences, and your social networking activities. A corporation can not only repair itself, it can survive financial death via various forms of bankruptcy and self-replication. If a corporation gets too big, it can split into a group of more efficiently sized corporations that can coordinate efforts with one another.

I’m not worried about a future where sentient robot dogs that feed on the dead stalk the streets at night.

I’m worried about a now where corporations trick humans into paying as much for a liter of bottled tap water as they do for a liter of milk.

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designing for maintenance, a success story

I hate cordless phones. Hate hate hate. They are expensive, break easily, interfere with other wireless devices, and when the battery starts to die down, you have to buy some obscure, phone-specific battery for way too much money.

Last week, we bought yet-another-cordless-phone after the GE died and the replacement handset would never sync properly with the base station. This time, I decided to go with a Panasonic, as some similar models had received good ratings in Consumer Reports and Costco had them for cheap.

Setting them up, I was happy to discover that instead of some cordless phone specific battery, they use regular NiMH AAA batteries. Plentiful and cheap when the time comes to replace them.

Now if I could just get a set of schematics and a parts list so we’d have a chance of repairing the phone itself, maybe I’d have a phone that I could maintain over the long run…

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japan and design 1: Welcome to the FUTURE!

Before landing in Narita, most of my exposure to Japanese design was stuff-for-export-to-the-US: toys, consumer electronics, anime, clothing, etc. It wasn’t until we landed at Narita and started making our way to the hotel that I realized just how different the two countries actually are. Sure, the language and cultural barriers are pretty steep, but there’s also some fundamental differences in how Japanese designers[0] address problems.

Here’s one example: luggage. In the states, luggage is all about ease of movement through airports or accessories that make your luggage clip to other luggage and so on. The problem is, “how do I move a bunch of bags from my house to the airport to the hotel and back again?” and the answer is the latest and greatest products from Victorinox, Samsonite, and their ilk.

In Japan, this problem is solved with an actual service, not better luggage. It’s trivial to drop your luggage off at the airport and have it delivered to your hotel, or delivered from your hotel to another hotel or back to the airport. Within Japan, we travelled only with overnight bags, our massive luggage were dropped off at the front desk of one hotel and delivered to our room at the next.

I don’t think that someone actually said, “how can we solve the luggage problem” as much as someone saw a business opportunity. Yamato Transport doesn’t just move luggage, they move pretty much anything from one point to another. Services instead of consumable products were everywhere. Instead of a stack of napkins at the restaurant, we were given steamed hand-towels. Instead of a bunch of signs at a construction site warning passersby of danger, a real, live human apologized for the inconvenience and directed traffic as needed.

When we checked in to our hotel — jetlagged and confused — we discovered a few other little touches that made a huge difference in our stay and how we thought about our environment. After finding our room and dumping our luggage, we were confused by the fact that the power was out. It took us a few minutes to find the slot by the door where you store your (RFID enabled) room key. When you’re in the room, you put your key in the slot, and the power is turned on for your room. When you leave and take the key with you, everything except the fridge and the washer/dryer are automatically powered down. Not only do you always know where you room key is, but you get a daily reminder of how much energy is wasted by standby power or lights that were accidentally left on.

We were also happy to find that our hotel had a “washlet“, and by the end of our stay we were trying to figure out how to smuggle one home. And also wondering if, perhaps, the Japanese think we’re a bunch of dirty savages when it comes to bathroom hygiene. I’m sure the toilet paper industry would not be happy about the mass adoption of washlets in the States, but I think it’s something that’d probably be better for us (and the environment) in the long run. Washlets are another case of the “service instead of commodity” thinking — instead of buying the best/nicest toilet paper you can afford by the pallet at Costco, why not have a toilet that does most of the cleaning for you?

I’ll end on a question that popped into my head while trying to find a trashcan on the streets of Tokyo,

“Can you design a solution that doesn’t create new consumption patterns?”

[0] For the purposes of simplicity, I’m not going to try and guess whether it was a service designer, interaction designer, UE designer, industrial designer, or whatever designer that designed things that I used.

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