Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘furniture’

16 OCTOBER, 2008

Furniture Design Spotlight: HUG Chair

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Why your girlfriend is interchangeable with your MacBook Pro.

Spotted at the Bulgarian Design Biennial: The HUG armchair by furniture and industrial designer Ilian Milinov. (Thanks, camera battery, for dying and forcing us to resort to the crappy cell phone camera.)

The designer’s inspiration comes from the simple gestures in human relationships, like hugging your loved one, and even accounts for the intimacy deprivation of a long-distance relationship: The organic HUG silhouette makes room for a laptop when your loved one is away, for those late-night videochats that keep the relationship alive.

HUG

Gotta love the simple brilliance of its form/function hybrid — the intimacy of a loveseat sans the girlfriend-induced leg umbness, plus the comfort of a laptop lounge setup, sans the overheated quads. We want one.

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30 JUNE, 2008

Carriers Rethought

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Groupie paradise, FedEx vs. Donald Trump, why Earth is getting shrink-wrapped by strangers, and what TV show has an official couch.

What do vehicles, plastic bags, shipping containers and coffins have in common? They all carry their contents from one place to another. And they can all be rethought in ways that may well outsmart, outcool and outweird the original purpose.

BETTER THAN THE VAN

Couchsurfing has been around for quite some time now. And just like anything that’s become really, really big really, really fast, it was only a matter of time until it niched out. Enter Better Than The Van — a niche stay-for-free community designed specifically for bands and artists on tour. Even the search function is niche-level particular: you can narrow down your results by age range, weekday/weekend preference, and host’s relationship to music — consumer (a.k.a. fan) vs. producer (a.k.a. in a band).

We suspect the majority of couch-offerers would end up being in a band themselves — simply because nothing breeds empathy like having had the same miserable, sleep-folded-in-half-on-the-back-seat-with-drummer’s-protein-bar-wrappers experience.

Plus, we think it’s a great way for up-and-coming bands to make new friends, for up-and-coming music fans to discover new bands they dig, and for artists to meat each other and possibly sprout some killer collaborations.

QUIK HOUSE

No matter how many CFL’s we swap for incandescents, our homes remain environmental Big-Foots. Luckily, going residentially green doesn’t have to mean settling for a hippie shack in the Ohio outback.

It may, however, mean inheriting the living space of a FedEx box.

Enter Quik House. You know those “bed in a bag” things at department stores? We’d call Quik House a “house in a box”… except it is the box. It’s a prefabricated “house kit” made from recycled shipping containers. But don’t be fooled — the 2,000-square-foot dwelling includes 3 bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. It assembles in less than a day, so it should be less than 3 months between the time you order it online and your housewarming party.

You can further greenify the already super tiny-carbon-footed house with the optional solar and wind energy sourcing available. And speaking of customizing, you even have the option of getting your Quik House tagged by local graffiti artists.

At $125-$165 per square foot, including everything except the land, this isn’t just a smart investment in the planet’s future, it’s also a pretty good real estate deal.

MUSEO AERO SOLAR

If this kind of static environmental statement isn’t your thing, how about one in flux? Museo Aero Solar makes you reconsider what you choose to carry your groceries in. Thousands of plastic bags compose the “flying museum,” a hot air balloon propelled solely by solar energy. It travels from country to country and whenever it makes a landing, more bags are added, increasing both its size and the next flight distance.

Since its inception several months ago, Museo Aero Solar has toured three continents. Upon each landing, the local community gets to add to the quilt and shape this ever-growing flying canvas.

We like the idea of calling it a museum: it’s a visceral exhibition of our excess, constantly growing to reflect our never-ending consume-produce-waste cycle. The irony, of course, is that with an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags consumed annually worldwide, most of which end up in landfills, it’s virtually impossible for the museum to run out of resources. If the project carries on and continues to increase in size, it could eventually cover earth’s entire atmosphere.

How’s that for a global warming wake-up call? We hear shrink-wrap makes things even hotter.

COFFIN COUCHES

On a brighter note, Coffin Couches: corpse carriers repurposed into living room furniture.

Apparently, there’s some sort of government regulation (gotta love those) that prevents funeral homes from reselling unused coffins to the general public. So the guys behind the unorthodox venture approach said funeral homes with a recycling attitude and snag 18-gauge steel coffins with minor flaws, sculpting them into an impressive array of leather and vinyl couches.

We’re pretty sure those new media and interactive technology gurus couldn’t possibly outdo the “immersive TV experience” of watching Six Feet Under on one of these babies.

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21 MARCH, 2008

All Things Hacked

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Junkyard chic, 4.8oz of gawk, outsmugging Mac guy, Victorian computers, pre-electricity Internet, a museum of the future, how to get strangers to instantly trust you, what The Blue Man group and diaper changing tables have in common, why a missing comic book hero is the modern Nietzsche, and whose entire life you can buy on eBay.

JUNK HACKER

MaxAlas, we may have just discovered something that outawesomes the super-awesome repurposed materials fare from a couple of weeks ago. Because reestore may recycle objects, but their furniture designs are 100% original. They say they “take everyday waste objects and cheekily turn them into charming yet functional pieces of furniture and accessories.” And they mean business.

OliviaMost of the pieces are pure design delight, all hip no hippie. And it seems like they’re all crafted with a lot of love: each product carries a “human” name and its description addresses it as a respective “he” or “she.”Heather

reestore reminds us of childhood when imagination made common household objects into superhero attire and snow sleds and medieval castles. Except reestore makes stuff that helps adults be hip adults. Some of our favorites: Heather the waste tube lamp (right), Max the roll top bath loveseat (above right), Olivia the hanger folding chair (above left), Agnes the rear bumper sofa, and their most popular: Silvana, the washing machine drum lamp.

Pick your own faves — or, hey, make some of your own. All it takes is a design eye and a prolific dumpster.

BLING HACKER

And if doing unexpected things with useless old crap is exciting, it’s all that much more exciting when you do it with really, really expensive new crap. Which is why we dig the Conice 6×18 Zoom Attachment for iPhone.

Sure, it may weight almost as much as the iPhone itself (4.69 oz, vs. 4.8 oz), but it sure pimps the iPhone’s measly 2-megapixel fixed-lens camera with its 6x optical zoom. Only glitch we foresee: the iPhone has no image stabilization whatsoever, so those long-distance zooms would require bomb-squad-steady hands.

Still, at $14.77 with free shipping, it’s worth it even just for goofing around and making people gawk. Just like Steve Jobs here.

SCREEN HACKER

Okay, so maybe you’re not as fortunate as us to have OS X Leopard with its nifty screen share feature. (Which actually begs the question of why you’re depriving yourself of that ultimate license for smugness.) But smug as we may be, we’re also charitable: so we’ll turn you onto another way to share your computer screen with others, letting them see what you’re looking at and seeing what they are.

Enter YuuGuu, which does just that. Once you download and complete the super-simple registration, you can build your private network or invite your friends to also join so you can do remote screen-sharing.

Best part: soon you’ll even be able to share screens with people who don’t have YuuGuu, thanks to a new feature called Web Share. And even Leopard can’t claim that — your network is still confined to others who also have Leopard, not to mention it’s only within your system network (a.k.a. office, etc.) rather than all around the web.

Downloadable free for Mac or Windows.

RETRO HACKER

One of our favorite trends from the past decade — retro-futurism — has made a quiet but powerful return lately. Gadgets are being de-timed at rapid rates, producing sculptures of historical modernity.

You may recall our passing mention of the Modbook — a slate-style tablet Mac reminiscent of the now-ancient Newton, but sporting the latest and greatest of software and hardware: Leopard, Firewire, BlueTooth, AirPort, USB and more, topped with a 2.1GHz processor. And if you’re not a believer already, watching it in action will certainly make you one.

But that’s minor league retro-futurism. Because all the big boys are busy translating the Steampunk genre (you know, that speculative science fiction thing of the 80’s and 90’s) to today’s tech arena. And there are a handful of undisputed King Pins in that scene.

There’s Jake von Slatt (an alias, of course) whose Steampunk Workshop brings an Industrial Revolution life to modern objects. He decks out everything from Altoid Tins to keyboards to guitars in brassy, etched, Victorian goodness to really capture the notion that Steampunk is the intersection of science and romance.

Then we have the arguably even more hardcore Datamancer — there you’ll find stuff so elaborate it’ll make your head hotter than a steam locomotive’s boiler. As if the Steampunked Laptop isn’t wild enough, he’s cooking up something that’s a whole nother ball game: a Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine. (If you’re having trouble saying it, try making it.)

And to put a twist on the already twisty, there’s Greg Brotherton of Brotron — he takes the design elements of Steampunk, putting the technology aside, and superimposes them on elements of pop culture and mythology, often to a stunning yet diabolical result. His aim, in his own words, is to “create heroic icons from our ever-evolving cultural saga.”

All in all, it’s a whole fascinating subculture that creates its own mythology through storytelling unlike anything else out there, a cultural time machine if there ever was one. Dig in some more with the guys at Wired.

INTERWEBS HACKER

Here’s a dose of Steampunk for our web generation: the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine. hotmail.pngIt’s a catalog of 85 billion web pages archived from 1996 to today. (Yep, you read right: billion.) So you can check out what your favorite websites looked like way back before running water and electricity.

Mostly, we dig it because it’s fascinating how easily we adapt to and endorse new technology, taking it for granted before the developers’ motherboards have cooled from building it. Email? Puh-leez. RSS? Ha. Streaming video? Meh.

cnn.png

So feel free to dig back, point and laugh, but then when you snap back out, remember you’re doing it all on a blog…that you reached through your email or your RSS feed…that talks about iPhones and widgets…with embedded video…and a bit of Ajax…without ever hearing the brain-drilling sound of a dial-up modem.

And, suddenly, 1996 seems nothing like 2008.

HACKER HACKER

Here’s an antidote to the horrible flashbacks of pre-Gmail times past. Remember the London Design Museum’s Design Library from a couple of weeks ago? Now imagine the same thing, only instead of fashion, architecture and real-world technology, it’s about websites and apps and all those exciting online lovelies. Now stop imagining and just visit the Museum of Modern Betas, or MoMB.

MoMB may be in early Alpha itself, but this isn’t stopping it from cataloging a world’s worth of apps in Beta. You can browse them all by language, most anticipated, all-time top 100, latest hot 100, and more.

Skimming them is a nifty test of how up to speed with the two-point-oh Interwebs you are. But it’s also an exciting discovery tool — we stumbled upon some great stuff, way beyond our usual Beta main squeezes like Gmail, Flickr, Twitter and the like. Go — explore.

IMPRESSION HACKER

You may recall the guys you can hire to remedy your reputation by burying those what-was-I-thinking moments. Well, now you’ve got a Plan B — say “hey mamma” to the Liquid Trust Spray from Vero Labs.

The product is based on oxytocin — a human hormone and neurotransmitter secreted in acts of social recognition and bonding, including hugging and touching. Your brain gushes it at the sight, smell, touch or even thought of people you love.

Now, we’d be the first to vouch for the legitimacy of the hormone itself, thanks to our countless hours in cognitive science lecture halls, but the premise of the product is a whole different story. It promises that the oxytocin in it will make people develop a strong, inexplicable, immediate feeling of trust when they meet you, without ever realizing you’re neuro-scamming them. (Okay, that last part is our words.)

Read their spiel and decide whether you wanna shell out $50 for this social snake oil or just, you know, be a trustworthy person with an extra $50 in their pocket.

HOME HACKER

ikeahacker.pngFew brands can claim as loyal a following as IKEA’s, and even fewer can sprout so much creative interpretation. We’re talking about IKEA Hacker, a blog that agglomerates the funkiest, most creative transformations of IKEA furniture into something cooler, more functional or entirely different.

leitboxinstall.jpg

Some are utilitarian, like the space-saving moddi murphybed hack that turns it into a hideaway bed. Most are design-inspired, like the leitbox-backlit mini-collages or the light mods stand for Mac Mini. And some are just wild, like the convergence of a sniglar baby changing table and PVC pipe into a 22-note Blue-Man-Groupesque instrument that plays anything from the Flintstones theme to AC/DC.

IKEA Hacker started back in 2006 with a quick Google search that yielded an astounding amount of creative hacks, which just begged to be compiled in one place for all Swedish meatball lovers to savor. Or attempt — the blog sprouted the Instructables hacks group, where you can get step-by-step instructions on various hack projects. There’s even a Facebook app that lets you share your latest hacks and designs with your friends.

We’re off to watching that baby changing table play My Sharona. And we imagine if PacMan was in a band, that’s he instrument he’d be playing.

HUMOR HACKER

And now for some comic relief — literally. What happens when a comic strip is relieved of its main hero? You can find out a Garfield Minus Garfield, a brilliantly entertaining exercise in neo- minimalism that captures the tragicomic elements of modern self-conception as Jon Arbuckle embarks upon solitary adventures into the questionable corners of mental health.

And if you’re like us and often feel like your life’s been robbed of its Garfield (ever worry your neighbors hear your heated debates with yourself?), then you’ll relate all the more.

LIFE HACKER

And now for the grand finale: the ultimate hack. One guy in Australia, Ian, is walking the fine line between genius and idiocy by putting up his whole life for sale. It has nothing to do with suicide, the dude’s just had enough and wants to start from scratch, with nothing but a passport and a ton of cash.

Basically, what he’s doing is to identity theft what shopping is to shoplifting.

Why? He had a life-wrecking breakup with his wife of 12 years, whom he still can’t get over. So he figured the only way out is the all-out out. How? One huge eBay auction, slated to kick off on June 22. And, most importantly, what?

fulllife.png

Everything. His house, car, and bike. His furniture and clothes. His hobbies — skydiving gear and jet skis. His friends. Even his job.

No, this is not a joke. The dude is for real and all business — we strongly recommend you check out his site, complete with his reasons, the full list of stuff and their valuation, before this life brokerage thing becomes the latest neo-nomad trend.

08 FEBRUARY, 2008

New Ways of Doing

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Extreme fathers, liberating stuff that won’t get you arrested, constraining stuff that’ll liberate you, a 30-pound lump, couture with a conscience, why spices are hot, how the Germans do it, and where to find the world’s most available man.

FATHER’S EYE

AlisonWe don’t like contrived adages. Which is why we have a really hard time swallowing “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” But, somehow, it’s the only thing that springs to mind while looking, hypnotized and stunned, at Jack Radcliffe’s photoseries Alison.

The passionate photographer took the usual new parent excitement over photographing his firstborn to unusual heights. Over the course of 30 years, he stole candid photos of his daughter, Alison, capturing anything from pre-school ballet practice to scary-makeup, grumpy-faced, cigarette-swinging teen angst to peace-of-mind-exuding adulthood.

The camera became a part of our relationship, necessitating in me an acceptance, a quietness.” ~ Jack Radcliffe

Beyond being an amazing exercise in being part of his daughter’s life without judgment or censorship, the project also gave Radcliffe a profound appreciation and understanding of human relationships in all of their extremities, intimacies and fluidity.

See what he saw — it’ll be worth it even if it extracts from you only a fraction of the rich emotion that so clearly inspired it.

IMAGE REIMAGINED

And while we’re exploring the rich emotional world of visual media, how about something to make the exploration experience itself richer? We have an official favorite Firefox add-on: PicLens. It’s designed to transform your web image browsing into a fully immersive 3D experience, both stunning and functionally efficient.

PicLensWhenever you search for images on Google, Yahoo, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, MySpace and more, PicLens turns your screen into an “interactive wall” on which you can drag, zoom, click, scroll and just awe at your search results. There’s even a search box within the interface that lets you search the web for images right in the 3D view.

Our favorite feature: say you do a Google image search for “brain.” The traditional way, you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results sprawled across hundreds of thousands of pages. Who has the time and the patience for clicking “NEXT” 100 times? Well, not someone with PicLens: because in PicLens, all the resulting images show up in the endless 3D wall, which you can just keep scrolling through until you spot exactly what you need.

Fast, fun, and incredibly liberating. Available for both Mac and PC.

PICTURELESS PICTURE BOOK

But, hey, don’t let the absence of image stop you from having a rich visual experience. It didn’t stop photographer Michael David Murphy. In 2004, he took a trip to Ethiopia, but was forbidden from bringing a camera — in a lot of Muslim countries, photography is shunned, especially if it entails photographing women. So he found himself in a curious new world full of compelling image, but unable to capture it.

Until he discovered words, that is. Driven by the burning need to capture (and aren’t all great discoveries kindled by a burning need?), he came up with Unphotographable — a collection of missed opportunities, moments he was unable to photograph, a “catalog of exceptional mistakes.” He lives in literary sin, but his endless run-on strings of simple words are Shakespearean in their conceptual impact.

unphotographable.png

Besides the originality of the concept, we love how it fails at the failure to capture — because, as a reader, you can’t not build an image in your mind’s eye. Call it human imagination. Call it visual assembly. But, really, it’s just that same old proxy photography our brains are wired for, the kind inherent to all storytelling.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

THE OTHER ECO-TRASH CONNECTION

No more Filthadelphia. As of 2008, Philly is sporting its very first BigBelly solar-powered garbage compactor at the corner of 36th and Chestnut, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania’s continued push for sustainability. (Penn is already one of the largest buyers of wind energy on the East Coast and, at 27%, gets more of its power from wind than any other higher-education entity in North America — possibly the world.)

Posing like a regular big trash can, the BigBelly has a 30-watt solar panel on its top that charges the battery powering the compactor. From there, it compresses the whole bellyful of trash into a single 30-pound lump. (Which happens to be how much trash the average American produces per week.) That way, waste management folks need to take far fewer trips to empty it — a traditional bin of the same capacity in that location would have to be emptied 3-4 times per day, while this friendly chubs only takes 3 trips per week.

truck.jpgEight times the efficiency comes with ten times the coolness: the BigBelly is equipped with WiFi, which it uses to send cleaning folk a signal once it’s full. And in case it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia, BigBelly needs just one day of sunlight to power it for the whole week.

Sure, it may come with a $5,000 price tag. And we may wish everyone just recycled everything. And we may, for that matter, hold our breath until all man-made materials were recyclable and non-toxic. But we have to applaud a step in the right direction when we spot one — and given that American garbage trucks alone consume over 20 million gallons of fuel per week, the BigBelly is a pretty gigantic step.

GREEN AND GORGEOUS

Okay, so sustainability doesn’t have to reek — it gets a lot more glamorous than garbage. Just take what went down the other day at the opening of New York Fashion Week.

Top-notch designers joined the Earth Pledge by sending designs made from recycled, renewable, reusable, organic, non-polluting fabrics down the FutureFashion runway.

Whether it’s organic cotton in Jeffrey Chow or hemp in Derek Lam, the collections were anything but granola, ranging from street wear to evening couture — organic wool, bamboo, corn-based fibers, recycled biopolymers and all.

We won’t judge how much of it is bandwagoning and greenwashing. We’re just glad fashion consumers are being educated about the options out there, about the big ocean of difference that all the little drops of choices add up to.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifWhile we don’t like to call ourselves “trend-hunters” (because it sounds just sooo untrendy…), we do like to throw a prediction out every once in a while. And now is one such once. This one is about nutrition science and health trends.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen our share of “super-foods.” Soy. Green tea. Pomegranate. Acai. Those were the antioxidant powerhouses. And that’s before we even get to the flavonoids in red wine and chocolate. Or the heart-saving, cholesterol-reducing omega-3’s in fish and nuts. After each super-food reached a tipping point in both science and social buzz, you’d see it pop up on the ingredients label, then move up-front-and- center on the packaging of any food that could claim even a molecule.

spices.jpgRecently, more and more research has emerged on the powerful health benefits of various spices, from some shared attributes like high antioxidant content, cancer-fighting potency and antibacterial, to the specific health benefits of each. (The irony, of course, is that all these herbs and spices have been recognized and used for their medicinal properties for centuries in various Asian, African, European and South American cultures, who most likely arrived at them the old-school way: trial and error. But we had to wait for that exact same process to be performed in our fancy-shmancy research labs, published in our pompous peer-reviewed medical journals, and regurgitated for us by the mass media. And now we’re eating it all up.)

There’s cinnamon, found to keep blood sugar in check. Cayenne pepper, which improves blood flow, fights heart disease and wards off headaches. Ginger, a powerful digestion aid and a killer of ovarian cancer cells. Garlic, with its strong antibiotic properties and protective value against heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. The latest super-spice: turmeric. The orange-yellow powder, better known to us common folk as an ingredient in those delish Indian curries, contains curcuminoids — active ingredients now recognized for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, which in turn help fight cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. We could go on, but there’s a bigger point here.

And the point is that medicinal super-spices — and we stand by this one with enormous conviction — are the next big nutrition trend. They’ll soon be popping up in everything from beverages to cereals to energy bars and more. We’ll go work on our toldja-so dance now.

FORM, FUNCTION AND FILLET MIGNON

All that food talk got us hungry. And since we’re multitaskers at heart, it’s hard not to appreciate the brilliant concept of the Cook-N-Dine grill tables. Combining a table and a flameless grill, they offer a perfect fusion of appliance and furniture, of German utilitarianism and Japanese design sensibility.

Beneath the sleek German stainless steel surface lie three concentric functional circles. The flameless grill, in the middle, heats up to 450 degrees quickly, then the innermost part sinks down to collect any cooking juices. Once cooking is done, it rises back up. And the outermost dining area stays cold all throughout.

They come in various shapes and sizes, you can even install one on your bar-top or order a custom design. Pretty nifty, to the point of fully justifying its $1,600 price tag.

PLEASE STAY ONLINE

And speaking of upgrading old-school stuff and simplifying by multitasking, what better candidate than the familiar experience of a doctor’s appointment, complete with the 40-minute average wait time, the mounds of paperwork, the rude staff, and the germy waiting area? Dr. Jay Parkinson believes it doesn’t have to be that way. And he means business.

Dr. JayThe good doctor is the world’s first online-only-based physician who makes house calls and house calls only. His “office” is a website that looks more RGA than MD. And his credentials are as solid as the best of those found on brick-and- mortar walls.

But under the clean, Applesque design lies amazing functionality — the doc makes it all look so simple and effortless, from enrolling as a patient to reaching him anytime, any way you desire. (He’s always available on cell phone, email, IM, and MSN messenger.) And if you’re uninsured, he does some simple math for you to showcase how his service isn’t just better, it’s also much cheaper.

The doc is so progressive that he even deserted his traditional WordPress blog, deeming the concept too outdated and unsuitable for his mobile, tech-driven lifestyle. Instead, he moved to Tumblr where he can post via email, cell phone and IM.

At the very least, even if you’re insured and happily lugging yourself across waiting rooms, checking out his site will give you an even deeper understanding of (and contempt for) the devastating, penny-sucking bureaucracies of the medical industry. Sicko that.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.