Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Intel Inside

The problem with electronics (compared to mechanical items) is that you can't see how things work, or move. I remember in high school, we had some motors and turbines cut offs (or whatever they're called) to see how things move or work inside... kinda like those anatomy mannequins that you can take off the pieces. How do you explain how an iPod works? or why does the cursor on your screen moves? (probably to navigate away from this blog) Well, I found the answer looking at one of my former student's blog.

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Monday, May 14, 2007


This is an old one, but it certainly can still cause one to laugh really hard... (via)

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

YouDome 250 ̊

biblioteca CUCI cienega - LEAPFrom 'round design to geodesic design (by the way, the 'round design title was inspired by Thelonious Monk's 'round midnight, not by a round shape) Anyway! There are certainly many interesting videos for every taste on youTube: I found this video of Eisenman criticizing Fuller's dome house. He may be right that it is hard to use a geodesic sphere adequately and the RBF house may not be the best example, but there are many domes that are quite nice. Take Norman Foster's dome over the Reichstag for example.

library CUCI cienegaI also found the movie trailer "Sketches of Frank Gehry"... which reminded me of the simpson's episode: "OH my god, snoopy stationery... cool!" Those are really two sides (or extremes) of the same coin (architecture) one rigid, calculated exact maths, the other sensitive, emotional based on Laboratorio en Arquitectura Progresiva - LEAPhow we perceive spaces and shapes... and that's another endless discussion, like if product design or architecture should be driven by aesthetic or function... which should follow the other. The pictures are the CU cienega library in Ocotlan, Jalisco by Raul Juarez and Heriberto Hernandez from LEAP which will be (finally) open next monday 14th of May with a ceremony with Governor Emilio González. Congrats!

On the May 14, 2007, the new Library and Media Center for the Universidad de Guadalajara (state university) in the city of Ocotlan, Jalisco, Mexico was finally opened to the public. This building was designed by Raul Juarez Perezlete (AAD Columbia University 1994), Heriberto Hernandez Ochoa and Jorge Hernandez Luquin, partners of the mexican design studio LeAP ( with offices in Guadalajara and Mexico City.This building is a pioneer in the implementation of standarized norms for accesibiliy for people with dissabilties; it has a set of ramps and aisles specially designed to make it 100% accesible. It will have a collection of 120,000 books, dvds, and videos in a total surface of 5,346 sqM, making it the biggest public library in the western region of Mexico, second only to the recently opened Central Library Jose Vasconcelos in Mexico City.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Chicken cuts brownie with a lightsaber inside a Starbucks' library doing the Haka dance

OK. I have to clean up and finish business here before my trip, so this may be a strange post, just like the title, but try to follow me. Today I went to meet with the acting Head of Design at Massey University at the Albany campus. I just love that campus and their design facilities are amazing... the only problem, just like any place in Auckland is to find a parking spot. The students are on holidays and there was not much movement around Albany village, and still I had to drive a few rounds before finding a spot just in front of the entrance! Why, why do urbanists do not plan for enough parking places?

Anyway, there were many chickens running around the place... just like you see on discriminating american movies and series about Mexico. It was really funny, and nice at so many levels. My wife Sandra complained about the giant seagulls at Granville Island (Vancouver / Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design) She worked nearby, and said that trying to eat a bagel for lunch was like a nightmare from a Hitchcock movie. Then there are those peacocks and deers at Tec de Monterrey. Some of my students got the spook of their lives, sitting next to a window and suddenly the peacocks started to "sing" after climbing to the upper levels of some buildings... you know how horrible noise they make. I don't know wich would be scarier and/or more difficult: to catch a peackock or a chicken inside the library.

To get to Albany I drove for 30 to 40 mins. To get back, it took me 1 h :45 mins. I said that before and I say it again: I can't believe there's only ONE bridge and ONE motorway for the whole city. Anyway, I decided to order some pizza... and brownies. When I saw the big box of brownies, I thought they were going to be huge! But no. Only the box was big. Inside there were only some tiny tainy winny small pieces of brownie! Speaking of packaging sustainability.

Now that's starting to get cold, it's a good time to enjoy my favourite coffee at the chocolate boutique. We just love that place. Guadalajara is going to be too hot to drink any coffee at all, and I am allergic to places with air conditioning... so it doesn't help much that most Starbucks are freezing cold inside. I found this image a couple of months ago. It was inspired by an anecdote of some guys who went to a Starbucks, then got out, just to enter another Starbucks across the street, and they said that they got caught in something like a Starbucks space continuum wormhole or something. In fact, there's a website reporting places around the world where you can find a Starbucks in front of the next one. That's spookier than the chicken!

And almost last but not least. Just to reanimate the sustainability debate. How do we make any sense of products like these: A workmate gave Sandra this "Olympic" pen with 10 different color tips from her recent trip to China. I bought this pen size lightsaber just for fun, when I was looking for gifts to take on my trip and I had in my mind the multisensory room project... I mean, it could make sense for something like that: visual stimulation... but for me it's just a piece of useless kitsch... I am glad I bought it anyway.

And finally... this what Tec de Monterrey students are learning from their exchange studies in New Zealand... next thing you know, they will be eating mince pies instead of tacos! Now, that's scary.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Naked news

Oscar Kai, a fellow teacher at Tec de Monterrey, told us once about his "encuerado" attention method. You know there are times when the teacher is talking in front of a classroom but nobody is listening... you just have to use the word "encuerado" (naked) and suddenly all students will turn around to listen what was that about... a very useful technique indeed. Now that I have your attention, if you want to know about the naked story, you'll have to read some other things first.

Another fellow teacher from Monterrey, Jaime Alvarez called me from Japan a couple of days ago. Among other things, I told him about the controversy on sustainability and responsibility of designers. He told me about the theory that the reason for the Irak invasion are the millions of SUVs. He reminded me about Victor Papanek's books too. Here's a small quote:
“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few of them. ... designers have become a dangerous breed by creating whole species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath.”
Papanek wrote those words almost 35 years ago, and now they are becoming a "Nostradamus-like " terrifying prophecy. On his book "the green imperative" Papanek takes also on architecture and dwelling. It may have seemed too radical at the time, but green auto-sustainable dwelling environments have become a real need and not a luxury. There will be the time when they become standard.
The Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa in California is attempting to become 'green certified' by the U.S. Green Building Council. The Council developed the LEED rating system seven years ago, where buildings are graded on their environmentally friendly features. The hotel features waterless urinals, solar lighting and recycled paper. Another nice touch is the replacement of the standard hotel-room bible with a copy of An Inconvenient Truth. (treehugger)
Eureka towerNot necessarily environmentally friendly, but sure interesting is the new Eureka Tower in Melbourne, which will open next week. I just love the golden windows detail on top. But the best "gizmo" is the so called Edge cube. The glass cube projects itself 3 meters out from the building using some rails. The whole cube is covered with glass... when you get in, the glasses are opaque, and then with a loud breaking glass noise, all windows become transparent in "ein Augenblick" Not good if you are claustrophobic or are afraid of heights! I'm wondering if that technology could also be used as a thermal control instead of blinds or other window covers.

Speaking of sustainable dwelling. Last weekend, Yvonne and Roberto invited us to have some delicious taco dinner. They put a music/video DVD with images from Tibet, and I was fascinated with that... when I was young, I used to say that I would like to become a Tibetan Monk. Anyway, one of the scenes was how they make adobe bricks. I told them immediately that we should start building adobe houses in New Zealand to solve many of today's leaky homes crisis in NZ:
An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 families are living in leaky homes throughout New Zealand. Thousands of those families cannot afford to repair their homes (with repair costs averaging $100,000 to $150,000) nor can they afford the legal costs to pursue compensation (which can be as high as $20,000 to $50,000). As a consequence, many families continue to live in the unhealthy environment caused by leaking homes whilst the damage to their homes continues to worsen.
For example:
  • Adobe bricks are known for their great insulation properties (warm in cold weather, cool during hot season).
  • The hay used to make them, can be grown in shorter periods of time, unlike timber, which requires many years and re-planting to be sustainable.
  • It would also solve the problem of what to do with the so called "fart tax"... which is not just about livestock flatulence, but also about what to do with millions of tonnes of poops.
  • Then, I inisist, in terms of the search of national aesthetic search, a new adobe architecture could become iconic for the NZ "Landschaft". It would certainly match the idea of a green, sustainable country.
  • And it would be certainly nicer to look at, than the horrible shoe boxes we have at the moment for houses.
Finally, the much expected comment about nakedness. Spencer Tunick broke his own record with 20,000 naked people for his photographic installation in Mexico city. Take that "girls gone wild"! ... by the way, some of the naked guys started taking pictures with their cell phones, which created some confusion by the end of the shooting. I would have never expected so many participants... but Tunick convinced even the religious moralistics, when he said that there are naked people painted on many churches, including the Vatican.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

6 Bad bureaucracy design

I just commented on the plans from the NZ government to introduce a "Resale Royalties" fee... and accompanying taxes of course. Today I received a newsletter from the big idea, which points to an article with "15 interesting facts about the resale royalties debate". After my calculations using those figures. If the amount of royalties to be distributed to qualifying artists is $374,000 NZD and the number of qualifying (eligible) artists is 636... each artist would receive an average of $588.05 on royalties each year. Which is a risible amount.

Just like the "working for families" scheme, artists would be better off if they had a net tax break like that amount. Instead of building more bureaucracy to collect the money, and then just giving back a small part of it, because of the high price to pay for bureaucrats. And just like it is normal, they would certainly allocate funds from other tax payers to generate and maintain that new collection agency. Not all the money to maintain them will actually come from the 25% collection agency commission. Why can't they understand the (bad) economics of government agencies? Usually for each dollar collected by taxes, 70 cents are used to pay for any government agency, and only 30 cents are usable to pay for stuff. That's the reason why governments around the world are cutting off useless agencies, and privatizing services.

Using this example, the NZ art royalties collection agency would have to live with just $124,500NZD per year, if they charge a 25% commission. That's the salary of two bureaucrats and rent of a tiny room for the whole agency. Forget about printing forms, telephone, website, flyers, etc. It's just bad economics.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sustainability killed the styling star

Let the polemic continue...

This is my third attempt to start this paragraph... One of my previous posts created some stir, you know, the one about useless junk products. First, let's not confuse that with honest innovation, or experimentation. Jonathan Cagan and Craig Vogel described that difference very well (more on that later), but it's not the only taxonomy of design. I mean, we can't pretend that there's only one category of design. In my view, (correct me if I'm wrong) It's like I said about musicians: there are 100,000 crappy ones for each 10,000 mediocre, 1,000 average, 100 acceptable, 10 good ones and 1 extraordinary. And again, like I said, the problem are not the 11,111 on top, the problem is what to do with those 100,000!

According to Cagan/Vogel (or my free interpretation) we can graph products into a table using 2 sets of variables. On the x axis we have technology and the y axis is styling:
  • So, if you have a product with low style and low technology, you have a cost driven, generic product like those sold at walmarts and targets.

  • Then we have low use of style but high use of technology. Let's call this category "infomercial products" this is where many "innovations" fall into. They are so desperate to be the first to put their products in the market, that they set aside ergonomics, style and lifestyle impact. Here you find products from brands such as HP, Microsoft, etc.

  • Then we have the style divas: Stark, Graves, Rashid and others. I quote "Some companies that live in this quadrant explore the boundary of aesthetic experimentation and usually fail in the application of human factors, and core technology. Profit in this quadrant is the result of either a market seeking out image and art, or by tricking consumers into believing that the highly styled look of these products is backed by competent ergonomic and technology design" (abridged)

  • And finally, what they call "the upper right quadrant" i.e. products with high aesthetic refinement, use of high technology resulting in a high value product. A good example could be this TENTE casters for hospital beds.
My point on that previous post was that I don't believe that styling is a good reason for new products development (note that I didn't say innovation, which is something else). I think that a sponge bob key-chain hardly qualifies as innovation, or a boob shaped mug, or many other kitschig products that are over flowing this world. The same dilemma applies to many of those Paris Hilton's of design. In most of my conferences, I always ask the public if someone has at home a "juicy salif". Then I ask them if they really use it to make orange juice for breakfast everyday... the answer is always: No. It's used only as a piece of decoration for their kitchen.

Starting at the 20's in the 40's, 50's and 60's it was OK to do such things. I mean, just look at the name "De Stijl". I just love the Rietveld chair... and I admire the freedom they had to do such things. But nowadays it would be irresponsible to do a chair that you can't sit on it. And I don't mean it's not OK in terms of experimentation, I mean in terms of sustainability, like building a concept car is totally OK. We can't afford to waste materials and resources on useless junk anymore. Allow me to elaborate on that.

First, when I say that it was OK at that time to stylize products... well, it's part of history. We can't just start building baroque buildings just because we can or "feel like doing it", or burn (or hang) people just because we reckon they may be witches or terrorists. Just because Moon-watcher beated to death one of the guys from the other tribe with a bone, doesn't mean that I have to beat the guy at the buffet that takes the last piece of bread! It was OK to manufacture big V8 cars texan style, but no one denies that it's not responsible anymore. Innovation is about renewing, that is starting something new. We can't behave or do things that others (or we) did, forever.

My friend Hooper told me once: Freedom is not about doing as you like, is about choosing to do what is right. I am not a hardcore treehugger environmentalist, nor in favour of censorship of any kind. But I do believe that we can't go on manufacturing junk forever. It's like the automotive emissions debate, if we don't start making changes and compromises today, there won't be a future to contaminate!!! If we designers, and manufacturers, and retailers, etc. don't start to make compromises about the sustainability of the products we put on this earth, soon there won't be any earth to put anything.

Imagine this scenario:
Year 2057, the oil reserves of the world are almost empty. The damage caused to the arctic to dig out the last few barrels of rock petrol is overwhelming. Petrol cars have been completely banned since 2027 to allow petrol to be used in the plastics industries only, but the demand cannot be fulfilled. The USA didn't cut consumption, and other developed and developing countries are demanding to have a similar supply quota per capita. But it's just not enough for everyone...
Under those circumstances, this wouldn't be so crazy after all:
To deal with the problem, a design police is implemented. All products have to undergo a strict control by the authorities to prove that they are worthy of being manufactured.
Or we can deal with that problem right now, and choose to do what is right, before we have to sacrifice our liberty in order to preserve some basic raw materials. Benjamin Franklin said: They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security. In a similar way, if we wait for a design police to come and tell us what to do, then we don't deserve to be designers, or developers, or innovators.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Kiwi Doodle

You know that I am quite passionate about politics, it's just that I don't like to discuss about that on my blog... politicians and lawyers don't deserve my valuable time, e-bytes, paper or any other resource (see previous post about sustainability). However, I had some bookmarks with some issues that I wanted to talk about, and today I have a very good excuse.

Our Prime Minister Helen Clark (the picture there is more accurate than the photoshopped ones on government articles) went on vacation to Europe, to see the start of the America's cup challenge, then the ANZAC day remembrance, and who knows what else. She returned with some British ideas to make into law... like financing housing, supposedly to push down the prices... which is absurd if you don't have enough supply: that's basic offer/demand market law. Another absurd idea is to charge a royalty fee (note how they emphasize that a similar idea was already introduced in the UK), payable to the artist, each time that a work of art (say a painting) is sold with a profit on the previous selling price. Many people say it is ridiculous... and royalties for average painters wouldn't be more than a couple of hundred dollars a year... and it will create a cascade of bureaucracy and paperwork just to figure out those profits. Can you imagine trying to search for the name and bank account of the artist of a painting you buy at a flea market? For that matter, it would also apply on artwork screen printed on T-shirts... probably some hand painted ties, or the guy who paints your name on rice. If you eventually sell those for a profit, you'll have to pay royalties. That's nonsense... but it's British law, and we have to make a kiwi copy of all that.

Speaking of copies, and piracy... can you imagine a minister forging a signature on a painting? Can you imagine if that minister was the minister of arts, heritage and culture ? Can you imagine if that minister was also Prime Minister??? Well, that's exactly the case of the so called "paintergate" (via) . Helen Clark was asked to do an oil painting to be auctioned for charity. She didn't have the time, so she asked someone to get her something from an unknown painter and put her signature on it. The painting went to auction, it sold for $1000NZ, but eventually the truth came out and the Prime Minister accepted the allegations, in fact, she acknowledged that she had signed at least 6 paintings and drawings over the years that are not hers. The buyer was offered $5000NZ by some Labour sympathizer, who burned the painting to cover the shame.

Helen Clark's (?) Beehive doodleNow one of the forged drawings is going into auction. In this case is a doodle of the parliament building, signed (but not drawn) by Helen Clark. It is just terrible that she had the courage to forge (or whatever the appropriate term) a drawing like that... being the arts and culture minister! My question is if the buyer is going to pay royalties to the PM or to the actual author of the doodle. The buyer paid $80 NZD at the original auction, and now with all the controversy is expected to raise up to $5,000 NZD !!! Not bad for a doodle.

The real deal with all this is about ethics: How do politicians and enforcement agencies expect people to respect copyright, royalties, and other laws involving creative arts... if they make a mockery out of their ministerial work? Happy Labour day... !

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