Saturday, November 29, 2008

Game is on!

It's a complete lack of respect! We're on the TV mid-season... and there's literally nothing to see on the telli. A couple of weeks ago, it caught us off guard, and we had to watch (about one hour of) "highschool musical". To be honest, I was curious about what is all the fuzz about it... and it was exactly as expected: garbage. Today's movie on the telli was Hanna Montana... so I immediately popped "chicken run" into the DVD player before it could cause some permanent damage to our neurons. I think that kind of disney movies are more damaging than letting kids watch Barney, violence or old disney docos on the tube. They are literally brain washing kid's minds into zombies with empty laundried heads. Those movies should have some kind of advisory, like : "this movie may cause permanent loss of neurons and/or turn them into froot-loops".

Anyway, game is on to develop a fully functional exoskeleton. My favourite at this stage has to be the ReWalk by Argo Medical Tecnologies and Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks. It still looks terrible, and there's something to be done about that horrible battery pack... but ASIMO also looked horrible on his early days. So, there's still some hope to see the ReWalk evolving into something more refined. It's already amazing to watch how it works on a patient with SCI T8 which is usually a severe injury.

Honda's exolegs were also unveilled recently. They are like some kind od device out of an anime movie. They are designed for people who can walk on their own, but who can benefit from additional leg and body support while performing tasks, like the example of the guy lifting some heavy objects on a factory line. I have my concerns about spinal chord injuries if the legs have a mechanic boost, and the torso is left on its own... but surely the guy is not going to lift a piano.

It was just a matter of time until kitsch could finally reach the medical gadgets. Kitsch is omnipresent, is inevitable... Milan Kundera was right, it's metaphysical! Kayhan Haj-Ali-Ahmadi and Joanna Hawley developed this "Eames inspired prothesis"... later on we'll have the "Venturi arm", the "Giovannoni limbs" or the "Stark's breast prothesis". Bring it on! That's something that Victor Papanek would be proud of.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sugar chicken soup

I found the lost cousin of Jessica Simpson! Bullets and Butterflies traces the journey of a handicapped street child and a biking enthusiast from the bustling cityscape of Delhi to the serene hills of Himachal Pradesh. Rajesh is also allergic to pork meat... or sugar meat... or is it chicken sugar...? OK. Just watch the film and you'll see.

Also at the culture unplugged film festival is this nice documentary about Tibetans in exile. Watch around minute 3:30... there's a nice cosmological explanation to the origin of people in Tibet: "The most famous of them all is that a male monkey manifestation of a Bodhisattva, married a manifestation of Tara ("star" bzw. "mother earth" or "the mother of the Buddhas"). With this marriage, they had 6 hybrids from which it is believed that the Tibetan race was originated." Now, that's certainly an hybrid of Darwin and some intelligent design!

4 years ago, KidsCan charitable trust, started a campaign to give shoes to many kiwi kids who stop attending school during winter, just because they don't have shoes or coats. It's terrible that kiwis came to such realization during a Labour government, but it's nice that some one finally recognized that there are underprivileged kiwis, specially kids who need a hand to be able to get to their full potential. During this last 4 years, KidsCan has grown into many campaigns... the most recent is the "Designer Jandals". One of the iconic kiwi items are the so called "jandals" (japanese sandals). There's even a "national jandal day" in NZ.
New Zealand Jandals"The KidsCan StandTall Charitable Trust is super styling this essential summer footwear collaborating with seven top New Zealand designers to bring you the KidsCan “designer jandals” range. The range is available exclusively through Number 1 Shoes with $5 from every pair sold going towards KidsCans programmes which support financially disadvantaged Kiwi kids! Jandals are in store nationwide from the 24th of November."
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Return of Draculin

It's not the first time I have to deal with spammers, hackers and all sorts of "social engineering" ... even from ACC! hacker attack warningA long time ago one of my own students sent me deliberately several viruses from a disguised e-mail. Our SpecialKiwis websites have been attacked by spammers and spam-bots before, but this time was a nasty one! They hacked into a system file, causing all visitors coming from a search engine like google, yahoo, live, etc... to be redirected to a malware site. That's very bad, considering that most of our visitors are first time visitors coming from health related directories or web searches... and that the hacked file is ironically the one that is supposed to secure the site from attackers. This is part of the notification I got from google:
Dear site owner or webmaster,

We recently discovered that some of your pages can cause users to be infected with malicious software. We have begun showing a warning page to users who visit these pages by clicking a search result on
We strongly encourage you to investigate this immediately to protect your visitors. Although some sites intentionally distribute malicious software, in many cases the webmaster is unaware because:

1) the site was compromised
2) the site doesn't monitor for malicious user-contributed content
3) the site displays content from an ad network that has a malicious

If your site was compromised, it's important to not only remove the
malicious (and usually hidden) content from your pages, but to also
identify and fix the vulnerability.
The problem is now fixed, but I'm concerned how bad is it going to be the next time.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008


I had absolutely no idea who's Dulce Sarahi Villareal or "el hijo del papá", ... but now, I've been enlightened about the irony of life. That's one of the few things I've learned through Facebook. I just signed up last week, and I already have 104 contacts among family, friends and former students. It's nice to hear how well they're doing, some of them already parents, or getting married, or doing incredible jobs around the world.

Speaking of Design students, this week was the exhibition of projects by last year Massey University students graduating in Transport Design, Industrial Design and Visual Communication Design, Design exposure '08. One of the girls contacted me to ask for some advice on her project, and I must say that hers is in deed a very clever idea: "One significant area that is problematic for autistic children is Sensory Dysfunction, which is linked to development delays in communication, behavioural and social issues. The proposed design provides input to the tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive systems using calming therapeutic methods for both home and school environments."

This year, the exhibition was at the old shed of the Allinghy team, which is much better than the Britomart shed (at least you get the view of the wharfs on the way there). As usual, the exhibition was presented in a very professional way. Most of the students left printed booklets and business cards on their space... and what can I say? The exhibition was impecable. Of course there are better projects than others, some were missing some details, or are still a bit raw, but all of them were carried out with the quality expected for a final year project. The projects I liked the most: the ones that are "neutral" because they have to explore the whole set of issues necessary on a project. The projects I liked the least: the ones that are inspired or based on "kiwi ingenuity" because they hide behind a sense of national sympathy, so they are not judged objectively as a pure design exercise. Congratulations to all the graduating students and good luck at the final evaluations!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Mayor wants feedback

The past administration of the Auckland City Council started a multi-million renovation of the city center. It was a waste of money, because it was merely superficial... but they has to close major roads for several months just to put some new tiles and benches. Anyway, I won't go much into the local politics, but one of the main concerns lately, has been how our politicians take unilateral decisions with no support from the community. After the "stadium-gate" costed the reelection to the "cereal-mayor", the old Mayor returned to office, and now he's more careful to ask about the urban development of the city. So, now we have been asked to give feedback about the development in the Orakei Peninsula.

3 of the 4 proposed master plans are open to pubic feedback. There are no huge differences among them. Basically, just the ammount of residential units, and a building (or not) on the eastern side... and of course the cost for the council, ranging from "break-even" to 30 million. The style of the buildings is very conservative, most of them are typical "eastern Europe communist multi-family blocks of the 60's" but that's the main style of most of the buildings in Auckland anyway.
Auckland City Council and Redwood Group Ltd are preparing a masterplan for the area. There is potential for an integrated, mixed-use, residential development including a transport hub and more accessible public open spaces. Redwood Group exhibited initial plans at public open days in March and June, 2008. Opinion was divided on the height of buildings up to 15 levels. Discussions with interested groups led to a Mayoral workshop, convened by Mayor John Banks, to review options including one suggested by the residents' society. The council has agreed that the 15 level towers are "off the table". Three options, to a maximum of six or eight storeys, are being offered for community feedback prior to agreeing a final master plan. This will be the basis of a public plan change notified for consultation in the New Year. A review of the three options will be delivered to households in affected areas of the Hobson and Eastern Bays wards on 2 November.

The Orakei peninsula is a 7ha block of land edged by Hobson Bay and Orakei Basin. It has a number of owners including Redwood Group, the council and Ngati Whatua. It is currently used for a range of business and industrial uses while the central portion was quarried for the Hobson Bay rail embankment. The local community raised the need for a comprehensive masterplan for the whole area in preference to piecemeal development. To ensure a better-integrated design the council asked officers to open discussions with Redwood Group, as main landowner, to develop a masterplan for the area. Following discussions, the council entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Redwood Group to create a master plan featuring integrated public transport, significant residential development and modest amounts of commercial and retail development.

A number of goals were agreed including:

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fried green apples

13.3 inch macBook 2008Well, finally... after years and years of waiting, almost since Jobs called Ellen Hancock a "bozo" then closed the Apple Research Labs and stopped listening to the customers... because, he said at some point, "I don't have to listen to crazy mac fans, when I know what's best" (that's my lose interpretation, not his actual words)... Anyway, after all this time, they are finally presenting a notebook that is exactly what people have been asking for in the forums: the glorious return of the best mac ever: the 12" PowerBook. Of course, the new MacBook is actually 13.3" and it's duo-devil inside... but it's all what a laptop should be : 2.4Ghz, 2 to 4GB memory, 250GB disc... and of course a DVD superdrive, and finally almost all the environmental features they have been neglegting ... unlike the anorexic thin-air-book with no optical drive, alzheimer's memory, and bulimic storage space. What were they thinking?!!!

enviornmental report macbookYeah sure, he knew best. Until a report came out some months back, that mac notebooks were practically not selling at all. Why would they? when mac laptops have been basically the same since almost 10 years! That's like 59 in bunny years, and 200 in laptop years. Ezra Gottheil's comments last month, aknowledge that the company is now divided in 3: mac, iPod and iPhone. Jobs was not happy with that whole "computer creatin' thing"... he was interested in "meaningful partners" and to sell, sell, sell gizmos and gadgets. That all went (very) well for a while, but after eight years of not listening to anyone's boos (including those annoying stockholders), now he had to explain himself to the stockholders, after the "makin' computer thing" started to lose inertia.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Stuff happens

My cousin Marcos posted about this movie by Annie Leonard on his "eco-blog". He's absolutely right to say that her explanation is very clear. The problem with a linear system is that it is unsustainable. It's just terrible to think that we designers are part of that "conspiracy".
story of stuffFrom its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.
I've been saying for quite a while the same thing other systems we're gladly adopting without further thoughts, like "democracy", etc. but that's another debate. Of course, as designers we're part of that linear system... we know that every design decision translates into an effect: remember the infamous "form follows function". However, we don't take full responsibility of our acts as designers. Who cares about wasting materials and energy during production? when at the end we get a nice product. Who cares about poisonous substances? when at the end you get a nice product like the iPhone for example. Whe cares about neurotoxins? when you get a nice and soft, flame retardant pillow. Like I said before, it's terrible when design awards go to the most successful sellers, and not to the most successful in thoughtfully considering the holistic impact of the product.

It's all about the numbers. Just like these amazing pictures (via) by Chris Jordan show us:

New Car Lot, Tacoma 2004 - Chris Jordan
Crushed cars #2, Tacoma 2004 - Chris Jordanciao
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