Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Out The Door

Man, what a great day.  Obama is the President (OBAMA!).  Yesterday I boxed up and palletized my latest design + build project.  And today it reached its destination in tact.  Also, OBAMA!

They're prototype retail fixtures for my latest client, Ibex.  Ibex makes stuff you might expect to be fleece, like jackets and base layers, but they're made of wool.  What's remarkable is how un-wooly they feel.  Its kinda silky--but still stretchy.

My studio mate Steve Barretto has been working with Ibex on their brand identity, communications and packaging.  Ibex wanted to think about how they could differentiate their modern, artisnal, high quality, materialicious products with retail fixtures that would reflect those values.  We had a chat about what they needed the fixtures to do, where they might work in the retail environment, who they are as a company, and soon enough I was designing fixtures for their booth at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Utah.  

 We signed off on the project a week before the holidays, for a drop dead delivery date of January 19.  There are 4 unique designs, but the total order was for 7 pieces. And it was a design + build project so even after the design is in the can, I would have to manage the vendors, do the logistics, check assemble everything, fix anything that's wrong, document the assembly for instructions, disassemble it, pack it up on a palate and write instructions.  It was a tight schedule.  There were some anxious moments about the sheetmetal getting done on time.  But hey, now my daughter can brag that she has been to a powder coating shop (that worked on a Saturday--thanks Miguel!).

I'll have lots of pictures of them in situ at OR soon.  I'm going there to go to bask in the splendor of the Ibex booth, and look for some more companies that might be ready for design help.  

In the mean time.  Here's a sneak preview of one of the designs.  (OBAMA!)


Rocket J. Squirrel, literally.

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Its amazing how creative, curious and absolutely nuts people are.  We've had parachutes for a while now.  According to Wikipedia:
The first implemented parachute was created in 1595 by the Croatian inventor Faust Vrančić, who named it Homo Volans (Flying Man). Twenty years later, he implemented his design and tested the parachute by jumping from a tower in Venice in 1617
Ok, so we have been playing with parachutes for almost 400 years.  And yet we are still figuring out new ways to mess around with falling.  These guys are flying across cliff faces, like surfers dragging their hand in the water, deep in the curl of a wave.  But the water is a lot harder in this case.  I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified by the whole idea.

But my question is "why now?"  The technology has existed for a while.  Is it cultural?  Do you need to have a certain number of base jumpers in order to develop enough rivalry for people to start getting "bored" by clearing the hard bits?  

Thanks to Boing Boing for posting this.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It was spanky

I took my sister Paula, her boyfriend Peter and my bother Pete out sailing on the bay on a breezy day.  Actually, it was, as we say in the sailing world, spanky.  It blew a steady 25-30 knots and gusts were hitting 38 measured at Angel Island, according to the wind and tides website.  My brother Pete and I have been out lots of times, but Paula and Peter had not.  Also, we were going out on a much lighter, fancier, faster boat than we had in the past.  Also it was spanky.

I had every intention of sailing out the gate, but as we approached the big red bridge, the waves got bigger.  And bigger.  And then my intention changed.  I decided to turn downwind, and head somewhere a little mellower.  As I started turning, I eased out the mainsail, when it happened.  An asshole.  An asshole is where you get a little twist in a rope, and it makes a loop.  Then that loop tries to go through one of the fancy pulley thingies and jams it.  So this lighter, fancier, faster boat proceeds to lay down on her side, ignoring the pleas of the rudder to turn downwind.  I think Paula was scared, because I was a little scared.  

Eventually I unjammed the blockage and the main went out and the lighter, fancier, faster boat took off like a shot.  Once we caught our breath, my brother took this video. We were surfing big swells just a moment before, but this was pretty good too.

Thanks, Pete, for having a waterproof camera and using it!

Check it out, but turn the sound down, its noisy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Look Ma, I'm 95th out of 3481

Or should I say at least 95th out of 3481.  I entered the designboom/Plantronics Sound Innovation contest for two reasons.  I love designboom.  And Plantronics is a regular client of mine, and I thought it would be fun to win their contest too.  But alas, I was merely shortlisted, along with 95 others.

My entry, shown above, is an attempt to break out of the boxes connected by wires paradigm that speakers are still stuck in.  The red felt matt that connects the right and left speakers hides the wires and adds some nice materiality.  I like how it hugs tabletop, while the corners resist, and reach for the sky.  This is what I want under my 24" apple monitor at the studio.

Kimming Yap and Yulia Saksen from singapore were the winners.  I like the volume control interface--that's nicely done.  I do not like its relationship to the iPod. It looks like its about to break off.  Like a lot of otherwise good products, it is a nice sculpture on its own, but gets a bit lost in context.  Here's the link.

Here are a couple I dug.

Janne Salovaara (ya think she's finnish?) knocked this one out of the park.  I love it.  It couldn't be simpler.  The speakers inside the perforated sphere point out in all directions.  Stereo be damned!  But if you imagine these hanging like (or with) light fixtures, it works.  Check out the rest of the photos here.

Timothy Rundle from New Zealand did these nice, clean revolves of the speaker icon, and then sliced a bit off so they wouldn't roll around.  Love it.

So I guess 95th out of 3481 aint THAT bad.  Especially when Alberto Meda is judging!  Alberto is the man.

Monday, January 12, 2009

its a Walap, actually

I am a proa nut.  I built the first, and as far as I know only, land sailer proa.  I think WAY too much about proas.  And what's even weirder, is that there has been an explosion of folks who think way too much about proas around the world, thanks to the electronic interweb.

Ok, so a proa is a two hulled sailboat, kind of like a catamaran.  Unlike a catamaran the hulls are not the same size--one is little and it stays on the windward side.  Instead of tacking, you flip the rig around and sail off in reverse.  They are just as symetrical as other boats--its just that they are symetetrical front to back, not side to side.

Sounds like a hassle (and it is) but here's the catch.  Proas are faster than other boats, pound for pound.  See, instead of carrying around a big heavy thing under water (a keel), like modern monohulls do, they carry a not very heavy thing next to them (the small float, or ama).  When the wind hits the sails, it wants to lift the ama up, out of the water.  Its like taking a broomstick and putting a small weight at the end.  The further out you put that weight, the harder it pulls.  Then you get to tie a rope to your weight and attach that rope to the rig--so all the pull from the rig goes straight to the weight.  Pretty cool.

20th century trimarans focused on the other direction--pushing hulls down into the water, and using buoyancy to push back.  Don't get me wrong, its a great plan.  But as you push into the water, you create drag, and big stresses on the boat.  As it powers up, the proa loses drag as the ama lifts, and it can be made pretty flimsy (=light) because of that cool rope that lifts up the ama.  Its a recipe for fast.

And who wrote that recipe?  Pacific Island Seafarers devised these ingenious craft thousands of years ago.  Perhaps the most amazing thing (or the reason they exist at all) is the quality of the materials they had on hand--breadfruit logs and coconut husks.  Seriously.  Captain Cook wrote about seeing proas shooting around at 20 knots, while his ships were lucky to make 8 and effectively didn't go up wind.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a Marshallese Walap (the king of proas) bobbing away in the mouth of the Hanalei River in Kauai last summer.  My first proa-nerdy thought was," hey, that's not a Hawaiian craft."  I learned that she was built by Robert Po, a Hawaiian Independence activist and cultural leader type.  It struck me as strange that they would not build a local traditional craft, but hey, maybe they got caught up in the whole proa fever thats sweeping the globe.

She looks to be built from Koa or some other gorgeous Hawaiian hardwood.  A hell of a lot nicer than breadfruit wood, I say.  Sure would love to go out on that beauty.

To learn more about Proas (and then think way too much about them) check out Michael Schacht's Proafile.  Here's his awesome proa primer  link.

Oh, and here's my proa land sailer, Palindrome.

Illegal Racing for the Whole Family

We'd been checking it out for a few years now.  Each time we'd say, "yeah, we'll make a car and run next year."  But this year we did it.  We built a car for the annual Bernal Heights Illegal Soap Box Derby.  I've had plenty of hair brained schemes for freaky gravity racers, but I wanted to go family style--with my 6 year old daughter, Dinah.  I wanted her to be able to drive, but I wanted to be able to step in in an emergency and take over.  And I didn't want the instability and potential crazy handling of the old axle-with-a-bolt-in-the-middle steering.  Whether operated with ropes or your feet, that can get weird fast.  I remember from my own go cart that my dad and I used to take up in Tilden Park when I was a kid.  And, I wanted to have a hardware store aesthetic.  In my professional life, I have mocked up plenty of stuff with plywood, some 2x4s and deck screws.  I love that stuff.  Also, it seems like the right level of resolution for a father/daughter project. She can weld next year.

So I designed a tandem, dual stick cart--D in the front, me in the back.  The front wheels are casters with little tabs on the back to lock them.  I drilled some holes in the tabs and used those as steering arms, connected by an aluminum L channel.  The two control sticks rotate a shaft (2x2 with holes in the ends) that runs down the centerline of the car.  The shaft has a little stick poking out the bottom, that moves a pin right and left in a vertical slot in the L channel between the wheels.  Simple, direct, and it works great.

My buddy Jon Carver, who is always looking for a fun project, came over for the first night of building.  I finished the frame before he got there, and we got it built all the way through steering by the end of the first night.  That's him going all cowboy in the second picture from the top.

Next I added seat-backs and Flintstone-style-brakes with a lot of help from Dinah (who does not like the sound of skill saws, if you were wondering).  The painting was handled by D and her Mom--but the art direction was definitely D's.

So race day came and we strapped the beast to the roof of our car. But when we got to the top there were park rangers there saying that there would be no racing.  A "neighbor" had complained about last year's race to an un-named city official and managed to ruffle enough feathers to get the park service to intervene this year.  The officers at the bottom of the hill said that Tom Ammiano, our supervisor had tried to intervene on behalf of the racers and fans but the damage had been done.  The park service could not turn a blind eye because of our "neighbor." 

There were a lot of disappointed burning man types, families with hardware store projects (like us) and shop nerds that day.

We went home, defeated.  But the race did end up going on somwhere else--no doubt a lot less safe than the cordoned off piece of hill in Bernal.  You can read more about what happened here.

But hey, we had fun.  Here's a video of D and I taking a practice run the weekend before.