Thursday, 27 May 2010


I just found the website California is a Place. It's a small video project about discovering inspiring and thought-provoking things about California that most people don't see. Check it out.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Adorable design excludes adorable shorties

No, I don't mean this in the T-Pain sense of the word. That would be spelled "shawtay," I believe.

BLDG blog have made a post about the storyboard bookshelf-chair combo. I thought that this was an adorable idea until I noticed that the girl modelling the chair is, like me, too short to comfortably use what is supposedly, "an object defined by creating a surface at the height of the knee, at the ideal angle for sitting." It's all very well claiming that something is knee-height, but whose knee are you talking about here? Certainly not mine, and certainly not the knee of the model in your photographs. It's almost as infuriating as the shop-window mannequins who, like me, are too skinny for the shop's clothes.

I don't mind that clothing, furniture and other designed objects are never designed with short or skinny people in mind. I get it - there aren't very many around people below 5'3". But why did they use such a short model if their furniture is designed for average height people? There can't even be a lot of models around of such a height. All they've done is made their product look silly and made me feel all the more resentful.

Well, screw them. I don't even like to store my objects in one-way linear systems, as the term 'storyboard' implies. I'm a shawtay who prefers matrix-based storage systems that combine thematic, geographical and utility-based categorisation. That's how I roll.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Places to escape to

I've crossed that threshold into overwhelming exam-related anxiety, so I think it's time I harnessed my tendency towards escapist fantasy to create a safe psychological space I can retreat to when the going gets tough. Here's some things I'll be using to help.

The blog Les petites choses de Piou is littered with beautiful photographs like these of the writer's home. I love to imagine one day living in a calm, beautiful, simple home like this. Tactile touches like a nicely textured white quilt cover or glossy, hand-thrown ceramic cereal bowls, not to mention big, fluffy companion animals, are all things I dream about having one day, when these exams are a distant memory and all the insecurities that make me terrified of them have long since disintegrated in the flow of time.

The iPhone app Bloom is a generative ambient music app created by Brian Eno. Tapping on the screen generates coloured circles under your fingertips, which produce gentle, twinkly sounds that vary in pitch depending on their location. If you leave the app alone then it will automatically create variations on the sounds you've already inputted, gently changing the key, rhythm, and order of the notes you created. Its mesmerising beauty makes me feel relaxed and entranced, and it's also a good concentration aid.

Not quite often enough, but occasionally I make myself some matcha in as close to the proper ceremonial way as I can remember. Slurping the lukewarm, bright green tea out of a tea bowl that's designed for cradling in the hands with care, I'm immediately transported back to my tea ceremony teacher's tatami room, and for a few brief moments I can forget my troubles and lose myself in the mindlessness and emptiness of the act of making matcha.

A bit behind...

I don't think Florence and the Machine are particularly interesting musically (am I alone there?) but I really love their music videos. Doesn't this one look sort of like a wedding, but instead of the bride marrying a groom she is ritually sacrificed? If I ever get married or used in a ritual sacrifice, then I'd definitely use this video for design inspiration.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Facebook Diaspora?

I was going to do a bit of research about the concept of privacy in the information age, and write a blog post about the latest issues with Facebook. But then I realised it would be more informative if I just repost this.

I'm considering running away from the echoing chamber of self-obsessed monologues that is Facebook. I think to some extent, Facebook inscribes a certain kind of use into its design, and that use is a combination of stupid games, whiny status updates, and embarrassing photos - none of which reflect well on its users. I want out. However, Facebook is like a digital cafeteria - you don't know who you might bump into, and you get to talk to people who you know, but might not usually make the effort to contact. Quitting Facebook will be like moving away to a tiny village in Wales. I'm hoping that some platform will arise that is similar to Facebook, but much more pared down and much less invasive.

I don't see why the diaspora project is necessary, though. While google is no stranger to privacy issues, I feel quite positive about the frameworks google has come up with for drawing a common social thread between separate internet platforms, such as google friend connect and google profiles. Google has platforms for pretty much every task that facebook carries out, and provides the ability to link as many or as few of these together as you want. And unlike Facebook, google's Blogger, wave, gmail, googletalk, even buzz don't seem to be designed to make an idiot out of you.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Don't be scared

I love these surreal, humorous box frames about fearlessness. There's a collection of them for sale on etsy. Even if I could afford to spend £33 on one, I'm not sure which I would choose!

The basic sentiment behind them is something I live for - trying not to be afraid of what terrible things might happen, because challenges always lead to something greater than you could have ever imagined. Admittedly, I'm still a bit of a wimp sometimes. But in fairness, my life challenges have never led me to San Francisco or skin-diving pearl hunters. Maybe if they had, I wouldn't be afraid of anything!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Trying to get my head around fiscal policy

Fiscal policy is boring as hell, and it ignites my math-phobia in a flash. However, every time I'm in a political discussion with someone who isn't going to vote the same way as I am, I fall on my arse as soon as they mention the national debt and the need to cut spending. I'm often being told that the Lib Dems' policy on public spending and closing the deficit is ill thought out and unrealistic, and all I can impotently splutter in reply is that Nick Clegg seems to use actual numbers and make reference to detailed budget plans that account for every pound that must be spent and saved, while the other two don't like to use numbers when they could use class stereotypes instead. It usually turns out that neither I nor anybody else I've spoken to has actually done any research on fiscal policy, and we're all as ignorant as each other on the matter. However, I know that I'm exactly the sort of person who can get easily bamboozled by a man in a suit saying that the maths has already been done by other men in suits, so I don't need to worry my pretty little head about it. I think I ought to at least try to understand the numbers behind the policies to some extent so that I can make an informed decision about how I use my vote.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies,an independent research institute, has carried out a lot of research into the various parties' proposals regarding fiscal policy. Luckily for me, this is presented in an uncomplicated, easy-to-understand format. Take this example of a graphics-rich presentation regarding national debt, the budget deficit, tax rises and public spending cuts. It seems to be a good way of becoming better informed about the policies behind the rhetoric, without having to retrain as an economist.

Nevertheless, I don't think the results of this study would change anybody's mind about how they're going to vote - the Conservatives will keep tax low and close the deficit early, but they won't be able to keep it as low as they've promised; Labour will cut the least spending, but they will have to find another £7 billion by 2016 in order to do so; the Lib Dems are going to raise taxes a lot, but they are at least very open about this and seem to have given the most detail on fiscal policy and actually accounted for every pound. This seems to follow exactly what I would expect from each party, so there's no real surprises here. But at least I feel a teeny-weeny bit better informed in my voting decision.