Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Star Chair

Some of you will have seen my Star Chair - made from corrugated cardboard. It was the very first (and probably the best) thing I ever did at architecture school.

All the same, as it has been around for the last 40 years, I am currently trying to push it out into the world to fend for itself.

An essential part of this initiative is the new Star Chair website:


Check it out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On suffering fools (gladly or otherwise)

After encountering it for what I swear must be the third or fourth time in as many days I am beginning to develop a deep aversion for the phrase 'He was not one to suffer fools gladly' along with it's even more clich├ęd variant '... never one to suffer fools gladly.'

It's that 'gladly' that gets me; I'd be quite content with a straightforward refusal to suffer fools full-stop; I'd find that perfectly reasonable - even though personally speaking I have nothing against them (fools that is) but the 'gladly' suggests that the person in question is quite prepared to suffer fools 'through gritted teeth' or with 'smouldering resentment' or suchlike - just not with anything approaching normal human decency.

The consequence is that, while I appreciate that the phrase is customarily trotted out to enhance a person's reputation, for me it has entirely the opposite effect - suggesting, instead, a somewhat mean-minded and ultimately insecure character.

No, when it comes to choosing which categories of people we might be unwilling to suffer - gladly or in any other way - I'll opt for the self-satisfied, intolerant bigots every time.

Leave the fools alone - they're just fine.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sardine tins - a retraction

In response to my recent item on sardine tins a reader made the following observation:

While I enjoyed your piece, I have to take exception to the description of the 4-6-0 Stanier as 'humble'. After all this was the class which included 'Sherwood Forester', 'Royal Scot' and 'Old Contemptibles'. The Walschaerts piston valves alone mark them out as superior machines.

It is gratifying to know that there are those amongst my readers who consider accuracy in these matters to be of vital importance.

I stand corrected.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Everyday design No 2: The Dyson DC21 vacuum cleaner

When Dyson first launched it's range of bagless vacuum cleaners I was given one in part payment for some design work and I loved it right from the start. Well maybe love is a bit too strong a word but it worked well enough and was almost a pleasure to use. It had one or two nice little qualities like an ability to perch halfway up the stairs and a tolerance for being dragged around by its hose at all sorts of angles. Otherwise it was charmingly devoid of complications.

Then, after some 12 years of hard, unsparing use, the motor - quite reasonably, in my opinion - decided to pack it in and I got it into my head to take it to the dump rather than to the local Vac Doctor, who I have since discovered could have had a replacement motor installed in no time.

As it happened, I had been eyeing up the later Dyson models and seduced by their distinctive looks - which reminded me of Giger's design for Alien - I went out and bought a brand new DC21.

The first thing that should be said about this machine is that it bites. I have been bitten on at least three occasions and always in sensitive parts of the body such as between thumb and forefinger which suggests that the instruction manual should include a warning along the lines: 'On no account should this machine be used as a sex toy'. All the same, in view of the risk of putting ideas into people's heads, a general caution relating to bite avoidance is probably the most that can be expected.

Another peculiarity of the latest Dyson machines is that you're never quite sure just what is attached to what and exactly how. Parts that look like they should be fixed on firmly give the impression that they are about to drop off, whilst other components that you'd like to be able to get at easily, like the dust bucket, are fiendishly difficult to detach. You end up feeling that a diagram might be helpful, similar to the ones used to describe magic tricks with rope and featuring hands, arrow symbols and dotted lines accompanied by words such as 'grasping the handle lightly with the second and third fingers of the right hand, press the button with the thumb while maintaining a even pressure between the two components.'

The overall impression is that the kids in the Dyson design department were given some expensive solid-modelling software and invited to see what they could do with it. And as they were undoubtedly all fresh from modelling dragons and such like, they proved they could do quite a lot.

The new Dyson doesn't perch on the stairs any more either. No doubt, after a number of dreadful accidents and subsequent claims for compensation in which it was alleged the victim had been lulled into a false sense of security by the seemingly natural way in which the cleaner sat halfway up the stairs, it was decided that the new model should be designed to encourage a healthy sense of anxiety.

Of course what Dyson should do now is launch the DC21 Alien - similar to the others but with a matt-black finish and a special retracting alien mouthparts attachment for dealing with those extra tough cleaning challenges.

Now there's a machine you wouldn't want to mess around with.