Archive for March, 2009

Building the Brooklyn Bridge

The Makers of Things is a great ode to audacious engineering:

We are defined by what we build. It’s not just the engineering ambition that designed these structures, nor the 20 people who died building the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that we believe we can and decide to act.

Tata Nano – the world’s cheapest car

Tata Motor’s new Nano starts at under $2000. I love how spare the dashboard is. Their attitude towards safety is interesting:

Is it safe?
The Nano is built to meet the safety standards of whatever country it is in. For India, that means crash tests, seat belts and fog lamps, but no airbags. As it moves to other countries, the Nano will scrupulously meet minimum standards, but Tata Motors is not trying to use safety features as a selling point.

While this may seem like a dangerous trade-off, the main article points out that low cost might be a much more important safety feature than expensive airbags:

In New Delhi in the early 1970s, my family traveled by scooter in the classic, death-defying Indian fashion. My father would drive, with me, a toddler, standing in front gripping the handlebars and my mother seated pillion, my infant sister in her arms. My father was a civil engineer and my mother a nurse, and in India at that time, cars for a young family were far out of reach.

Water-based eyeglasses

Josh Silver’s water-based eyeglasses use pockets of fluid to hopefully improve the vision, and lives, of millions of people around the world. The ease of adjusting them is a particular advantage:

Silver calls his flash of insight a “tremendous glimpse of the obvious”–namely that opticians weren’t necessary to provide glasses. This is a crucial factor in the developing world where trained specialists are desperately in demand: in Britain there is one optometrist for every 4,500 people, in sub-Saharan Africa the ratio is 1:1,000,000.

Great idea.

Todd Hido

Todd Hido

A simple idea: photograph through your windshield on a stormy day, and you get Todd Hido’s lovely landscapes (click on photos).

Now showing at SFMoma

Last Friday, I went to see the opening of the new William Kentridge exhibit at SFMoma. I didn’t find very much of his work aesthetically pleasing – a lot of it is quite creepy – but it’s worth seeing for the sheer creativity of it all. His videos remind me of this crazy animated graffiti:

A couple of other pieces currently on display caught my attention. I love the contrast between the crispness of the hair and the soft blur of the background in Off The Diagonal, Buenos Aires by Leo Rubinfien:

And Tauba Auerbach’s Crumple part of the 2008 SECA award,  becomes no more than a bunch of dizzying black dots when seen up close.

I want this in my living room.

2009-3-16-10:44 PM #   

Have you heard of the Dabbawalas?

Mumbai Dabbawala or Tiffin Wallahs: 200,000 Ti...
Image by babasteve via Flickr

I’ve been meaning to post this fascinating article from the Economist about Dabbawalas:

Using an elaborate system of colour-coded boxes to convey over 170,000 meals to their destinations each day, the 5,000-strong dabbawala collective has built up an extraordinary reputation for the speed and accuracy of its deliveries.

According to the Wikipedia article, Dabbawala literally means “box person”, and they combine smart technology with a super flat hierarchy:

Although the service remains essentially low-tech, with the barefoot delivery men as the prime movers, the dabbawalas have started to embrace modern information technology, and now allow booking for delivery through SMS. A web site,, has also been added to allow for on-line booking, in order to keep up with the times. An on-line poll on the web site ensures that customer feedback is given pride of place. The success of the system depends on teamwork and time management that would be the envy of a modern manager. Such is the dedication and commitment of the barely literate and barefoot delivery men (there are only a few delivery women) who form links in the extensive delivery chain, that there is no system of documentation at all. A simple colour coding system doubles as an ID system for the destination and recipient. There are no multiple elaborate layers of management either — just three layers. Each dabbawala is also required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white trademark Gandhi topi (cap). The return on capital is ensured by monthly division of the earnings of each unit.

Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze creates meticulous installations from ordinary objects. I saw one of her pieces at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art a few months ago, and they’re amazing.

2009-3-10-7:39 AM #   

iPhone pictures

Just for fun, here are some pictures taken with my iPhone camera. Some of them are quite noisy (they really need to improve the camera), but I like them nonetheless.

Red Alert