1. Dollar Store Design

    moveablestickNo, this site hasn’t morphed into an Engrish rip-off.  I’ve just been spending a lot of time in dollar stores lately.

    Haunting the aisles of the cheap and easily broken, one begins to pick up on certain design tropes prevalent in goods sold at or near the amount of a dollar.  With the caveat that I am still a young grasshopper when it comes to big-city bargain hunting in the modern five and dime, I will attempt to sketch out some observations on national trends in decoration for products cheaply manufactured.

    Now nothing says cheap like retro styling. In the above label for a ‘Movable Stick’, note the overall 70s vibe.  Warm colors.  Soft focus clip art.  Wavy rainbow lines.  And dig the simplistic logo for Min Long Craft that nearly screams “Owner/Operator/Creative Director”

    I find the sum effect pretty reassuring of a half-assed product at a price low enough that I won’t think twice about splurging on a rolling pin when I don’t even have curtains on my windows yet.  (Dear neighbors: The human body is a beautiful, natural thing.  Especially mine.)

    Even better:


    The subtle clash of elements here is fantastic.  An American flag design with a discreet but readable ‘MADE IN CHINA” and the bold fiery letters of XIAN JIAN on the blue starry field delivers a one-two punch of easy irony.  Drop-shadows, serifs and a lovely gradient matte behind the cryptic product title let you know that when this designer works a pirated copy of Illustrator 4.0, its hard to see the mouse from all the steam coming off the man’s hands.

    A nice tight row of bolts keep things nearly topical (this label comes from a variety pack of nails) and finishing it off with the polite and reassuring ESL slogan gives the whole proceedings that Asian flavor that keeps one coming back to the dollar store.

    A subject for further study is whether there is a national style to cheap product package design.  I’d venture yes, having fed on bottom of the barrel Israeli sesame cookies, cheap Turkish milk crackers and allegedly Durian flavored sandwich cookies from Thailand through various jobs situated next to 99 cent, dollar and 100 yen stores.  More musings on this subject to come.

  2. The Future is Anti-Terror Assspiders

    Somewhere in the course of watching the video for the new Basement Jaxx track “Scars” (below), stray bits of internet gibberish latched upon each other and balled up into a fistula of pure awkward future.  Try to stay with me on this as I regurgitate bits off of my Twitter feed

    First bit: al-Qaeda has taken a page from drug mules everywhere and is now into keestering explosives for the most embarrassing of suicide bombings.

    Second: Italian science has brought us robotic spiders that can crawl though your digestive track and scope around.

    Somewhere at the midpoint of the video below, where the fang-faced caterpillars really get wriggly, the future of airport security reared its arthropod head winked: soon, at the metal detectors, they’ll not be content to just scan my muddy fake Chucks but will be threading robot spiders up my ass to check for C-4.

  3. Rise Above: Commuting by Airship


    While I don’t bitch much about the lack of flying cars–c’mon, driving’s dangerous enough in two dimensions–the near complete disappearance of the dirigible as a transportation option strikes me as a missed opportunity.  Geez, you have one massive fireball over New Jersey and everybody freaks out…

    Alexandros Tsolakis and Irene Shamma are keeping the faith, though.  Their entry for the Reburbia design competition envisions a network of commuter airships making sense of suburban sprawl in a sustainable and beautifully futuristic manner. Their proposed airships can haul 400 people at 150 km/h with their stations stops built up, not out or under, so as to ease the complications that mass transit infrastructure usually brings.

    While I’ve got my doubts that a network of these skywhales is the answer to greening the suburbs (slow speeds, helium shortages, expense, wind) I think these designs at least are pushing the idea of modernized lighter than air travel as a serious option.  And any time I get to link to the Island of Future Airships, I’m happy.

    found this via grinding.be, which I’d recommend browsing around for a few hours anyway

  4. Gristleism. December.


    Oh man, old man Veer is gonna be livid when he sees I scooped him on this but this is too good not to share immediately: there’s a Throbbing Gristle version of the Buddha Machine on its way.  It’s called Gristleism

    Yes, that’s right.  Gristly loops of audio-gnashing goodness will be emitted from handheld devices across the land come December when this new iteration of the Buddha Machine drops with more loops and a wider range of pitches than the original versions.

    Now, I had plans to hook my iPod up to a homemade ring mod wired into a mic outside and pipe it all through some pliers-prepared dollar store speakers to get my dissonance fix but now there’s a handy consumer device to wipe the sinful bland audio of the world around me from my brainpan.  About.  Bloody.  Time.

    The website for the thing looks like they have a commitment to doing it right to boot.  There’s scant info at the hacks section right now but the fact that they’re acknowledging and encouraging such behavior is an excellent step forward.

    So the next two months the center of my cerebrum is gonna have the mental equivalent of feeling like I have to pee until the hour I can switch one of these on and bask in its loops.  Whee!  Can’t wait.

    Track List:

    01 – Persuasion
    02 – Hamburger Lady
    03 – Twenty Jazz Funk Greats
    04 – Thank You Brian
    05 – Maggot Death
    06 – Rabbit Snare
    07 – Lyre Liar
    08 – Wimpy bar
    09 – Sex String Theory
    10 – Heathen Earth
    11 – Industrial Intro
    12 – R & D
    13 – After After Cease To Exist

    Disquiet’s got a loop up for your listening pleasure.  Thanks to Warren Ellis for noting this fact.

    As an aside, why don’t we see more of this?  Yes, there’s bands with iPhone apps out there but if you’re trying to make a dime off the physical object association with music (which CDs have always been terrible for) mixed with the extended experience, what better than making a little esoteric device that lets your audience modify your sounds and play the best bits endlessly?  I find this to be a brilliant cross between fetishism and utility, two things that can loosen the purse strings of even us jerks who’ve been trained to expect our entertainment free and unromanticized.

  5. Manners are the Weapon


    Last week’s pop science debut of the remains of the early hominid species Ardipithecus ramidus was notable for a variety of reason’s, not the least of which was the secrecy and slow, careful approach of the scientists involved, so different from the half-baked, chuck out speculation for the slavering masses approach of so much of what crops up in my internet drain trap.  I particularly liked Carl Zimmer‘s summary of the findings, with this paragraph catching my eye:

    White and his colleagues  found so many teeth of different Ardipithecus individuals that they could compare male and female canines with some confidence. The male teeth turn out to be surprisingly blunted. This result suggests that hominids shifted away from a typical ape social structure early in our ancestry. If this was a result of males forming long-term bonds with females and helping raise young, this shift was able to occur while hominids were still living a very ape-like life. Ardipithecus existed about 2 million years before the oldest evidence of stone tools, suggesting that technology was not the trigger for the evolution of nice hominid guys.

    Paleoanthropologists and their ilk can only work with what they dig up and so quite often charting prehistory can be a little too reliant on tracing the minutia of stones tools and other artifacts, reducing our evolution to a technological arms race that sorted out the killer apes with the best kill sticks and honey diggers.

    But what fascinates me are the inferences into social structure and group relations which I regard as a type of technology in its own right, even more more important to discerning why humans have been so prosperous in a world they are seemingly physically unprepared to thrive in.  A fire can keep you warm but so can rules governing the cooperation of individuals and acceptable norms of contact and exchange.

    Social structure should to be regarded as a technology with profound effects on evolutionary adaptation.  The way we relate to each other in a group is a construct and one that is passed on intact from generation to generation even as outside pressures prompt innovation in its design.  Much as the technique of flint-napping was passed down an refined–yielding meat and defense, fueling population growth and fostering group stability–prodding and bending the ties that bind any two or more humans into a coherent structure that underpins a culture determines the fate of each unit of humanity, both in competition against the elements and against other groups of humans.

    In short, some societies work and some don’t.  Those poorly configured prototypes of how a band of humans should treat each other reap destruction and stumble off into the cliche of cliches, the dustbin of history.  Jared Diamond has a better rap about that than me.

    The lesson to take from this is neither conservative nor progressive.  Yes, this indicates that our social structure is a vital thing that has brought us very far, protecting us from much uncertainty.  So don’t break it, right?

    But still, where would we be without innovations to it?  In the forest with our highly specialized rituals and mores about picking fleas off each others’ backs.  Instead, we’re riding the exponential upstroke of unprecedented connectivity, allowing cultures to meet, mix, exchange and clash like never before.  I’m not telling you anything new here.  You saw the commercial for this back when they still called it the Information Superhighway.

    And so, reading about the ancient teeth of a long-extinct evolutionary cousin has me in awe of what millions of years of figuring out who eats what and when and who sleeps with who has wrought.

    It strikes me that this process has never been entirely peaceful or without uncertainty and often our manners and social rules have been born of far more bloodshed than the usually just annoying culture wars we Americans seem to fixate on over who eats what and who sleeps with whom.  While the random spots where these conflicts burst into violence and hateful breaches of civility make me recoil in disgust, so far the body count has nothing on, say, the Protestant Reformation or European contact with the inhabitants of the Americas.

    What I’m getting at is that while relations between genders, ages, cultures, classes and competing perceptions of reality are artificial constructs, they’re also the code of a society’s operating system.  That code is rapidly forking and millions out there are debugging it everyday.  Some of these will be dead-ends.  (How many versions of Linux are we up to these days?)  But certain codes of tolerance, order and patience at the center of modernity have so far kept this exchange thriving.  This is the promise of our connected future and something to take pride in as a citizen of the world right now.  Be bold, but know what’s worth keeping.