Bombastisches Material

News & Stories — 09. February 2015
Sachalin-Knöterich wurde 1863 als Futterpflanze zum ersten Mal nach Europa gebracht. Inzwischen wird er besonders von Ökologen, Naturschützern und so manchem entnervten Gartenfreund als Feind betrachtet, denn er gehört zu den invasiven Arten, sogenannten "botanischen Bomben".

Der exotisch, großblättrig, strotzende und bis zu vier Meter hoch werdende Knöterich hatte es vor Jahren Christian Reder, Künstler und Designer, angetan und so pflanzte er ihn nichtsahnend auch in seinen Garten. Doch seine ungehemmte Ausbreitung und der Jahr für Jahr im Herbst immer größer werdende Haufen trockener Stängel, ließen ihn aus der Not eine Tugend machen. Die stabilen und leichten Röhren schienen viel zu schade zum Verbrennen. Er begann zu experimentieren und fand eine Lösung.

Kurze Knöterichröhren werden in eine zähe Masse aus Holzmehl und Kaltleim eingebettet. So lassen sich über Negativformen Körper von beliebiger Größe und Form herstellen, die nach Trocknung und Beschleifen auch ausreichend belastbar sind.

Was ist das Besondere an diesem Material, das den Namen FLÖHR von florale Röhre bekam?

Die organische Lochstruktur der so entstandenen Platten und Körper, die Unregelmäßigkeit durch die unterschiedlichen Durchmesser der Röhren, ihre glänzende Innenhaut und die durch die Dicke des Materials entstehenden Lichteffekte schaffen eine ganz eigene Ästhetik, fast als wäre es so gewachsen. Das Grundmaterial, eine einjährig nachwachsende Pflanze und Abfall aus der Holzverarbeitung in Verbindung mit biologisch abbaubarem Weißleim lassen FLÖHR auch aus ökologischer Sicht interessant erscheinen.

Das Herstellungsverfahren wurde als Patent angemeldet.

Eigentlich den bildenden Künsten zugewandt, entwickelt Christian Reder jedoch seit 15 Jahren zunehmend Dinge mit Funktion, hauptsächlich Möbel und Lampen und konzentriert sich viel lieber auf angewandte Gestaltungen.
Er ist ein Mann, der unnachgiebig seinen Idealen folgt, und so verfolgt er intensiv seine Idee, dem widerspenstigen Kraut eine nutzbare Form zu verschaffen.

Mit großer Bewunderung für die Sinnlichkeit alter Handwerkskünste, strebt er für seine Formen die selben Qualitäten an und distanziert sich mit seinen ungewohnten, organischen und benutzbaren Möbeln zielstrebig von den immer gleich kühl wirkenden Möbeln heutiger, alltäglich steriler Möbelmassenproduktion. Seine Lösungen sind originell und einzigartig, alles andere wäre ihm zuwider.


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A Brief History of Wood-Splitting Technology, Part 3: The Wind-Powered Sawmill That Changed Dutch History

We've seen how being able to effectively split wood was important to earlier societies that aimed to build ships. Both riving and pit-sawing were effective ways to turn logs into the needed boards, but they were also highly time-consuming and laborious. For a country to win the naval race, they'd need a radical new production technology, something that would blow the competition away.

"Blow" is the right word, as it turns out. In 1594, an ingenious Dutchman invented something amazing: A wind-powered sawmill. Cornelis Corneliszoon, who described himself as "a poor farmer with wife and children" figured out that he could harness the power of the wind and attach it to a whipsaw to make it go up and down. He then added another gear to the crankshaft that would advance the material by means of what looks to be a rack and pinion. Here is the drawing from the patent granted to Corneliszoon in 1597:

The result of Corneliszoon's invention was much faster sawing, without the calorie-burning. Men were still needed to maintain the machine's operation, of course, but the merits of the design were so obvious that others immediately began copying it (leading Corneliszoon to finally apply for a patent three years later).

The importance of the the wind-powered sawmill taking off in the Netherlands cannot be understated. Wood production didn't double, triple or quadruple; it grew by a factor of thirty, or 3,000%. It was all in the time savings: Using the pit-saw method, sawyers could process 60 logs over a span of 120 days. Using a wind-powered sawmill, they could break down 60 logs in four or five days. What used to take four months now took less than a week.

As the sawmills began to proliferate and be improved upon, the Dutch began cranking out ships. In the 1600s they became the world's foremost naval power, destroying a large fleet of their Spanish antagonists in 1607. They began establishing colonies or trading posts, depending on how politically correct or revisionist you are, as far as Taiwan. In 1614 they founded New Amsterdam on a little island called Manhattan, and named a nearby district Breukelen, which we would later bastardize as "Brooklyn."

By 1650 the Netherlands had some 16,000 merchant ships that sailed all around the world, facilitating their trade. The English weren't happy with this and a series of Anglo-Dutch wars were prosecuted; this resulted in the Dutch delivering England's little-talked-about worst naval defeat in history in 1667. Beefs continued, and in 1688 William III of the Dutch Republic sailed to England with a large fleet, toppled the King, and had himself crowned King of England to put a stop to it.

The bottom line is that the Dutch successes of the 1600s were predicated on them having a large fleet. Of course other things were also necessary, skilled businessmen and politicians and military commanders, et cetera, but it's not unrealistic to think that without Corneliszoon revolutionizing the production method of timber, they'd not have made it as far as they did.

So enough with the history talk, let's take a look at this wondrous, completely green sawmill technology. While Corneliszoon's own didn't survive the 400-plus years until now, there is a rather amazing recreation of a 1600s Dutch wind-powered sawmill, built from the plans pictured above, called Het Jonge Schaap in Zaandam, outside of Amsterdam:

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Brilliantly Simple, Low-Tech Device to Help Blind Dogs Navigate

First off, this much-"Liked" video, which has nothing to do with blind dogs, is currently making the social media rounds. In it we see a bulldog who apparently loves cardboard boxes, and is willing to deal with a major inconvenience in order to carry his around:

While that video is funny, seeing it did make me wonder what happens to dogs that truly lose their sight. A recent Reddit post, subsequently covered in animal-lover's website The Dodo, shows a very clever solution constructed by a man in Texas named Jesse Foy. Foy's girlfriend's dog, Buddy, had developed cataracts and could not longer see; discouraged by the loss of sight and unable to navigate without banging into things, the dog simply stopped moving. Thus Foy headed down to the hardware store, then cobbled this together:

It's made, as Foy explains, from "A few bolts, washers, wing nuts and a roll of plastic hanger strap."

Foy readily admits that he did not conceive of the device; the credit for that goes to Silvie Bordeaux, who invented the following several years ago:

Bordeaux invented it for the sake of her own dog, Muffin, who had gone blind. "I was devastated, since he kept bumping into walls and falling down the stairs," Bordeaux writes. "He became very depressed and was afraid to move around. I could not let him out of my sight and carried him around everywhere. I searched the internet extensively for solutions/assistance. That was when I realized that there is a great need for a products to assist blind/visually impaired dogs, so I invented [this device, which I call] 'Muffin's Halo Guide For Blind Dogs.'"

Bordeaux took out a patent and now sells the device online. While the halo iconography and particularly the little angel wings are a bit much for my tastes, I can't deny the device is useful; when dogs go blind, it's not uncommon for their owners to put them down because they simply can't find a solution that will allow the dog to navigate freely. "I was stunned to find out how many dogs are abandoned or put down because they go blind," Bordeaux writes. "Muffin's Halo can now save the lives of many dogs!"

As for why Foy didn't simply buy one of Bordeaux's products, he concluded that it would be too bulky for Buddy, a five-pounder, to carry on his diminutive frame. (Bordeaux does sell her device in a variety of sizes, including a $69.95 XXS; this is pure speculation on my part, but perhaps the price had something to do with the DIY decision.) And from a design perspective, Foy's hack seems better suited for Buddy: The plastic hang-strap has enough give to gently transmit force, whereas the Halo device seems a bit more rigid. Also note the placement of the Halo versus the placement of Foy's device; the latter has the attachment point much lower, and I wonder if that confers some ergonomic advantage.

In any case, I hope folks continue to experiment with and evolve designs like these, hopefully without violating Bordeaux's patent, which I understand must be respected. It costs thousands of dollars to train a seeing-eye dog that can assist blind humans, but if we can make a blind dog's life easier with a few dollars in parts from the local hardware store, that's a hard fact to ignore.

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Rain's Weekly Design Minutiae: Apple's Unusual Shopping Bag

A crew in my photo studio left behind a bunch of paper shopping bags. I was folding them up to recycle them when I noticed something odd. Take a look at this Apple shopping bag vs. the others:


See it? All of the non-Apple shopping bags have their fold-flat crease on one of the faces. 

The bottoms of the non-Apple bags, though they are comprised of different pieces laminated together, are designed to remain flat whether the bag is folded or open. They are also a visual hodgepodge of different pieces meeting.

In contrast, the bottom of Apple's bag is neat and orderly, no angles. It's also designed with the fold-flat crease on the bottom, leaving the face unmarred.

In other words both faces of the Apple bag are completely seamless.

I found that Apple has patented this bag's design. And the Washington Post even wrote about it. But neither the patent nor the article mention the seamless faces; both are instead focused on the nature of the handles.

The non-Apple shopping bags have twine-like handles glued between strips of paper. In the Abercrombie & Fitch bag the handles disappear into slots.

The mid-range bags have shoelace handles that are knotted on the inside.

The Apple bag has knit handles that are made from paper. They don't feel softer in the hand than the shoelace handles but they do feel more substantial.

They disappear into the bag through these half-moon cutouts and are reinforced on the inside. The top of the bag feels quite strong and I'm certain that if this were to fail, it wouldn't be at the handles.

(This drawing is a cross-section of 9-9 shown in Fig. 1)

I'm a longtime Apple user, but the company no longer holds the magic for me that it once did. I find their products aren't any easier to use compared to competitors and their software is non-intuitive, clunky and buggy. I don't care if they do or don't come out with something shiny and new every year, I just wish they'd focus on making their current stuff work well.

So, seeing the design attention lavished on this bag actually made me a little sad. Because it shows that someone inside the company still gives a damn, but it is not trickling down to end-user-me in a way that improves my life.

Steve Jobs used to cite the old craftsman's saw about making the unseen back of the cabinet as nice as the front, and someone has done that here with the bottom of the bag. Which is admirable, though no one is likely to notice. I do notice daily, however, that the search functionality in Mail is completely fugazi, it's impossible to find things in the Finder and using iCal is horrific. My phone is constantly nagging me to use iCloud and when I activate Siri there's no more audible prompt, so by the time I start speaking it cuts me off with "Sorry, I didn't get that." And on and on.

So while I appreciate the design of the bag, these days I find myself less inclined to buy anything to put into it.

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