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My Penguins [14 Nov 2006|11:02am]
Another twist on classics publishing comes with "My Penguins". Their covers are blank white art paper; the point is to let readers draw, paint or collage their own design, expressing how they feel about the book. The first £5 "My Penguins" are Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Austen's Emma, Dostoevsky's Crime And Punishment, the Grimms' Magic Tales, Woolf's The Waves and - fittingly - Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray. An online gallery of various covers will soon go live at www.penguin.co.uk/mypenguin.

Source : The Guardian, 11th November 2006.
Author : Joel Rickett.
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Cowbins [02 Nov 2006|02:27pm]
Down in black and white: 'cows' that eat rubbish

Since council chiefs in Lewisham in south-east London painted their recycling bins to look like black-and-white cows the amount of refuse collected by the authority has risen by 60%.
The "herd" of Cowbins, which have been sprayed to look like Friesian cattle, stand on sites painted green to look like grass and locals are urged to "feed" them with rubbish for recycling.
Council spokesman Andrew Winter said: "People seem to like the idea of feeding them - children especially tell us they want to fatten them up and we hope that schools will get their own Cowbins."

Source : The Guardian, 30th October 2006.
Story : Anglia Press Agency.
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Penguin Classics [02 Nov 2006|02:24pm]
Cover stories
Five leading designers explain how they re-covered their favourite novels for the 60th anniversary of Penguin Classics

Sam Taylor-Wood
Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I first read Tender Is The Night while I was at college. It is one of those books that you read and feel a shift. Trying to choose your favourite novel is always difficult, but when I thought about which novel to design a cover for, Tender Is The Night shot to mind as one that had inspired me early on. What really resonates with me is how the story opens with this decadent, glamorous lifestyle and spirals into the demise of the central character, Dick Diver, and all those around him. As the novel unfolds you see the other characters - Rosemary, the young girl Dick Diver falls in love with, his wife Nicole and his crazy friend Abe North - all threatening to pull him down. But in the end, he is mainly responsible for his own downfall. When you begin to read it, you think it is all going to be about Rosemary, and then Nicole, but essentially it is all about Dick and how he is the maker of his undoing, as he descends into alcoholism. I reread it this summer, and the story is told so poetically and eloquently. It is one of those books that you read and think : if I could only remember that sentence - it is so beautiful.
I think a lot of my work has that sense of decadence, with an under-lying turbulence or unease, which is so powerful in the novel. My cover is a photograph I took of the writer Harland Miller, who features in quite a lot of my work. I knew the photographs I could take of him would be very Dick Diverish. It is a simple black and white photograph of him in a cream Riviera-style suit, with his head hung low. Harland loves the book, too, and he was very happy to be Dick Diver. He has made paintings that are reworkings of Penguin Classics, so it was lovely to put him on one of the covers. They are classic and iconic - all the titles you really want to read. I'm so excited to see the book out. I love it.

Manolo Blahnik
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I love Penguin. I had the orange and white paperbacks on my shelf when I was a boy in the Canary Islands, so I have a strong affection for them. As a child I used to hear my mother say how wonderful Flaubert was, and Madame Bovary was her favourite of his novels, so I read it when I was about 12, but didn't enjoy it that much at all. Later, when I was living in Geneva, I saw a wonderful movie of L'Éducation Sentimentale that pushed me to read Madame Bovary again, and I was absolutely enchanted by it. It gave me an incredible passion for Flaubert's writings. Madame Bovary is particularly attractive to me because it is a very dramatic story, with this woman's incredible desire, and a compulsion to dress all the time. She didn't have much money and had to borrow from the draper, but she spent everything she had on wonderful, beautiful textiles and dresses. It is something that a modern woman can understand.
Doing illustrations for books isn't familiar terrain to me, but I love challenges. My cover is a picture of a lady with a man's hands stretching from behind a curtain to touch her lovely bottom. She is dressed in a wonderful chiffon peignoir, or dressing-gown, and mules - like the slippers ladies put on before they went to bed in those days. It's a fun cover. Maybe I should have been more respectful, done a more solemn drawing in homage to Flaubert - but it isn't a solemn novel. My design was inspired by the golden era of English drawing typified by Cecil Beaton and Oliver Messel. I tried to remember the kind of illustrations that Beaton did in the 1940s to 1960s, like those for Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred, and this is what I tried to re-create. At the same time, I tried to make it like a cheap novelette from nowadays. I don't know if it is very good or not, but I quite like it.

Fuel - Stephen Sorrell and Damon Murray
Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

We have been interested in Russian culture since visiting Moscow for an early Fuel project in 1992. We have recently designed and published two books about Russian culture, one featuring home-made household objects (Home-Made : Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts by Vladimir Arkhipov) and the other on Russian criminal tattoos (Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, Volume II by Danzig Baldaev). Dostoyevsky is one of the quintessential Russian writers, who asks all the big questions while laying his characters bare in the most readable way.
The central character in Crime And Punishment, Raskolnikov, is constantly questioning both his psychological and physical boundaries. This is reflected in our approach to the "cover" - made from the same material as the inside stock, it is as fragile and open as the pages. The design echoes the tension and intensity of the writing, the back-cover optical illusion being a visual representation of Raskolnikov's battle with the voice of his conscience. The brown craft paper used throughout the book gives a sense of the gritty St. Petersburg locations and poverty that Dostoyevsky described.
Russia itself has a major role in the book, and we wanted to remind readers of the book's original language by including the title and author in Cyrillic type as well as English.

Paul Smith
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Penguin said I had to choose from its Classics collection, and frankly I could have chosen 10 or more titles. But I leaned towards Lady Chatterley's Lover because D.H. Lawrence came from Nottinghamshire, the same county as me. I have visited where he used to live and the little museum there. I read the book many many years ago - I think when I was a teenager. It was, of course, an extremely outrageous thing to read at that time, so I probably had to hide it. I didn't have time to read it again, so I tried to remember the most important bits. I think it is a tender, not vulgar, book, a very romantic novel, so I chose the scene where Mellors decorates her with flowers to illustrate the cover. It is a very lovely scene. That was the start of it.
As a designer of clothes, I work with fabric, so I had the idea of creating a silk cover. Every part of it is associated with my trade : the title, Lawrence's name and the Penguin symbol are all embroidered. The pubic hair is made up of little silk-embroidered lilac and purple forget-me-nots. It is very beautiful. We were allowed to choose the typeface, so it is all very much in keeping. We are very familiar with making brochures and catalogues, and so on, but this is the first book I have ever designed.
The new Designer Classics are being launched in my shop in Notting Hill, and each book will be displayed in a different room so as to draw attention to them individually. I'm a regular visitor to Portobello market and I often see Penguin paperbacks on stalls there. They are so distinctive : I love the way, as they get older, they have a slightly dipped-in-tea look about them.

Ron Arad
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I chose The Idiot without even thinking about it. I didn't even have to choose it - it selected itself. I first read it when I was 16 or 17, and I've never read a book like it since. It was mind-blowing : the title, the expectations it creates in a 16-year-old boy, and then you meet this amazing character. He's nothing but an idiot. It is very bleak - but such is life.
Unfortunately the novel I read came with a cover - a black and white portrait. You have a job getting rid of the image and having your own, un-influenced vision, and the reader resents this. This led to my first decision, which was not to have a cover image at all - just to say "The Idiot" and "Dostoyevsky" and go straight to the story, to get on the train immediately. Also, we tend to pick up a book and look at the back, so there's no back cover either. Let the book be its own cover.
When I had the meeting with Penguin I presumed we were talking about paperbacks, but I realised that what they had in mind was a luxurious hardback, and for every book to be presented in an acrylic slipcase. I thought, fine, but can I stick to the paperback ?
The format of my book is different from everybody else's, but the acrylic case is the same. It's very difficult to avoid inventing things, so I made the case out of a Fresnel lens. It has concentric grooves, and the effect is like that of a big magnifying glass. Because the lens is tight to the cover, it distorts the book to a pyramid shape - at the front page of the book you can also see all four edges, creating something of a reverse perspective, with the last page a lot bigger than the front page. This gave me the opportunity to do graphics on the edges of the book. On the top page I wrote "The Idiot", handwritten white on black; on the long right-hand side I wrote "Dostoyevsky"; and on the bottom I did a hand-drawn version of the Penguin Classics logo. On the spine I exposed all the threads that bind the book together. When you lift the lid of the box, the book grows, and you can actually use the box as a magnifying glass to read the novel if you want to.
I'm very happy that despite introducing lots of tricks, if you like, to the design of the book, I stayed true to my original idea of having no front or back cover. When you have transparent layers on something, they interact with whatever that thing is - sometimes you can post-rationalise it, sometimes it is random and has its own beauty.
I design anything, from very small things to buildings. I'm not a graphic designer : graphics, for us, is the means, not the final product. Images are the first step in everything I do. I did do a drawing of how the book might look, what effect the lens might have, but I think I got better than I expected - not wanting, in this case, to improve something that is very difficult to improve upon. Paul Smith has dressed his book up - that's what he does. I've stripped mine.

Source : The Guardian, 28th October 2006.
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Penguin Classics [02 Nov 2006|02:23pm]
Cover versions
On the 60th anniversary of Penguin Classics, Alice Rawsthorn reveals how the sixpenny novel became a 20th-century icon

When E.V. Rieu, the veteran editor of Penguin Classics - who launched the series after the second world war with a translation of The Odyssey completed between Home Guard duties - was shown a new cover design in 1963, he exploded with fury. "The old boy was bloodying and buggering all over the place," a colleague reported to Penguin's founder, Allen Lane.
The redesign was the work of Germano Facetti, who had joined Penguin as art director in 1961, charged with modernising its visual style. His crime, in Rieu's eyes, was to replace the spartan jackets with a reproduction of a painting, chosen to reflect the theme of each book. Thanks to Facetti's pictorial covers, Penguin Classics became visual icons of 1960s and 70s Britain. Yet to Rieu and fellow traditionalists, the stylistic frivolity of the paintings was an unwelcome distraction from their lovingly edited texts.
What would Rieu have made of the new series of Penguin Designer Classics commissioned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Penguin Classics? The shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, artist Sam Taylor-Wood, fashion designer Paul Smith, architect Ron Arad and the graphic designers Fuel were each invited to choose a favourite book from Penguin's backlist and to design it as they wished. The results range from Fuel's constructivist-inspired version of Dostoyevsky's Crime And Punishment to a poignant Taylor-Wood photograph for the cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender IsThe Night- though the angriest outburst of "bloodying and buggering" would undoubtedly have greeted Blahnik's beautifully drawn, naughty-nurse vision of a near-naked Madame Bovary.
Opulent though these books seem, when compared with classic Penguins, they are not entirely at odds with their design heritage. The company was founded in 1933 by Allen Lane to publish good writing for the masses in paperbacks selling for sixpence each, the same price as a pack of 10 cigarettes. This democratising mission was reflected in Penguin's utilitarian style. Yet the defining principle of Lane's design philosophy was quality. "I have never been able to understand why cheap books should not also be well designed, for good design is no more expensive than bad," he wrote. Elegant typography and fine draughtsmanship became the hallmarks of Penguin's visual history, albeit with less lavish production values - and prices - than the new Designer Classics (£100 each).
Lane inherited his interest in design from an uncle, John Lane, who had founded the Bodley Head publishing house in 1889 and commissioned artists such as Aubrey Beardsley to design books as elaborate limited editions. The objectives for the first set of Penguin paperbacks were very different. Lane's priority was to produce a decent - and profitable - book for sixpence. His only hope of doing so was to minimise costs, which meant that every aspect of production had to be standardised, including the design.
Luckily for Lane, designing for mass-production in a frugal style was perfectly attuned to the modernist principles then being imported into Britain by the émigré architects and designers fleeing persecution in Continental Europe. The sparse horizontal grid of the early Penguin paperbacks with plain lettering and colour-coded covers - orange for fiction, green for crime and blue for biography - was the literary equivalent of other landmarks in early British modernist graphics, like Harry Beck's London Underground map.
Penguin was praised for its distinctive visual style, but the design of early books was haphazard at best. The design template was developed by Lane, helped by an artistic office junior, Edward Young, whom he dispatched to London Zoo to sketch a penguin for the logo. Editors and printers then "designed" each title in a similar style, with the result that all the books looked slightly different.
What we now think of as the classic Penguin cover was invented in 1946 by Jan Tschichold, the German typography designer hired by Lane to give the company a uniform design style. He specified exactly how each element of the book should be designed and where it should go, down to the size of spaces between letters and the Penguin logo, which he drew in eight "official" versions. Tschichold then wrote the Penguin Composition Rules, which were to be followed at all times, and harangued editors and printers if he spotted any lapses. Whenever the printers complained, he'd exaggerate his German accent and pretend not to understand them.
Described by Lane as "a mild man with an inflexible character", Tschichold personally designed over 500 books in three years at Penguin. Insisting on absolute consistency from the editors and printers, Tschichold indulged himself by experimenting with selected books, often drawing special typefaces, as he did to complement the portrait of Shakespeare created by the wood engraver Reynolds Stone for the Penguin Shakespeare series. He collaborated with other engravers and illustrators on Penguin Classics and Music Scores. When Dorothy Sayers complained that Tschichold hadn't stuck to his design rules for one of her translations, he replied : "The master is permitted to break the rules, even his own."
Tschichold was succeeded by Hans Schmoller, a fellow German, who was equally rigorous but less adventurous. By the early 60s, Penguin's once radical style looked dated, and Germano Facetti was brought in to refresh it. Advances in printing technology enabled the company to produce more visually sophisticated covers, and Facetti made the most of this by commissioning jackets from the young graphic designers then emerging in London, such as Derek Birdsall, Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes.
He worked with Romek Marber on the redesign of Penguin Crime, using striking black and white images to convey the drama of the plot. Photograms were commissioned for the covers of Penguin Modern Poets, and pictorial covers developed for Penguin Classics. In the late 60s, Facetti flirted with psychedelia by hiring young illustrators such as Alan Aldridge. To reflect the darker mood of the early 70s, he experimented with a gritty, agitprop aesthetic. Typical were Birdsall's boldly typographic covers for the Education series and Richard Hollis's design of John Berger's Ways Of Seeing, with the text starting on the jacket and breaking off in mid- sentence at the end. Ways of Seeing is now cherished by design buffs, but Schmoller, who'd stayed on as a director, was so incensed by its design that he threw the book down a corridor.
After Facetti's departure in 1972, Penguin's design turned conservative again, reaching a nadir in 1979 with M.M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions. The literati cringed at the sight of Penguin stooping to a TV tie-in, while designers winced at the Mills & Boonesque cover. Sadly, it set the tone for the 80s and 90s, when design was marginalised as Penguin adopted the financially driven culture of corporate publishing.
Two years ago, Penguin reasserted its old design values in Great Ideas, a series of political and philosophical polemics, including Machiavelli's The Prince and The Communist Manifesto, sold for £3.99 each. Sales expectations were low, and the production budget modest. The project was entrusted to the art director Jim Stoddart and a junior designer, David Pearson, who dressed each cover in lettering typical of the period and spirit of the book. Great Ideas won numerous design awards, and sold more than two million copies, roughly half of which, Penguin suspects, were bought because of their covers.
Penguin has since introduced other design-led classic collections, including a second series of Great Ideas and the Pocket Penguin essays and novellas with each cover created by a different artist or designer. This summer it launched Penguin Epics, the most dramatic passages from 20 epic texts in pocket paperbacks designed by Estuary English in a striking neo-gothic style intended to tempt video-game fans into reading Beowulf and Exodus.
At a time when publishers are struggling to sell their backlists against stiff competition from online second-hand booksellers, Penguin has discovered that readers can be persuaded to buy new versions of old books, if the designs are seductive enough. The new Designer Classics collection is its most extravagant effort so far, and Penguin hopes it will prove as popular as inspired one-offs from the past, like Penguin Shakespeare and Ways Of Seeing.
That said, there is a glimpse of Penguin's spartan design origins in one of the Designer Classics. Ron Arad chose to redesign The Idiot, which he remembered fondly from his teens despite his dislike of Facetti's pictorial jacket. Dispensing with an image for his own cover, Arad confined it to the title, author's name and the opening page of the text. Even E.V. Rieu might have approved.

· Alice Rawsthorn is the design critic of the International Herald Tribune. http://www.penguin.co.uk/designerclassics

Source : The Guardian, 28th October 2006.
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Surrealism And Design [02 Nov 2006|02:06pm]
Surrealism at V&A

Brace yourself: you are about to enter the world of satin-lined wheelbarrows, ceremonial hats for eating bouillabaisse, quilted dinner jackets and beaver fur bracelets.
The V&A in London yesterday announced, after hugely successful shows on art nouveau, art deco and modernism, that it will turn its attention to surrealism and design next year.
It will be the first exhibition to explore the movement's influence on everything from theatre to interiors, from fashion to film and from architecture to advertising.
Curator Ghislaine Wood, who has spent the last three years planning the exhibition and tracking down potential exhibits from across the world, said surrealism in the 1930s captured the popular imagination.
Ms. Wood added: "The thing about surrealism that is often forgotten is that it is supposed to be funny and humorous. It is about fantasy and escape and dreams and hopefully that will come across."
Many of the exhibits have come from the V&A's own collection, some of them never displayed before. The best known names of surrealism will all be featured including Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte, Elsa Schiaparelli, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Joan Miró and Isamu Noguchi. From Dalí will be his 1938 sofa in the shape of Mae West's lips, his Lobster Telephone and Aphrodisian Jacket.
In fashion there will be dresses by the leading Parisian designer Schiaparelli, her Tear dress and Skeleton dress and her hat that resembled a big shoe - as worn at the time by Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes.
One of the biggest patrons of surrealism was Edward James, an eccentric millionaire who moved to Mexico in 1947 to grow orchids.
He turned his Lutyens-designed home, Monkton House in West Sussex, into a surrealist's dream with its purple exterior, padded walls and wolfhound print carpet. He also had loudspeakers attached to its chimneys so he could listen to the BBC Third Programme in his grounds.
The house is owned privately after the National Heritage Memorial Fund refused to help buy it for the nation in 1986, but the exhibition will feature photos of the exterior and interior.
In total there will be 300 items presenting a broad sweep of surrealism, including Eileen Agar's Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse and Noguchi's Cloud sofa.
"Surrealism was responsible for some of the most visually intriguing objects of the 20th century," said Ms. Wood. "We hope in this exhibition to explore how surrealism entered the world of design, creating a new visual language of modernity."

· The exhibition Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design will be at the V&A from March 29 - July 22 before it moves to Rotterdam in September next year and Bilbao in February 2008

Source : The Guardian, 26th October 2006.
Author : Mick Brown, arts correspondent.
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Pink plastic flamingos [24 Oct 2006|12:08pm]
RIP pink plastic flamingo

It seems that the plastic pink flamingo is going the way of dodo. The plastic bird, a kitsch icon that has populated the front lawns of American homes since the 1950s, is about to become extinct.
Union Products of Leominster, Massachusetts, which has made the birds since 1957, is going out of business.
"The plant's pink flamingo will be an endangered species," Dennis Plante, the company's president, said.
The moulded plastic sculpture mounted on wire legs has been reviled and revered in equal measure. The bird lent its name to director John Waters's 1972 film examining bad taste. But that only helped to make the hapless bird more desirable.
"The pink flamingo has gone from a piece of the Florida boom and Florida exotica to being a symbol of trash culture to now becoming a combination of all we know - kitsch, history, simplicity and elegance," Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, told the Los Angeles Times.
"Let's face it," Mr. Thompson continued, "as iconic emblems of kitsch, there are two pillars of cheesy campiness in the American pantheon. One is the velvet Elvis. The other is the pink flamingo."
An estimated 20m of the plastic birds have been sold since the company began production. The line began when a newly-hired art school graduate named Donald Featherstone made a clay model of a flamingo, copied from a photograph in National Geographic.
Mr. Featherstone and Mr. Plante hope to save the bird from extinction. "It is sad that it is happening, but it may not be dead yet." The two hope to find another company to buy the flamingo moulds and continue production. Wal-Mart has been its biggest customer, selling 250,000 of the birds each year.

Source : The Guardian, 20th October 2006.
Author : Dan Glaister in Los Angeles.
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Stuffed polar bears [24 Oct 2006|12:05pm]
Stuffy display celebrates polar bears

Six years ago two artists set out on safari to bag every stuffed polar bear in Britain, from the splendid specimen pawing the ground in Lord Puttnam's drawing room window to the sad beast huddled in a packing crate in Worcester, once the pride of a local glove factory.
They photographed each one exactly as found, and their complete archive goes on display this week at Horniman Museum in London. Contemporary artists Mark Wilson and Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir - whose name translates as "snow bear's daughter" - found 32 bears.
However, there must be at least one more out there. The Horniman has, and unlike many British museums still displays, a large collection of stuffed animals. It did have a magnificent polar bear, snarling over the carcass of a seal, but it has not been seen since 1948. The museum curators hope it may resurface as a result of the exhibition.
The artists' project and book was called "nanoq: flat out and bluesome", intended to convey the pathos of the fate of the once magnificent animals, whose survival is now threatened by global warming.
Many of the images convey this sadness, including the Dover bear which used to stand in a doctor's surgery wired as a lamp stand. Peter, the Ulster Museum bear, was put down when he quarrelled with the other bears in the zoo: according to local legend, he rose up again after his lethal injection, terrorising the staff. However the most cheerful bear is the one sold in 1973 by the Fox's Glacier mints factory. The present owner was given it as a birthday present by his sister, and it has since stood, grinning affably and now clutching a bowl of fairy lights, in his rather small hall.

· Great White Bear, Horniman Museum, London, October 21 to March 25 2007.

Source : The Guardian, 16th October 2006.
Author : Maev Kennedy.
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Message in a bottle [19 Oct 2006|03:07pm]
You asked ...
How far can a message in a bottle travel?
From James Smalesy

Not far without assistance, that's for sure. And it must have come as a surprise to six-year-old Keely Reid, who had tossed a bottle into the Moray Firth, Scotland, to hear it had washed up 20,000 miles away at Whangamata on the north island of New Zealand, just 47 days after it had been thrown in the water.
Curiously, some manmade objects that have become unintended flotsam are helping to reveal how ocean currents twist and turn around the earth. In 1992, a container ship en route from Hong Kong to the US shed its cargo of thousands of yellow bath-toy ducks. These have since drifted up the western seaboard of North America, across the icy waters of the Arctic Circle and are now bobbing their way through the North Atlantic. Scientists at the US National Marine Fisheries Service are documenting reported sightings to help predict how the sea behaves.
But it is almost beyond doubt that Keely's voyage to the southern hemisphere was hastened by a substantial portion of air travel.
"It's impossible to get there that quickly on ocean currents," says Andrew Coward, an expert at Southampton Oceanography Centre. "The fastest only reach up to one or two metres a second, and most of the time, the ocean is moving at only a few centimetres a second."
By that reckoning, even if the bottle achieved the impossible and made a beeline for New Zealand, it would take around 34 years to bob its way there. A fast current all the way to New Zealand does not exist. Even if it did, the message would still have taken six months to wash ashore. "Someone must have picked it up and taken it at least some of the way," says Dr Coward.

Source : The Guardian, 14th October 2006.
Author : Ian Sample.
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Bulbed Egg Maker [12 Oct 2006|10:22am]
Light bulb moment : inventor boils eggs without using water

The age-old problem of how to cook the perfect boiled egg may have been solved - simply do away with the boiling water.
A British inventor, Simon Rhymes, has created a machine that uses light bulbs to cook the egg and lops the top off at exactly the right height for toast soldier dunking.
Mr. Rhymes, 23, dreamt up the Bulbed Egg Maker (BEM) while studying project design at Bournemouth University. "I thought that boiling an egg was rather labour intensive for the rewards you get," he said. "I read that light bulbs gave off so much heat it might be more energy efficient to leave lights on in the house to heat it rather than using central heating.
"I started to experiment and cooked an egg under a table lamp and that took about half an hour.
"Then I came across the halogen lights and adapted them to put in the BEM. I experimented with about 600 eggs. I got sick of testing them but now I can produce the perfect boiled egg every time."
The egg is lowered into the 30cm (12in) high glass and metal machine, which has four halogen bulbs. In six minutes it produces an egg with a yolk runny enough for toast soldiers. The time can be altered for a softer or harder result.
Once the egg is done the top is cut off at a circumference of 40mm (1.5in), which Mr. Rhymes, from Chippenham, Wiltshire, has calculated is wide enough for soldiers.
He has patented the idea and is in talks with manufacturers. "Hopefully the machine will become a common household item like a toaster," he said.

Source : The Guardian, 11th October 2006.
Author : Steven Morris.
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Vladimir Arkhipov : Home-Made : Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts [05 Oct 2006|04:28pm]
Things that have interested me

Ones they made earlier
James Fenton is hooked by Russian artefacts

I possess a home-welded object (but possess is far too strong a word for this thing) which baffles at first sight : it looks like a large four-pronged fish-hook, but without any barbs. The man who made it was something of a dreamer. Asked by his colleagues what his invention was for, he provoked some mirth by explaining that it was for a hanging basket. It is indeed the size and shape of a hanging basket, but it creates, instead of solves, the problems it addresses. It is far too heavy and sturdy for the purpose, and you would have to remember to put it in the basket, and somehow attach it, before filling it up with growing medium and plants.
For several years this anchor-like device lay unused in a shed, a monument to its inventor's visionary eccentricity. Then someone realised that if you attached a thin rope to it through the handy loop at the top, you could throw it in the pond and drag out the Canadian pondweed. It is quite a large pond, and no other tool seemed up to the job.
There must be something about a welding apparatus that provokes this kind of trance-like state. In my garden, there is a table bought years ago at auction, at a time when the papers were running stories about thefts of garden furniture and ornaments. The legs of this table, elegantly and accurately curved, are made of welded chain - extremely heavy anchor-chain, each link fixed rigidly to its neighbour. The top is very ornamental and I knew at once what it was when I first saw it : it consists of two pierced decorative panels from an ecclesiastical underfloor central heating system. The conception and execution of this table imply a high degree of professional skill, and a characteristic set of circumstances : a once grand, now derelict Victorian church not far from a dockyard welding-shop. The decisive point in the table's favour is its quite extraordinary heaviness.
The objects illustrated in Vladimir Arkhipov's Home-Made : Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts are generally much simpler than the two I have mentioned. Many of them were made in the years following perestroika, when both money and goods were in short supply. Each is accompanied by a small photograph of its inventor and/or owner, and each carries a few words of explanation, obviously tape-recorded.
"It's very snowy in winter, and I have to go out into the yard. At the very least I have to clear a path to the chickens and the firewood. I had an old shovel, but it broke, and a new one has to be paid for. Where would I get the money ? You have to count every last kopeck. So I thought : what can I make a shovel out of ? I had this old bread board, and this pipe left over from an old vacuum cleaner. I fastened on the board - and there was the shovel. You can't really call it a shovel, exactly ..."
Several of the more unfamiliar items are connected with fishing, ice fishing in particular. There's a grub holder made from plastic foam and wire. The reason for using an insulating material is that you don't want the grubs to freeze. "But the bad thing about these grub holders is that this foam plastic lets water in, so with time it becomes crumbly and starts to get spoilt from the grubs. So that this didn't happen, I used a hot teaspoon to bond it. The main case is very thick, like glazing, so it stopped getting soaked, was easy to clean, and the grubs didn't start to rot either. Once you've made one you can give it to someone as a present ..."
In the same category there are home-made harpoons. There's a bore tool for under-ice fishing, a winter fish-feeder (of perforated brass, with a lead bottom made from a dismantled battery and a spring along the central axis to allow the feeder to be quickly filled with grain) and there are "goat's leg" fishing seats. These are designed as portable stools. An old chair-back is attached to a pole, creating something like an English shooting stick. You need somewhere to sit while ice fishing, and this kind of seat hangs from your belt and accompanies you over the ice.
There are forks made in prison ("We weren't allowed to have forks, only spoons. But to feel like a human being, you need to eat properly, with a fork. We're not trash") and there is an elegant television aerial made out of forks at a time when there wasn't anything to buy except poor-quality aluminium forks. "We prepared this aerial according to the dimensions published in Radio magazine. But, you know, resonators are everything. They were made from forks so that the reception would be better." The resulting aerial (very effective) sits on top of the set.
Some objects give off a whiff of desolation : for example a vase, also made in prison, from a samovar base surmounted with a blue receptacle cut from an old thermos, which has been decorated with copper filings and lacquer, made as a present for the inmate's mother ("I thought, when I get out I'll go back and give it her, but the way things turned out my mother wasn't there any more ...").
On the other hand, the chemistry teacher's chalk case is inspiring : "She was a really impressive woman. Paradoxically, I've completely forgotten her name, even though I remember lots of details about her : her manicure, her lovely clothes ... Anyway, she took an empty lipstick case and made a sort of chalk lipstick. She put a piece of chalk in it and moved it up as she used it. She used to do a lot of writing on the blackboard, and when the lesson ended, she closed the little case and put it on her desk. It was all very elegant, and it suited her style."
"Of course," the speaker goes on, "male teachers don't need this, but women teachers have to set an example, they have to be tidy, look neat and beautiful." This elegant little book, published by Fuel, costs £19.95. The items are from Arkhipov's collection of hand-made utilitarian objects. Together they evoke a world in swift transition, in which these modest inventions loom large for a while - universal ephemera, destined to be soon lost or thrown away as circumstances changed, but preserved in this collection for their evocative power.

Source : The Guardian, 30th September 2006.
Author : James Fenton.
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Offered on eBay [05 Oct 2006|04:22pm]
The eBay lots that got away

The world's media reacted with surprise this week to the news that three-year-old Jack Neal had taken the opportunity, when his eBay-using mother's back was turned, to purchase a pink Nissan Figaro for £9,000. Yet this is far from the most remarkable auction in the site's history. Here are some of the great eBay sales that you may have missed :
$13.83, a second-hand laser pointer (broken) : Sold in 1995 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to "a collector of broken laser pointers".

50p, one Lotus Esprit Turbo : Sold in June 2005 by the wife of the owner, radio DJ Tim Shaw, in revenge for his on-air flirtation with Jodie Marsh.

€188,938.88, one Volkswagen Golf Sedan : This car, previously owned by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), was bought in May last year by serial eBay self-publicists goldenpalace_casino (who also own an invitation to Britney Spears's wedding, their logo tattooed on the forehead of one Karolyne Smith, and an image of the Virgin Mary in grilled cheese).

$455, a few tablespoons of water : Sold in December 2004 by Wade Jones, who said it was left over from a styrofoam cup that Elvis Presley drank from during a concert in 1977.

£1.20, a cornflake : Sold by Coventry university student Bill Bennett.

£61,000, 50,000-year-old woolly mammoth skeleton : One of the best preserved specimens in the world (90% original bone material) and regarded as something of a bargain when it was sold by its Dutch owner in 2004.

£8,400, Rosie Reid's virginity : Ms. Reid had to finish the auction on her own website, after eBay removed her listing, but the lucky buyer, a 44-year-old divorced father of two, collected his purchase in a Euston hotel room in March 2004.

£7,510-25,100, 13 decommissioned nuclear bunkers in the north of England : Sold by a telecoms firm to assorted ramblers, bird watchers and "cold war enthusiasts".

$1,691.66, the first ride on the world's tallest roller coaster : Enjoyed by US Navy serviceman Jeremy DeLong on the Kingda Ka in New Jersey last May.

$1m, K77 - a Juliett-class soviet submarine : May still be available, as Finnish entrepreneur Jari Komulainen twice failed to find a buyer at this price in 1999 and 2000.

£39,999, Channel tunnel boring machine : Sold by Eurotunnel to a user named steddenm in April 2004.

£4m, HMS Vengeance : The decommissioned 16,000-tonne aircraft carrier was proving very popular until eBay removed it for being "military ordnance". It was eventually sold for scrap.

$425,000, a round of golf with Tiger Woods : Proceeds went to the Tiger Woods charitable foundation.

Aus$3,000, New Zealand : Bidding was stopped on a technicality. The starting bid was one Australian cent.

$5.50, "an original air guitar from the 1980s" : Ingeniously sold by a Bon Jovi fan in Arizona.

Source : The Guardian, 27th September 2006.
Author : Leo Benedictus.
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Rubbish for sale [05 Oct 2006|04:18pm]
New Yorker's business is picking up

If the package looks pretty, people will buy just about anything. So says an advertising executive in New York, and he has proved his point by selling boxes of rubbish for the price of an expensive bottle of wine.
Justin Gignac, 26, has offloaded almost 900 carefully presented plastic cubes of trash from the street of the Big Apple at between $50 (£26) and $100 each. Buyers from 19 countries have paid for the souvenirs. The idea has been so successful that he is thinking of franchising it around the world.
It all began when Mr. Gignac was on a summer internship at MTV. "We had a discussion about the importance of packaging," he recalls. "Someone said packaging was unimportant. I disagreed. The only way to prove it was by selling something nobody would ever want."
He scours the streets of Manhattan and New York's outer boroughs, typical contents include broken glass, subway tickets, Starbucks cups and used plastic forks. "Special editions" are offered at a premium. He charged $100 for rubbish from the opening day of the New York Yankees' stadium.
Mr. Gignac denies taking his customers for fools : "They know what they're getting. People get a kick out of it - they appreciate the fact that they're taking something nobody would want and finding beauty in it."
Typical customers include people who used to live in the city and want a down-to-earth souvenir. He claims he has even sold to art collectors.
Realising that the concept appears to be a genuine moneyspinner, Mr. Gignac has registered a company and is employing his girlfriend as vice president. He declines to discuss his profit margins : "It's actually quite a lot of effort putting them together - but yes, garbage is free."
Mr. Gignac is considering diversifying into trash wallhangings. He maintains that he has been contacted by people interested in replicating the scheme from as far afield as Berlin and London.

Source : The Guardian, 18th September 2006.
Author : Andrew Clark in New York.
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Listed - Specialist museums [05 Oct 2006|04:08pm]
Anaesthetic Museum St. Bart's, London
Business Card Museum Pennsylvania
Decoy Duck Museum Maryland
Dog Collar Museum Leeds Castle
"Elvis Is Alive" Museum Missouri
Hair Museum Missouri
British Lawnmower Museum Southport
Museum of Questionable Medical Devices Minnesota
Mushroom Museum Saumar, France
Pencil Museum Cumbria
Potato Museum Brussels
Quilt Museum Massachusetts
Sock Museum Sakata, Japan
Typewriter Museum West Virginia

Source : The Guardian, 13th September 2006.
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Blue Peter time capsules [04 Sep 2006|04:29pm]
Blue Peter digs up the past

Blue Peter presenters from the past and present joined forces to dig up two time capsules buried over twenty years ago on the BBC One children's show.
Current stars Katy Hill, Konnie Huq, Simon Thomas and Matt Baker joined veteran presenters Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves in the Blue Peter garden for the event.
The team used a Blue Peter map and thermal imaging equipment to find the buried capsules before digging them out of the grounds of BBC Television Centre in White City, west London.
The first Blue Peter time capsule was buried on 7 June 1971 by Singleton, Noakes and Purves.
It contained objects from the time such as a copy of the 1970 Blue Peter annual, a set of decimal coins - which were introduced in 1971 - and photographs of the three presenters.
Peter Purves said at the opening of the capsules : "I think it is amazing that so many people are so interested in something that happened a relatively short time ago."
Valerie Singleton added : "I am amazed how quickly the time has past and how sprightly we still all are.
"I thought we would be coming back on our zimmer frames !"
In 1971, Purves, Singleton and Noakes asked Blue Peter viewers to write in to remind the programme when the time came to unearth the capsule. Nearly thirty years later, the Blue Peter office has received thousands of reminders from around the world.
Blue Peter editor Steve Hocking said : "I am astounded at the massive response we have had from viewers who watched the programme in 1971 who have taken the trouble to remind us to open the boxes.
"We have had some wonderfully touching letters from all over the world including Australia, Canada and Israel."
The 1971 capsule has also entered poplular folklore - urban mythology claimed the BBC had lost the plans which detailed where it was buried.
The box had to be moved at one point in its long burial - the original site of the capsule was due to be developed in 1984 so the unopened box was unearthed and moved to another site in the Blue Peter garden.
A second box was buried alongside it by presenters Simon Groom, Peter Duncan and Janet Ellis, to commemorate the occasion.
This box contained hairs from Goldie the Blue Peter labrador, a record of the programme's theme tune arranged by Mike Oldfield and video footage of the moving of Petra's statue.
The later capsule was dug up by Groom and Ellis - Peter Duncan was unable to attend as he is working abroad.
The event will be included in a Blue Peter special on the time capsules to be broadcast on Friday 7 January on BBC One.
There is still one Blue Peter time capsule remaining - The Blue Peter Millennium Time Capsule. This was buried in the floor beneath the Millennium Dome on 11 June 1998.
As well as containing Blue Peter items including a badge and history of the programme, the capsule also contains a set of Teletubby dolls, an insulin pen and a France '98 football. The time capsule will be opened in 2050.

Source : BBC News, 4th January 2000.
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Heelys [04 Sep 2006|04:16pm]
Shoemaker on a roll as children get into wheels

Are they shoes or skates ? A craze sweeping children off their feet is for trainers with wheels embedded in them.
A Texan company, Heelys, has patented the idea of wheeled footwear and, according to documents filed at the US securities and exchange commission, the money is rolling in. Heelys applied on Friday to raise $115m (£60m) in a market flotation. Its accounts reveal that, with just 33 staff, sales rose 106% to $44m last year, and $28.5m for the first half of 2006.
Its profits are forecast to rise this year from $1.6m to $5.8m. Wheeled footwear accounts for 95% of its revenue.
Under the slogan "freedom is a wheel in your sole", Heelys has captured a loyal following largely among children aged six to 14. Schools are not always enthusiastic - several in America banned Heelys after becoming fed up with children barrelling down corridors at up to 30mph. Even a branch of Toys R Us in Massachusetts prohibits them.
Mike Staffaroni, Heelys' chief executive, brushed off the controversy. "A ban in schools we don't really have a problem with," he said. "We've always advised our customers not to skate in school and only to use the wheels in appropriate places."
In Britain, sales are expected to hit 200,000 this year, although chiropodists have warned against allowing children to use them as their "primary" footwear. Mr Staffaroni said: "The UK is one of our fastest growing international markets."
The company, which says it has sold 4m pairs since it launched the shoes in 2001, faces constant battles to protect its patent as cheap Chinese versions hit sales in Asia.

Source : The Guardian, 4th September 2006.
Author : Andrew Clark in New York.
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Electromechanical "sommelier" [04 Sep 2006|04:06pm]
Robot with a 'nose' for good wine

Researchers in Japan have designed a robot with taste. The electromechanical "sommelier" developed at NEC System Technologies and Mie university is able to identify dozens of different wines, cheeses and hors d'oeuvres.
"There are all kinds of robots out there doing many different things," said Hideo Shimazu, director of the NEC System Technology Research Laboratory and a joint leader of the robot project. "But we decided to focus on wine because that seemed like a real challenge."
At the end of the robot's left arm is an infrared spectrometer. When objects are placed up against the sensor, the robot fires off a beam of infrared light. The reflected light is then analysed to determine the object's chemical composition. When it has identified a wine, the robot names the brand and adds a comment or two on the taste, such as whether it is a buttery chardonnay or a full-bodied shiraz, and what kind of foods might go well with it.
Dr Shimazu said the robots could be "personalised," or programmed to recognise the kinds of wines its owner prefers and recommend new varieties. Because it is analysing the chemical composition of the wine or food placed before it, it can also warn against fatty or salty products.
Philippe Bramaz of the Italian winemaker Calzaluga said : "I see the potential to analyse expensive and old wine to say whether it is authentic or not. Auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's could use this technology to test wine without opening it."

Source : The Guardian, 4th September 2006.
Author : Eric Talmadge, Associated Press in Tsu.
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Time capsules [03 Sep 2006|03:21pm]
The future of the future
Are time capsules becoming a thing of the past ?

For the last half-century, time capsules have been ubiquitous — the 20th century's answer to ribbon-cutting ceremonies, our way of commemorating new malls, golden anniversaries, and grade school graduations. Literally tens of thousands of them lie secreted or buried, filled mostly with the unimaginative stuff of everyday life : newspapers, magazines, letters, coins, and knickknacks. They offer us a way to send a message to the future, a kind of letter-in-a-bottle on the seas of time. While many are lost and forgotten, for the most part that doesn't seem to matter : The planting of a time capsule, regardless of its contents, seems more important than whether it's ever dug up.
The history of burying stuff for the future is ancient, and time capsule-like things can be found throughout history and in many cultures. The Sumerians buried messages to their descendants in the foundations of temples; Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists secreted away tablets inscribed with sutras specifically for discovery in the distant future; and the Freemasons have long made the laying of new building foundations a ceremonial highlight by putting objects into cornerstones. (Conspiracy buffs take note : Not only is the back of our $1 bill fraught with Masonic symbolism, but virtually every government building in Washington, DC, built before the early 1960s has a cornerstone filled and blessed by the Masons. Holy Illuminati !)
But what distinguishes these from modern time capsules ? Well if you ask the experts, like Washington State University librarian William Jarvis, who has written some of the most scholarly explorations of the history of time capsules, the idea that such caches are assigned a specific opening date is a very modern idea. In other words, what defines a time capsule is not that it may be opened one day, but that it is intended to be opened on a particular date set by its creator. Thus, the pyramids, Titanic, Al Capone's safe, and the Voyager spacecraft are not, strictly speaking, time capsules.
The first example of a true time capsule is, Jarvis says, the so-called Century Safe, sealed at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia with the intention that it be opened in the US Capitol during the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Remarkably, despite being lost for some years, it was.
But time capsules, as Jarvis defines them, are really much newer. The word itself was coined and popularized by G. Edward Pendray, a science fiction-writing publicist who was looking for a great stunt to kick off the Westinghouse pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair, the theme of which was "The World of Tomorrow." After rejecting the name "time bomb," which seemed a bit off considering World War II was starting, he settled on "capsule." Westinghouse engineers built a sleek, torpedo-shaped object out of a new copper alloy the company was trying to promote ("cupaloy"). The idea was to cram as many modern-day artifacts and as much information about our civilization as possible into a tube, bury it in the ground, and invite people 5,000 years in the future to rediscover us.
Pendray's execution was brilliant, but his idea was not original. He actually stole it from a man who was planning an even more ambitious project : the Crypt of Civilization, a kind of Tut's tomb of Western culture. It was conceived by Thornwell Jacobs, president of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. A big-picture visionary who taught a course in millennial thinking and seemed uncomfortable regarding anything in increments smaller than a century or two, Jacobs wanted to prefabricate the perfect archaeological site. Civilizations rise and fall, he reasoned, so why not build a record—an ark—to send ourselves into the future, thus preserving our culture for the benefit of earth's future inhabitants, whoever they may be (he specifically considered that they might be aliens). He printed and distributed special metal tickets to the opening ceremony, to be held in the year 8113 AD.
These think-big projects from what has been called time capsules' Golden Age generated extensive publicity, fed a public fascination with the future, and launched countless imitators, though many folks scaled back the time line and chose 25, 50, or 100 years for their time capsules. Americans buried everything from Chevy Vegas to asbestos to Barbie dolls, all destined for another time or our older selves. But while thousands bloomed, the ambitious time capsule — the kind meant to be catapulted into the far millennia as a definitive record of civilization today — has petered out.
You thought the Y2K bug was a bust ? For years leading up to it, the International Time Capsule Society (of which I am a founder) sought to interest potential sponsors in a large-scale, millennial project. But despite the PR opportunities the year 2000 presented, none stepped forward. The main Y2K time capsule projects were more like AOL's, which promised to archive messages to the future from members, or the suggestion from Kellogg's that kids use their cereal boxes to create personal, though perhaps milk-sodden, capsules.
Which is not to say there haven't been important time capsule projects since the 1930s : In 1965, Westinghouse did a second capsule, buried next to the first, filling in the historical record for the intervening 27 years, including info on nuclear power, computers, World War II, and the Beatles. And in 1970, on the occasion of Expo '70 in Osaka, the electronics giant Matsushita (you know them as Panasonic) cosponsored the first Japanese millennial time capsule project. Instead of a tube, they chose a container that looks like a giant stewpot. Layered inside of it, like a bento box, are compartments containing a complete record of Japanese life — including at least one weird, powerful relic of the atomic bomb : the blackened fingernail of a survivor.
The Osaka '70 capsule is unique in another respect : It is designed to be disturbed. Sort of. Instead of simply burying the capsule and crossing fingers that it won't be unearthed until its distant opening date (6970 AD), this one has a kind of planned tampering mechanism built in — one that mirrors a Japanese tradition of tearing down and rebuilding temples at regular intervals. The Osaka capsule is buried in the ground, but buried on top of it is an exact twin. While the bottom time capsule will presumably remain inviolate for 5,000 years, the top one will be regularly disinterred and inspected every 100 years from the year 2000 on. The top capsule will not only teach conservationists about long-term preservation techniques, it increases the chance the bottom capsule will survive by maintaining its memory throughout the ages, something the Japanese are pretty good at.
Brian Durrans, Keeper of the Department of Ethnology at the British Museum, has long studied time capsules. He points out that the difference between a museum and a time capsule is that museums contain artifacts meant to be seen; time capsules contain artifacts meant to be hidden. A museum is active, Durrans says, a time capsule passive. Artifacts hidden passively can be easily lost. Ensuring that capsules are found and opened on time is problematic — if not almost impossible. But the Osaka capsule offers a slightly different model : a passive capsule that is preserved through activity.
That model could change the nature of time capsules — and has other applications. Solving the problem of preserving information or objects over many millennia is something even the US government has investigated. In 1984, a study done for the Department of Energy by Battelle Labs examined how to mark nuclear waste sites for 10,000 years. The report suggested that until the human genome can be encoded with messages for future generations, the best way to transmit information over the long term would be via an "atomic priesthood" responsible for that task. Warning signs and other means of communication simply won't work over such time spans; human stewardship is required. Both that study and the Osaka capsule inspired a project I worked on here in Washington state. I supervised the development of a time capsule project for our 1989 Centennial Celebration that recruited hundreds of 10-year-olds as official Capsule Keepers, charged with watching over the time capsule and updating it every 25 years.
Happily, the first inspection of the Osaka was only 30 years after burial and provided the occasion this September for Japan's National Museum of Ethnology to invite an assortment of time capsule experts to come to Osaka for a symposium, "Time Capsules in the Modern World." Organized by the museum's Dr. Kenji Yoshida, with the assistance of Brian Durrans, it was a rare chance to assemble academics and experts with an interest in time capsules, conservation and restoration, archaeology, archives management, and the cultural aspects of memory to discuss the state of the time capsules.
Information storage technologies are rapidly changing — we've gone from the terra cotta disk that was de rigueur 5,000 years ago to the computer disc, which is highly ephemeral and based on technologies that are rapidly changing and quickly replaced. Computerized time capsule may be an oxymoron until we can ensure that information is instantly and completely replicated as technology turns over. In 1940, Thornwell Jacobs wasn't entirely sure that our technological "advancement" would be ever upward, as today's techies assume; he placed in his Crypt a hand-crank machine, much like a nickelodeon, to teach people to speak English in the eighth millennium — no electricity or computers required. Video tapes, CDs and hard drives, DVDs : Little is known about how long they'll last or whether we'll be able to access the information on them in 20 years, let alone several centuries.
The era of millennial time capsules seems to have been tied to a belief in big technological solutions. It's no accident that time capsules have a long association with World's Fairs, those Industrial Age festivals marked by Crystal Palaces, Eiffel Towers, and Space Needles. But fairs today are downsizing and changing focus : They seem less interested in suggesting bright, high-tech futures than in sustainable ways of surviving in a culturally diverse present. The concept of civilization too seems to be dwindling as a more multicultural view of the world has emerged. One symposium participant suggested that time capsules were simply a way for us to colonize the future, a kind of temporal imperialism.
It may be that enjoying time capsules for their ritualistic function is best. The only "capsule" project connected with a recent Expo I can think of was in Seville in 1992, where a group of anonymous artists built a tar pit into which people could drop objects, much like the ancients dropped votive offerings into wells.
So, time capsules, once heralded as the saviors of civilization, have evolved into a kind of postmodern neopagan performance art. At least until we rediscover the future of the past in about 5,000 years.

Source : Seattle Weekly, 11th October 2000.
Author : Knute Berger.
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Salmon postcards [25 Aug 2006|04:11pm]
Wish you were here ?

J Salmon Ltd is Britain's oldest surviving postcard firm. It's been turning out views of our villages, towns and ancient landmarks for more than 100 years - and many are now highly collectable.

The Lake District lies at the top end of the warehouse and Land's End at the bottom. In between are neat piles of more than 5,000 postcards that light up every corner of England and Wales in high-gloss colour. There are the pretty thatched cottages of Godshill, the Isle of Wight, the floodlit and moated castles of north Wales, the daffodils and snow-covered valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, tin mines and Truro cathedral on Cornish Landmarks, the ponies of Dartmoor, and views of everything from the honeyed streets of Chipping Campden to the curve of the London Eye.
This modest factory in Sevenoaks, Kent, belongs to J Salmon Ltd, the country's oldest surviving postcard seller. Doomsayers may claim that email, camera phones and so on inevitably sound the death knell for the snailmail postcard, but the Salmon family - still at the helm - beg to differ. This year, they will sell 20m postcards, which will be picked up by tourists, pensioners and even teenagers across England and Wales, for anything from 8p to 80p (which buys an upmarket, white-bordered panorama card depicting "A peaceful day at Mevagissey, Cornwall" or "Golden light at Lizard Point"). And the Salmons do not envisage the death of the postcard any time soon. "Physically writing something on a piece of card showing where you've been is still part and parcel of being away on holiday," says Charles Salmon, joint-managing director with his brother, Harry. "You're getting away from home and doing something different."
Charles and Harry's great-great-grandfather, Joseph, a bookseller from London, founded the stationary and printing business in Sevenoaks in 1880. Pictorial cards began to be posted in earnest in the late Victorian era and Joseph's son, also Joseph, started out by printing reproductions of watercolour paintings of Sevenoaks by local artists. Then, in the summer of 1911, he was strolling down Oxford Street when several watercolours of bucolic rural scenes caught his eye in the window of an art gallery. The signature read AR Quinton. Joseph tracked down the 57-year-old artist and obtained his permission to print a 1912 calendar of his work entitled Picturesque Villages of England. The calendar sold well, so he tentatively asked again: would the painter consider touring the seaside resorts of England and Wales to produce a series of postcards ?
A legendary postcard series was born. Occasionally stopped from sketching in coastal towns during the first world war (it was considered a security risk), AR Quinton went on to paint 2,300 views for J Salmon postcards (being paid £4 and then five guineas for each work), right up to his death, aged almost 80, in 1934.
With the dawn of mass tourism bringing a golden era for postcards, J Salmon's colour postcards were hugely popular in the 1920s and 30s. In 1928, the most expensive watercolours retailed at 1½d. Their ranges of black-and-white and sepia photograph cards also flourished, particularly as the Royal Mail offered a cheaper postal rate for postcards.
J Salmon's postcards remain collectable today and there is even a dedicated band of fans who have formed the Salmon Study Group (membership: 55), which publishes a newsletter about the company's different postcards and meets to discuss rarities. If a member is ever ill, the group all sign and send them a postcard.
Frilly, or deckle-edged cards and other innovations continued until the company, which had passed from Joseph's sons Eric and Norman to Norman's son, Derek, adopted the "continental" postcard size (an innovation from Europe) in the late 1960s - the continental size is 4 1/8 in by 5 7/8 in.
While this classic format is still the most popular, postcards have filled out rather since the 1980s. J Salmon has followed the trend, producing its white-bordered "superview" card and several variants of the posh panorama card, all white borders and dramatic filters on the photographer's lens. The company also makes calendars, illustrated cards, cards of "driftwood art" (brightly hued reproductions of slightly childlike paintings of sailing boats and seagulls and VW Kombis on old driftwood) and comic postcards. Its Funny Side of Life range includes animal antics and domestic life. "Now what's wrong ? !" shouts a cartoon wife at her glum husband, not realising she has reversed their little red car into a yellow garage door.
But its core business remains the "local view" cards. Its range has contracted since the golden age, but every tourist destination and major town, even places such as Northampton or Peterborough are still covered. With its thriving tourist industry, the West Country is a postcard stronghold. J Salmon's bestseller is probably the Cornwall card, although simple Union Jack and flag of St George cards also sell well across the country.
The fun part of Charles Salmon's job is choosing the new postcards. The company employs 70 people, including 12 travelling reps who visit every little independent shop they can. When Wells-next-the-Sea refurbishes its old lifeboat house on the quay, for example, the reps get to hear about it, and tell the Salmons that they should perhaps freshen up their postcard of Wells quay.
Charles Salmon draws up a wish-list and regular freelance photographers are dispatched each year with a new mission - to capture a sunset on Ullswater, perhaps, or the river Dart in springtime. The Salmons are also inundated with unsolicited photographs both professional and amateur, a small fraction of which are bought (for a one-off fee) and become postcards.
When he takes a holiday, Charles's family keeps him firmly away from the postcard racks. But he hopes that his business will continue for a few generations yet. The succession, at least, looks secure: he and his brother Harry have five sons between them.

Source : The Guardian, 17th August 2006.
Author : Patrick Barkham.
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Listed : Things you can't send in the post [10 Aug 2006|02:12pm]
Afghanistan : Chess boards
Albania : Extravagant clothes
Algeria : Funeral urns
Australia : Fruit cartons (used or new)
Canada : Secondhand beehives
China : Sewing machines
Cuba : Musical greeting cards
Ecuador : "Panama" hats and the straw used to make them
Iceland : Silkworms
Italy : Bells, clocks, coral, footwear, hair, typewriter ribbons
Jordan : Adverts about STI treatments
Madagascar : Boxes of preserved sardines weighing over 1kg
Nepal : Bearings
Nicaragua : Police whistles
Philippines : Coffee
Russia : Colour photocopiers
Sierra Leone : Brushes made in Japan

Source : The Guardian, 10th August 2006.
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Collapsibles review [10 Aug 2006|02:01pm]
Flat pack heaven

Paper lampshades, Venetian blinds, fans, maps, folding chairs - collapsible objects are never far away. But some are altogether more compelling than others. Per Mollerup, a Swedish corporate-identity specialist, hasn't worked out a ratings system, but he has gathered a large number of them into one book, Collapsibles: A Design Album Of Space-Saving Objects (Thames & Hudson, £12.95). It's easy to see which objects have the most credibility. The Swiss Army knife - in its latest Cyber Tool edition it has 34 gadgets concealed within that small, sleek exterior - is hard to beat. While designers tend to go en masse for the collapsible music stand or bicycle as an icon of unimprovable design, others would probably rate the extendible shaving mirror as a necessity of modern life. But the see-through collapsible flower vase is perhaps a prime example of design gone more than a bit wrong.

Source : The Guardian, 5th August 2006.
Author : Caroline Roux.
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