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May 11, 2007

September 22, 2007 is Car-Free Day in China

Reported in the May 7, 2007 Financial Times, not a peep about the big event appeared in any of my usual OM sources this week.

No matter.

Long story short: "More than 100 Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai [above] are to take part in the country's first official urban 'car-free day,'" wrote Mure Dickie from Beijing.

Here's the article.

    Chinese cities to go car-free for a day

    More than 100 Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai are to take part in the country's first official urban "car-free day", barring automobiles from selected areas and ordering officials to swap their black sedans for public transport.

    The decision to join other urban centres around the world in holding "no car" events on September 22 is a reflection of growing concerns about congestion, pollution and global warming that are clouding China's passionate love affair with the automobile.

    Beijing leaders have made creation of a powerful motor industry a cornerstone of industrial policy, and urban planners have often favoured drivers over the cyclists who once ruled China's roads.

    China last year became the world's second largest car market and the third-largest car producer after the US and Japan and the sector has been forecast to expand 15-20 per cent this year.

    However, some officials now accept that unrestrained growth in car transport cannot be sustained by urban infrastructure or the environment.

    In a report on the planned car-free day, the official Xinhua news agency said Beijing — where traffic jams are already a daily occurrence — was adding 1,000 new private cars a day, and that transport accounted for 20 per cent of society's total energy consumption. The government news agency said 106 cities had signed formal pledges to take part in the car-free day and an associated week-long promotion of public transport.

    "City government leaders must set an example in taking part in this activity by going to work by public transport, walking or riding bicycles," Xinhua said.

    The planned annual event will not itself turn the tide against the car in China. Even some supporters of car-free days elsewhere have expressed disappointment at their impact, saying they seldom lead to more substantial action to reduce the urban role of private vehicles.

    Public transport networks remain inadequate in many Chinese cities, while urban redevelopment means workers increasingly live far from their place of employment.

    However, the cities participating in the September car-free day have promised to "put into practice at least one new green transport policy" and to improve public transport, Xinhua said.

    Even short-term activities can have observable effects. A recent study found that when Beijing ordered about 800,000 of the capital's 2.8m cars off the roads for three days last year during an international summit, local nitrogen oxide air pollution fell by 40 per cent.

    Researchers from Harvard University and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said the effect of the limited ban on cars — intended to help the 49-nation Sino-African summit pass smoothly by clearing congested streets - was observed by a Nasa satellite.

    The fast growth and relative inefficiency of private vehicles mean they are becoming a focus of concern about greenhouse gas emissions, although local carmakers have sought to burnish their green credentials by promising to invest in new technology.

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If there was ever an auspicious occasion to begin the long-awaited, oft-promised but never-realized bookofjoe World Tour™, this would appear to be it.

Note to my growing legion of Chinese readers: I'll have my people call your people and we'll take it from there.

May 11, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

9 to 5 Laptop Sleeve

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From the website:
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9 to 5 Laptop Sleeve

At last!

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A laptop sleeve that you can bring with you to corporate America.

Be sure to talk about it by the water cooler.

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Made of heavy duty vinyl and padded with 1/4" fabric-backed foam.
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$35.

[via Mike Ballan's website]

May 11, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Diary of a mushroom — Rob Poyntz's exciting life

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And you thought things were slow where you are.

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On April 22 of this year Rob Poyntz wrote, "Today is the first post in a riveting photo diary of the life of a mushroom. One of my birthday presents this year was a brilliant 'Grow your own mushrooms' kit [above]. Anyone that knows me will also be aware of my utter hatred of mushrooms, so I won't be eating the little buggers when (and if) they grow. Anyway, today starts a terribly exciting 28 days of mushroom fun!"

Luckily for you and me, I happened on Rob's chronicle today, which marks Day #19 (pictured below).

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Read all about it.

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Yo, Rob: with the right YouTube teaser the movie rights could bring a fortune!

May 11, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Books Wallpaper

Hihiho_2

Created by Deborah Bowness.

Instant lit cred.

But perhaps you'd prefer a filing cabinet motif.

Ffffhpoplu

Inquire within.

[via Alex Johnson and shedworking]

May 11, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

'The Handbag Effect' — by Vanessa Friedman

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Her above-titled essay appeared in the May 7, 2007 Financial Times.

Long story short: "If you can take a basic item, inject a dimension of real design and then regularly change that design, you transform the item from a utility to an object of desire."

Here's the piece.

    The Handbag Effect

    A few years ago Floriane de Saint Pierre, a Paris-based headhunter specialising in luxury and fashion, began to notice something strange. Some unlikely companies were coming to her in search of candidates to fill the position of creative director — the person in charge of image for a brand, from product design through to marketing, store visuals and so on. Instead of dealing with the traditional fashion houses that had invented the role, she was fielding approaches from luggage brands, tights makers, silverware specialists — even bed linen companies.

    It was around the same time that Silas Grant, a Central St Martins-trained consultant working with fashion brands such as Buddhist Punk and Tsubi, was approached by Nokia to join their design team; they had been specifically looking for someone to lift the trend content of their phones. And it was then that Guy Leymarie, the new chief executive of De Beers' jewellery house, decided that it was time to hire a creative director – despite the fact that jewellery houses did not normally have creative directors and, indeed, disdained the idea. "For me, it's an essential part of any company that makes a product," he says.

    It is increasingly apparent that a strategy long seen as specific to the fashion world has filtered out into the world of product development writ large, changing the way such companies and their consumers behave. Call it the handbag effect: the realisation that if you can take a basic item, inject a dimension of real design and then regularly change that design, you transform the item from a utility to an object of desire.

    Michael Boroian, managing partner at Sterling International, another luxury search firm, notes that design elevates an object from the category of commodity to the category of lifestyle component — and that changes the purchasing pattern. It moves from being a pragmatic investment to an impulse driven by irrational desire, whether it is a necklace, a suitcase, a china setting, a phone, a car or a washing machine. As a result, a new career path has opened up to professionals in the fashion world, one that will have real repercussions both within and without.

    "Some of the creative director salaries are really enormous," says Daniel Naftalin, a member of the new fashion and luxury group at the London law firm Mishcon de Reya, a group formed recently specifically because of the spread of the fashion world. "They can be on a par with the CEO, or even more. But because they're often not on the board, they're often not declared, and people don't know."

    Why the new creative directors are being paid so much, and why they are suddenly so popular, has to do with the evolving nature of consumer demand and the sheer amount of stuff available. As companies diversify from fashion to homewares and homewares to fashion, competition increases. As a result, says Lisa Black, managing director at the New York-based brand consultancy Robert Burke Associates, "even the most basic product needs a point of view".

    "Design drives sales of a brand," says Robert Burke, chief executive, pointing out that when designer Vera Wang, who is known for her bridal wear, became a creative director for Serta mattresses (mattresses being often purchased after a wedding), "sales went up dramatically. I mean, who needs a new teapot? If it works, that's all you need. But Michael Graves designs one" — referring to the architect's Alessi kettle — "and suddenly you want one".

    The point at which a company understands this, says Ms Saint-Pierre, is when they come to her. "It's always the president of a company," she says, "who has suddenly realised there is a way to have an accelerator for added value."

    This statement is reflected in buying patterns, especially of the wealthiest tier of consumers. According to Ledbury Research's recent High Net Worth report, which looked at the average annual spend of wealthy households in the US (defined as those with a household income of over $200,000), those polled spent more on entertainment appliances than women's clothing, artwork or jewellery, and more on household appliances than computers or men's clothing. They spent the most on home furnishings. All of which suggests an above-average rate of redecoration.

    "Products need constant rejuvenation; it's what people ask," agrees Thierry Oriez, chief executive of Christofle, the silverware and home accessories company, which hired design writer Brigitte Fitoussi as creative director in 2005. The company now launches two new collections each year and Mr Oriez says the rhythm is accelerating. Similarly, though Mr Grant says "our phones are built to last five years", Nokiabrings out approximately 50 a year — "a significant increase over five years ago," according to Susan Allsopp, spokesperson for the brand.

    It is increasingly clear that if you do not provide such design-led newness, you risk losing significant market share. Motorola discovered this earlier this year when profits fell — partly, according to Casey Keller, their chief marketing officer, because of the company's inability to capitalise upon and renew its design-led Razr. "We started thinking about the Razr as a product," he told this newspaper in March. "Now we know it is a franchise and brand."

    Beyond driving sales, creative directors can also transform a business. This was the thinking behind Tumi's appointment of David Chu as a creative director last January. Though the luggage company, founded in 1975, had been doing fine with its tough black suitcases, they had begun to find their identification with that sort of hard-edged practicality limiting. Laurence Franklin, chief executive, wanted to redefine the brand as equally "accessory and engineering". Since his appointment, Mr Chu has not only redesigned the product but feminised the stores by using materials such as limestone, lacquer and ebony, and launched a new advertising campaign.

    "From a global brand point of view, we felt we could significantly increase our power in the business by increasing the creativity," says Mr Franklin.

    It was fashion's realisation of this that produced the first contemporary creative director: Tom Ford, at Gucci. Indeed, it was only really in the late 1990s that the handbag phenomenon actually began, thanks to Mr Ford, Miuccia Prada, Fendi with its Baguette, and Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton with his limited editions (other brands now associated with "it" bags such as Chloe and Mulberry came later). Prior to these companies changing bag styles with abandon every season, and thus creating a demand for them, most women saved to buy one or two "good" handbags and then kept them for life. That such an idea now seems quaint simply points to how quickly we have absorbed the transformation of commodities into consumables.

    It has been an exponential transformation. According to Ms Saint-Pierre, it was but a short jump from traditional fashion houses to accessories brands such as Coach, which led to luggage and jewellery, which led in turn to homewares. Now there are fashion insiders at the top of, among others, Penhaglions (perfumes and creams), Samsonite (suitcases) and Wolford (tights).

    "Swarovski [the crystal company] really sped things up when it started collaborating on chandeliers and lights with designers," a project that began in 2002, notes Ms Black. Indeed, businesses often dip a toe in the design water via collaborations such as the various mobile phone and car projects (Motorola and Dolce & Gabbana; LG and Prada; Giorgio Armani and Mercedes Benz; Maserati and Ferragamo) before wholeheartedly embracing the creative director.

    After all, there are risks involved, the most notable being over-dependecy on the creative persona. Part of the point of having a creative director in the first place is the quick route it provides to associating a set of human values with products, which in turn creates customer loyalty, but there is a fine line between enhancing a brand and overwhelming it.

    One factor militating against this is that many creative directors retain their own label while they work for another brand: Derek Lam, creative director for luxury footwear specialist Tods, still has his own eponymous fashion line; Tumi's designer, David Chu, still owns his company, DC design International, and runs the clothing brand Lincs. For them, part of the appeal of the job is the fact that it provides real cash injection into their own business without cannibalising their imagination.

    "It's gotten harder and harder to make money in the fashion world," points out Ms Black, one of the reasons that in the 1990s so many designers, from John Galliano at Christian Dior to Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, took second jobs at other fashion companies. But this has proved increasingly unattractive, as collections proliferate (a designer working for two clothing brands can be creating six to ten collections for each a year) and the demands on the designer's vision get ever greater. The usual result is two lines that look similar. By changing one of those houses to an accessories or technology company, says Mr Chu, "you use a different muscle. They become complementary". At the same time "your Ebit [earnings before interest and taxes] goes up. It's an interesting way to finance a business", says Ms Black.

    "I don't see it slowing down anytime soon," says Mr Burke. "There's still a lot of opportunity in real estate, technology, automotives ...."

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Wait till you see what my crack design team™ has been busy cooking up out back in the skunk works for the past couple years.

On second thought, maybe we'll take a rain check.

May 11, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ExStatik PowerComb

Vvvvvk

From yesterday's Financial Times "How To Spend It" supplement:
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ExStatik PowerComb

They say power goes to your head, but this ingenious device proves the opposite.

The Exstatik PowerComb [above] converts the static electricity generated by combing the hair for a minute or two into enough real electrical power to charge a mobile phone/MP3 player/nose-hair clippers for over half an hour.

Works with any body hair.

Neat.
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Stipulated.

Now where can I get one?

And I wonder how long it'll be until the Furminator krew twig and offer this option on their tools?

Funny, isn't it, how we were just speculating on the future of such power sources and then this thing comes along?

Must be a sign.

What's yours?

May 11, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Feel the power

All the energy we could ever need is all around us, there for the taking.

Solar, wind, water (rivers and tides), geothermal, they've been there since the year one and they'll still be there when we're finally ready to seriously tap them.

No need to measure carbon footprints because there won't be any.

Then there's all the energy each of us generates in our daily activities: if a self-winding watch can take advantage, why can't we store up the energy lost with every motion and footstep for use later?

Regenerative braking is just a preview of coming attractions.

I see methods for converting lost/unused sources of energy into usable power as the fundamental transforming technology of the first half of the 21st century.

Look for fusion sometime between 2050 and 2100, after more than a century of "real soon now."

Zero-point energy will arrive circa 2400, give or take a hundred years.

Better wear your best shades, though — things are gonna be very bright.

May 11, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wrenchware — Official cutlery of MAKE magazine?

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If it's not then editor Phillip Torrone had better have an awfully good explanation.

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From the website:
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Wrenchware

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Wrenchware is 18/10 polished "drop forged" stainless steel and comes in its own individual blow-molded heavy duty ABS plastic box.

Wrenchware box measures 8.75"L x 4.5"W x 1.25" H.

Mini-Wrenchware box measures 6"L x 3"W x 1.25"H.

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Note: Pliers do not open and close but the wrenches are cautiously usable.
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5y6luhl

"Cautiously usable."

Huh.

I'm filing that one away.

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A set of Wrenchware costs $24 and Mini-Wrenchware is $19, both here.

[via Ray Earhart, who wrote:

Hi Joe,

I just got a postcard from these guys (addressed to our store).

It read, "Our 'Coool' Impulse giftware sell great on any countertop, in any type of store... Or they make fantastic gifts for you to give to your good customers in appreciation of their business!"

Weird, don't ya think? Almost engrish.]

May 11, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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