Amazon Locker

October 2, 2011


Last week, when I was returning from the gym and was heading to the supermarket to buy some food, I stumbled across a weird looking machine, standing at the alleyway of Hammersmith Broadway bus station.

It was a set of lockers, which looked like a left luggage machine. But Hammersmith bus station was a peculiar place to choose for those lockers, as it is not a train or airport station. My surprise turned to excitement, when I approached the screen and realised that it was an “Amazon Locker”.


Amazon is tight lipped about the lockers and has not yet provided any information on the web. Perhaps they first wait to install some of these lockers all over London. My guess is that Amazon intends to use it like FigleavesByBox lockers: you order your item and you chose to get it delivered at those lockers where you can pick it up. And judging from the screen of the Amazon lockers, they will work with a code, which you will get when you order it.

Lambda.

 

[all images © LambdaPhage]

Advertisements

X-Men:First Class

June 6, 2011

Unlike sequels, prequels are very difficult to make because the director faces an extra challenge: the audience knows what happens next. Therefore, to make a successful prequel, one needs to construct a story that leads to what the audience already knows. On way to achieve this would be to focus within the psyche of the movie characters; to present all those events and experiences that have influenced the characters and made them to behave exactly as they did in the movies the audience has already seen. In short, to explain why the protagonists are like that.

It is exactly this recipe that the X-Men: First Class movie follows, and, quite successfully, I might add. Unless you are a fan of the X-Men and have a stack of old comics in the back of your cupboard, you probably don’t know their history. You are probably not aware how Professor Xavier started his X-Men academy in a secret location. How Magneto found a helmet that blocks Professor Xavier’s mind-reading ability. How Mystique ended up with Magneto. Why Xavier is called Professor. And above all, how Professor Xavier and Magneto became rivals.

The movie fills exactly this gap in our knowledge. It begins with two parallel stories: this of Magneto as a young Erik, who becomes aware of this power during periods of intense anger, experienced when he was held hostage in a Nazi concentration camp, and the other of Professor Xavier, or Charles, who has a quiet upbringing in his wealthy American home. Here Charles meets Mystique, who becomes his step-sister and follows him to his studies at the University of Oxford in England. The paths of Erik and Charles will first converge when Charles, now an accomplished Professor of Genetics at the University of Oxford specialising in mutations, will help the CIA in finding other mutants. Erik and Charles will join forces to find and recruit many more mutants in their efforts to prevent Sebastian Shaw – another powerful mutant – from staring World War III by mingling in the affairs of the Americans and the Russians in midst of the cold war era and being responsible for the Cuban missile crisis. Only for Erik, killing Sebastian Shaw is his ulterior motive. Sebastian’s true identity is Dr Schmidt; a doctor working for the Nazis, who first unearthed Erik’s mutant powers, but also killed Erik’s mother.

Although Magneto’s quest for revenge dominates the movie compared to the transformation of Professor Xavier into a guardian and trainer of the young X-Men, the story progressively gains momentum and culminates into the final making of the arch rivals. The visual effects, especially for Mystique’s numerous transformations have been masterfully executed. The script even included some humorous elements: i) a joke from Professor Xavier that he might go bald, ii) a cameo appearance from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and iii) a cameo appearance from Rebecca Romijin, the actor who played Mystique in the later movies, in an effort of the current Mystique to woo Magneto.

Even though the movie has been fun and interesting to watch, it did not have anything special that made it stand out. However, it is a pleasant movie to watch on a night out with friends.

Lambda.

P.S.: All images © respective owners

[Mozzkito]*

May 30, 2011

For most people, a tea strainer has only one purpose: to strain the tea leaves when making tea. It would be impossible to think of another use. But for Ingo Maurer, a plain tea strainer can form the basis of inspiration for yet another work of art: the Mozzkito desk lamp.

When I first saw this lamp many years ago, I was surprised by the unorthodox choice of materials. A tea strainer houses a halogen light bulb and is suspended in mid-air by the use of a thin metal stem that sits on a metal base. The metal stem doubles as a pipe for concealing the intricate wiring used to supply the halogen lamp with electricity. But the novelty does not stop there. The tea strainer features an assembly of protruding filaments.

Judging from the name of the lamp, it is clear that Ingo Maurer drew inspiration for this piece from the intricate, almost fragile, silhouette of mosquitos. And the desk lamp he created seems to be carrying all those features. Besides the metal base, the only big and heavy object, everything else is completely thin, almost weightless. A slight touch of the metal stem or the strainer can cause the light to oscillate, reminding us of its fragile nature; when undisturbed it stands majestically.

Here is the story of how I became an owner of a Mozzkito lamp: After moving to Germany, I started exploring the city of Heidelberg to find shops that sell furniture and get ideas for my apartment. One of the shops I discovered, and was destined to become one of my favourites, was Seyfarth Einrichtungen, located at Plock, a parallel road to the main one in the old part of the city. Seyfarth was selling furniture and objects from the most famous design houses in Europe – Vitra, Moroso, Cassina to name but a few. Apart from the showroom at the front of the store, they also had 3-4 rooms at the back. It was more like a storage room to furniture and objects that were once the centre of attention at the front, but gradually lost their appeal. In the back rooms, instead of the aesthetically pleasing placement of furniture and objects like the front showroom, there was just a plain juxtaposition of items, without any effort to look nice. Some of them were even damaged.

I only discovered the back rooms of Seyfarth several months after visiting the store to get ideas for my apartment. And among the chairs, the wardrobes and the desks at the far end of the room, I saw it gathering dust at a shadowy corner. An Ingo Maurer Mozzkito desk lamp, which despite a bend on its metal rod, it retained its grace.

I quickly asked one of the store managers how much it cost, and bargained the price because of the bend in the metal rod. I paid the money and a few minutes later was out in the streets, clutching a paper box containing the lamp with the tea strainer protruding out of the box (Seyfarth did not have the original box). On my way home, I still remember the glances of passers-by on what it was that I was carrying.

When I moved from Germany to England, I insisted on taking this lamp with me, even though it meant I needed to create a special box to transport it and several “Zerbrechlich” (Fragile) tags. It was only 3 years ago that the lamp began having a problem: it started burning the halogen lamp only hours after I have changed it. For this reason, the lamp was disassembled.

It took me two years, and a threat from my flatmate to throw the lamp away that made me to contact Ingo Maurer to find out if the lamp could be repaired. It turned out that the problem was caused by the wiring of the metal rod; even though it had survived the initial bend, it has deteriorated dramatically during the past few years. A few weeks later, a new metal rod was delivered to me from Germany and used it restore my Mozzkito to its former glory.

As I finish this post, the light illuminating my Mac keyboard comes from Mozzkito; which for a very long time – and for more time to come – is one of my [obsessions]*.

Lambda.

[first image © LambdaPhage, second image © Ingo Maurer]

Brit Insurance Design Awards 2011

May 22, 2011

The Plumen lightbulbs

Whenever I visit a museum, I find myself staring at artefacts from civilisations thousands of years before my time or paintings from artists that I could not possibly afford to buy. But whenever I visit the Design Museum in London, I find myself staring at objects that may as well sit in my living room. In fact, most of the times I am pleasantly surprised that I own some of them. This is what happened when I visited the Brit Insurance Design Awards exhibition.

The Brit Insurance Design Awards exhibition, organised annually at the Design Museum, is the culmination of the awards, established in 2003 to celebrate examples of innovative design. A judging panel made up of renowned design experts decides the best entries from nominations in seven categories: Architecture, Transport, Graphics, Interactive, Product, Furniture and Fashion. The nominations also come from renowned design experts, who are asked to provide up to 5 nominations representing the most innovative designs launched in the last year.

Compared to the previous year, the exhibition was sparse, with many nominations being represented by photographs and videos rather than copies of the actual object: a sensible solution for entries in the architectural or services but not for the others categories. The display tables were also wobbly, strengthening my perception that the exhibition was carelessly thought and set up. Rather than scattering objects, a more sensible approach would have been to group them according to their nomination categories and to use innovative display forms and multimedia to encourage the visitor to interact with the exhibits.

LED-light installation by Phillips

Besides products showcased in electronic tablets (iPads and others), which the visitor was encouraged to explore, all others could not be touched, even though they were within reach, apart on the front of the exhibition, where some select real-life items were available for interaction. These included Herman Miller’s Sayl Task chair, a bench made from recycled cardboard, several books and the playful Spun chair http://www.heatherwick.com/magis-spun-chair/ by Thomas Heatherwick.

The diversity of the products and the variety of design methods employed made it difficult for me to pick my favourites (and I am sure it is equally difficult for the judges to pick the winners among many nominations). However, there have been several objects that caught my attention, sometimes for the novelty of the design and sometimes for the innovative choice of materials.

Wall Piercings by Flos

Flos took part in the exhibition with Wall Piercings, an interesting display of LED rings of changing colours (which for an unknown reason was very difficult to photograph), whereas Phillips included a LED-light bench that responded to human movement and made the LED panels move. The Fashion Design Award was given to Jil Sander for her 2011 +J collection for Uniqlo (for which you can read more here, here and here) whereas the Transport award was awarded to the Barclays Cycle hire project in London, the infamous Boris bikes. Finally, the overall Brit Insurance Design of the Year award went to Plumen lightbulb, an innovative, aesthetically pleasing redesign of a low-energy light bulb that looks differently depending on the angle you watch it.

Plumen lightbulb close-up

Overall, even though the previous exhibition included more design objects than the current one, it is definitely worth visiting to celebrate last year’s good designs and to witness that some of these do not only end up in museum stands but may find refuge in the comfort of your home.

Lambda.

P.S.: The exhibition is still open and will last until 7th August 2011.

Le Café Anglais

April 24, 2011

Being an avid reader of Rowley Leigh’s cooking column at the Financial Times Weekend magazine, when I was presented with the opportunity to visit his restaurant with one of my clients, I accepted without hesitation. I was anticipating to find an environment where everything – the food, the atmosphere, the service – would be tightly and meticulously crafted as the column he is contributing at the Financial Times.

I was a bit disappointed. Not because the food was not excellently cooked, but because the menu consisted of dishes you can easily find in many restaurants and did include many fresh ideas and experimentation. But Le Café Anglais seems to be catering for its audience, mostly the shopping crowd at the Whitely’s shopping centre and nearby businesses, and therefore needs to be unpretentious and serve uncomplicated food at reasonable prices.

Immediately after you enter the restaurant, there is a space resembling a cafe, with lots of tables and chairs, that come handy if you are just visiting the restaurant but you are not interested in lunch or dinner. On your right hand side, there is a bar serving cocktails and oysters. By proceeding past the bar, on your left hand side you will find yourself in the main dining area, decorated in art deco style, and on your left hand side you will see the kitchen-rotisserie where your food is being prepared and served. The combination of high-ceiling and large windows on the right hand side of the restaurant makes the whole atmosphere airy, amply lit and relaxed.

Le Café Anglais caters for every cuisine and every palate, by combining elements of French cuisine, English traditional ingredients and more oriental tastes. In this way, Imam Bayildi aubergines stand alongside fois gras terrine, parmesan custard and anchovies and smoked eel and bacon salad. For the main meal, there is a choice among fish, meat and items from the rotisserie. On the day we visited the restaurant, there was a lunch menu specifically designed for Lent, with low calorie choices and plenty of oyster varieties to choose from its bar.

The food that we ordered did not disappoint. The English asparagus with butter sauce melted to the mouth and released a bouquet of aromas and flavours. The main dish was also nicely cooked and meticulously presented. I finished my lunch with a very tasteful selection of sorbet flavours. Overall, Le Café Anglais food is comparable to other fine dining establishments, and represents a good value for money. The dining experience will set you back £30-50 (without wine and the optional 12,5% service charge).

Definitely a restaurant worth visiting if you are in the neighbourhood and interested in good quality food without extortionate prices.

Lambda.

P.S. Le Café Anglais is located at 8 Porchester Garden, London W2 4DB (Google map, Street View).

[image © http://www.lecafeanglais.co.uk website)

Habitat Regent Street Store

March 27, 2011

When the Habitat Flagship store in Regent Street opened in April 2006, it was hailed as another example of how art and design can enhance the surroundings of a space; a fact central to the mission of the Habitat brand. Respecting the architectural characteristics and the breathtaking original features of the building – a former cinema with vaulted ceilings and neo-Egyptian details – Tom Dixon, the non Executive Director of Habitat, who worked on the project, built a store around the cinema space, keeping intact (and restoring) every small detail. He even built an extension to the stalls in the form of a wooden structure, which was connected to the ground floor via the stare case at the centre of the store The result was a unique store: a 21-century environment selling affordable furniture and accessories, housed in an old cinema space restored to its former glory.

Almost one month ago, while walking past the store on my way to Carnaby street, I was saddened to see that the Habitat store was closing down. Huge, ugly banners were peppered on its window displays, informing of the unfortunate event. The place was full of people in search of a bargain and reminded me of a pirate looted-ship with items being scattered everywhere. In desperate attempt to find out why this was happening, I entered the store.

As I wandering up and down the aisles glancing at the battered shelves and unappetising signs of “Closing down” and “Sale”, guiltily trying to find an item on offer, I could not help but wonder what will become of the Habitat Regent Street store. Maybe a Gap or perhaps a Primark? An ill fitting departure from the character and charisma of its predecessor.

A small desk lamp and a wooden bus toy was what I could find I liked from the stock in a generous 30% – 50% markdown. And while I was going out,I clutched the bag with my newly purchased item and was confident enough that I had taken with me and saved a tiny bit of the store’s dignity.

Lambda.

[all images © LambdaPhage]

P.S. 29 May 2011: The old Habitat store in Regent Street will now become a Burberry store.

High Society

February 6, 2011

The use of drugs that plagues our society is not just a recent phenomenon. It can be traced back to early human history. Societies have used drugs for either medicinal purposes or for experimental, recreational, religious or mind-altering activities. Whether a drug is accepted or rejected by a certain society, whether it is a blessing or an anathema, whether it cures or alleviates pain or numbs and distorts the mind simply depends on the drug’s uses but also of the society’s values. Cocaine and cannabis were originally used for medicinal purposes – and in certain circumstances they still are today – but have been classified as illegal and banned in most developed-world countries nowadays.

The exhibition “High Society” at the Wellcome Collection attempts to give us a glimpse into the history of drug use. Ranging from simple drugs such as coffee and chocolate to more illegal substances, such as cocaine, opium and morphine, the exhibition bears a collection of drug-related artefacts and drug-inspired art pieces. It is organised into 5 thematic areas: “From apothecary to laboratory”, “The drugs trade”,”Self experimentation”, “Collective intoxication” and “A sin, a crime, a vice or a disease” and brings together many items, such as historical documents on drugs trade, medicinal objects, books on the effects of drug usage, photographs and prints on tribal and societal rituals, art objects inspired on the effects of drugs on human behaviour, marketing and educational materials and videos, installation art and statistics.

While the exhibition is meticulously organised, I failed to see a coherent message running through it; a fact that seems to prove that the whole is not just a sum of its parts. And while the historical items were numerous, they were just displayed as mere objects that the visitor just glimpses for some seconds, without much fanfare and without much of a story. Admittedly, one of the most interesting exhibits manifests itself at the end of the exhibition. David McCandless’s “Pure as the driven snow” is an informative graphic that provides information on the reduction of purity, the increase in price, the number of people involved and gross profits during the journey of cocaine from the production field to the end user.

Although not as informative as the “War and Medicine” exhibition, it is certainly worth visiting.

Lambda.

P.S.: The exhibition is on until the 27th February.

Uniqlo +J SS11 collection

February 3, 2011

One of the most successful collaborations of famous designers and high-street brands is the collaboration between Jil Sander and Uniqlo. Readers of my blog can refer to my previous posts about the SS10 and the AW11 collection.

Today marks the launch of the 4th consecutive collection: the Spring Summer 2011 collection. It is the first time that the collection launches first on the internet and then at the stores. This way, loyal customers (like me) can buy some pieces without the need to queue at the stores in the morning.

Characterised by Sahara sand dunes, elegant curves, natural hues and primordial contrasts of red, the collection is inspired by and epic of sensual colours and lines. This is evident in the male military and safari jackets, which are presented alongside classic items such as white shirts and wool suits. Admittedly, the women’s collection looks better than the men’s collection, as it mingles inspiring dress designs in bold colours and classic single breasted jackets in earthly hues.

Can’t wait to see them on the net.

Lambda.

P.S.: Image © Uniqlo

[Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch]*

January 15, 2011


A computer mouse was always a peculiar device to me. Most of the time I would use it I would end in frustration. In the old time, it was because of the dust that the ball mouse would accumulate, that would render any navigation of the cursor unattainable before thoroughly cleaning it. In present times, with the advent of optical mouse this problem has been rectified, only to replaced by a recurring pain in my wrist because of continuous use of the scrolling wheel.

When I got my first laptop computer, an IBM Thinkpad, I was introduced to an alternative pointing device: a trackpoint, cleverly hidden beneath the keyboard and manifesting itself only as a red dot in the middle of it. Using the trackpoint in this laptop was very easy. I did not need to let my palms away from the keyboard to operate it; I just needed to put my finger on the red trackpoint and pull it slightly to the direction I wanted the cursor to move.


Others found the trackpoint irritating. Many cited it as a reason for not buying an IBM laptop and opted for computers featuring a trackpad, another pointing device that was gaining popularity at that time. A trackpad allowed you to move the cursor by sliding your finger in the small touch-sensitive area, located at the bottom of the laptop keyboard. Others abandoned any hope of experimentation and attached an external mouse to control the cursor. I do not blame them, for it was only IBM who managed to make a working version of the trackpoint device (and patented it) but others, like Toshiba, failed to implement successfully. Those few who could master the device, would not even think of going back to the mouse.

The same thing happened to me when I was introduced to a pen tablets by Wacom at a friend’s house. A pen tablet is a pointing device that lets you control the cursor by moving a pen on top of a special surface, the tablet. My first reaction was that pen tablets were big and bulky and certainly not alternative to a mouse in cases where desk space was a premium. But I was soon convinced of the opposite when I found out they come in different sizes to cater for the needs of both general consumers up and graphic design professionals. I approached the device with amazement and excitement, the sort of excitement you have when you are test driving a new car. At first, I was overly cautious, but then as I relaxed and started getting used to the hand and eye coordination, I began to feel comfortable with it.

The only problem was the price: Wacom’s pen tablets were a bit expensive. This soon changed with the introduction of the Bamboo series, which were aimed at the home user and cost a little bit more than a good optical mouse. I decided to buy the black model of Wacom Bamboo and, after using it, I realised that I would never go back to using a mouse or a trackpad. But Wacom made the device even better by introducing a finger sensor in addition to the pen sensor. The new model they launched, the Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch, was not only able to function with the designated pen but with one’s finger. Needless to say, I sold my old tablet to a friend and then bought the new one. Since then, this tablet became [my obsession]*.

Lambda.

P.S.: I was thrilled to learn that Wacom won a Red Dot Design award for the Bamboo Pen and Touch tablet, as they did with the old Bamboo tablet.

 

[all images © LambdaPhage]

New Year’s Resolutions

January 10, 2011

The advent of the new year inadvertently forces us to make an evaluation of the past year and focus on the things we want to change. Most people then go on and make their new year’s resolutions, which almost always include a clause for eating healthier (considering the abuse they have found themselves in in the run-up to Christmas). I was also one of them. If you check my previous posts carefully, you will see that I made at least one new year’s resolution in 2009: to write more.

But, nowadays, I do not believe in making new year’s resolutions any more. After the dust of the holidays has settled and the post-Christmas shortage of cash has been straightened, I look forward to February, and not January, to make plans for the new year. Because I believe that February is the best time to make rational decisions on embarking on new projects, without carrying the guilt of the previous year and without having the January blues. Most importantly, I will make decisions that will not be forgotten in a very short time.

And that is what I am going to do this year. I will wait patiently for January to pass, and I will start planning my new year in February. Some people might say it is too late, but I think it is really worth the wait.

 

Lambda.

 

[image © LambdaPhage]