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I like to ride bicycles. And whenever I head for an epic ride, I never leave without a helmet, a pump, and my trusty repair kit. So while out for a ride today, my world got rocked by the disruptive boing of a snapping bike chain. I thought, no problem, my mini chain breaker will have me back on the road in a jiffy, like it had so many times before. Wrong. The pin on my chain tool had fixed its last chain and silently broken off without me noticing. So I stood there, like MacGuyver with a bend corkscrew, lamenting my injured multi-tool. I’ve actually had this tool longer I’ve had any of my bikes. But you gotta move on. Which means I had to think. Being a careless sort sometimes, I had failed to repack some zip-ties (a repair kit essential) into my little kit. So after sniffing around the ground not unlike a dog, I found a discarded drinking straw. When bent properly, a used straw becomes a reasonable way to keep a bike chain together. So with the chain barely held together with a soiled piece of plastic, I was able to ride home by using a sequence of a quarter pedal forward followed by a quarter pedal backwards. Hey, it saved me a long walk in cycling shoes, which is never fun. So the lesson here: there’s no such thing as trash. Only potentially useful items that are just between things.

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Once again, an array of posters caught my eye and brain.

It seems to be a letter by the Premier of BC (the provincial head of government) during Expo ’86, the World’s Fair held in Vancouver. Just the letter, nothing else. So I suppose the juxtaposition of the timing of this act together with the 2010 Olympics drawing near speaks for itself. If this is a call to attention the parallels of Expo ’86 and The 2010 Olympics, then I guess whoever put up these posters thinks 2010 is going to a good thing, because as I understand, Expo was mostly a positive experience for Vancouver and left many positive long term results such as new infrastructure, urban revitalization, increased economic presence, and so on. But I also thought that the act of putting up anonymous and cryptic “art” is (besides viral marketers) generally an activity of the left leaning (read: anti-Olympics). But this person is in support of the Olympics? Condemning the Olympics (anti-gentrification of any kind despite any perceived gains) and I missed the point? Is apolitical and just posing the question? Please help. Whatever the intention is, I like the idea.

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As many of you may know, the image below is a famous demonstration of a visual trick. What appears to be a photograph of Albert Einstein becomes a photo of Marilyn Monroe if you view it from further away. This is done by playing around with detailed edges and blurred areas. The person who put this image together utilized an understanding of how most humans pick up images and interpret them. This plays on our ability and preference for focus. Apparently, our tendency to take in and process lines and areas was honed by evolution (“Is that a tiger over there? Who cares, I see stripes, I’m outa here.” We are selected to see obvious details first). It seems many of the art world’s masters knew of this trait and how to exploit it.

      I tried to demonstrate this using Flash. Although I’m using scale and compression as opposed to distance and actual focusing of our eyes, I think the effect is the same. That is, accentuating the sharp details (by being close to the image, which is analagous to having a large/high-res image ) or accentuating the blurry parts (far away, which is analagous to small or low-res). Try playing around with the Flash dealy below:

Get Adobe Flash player

      Artists such as Paul Klee made this a feature of their work, which is why a Klee painting can have very different effects depending on the viewing distance.

Paul Klee's Zaubergarten. Try moving away from the screen.

Paul Klee's Zaubergarten. Try moving away from the screen.

      Whereas Klee made visual focus a feature of his work, Mark Rothko made it his subject of interest:

Mark Rothko's Yellow and Orange. No lines at all, but there are definite shapes, ie. the rectangles.

Mark Rothko's Yellow and Orange. No lines at all, but there are definite shapes, ie. the rectangles.

      I think I finally get Rothko (somewhat). I think the weirdness of his paintings is that he gives you nothing to focus on. We know there are basically two rectangles, yellow, and orange. This is easy. But everything is soft and undefined. No lines, and the colours aren’t solid. Not exactly my favourite painting or my idea of a good time, but it’s an interesting idea and it really makes you think.

      So how crazy can this get? Da Vinci crazy. He took it to another level by building it into the Mona Lisa’s face. Some details of the face are soft, some are more well defined. He is playing around with and controlling how we focus on his painting. To me, this is more evident when you move towards and away from the painting. The key areas I think are the shadows on the outside corners of the eyes (which affect the shape of the eyes and therefore her expression), and the shadow on the corner of the left side of her smile. By playing around with our perceptions, Leonardo changes the degree of the smile. So I think, there is no real answer to what kind of smile it is, because it depends on where we are standing when we look at the painting. Try it out for yourself:

Get Adobe Flash player

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This is not a post about coffee or marketing or branding. This is about business.

      During travels in Europe, I saw many Nespresso outlets.

More boutique than coffee machine and bean shop.

More boutique than coffee machine and bean shop.

      While out-and-about Vancouver town back in North America searching for a George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine George Foreman and his grill (you know, for a healthier, more convenient life. Turns out they suck), I noticed a Nespresso outlet nestled within a department store. Until then, I wasn’t sure if North America, at least sleepy little Vancouver, would be a market for these things. But I think Nestle is on that.

      What’s that you say, “what’s a Nespresso?” It’s basically a system to make espresso at home. You take a Nespresso capsule, drop it into a Nespresso specific machine, push one button, and within a couple of minutes or so you have a perfectly brewed cup of espresso. They didn’t invent this concept, but they made it work.

      Contrast this to the Saeco machine. They make a machine that, also with a push of a button, grinds the beans, and squirts out the coffee for you all within the machine. All you do is fill it with whole beans and water. There are salient differences between the two systems (or “ecologies” is becoming a popular term). One is price of the machines. The do-it-all Saeco machine cost several times that of the Nespresso. The second point is that while Saeco is done with you after purchase of the machine (besides the usual servicing and what not), Nespresso only works with these Nespresso capsules which are only available through, you guessed it, Nespresso. Put the two points together and you have Saeco=one time cost, Nespresso=perpetual costs.

      From what I can gather from news sources and the high-end appearance and popularity of the stores, it seems Nespresso is a huge success. I’m sure this is in no small part due to Nespresso following a business model that should be 101 in all business schools: the crack dealers got it right. Make it cheap and easy the start, then you jack up the price. A Nespresso serving costs about $0.60 cdn compared to about $0.09 for an equivalent amount of bean. While Saeco takes the money and runs, Nestle Corp. Ltd. knows the real money is in the comeback. With a few exceptions, the only way to get these capsules is at one of their stores or through the internet. So no third party producers or retailers, because you may only get your medicine from daddy. Saeco solved a problem. They found a way to make getting good coffee at home as easy as it is to go out. Nestle saw that the money isn’t in the solution, it’s in the fix.

      At its core, Saeco is a manufacturing business. Nestle’s is food distribution, they don’t even make the machines . So it seems natural that the two strategies worked out that way for the respective companies. But there was nothing stopping Saeco from finding a way to generate returns. There are so many things at work here. Sometimes we get to thinking we are what we are and nothing else. So we take the natural routes. Because of this, some people have an inherent advantage. Of course, some don’t. So the real lesson here and perhaps why this topic has me thinking a bit is: sometimes, the best inspiration comes from those outside of what you are trying to accomplish. Of course I’m not the first person to say this, but I think we (at least I) forget this too often.

So to round-up Nespresso v. Saeco:

machines

bean_unit

clooney_cipo

accessories

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Antoni Gaudi was not only inspired by organic forms in his architecture, but he studied the mathematical properties of these forms (for example, how spirals and parabolas, while beautiful, also contribute to structural strength). One of his modelling techniques was to anchor chords in his models where columns would go, then hang precisely weighed weights from the cords. Then the model was turned upside down so he could photograph and record the parabolic shapes the cords would take. He then used these measurements for the real columns.

how to make an accurate and strong column, by Antoni Gaudi

how to make an accurate and strong column, by Antoni Gaudi

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Left our de-facto home of Montmartre. Large tourist crowds (like any part of Paris) but it really does have a different feel. Michel at the hotel says what makes Montmartre good is that it’s a village. I think this is a popular sentiment among the residents of Montmartre. With a combination of small shops supplying anything you could ever need, only one street wider than a single car, and being atop a very steep hill, I think they pull it off despite being within the city limits of one of the biggest metro areas in the world.

when in Montmartre...

when in Montmartre...

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no_wifi

Easy to find, but not so accessible if you don’t have an European phone carrier. We’ll try this again in Spain. Many cafes and brasseries have free wifi, but they don’t seem to be used so often. So not a lot of people here sitting in a Starbucks working on their screenplays or whatever it is people do on their laptops while at a Starbucks. I see more paper and pens rather than laptops. Sorry, not the most interesting post. But this is just an update.

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Leaving for a European vacation today. Will post from there so check this blog to see what adventures I get up do.
      So from me and the entire staff at The Globe And Mail, Jusqu’a la prochaine fois!

What I do in my spare time.

What I do in my spare time.

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Accidents and Chemicals is an idea concerning how we end up behaving the way we do. So I made a type of animated poster to convey the concept.
      Click anywhere on the thingy below to start. If you have the time, let it run for a while.

Get Adobe Flash player

      The thinking is that the path of the triangles can eventually lead to some kind of seemingly intended and coherent result. But this result is dependent on the random behaviour of constituent parts (accidents) that may or not have the right configurations (chemicals). C’est De L’art, you see.

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The little triangle thingy below is an interactive version of the Love-Growth-Cash Triangle by Jack Cheng. It’s a graph to visualize the totality of career/life decisions based on personal enjoyment, personal growth, and paying the bills. Or so I think. I think his idea was to demonstrate how much of the triangle you might be missing if you weight your life decisions too heavily on one of those criteria. I thought it could also show how much of the total you’ve got covered. Not a perfect representation (and yes, it’s all relative) but I thought it could at least assist in clarifying things.
      My good friend Thomas sent the link to me (rather topical at the time and still is at the time of this posting) and I wanted to see how quickly I could knock out an interactive version. It just looked ripe for some dynamic behaviour.
      Click and drag the coloured circle below.

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