A toast to Toast

Today I asked Aine, my girlfriend whether she thought the oven heated up any quicker when it was turned up full blast. We were cooking a pizza, and I had the oven set to 220° even though the package said 180. I’m impatient that way, wanting the food to be ready now, I hate waiting. She said probably not on an electric oven, but maybe on a gas oven. Then I got to thinking about other electric heating cookers, with timing on my mind. I had a couple of minutes to kill anyway. I asked her what she thought the dial on a toaster does, how is controls the ‘doneness’ of the toast, being that a toaster both sets the temperature and the time for your desired level of crispiness.

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Does the dial control the temperature of the element like on an oven, or does it limit the time, temperature kept constant? I was backing a variable resistor controlled variable temperature system, she favoured timed control.
Only one way to find out, I took the toaster out of the cupboard and set it to the lowest setting, and pushed it down (no bread, we have pizza cooking, remember?) Timed it at one minute thirty. Then I dialled it to to maximum and loe and behold, three mins forty seconds.
I learned something, and occupied myself while waiting for the pizza, but more importantly satisfied a question that would have bugged me for a while if not, and The pizza was done to perfection, and delicious too!

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Sharp

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Saw this online today, really great use of material and the shape of the pencil. We’ve all had an unrewarding experience with a sharpener, whether its breaking the nib and having to sharpen again, or an oddly sized pencil not fitting in the barrel.

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I like when I see redesigns of everyday devices, its good to know people are looking around them and challenging the way things are for the sake of progress!

Old timey maps

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I like maps. I have two of them in my room, one of limerick city that I bought to help learn my way around when I first moved down for college, and one of Ireland that shows all the towns and villages and rivers and mountains etc. Important stuff. I like how all the information is presented so neatly, and knowing its all right there is comforting. I like the truth in maps, how this picture represents the real world, encompasses all of us on a page. But its sad in our digital world today that the fun, adventure-filled sketches produced by sailors discovering far off lands or explorers making footfall on previously virgin territory are disappearing to make way for the satellite images we spend so much time viewing today.
Look at a business on Yelp. There’s the map, telling you where it is. Look at Facebook. There’s the same goddam map telling you where your friend’s charity event is on. Look at hostel world to try book a bed in Holland for your class trip in three weeks, hello map. Don’t get me wrong, I like to know where I’m going, and can much better remember from seeing a picture than a long list of ‘turn right at the four cross roads and follow the road around and at the end of the bohereen if you see a man walking a chicken you’ve gone too far’ directions, but its awfully boring seeing the same Ariel photo of Dublin fifteen times a day.

That’s why I was so happy to see this map of under-sea internet cables, produced in old fashioned fuchsia, just like the Russians used to make when dividing territories recently assumed into the USSR machine.

Japanimation in Metal Gear Rising: Revengance

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When I had more time as a youngster I was quite keen on video games. There was a video rental shop in my hometown, and you could rent games for the Sony Playstation, which I did quite often. One game I had a particular fondness for was ‘Metal Gear Solid: Tactical Espionage Action’. We rented it so often that once when it was supposed to be returned it went missing and we had to buy the game from the shop. I found it in the car later that day, and immediately took up where I left off. 

What I liked about the game was its freedom, its novelty, its depth of gameplay. Before Solid Snake, my only heroes were Mario the plumber and the Dog in The Nintendo shooting game, duck hunt. 

This week, when I had handed in the massive 50 a2 pages of drawings (which I SHOULD have started much earlier, I must admit) for design studio, and didn’t feel exactly like studying for the next day’s maths midterm exam, I discovered my housemate Harry had recently purchased the newest instalment in the Metal Gear franchise. Having become a lapsed gamer right around the time I became a lapsed catholic, I felt a pang of fondness and no small measure of curiosity as to the new predicament facing my old friend, Raiden as I was quickly brought up to speed on what’s been happening in the series. I had played (on someone else’s system) all the instalments since my formal departure, leaving Metal Gear Ray in the hands of Revolver Ocelot, possessed by Snake’s brother and arch nemesis, Liquid Snake through an arm transplant. (You get the picture that this world is a little far-fetched at times, but its accepted with glee)

The new game is set in the future, where Raiden is employed as a security provider for an African president. The technology of the older games is more advanced, but the gameplay is similar to what I remembered from MGS2: sons of liberty. We even have that lovely sword that appeared right at the end of MGS2 right from the start. The familiar gadgets are in fact quite a welcome return, having briefly ventured into the 1960’s in Snake Eater, with a distinctive lack of tech to make the game easier. 

What really struck me, was the very aggressively manga tone the game has taken on. During fight sequences, different combinations of moves and strikes will land a combo, where the game enters slow-mo mode and Japanese text characters appear on screen. During boss battles the rock soundtrack builds up track by track in a guitar-hero style crescendo to a guitar solo and epic vocals. The cut scenes are, in my house-mates words ‘more enjoyable than the gameplay’ and he reckons its ‘more like watching a movie’. 

I’ve seen this trend creep into games since I was a boy. Final fantasy, all uncountable iterations of the game resemble more closely an episode of Pokemon than an old fashioned RPG. The new Grand Theift Auto title probably had more disk space allocated to cutscenes than to game files. I have to agree with Director Steven Spielberg, an avid video gamer, who has criticized the use of cutscenes in games, calling them intrusive, and feels making story flow naturally into the gameplay is a challenge for future game developers.

Coffee break: Assigned task

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This week in Contemporary Design Culture we were assigned the task of analyzing somebody making/ ordering a cup of coffee. “Where’s the Product Design in that?”, I hear you say. Fear not Dear Reader, there is a point to this exercise. But first, my observation. 

I watched my mother (a seasoned Coffee drinker, with 30+ years of Psychiatric nursing under her belt) make a morning coffee on Saturday morning. She had no idea I was observing her, and neither did I really, until I noticed that she had boiled the kettle for the third time before she even got a cup down from the press. The first time she pressed the switch was when she passed it on her way to let the dog out for his morning… erm… coffee break. The kettle boiled, and Mam was tidying away bowls from my younger siblings breakfast earlier in the morning. Passing back by the kettle, she pushed it again as she went to the bedroom to get her phone. Then, reading a text message about a cancelled soccer match, pushed it again, opened the press and got down a small mug, took a spoon from the drawer, opened the cylinder of coffee, spooned the powder in the cup, and poured the water all within three seconds. The press doors were closed, kettle back in its place, coffee put away, no trace of her being there at all. She walked the four or five steps to the fridge, uncapped the skimmed milk, poured in a ‘good drop’ of milk, and was sitting at the other end of the table before the toast I was waiting for had even popped. 

What intrigued me most about the process is the order of events. I know she has two cups of coffee every morning, before ‘tackling the day’, but its the little tasks between that seemed to dominate the time and effort. Moving other peoples mess before addressing her own needs, or needing to have the place tidy before she could enjoy the coffee? The ritual is deeply ingrained. I know she used to smoke with her morning coffee, when I was the one leaving early morning cereal bowls on the kitchen table. Thankfully, she hasn’t been smoking in five years, having just taken the decision one day to switch to nicorette gum. I estimate she could have spent half her adult life doing the morning coffee and a cigarette combo. The process is so streamlined that she could literally do it in her sleep. But why then the interruptions? The dog, the phone, the bowls. They all could have waited if it were me making coffee. 

The task of analyzing the coffee process is a classic in design education. The ritual of preparation is part of the experience. I read a biography of a heroin addict who testified that her urges began to be met once she began the preparation of her drugs. Just knowing that the wheels were set in motion, and soon she would feel the effects was relief to the point of emotional reward. Maybe its the same with our drug of choice, be it Coffee or Guinness. Did you know the reason for the two-part pour traditional with stouts is because when buying casks of stout, a publican would buy them in fours, and add a cup of sugar to the fourth. This sugar would increase the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast in the beer, and give the drink a thicker head. When pouring, the publican would fill the glass 3/4 the way full, and top it with the extra sugar keg. This way, the froth was good and thick, and the four barrels would be used at approximately the same time. We only do it today because its traditional, not because it is necessary anymore. If we can design a pleasant experience to go along with the product we are trying to sell, it resonates positively with the user and continued use is likely.