Monthly Archives: March 2010


When I was a kid, one of my least favorite things was to sit in the barber shop on a Saturday morning for what seemed like hours waiting my turn for a two-minute haircut.  My father didn’t allow any of those new-fangled haircuts where it actually looked like you had some hair.  No, sir, we got the standard, GI type of haircut where all your personality was left on the floor to be swept up later.

But, one good thing that came of this experience, aside from the presumed character-building aspect, was that I got to read issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.  Even though these issues were worn and tattered from handling by the army of ten-year-old boys who frequented the establishment, and were in fact possibly older than any of us, it was fascinating to imagine the world we would live in as adults where lasers and robots and other mechanical and electrical marvels would make life much more interesting than it was at that time.  Of course, we had not discovered girls yet.

But all of us in that age bracket agreed, flying cars were going to be so cool, and what’s more, they should have been ready for market by the time we got our driver’s licenses.  Ohhhh, yeaaaah.

Unfortunately, the flying cars never came, even though one was featured later in a James Bond movie.  It was my first great life disappointment.  I mean the lack of flying cars, not the movie, although that, too, was a disappointment.

So, all these many years later, I have come to accept that visions of the future rarely match the actual future.  Sometimes the actual future turns out to be pretty cool anyway, but reality has a way of spoiling the dreams of preteen boys who possess, at last accounting, approximately 99% of the world’s total creativity.

But hold on, I may have found an actual example of how prophetic Popular Science truly was.  Take a look at this website that describes a concept for next-generation living.  It’s called the Lumenhaus and it’s Virginia Tech‘s entry into the Solar Decathlon competition.  It’s chock full of cool materials like aerogel panels, solar panels and anti-hurricane roof vents, and it thinks for itself!  It opens and closes panels to heat or cool as necessary, and it can be operated from an iPhone application.  Dude.

OK, so it looks pretty small, and it is.  But it’s just a concept house.  However, built into the concept is the idea of living more efficiently in less space by using technology and futuristic Star Trek social ideas.  Imagine a house that reconfigured the space for the temporary use to which it was being put.  You really have to take a look at the flash animations on the site, which was apparently designed by up-and-coming web advertising company Modea.  Not only is the house itself cool, I really love the website.  Like the house, the site is just what it needs to be.

So, even though I have still not totally given up on the flying cars, until they come along I can dream about the next generation house.

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High Tech for kids! (and the rest of us)

What sort of toys did you play with as a child?

I didn’t have video games – instead I had sports, like baseball, and…um…well, I guess baseball was the only organized sport I played.  But there were lots of kids in the neighborhood, and everybody had large back yards, so we played football, shot hoops on the neighbor’s driveway, rode our bicycles, and just generally had a lot of low-tech fun.

My now-grown son was heavily into video games that involved killing all sorts of bad guys with incredibly cool weaponry ranging from daggers to lasers to magic spells.  One day I was rummaging around through some old stuff, looking for of all things, my college diploma (I was trying to remind myself what subject my actual degree was in), and I found some of his old kindergarten papers.  Incredibly, on one paper where he was asked to list his favorite toy, he wrote “blocks”.

Ah, yes, toys that require imagination.  Down deep inside, we always go back to those.

Well, so did Kelly Harrigan, a 4th year industrial design student at Virginia Tech.  For a class assignment to “develop a creative product capable of commercialization“, she came up with a toy concept that is sure to fascinate children of any age.  It’s a set of dumbell-shaped pieces that have embedded magnets.  Here is a photo, stolen, er, I mean borrowed, from Kelly’s site.  Thanks Kelly.

How cool is that?  Magnets!  Kids love magnets, probably because they don’t understand the invisible forces they exert on each other.  In this case, the magnets are covered by wooden shapes that lend themselves to arrangement in all sorts of temporary shapes.  Check out Kelly’s Coroflot profile to see more, and learn about Kelly.  Also check out this story that was released when Kelly’s design was awarded a design patent.  Nice resume builder there, eh?

But most cool of all is that Kelly’s Ferra toy design won first place in a contest sponsored by Naef, the Swiss toymaker.  Their toys are really interesting, and Ferra looks like it would fit perfectly in their catalog.

What is the best thing about this high-tech, low-tech toy?  Well, for me, it’s that my video game master son can’t beat me at this game.

Ok, he is a graphic designer and artist, so probably he can beat me at this also.  But when most of my faculties have escaped me (possibly as soon as next month), I’ll still be able to have fun with something that has a law of nature built into it.

Oh, my degree was in Physics, as it turns out.  Who woulda thunk it?

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