Stuff We Need: The Evolution Of The Backpack

mindshiftI haven’t posted an installment in my Stuff We Need series in quite a while, and I’d like to think it’s because I’ve made progress in my effort to curtail my overall need or perceived need for stuff.

However, I LOVE hiking and traveling and other activities where I’m on the go and need to comfortably carry stuff that I legitimately need on outings — e.g. layers, water, food, guide book, wallet, keys, camera, etc. — and a backpack is still the best solution.

Yet, backpack design has remained remarkably static for many years. Oh, they’ve become lighter, more comfortable, and able to carry a wider assortment of items, but as anyone who has used one knows, for all of their convenience, they’ve always had one serious convenience flaw: In order to access the contents of the backpack you must take the pack off in order to access all of the good stuff inside.

Well, thanks to a post over at Gizmodo, I found evidence that backpack designers are finally trying to solve this problem, via three packs that address this access-to-stuff issue in three different, interesting ways.

First up, the Paxis, which has a compartment attached to a swingarm:


Very cool idea, I’m sure it uses aluminum to keep the weight down, but I’d worry about the hinge and/or the swingarm getting bent or broken. Accidents certainly do happen, and backpacks are usually tossed around a lot in transit and at camp.

Next up, a commenter at Gizmodo linked to a similar concept by MindShift Gear called the rotation180° Panorama:

91ASTQb - Imgur

Definitely seems like a simpler take on the same basic idea, with less bulk, less added weight, and no big aluminum parts to bend. It’s made specifically for photographers, but I don’t see why you couldn’t store things other than photo gear in the movable compartment.

Finally, Gizmodo found the Paxis at Gizmag, and the Gizmag post links to a very different concept, the Wolffepack:


I’d worry about the cord that the pack is lowered by, that it could get snagged, tangled, or cut, but the advantage of the Wolffepack is that you gain access to the whole pack, not just one small compartment.

Overall, these are promising out-of-the box ideas and evidence that backpacks are indeed evolving.

Eyecatchers: Matthias Brown

matthias-brownAs anyone who spends a fair amount of time surfing the interwebs knows, GIF animations are quite a thing.

And while, in my experience, the vast majority of GIFs out there range from the trivial to the annoying, many amounting to nothing more than a short, looped video clip stolen from some movie or TV show, thanks to the always reliable Colossal, this morning I’ve discovered the work of Matthias Brown.

Brown’s minimalist drawings are set in motion using rotoscoping technique, which dates back to 1915.

I’ve always loved the simplicity of drawing, how it serves as the foundation for so much visual art, from sketch studies that evolve into fully-realized paintings or sculptures, or even storyboarding for movies. I remember, years ago, a friend who, having loved the early Pixar films, was inspired to become a computer animator. He was quite proficient with computers, but in order to get into a college computer animation program he was surprised to learn that he first had to take a number of classes in drawing, because he had no experience in it whatsoever.

Matthias Brown’s GIFs have an ephemeral informality that, paradoxically, makes them at once enjoyable as playful, standalone pieces, while also suggesting that they could be preliminary ideas for bigger works.

For this installment in my Eyecatchers series, here are some of my favorites:








Hillary Comes Out As … A Republican!

hilaryI hate to pile on, really, I do, but while there has already been a monumental pile of derision dumped on the logo unveiled yesterday, and pictured here, for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the logo, to me, is so painfully bad that I just can’t keep quiet.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, after having spent a chunk of time reading through the tweets and blog posts, from pundits to plain people to professional graphic designers, I don’t really have anything all that original to say on the matter.

My criticism is best summed up by this cartoon, from The New Yorker:

Translation for anyone not familiar with U.S. political symbolism:

You don’t have to be an expert on U.S. political symbolism to see the problems here, but you’d think that any design team working for the Clinton campaign most certainly should be expert, and it just boggles my mind thoroughly that any so-called expert design team could propose this logo, much less manage to convince the rest of the campaign team, and the reportedly very bright candidate, to approve it!

Anyway, while I’m no expert myself, I was tempted to see what the Hillary 2016 logo might look like if I played around with it using my favorite free online photo editing software, Pixlr, and this VERY interesting thing happened!

Pixlr has a filter called ‘Hope’, which makes ordinary photos look like the famous Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster designed by artist Shepard Fairey, and when I desaturated the Hillary logo and applied the ‘Hope’ filter, while I’m still not crazy about the arrow pointing to the right, it kinda worked!


As someone on Twitter said, you could argue that if Hillary is wearing the logo as a lapel pin, then the arrow would be pointing to her left!

Stuff We Need: Affordable Electric Vehicles, Revisited

EVBack in July 2010, I wrote about electric vehicles (EV), making the claim that EVs will have to be much more affordable and charging stations more numerous and convenient in order for the desperately needed transition away from oil-burning cars to happen at any significant level.

A year later, I added that the other key factor for widespread adoption of EVs is range — how far an EV can be driven before the battery needs to be recharged — pointing out that the range offered by the vast majority of cars at that time was grossly insufficient in order to lure folks away from their gas guzzlers. (The range of the example I linked to offered a pathetic 62 miles, not even enough to get me to Seattle, 90-miles away, a place I drive to fairly regularly.)

This post today might have qualified for my Celebrating Eco-Progress series if I wasn’t such a cheapskate.

I’ll explain.

Introducing, via, the Chevy Bolt concept car, offering a decent range of 200 miles, and a projected sticker price of, gulp, $30,000:


Now, in 2014, the average price of a car sold in the U.S. was $31,252, so many would argue that $30,000 IS affordable, especially since it comes with a big federal tax credit. But I’m 50-years old, I’ve never purchased a new car in my life, and I will NEVER cough up $30,000, or more accurately go $30,000 in debt, for a new car…

Oh, alright!

I admit, a $30k EV with a range of 200 miles WILL get more people out of their fossil fuel mobiles, and that alone is cause to celebrate.


I just need to wait an buy a used one.

Eyecatchers: Little Plastic Army Men, Revisited

yoga-joes-2A week ago, I wrote about Yoga Joes, the brainchild of designer, entrepreneur, and Yoga enthusiast, Dan Abramson, who put his own spin on the classic little plastic army men of yesteryear, placing them in a variety of Yoga poses, evoking a wonderful tension between images of war and peace.

I shared my own childhood experience, having been raised on war movies on television, having played with these little plastic army men, until, that is, I became a pacifist and embraced the concept of Ahimsa that is central to the Buddhism and Yoga practices I came to dabble in.

Amazing timing, then, that yesterday, when my wife and I stopped in at the Smith & Vallee Gallery in nearby Edison, Washington, we should see this piece by Pieter VanZanden, a woodworker in Smith & Vallee’s Woodworks shop, working here not with wood but with little plastic army men, riffing on Auguste Rodin‘s most famous sculpture, The Thinker, and conveying what could be interpreted as an anti-war sentiment similar to that of the Yoga Joes:

VanZanden-3 VanZanden-4

If you can’t quite tell what’s going on here, click on these images to enlarge them.

I think this is fantastic and a powerful statement. Titled Think About It, clearly the suggestion here is that, perhaps, if we would think more about the consequences of war, the horrific loss of life, symbolized by this pile of bodies, then maybe we might be less inclined to rush into military conflict.

In a related work by VanZanden, the centerpiece of his exhibit, standing a good six feet high, he uses this same material on a huge scale, recreating one of the classic little plastic army men poses:


Here’s a closeup of the soldier’s head, which you can click on to enlarge for more fine detail:


Subversive and oh so cool!

Yoga Joes: War meets Ahimsa

yoga-joes-2This is fantastic!

Via Inhabitat, check out San Francisco designer, entrepreneur, and yoga enthusiast Dan Abramson’s Yoga Joes. (see more photos below!)

Like millions of young American boys, I had an extensive collection of little green plastic army men, and I had them before I totally understood the horrors of war, before the Vietnam War bruised America’s war ego, when every day after school WABC TV from New York City showed The 4:30 Movie, known for week-long themes, based on either sequels (e.g. Planet of the Apes Week), actor (e.g. John Wayne Week), or genre (e.g. Monster Week), and once in a while they’d do War Week, showing a different war movie each day, and me and my next door neighbor and best friend would watch and take it all in, and then we’d set up our little green plastic army men, numbering in the hundreds, in an enormous battlefield covering the entire living room floor, and then we’d shoot rubber bands at the little green plastic army men, making gunfire and explosion sound effects, not a drop of blood in sight.

Well, I eventually did come to understand the horrors of war, and I came to be a full-on pacifist, and then I discovered Buddhism and Yoga and the concept of Ahimsa, the principles of nonviolence that totally aligned with the anti-war stance that I’d already assumed.

Delightful, then, to see these two worlds come together in Yoga Joes!

Below, check out some additional photos and the Kickstarter video.





Plastic-Eating Fungus Revisited: Plastic-Fungus Fusion Food

plastic-wasteBack in March 2012, I wrote about some scientists who had discovered a fungus in the jungles of Ecuador, a fungus that can eat plastic.

At the time, I applauded the discovery as an exciting possible solution to the HUGE global problem of plastic waste, but I also expressed some lighthearted caution, imagining a scenario worthy of a sci-fi/action/thriller movie, wherein the fungus mutates, escapes, and feasts on all of the plastic we’re still actually using, plastic we depend on for a great many things.

A scenario I never in a million years would have imagined, however, is one I stumbled upon today, wherein an Austrian design firm, LIVIN, has teamed up with scientists at Utrecht University, to move beyond the fungus eating the plastic, and toward a more holistic-if-unappetizing, food-chain-integrated approach:

Introducing, via’ Jed Oelbaum: The Fungi Mutarium

The device uses fungus in little cups made of agar (a seaweed-based jelly) to digest sterilized plastic, which is metabolized into the fungus, leaving no traces of the original waste. But that’s not even the best part: after the plastic is digested, the agar cups and their resultant contents are completely edible. Yes, that’s right, these fungi actually turn plastic into something you can eat.

Well Jed, maybe that’s something YOU could eat, but I ain’t touching it! Ewwwwww!

(Not entirely incidentally, they call the agar cups “FUs”, which had me wondering whether or not this wasn’t just an elaborate hoax, but my further Googling on the subject seems to point to it being legit.)

Now, something Jed Oelbaum doesn’t explain is why the photos he included seem to suggest that the Fungi Mutarium is apparently meant to be operated wearing nothing but a Soviet-grey nightgown…


…and the fungus-plastic fusion food is apparently meant to be eaten wearing nothing at all!


Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?!

But, it gets better, or worse, depending on how you look at it.

The folks at LIVIN have gone so far as to design a line of utensils to be used specifically for the consumption of this product.

And while these guys try to make it sound appetizing…well…ewwww!

Scratch the fungi off the wall of this sensual cutlery and simultaneously mix with the sweet or sour sauce that tops your favorite agar FU.



The shape of the moon spoon glides along your agar FU to reach even the tiniest fungi fruit bodies on it. It can also be loaded with the delicious agar „meat“.


Anyway, to see the Fungi Mutarium in action, check out this brief, Stanley Kubrick-esque video presentation: