The Look of Things to Come?

I spend a lot of time looking at other people design work. It’s the nature of my job and something that helps to keep me current with design trends that are emerging. Over the last few months, something I’ve noticed with more frequency is the emergence of minimalist 3D animation paired with pastels that leans almost to abstraction. I have a feeling this is going to become a hot look over the next 18 months and will run the risk like so many other trends of jumping the shark as it gets picked up by every agency and marketing firm in the world. It looks cool now, and I’m really liking it, but that feeling may change if it becomes oversaturated the way the sketchbook look, the retro 80’s look, the ugly design look, the you name it you’ve seen to much of it looks did.

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The Sound of Yorkshire

Unless you are a sound designer you probably don’t pay that close attention to how sound can shape and influence the way animation is perceived. I know for a fact that I often get caught up in the visuals focusing on technique, color, visual layout and more.

The two and a half minute animation below is not only a feast for your eyes, but also for your ears. Created by Marcus Armitage “That Yorkshire Sound” is a perfect example of how audio can help to shape a piece.

Throughout the animated short Armitage gives us a series of hand-drawn quick cuts that visually weave the piece together. The glue, however, is the audio track that has been carefully crafted to match and enhance the visual experience for the viewer. After watching this, I put on my headphones, turned up the volume, and closed my eyes. Just listening to the audio track is a fantastic experience.

Do yourself a favor and take the next two minutes and thirty-one seconds to enjoy this, or five minutes and two seconds if you want to simply listen to it as well.

What’s the Big Buzz in Utrecht?

I love the way Holland thinks about urban planning and design, the environment, and applied engineering. Case in point the city of Utrecht – Hollands fourth-largest city – has transformed 300+ bus stops by applying green roofs to them.

The goal of the roofs is to help bolster growth in the dying bee populations and balance the environment in an urban setting. To do this they have fitted 316 bus stops with verdant green roofs LED lighting, and bamboo benches. The bus stops do more than simply provide a habitat for bees with ecofriendly building materials. The green roofs also store rainwater and capture fine dust generated from road traffic.

The green roofs are primarily composed of sedum plants, that require little maintenance. The plants will attract honeybees and bumblebees with their flowers when they bloom in the late spring through summer.

In addition to the bus stops Utrecht has pledged to have completely carbon-neutral transport by 2028 and they’ll introduce 55 electric buses into their fleet by the end of 2019. Utrecht is also investing heavily in the repair of cycling lanes (that run between parked cars and the sidewalk. Another brilliant idea.) and will conduct an innovative experiment in next year. They are installing solar panels along cycling paths throughout the city that will be used to harvest energy, with an aim to see if the results merit expansion of the program. In addition, they are hoping the citizens of Utrecht will get involved in making changes. they’re providing funding for those who wish to transform their roofs into green roofs—giving even more options for the bees in the city of Utrecht.

What Ya Got Cooking? Things are Heating Up on the Patio.

One of the disadvantages of living in some of the houses I have owned in the last 25 years is that they weren’t suited to owning a grill.

Union Hill had potential. I could have kept a grill in the garage, but the garage was off the basement and the idea of trucking up and down 18 steps to flip burgers had me worn out just thinking about it. Union Hill had an OK sized wooden deck, but how many fires started in Union Hill thanks to an unattended grill on a deck? I know of at least 3.

The house on Lloyd had no patio, and the deck was simply to narrow. If I wanted a grill it meant keeping it in the detached garage and hauling it out every time I wanted to use it. No thanks.

The loft had a small balcony but the idea of having a grill seemed rather bad. The balcony was small, and it was a multi-unit building. I didn’t want to be responsible for a possible fire.

Finally, after having the patio rebuilt at our current and permanent residence we got a grill. After spending most of the winter and spring trying to decide on a grill or a griddle and then trying to find something that wasn’t like every other product on the market we narrowed it down. The criteria were pretty simple. It had to look good, use propane, get hot enough to bake a pizza and be small enough to store in the garage in winter.

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Since it’s just my wife and I weren’t looking for anything that you could cook a whole turkey in, or with enough surface area to cook 24 hamburgers at once. We looked at everything from the Blackstone griddles to the Green Egg and finally settled in on the Fuego Element F21C-H. I have had the grill for a little over a month now and couldn’t be happier. It looks amazing cooks just as good and heats to over 600 degrees in less than 10 minutes – making the perfect cracker crust pizza.

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There is a ton of reviews on all versions of this grill on the internet so I’m not going to go into great detail about how to use it and comparisons with other products. Instead, I am going to talk about 2 things, assembly, packaging and design.

Design

First off I have to say that when the grill is assembled it looks like a statement piece rather than a cooking appliance. Designed by Robert Brunner, the former chief of design at Apple the Fuego Element F21C is a decidedly minimal piece of equipment and maintains quite the futuristic aesthetic. It looks like a tall metallic mushroom with a sort of 1980’s retro vibe to parts of it. I think it is the perforated metal sides that have me thinking that and I’m not sure why. Either way, the grill is quite a stunning piece of industrial design, and quite functional too.

The grill sits atop a four-wheeled base for improved portability and has a long, narrow column that stores the propane tank. All in all, the F21C only measures 21 inches wide by 32 inches tall, which means it’ll fit in on even more minute patio or balcony setups. The hinged lid is offset at 45 degrees so when you open it you are not putting your arm directly over the heat source (something that I really appreciated last week when the temps were hovering in the upper 90’s) The main door on the column has a spring release clasp that opens up to reveal the propane tank inside.

The diffuser tray which sits below the grate is designed to channel drippings away from the burner elements which is a plus. It is designed to help prevent the openings in the burners from getting clogged requiring additional cleaning. Grease and drippings are collected in a small tray that sits below the burner and can be removed simply by pulling the tray out from the front of the grill.

There are stainless steel handles that have dual functionality. They can be used to move the grill and they function as the support base and storage space for the optional side table.

My only real design grip is this. I use the optional table on the left side of the grill. It’s the side away from the lid. I did this because the ambient heat coming off the lid when it’s open is right above where the table sits on the right. The table is well designed and attaches to the grill by hooking under the arms of the handle and using a small support rod. When not in use it slips in between the handle and hangs next to the grill. If the table is stowed, you can’t open the door to access the propane tank. It gets me every single time. All in all, this is a pretty small complaint.

The cooking surface is 346 square inches which are plenty. According to Fuego, you can cook 18 to 20 burgers on this at one time. And the 15-pound porcelain-enamel cast iron grate provides a massive heat sink producing amazing sear marks.

Packaging

The Fuego grill came in a standard cardboard box. About 2 inches from the bottom was a dotted line with “cut here” icons indicating what to do. I used a standard box knife, cut all the way around and simply lifted the top 7/8 of the box off and set it aside. Inside there was a truck-load of Styrofoam. A ton of it. I’m still getting rid of it because I couldn’t get it all out on trash and recycling day and still have room for my regular trash and recycling. I wish they would figure out a way to completely do away with the foam, and replace it with something that is more environmentally friendly.

Everything was neatly packaged and laid out in a way that made sense as I took the parts out of the box. I was able to place everything in a logical order and get ready to assemble the grill in less than five minutes. And this brings me to the assembly portion of this post.

Assembly

I love it when an industrial design or engineer figure out how to create something that goes together quickly and is rock solid when assembled. Fuego nails this. The grill requires just 14 screws to go together and I had my grill built and ready to cook less than 30 minutes. I didn’t time how long it took to put it together but I do know cleaning up the packaging took longer.

All you need to put this together is a Phillips head screwdriver. You can do it with that but if you have a cordless drill with a Phillips head driver attachment I suggest using it. I put the grill together by myself, some of you might want a second set of hands but you don’t need it. The instructions are straight forward and easy to follow. There are a handful of YouTube videos that show people unboxing and assembling the grill if you have any doubts about the simplicity of it.

Accessories.

Get the cover if you are storing the grill outside. It’s not expensive and it does help protect it from the elements. With that said I’ll be storing the grill in my garage over the winter.

I recommend the table attachment. At least one of them. It really does come in handy when you are cooking. I’m not sure you need both of them, but I am toying with the idea of getting a second one.

Skip the Pizza Stone kit. The kit costs 40 bucks. It would have cost me 38 to ship it back to Fuego. The stone is the same kind you can pick up at Target for about $20.00. The pizza cutter was a joke. It was the cheapest one I think I have ever seen. It felt like a toy. As for the pizza Peel, the quality was slightly better than the cutter but not much. I ended up getting a non-folding one that isn’t as easy to store but doesn’t feel like it’s going to collapse under the weight of a medium-sized pie either.

Get the griddle. It’s made from the same material as the grate and it converts the grill into a flat-top in seconds. (Suggestion for Fuego. Make a split version. Half griddle half great. Especially for the 24C big brother version of this grill)

I’m out. I have skirt steak I need to get ready for tonight’s dinner.

Leveling It Up, 1920 vs 2019

When I was 4 and a half I lost my grandfather to cancer. I don’t remember that much about the whole ordeal that seemed to last for an entire year. I have faded memories of my grandfather from before he ended up in the hospital, and I remember the hospital itself. Sitting in the lobby under the watchful eye of one of the nurses. I can still see the Green and White linoleum tiled floor, brown marble columns, the massive wooden desk the nurses sat at and the bronze ceiling clock to this day. To pass the time while my mom and grandmother were visiting him, I would look through the Sears Christmas catalog and dream about all the toys I wanted. I wasn’t allowed to go up to his room because of my age and the seriousness of his illness.

After my grandfather passed there were a few things that were given to my older brother and I. All of his fishing tackle including the most amazing green Zebco fly reel. A wooden level that he had purchased around 1920 according to my grandmother. Various odds and ends like a wooden ashtray that looked like a sombrero he had purchased in Tijuana and things I simply can’t remember. All of it is gone now except for the level. I have somehow managed to hang on to it for all these years and until recently used it from time to time. It was hard to read due to dirt and the fact the bubbles had fogged over time, but it has sentimental value and there is something about the way it was built. It’s a tank.

1920 vs 2019

Late last week I bought a new gas grill that will be arriving soon and I knew I was going to need to level out the section of the patio where the grill would live. The patio tapers away from the house and I had no idea how much. I finally caved and decided to get a new 36-inch level to make sure that my handy work was going to be accurate. I jumped on Amazon and quickly saw that there are about 100 million different choices when it comes to levels. I didn’t need anything fancy, but I did want something that was solid and would stand the test of time. Something like my grandfathers trusty wooden level from the 1920s.

My level of choice was the Sands Level & Tool SL3030 Professional Cast Aluminum Level, 36-Inch level. Is it as cool as a 100-year-old wooden level? Yes and no. It’s a solid product, featuring a cast aluminum body with red lacquered edges. It looks great, and it also looks like the design hasn’t been updated since the 1960s except for the bubble assemblies which I really like. I love the fact that embossed in the casting is the company name and slogan, “Sands Levels Tell the Truth” It gives it that extra something that just completes the product for me. I also love the fact that these are made in the USA, in Witchita Kansas.

My grandfathers level is solid mahogany and brass. It is old school, it’s an antique after all. The new level is going to do just fine though. I’ll be putting it to work on Thursday when the new grill arrives and I level it out before grilling up something tasty.

Giant Ant for the “On Being” Podcast

One of my regular podcast listens is On Being with John O’Donohue and I have been listening quite a bit more in the last 6 months for a number of reasons I’m not going to go into here. If you have some free time give it a listen, I guarantee it’ll be worth your time.

Recently Giant Ant, one of my favorite motion graphics/video/design firms was given the opportunity to put together a short animated piece for On Being and results are wonderful.

Giant Ant was given a wide open brief to work with so they had plenty of room to explore and take some risks. What they produced is a 44 second animated short that moves from illustrative to abstract and back again balanced against O’Donohue’s narration. It’s really quite lovely and frankly, I’d love to see something like this done for the entire length of the podcast. (I know time and money…)

RowFree is Helping Me Row Away My Evenings

I have used a Concept 2 rower for physical exercise for longer than I can remember. It is such a great workout and the C2 is built like a tank. If you can swing it, I highly recommend picking one up.

Like all rowers except for the Hydrow the workout can be a bit boring. You are going back and forth for 45 minutes to an hour with an occasional break for stretching or interval weight training. To combat the boredom I use a pair of Bluetooth earbuds that I have paired with my phone so I can listen to music or books on tape. I also have them paired with my Apple TV so if I feel inclined I can pull the rower into the downstairs media room/office and watch something on the TV while rowing.

The thing is, moving the rower is kind of a pain, and I never do it. Because of this, I started looking for a stand of some kind to hold my iPad and position it close enough to see the screen without hitting it as I rowed. I found nothing that I liked or that I thought would work. Then I found RowFree, and I’m in love.

The RowFree Mount is a quickly installed bracket that can be used with Concept2 rowers, BikeERG, and SkiERG to hold electronic devices like tablets, smartphones, and laptops.  The RowFree Mount is highly adjustable and can be used to quickly position your device exactly where you need it. 

Constructed from aluminum alloy, the bracket is light and durable. The bracket simply slips over the PM5 on my Concept 2 and then adjusts to hold my device directly in my line of sight for the entire workout routine. I love this thing. It is simple, functional design at its finest. It’s not over-thought or overly complicated. It has a simple function and it works. It doesn’t block the readout on my PM5 and it makes rowing a whole lot more enjoyable.

RowFree is a small business located in Bend, Oregon.  Their mission is to provide the best way to interact with tablets, smartphones, and laptops while rowing. I think they nailed it.