Thursday, December 6, 2012

Minimalist Fluorescent Luminaires

Minimalist Fluorescent Luminaires

Several T8 fluorescent tube lighting ideas found on the Internet that could be incorporated into an industrial chic interior.

These would obviously require remote ballasts. Treated properly however, the ballasts could be turned into visual assets.

Waldeman Architectural Tubular Luminaire

Bare Fluorescent Tube with Tube Socket

Dan Flavin Minimalist Light Installation

Plastolux Polycarbonate Stick Light

DIY Fluorescent Floor Lamps

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas? Part 2

iPANEMA Men's Flip Flops on display in store in Brazil

Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas? Part 2
by Bevin Chu
Taipei, China 
November 7, 2012

The iPANEMA flip flops I purchased online have just arrived in the mail.

As it turns out, I was right. iPANEMA flip flops are indeed manufactured to a higher degree of precision than Havaianas.

I know. The term "precision" is probably overkill. After all, we are talking about flip flops, not lathes or milling machines. They are hardly "precision" items. Nevertheless, the differences are highly visible, and do in fact matter.

iPANEMA soles appear to be injection molded. As a result, the edges of the soles are slightly radiused and smooth.

Havaianas soles appear to be stamped out of rubber sheets, the way cookies are cut out of a flat sheet of cookie dough with a cookie cutter. As a result, the edges of Havaianas soles are slightly rough. That's no biggie.

Cookie Cutter

What's worse is that they are often visibly warped. They were probably not allowed to cool off properly during the manufacturing process. The iPANEMA Flag flip flops I just received in the mail have perfectly flat soles. But the Havaianas TOP flip flops I recently passed on in two Taipei chains had obviously warped soles.

iPANEMA flip flops have another advantage over Havaianas. Their straps are slightly shorter and tighter-fitting than those on Havaianas. They were probably designed for slightly skinnier feet, such as mine. That means iPANEMA flip flops will stay on my feet more securely than Havaianas.

Some critics of flip flops insist they are harmful because the wearer will unconsciously curl his or her toes to keep them from falling off. They say this causes muscle strain. I doubt that the strain is all that great. But even if these critics are correct, flip flops with slightly shorter, tighter-fitting straps would not have this problem.

Now all that remains is to see how durable iPANEMAs are. If they last at two years before a strap breaks, I will not complain. I wear flip flops everywhere, almost all year round. By then I will have gotten plenty of wear out of them. 

iPANEMA flip flops share one trait with Havaianas. They have nearly identically shaped, highly asymmetrical footbeds. The toe region of the flip flop is very obviously skewed to one side, in the direction of the big toe. That is how it should be. Because that is the way most peoples' feet are shaped. When Havaianas and iPANEMA designed their flip flops, they clearly studied human feet before arriving at these highly asymmetrical footbeds. What's interesting is that this not only works better, it also looks better.  

iPANEMA Flag Men's Flip Flops Navy/White
Note the pronounced left/right asymmetry in the toe region? That is how it should be. 

This highly asymmetrical footbed shape distinguishes both iPANEMA and Havaianas flip flops from the ultra cheap foam rubber zoris sold in drug stores in the US during the 1950s, and the somewhat higher quality current reincarnations sold by Old Navy.

Old Navy Men's New Classic Flip-Flops White 
Note the misguided attempt to reduce left/right asymmetry in the toe region? That is a mistake. 

Those were "designed," if that is the right word, by people who allowed their preconceptions about the shape of the human foot to trump reality. They unconsciously attempted to impose an artificial left/right symmetry in the toe region. I'll be the first to acknowledge that the difference is subtle. Non-designers probably have a hard time seeing it even after it is pointed out. But the attempt to reduce asymmetry and to impose artificial symmetry is wrong. The human foot is not symmetrical. It is decidedly asymmetrical.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

7-11 vs. Starbucks

7-11 vs. Starbucks
by Bevin Chu
Taipei, China
October 18, 2012

Starbucks Taiwan "Phinney" Stainless Steel Tumbler - 900 NT
(Sold for $19.95 in the US)
Available in white

7-11 Taiwan "City Cafe" Stainless Steel Tumbler - 399 NT
(354 NT if you deduct the 45 NT Medium Latte included free with each purchase)
Available in Trendy Silver or Simple White

Notice how the tumblers are nearly identical? They were almost certainly supplied by the same OEM manufacturer on mainland China. 

If you deduct the price of the medium latte that comes free with the tumbler, the cost is only 354 NT. That means a savings of 546 NT over a nearly identical tumbler from Starbucks.

I bought one each of the 7-11 City Cafe tumblers. One in "Trendy Silver," or brushed stainless steel, and the other in "Simple White," or white enamel. They're very well made. The tolerances are close. The detailing is precise. The slight taper keeps the tumbler from slipping in case one's hand is wet or oily. Most importantly, the lip has a large radius curve where one's mouth touches the tumbler.

Note the rounded lip on this Starbucks tumbler? Click on the photo. The 7-11 tumbler has the same rounded lip. That is how it should be.

Many tumblers/vacuum bottles on the Taiwan market have an almost raw sheet metal edge at the lip. Click on the photo. This is not how it should be. Frankly I don't understand how anyone could have signed off on such a design and allowed it to go into production.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas?

Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas?
by Bevin Chu
Taipei, China
October 15, 2012

I've been wearing Havaianas flip flops for over a decade, long before they became all the rage here on Taiwan. I obtained them by mail order from overseas, before Havaianas established retail outlets here. Before that I wore traditional Japanese zoris, the inspiration for flip flops. I avoided conventional shoes whenever I could.


Because the human foot was never meant to be stuffed into a stiff, airless enclosure that causes bunions and athlete's foot. As podiatrists will tell you, bunions are completely unknown in cultures that do not wear shoes. Modern man's foot problems are the result of wearing conventional shoes.

Traditional Japanese Zoris

In order to expand its market, and sell more of its product, Havaianas waged a wildly successful public relations campaign to transform the humble flip flop into a chic, must have fashion item. It was admittedly promoting its own commercial interests. But in doing so it did something good. It made wearing more healthful footwear more socially acceptable, or at least less socially unacceptable. For this it deserves real credit.

Havaianas Top Men's Flip Flop Navy

But Havaianas quality control has slipped noticeably over the past few years. Brand new rubber soles emerge from the box badly warped and never flatten out. They were probably not cured properly during the molding stage. Also, the rubber straps often break after less than a year of wear. Other wearers have encountered the same problem, so it's not just my imagination.

Flip flops are consumables. No one expects them to last forever. A couple of years of life is reasonable. But mere months before a strap breaks is ridiculous. The sole should be pretty much worn out by the time a strap breaks. The phenomenon has me wondering whether Havaianas isn't deliberately forcing consumers to buy replacements merely to increase sales. The problem has gotten so bad, I might never purchase another pair of Havaianas flip flops again.

So what's the solution?

For me it is to forgo "brand loyalty" and switch brands. Two days ago I put in an order for several pairs of iPANEMA flip flops, which are also made in Brazil. If appearances are any indication, they are manufactured to a higher degree of precision than Havaianas. They are also made from different raw materials. Havaianas are made of rubber. iPANEMAs are made of PVC.

iPANEMA Flag Men's Flip Flops Navy/White

Havianas claims that the rubber used in its Havaianas flip flops, which is natural, has numerous advantages over PVC, which is man made. Do their arguments hold water? I'm not sure.

iPANEMA claims that MELFLEX, the flexible PVC used in its iPANEMA flip flops, is recyclable and environmentally friendly. It is non-toxic and hypo-allergenic. It contains no heavy metals, but is instead made with calcium zinc mineral salts, which are harmless to human beings.

Whatever the merits of their respective arguments, it is my understanding that PVC has significantly greater tensile strength than rubber. Will the straps on iPANEMAs be less prone to premature breakage than those on Havaianas? I hope so. If they are, then it will be "Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas" -- Portuguese for "Hello iPANEMA, goodbye Havaianas." I will know better in about a week, when they arrive in the mail.

I was surprised to learn that in 2010 iPANEMA sold 250 million pairs worldwide, beating out Havaianas by 80 million pairs. Given the depressing decline in Havaianas' quality control, perhaps I shouldn't have been.

iPANEMA is a much younger company than Havaianas. It was only established in 2001. Havaianas by contrast has been around since 1962. But iPANEMA's parent company Grendene has been around since 1971, and based on sales volume, Grendene is one of the largest shoe companies in Brazil.

iPANEMA definitely has Havaianas in its sights. Havaianas really should do something about the problem. Like Rome, a brand cannot be built in a day. But it can be destroyed overnight. Just ask Lehmann Brothers.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

DIY Steel Car Rim Barbecue Grill

DIY Steel Car Rim Barbecue Grill
by Bevin Chu
October 1, 2012
Taipei, China

Back in the late 80s I had the idea of turning an ordinary salvaged steel car rim into a portable barbecue grill.

My idea was to take a steel car rim:

Bolt it onto a standard four pronged restaurant table base:

Then add a wire cooking grate:

This would result in a convenient waist height barbeque grill that did not require stooping.

The parts shown in the photos are new. I would of course use recycled parts wherever possible and appropriate.

Because I was constantly moving from one city to another, I never got around to actually doing it. Lo and behold however, the same idea occurred to others, who did follow through, who confirmed that it was indeed an excellent idea.

Here are two outstanding examples. The first is supported by four short chrome plated steel Ikea cabinet legs from below. The second is supported by two long galvanized steel chains from above. 

Rolling BBQ! How to make a BBQ out of an old Wheel

hanging barbecue grill

Incidentally, I see no reason why one couldn't make one out of an old mag wheel either.

Alternative: A DIY Galvanized Steel Water Bucket Barbecue Grill 

An even cheaper, more expedient, more portable alternative, might be this barbecue grill made from a galvanized steel water bucket. Buckets such as these are available brand new for only 10 USD. This one looks like it was designed to burn wadded up sheets of newspaper, like the old "Qwik Cook Grill" Dick Butkus endorsed in TV informercials 20 years ago. But it could easily be redesigned to burn charcoal. Just add a charcoal grate below the cooking grate.  

BBQ grill from a bucket

San Diego Chargers Tailgating’s Favorite Grill, the Qwik-Cook.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

INOVA X-1 High-Powered LED Flashlight

INOVA X-1 High-Powered LED Flashlight
by Bevin Chu
August 19, 2012 
Taipei, China

Recently, in addition to a 1AAA powered Fenix E01 flashlight, I also purchased a 1AA powered INOVA X-1 flashlight, from the same local Taipei shop.

This ensures that in an emergency I will be able to obtain light from either AA or AAA batteries, depending upon availability.

The 1AA powered INOVA X-1 flashlight has essentially the same virtues as the 1AAA powered Fenix E01 flashlight. It produces surprisingly bright light from a single small, commonplace, and widely available AA battery.

The 1AA powered INOVA X-1 flashlight is actually bright enough to double as a bike headlight. All that would be required is a mounting bracket.

Precision optical system

3 Position end cap switch

Electronically controlled

Long life LED

1 AA alkaline battery

I purchased my INOVA X-1 from Ray Gue Hua Knives in Taipei: 


In April 2013, I purchased an 2AA powered INOVA X-2 flashlight. Specs are similar to the previously purchased 1AA powered INOVA X-1 flashlight. To oversimplify matters, it is basically larger, heavier, and brighter.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fenix E01 Flashlight

Fenix E01 Flashlight Specifications: 

- Uses a Nichia white GS LED with a lifespan of 100,000 hours
- Uses one 1.5V AAA (Ni-MH, Alkaline) battery
- 71mm (Length) x 14.2mm (Diameter)
- 14-gram weight (excluding battery)
- Digitally regulated output maintains constant brightness
- Reverse polarity protection, to protect from improper battery installation
- Reliable twist switch
- Capable of standing up securely on a flat surface to serve as a candle
- Made of durable aircraft-grade aluminum
- Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with anti-reflective coating

Fenix E01 Flashlight
by Bevin Chu
July 17, 2012
Taipei, China

I just acquired a Fenix E01 Flashlight in Taipei for 400 NT (US $13). The Fenix E01 Flashlight is a 1AAA flashlight barely larger than the single AAA cell that powers it. This makes it ideal for EDC or Every Day Carry. It features an astonishingly bright LED bulb that lasts over 11 years. It does not dim as the battery runs down. Instead, digitally regulated electronic circuitry maintains constant brightness throughout the life of the battery. Now how neat is that?

Years ago I owned a Mini Maglite 2AA Flashlight, in addition to a large police use Maglite 5D Flashlight. Maglite was then the pioneer of high tech aluminum alloy flashlights. As its official website boasts:

Often referred to as "A Work of Art That Works®", the Maglite® and Mini Maglite® flashlights have been honored by the Japan Institute of Design and by the Museum for Applied Art in Germany. Fortune and Money magazines ranked Mag Instrument® products among the top 100 products that "America makes best". In 1996, the Wall Street Journal referred to the Maglite® flashlight as "the Cadillac of flashlights", and quoted then-CEO of Apple Computer Gilbert F. Amelio as saying he wanted Apple to be "essentially the Maglite® of computers".   

But that was then. This is now. Later rivals have since left Maglite behind in the dust. The Maglite Solitaire, a 1AAA incandescent flashlight is cheaper at only US $5. But in terms of performance it does not begin to compare. Among these rivals are Arc Flashlights, Fenix Flashlight, and Inova/Nite Ize. Arc and Inova are US based brands. Fenix is a mainland China based brand that, to borrow a advertising slogan from Taiwan, is "very well Made in China." As its official website explains:

Progress is rooted in dissatisfaction. A group of young men, passionate about high quality illumination, grew increasingly dissatisfied with the mediocre flashlights on the market. These inferior devices had substandard construction and poor attention to detail. The young men organized a group of professional engineers to head their machining, electronics, and design departments. Together they founded FenixLight Limited. The marriage between ingenuity and craftsmanship led to lighting devices held in high regard the world over.

I purchased my Fenix E01 from Ray Gue Hua Knives in Taipei: