Japanese Manhole Covers

Manhole cover in Osaka

Grooves in manhole covers are necessary to provide traction in all kinds of weather to the vehicles above. But there’s no reason those grooves can’t spell out fun. Japanese manhole cover designs range from sublimely patterned to the surreal and fully illustrative. I haven’t been able to find any background information in English, but it seems there are not only different designs for the different types of conduits they cover, but each city has its own designs celebrating some signature feature of the town. Some are even maps to the local landmarks. Here are some sites with pictures:

There’s even an informal Japanese association of manhole cover watchers that organizes tours. The site highlights some of their favorite covers.

On a related note, see also this portable Japanese emergency toilet design that fits over a manhole in case a natural disaster. Screw that port-a-john business. When the City collapses, I want one of these handy.

I took the photo above near the main train station in Osaka.

>  13 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Pumpkins for Peace

No War Pumpkin

“The Peace Pumpkin Project is a simple way to demonstrate your opposition to a war in Iraq. The idea is this: this year, carve the words ‘No War’ into your [Halloween] jack-o-lantern. That’s it. Do it to as many pumpkins as you want, and put them wherever you want as long as you don’t break the law or hurt anyone. If you’re carving-knife impaired, You can download a stencil in .pdf form. You could carve other words into the pumpkin, if you feel that ‘No War’ doesn’t express your opinion well enough, but I think it would increase the overall impact if people keep seeing the same simple message over and over: NO WAR.”

Found via Metafilter. Pumpkin shown is by the author of the Project Without a Name.

>  9 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Images of Universal Design

“[In 1996,] the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Building Museum sponsored the first national search and collection of images showing examples of universal design excellence in the fields of architecture, graphic design, industrial design, interior design and landscape architecture. This collection was completed in September of 1996 and is intended to encourage and assist universal design by providing examples that can be used in design practice and education. The jury selected images feature and credit the work of designers who are reaching beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to create products and environments that are usable by people with the broadest possible range of abilities throughout their lifespan.”

The project was managed by Universal Designers and Consultants of Takoma Park, MD. The list of winners links to four project profiles: links to four others:

Read the introduction for an overview of universal design principles and the project selection process.

>  1 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Danger Mines!

“Chrissy Levett, is a London-based designer and campaigner for Mines Awareness Group... a nongovernmental organisation which aims to clear mines and unexploded ordnance which are bombs dropped from aircraft, in war-torn countries. Levett created an accessible and effective visual system in order to reduce incidents of injury and death through land mines.”

There are a few images here, perhaps of her work.

Global Information Networks in Education is an international NGO whose Land Mine Awareness Education program produces posters, brochures, T-shirts, and other materals as part of its educational campaigns. Click on the country names here for region specific examples.

See also UNICEF’s International Guidelines for Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance Awareness Education.

And while on the subject, check out MineFinder, a Palm Pilot application from FedSoft.

“MineFinder lets you visually identify over 150 different types of landmines. An easy to use, graphic based system allows you to quickly determine critical information about any mine. Includes scaled drawings and detailed descriptions including size, weight, fuze type, and explosive content/type. Sort mines by type, characteristics, or country of origin.”

Not convinced? A testimonial on the product page from LT. Joseph Danilov, June 25, 2002:

“This is a great app. A must have for a NATO peacekeeping units stationed over-seas. I am no demolition expert but this manual was worth its weight in gold about 2 weeks ago. A 7 year old afghan child had found a M-22 AP mine, a.k.a. stepped on. The manual identified this mine and I defused it. Thank you very much to the maker of this application. Go Army.”

As the page says, use this software at your own risk.

>  29 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Talking Signs

Talking Signs technology is an infrared wireless communications system that provides remote directional human voice messages that make confident, independent travel possible for vision impaired and print-handicapped individuals....

The system consists of short audio signals sent by invisible infrared light beams from permanently installed transmitters to a hand-held receiver that decodes the signal and delivers the voice message through its speaker or headset. The signals are directional, and the beam width and distance can be adjusted. The system works effectively in both interior and exterior applications.

Talking Signs may be used wherever landmark identification and wayfinding assisstance are needed. To use a Talking Signs system, the user scans the environment with the hand-held receiver. As individual signals are encountered, the user hears the messages. For example, upon entering a lobby, one might detect ‘information desk’ when pointing the receiver directly ahead, ‘public telephones’ when pointing to the right and ‘stairs to the second floor’ when pointing to the left.

Messages are unique and short, simple and straightforward. The messages repeat, continuously identifying key features in the environment.”

The site notes that the San Francisco City Council has passed a resolution calling for the installation of talking signs at all public facilities, including 600 in the San Francisco Airport. The devices have already been installed in several San Francisco public spaces including subway stations, crosswalks, libraries, and public toilets. The Japanese government is installing 2,000 signs at key intersections throughout Japan.

Here’s a diagram of how it works.

Talking Signs’s Ohio representative writes:

“With remote infrared audible signage we [the vision impaired] can independently become oriented to unfamiliar places, cross streets safely while staying in the crosswalk, create mental maps that translate to a broader orientation and enjoy a type of freedom that the sighted community just takes for granted. Orientation to public places is a civil right, as surely as getting into the building or using the telephone. Yet, when you look around you, where are the talking signs?... As the old saying goes, we have the technology. What we now need is the advocacy.”

>  27 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

A Silent Revolution

From The Guardian, Thursday July 11, 2002:

“While the internet has affected most of us somehow, it has transformed the lives of deaf people, especially the young, by overcoming two barriers that make many deaf people feel isolated. One is the geographic barrier separating deaf people from each other: there are about 673,000 severely or profoundly deaf adults in the UK, spread all over the country. They can’t just pick up the phone and talk (although the introduction of textphones has made communication easier.)

...Technologies such as email, instant messaging and chat rooms mean that deaf people can contact old friends and make new ones anywhere in the world. There are plenty of resources on the web specifically targeted at deaf people, such as and - a set of Yahoo-based discussion groups where lively debates take place.

Another language barrier, that which divides speakers of British sign language and American sign language, also melts away. The internet touches almost every aspect of life. It’s much easier to shop online if you’re deaf than to make a shop assistant understand what you want. Similarly, the educational opportunities of deaf people, few of whom go on to higher education, could be transformed by distance learning. Even more significant is the chance to work. ‘Email has the potential to revolutionise the employment prospects,’ says Nathan Charlton, a consultant at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. Email gives deaf people, who have twice the unemployment rates of hearing people, the ability not only to communicate with hearing colleagues easily, but to share in news they might otherwise be excluded from.”

While TDD, Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, and TTY, Text Telephone or TeleType, have been around since the 60’s, compatibility issues and competing standards have slowed widespread adoption. No doubt the expense of an additional technology to service a minority population has been a factor as well.

Electronic text messaging, however, is already integrated into most cellphones. The deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech are widely using Short Messaging Service (SMS) text messaging. Reuters reports that a survey carried out with the Birmingham Institute of the Deaf showed that 98 percent of hearing-impaired people in the UK use SMS text messaging. Following the survey, a British police department adopted SMS to let hearing- and speech-impaired people report emergencies. This article tells of Chieko Takayama, an employee of Japanese cellphone company J-Phone, and her work at a store in Tokyo that specifically markets to hearing-impaired customers.

Guardian article found via plep.

>  17 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Scarcity of Pencil Wood

“The day is not far distant,” remarked a Florida gentleman not long since, when talking with a reporter, “when the term ‘cedar pencil’ will become quite a misnomer. At the present time the average annual consumption of lead pencils is at the rate of about four for every man, woman and child in the country. During the last ten years the quantity of cedar which has been cut in our state to supply the demand of the American and German pencil makers has been enormous, the product of more than 2,000 acres of ground being consumed every year. The cedar of the state will not hold out many years longer against demands of this kind, and already experiments are being tried with other wood. Very cheap pencils are generally made of poplar, which answers fairly well, but which will never be so valuable for the purpose as the old-fashioned and long-tried cedar. Of course, Florida has not a monopoly on the supply of cedar wood, but in adjoining states, where some is to be found, the work of the destruction has been going on quite as fast as in our little commonwealth, and I doubt very much whether any of our children will use pencils made out of the most durable and most easily polished and trimmed wood we know of at the present time.”

Minnetonka News, December 14, 1894

Reprinted from Wrote.

>  10 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Blue Screen of Death

Where do old PC’s go to die? In February 2002, the Basel Action Network the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released the report “Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia” which reveals that “huge quantities of hazardous electronic wastes are being exported to to China, Pakistan and India where they are processed in operations that are extremely harmful to human health and the environment.”

Four villages in Guiyu, Guangdong province (about 4 hours drive from Hong Kong) have been turned into toxic waste dumps.

“About 100,000 poor migrant workers are employed breaking apart and processing obsolete computers imported primarily from North America.... The operations involve men, women and children toiling under primitive conditions, often unaware of the health and environmental hazards involved in operations which include open burning of plastics and wires, riverbank acid works to extract gold, melting and burning of toxic soldered circuit boards and the cracking and dumping of toxic lead laden cathode ray tubes. The investigative team witnessed many tons of the E-waste simply being dumped along rivers, in open fields and irrigation canals in the rice growing area. Already the pollution in Guiyu has become so devastating that well water is no longer drinkable and thus water has to be trucked in from 30 kilometers away for the entire population.”

The United States is the only developed country in the world that has not ratified the Basel Convention, a UN treaty which bans the export of hazardous wastes from the worlds most developed countries to developing countries.

The report features stunning photographs from Jeroen Bouman. You can find some of his photos and audio commentary as part of the BBC’s Disposable Planet? site.

Found via Slashdot

>  23 August 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Paper without Wood

“There does not exist enough wood fiber to supply the ever growing appetite of the global pulp and paper industry. The industry itself no longer debates this issue with environmentalists; even they accept that we all face a looming wood fiber shortage. Pulp and paper is a 107 billion dollar industry, which accounts for about 85% of nationwide revenues for wood products, making it one of the nations top income generating industries. This ostensibly indestructible industry cannot be ignored; our global economy revolves around it and is reliant upon it.”

The crisis thus made plain, the ReThink Paper Web site presents strategies for paper reduction, a ranked list and searchable database of papers that contain no virgin wood, a host of non-wood alternatives for paper (such as kenaf, hemp, and agricultural residues,) a directory of non-wood paper friendly printers and designers, even a cooperative buying guide. The site is a project of the Earth Island Institute. (Free registration required.)

>  18 August 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Nutrition Facts Facts

Says @issue: The Journal of Business and Design:

Nutrition Facts“Less than a century ago, food labels barely identified what was inside a box. Consumers had to trust the manufacturer to use only healthy ingredients—not always a safe bet. In 1924, the Federal Food and Drug Act gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to clamp down on bogus health claims and misleading labels. The FDA also tried to make manufacturers more accountable by requiring them to list their names and addresses on the packaging. By 1973, packaged food makers were also required to supply nutritional values listing the amount of vitamins and minerals inside, but the manner in which this information was presented was often inconsistent and incomplete. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 finally called for a major overhaul of food labels. The FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture set out uniform guidelines for the new labels. Launched in 1994, Nutrition Facts offers a plethora of health-relevant information.”

Brand design firm Greenfield/Belser, best known for their law firm marketing material, designed the new nutrition facts label. Reknown designer Massimo Vignelli lauded the label design in the July 1996 AIGA Journal. Praising the clarity of the information architecutre, its visual integrity, and flexibility of the design on packages of all shapes and sizes, he writes, “The label is a clean testimonial of Energy Guidecivilization, a statement of social responsibility, and a masterpiece of graphic design. Not a small achievement in today’s graphic landscape.” He does not point out that the generic, anonymous design and apparent lack of “marketing devices” actually brands the space and its information as neutral, scientific, institutional, and authoritative.

Greenfield/Belser’s Web site describes other forays into design in the public interest as well:

“In 1999, we applied a variation of that label design, Drug Facts, to all over-the-counter drugs. Years earlier, we designed the Energy Guide that appears on all major appliances.”

>  17 August 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , ,

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