ELECTROLUX’S TEN DESIGN LAB FINALISTS (ARE ALL FUCKING STUPID): PART ONE

Think back to what you were doing on Wednesday, September first, 2010…  Don’t remember?  It’s ok, I do.  You were eagerly reading through that morning’s blog post from your favorite internet writer (me) because I assume you’re all loyal and dedicated readers who have been with me from the start.

The headline in question was this one:

Click to go read the article. You know you want to.

In it, I tore apart the design and concept because it is stupid, stupid idea.  I did, not, however, talk much about where the design came from until the end, when I said this:

“This came from a design competition sponsored by Electrolux, they of the tiny washing machine.  This design made the top 25 best submissions, which means that either they only had 25 submissions total or that no one at Electrolux has noticed that this violates the most rock-solid laws of physics that we know of.  And I have.  It saddens me.”

So this year, when I came across the top ten finalists from that same competition, you bet your perfectly sculpted asses (I also assume, until proven otherwise, that all of my readers are breathtakingly attractive) I had to take a look at them.

They are mostly, much like last year’s, very, very, stupid.

1. Aeroball

What it is (in a nutshell): An air purifier

How it’s supposed to work:

“In tiny bubbles that float and hover, the Aeroball cleans and filters the air while hovering in place. When filtration is not enough, the Aeroball also comes in scented varieties. Designed with inspiration from nature, the glowing shell of the sphere absorbs light during the day and radiates at night, a delicate indoor firefly always working to improve the air that we breathe.”

Why that won’t work: Because what the fuck.  First things first: how does it hover?  You won’t get any clues from Electrolux or the designer herself; that quote above is basically the entire description.  But while Electrolux seems content to just glaze over that, I refuse to follow suit.  Do you know how hard it is to make things hover?  REALLY HARD.  That’s why the length of time between the first concept of a helicopter and the first functional, powered helicopter was over twenty-three hundred years, and even then the first untethered helicopter flight lasted only twenty seconds at the height of a foot.  One foot.  Less than the length of my shoe, and it only got that high because it was using something called ground effects, which no one even knew existed.

The Aeroball can’t use helium either, because then it’d just be against the ceiling (which is not hovering) and besides, helium bleeds out of whatever you put it in because it’s a tiny molecule.  We’ve all seen party balloons three days later when they shrivel up and fall to the floor like sad, wrinkly condoms.  And yet we’re supposed to believe that this little orb can, without any power source at all (or at least not one that’s mentioned), just wander around your house like fucking Tinkerbell, cleaning the air as it goes.

This is an image of Tinkerbell. Do NOT conduct an image search for “fucking Tinkerbell” unless you want to ruin Peter Pan for yourself. Trust me.

Speaking of which, how is it supposed to clean the air?  Surprise!  It doesn’t say.  There is a mention of “filtration”, but a filter doesn’t work unless you force air through it, which requires a power source so we’re back to square one.  And even if there is some kind of tiny power source, you’d have to replace either that or the filter all the time because this thing is tiny.  We have a remote-control helicopter at my house that uses the equivalent of three AA-cell batteries, and it can sustain flight for about ten minutes before it needs charging again.  There’s really no way around that.
Finally, it glows.  Why?  No reason.  That’ll be imperceptible in the daytime and infuriating at night because the cat WILL chase it around, but sure, let’s say it glows.  How?  Ah, there’s the mistake again.  Don’t ask how, just smile and throw the words “visionary” and “future” around.  It doesn’t say.  Annoyingly, this is the most plausible aspect of the thing, because you could just paint it in glow-in-the-dark paint and it would do just that, but they didn’t bother to say so, which is somehow even more irritating.

2. Easystir

Don’t try to figure anything out from the picture; it’s hopeless.

What it is (in a nutshell): 

A thing that stirs your food for you
How it’s supposed to work:
“The Easystir stirs your perfectly planned dinner for you so your hands are free to make the most of life. By utilising magnets that react to your induction stove the Easystir will literally save you time and money by never needing to be charged, batteries replaced or plugged into a wall socket. The stirring speed can be adjusted easily by the user; while the Easystir adjusts itself to fit into almost any pot. It’s compact, dishwasher safe and can be stored as simply and neatly as any other kitchen utensil. While Easystir is working hard in the kitchen you are free to spend more time with your friends and family.”
Why that won’t work:
Actually, this one will.  Kind of.  Almost.  At least the fundamental principle of the design isn’t a violation of the laws of physics.  Basically, an induction cooktop has a copper coil in it through which an alternating current is run.  That current produces an oscillating electric field, which induces an electric current in the pot, providing the pot is made of ferromagnetic material.  Current produces resistive heating, which cooks the food.
It's pretty straightforward.

It’s pretty straightforward.

So the way this is supposed to work is that the same mechanism that heats the pot will make that little leaf thing spin and stir your food.  There are two problems.  One, you can’t just turn an oscillating electric field into a spinning motion.  It’ll generate heat in magnets, but it’ll only generate an equal current in a parallel copper wire, so the base of the thing has to be circular, and this one isn’t.  Second is a thing called skin depth.  That’s the depth to which the oscillating electric field penetrates into the material, and that’s the main hitch.  The deepest depth to which the current can penetrate is in stainless steel 304, which has a skin depth of 0.112 inches.  That’s a tenth of an inch, which means that the thickness of the pot itself is blocking the current.  Which means none of it will get to the Easystir.

There is another way.  This thing could utilize what’s called a heat engine, which uses a temperature difference to generate an electric current.  The pot itself is hotter than whatever’s in it, so if the device sat on the bottom of the pot, a heat engine would spin this thing.  I’m not sure why no one thought of that.  Probably because I’m smarter than your average art student.
My other problem with this is the hyperbole.  “Make the most of your life”?  “Spend more time with your friends and family”?  How much time do you actually spend stirring?  Enough to make your life notably worse?  Eat less pasta.  And worst of all, “the Easystir will literally save you time and money”?  That might be the most gratuitous use of the word “literally” I’ve ever seen.  This thing is, at its absolute best, a pinwheel.  Tone it down a notch.

3. ICE

I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes. They all have stupid names.

What it is (in a nutshell):

There are literally no words.  There is not a name for what this is supposed to be.
How it’s supposed to work:
“ICE can not only be used as basic lamp with adjustable brightness or colour to fit the mood of any dining occasion.  “Experience” is one mode used to enhance your meal by adding interactive backgrounds that react to you movements and creating dynamic links between objects on the table. When placed above any cooking or dining area ICE can scan its surroundings and assist the user in creating the best meal to suit any occasion. ICE can scan ingredients you’ve already chosen to cook and give suggestions on meals that can be made from those ingredients. The user can also access a vast database of recipes and ICE will guide you every step of the way.”
Why that won’t work:
Thomas Jefferson once said that “ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.  Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.”  What that means is that you can’t craft a reasoned deconstruction of someone’s idea or argument if the idea itself makes no sense internally.  This is like that.
Firstly, it’s a lamp, which is plausible.  It shines on your table.  Fine.  But then comes “experience” mode.  That enhances your meal by adding backgrounds that react to you and dynamic links to objects on the table.  I’d love to tell you that that can’t be done, but for the life of me I don’t know what that means.  It sounds like some sort of projector that also has a camera with object recognition that will react to what it sees.  A little tough to execute, but not impossible.  Then comes the crazy.
Apparently ICE (which doesn’t stand for anything, by the way) can tell what ingredients are on the table underneath it and suggest recipes to make from those things.  Again, how?  How is it going to tell the difference between a little bowl of cinnamon and a little bowl of chile powder?  Subtle color differences?  That’s optimistic.  Or salt and sugar?  Unless it can identify crystal structure, it can’t.  Same goes for the difference between a London broil and a top sirloin; there’s no quantifiable visual distinction.  This is so close to being plausible, but it doesn’t make any sense.  I don’t really have much to say about this because it doesn’t know what it is.  I’m just confused.

4. Mo’Sphere

I have no clever caption. It’s a fishbowl with some sort of unidentifiable fruit in it.

What it is (in a nutshell):

Again, I don’t know.  No idea.
How it’s supposed to work:
Mo’Sphere allows the user to experiment with and experience new flavours and sensations through the exciting world of molecular cooking, which up till now has been dominated by celebrity chefs and Five Star restaurants. This molecular cooking appliance makes use of physical and chemical reactions during cooking. The result? Flash freezing, foams, frosts, gelés and even cotton candy. With Mo’Sphere your kitchen becomes a place of exciting new creations and tastes the like you’ve never known.
Why that won’t work:
Because you haven’t said anything.  This is the same problem as ICE.  It’s not a thing.  Molecular gastronomy is, according to Wikipedia, “a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate, explain and make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general.”  Examples include snail porridge, yeast soup with cinnamon and lemon ice-cream, salmon poached with liquorice, smoked bacon and egg ice cream, and sardine-on-toast sorbet.
If those sound disgusting, you’re right.  The point is not flavor, it’s to deconstruct your preconceived notions of what certain things are supposed to look or taste like and then charge you hundreds of dollars a plate to put whipped pork chop in your mouth.  It’s art, is what I’m saying, and is thus as pretentious and stupid as the people who speak at length about the subtle themes and styles of abstract paintings that look like someone ran a gauntlet of paintballs and then rolled on a canvas.
For example (I’m doing a little side rant here), this painting was one of several exhibited in 1964 by a Swedish journalist, who said the gallery was painted by “Pierre Brassau.”

My god, it’s…some smears.

One critic said, “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.”  Here’s a picture of Brassau himself.

Looks like a typical French guy to me.

The journalist, Åke Axelsson, had gone to the local zoo and persuaded them to let him give some brushes, paint, and canvas to a three-year-old chimp.  The ape had never seen any of the implements before.  After “Peter” the chimp had slopped paint on a bunch of paintings, Axelsson picked a few favorites and put them on display.  No one called him out.

My point is that just because someone mixes your scrambled eggs with cranberry juice, whips it into a foam, and freezes that foam into the shape of packing peanuts before serving it directly on a granite table with no plate, that doesn’t make it visionary.  Maybe it’s just gross.
Anyway (rant over), this fishbowl-looking thing is supposed to make “flash freezing, foams, frosts, gelés and even cotton candy” accessible to even you, the moron wannabe chef.  The next logical question, assuming you’re not already filled with hate and cynicism from the last three entries, is “my, that’s interesting, how does it do that?”  You must be new here.
They don’t say.  They completely ignore the fact that all of those processes take wildly different machinery.  Flash freezing, for example, involves putting stuff in a bowl and pouring liquid nitrogen on it. Danger level: high. Expense: high. Technology required: bowl.  Any bowl at all.  Bowls were invented over 12,000 years ago, so excuse me if I’m not impressed.Foams are made by whipping, which requires something basically like an egg beater or whisk.  Maybe that thing in the middle is supposed to be that, but you can’t just pour shit in there and expect it to be evenly whipped.  Frosts and gelés are, according to exhaustive Google searching, not a thing.  And cotton candy is made by melting sugar and flinging little strings of hot liquid sugar into a bowl to be gathered.  It’s not something that can be incorporated into some bowl in your kitchen.
And all of this ignores the question of what the hell is happening in that picture.  Maybe it’s so you can experience what happens to an unripe kumquat when it’s been allowed to rot in water for hours on end. ART.
5. SmartPlate

My skepticism needle is automatically pinned by design concepts with accompanying iPhone apps.

What it is (in a nutshell):

A plate
How it’s supposed to work:
SmartPlate is the world’s first intelligent dish that physically understands food and transforms it into sound, completing the circle of senses by which we understand what we eat. The plate wirelessly connects to your mobile device, then by measuring different aspects of your ingredients it identifies food and precisely attaches musical notes, harmonies and rhythm to each ingredient. The user can actively listen, compose and interact with recipes of sound, sharing the experience in the most intimate way: by music.
Why that won’t work:
I don’t know what kind of drugs these people are on, but what the ACTUAL fuck.  It’s a plate that transforms what you eat into sounds, which you listen to on your iPhone?  My first question, of course, is how.  I suppose you could have some sort of chemical sensor (or many) in your plate that identifies the component parts of your food and then sends it to your phone to be turned into sound.  How does it determine what food makes which sound, though?  Randomly?  That’s going to be dissonant and awful.  By chemical structure?  There’s still no characteristic of flavor molecules that translates easily to sound.  And who’s to say that by whatever system you pick, things that taste good together will sound good together?  No one, that’s who.  Whatever sounds this thing makes will be horrible.
More importantly, though, is why.  To complete “the circle of senses by which we understand what we eat”?  That doesn’t even mean anything.  It is not necessary to bring our sense of hearing into the realm of food.  We already see, feel, taste, and smell our food.  Hearing it is pointless.  I don’t feel the urge to taste how comfortable my new jacket is, or to determine what my favorite song smells like.  That is not the point of those things.  This is what happens when a bunch of people sitting in a circle smoking weed at three in the morning say “dude … what if mac and cheese … was music?”
These went longer than I thought, so I split them into two installments.  The next five will be next week.  Stay tuned, and for the love of god don’t encourage these people.
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2 thoughts on “ELECTROLUX’S TEN DESIGN LAB FINALISTS (ARE ALL FUCKING STUPID): PART ONE

  1. Enjoyed reading this blog. Thanks for sharing

  2. […] week, we talked about the first five finalists (I don’t think they’re ranked in any way) of th….  All of them, as you may recall, were the product of the drug-fueled raves/Photoshop parties that […]

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