All posts tagged atoms

Getting Some Headspace

“Digital nomad” is a misleading term since all we do is sit.

Like many pixel-pushers, a huge portion of my day is spent sedentary, in a state distended from my body.

Parked in front of a computer, channeling thoughts through a keyboard, I’m rarely aware of what the rest of my body is up to. I only hear from it when it complains: sore back, restlessness, stiff shoulders. You know the deal.

There’s fodder enough in the debate about the dangerous sedentary lifestyle (“sitting disease!)”. To counter the evils of office chairs, I’ve attempted to take up a few new habits and thought I’d share the experience.

Standing Desk

A friend & colleague got me hooked on standing desks. As a gadget geek, he discovered a pretty impressive model: a motor-powered desk that you could adjust to any height.

Just getting into the practice of standing and working, especially when taking phone calls, has already cut back hours of sitting. And even now that I no longer have access to the motorized version, there’s still many ways to build an impromptu standing desk, like stacking up boxes on a table or finding a high counter top.

Literally thinking on your feet makes a huge difference to how you feel throughout the day. I can really recommend trying it, even if just for a few minutes.


The desk-bound can also find relief in stretching.

I’ve practiced yoga a few times on and off over the last few years, but it wasn’t until I discovered the endearing Ester Ekhart that it really took off.

Her Youtube channel hits the right balance of instruction, positive reinforcement, scientific explanation and challenging moves. She’s a kind and sincere teacher who you just enjoy listening to.

What makes it all the more compelling is that you can queue up a number of sequences and watch them in your own time, in your own space, which means it’s easier to get around to doing them instead of going to a class.

Yoga reestablishes an awareness of the body, especially posture, at which I’ve always been miserable. You learn so much about observing tightness and misalignment, and then gently righting yourself and making it easier to breathe and relax, even when you’re locked up at your computer.


It’s only until very recently that, inspired by a dinner conversation with a meditation instructor, I decided to tip a toe into meditation.

This always seemed like a somewhat unappealing activity. Mostly because of prejudice I have about New Age-y stigmas, it didn’t seem right to try meditation.

But then I discovered a very approachable and web-savvy introduction, Headspace.

According to the site, the founder is trying to do for meditation what Jamie Oliver did for eating healthy, namely making meditation palpable.

It makes so much sense. Geeks are very good at getting out of their bodies, of thinking abstractly and in different times & spaces.

But you need techniques to stitch it all back together, the mind and the body. And a lot of internet practices encourage a frenzied, output-driven mode of operation. And so you have to learn how to calm the mind and focus it, rather than let it get all scattered in the ether.

I’m thoroughly enjoying mindfulness, thanks to yoga on Youtube and meditation via a web app.

And it reminds me that we can choose how to spend our days, be it stuck in a chair or aware of our movements, just like we can choose how we interact on the web and what we build on it, be it frenetic and disjointed or slow and mindful.

Vending Machines of the Future

coke vending machine

No trip to Japan would be complete without a report about their vending machines from the future.

A few years back, when I traveled to Japan for the first time, friends put me on scouting missions:

“Find the robotic vending machine that follows you around Shibuya!”

“Find the SMART car vending machine!”

“Find the umbrella / necktie / lobster / underwear vending machine!”

To varying degrees of success, those were hunted down pretty easily (although I regret never seeing the robotic Coke machine).

This time around, we had our quest to find the facial-recognition vending machines.

facial-recognition vending machine

The machines, developed by a subsidy of the train company JR East Co., analyze your facial features to determine your age and gender and recommend a drink accordingly. They also change recommendations to match time of day and temperature. It uses algorithms such as men prefer canned coffee and women like slightly sweeter drinks.

Sales from these machines have tripled in comparison to regular machines.

The photo is of Peter, disapproving of the machine’s recommended energy drinks, since he in fact wanted an orange juice.

A near-perfect future. ^^

Image: Japan Vending Machine Free Drinks / CC BY-SA 2.0

Fab Cafe: Lattes and Lasers

Our trip to Japan revealed many treasures, but one I’m still glowing about is the Fab Cafe in Shibuya, opened by a friend and colleague, Chiaki Hayashi and her design company Loftwork.

The theme is lattes and lasers. Their signature drink is a marshmallow man peeking out of the coffee to accompany the humming laser cutter in middle of the room.

What strikes me about this place is it’s welcoming atmosphere and casual introduction to fabbing. It’s in the heart of one of the busiest neighborhoods in Tokyo, and Chiaki says they get a lot of walk-ins who discover a nice-looking cafe, have a coffee, and then get curious about the laser cutter.

She says the visitor ratio lands around 50:50 men and women, and people from all sorts of backgrounds (designers, school children, small business owners) stop by.

The cafe benefits from an active design community via Loftwork and an impressive Fablab about an hour outside the city in Kamakura. They’re also starting a series of workshops with the Tokyo Hackerspace, including a DIY coffee roasting session.

The idea for the space sprang out of a workshop a few months back, where teams of designers, developers, and fabbers sprinted together on design projects. Chiaki explained that the workshop tapped a community’s interest in opening a dedicated fabbing space in the city.

In many ways, this parallels Berlin’s Open Design City’s origin story.

Comparing Tokyo and Berlin, perhaps the connection between the betahaus cafe and the annexed maker space could be more explicit. Perhaps some example products or signage in the cafe could signal that you can stop by and make something yourself. Or even put fabbing on the cafe menu.

Some Mt. Fuji coasters we cut while visiting:

Images by thewavingcat: Fab Café / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Marshmallow Man at Fab Café / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Fab Café in Shibuya / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Coasters at Fab Café / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Democratic Transport

A bikeway is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as a citizen on a $30,000 car. — Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogata

Urbanized is a documentary by Gary Hustwit about the future of designing cities. A screening was organized last week by @mjays using Gidsy, the “marketplace for authentic experiences”. As my first Gidsy experience, it definitely seems like a fun, easy way to host cool events.

The film was filled with nuggets of wisdom, and some honest quips (“Now, you might not agree with me if you listen to NPR, but I love my backyard and my pool. And Phoenix is not the poster child of sprawl,” retorts an Arizona zoning official. Cut to the New Urbanist Ellen Dunham-Jones: “Sprawl is like pornography. You know it when you see it.“)

I was particularly impressed with Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogata, whose accomplishments included an extensive, modern bus route, bike paths, and restricted raised parking in the city. I’ll have to check with my aunt, a researcher specializing in environmental issues in Colombia, about Peñalosa’s true effectiveness, but in general the politician had a very democratic way of talking about transport.

“There are a lot of important things written in the Constitution. But the right to have a parking space is not one of them.” He smiles.

Buses have priority on our roads. Because if each citizen should have equal claim to public roads, then a bus with 100 people should have 100 times more space than a car with 1 person.

There were many more gems from Peñalosa and others, including an architect of a poor Chilean neighborhood, who advocates for participatory design:

In building these homes for the poor, we faced a decision. Do we put in a water heater or a bath tub? There is not space for both. Many architects and city planners proposed a water heater. But when we asked the residents, 100% of them chose bath tubs. Why? Because they do not have money for the heating bill. This is why participatory design is important.

I encourage you check out Urbanized! A smart film with inspiring ideas and an impressive look at cities around the globe.

Image courtesy Swiss Dots Ltd.

The Y-Table

The Y-Table is built for mobile collaboration. The three long slabs connect in the middle, providing maximum workspace and a collapsible structure. Note the blackboard slot for easy signage and doodling.

The table was designed by The Anxious Prop for the MakerLab in Milan.

P1070271 / Mendel Heit /

Catch Me If You Can – a simple game for less boring airports

#cmiycTXLvia Peter:

Chatting with Michelle and Igor, we figured that there must me a way to make staying at airports less boring, potentially even more fun.

Initially we wanted to go for a scavenger hunt of sorts, where players would hide stuff or leave stickers. We dismissed both – hiding stuff at airports might get airport security staff involved in unpleasant ways, and stickers might just be removed to quickly. After all, we all travel a fair bit, but not every day.

So here’s a first draft for a simple, open, collaborative game to play with friends who spend to much time at airports: Catch Me If You Can, or #cmiyc.

The rules are simple.

If you want to start a game, take a picture at an airport – any airport – and upload it to Flickr, tagging it (or at least naming it) with #cmiyc followed by the airport code: For Berlin Tegel, the tag would be #cmiycTXL, for New York JFK it would be #cmiycJFK, for Los Angeles it’d be #cmiycLAX etc. If possible, also check into the airport on Foursquare, because geo location never hurts.

If you want to join an existing game, just go to Flickr and search for the CMIYC tag of the airport you’re at, find the scene shown in the most recent photo, and take the photo exactly to the left of this last photo. (This way, the way Flickr sorts the pictures chronologically, it’ll look a bit more like one big panorama photo.)

Currently, as far as I can tell, there are two ongoing games that we just started. One is in Berlin Tegel (#cmiycTXL on Flickr), the other in Frankfurt Airport (#cmiycFRA on Flickr).

Obviously, in the best case there’s only one ongoing game per airport, and some stuff will not work. But it sounds like this might add some fun element of discovery to our travels. Feel free to join!

Photo: #cmiycTXL / the waving cat / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Maker Lab Milan

If you’re in Milan for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile or Public Design Festival this week, be sure to swing by the Maker Lab Milan. Public hacking will commence!