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via The New York Times

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Etched into the base of Google’s new wireless home media player that was introduced on Wednesday, is its most intriguing feature. On the underside there is a simple laser-etched inscription: “Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A.”

The Google executives and engineers who decided to build the player, the Nexus Q, here are engaged in an experiment in American manufacturing. “We’ve been absent for so long, we decided why don’t we try it and see what happens?” said Andy Rubin, the Google executive who leads the company’s Android mobile business.

Google is not saying a lot about its domestic manufacturing, declining even to disclose publicly where the factory is in Silicon Valley. It also is not saying much about the source of many of its parts in the United States. And Mr. Rubin said the company was not engaged in a crusade

Still, the project will be closely watched by other electronics companies. It has become accepted wisdom that consumer electronics products can no longer be made in the United States. During the last decade, low-cost Chinese labor and looser environmental regulations have virtually erased what was once a vibrant American industry.

Since the 1990s, one American company after another, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Apple, has become a design and marketing shell, with huge work forces deployed at contract manufacturers in Shenzhen and elsewhere in China.

Now that trend is showing early signs of reversing.

It’s a trickle, but American companies are again making products in the United States. While many of those companies have been small, like ET Water Systems, there have also been some highly visible moves by America’s largest consumer and industrial manufacturers. General Electric and Caterpillar, for example, have moved assembly operations back to the United States in the last year. Analysts have speculated that Apple may be planning to follow suit, but a company spokesman denied the rumors.

There is no single reason for the return. Rising labor and energy costs have made manufacturing in China significantly more expensive; transportation costs have risen; companies have become increasingly aware of the risks of the theft of intellectual property when products are made in China; and in a business where time-to-market is a competitive advantage, it is easier for engineers to drive 10 minutes on the freeway to the factory than to fly for 16 hours.

That was true for ET Water Systems, a California company. “You need a collaboration that is real time,” said Pat McIntyre, chief executive of the maker of irrigation management systems that recently moved its manufacturing operation from Dalian, China, to Silicon Valley. “We prefer local, frankly, because sending one of our people to China for two weeks at a time is challenging.”

Harold L. Sirkin, a managing director at Boston Consulting Group, said, “At 58 cents an hour, bringing manufacturing back was impossible, but at $3 to $6 an hour, where wages are today in coastal China, all of a sudden the equation changes.”

The firm reported in April that one-third of American companies with revenue greater than $1 billion were either planning or considering to move manufacturing back to the United States. Boston Consulting predicted that the reversal could bring two million to three million jobs back to this country.

“The companies who are investing in technology in the U.S.A. are more imble and agile,” said Drew Greenblatt, president and owner of Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore, which continues to manufacture in the United States by relying on automation technologies. “Parts are made quicker, and the quality is better.”

Other factors are playing a role as well, said Mitch Free, chief executive and founder ofMfg.com, an electronic marketplace for manufacturing firms. He pointed to trends including distributed manufacturing and customization as playing an important role in the “reshoring” of manufacturing to the United States.

The biggest challenge in bringing manufacturing home has been finding component suppliers nearby. Industry executives note that the decision to stay in China is often determined by the web of parts suppliers that surround giant assembly operations, like the one that Foxconn, the manufacturing partner of Apple and many other big electronics companies, operates in Shenzhen. The advantages can be striking. A design change made in a product might be executed in a few hours.

The Nexus Q, which links a TV or home sound system to the Internet cloud to play downloaded video and audio content, contains almost all American-made parts. The engineers who led the effort to build the device, which is based on the same microprocessor used in Android smartphones and which contains seven printed circuit boards, found the maker of the zinc metal base in the Midwest and a supplier for the molded plastic components in Southern California.

Semiconductor chips are more of a challenge. In some cases, the chips are made in the United States and shipped to Asia to be packaged with other electronic components.

Google did not take the easy route and encase the Q in a black box. The dome of the Magic-8-ball-shaped case is the volume control — the user twists it — a feature that required painstaking engineering and a prolonged hunt for just the right bearing, said Matt Hershenson, an engineer, who is a member of a small team of consumer product designers. They have worked together at companies like Apple, General Magic, Philips, WebTV and now Google.

At $299, the device costs significantly more than competing systems from companies like Apple and Roku. Google says the price is in part because of the higher costs of manufacturing in the United States, but the company expects to bring the price down as it increases volume. The company is hoping that consumers will be willing to pay more, though it is unlikely that the “Made in America” lineage will be part of any marketing campaign.

Google uses a contract manufacturer to make the Q. Last week it was being assembled in a large factory 15 minutes from Google headquarters. The company declined to say how many people were employed at the plant, which can run as many as three shifts each day. However, during a brief tour, made with the understanding that the exact location would not be disclosed, it was clear that hundreds of workers were involved in making the Q.

It’s the kind of building that was once common across Silicon Valley during the 1980s and even the 1990s. More recently, former semiconductor fabrication and assembly factories have given way to large office campuses that house the programmers who design software and support Internet Web sites. Google’s engineers repeatedly stressed that it was a significant advantage to have design close to manufacturing.

“For us it’s really great that we can be at our desk in the morning, have meetings with hardware and software people and then a subset of that team can be in the factory in the afternoon,” Mr. Hershenson said. “The time it takes from being in the assembly process to being in the living room of a product tester we can measure in hours and not days.”

LOS ANGELES — One of my favorite music videos of all time is Röyksopp’s “Happy Up Here,” featuring a bevy of space invader creatures attacking a real-world city. They glow and pulsate, and while it’s strangely incongruous to see two dimensional creatures doing damage to a three dimensional space, the results are incredibly addictive to watch.

 

A new post from Design Taxi tipped me off to pop-up card designs by Kate Lilley. These 8-bit cards feature a skull and a space invader and will require a bit of work — colored paper, an X-acto knife and a steady hand are essential. But when you put them together, you’ll get fantastic 8-bit shapes that look a little like the Röyksopp video come to life (albeit on a smaller scale).

What’s cool about these cards is that they’re essentially open source. You can download the templates for free online, which means you can remix them, too, and try your own shapes and creatures or simply mix it up with larger paper and different colors. I could see someone creating an actual space invaders installation designed to look like the original game.

Is it New Aesthetic, or just nostalgia? I remember seeing street artist Invader’s work in different parts of LA, long before the New Aesthetic debate began, and I kept thinking, wow, wouldn’t it be cool if those things came to life?

Pensa’s Street Charge concept lets you charge your phone and have a nice place to set your coffee while you wait for the bus.

LOS ANGELES —Every time I travel, whether that be the airplane, a train or even a bus, I see them: kiosks where you can charge your phone or laptop while you wait for your departure.  It’s a brilliant idea for travelers, who might find themselves between flights in need of some juice.

I’d always wondered why chargers aren’t more common outside travel contexts.  Indeed, in the developing world, I often see them posted in kiosks and markets. But in the US, there seems to be an underlying assumption that you’ll find a way to get more juice.

With smartphones demanding more and more power, we need a solution. Why not charge up while waiting for the bus?

 

Design consultancy Pensa’s new video concept has gone viral for showing how a getting a charge and waiting for the bus might be compatible. With a simple stand to hold your phone and solar energy cells overhead, the Street Charge concept would help make productive use of all that time spent waiting for the bus — time we usually spend swiping and tapping on our phones anyway.

The biggest problem is highlighted by Night Eagle’s comment on their video:

“It looks fantastic but, seems like it would need to be designed a bit more vandal resistant for and urban environment.”

The thin stand reads very much like a concept video, just waiting to be torn apart in real life (not to mention that setting your phone down in an open space is just asking to have it stolen). But sturdy it up a bit, make it street proof and they might just have a winning idea.

via Good.is Science has verified something that may appear obvious at first glance: The direct connection between the presence of bike lanes and the number of bike commuters. The more infrastructure exists to encourage biking, the more people bike—and the more society reaps the public health, energy, and lifestyle benefits that come with an increasing share of people-powered transportation. Beyond the availability of bike friendly-infrastructure, other hypotheses explain why people bike more or less—whether a city is wet or dry, hot or cold, has high gas prices, is densely constructed or sprawling, is populated with young or old people. All of these variables play some role in motivating people to get on two wheels, but until now, we didn’t have a good sense of which was the most important. A new study [PDF] of 90 of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. helps answer the question of what makes a city bicycle-friendly—and it turns out that the most important factor affecting the number of cyclists is the prevalence of bike paths. That makes sense to me: When I lived in Washington, D.C. last year, I rode my bike to work and nearly everywhere else, despite the city’s crushing summer humidity and chilly winters. Now that I’ve moved to Los Angeles, which boasts temperate weather basically every day, I barely ride at all—the absence of road shoulders, much less real cycle paths, makes bike commuting here a rather dicey prospect. Indeed, depending on how you judge what makes a city best for cycling, it’s often the colder ones that win out: Frozen Minneapolis is one of the best biking cities, thanks to well-built infrastructure and a bike share system.  Rainy Portland continues to have the largest percentage of its population commuting by bike, a fact that should continue to shame city managers whose polities stay pleasant all year round. Still, Portland’s 4.2 percent of commuters biking is nothing compared to Copenhagen’s 37 percent. Reaching that level of bicycle penetration in American cities would have numerous positive effects for society, and judging by this study, demands increased investment in the bike lanes that will bring cyclists out in droves. It’s also an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: It turns out that building bike lanes actually employs more people than projects like road resurfacing, since it is labor-intensive, not machine-reliant, business. In cities where NIMBY activists and budget cuts are raising the political cost of laying bike lanes, the employment argument is a powerful case for additional investment. on top of all the other benefits that come with bike commuting. Less traffic for folks who stay in fossil fuel vehicles is part of the argument, too. With this research in hand, the prescription for cities is clear: Want bikes? Build lanes. Photo via (cc) Flickr user Paul Krueger

via Good.is

Caine Monroy is a 9-year-old boy in Los Angeles who, like many other children, loves arcade games. For some kids, that love prompts frequent trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s or any other place stocked with the beeping and whirring of arcade games. But Caine is a bit more industrious than other boys and girls.

Using a vacant space in his dad’s auto parts store and some of the larger empty boxes his dad’s business accumulates, Caine constructed his own arcade, complete with a claw machine, tickets, and prizes. Two turns on the games costs $1, or, for $2, you can get a Fun Pass, which gives you 500 turns.

Though graduated pricing strategy seems to not be Caine’s strong suit, his tiny arcade remains an inspiring DIY accomplishment. So much so that filmmaker Nirvan Mullick decided he wanted to cover Caine while simultaneously giving the arcade owner the most profitable day of its life. Watch the mini documentary below to meet Caine, see his games, and see what happens when a Mullick-led flash mob unexpectedly floods the cardboard arcade one sunny afternoon.

Today at a campaign event in Wisconsin, Republican presidential hopeful and jellybean fan Rick Santorum attempted to demonize California for eroding the values of Heartland, America.

Santorum, who also believes that Obama was effectively brainwashing kids by sending them to college, claimed today that California Universities are partially responsible for ruining this country because they don’t teach American History. Which is, of course, a completely incorrect statement.

Here’s Santorum himself, on CNN this afternoon:

And here’s that bag of wind transcribed:

I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And that the California universities – I think it’s seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught. 

Just to tell you how bad it’s gotten in this country. Where we’re trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are, so they have an understanding of what America should be.

As liberal blog Think Progress points out, the only school in the UC system that doesn’t offer American History courses is UCSF right here in San Francisco. It doesn’t offer any American History courses because it is, in fact, a medical school. According to a spokeswoman for the UC system, every undergraduate program is required to study American history.

Stay tuned for Santorum’s next speech, in which he reminds us he never intended that to be understood as a factual statement.

via Hyperallergic

LOS ANGELES — The Polaroid is deadLong live the Polaroid. They used to be a staple at any gathering, and then one day, they weren’t. Those tangible remembrances of fine times had soon turned into cell phone camera snaps and then Facebook and Flickr albums. And now they’re Instagram pictures.

Enter Instaprint, a new Kickstarter project which aims to bring back something like the Polaroid, with a physical document of your photos.

Instaprint is a location based photo booth that can transform parties and events by putting a camera in everyone’s hand. By setting Instaprint to look out for specific locations or hashtags, any Instagram tagged appropriately will automatically be printed out on inkless paper. Get one for your next party, event, wedding, fiesta or anything you like.

Unlike Instagram, which is free, Instaprint has a hefty starting price of $399. Which is why Breakfast studio is aiming to raise $500,000 on Kickstarter to launch the product. They also have a live feed of an actual Instaprint that will take your photos and print them, showing just how easy it is once it’s set up.

I could see this being most fun when implemented at a gallery opening or afterparty. On weekends, I’m already transported to a half dozen parties around the world thanks to Instagram. It’s great to see a product that makes photos local again and gives us something tangible to take away.

So far, the Instaprint Kickstarter project has raised $155,000 of its $500,000 goal with 39 days to go. You can see this project, along with others on Hyperallergic’s Kickstarter page.