Bob Schwartz

Category: Design

Thanksgiving: Simple Gifts

Shaker Sewing Table

The Shaker dance song Simple Gifts (Joseph Brackett, 1848) is the ultimate Thanksgiving song. It is also the ultimate American song, provided we recognize that in America, the most religious and richest nation on earth, simplicity and humility are ideals worth aspiring to and striving for.

Ken Burns writes this about his documentary The Shakers:

They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but because of their ecstatic dancing, the world called them Shakers. Though they were celibate, they are the most enduring religious experiment in American history. They believed in pacifism, natural health and hygiene, and for more than 200 years insisted that their followers should strive for simplicity and perfection in everything they did.

Shaker design, including furniture and baskets, may be familiar to you. So may the melody of Simple Gifts. It is frequently used in pop culture, and is most famous musically in Aaron Copland’s orchestral masterpiece, Appalachian Spring. And while the tune is often heard, the lyrics are not as frequently sung. Here is an appropriately unadorned version by Judy Collins.

Even if you can’t read music, you can look at the musical score and see how very simple this song is:


Here are the lyrics. Happy Thanksgiving.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

When Nokia Ruled the Mobile World

Nokia 1110

Microsoft is reportedly killing the Nokia brand, after having spent billions to buy the iconic company in hopes of boosting its stalled Windows Phone presence.

We are not surprised. Microsoft is the all-time tech accidental/incidental behemoth. Right place, right time, a few fortuitous decisions, strategic appropriations rather than innovations, and the next thing you know, we’re living and working in a mostly Microsoft world. Which is why Microsoft is constantly fixing what isn’t broken, and annoying and frustrating millions of users every second of every day.

The Tech Advisor article on the Nokia move led to one on the Top 10 Best Selling Mobile Phones in History.

Of those best selling mobile phones, 9 of the 10 are from Nokia (the Motorola RAZR V3 comes in at number 8). You may be used to what you think are big numbers, but at the top of the list—maybe forever—is the Nokia 1100:

The best-selling mobile phone ever is believed to be the Nokia 1100, which was released in 2003 and sold more than 250 million units. That’s more than any iPhone model. The success of the Nokia 1100 was not down to its features – it didn’t have a camera or even a colour display – but it was cheap, durable and did the jobs any mobile phone should.

Depending on your generation, you may not recognize the form factor of these Nokia phones. It was called a “candy bar” for pretty obvious reasons. If you were around for these, you also know that these were some of the most stylishly functional tech gadgets of all time: strikingly beautiful, naturally comfortable, reliably useful. Nokia did not sell over a billion and a half of the phones on the list because they were the only ones around; they sold them because they were the best and the coolest. (If that sounds like the iPhone story, it might a little, except that the Nokia phones were way cooler than any iPhone.)

Time does pass, and best is not biggest forever. Nokia’s big mistake was sticking to its proprietary operating system, Symbian, rather than adopting the then-nascent Android. If Nokia had gone Android early, it is possible we wouldn’t be talking about Samsung or Apple mobile the way we do. What later ended up happening was the marriage between a number 3 operating system, Windows, to a long past noble brand. It was a union that was never going to last.

In that box over there, though, are a couple of gorgeous Nokia phones that carried me into the mobile age and that I relinquished with great reluctance. A few years ago, when smartphones were still using the old, bigger SIM cards, I even switched SIMs and fired one of those Nokias up when a smartphone went temporarily down. Sure the Nokia seems rudimentary now. But I could still talk and listen, and still caress that Scandinavian beauty in my hand. Something Microsoft would never understand.

Diztronic: The Wonder Case for Smartphones

The world’s most advanced tech companies spend unlimited money and time to make sure your smartphone is as thin, light and beautiful as possible. And they have succeeded. The Samsung Galaxy S3, for example, is a work of practical art.

Then you put it in a box. An expensive box. As in, say, an OtterBox case.

You do that because you are human. And human beings have been known to drop or otherwise destroy five hundred dollar smartphones in the blink of an eye.

What was once sleek and sexy—but vulnerable—is now bulky and unattractive—but safe. It’s like the father who demands that his teenage daughter go out wearing a dumpy and loose-fitting dress that hides her arms, legs and everything else.

Then there is Diztronic.

Admittedly, the Diztronic cases do not include three or more layers of protection that some other overly-expensive body-armor cases offer. So if you know yourself to be dangerously clumsy or demand a case that will withstand an asteroid, you may have to live with your phone in a box.

But if you want to enjoy a more than reasonable amount of protection, be able to appreciate and enhance the beauty of your phone, have it feel great in your hand and save money, the Diztronic cases are for you.

Diztronic makes its cases from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), a plastic stronger and tougher than silicone, offering excellent shock absorption and scratch resistance. The cases are flexible, ultra-thin and perfectly custom fit for each type of phone. A subtly raised edge allows you to lay your phone down on the screen side without damage or worry. Then there are all the colors that match or complement your phone.

On top of that, Diztronic cases are ridiculously inexpensive, currently $9.90 for Android cases and $11.90 for the new iPhone 5 cases (some even less at their Amazon store).

If you have a new phone, visit Diztronic and buy your phone a new outfit. In fact, at that price, you can afford to buy it more than one look. And if your phone is currently encased in an unattractive hard shell, think how much better you and it will feel with something a little less restrictive and a lot more beautiful.


Sometimes you stumble upon an item that perfectly embodies America, the 21st century, and America in the 21st century. All in a good way. This is from a company called Crave:

Our first product – DUET – was submitted for pre-release funding on international design funding platform in August 2011 where it raised $104,000 from over 950 backers – 694% of the original target. Word of DUET consequently spread across the web, which has effectively raised the profile of the product even before its official release, while also providing a springboard for further CRAVE products and developments.

Crowdfunding. Check. Design. Check.

But what exactly is Duet?

In a world where high technology and luxury design seem to touch every corner of our lives, the most intimate experiences should be no exception. The dominating culture in adult products often feels cheap and sleazy. We were craving something better: something beautiful, something discreet, something environmentally friendly, and something sophisticated. After all, if anything deserves good design, it’s the things we bring to bed with us.

Design, again. Check. Sex. Check.

But what exactly is Duet?

With dual motors and a V-shaped angle, DUET delivers powerful and precise vibration for external clitoral stimulation. The tip, inside edges, and outside edges provide slightly different intensities, while the flat surface is ideal for massaging the area around and on the clitoris. The dual motors’ unique ‘split at the tip’ combines with the four vibration patterns to enable a variety of sensations for you to explore…

Duet will let you how much charge remains when you turn it on. It will pulse one to four times – one pulse meaning 25% full, and four pulses indicating your DUET is 100% charged. When plugged into a USB port, a light indicator will blink to let you know your DUET is charging. The intensity of blinking will change depending on how close to being fully charged. With four vibration modes and four power levels, DUET gives you flexibility to find the perfect intensity and pattern. The settings have been designed to be easily altered at whim, but won’t accidentally change on you in the heat of the moment. Vibration modes include steady, dual pulsing, circular pulse, and wave.

Sex, again. Check. USB port??

Yes, this is Duet. A vibrator and a USB flash drive.

This is, without irony, the sort of creativity that makes America great. Purse-sized vibrators have long been around, as have flash drives. But this story that combines cutting-edge financing through crowdfunding, high-level design, digital capability, and, of course, sex goes well beyond bringing together chocolate and peanut butter. This is American genius.