The media: Level magazine. The years: 1999/2000. The audience: art-and-style-conscious skater types. The section: ‘GoodStuff’ (news snippets). Art Director writing some things (and all titles, by the way): Chris “Hemingway” Noble.


It seems everywhere you look, Intel and Microsoft are in your face. Pentium this, Windows that. The lesser observant or PC-conversant could be forgiven for thinking the processor/operating system combo was the be-all and end-all of PC systems. I beg to differ. Anyone (well, apart from the odd Gatesophile) who has used an Apple Macintosh together with its home-grown OS, cunningly entitled MacOS, knows the ‘Wintel’ combo is by some distance the inferior product. With its legendary ease of use, power, charming personality, growing plethora of quality software and new-found stability the Mac’s system laughs in the face of its Microsoft adversary. As for Intel’s claims of blistering processor speeds, tests show Apple’s G3 chips are more or less double the speed of Pentiums, Hz for Hz, and with 400MHz G3 chips installed in their top of the line boxes you can understand why Mac users are so pro-Mac.

However, as with the VHS-Betamax war, it seems the better system is not necessarily the victor; it all comes down to marketing, a skill which, historically, Apple has failed to master while Intel and Microsoft ran off with the money.

But Apple are fighting back with their revolutionary G3-powered iMac (unless you’ve been locked in a cupboard for the last year you can hardly have failed to notice the little translucent blue bubble), a computer which harks back to Apple’s first Mac designs with its modern and compact all-in-one design (and now available in five new candy colours!). The Jonathon Ive design is the ultimate as an all-inclusive internet-ready plug-and-play computer for home or funky office and is truly a ‘next-generation’ system. With the runaway success of the cool little computer, which sold out before it was even out, Apple ported the styling to their top of the range G3 systems and monitors. Both the iMacs and G3’s will fit in to the sparkliest of business or home environments.

Which is its only obvious weak point. It won’t fit in, cosmetically, anywhere else. While a pair of Bondi Blue iMacs sit comfortably in Ant and Dec’s studio on Saturday mornings and the organically svelte Studio Display plasma screen monitor looks as if it were designed for the set of that weekend soccer TV magazine, whatever it’s called, the new style Macs will just look out of place in an office full of beige peripherals. But not in a flower in the weeds sort of way – more like a blue Lamborghini Diablo rear spoiler on a biege Rover Metro sort of way. Which is a shame, as the office is where Apple is targeting a healthy amount of their new products. Trust Apple to get carried away. (Translucent black as an option to the ‘Blueberry’ panels would be nice. Apple: take notice – dig some of the old eMate plastic out – make a killing. Wintel.) CHRIS NOBLE


Imagine you’re a clothing designer. A good one. You design clothes. It’s what you do. Now imagine you fancy doing something different for a change. Furniture design is a possibilty; maybe graphics. Obvious, really. Now see if this formula makes sense: take one renowned street fashion designer. Add entrepreneurial drive. Blend in commercial genius to taste. Turn in a new direction. Bake for six months. Turn out one deluxe sandwich store in Stratford. Call it The Big Baguette Store.

When James Holder left his fabric sampler behind there were all sorts of rumours flying around about what he was up to next. A clothing store? Distribution? The closest to the truth that we heard was a Baked Potato stand.

His Midlands based nano-chain of sarnie specialists has set itself standards that have put its competitors in the shade. A comprehensive yet appetisingly subtle public relations campaign heralded the opening of the first store last summer and they haven’t looked back since. Décor more reminiscent of New York than New Malden greets the customer on entry; frosted glass panels and brushed aluminium elements inform the visitor that they’re in for a contemporary experience, while pine flooring, warm lighting and softly piped classic music lend a welcoming glow.

The plethora of food and beverages on offer further strengthens the store’s attractive force. A dizzying array of sandwiches are on display, freshly made on the premises with breads from the unusual (from Mediterranean to Walnut) to the more familiar (deluxe foot-long subs and bagels), each stuffed with deliciously imaginative recipes. Soup meals, porridge breakfasts and rare brand savoury goods head the other foods on offer and a choice of Lavazza coffees top the list of beverages. Genuine staff clad in all black uniforms of Muji-esque tees, army fatigues and teflon coated bespoke aprons work in a veritable blur as they tend to every refectory whim. As if to add salt to the competition’s wounds, they have an almost charitable pricing policy. “We like to think of ourselves as recession-proof”, explains Ian Davies-Edwards, manager of the first BB store. He adds, with a degree of contentment, “You’ll be hard pushed to experience flavours and textures like ours at any of the other high-street food players”.

The customer services don’t end there. Free deliveries, loyalty cards and discounts for hard up student types further affirm their insight into the market. Good eating, good coffee and good service – what more could a 90’s social adventurer want from a sandwich bar? Well, there probably isn’t a branch just around the corner from this cinema. But the story is only just beginning. James has a vision: he sees his small but perfectly formed stores going national with undiluted attention to detail. With a new flagship branch in Leamington Spa scheduled to open at the beginning of April and a target portfolio of five stores by the end of ‘99, you’ll just have keep your eye open for a Big Baguette Store rising like a freshly baked Genovese in a town near you. CN


Possibly the one thing I most regret seeing on television, apart from Zoe Ball, is The Making of Tomorrow Never Dies. It wasn’t a bad programme in itself as far as Hollywood hype goes, but I saw it before the actual film and to this day I still think it is the worst Bond I’ve ever seen. I knew how they did the stunts. I knew what was coming next. I knew half the plot. It was spoiled, as if someone were leaning over my shoulder in the theatre telling me how each would-be nailbiting scene would turn out.

For this reason I would advise avoidance of as much gossip, rumourmongering and behind-the-scenes info from the forthcoming Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as you possibly can. You don’t need to know who Darth Maul is yet. Don’t look inside Anakin Skywalker’s home on the official website. Be content seeing the official trailers and knowing it’s about Anakin’s turn to the dark side of the force, or something. Remember, patience is a virtue – especially as the movie is released eight weeks earlier Stateside. With the torturous anticiption there comes a metaphorical Darth Vader sitting on a few apprehensive people’s shoulders, warning, like an unprepared asthmatic marathon runner, that with the amount of cheese coming out of Hollywood these days, SWI will follow suit and they will be mortally disappointed. But no, he assures, old Anakin Skywalker from Jedi was not a relation of Marleen from Neighbours. But on the other shoulder sits Yoda, muttering, “Good it will be. Change your life it will. When the end credits roll be able to speak you will not.” Ithink I’m going to stick with the short guy. CN


London based company Inflate have become synonymous with organic forms and furniture, each and every piece they produce rigorously following their fundamental principle of “original, fun, functional, affordable products”.

Better known for their inflatable wears, Inflate have done an about-turn with their latest project: the Memo, a chair designed to have the air sucked out of it. Revisiting Ron Arad’s 80s ‘Transformer’ deflatable chair, in its unpressurised state it almost resembles and feels like your average, garden-variety bean-bag, but it has one distinct advantage: optional rigidity. Sculpt it into a form that suits its intended purpose, be it slouching in front of the latest gripping episode of Buffy or sitting up to type her fan mail on your PowerBook, plug your vacuum cleaner into the integral socket and suck away; lo and behold, the form sticks, shaped to your personal contours like a Formula 1 racing seat and firm like vacuum-packed coffee.

With the summers allegedly getting warmer, you’ll also be happy in the reassurance that the Memo is fully floatable, so throw it in the pool and bob about in comfort with your favourite brew in hand. If you have neither access to a private pool nor the inclination to cart it down to the local sports centre, a large Memo can be formed into a paddling pool to call your own.

Standard Memos will hit the stores this September at around £190, with custom sizes, shapes and coverings (including leather and high-tech sheepskin) available to order. CHRIS NOBLE


Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, never ones to let the grass grow under their feet, have launched a special-purpose version of their 4WD monster, the Pajero (known as the Shogun in the UK). A joint development project with Robot Systems Co, in its standard rubber-tracked state it’s ideal for doing the weekly Tesco run. Should you wish to take a drive up the steep side of Snowdon on the weekend, take five minutes out to whip off the rubbers and slip on a set of crawlers, each one weighing in at a delicate 150kg.

Unfortunately, like the majority of funkier Japanese vehicular designs, it’s only available in Japan – much like the Nissan S-Cargo and Figaro. So, if you want one to exact your revenge on Discovery drivers throughout the land, you’ll have to talk nicely to your local friendly Japan import specialist. Oh, don’t forget to hand over your ¥35,968,000 + delivery. CN


It seems only yesterday we had to transport files on clunky, ugly, slow, five-inch square, half inch thick Syquest disks. Since then, comparatively small Zip disks from Iomega have taken over that function and have blown Syquest out of the water. But Iomega haven’t rested on their laurels: behold the Zip’s little sibling, the Clik!. With the Mac industry going all funky touchy-feely and transparent and the PC industry doing its best to go the same way without being sued, it makes a nice change to see a new product in industrialesque brushed aluminium. This, along with the Clik!’s diminutive size (shown here at actual size and only two millimetres thick), simultaneously screams cute and serious. Its card drive, built to plug into notebook computers, isn’t much bigger and needs no external power source, making it ideal for mobile business types. The final card up its sleeve is its capacity. While 40Mb doesn’t seem like a whole lot of space in this day and age, it’s enough to hold seventy minutes of music at CD quality – which starts to make Sony MiniDiscs look a little lardy. CN


So there I was, in Oxford Street’s Borders. Mmmm, Borders. Amongst the volumes of dusty Carson and Brody books stood Sampler: Contemporary Music Graphics. It called to me, with its bold Pantone 806 and roman Helvetica Neue cover. I almost had my money out before I flicked it open. While other design books seem content to print a bunch of design samples and wrap it in standard typography, Sampler, designed and written by Intro, is a feast to look at even before you get to the featured graphics (well, if you’re typographically inclined like me). The first twenty pages cover the history of music graphics and are sparingly illustrated, encouraging the reader to “track down the more outré selections themselves”. Beyond that are 116 pages of modern design classics, from designers like Mo’Wax’s Ben Drury and some people you may have even heard of. If you buy records just for the cover, or just appreciate that Helvetica thing, you need this book on your coffee table. CN


Back in 1935, Jack Pritchard, a man with a passion for modern design and a mission to promote it to his conservative fellow Brits, hooked up with some serious design talent and The Isokon Furniture Company was born. Former Director of the Bauhaus Walter Gropius was Pritchard’s right-hand man with ex-Bauhaus Master of Carpentry Marcel Breuer in charge of the pencil box. Quite a pedigree – even the company logo was penned by Lazlo Moholy Nagy.

The curvaceous range of furniture produced in the thirties is largely still being hand-built today by Windmill Furniture and sold next door at the recently opened showroom, Isokon Plus in Chiswick, West London.

With everyone and their auntie’s company being re-branded, re-launched and re-targeted, it’s nice to find a one that has stuck by its founding principles, yet still remains ahead of the game. CN


Linn have been making high-end audio gear for seventeen years, and the mere whisper of their name makes audiophiles drool and bank managers cry. The Klimax 500 Solo Power Amplifier is their new baby and is awesomely refined. The Glasgow-based company claims the single-speaker unit produces no audible buzz that other systems eminate on powering up, due to its patented ‘Silent Power’ system. It cost one million pounds to develop, is notably smaller than other power amps and is satisfyingly pleasing on the eye. Toappreciate its pure sound (at up to an ear-bursting 500 watts), you’d be well advised to hook it up to Linn’s equally refined Soundek CD12 CD deck. Being a single-speaker amp, you’ll have to buy at least two of them, not to mention the pre-amp, but at only £5,600 a pop and £12,000 for the CD12 you’ll have enough change to buy that Sikorsky you’ve always pined for. CN


Supercomputers: blue things the size of Volvos lined up in environment-conditioned rooms, big tape reels whirring backward and forward working out global thermonuclear war strategies while boffins in lab coats study vital random flashing lights. Not any more. Apple have given the world the first consumer supercomputer – literally.

Capable of handling over a billion instructions a second, putting it into the category previously synonymous with Cray and Big Blue, the 500Mhz model of the G4 (left) is near-as-damnit three times faster than a 600Mhz Pentium III, and that’s according to Intel’s own tests. The downside of this status, which marks it out as a ‘weapon’ under US regulations, is that Apple can’t sell the G4 to certain countries just in case their mad dictator decides to plug the silver and charcoal powerhouses into that nuke they half-inched from Kazakstan and hold the world to ransom. Theupside is that Apple have a powerful marketing angle, putting the G4 alongside army tanks in their US TV ads and ending with the line, “As for the Pentium computers, they’re harmless.”

The introduction of the G4 range was accompanied by the $4000 22" Cinema Display. Four grand for a monitor? Did I mention that it’s thin enough to use as a tea tray? Even the iMac has been revamped, with a DVD drive and video editing capabilities to rival those at Channel 5.

As for the new colour theme running throughout, perhaps Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been given an injection of subdued style. After all, he was recently made a board member of The Gap. (Perhaps an iMac in leather is next on the cards.) CHRIS NOBLE


Concept cars are great, aren’t they? Surely, each one the super auto corps brings out will be on the roads in a year or so’s time. They create a huge stir in the auto press and everyone marvels/laughs at their ingenuity/absurdity. While it’s understandable that the nasty ones get put through the grinder and recycled into packing materials or a Central Saint Martin’s fashion student’s end of year show, it seems an awful shame that the good ones do as well. Audi, much to the acclaim and surprise of, well, pretty much everybody, produced the TT – and that started out as a concept. Now everyone thinks Audi are great, including us. So why doesn’t anyone else do it?

The designers at Daewoo have been busy on their new baby. Their brief sounded like the Holy Grail of automotive design: sporty, roomy, versatile, super-tech, environmentally friendly and affordable. What they came up with, on paper at least, seems to be right on the money. The Mirae hosts a wealth of extraordinary features, including the ability to move the driver’s position from left- to right-hand drive – or even a central, MacLaren F1-like driving set-up is possible, thanks to its drive-by-wire technology. With one wheel stuck on each corner, the user-customisable handling should be a snap. The front doors open normally while the rear doors slide rather than hinge, the pillarless design leaving a huge opening in the side of the vehicle when all doors are open. Remove the seats, as they are designed to be, and you could probably drive the tiny Daewoo Matiz straight through this car. The windows and other functions, should they get the ACTIVE (Advanced Camera Technology In Vehicle Ergonomics) system working, will respond to the occupants just pointing at them. Does that sound like a silly idea to anyone else? The list goes on.

So, will it ever be produced? Well, I hope so. The sooner car companies stop teasing us with their futurovehicles and actually start building the bloody things the better; then it’ll really start feeling like the twenty-first century. CN

Immaculate projection

It must only be the most ardent of technophobes that have not found themselves secretly salivating longingly over the recent horde of delectably slender plasma screens. Appearing everywhere from the Welsh Assembly rooms to the studio of You’ve Been Framed, the forty-something inch wide-and-flat screen, hang-on-the-wall space-saving beauty and sheer new tech of it all are enough to have even hardened students wondering how much money they could save up by cutting out the beer. And there’s the rub: the ten-grand-odd price ticket. Well, Sony has an alternative for you (even if they do do a plasma as well). Their new VPL-CS1 video projector.

Forget four inches thick. Think – well, think as thin as the dust on the walls. Forget forty inches wide. Think twenty feet – or more. The dinky little VPL (doesn’t that stand for something else as well?) is essentially a business tool – for portable corporate presentations and the like – but is also fully capable of turning your front room into something positively Odeon-esque. Find a suitable size white wall, plug in your video source (using either the s-video or composite inputs), close the curtains and sit back with the popcorn. After watching your imported Tron DVD at the size at which it was meant to be seen, plug in the Playstation and play Tekken with life-size opponents. Even in a lit environment, the picture is crisp and the colours surprisingly vivid.

For that full cinematic experience, a decent surround system is virtually mandatory, and you’ll need to invest in several metres of new cabling. While it doesn’t have enough set-up options and may take a bit of fiddling for the best results, you’re still looking at a senseless saving, as the Sony is priced for the consumer – well, at least the consumer with a few quid in their account and a disposition for the finer things in AV life. Forget ten thousand. Think two. CN


Ever since the dawn of console time, it seems that designers of the little fun-boxes have stuck somewhat of a rut. A grey box with some plugs in the front. Oh, and a handy slot or lid on top in which to insert the games. Sony, not content with sitting on their laurels, have decided to shake it up a bit with the successor to their omnipotent Playstation – nattily entitled the Playstation2.

Comfortable upright or laid flat of the floor (the latter being the safer option, if the aesthetically less pleasing one), the dark-grey box is more reminiscent of a little supercomputer than a machine for personal entertainment. Unusually, the CD tray slides out the front, and the plugs are well concealed when not required. Ribbed edges visually speak of serious power. Its all a bit Bang & Olufsen; well, compared to the competition anyway.

The heart of the PS2 is a 128bit Emotion Engine™ and a selection of sufficiently powerful silicon to blow all that have come before it out of the virtual water. Speaking of which, the honchos at Sega must be quaking in their boots at its imminent arrival, especially as the PS2 will happily run PSX (Playstation 1) titles, essentially cornering the considerable chunk of the market that already has a collection of PSX games. It is also compatible with video DVD, audio CD, DVD-ROM (at four-speed) and CD ROMs (twenty four-speed). A USB slot – for external peripheral interfacing – offers almost unlimited scope for expansion: Sony are planning online services and external hard-disks that should appear in 2001, and Sony’s CEO and President Ken Kutaragi is confident the system will “[chart] a path toward the future of networked digital entertainment.” Can’t wait. CN


Ever since Colin Chapman first started banging out Lotus 7s at the rate of one or two a week, Lotus have had a thoroughbred race heritage unrivalled on these shores, winning several F1 constructors titles in the sixties and seventies. Inthe eighties and early nineties, though, their output had become far too attractive to hairdressers tired of their MR2s, but things are back on track (no pun intended). The new road-going Lotus Exige is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the cars that make up the grid of the Autobytel Lotus Championship series. The 177bhp 1.8litre engine will shove you to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and all the way up to a comfortable 136mph, and it no doubt also sports the legendary Lotus driving-on-tracks handling. Perhaps it’s time 007 re-aligned his sights and stopped using those executive motors and got back into something a little feistier from Blighty. I’m sure they could make a submersible version. CN


Once again, Steve Jobs’ rejuvenated Apple Computer Inc managed to wow the crowds at the recent New York Macworld Expo. Their new range included new dual-processor G4s, a proper size keyboard and mouse (due to popular slating of their previously issued diddy ones), and the star of the show – the G4 Cube. Seven-inches cubed with a top-loading DVD slot and almost totally silent thanks to its lack of a cooling fan – not to mention its Pentium-crushing G4 chip – it certainly is an eye-catching piece of product design. Gorgeous as it is, at nearly £1,500 it seems plain too expensive. The diminutive size compromises expandability, with no room for slot-in expansion cards (no cards means no additional monitors, no isdn etcetera), and with one of its full-sized and fully-expandable G4 siblings being considerably cheaper, it begs the question: who’s it for? People who don’t need the expansion may as well buy the regular G4; if they want something small and simple but still pretty fast, they may as well buy a high-end iMac.

It seems Jobs has targeted this product at consumers who are suckers for only the prettiest of products and probably feel better for paying a premium for them. And if Apple don’t sell a ton of the silver wonders, I’ll eat my Mac. Seems they may have priced it right after all. CN