Links We Like: the Kowloon Walled City, Infobar Phones, and the Plimsoll Line

Kowloon city cross section via

Kowloon city cross section via

This week’s Links We Like examine the astonishing Kowloon Walled City, admire mobile phones worthy of being in MoMa, and uncover exactly what those cryptic hull markings on cargo ships mean.

As always, these links give you a glimpse on what we’re sharing around the office and are an invitation to a forum discussion. Got better links? Share them with us! And thanks for all the great comments, images, and links from last week’s post. Keep ’em coming!

The Ungoverned, Sprawling Kowloon Walled City


Kowloon Walled City via

Even if you’ve never heard of the Kowloon Walled City, you’ve probably experienced its cultural influence. Occupying a little more than 6-acres, this city was home to well over 33,000 people and has shaped the creative direction of Japanese manga, the grittiness of Batman Begins, and played host to the fictional intrigues of the Bourne Supremacy and martial arts competition of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Blood Sport.*

Demolished in the early 1990s, the Walled City thrived as an ungoverned region stuck between the colonial British, the invading Japanese, and, eventually, the Chinese government. Over the years, Kowloon metastasized from a salt trading outpost into a mega-structure with over 350 interconnected units, towering 14-stories high, and universally avoided by authorities.

Greg Girard and Ian Lambot’s website City of Darkness chronicle Kowloon and is required reading for anyone interetsed in the city. The duo successfully crowd funded a book on the city and offer a rare, direct account of the its history.

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal produced a video retrospective that’s also worth viewing, especially if you can’t get a hold of Girard and Lambot’s book.

The history of the Kowloon is complex, difficult to tease out, and unfortunately very one-sided with foreign accounts; however, the city is absolutely worth discussing.

An Ode to Memorable Design

The Verge

InfoBar C01 via The Verge

Sam Byford recent article in The Verge explores the Infobar line of Japanese phones, a modbile device line he describes as the most beautiful ever made. These small, inexpensive phones were the work of industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa.

“If it weren’t for the CO1’s deprecated software skin that runs atop Android 2.3 and can no longer access the Play store, I would seriously consider using this as my main phone today. That’s quite an achievement for a four-year-old handset that I bought in great condition for about $30. There’s simply nothing like it.” –Byford

In fact, Byford’s appreciation of the design is not without strong company. Several of Fukasawa designed Infobar phones are in the MoMa’s permanent collection in New York.

While the Infobar phone is certainly interesting in its own right, it’s exciting to realize this article is a part of an ongoing series called Tokyo Thrift covering second-hand Japanese technology. This is definitely a column to watch!

Here at the office we have enormous shelves full of old, wonderful technology that we use for inspiration. Perhaps someday we’ll pull together a catalog of them all.

The NTC shelves of interesting products.

The NTC shelves of interesting products.

Float that Boat!

At first, the Plimsoll line looks like a long lost cousin of the cryptic washing instructions on clothing labels. The graphics are simple enough, but their meaning is absolutely impenetrable without a guide. Plimsoll lines are basically the boating equivalent, but they save lives and keep cargo ships from sinking.


In 1876, Samuel Plimsoll, a coal merchant and Member of Parliament, became fed up with the rash of cargo ships sinking due to overloaded hulls. There were strong economic incentives to pile on as much cargo as possible. If an overloaded ship had a successful voyage, it would yield more money. If it sank, insurance on the ship and cargo would more than recoup the loss, unless of course, you were a member of the crew.

Given the proper guide the Plimsoll line is quite easy to use. Just check out the image below.

What’s astonishing about the Plimsoll line isn’t that it’s hard to figure out, it’s that it actually works. The fact that a simple notation born in the 1870s still adorns hulls across the world is astonishing! Next time you look at a hull, look for the Plimsoll line.

Have a great weekend, make sure to share any interesting links you find with us in the forums.

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