Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Them and Us

775 words

When it comes to industry, opinions about China are somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand people in rich countries really love exploiting their workforce, kids and environment for cheaper consumables. On the other hand, our manufacturing businesses are scared shitless by their newly won competition. As usual things are slightly more complicated than that, but my general impression is that everybody in Europe manages to want cheap products and a well-being of their local industries as well as workers’ rights, good care for the environment and great quality without sensing too much cognitive dissonance.

My general impression is that apart from the potential ecological and social problems coming with it, Chinese manufacturers work hard to earn their ‘cheap crap’ reputation. Many of the things they make are not nice, neither in the materials used in them nor in their form and finish. And yet they do the job or at least appear to do the job well enough for people to get them nonetheless. In a way they seem to aim at people’s desires rather than good design (just as any politician worth their money will these days as suggested in one of those Adam Curtis ‘documentaries’).

I found this very well reflected when I recently had to buy new lights for my bike. The back and front lights on the bike had degraded over years, together with the dynamo and cabling. And they had reached a point beyond reasonable hope to fix them for more than a short while without big cost and effort. And thus I decided to at least reduce the effort by switching from a dynamo driven bike light to battery driven ones (or - as I like to say - to switch from mechanic to electric light).

Now the problem is that battery bike lights are frequently stolen and that ‘electric’ bike light makers support that by simply making the typical light easily detachable. I hate that. It forces you to carry around those lights all the time ‘just in case’. And I’m just bound to be annoyed by that pretty much all the time (for the carrying or for forgetting to carry). Hence I wanted lights that are properly attached to the bike.

I found a nice one for the back: It is built into a reflector and doesn’t look much different from one. It is also fixed with partly hidden screws which should make stealing it require a little effort, thus minimising the risk.

Back light on the bike seen in the dark.

The light is rather bright, has an easily usable rounded switch. I works rather well. One may like to think that it shows the good sides of German engineering.

For the front, however, there didn’t seem to be any light doing the job for me. In particular I wanted it to be screwed to the bike rather than being clip-on and matching my Dutch bike’s style. I.e. no sporty flat black plastic for me, but a round shiny light. The guy in the bike store drowned my hopes at first but eventually found a single light filling this ‘specification’ on the last page of his catalogue. We got it for me and OMG it’s quite awful.

Front light on my bike

The first thing is that the light is rather weak. That might actually be a problem from some nitty-gritty legal POV, but as I’m no driving on unlit roads (except once) I am not sure this is a real problem. I see where I am going anyway, and the light should be enough of an indicator of my position to other people. Secondly, the switch for the light isn’t trivial to reach - impossible when wearing gloves - and it’s quite hard and angled rather than being nice to touch. Finally, the whole construction of the lamp seems rather weak and I already started guessing how long it will take until I need to tape it to not fall apart. The lamp didn’t include the screw needed to fix it to the bike but it came with batteries built-in.

These two lamps seem to highlight the differences between what one could understand as typically German and Chinese engineering and marketing. The German product will have seen more effort gone into its design so its easy to switch on and can be attached in a clever way. While the Chinese product will use many shortcuts in design and engineering but there is such a wide variety of them that they cover everyone’s needs as well and they ship with batteries included to give you some instant gratification. By the time their product breaks a fortnight later they’ll probably have another product on sale, replacing the previous one.

June 14, 2008, 0:48

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