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Dueling pistols are strange, beautiful and ironic. Gadgets to shoot each other in the face with, crafted with the delicacy and decorative extravagance of expensive jewelry.They appeared in the 18th C, as faster firing versions of flintlock guns replaced swords. Their use dwindled in the 19th C, while duels were still fought in the Western US states where the less rich would engage in gouging, similarly prearranged combat, with the aim of plucking out the opponent’s eyes.Dueling pistols were designed for the upper classes, for the preservation of honor, used illegally by generals and poets (Pushkin was killed in a duel), several US presidents (even Lincoln accepted a challenge to a duel)and even presented, with no sense of irony, as diplomatic gifts.

12 pairs of dueling pistols

Terry Gilliam was perhaps first to notice the architectural qualities of power station cooling towers, setting the torture scene from Brazil inside the base of one in South London. Their sheer size, monolithic masonry walls and gentle curves make them like enormous castle towers. Particularly special are the ones that have open structures at the base, making them appear to float impossibly, and the view from the inside is what we have focused on in this list. Accidental architectural masterpieces indeed.

accidental masterpieces cooling towers

Nothing dates like the future and nothing is more symbolic of gadgety futurism than a modern kitchen. Included here is a design lab from a trendy Michelin starred restaurant that makes endless courses of microscopic over-engineered food, a trend which we feel is now obsolete.

12 Retro kitchens of the future

Bicycles are very efficient machines, more efficient than legs! Here are some of the more bizarre bicycle powered objects from a washing machine, to a bulldozer, a centrifuge at NASA and even a rollercoaster.

12 bizarre pedal powered things

The point of this list was to find interesting fountain designs that are truly modern, something that is rare, since fountains are luxurious, flowing and decorative by nature.For example Rome's Trevi fountain may be a masterpiece, but trying to recreate classical splendor today always looks awful and kitsch. The horrid water display at the Vegas Bellagio is a case in point, opulence without craft. In fairness, its designers, WET design have produced many other much more interesting designs which balance fun with restraint. Here are some of our favorite designs, from computer controlled fountains such as the wonderful animated version at Detroit Airport to Chicago's celebrated screen based Crown fountain

12 great modern fountains

The Oobject Rotten Apple Award. To mark this week's 10th anniversary of the death of the Newton we have picked some of the products from Apple, that we'd rather forget.We could have picked many more from the years when Jobs was in the wilderness and Apple attempted to be market driven rather than design driven, under Sculley. Reactive rather than pro-active. One problem, the gallery would have been a sea of similar, anonymous items. For the Sculley era machines, assume that we mean every product in the range.(update: Apple's earnings are just in and they are blow-out. After hours trading shows that as of today, Apple is worth more than IBM.).Vote for your all time worst product.

19 all time worst apple products

Inflatable structures have the advantage of being able to be deployed very quickly, and the disadvantage that they are vulnerable to failure, over time. This makes them ideal for temporary shelters, from mine accidents to military deployment, festivals and even on the moon.

8 inflatable shelters

Architect of the Lego House built for Top Gear presenter James May, Barnaby Gunning, has sent us pictures of the construction progress so far. We'll post more as we get them.

pictures of the lego house construction progress

Up to the 19th Century mentally ill people were sometimes chained naked in squalid conditions in places like London’s Bethlehem hospital which became synonymous with chaos (its name being contracted to bedlam) and where tourists would pay to see the freak show. Then came the extreme rationalism of the Kirkbride plan which created a very unusual form of architecture for asylums throughout the Anglosphere that was used until the 20th Century. As a result of their demise, most are abandoned ruins today, giant, rotting testimonies to a bygone era of clinical Victorian discipline combined with neo-Gothic extravagance.The Kirkbride plan consists of an enormous a symmetrical staggered wing, like a bird made out of lego. Men are on the left and women on the right in wings that radiate from the main entrance for increasingly violent or incurable patients. Early mental institutions where patients had to pay for their own incarceration would also vary in class (rich to poor) on the y axis. The staggering of the wings ensured the flow of air through each, purging them of diseased vapors perhaps, such was the Victorian obsession with fresh air, from outdoor Tuberculosis wards to seaside promenades and piers.

insane asylum plans

One of the ways to get something architecturally novel built is to tell people it is temporary. Despite the fact that 99.9% of buildings are temporary over a few generations, people seem to tolerate something as long as it will be gone before they are. As a result, several of the worlds most famous pieces of architecture (Barcelona and Rietveld pavilions) or some of the worlds most famous city landmarks (Eiffel Tower, London Eye) have remained because they won people over after the fact.

9 permanent temporary structures

Nail houses have become emblematic of the accelerated rate of development in China. They are buildings whose owners have resisted selling to developers and which remain standing in the middle of new construction all around, like stubborn nails which can't be beaten down with a hammer. Here are 9 examples including ones in the US and Europe.

9 nail houses

Obviously the design criteria for four wheeled vehicles are somewhat different on other planets. This has yielded some of the most bizarre and fascinating vehicles ever proposed, from the giant Mobility Test Article test driven by Wernher von Braun to todays rovers which have ditched the most expensive component of all, the driver.Here are a variety of some of both classic and unusual space rovers from prototype to flown.

cars in space

Ever since Evel Knievel attempted to jump Snake River Canyon, by sitting in a rocket powered bomb, dressed like Elvis, Darwin Awards contenders have tried to create inappropriate rocket powered items. These days we have YouTube to show us 10 thousand varieties of rocket powered skateboard. Here are our favorites, vote for yours.

10 inappropriate rocket powered items

The iPhone is a state-of-the-art, minimalist gadget where a lot of effort was put into the case design. These phones are as precious to people as Gollum's ring and in order to avoid scratching them, many people have attached protective covers. This activity ranges from being like leaving the plastic cover on a new sofa to gilding a lilly.Some people go further, however, and actively defecate on the lilly. There are an amazing variety of iPhone cases which completely ignore the fact that the iPhone is a futuristic design in an appropriately minimalist modernist enclosure. iPhone case are produced using incompatible styles associated with military ruggedness (Oakley unobtainium rubber) or pre-industrial luxury materials (diamond and gold) and made to specifications which are often much worse than the thing they are designed to enhance. Vote for your worst.

12 worst iPhone case designs

There is nothing more exciting than a space rocket launch. Here we've pulled together a dozen of our favorites from famous missions to unusual angles. Our personal fave is perhaps the least dramatic but the most unusual, the view of a Shuttle launch from a commercial airliner.

12 Space Rocket Launch Videos

There are some design classics here, from the John Russell Barlow, French Opinel and Laguiole, Japanese Higo no Kami and of course the Swiss Army knife, where we show the original 19th C version and the one actually issued to Swiss soldiers today. We have included a couple of multi-tool curiosities such as a surgeons knife with gruesome implements such as an abscess lance and a Veterinary blood letting pocket knife which we found in our attic. To demonstrate the history of pocket knives which go back to 500BC we have selected a modern looking Viking pocket knife and an amazing Roman Soldiers multi-tool which predates the Swiss Army by nearly 2000 years.

12 classic pocket knives

In some sense these are steampunk iPods, a ridiculously old fashioned and quixotic category of technology, because there is nothing portable about a record, particularly the brittle shellac versions of the gramophone era. Overcoming this lack of portability is precisely what makes these devices so beautiful and intricate, however, from the later versions which were installed in cars and music systems to the fantastic Peter Pan picnic player, where everything folds out including the platter and the telescopic trumpet. The Peter Pan style came from Europe, when they were called Kamerphones since they looked like the box cameras of the time. They were imported by the Jehovah's Witnesses to take on their rounds and play bible discourses outside people's doors.

12 portable record players

The world is truly a small place when the Inuit, Bedouin tribesmen and Tibetan nomads all have HBO. The wonder of satellite transmission creates a perfect juxtaposition of old and new as space age technology meets traditional lifestyles than haven't changed in centuries - apart from the ability to watch Battlestar Gallactica in Outer Mongolia. Here are ten examples of traditional dwellings with satellite dishes.

10 mud huts yurts tents and an igloo with satellite

Early brick sized cellphones spanned the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s when Nokia was still remembered as the manufacturer of jackboots for the Soviet army. The distinction between carphones and portable cellular phones was blurred and even today the largest cellphone outlet in the UK is called the Carphone Warehouse.Here is a nostalgic lineup of videos of some of these with 2 notable inclusions, the Nokia 9000, which you could use to access a server from more effectively than an iPhone or Blackberry, in the early days of the web and the Iridium, whose demise is one of the few examples of technology regress: there is no longer a truly global cellphone network, but there used to be.

brick sized cellphone ads (videos)

With the notable exception of Apple, America has largely ceased to be a design culture, yet from Art Deco to Mid-Century modern, the US once ruled the world. There is no better example of a quintessentially American product designer than Raymond Loewy, who combined the exuberance of consumer culture with the asceticism of modernism and applied this to elements from pencil sharpeners to locomotives.Like Apples lead designer, Loewy was not from America. He was born in France and travelled to New York after WWI, wearing only his officers uniform and carrying $40. Here are a dozen of our favorite examples of Loewy designs.

12 Classic Raymond Loewy Designs

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Category: 'advertising'

In case there were any doubt about just how unpleasantly weird Kim Jong Il’s tyrannical grip over North Korea, here are 12 examples of his propaganda posters. They range from imagery of attacks on the US in a bizarre blend of Soviet art and 50s American comic books to perhaps the most macabre of all, pictures of copious abundance of produce in a place where people are starving to death.

Comic book ads are the nadir of capitalism, where the ability to blatantly deceive through advertising is exacerbated by the fact the audience is young children. Here are some classics.

If you believe adverts like these, sugar, Fat, TV, Coke, cocaine, radiation, cigarettes: they’re all actually good for you. Manufactured consent!

Magician's posters are a particularly interesting form of advertising, since they are selling something which is, by definition, fake. This often leads to a particularly exaggerated and interesting graphic style, particularly with hypnotists. My favorites are the turn of the century ones which have early modernist or art deco graphics which predate their use in movie posters.

Ever since the strapline ‘Nicholas Parsons is the neo-opiate of the People’ graced a concrete roundabout in Harrow in the 1970s, I’ve been a fan of sardonic or facetious textual graffiti. Sadly, my all-time favorite, the simultaneously mindless and profound spaying of the word ‘wanker’ above a bronze statue of Freud in London’s Swiss cottage, couldn’t be found, however here are 15 choice favorites from the many collections of these around the web.

Unintentional comedy is one of the consequences of Moores Law (that computer power doubles every two years) and almost any claim made in a computer ad more than a decade old. Included here are claims that compared to the Macbook Air that I am writing this on, a computer with 2 million times less RAM will "satisfy your lust for power"; that a computer a thousand times slower will give you "answers fast" for demanding applications and that a computer with several thousand times the volume is "compact and mobile".

The condom may be the worlds oldest gadget, but it continues to evolve. The recent development of the snap-on Pronto condom in South Africa has saved countless lives, after it was found that easy to open packaging had a huge effect on usage by not destroying the moment. We have chosen a dozen different commercials from a dozen different countries, many of which show different cultural attitudes and fantastically oblique humor. Contrary to the headlines on YouTube and blogs, these commercials are not banned, however most could not be shown on national TV in the US, which has some of the world's strictest, self-imposed, censorship. The fact that they could be shown on cable suggests that this is not necessarily a cultural issue, but rather a result of a vocal, prudish minority. McCann Erickson's Million Sperm film, for example, is listed as banned but actually won several awards after being broadcast. Vote for your faves.

All of these car commercials are from 1973, the last time the economy tanked because of oil. The embargo started late in 1973, at the point when family sedan's did less than 10mpg, were the size of a boat and often sloshed around on suspension that felt like you were at sea. While the Detroit manufacturers were pitching speed, horsepower or comfort, one relatively obscure Japanese import, was already selling based on fuel economy. Can you spot the odd one out?

The irony in these advertisements for guns is sometimes accidental and sometimes deliberate. What many demonstrate, however, is that Americans' relationship to the gun is completely different from almost any other nation in history.

A gallery of products using radioactive materials.Because radiation was seen to be new and powerful, at the beginning of the 20th century radioactive material was used in products such as face creams, mineral water and medicine, by equating power with rejuvenation. For similar reasons it was even used in items from spark plugs to condoms. Although many of these items are from an age when the dangers of radiation were not known, radiation is obviously useful as a healing tool for cancer therapy, but it is still used in legal Chinese remedies, which are respected more because of their age rather than efficacy and quack homeopathic medicines which are tolerated while unproven, because they are harmless water.Vote on your fave examples.