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A gallery of giant ears. Before electronic RADAR, acoustic listening devices were like giant mechanical ear trumpets which could locate sounds and even calculate distances by bouncing sound waves in exactly the same manner that SONAR works in water. Ear trumpets themselves were only fully replaced by electronic devices in the middle of the 20th Century, because of their conspicuous nature, they were often hidden in anything form beards and wigs to table ornaments.

15 incredible listening devices

In 2006 and 2007 a new method of smuggling emerged, surface skimming, semi-submersible, home-made submarines were captured from Thailand to Spain to Colombia. In 2008 the number spotted has already reached the 2007 count. These craft often had sophisticated electronics for evading capture. To get some idea of the logistical scale of these things, a 100ft long Russian designed submarine was captured in Colombia's capital, Bogota, 7,500 ft above sea level. The voting for this list is obviously irrelevant.

drug smuggling submarines

Babel is interesting because it represents the ultimate in imaginary architecture, a skyscraper of the mind. The Tower of Babel is the archetypal image of a giant tower, a man made hill, yet nothing like our idea of it has ever been built. The closest are possibly Mont Saint-Michel or perhaps the downtown Manhattan cluster, yet one is a natural mound and the other an apparent hill created from many buildings.The idea of Babel traces back to ancient Sumerian stories from the time of 5000 year old Mesopotamian Ziggurats, to the reinterpretation of these myths in the book of Genesis. In the 16th century the ironic obsession with Babel among 16th century painters in hill-less Lowland Europe, created the most well known imagery, but it evolved further with the unbuilt Palace of the Soviets or the imaginary babel in the retro futuristic skyscraper cities of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

towers of babel

Skype is an idea that was conceived of by the Victorians, featured in movies in the 20s and became an icon for futurism, and yet the videophone has become ubiquitous independently of telecoms companies. How is it that an idea that could have been seen from such a long way off didn't get developed by phone companies, leading to the ridiculous situation where a phone call costs money but a Skype video phone call is free? Here's a visual history of early videophone concepts.

retro videophones

There is something intensely creepy about submarines, not least because, as we found out from the two that had crashed into each other recently, they carry a thousand times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb in a claustrophobic metal sarcophagus powered by the same stuff as the bombs. Because of this, and because of their featureless exteriors which hide immense complexity they provide the same kind of kick that a complicated gadget in a smooth case provides. Just like gadgets its interesting to see how they work when they are being assembled or taken apart. Here are our favorite views from the science fiction like decommissioning of Soviet attack subs to rotting reactor cores to components being wheeled through English roads.

submarine construction and decommissioning

The design history of snowmobiles starts with propeller driven sleds, including the amazing Russian combat version and migrates to half track vehicles with rear engines. Today's front engine vehicles were pioneered by Polaris, and are represented here by the Arctic Cat F6 600, which is driven by Sarah Palin's husband. This list of personal snowmobiles also contains two state of the art concept single track motorcycle style vehicles by Keller and Schlootz.

snowmobiles through history

Perhaps it’s because we sometimes take the things we see around us for granted and a technical drawing of its design shows the effort that went into it that I find these Nasa drawings so interesting. That in addition to the labels saying what things do. With that in mind, i included an diagram which isn’t really a blueprint, from a Apollo 15 press kit showing how they unpacked the lunar rover – for some reason I always wondered how they did that. I also cheated with a couple of NASA project images that aren’t from NASA to show how other companies were involved – such as Lockheed’s Hubble Telescope and Boeing’s drawings of the Saturn V configuration.

12 Nasa Blueprints

A gallery of some of the most impressive control rooms, including the original NASA mission control, the Beatles recording studio, the NORAD nuclear war room, what is left of Chernobyl reactor 4 control and control rooms for TV, traffic, subways and particle accelerators.

control rooms of all types

If you want to build a Steampunk - Victorian - Dr. Frankenstein lab in your garage this weekend, here are some suggestions of where to 'get that look'. Suggestions always welcome.

12 diy frankenstein lab items

Todays welding is a long way removed from the video included here of forge welding at the beginning of the 20th century., where dissimilar metals were headed and beaten together with hammers. State of the art robotic welding machines can perform an intricate ballet of hi tech gadgety bravado, including the incredible remote welders which are shown spot welding materials several feet away, with laser beams.

12 videos of welding machines

Get into a car anywhere in the world and you are pretty much guaranteed that you will understand how to drive it. Cars have the ultimate user interface and Formula 1 cars perhaps represent the pinnacle of this UI, with the most demanding requirements.As recently as 1992, F1 steering wheels were round with 3 buttons (neutral, drinking water supply, radio), but since the advent of paddle gear changes there has been a sudden explosion of electronics and feature driven complexity.The complexity is ubiquitous, all 11 Formula 1 teams produce cars with more or less the same multi button design allowing adjustment and tweaks of traction and aerodynamics from the wheel itself. Unlike a road car, space and focus constraints mean that the entire dashboard is on the steering wheel. This is something that will no doubt be copied, unnecessarily, in consumer cars in future, but would that be a UI improvement?Given that all 11 F1 teams have converged on a remarkably similar UI, independently, you would think that dashboard steering wheel style was a rational design, however its complexity possibly caused Lewis Hamilton the 2007 F1 championship, when he accidentally pressed the neutral button (top left of the 2007 McLaren Mercedes wheel).We have gathered together as many of the modern style wheel designs that we could find and put a date to, to demonstrate the UI pattern. What is clear is that there is no clear accentuation of features (color, size) by how often the are used, merely by position. Even if drivers like Hamilton are experts and fully familiar with the UI, there is a tiny percentage chance of error. Our guess is that this trend in car UI would be a mistake if it filters through to everyday cars, and that F1 cars will revert to a more simple UI over time.

formula 1 user interfaces

Metal plate armor is one of the few technologies that emerged, disappeared in the 18th Century then re-emerged briefly during World War 1. Because of the this, WW1 armor has a particularly creepy, anachronistic look, from chain mail fringed splatter masks to body armor which looks decidedly Roman.

ww1 armor

Britain is probably the only country in the world where electric vehicle use is declining, due to the rapid disappearance of the electric milk delivery vehicle, or milk float.Until recently it was common place for milk to be delivered to almost every house in the UK, daily. Presumably in order to secure the national flow of tea. To achieve this a vast army of distinctive, cheap looking, sluggish, electric utility vehicles paraded suburban streets.Here are some different varieties, including new concept vehicles and milk floats from movies, all preserved for posterity.

typology of milk floats

Although the term galvanometer is often used to refer to things other than devices which measure electrical current (such as charge or resistance), there are an amazing array of early designs for this instrument, considering their simplicity.Many of these design differences are to do with the cases that surround what is basically a twisting wire, however there is something definitively analog in their mechanism and 19th century amateur scientist in their variety. Early galvanometers represent the extreme opposite of todays high energy physics, which requires giant multi billion dollar apparatuses and extreme digital processing for measurement. A long way off a compass and a battery.

different types of galvanometer

The urbane Thomas Jefferson is alleged to have invented everything from the Folding Bed to Macaroni and Cheese, while his pragmatic gentleman scientist counterpart, Benjamin Franklin, is credited with the invention of a multitude of items from the Odometer to Swim Fins. None of these were actually pioneered by them, however Franklin did invent both Bifocal Glasses and the Lightning Conductor and it was Jefferson who ironically invented the geekiest device of all, the disk cipher. George Washington, on the other hand, lent his skills to farming and invented the splendidly bucolic 16 Sided Threshing Barn.

15 Founding Father Invention Myths

Such was the propensity for the Soviets to put fighter jets on plinths dotted around the empire that they are sometimes referred to as Migs on sticks. Other people did this, of course. In the US, Phantom jets were a favorite and some of these Migs are in places outside the Soviet Union, like Somalia, where Russian jets were bought. The trend also intended to a variety of other planes such as the particularly ungainly looking Tupelov monument, in this list. But there is something about a Mig on an angled concrete base that is reminiscent of Soviet graphic design, crass and muscular with people leaning forward in earnest. Comic like, but deadly serious.

soviet fighter plane monuments

Everything from cars to cargo ships can be nuclear powered, not just aircraft carriers or submarines,. If you want a really wild motor for your vehicle here are some real examples of nuclear engines. To avoid more well known examples, we have not included carriers and submarines in this chart, and we have tried to link to images of the actual engines. Vote for your faves.

Nuclear Powered Transportation

We tend to think of submarines as being a particularly 20th century object when we imagine the nuclear powered, nuclear missile carrying versions. Obviously however, they feature in the Jules Verne classic, ‘20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea' and are, as such a definitive Victorian piece of technology, or to use the term currently in vogue, 'steampunk'.Although the idea of a submarine began as early as the 16th century, it was in the Victorian era that the modern cigar with periscope form was developed with France's Gymnote in 1889.Included here is a picture of the model of the Plongeur which was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1867. This was the actual item that Jules Verne saw and inspired the Nautilus in his seminal science fiction work, making it an historic item in the cultural history of technology.

victorian submarines

Fixed-gear bicycles, without gears or brakes were created for the controlled environment of a velodrome. This environment could not be more different from hilly San Francisco or car ridden New York, but their appeal as being both stripped down and minimalist as well as requiring considerable risk and commitment to learn to ride has made them fashionable in hip neighborhoods of large cities, such as New York's Williamsburg.This has lead to an interesting morphing of a classic post-war track bike design, to city fixies which inevitable become like beefier road bikes to be ridable and more recently to celebrity endorsed and/or fashion branded, limited edition products.The stunningly beautiful 1950's Cinelli, Italian team bike, best represents the classic track bike and the solid titanium saddle and merlin frame captures the road-bike-in-denial urban fixie (albeit, without the current vogue of sawn off straight handle-bars). The fashion house branded versions include graffiti artist, Futura's Colnago track frame, a Kid Robot bike a Fuji and Obey fixie and the surprisingly nice Nike AF1. The fashion bikes are particularly odd, because they are created by designers rather than bike enthusiasts and mix and match components purely on the basis of how they look. In this sense the transition of fixies from track to urban messenger to fashion designer is a continuous trend away from ergonomics to superficiality.Vote for your faves, ours is the 59 Cinelli.

the genealogy of fixies

With the possible exception of the 1972 Munich olympic stadium, Beijings 'Birds Nest' stadium, designed by fashionable Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, promises to be the clear winner, architecturally. Here is a list of all 16 post-war olympic stadia. Vote for you faves.

every postwar olympic stadium

Aside from a couple of custom versions that we couldn't resist, the emphasis here is not on novelty but on design, since, as we believe these picks show, sidecars are a genuinely viable and interesting mode of transport.

15 splendid sidecars

Obvious the very word submarine implies something below sea level, so submarines on dry land are particularly weird. Here are some of our favorites, ranging from abandoned washed up submarines, like beached whales, to those which have been specially buried in the ground as museum exhibits.

10 dry land submarines

Jean Nouvel created a spectacular facade, based upon electronically controlled camera iris shaped devices in the style of decorative Arab screens, for the IMA in Paris, 20 years ago. For some reason, mechanical facades have recently started cropping up here and there in architecture. Here are some of our favorites.

12 moving building facades (videos)

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Category: 'aircraft'

A collection of ‘personal helicopters' and flying machines.As the T-shirt says - 'the is is the future, where is my Jetpack'. It seems that Jetpacks are basically dangerous, and since the appearance at the Los Angeles Olympics, nothing much has happened. Still, there are two manufacturers that will actually build one for you, for $250,000, and you can buy a glorified fan that will propel you on an ice rink at the same speed as a puck.If you want rotor blades rather than rockets, the current options are a bit cheaper and more practical, but are still less cool than the Soviet Fold-up helicopter, from the Cold War era.