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oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
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

Most of these are either clearly dangerous, such as the shoe fitting x ray machines that were popular until the 50s or show a bizarre Alien-like (as in H.R. Geiger) aesthetic that is a world apart from current medical equipment. Bug-like metal castings in place of ubiquitous white plastic.

9 vintage x ray machines

The tanning devices here may not be perceived as light therapy devices, but the concept of sun bathing morphed from scientific and quasi scientific light treatments at the end of the 19th century, where people would immerse themselves in light baths - hence the term sun bathing.Abuse of sun bathing as recreation has created a backlash, masking its genuine benefits in moderation and how it is perceived has obviously changed over time, as witnessed by my favorite item here which shows four congressmen in suits bathing in the light shower baths of the Turkish baths of the House of Representatives.

12 light therapy devices

Airstream was neither the first nor the only manufacturer of streamlined trailers with examples shown here, by Spartan, Silver Streak, Westcraft and Bowlus, among others, yet they are deservedly the best known and continue to thrive. Because of their futuristic design they have a unique place in the history of technology. An Airstream was used for quarantine after the first men returned from the moon and today takes astronauts to the Space Shuttle. Their iconic silver bullet shape still looks modern, yet it dates from the 30s and is based upon a prior streamline designed trailer, called the Bowlus. Here is a list of some of the most beautiful things to have ever been on the roads.

28 stunning streamlined trailers

There is possibly no simpler gadget that is more creepy than a vintage ventriloquists dummy. A primitive automaton that threatens to come to life and haunt you. Here are a collection of slightly unsettling old ventriloquy puppets with their often equally unsettling owners.

vintage ventriloquists dummies

Brain devices tend to look interesting an unusual, from passive, insect like EEG caps with trailing wires to interactive Brain Computer Interfaces. These devices range from largely useless toys to profoundly impressive technology used to control things such as prosthetic limbs. Here is an eclectic mix of our favorites, vote for yours.

mind reading devices

Until very recently, people still used the same principal that Newton had proposed, to derive latitude from the angle of the sun or stars at known times. The sextant (or originally octant) allowed people to do this relative to the horizon, rather than the instrument itself.Later versions of the sextant included a very simple version for emergency use, called the Bris sextant (not a great name for a device to be used on a rolling ship) and until the advent of GPS systems, bubble sextants were used on aircraft.

16 sextants

Complex dangerous machinery isn't the first choice for a home-brew project, unless you are rural farmer, apparently. Some of these look like remnants of a cargo cult, and most of them received stern warnings from the relevant civil aviation authorities to not even try firing them up, but a couple actually flew.

homemade helicopters

Really complicated, and really expensive swiss watches are called grand complications based upon strict criteria.These are often based upon the gravity compensating tourbillon mechanism that isn't strictly needed for a wristwatch but is insanely complicated so people build them to show off their skills as watchmakers.This is the kind of gadget that gazillionaires with enough taste to avoid diamond encrusted ones buy when they fly into Geneva. They look very James Bond - except that they cost ten times as much as his humble Rolex or Omega, often costing more than $100,000 each.

8 most complex watches

The most impressive neon districts in the world include Tokyo's Ginza and Shibuya, Osaka's Dotonburi which was the inspiration for Blade Runner, the worlds largest shopping street, Nanjing Road in Shanghai and, of course, Vegas and Times Square. Bangkok's Soi Cowboy district (named after an American who opened one of the first go go bars in the 70s) deserves inclusion on account of its unpleasant strangeness, with live elephants paraded up and down the pink neon streets.Most dramatic of all, however is Hong Kong where the entire skyscraper cluster is animated for 15 minutes as part of the worlds largest light show.Vegas and Times square deserve double mentions as they are more famous for iconic signage which has since been demolished or taken down. We have included footage of both past and present.Although the classic welcome to Vegas sign by Betty Willis has been preserved, many of the famous signs lie in the Vegas neon boneyard and we have included a movie made by urban spelunkers who broke into the yard to explore it.

The 10 most important examples of neon signage

A tank has an iconic shape and when it deviates from that it looks strange, despite the fact that many of these alternative forms are equally viable. They include designs that are based on steam tractors, tricycles and cannon and ones where ordinary tanks are adapted for different tasks such as mine clearing. In the latter case, the Progvev T is particularly weird, where the gun has been replaced by a reverse mounted Mig fighter jet engine, in order to clear mines by blasting them with an afterburn.

12 strange tanks and armored vehicles

The fetish aspect of external, insect-like skeletons has made them a staple of science fiction. However, the utility is real, from the incredible Japanese Enryu rescue exoskeleton, which looks like a loader from the Aliens movie, to brain controlled limb enhancers for the para or quadraplegic.


In the movies, spook equipment equals high tech and futuristic, but the reality of the external product design design is often anything but. Product design will eventually no longer be an issue. This is one of those lists where as technology improves the items become less interesting, to the point where they disappear, as encryption technology becomes software only, as with the NSAs secure version of Google's Android OS. Nonetheless standard secure phones are still provided to government officials, by the NSA, the latest model being introduced in 2008 and with hardware that looks distinctly antiquated compared with consumer technology such as an iPhone. The odd one out in this list is the US/Soviet hotline, which is arguably as much a reaction against the time it took to decode secure messages, being introduced after the delays in doing so during the Cuban missile crisis.

9 secure phones

Alain Robert, known as Spiderman, climbs the tallest buildings in the world, without ropes. Last summer he famously scaled Frank Genry's new tower for the New York Times, in Midtown Manhattan. Here is a list of video footage of him climbing a dozen different structures.

12 videos of spiderman climbing real skyscrapers

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

From 3 megawatt offshore monsters to zero energy windmill skyscrapers, kite flown turbines and giant seabed anchored super-turbines, held aloft by blimps. Here is our list of the most futuristic and quixotic designs for wind turbines. By far the most beautiful way to harness energy.

16 beautiful wind turbines

This is a bit of an obscure list, we admit, however there is something very impressive about the sheer size of ships which can only be appreciated when they are out of water. The ships themselves are often in unusual objects which are equally impressive, such as dry docks or floating docks or ship carriers.

ships out of water

Mechanical calculators are the genealogical ancestors of today's computers. They also occupy a special place in the cultural history of gadgets, since they form the essential component of the mythical Steampunk alternative reality.Even if these clockwork beasts were steam driven, however, their electro-magnetic counterparts would inevitably have eventually replaced them. Vote on your favorites.

17 mechanical marvel calculators

Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich donated money for a giant tunneling machine to build a tunnel between Russia and Sarah Palin's house, when he was governor of the adjacent region to Alaska. The Wikipedia entry for Tunneling Machines and the entry for Civil Engineers in the UK Yellow Pages have something in common, they both read: 'see boring'. Doubly ironic, since boring is one of the most interesting projects for civil engineers, and the machines used to do the job are spectacular. The set here includes a variety of shield tunnel boring machines, TBMs, including those for celebrated projects such as Yucca mountain or the Channel Tunnel. Perhaps the most ironic of all is the Air Force TBM, a machine for digging deep underground, owned by the people who defend the skies.

20 interesting boring machines

Papercraft, knitting, gardening and weapons.

craftsy weapons

One of Silicon Valleys most famous landmarks, and possibly its only truly monumental one is under threat of demolition. The giant airship Hangar One at NASAs Moffett Field, is one of Americas architectural treasures.Airship hangars were collectively the largest spaces ever built, larger than cathedrals and just as awe inspiring. Vote for your favorite.

12 giant airship hangars

These are possibly the most impressive gadgets on earth, beautifully complicated, polished stainless steel instruments that employ electron, x-ray, and ion probes, often in combination with depth profiling techniques, for surface analysis. They are the instruments featured on the covers of science lab and university brochures and are exactly what I want for my birthday. Vote for your faves.

12 ultra complex surface analysis systems

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Category: 'robotics and cyborg'

Robots often look insect like, largely because of their jerky movements and exo-skeletal look, both of which are a result of them often being works in progress at the individual and overall state of the art. Making them climb walls and hang effortlessly off a ceiling just adds them looking particularly bug like.There are a variety of movements and gripping mechanisms, from electromagnetic to air suction, however our favorite is the friction based tree climber.

The fetish aspect of external, insect-like skeletons has made them a staple of science fiction. However, the utility is real, from the incredible Japanese Enryu rescue exoskeleton, which looks like a loader from the Aliens movie, to brain controlled limb enhancers for the para or quadraplegic.

Fingerprint scanners are a dime a dozen these days. But how about devices which can literally grant access by the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you type or write, bite or grip. Here is a chart of state of the art biometric applications, including futuristic devices like portable Game Boys which are ominously called HIIDE (handheld interagency identity detection).