Recent lists... view all »
oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
n honor of the Frankfurt Motor Show, record oil prices and the end of Burning Man - we're doing a non car list as a green alternative.Here are the strangest bikes we could find, propelled sideways, backwards, in reverse or by climbing up a ladder. Vote on your faves.

16 crazy bicycles

Ray guns originated in the US in the 30s, from shows like Buck Rogers. What makes them a particularly interesting object is that despite, for all practical purposes, having never existed, there is an almost endless variety of designs for toy ray guns, from around the world.Here are some of the best we could find. Most are for sale, and are posted without description, since the images speak for themselves.

23 stunning ray guns

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

A three year challenge to recreate the equipment used by Mallory and Irvine in their ill fated attempt to climb Everest in the 1920s revealed that they were adequately clothed, wearing an unbelievable number of layers, as shown in this list. Today, the number of layers has changed as have nearly all the materials used for Everest kit, with high tech, breathable yet waterproof fabrics and lightweight alloys. The extreme requirements of Everest are a good way to demonstrate technology and design innovation through history.

equipment to conquer everest through history

Bat houses are like slimline bird houses on stilts. It seems that bats will slither into folder sized slots, and a phone box sized house will carry tens of thousands of bats. Something to think of, if you want to annoy your neighbors. Along with the houses are some artificial bat caves, built by bat men and bat women, such as the Dorset Bat Group.

16 bat houses and bat caves

Scoping this list was more difficult than finding the items - I've tried to keep to electronic devices, the first transistor radio rather than the First radio, and products that were actually sold such as the Dycam Model 1 digital camera rather than the Fuji DS-1P.My favorite here is the first web server, it was one of 2 NeXT machines bought for Tim Berners Lee and nobody knows which one (they both survive) was the first to serve a web page. The NeXT was a beautifully designed machine that Steve Jobs built to show what a personal computer should be, after being ousted from Apple. Berners Lee specifically needed a NeXT to be able to build the web and had difficulty getting approval.You could argue the first web server is merely the machine that happened to perform a first role, rather than a device designed for a purpose, but the fact that Berners Lee needed the NeXT to be able to develop the web quickly and elegantly, shows that sometimes the development of the first example of something predates it actually being used for the pioneering purpose for which it is suited.

12 earliest models of gadgets

In the mid 50s an small Japanese electronics company, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, created an American sounding brand name, Sony, for a series of portable all-transistor radios. The product design was similarly American influenced, with wide spaced serif lettering, like that used on Amtrak trains or even Raymond Loewy's original Air Force One, but with a flair and attention to detail that was distinctively Japanese. Half a century later, Sony, is still a consumer brand which is associated with superior design. Here are 12 of our all time favorite classic Sony Designs.

12 classic sony designs

The styles here represent the prosperity of the post war years when the cold war space race influenced the concept of modernity. GM and Ford created a range of space age aircraft design inspired prototypes .The Corvette Sting Ray, is perhaps the culmination of this period, with Corvette stylist, Bill Mitchell's XP-87 forming the basis of the classic Sting Ray, one of the few cars in history to go into production without losing something of the impact of the prototype.

the golden age of american concept cars

A perfect environmental nightmare, these hellish looking open faced mining machines have been largely decommissioned. Luckily some are being preserved as they are staggeringly impressive. The Ferropolis in Germany has many of these machines on display and forms an industrial park which host the famous MELT music festival. There have been several images of these floating around blogs, including the infamous pictures of the bucket wheel excavator that swallowed a full sized bulldozer, however we have tried to find as large a variety as possible.

16 giant bucket excavators

What do you do when you have lots of cash and cheap oil, but mess around in expensive cars in a manner not much different from America in the 50s. Arab drifting is the name given to handbrake slides, perfected in places like Saudi, where Arabian Stallions have been replaced by metal Mustangs. Here it refers not just to the videos of the stunts which are interesting in of themselves, but the cultural drift, as exemplified by the range of music that accompanies the videos, from rock to rap to house. This list is contains not just Arab Drifts but clips of car culture n the Arabian peninsula, proving Youtube's worth as an anthropological treasure trove.

arab drifts (videos)

If there was one cassette deck to own, it was a Nakamichi. With the release of the model 1000 (its number reflected its high price) in the early 70s, reel-to-reel tape recorders were rendered all but obsolete, for consumers. With the release of the 700 Nakamichi created a functional and design classic.Because cassette tapes are in the gap between vintage retro and mere obsolescence, Nakamichis can be picked up for a reasonable price on Ebay.

8 Classic Nakamichi Cassette Decks

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

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)

To celebrate I am Legend, here is a chart of our favorite abandoned technology. Disused military equipment, famous aircraft bone yards, derelict lighthouses, fun fairs subway systems and railway locomotives.

17 abandoned technology sites

Switzerland may not have been the place where the symbolically mundane cuckoo clock was invented (it was actually Germany), but it was where Hofmann invented LSD. And although the CERN lab is mainly in Switzerland, where the plaque commemorating the web’s invention sits, the room where Tim Berners Lee wrote the proposal for the web is literally a few feet across the border into neighboring France. Here are some some labs where famous inventors worked.

inventors laboratories

This is the real business end of $100 oil. An object that allowed Howard Hughes to become the richest man in the world by inheriting the patent. They are the world's most highly engineered pieces of metal. Steel, tungsten carbide or increasingly Polycrystalline Diamond Compact (PDC) toothed drill bits that, in their tri-cone, rotating head form, look like the monster spice eating Sandworms from Dune. Vote for your faves.

13 ferocious oil drill bits

Perhaps not just a video game cliche but a movie, TV series and theme park one too. Ever since WWII’s pacific theater included remote jungle areas in the tropics, the image of a crashed plane, rotting in the jungle, covered in vines and terrifying critters has become an archetypal image of remoteness and abandonment.Anyway – we’ve dug out a list of real life planes hidden in jungles, including one fake one for good measure.

real life video game scenes planes in the jungle

You too can ruin your kids childhood, by making their happy smiley toys sound like Stephen Hawking or a bad Radiohead cover. Fitter Happier Stronger.Circuit bent Furbys are currently all the rage, however, all manner of kids toys have been circuit bent and modified, from classic Texas speak and spell machines, to a device called feces farm. Vote for your faves.

top circuit bent kids toys (videos)

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

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

Around the same time Roy Lichtenstein copied comic books for the New York chattering classes, Papua New Guinean tribesmen did the same for their battle shields. These items are real, used in tribal warfare after prototypical lycra-clad American comic book hero The Phantom somehow struck a chord with traditional cultures in the Western Highlands. They are possibly one of the most bizarre items of popular culture’s infiltration of the far corners of the world.

15 Papua New Guinean superhero war shields

oobject header image

Category: 'tools and instruments'

Long before periscopes became uniquely associated with submarines, they were widely used to peer over the trenches in WW1. Here are other uses from on board jet aircraft to golf courses, bank vaults and even to look underwater from dry land - the inverse of what we associate periscopes with.

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.

Last week we did a roundup of quirky and interesting toolboxes. In the process of searching for these we came across a variety of beautifully designed ones. Why toolboxes? Because there is a history of superior design surrounding tools, because of their inherently ergonomic and utilitarian nature and this extends to the boxes to put them in. Some of these units are kitchen cabinet-like, except that they are better made than any kitchen unit, and if I was designing a kitchen I would use high end tool containers.Here is a list of the best designed toolboxes money can buy.

Tool chests can provide perfect gadget porn - lots of beautifully crafted objects that fit intricately into a perfect container.Here are some of our favorites, including the stunning chest which resides in the Smithsonian and belonged to Organ and Piano maker, Henry O Studley at the other end of the scale is the garden variety, utilitarian tool box that saved the NASA Spacelab .

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.

Pocket sundials can be over 1000 years old, arguably making them the world's first watches - and with no moving parts to break. Typically they were carried by shepherds, where there are a variety of designs, from the French Pillar Sundial to the Tibetan Time Stick.

Neutrinos are extremely small and fast, so much so that to detect them you have to build really amazing experiments, such as the ones shown here. Japans Super-K is a 50,000 ton tank of water, half a mile underground, so clear that divers get vertigo. The latest South Pole neutrino telescopes, which point into the earths core rather than at the sky, have arrays of detectors which are much larger than the Empire State building and are frozen deep in the Antarctic ice core.

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.

Tube testers are machines to test the notoriously unreliable predecessor of the transistor - the vacuum tube, or valve. If you are a hi-fi nut with a tube amp you might actually even need one of these.What makes them special as vintage gadgets is that they have that particular density of retro buttons and switches that spells complicated and releases Serotonin in male humans.The link to the Catalog for the ‘Supreme' brand on Steven Johnson's site is particularly fine. Tube testers can be picked up on Ebay, fairly often, for reasonable prices.