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If Apple is all about the product which then sells itself, then Ron Popeil’s Ronco was the exact reverse. Popeil took the kinds of things that work well with a hard sell: knives, peelers, dubious hair loss products that looked like spray paint, created a new twist rather than an invention per se and made them from cheap materials. These were then the subject of the archetypal infomercial, progenitor of the term O-matic and popularizer of the phrase ‘as seen on TV’.Popeil represents the quintessential salesman and as a result is seen with affection rather than derision, an iconic part of American popular culture and capitalism. Her are 9 videos of Popeil products.

9 ronco gadgets

Climbing walls are both functionally and aesthetically fascinating. They often have beautiful abstract shapes reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters Merzbau or are just plain intricate and impressive.Included in our collection here are interactive musical climbing walls, enormous artificial ice towers, surreal climbing forms and a huge climbing wall inside a disused Texan grain silo. Vote for your faves.

Great Climbing Walls

One of the negative things about technological progress is when something that was originally intricate and mechanical becomes a ubiquitous piece of cheap technology. This happened in the 70s with watches and more recently has happened with cameras.A modern day spy camera is not that interesting, but the miniature ones here are, similarly the wide range of hardware solutions create much more design diversity in early cameras, from the giant 900lb box camera to the bizarre miniature ones developed for carrier pigeons, from gun like trigger activated shutters to a propeller powered film advance mechanism for a camera mounted below an early aircraft.

12 unusual cameras

Halloweenerdy is a term often used to refer to costumes favored by geeks. These costumes appear at events such as Sci-Fi conventions, Burning man and, of course, Halloween. Halloween is like Burning Man but without the corrosive dust, a perfect excuse to spend three and a half thousand hours building a hollywood quality prop and to gawk at co-workers in marketing, wearing bondage gear.Here are our all time favorite costumes. Vote for yours.

17 best halloweenerd costumes

Atomic clocks are accurate to within one second since the period in time when humans and apes diverged. These clocks are literally what makes modern civilization tick, but few people ever see one. Their accuracy is necessary to overcome potential errors caused by relativistic effects in GPS satellites, for example. Here is a gallery of some of the more interesting atomic clocks. Vote for your faves.

12 amazing atomic clocks

Although there are many ironic underwater technologies that got there by accident, such as planes and trains or by design, underwater escape training helicopters, there are also mail boxes, telephone systems, cars, motorcycles, kayaks (yes underwater kayaks) and air conditioning units that are there just to mess with us. Here are the most surreal we could find, vote for your faves.

surreal underwater technology

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)

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.

9 non submarine periscopes

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

Manikins (the alternate spelling, mannequin, is usually used for the store window variety) which are used for medical training are extremely interesting devices with accurate and working anatomical elements. This list is larger than usual since the number of interesting items meant that we kept on looking.

medical manikins

Considering what guns are actually designed to do, its pretty amazing how many other products and gadgets are designed to look like them. Here are a few of our faves. Vote for yours.

13 gun shaped non guns

To mark the 800th anniversary of the famous London Bridge, the Royal Institute of British Architects has launched a competition for designs of an inhabited bridge.The current London Bridge is not the Victorian Gothic Tower Bridge, as many people believe, but a rather bland stone one. Its predecessor was also uninteresting and was bought by mistake and put in the Arizona desert. But the original London Bridge was a cultural icon, a bridge covered in buildings.Inspired by the competition we have put together a list of the most interesting inhabited bridges, from surreal single house bridge designs to Zaha Hadids sleek Zaragoza Expo bridge .

12 inhabited bridges

The Highline is fashionable in every sense. A park inspired by one in Paris, a combination of Euro chic, treehugging sanctity and hipster industrial grunge.But it sits above ground, shovels people off the streets via stairs which cyclists can't use and leads from nowhere to nowhere. In addition, little money ha been spend on the dark spaces underneath, which could easily negate any benefit provided above.The designers involved are great and there are nice touches, but could it have been better just to have torn it down and created something at street level. Such talk is heresy, but here are 9 reasons why we are disbelievers.

9 reasons why the highline sucks

Although the Omega Speedmaster is the most famous space watch, being worn on all moon missions, it is one of 7 watches which are NASA certified, including a range of far less glamorous Casio G-Shocks. Ironically, the watch which has possibly been in space most is one that costs a fraction of the price of a Speedmaster and is more associated with computer geeks - the Timex Datalink.Rules as to what watches could be worn by Russian Cosmonauts were more relaxed, however, Poljot military watches were often worn. The Chinese have chosen the Fiyta Chronograph for their manned space missions.

watches worn in space

The same week that former underdog, Apple became larger than Microsoft, the company that it infamously portrayed as Orwellian in commercials for the launch of the Macintosh, Jon Stewart suggested that it behaved like Big Brother towards Gizmodo, with police searches and assorted high drama. All over a leaked iPhone prototype.This roundup of a dozen examples shows that gadget leaks are commonplace, except for Apple (although even the iPhone prototype that is causing such brouhaha appears to have been leaked in Shenzhen). This secrecy is partly understandable as few companies innovate in terms of design the way Apple does. Most of the example below are either highly derivative of Apple designs (Dell tablet, Motorola Tao etc.) or non-groundbreaking (Lenovo T400s, Blavkberry Pearl 9110).Perhaps Apple should take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book, going forward. Instead of trying to keep things secret, Microsoft are rumored to have a strategy of creating multiple fake decoys, leaving it impossible to know whether a leak is the final version.

12 examples of leaked gadgets

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

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

There were justifiable fears of being buried alive, before modern medicine could safely identify the difference between certain types of paralysis or coma and being dead. Fears which were exacerbated by fiction such as The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe. As a result a bizarre range of contraptions were invented to signal having been buried alive, from bells, whistles and even a spring loaded ejector coffin which might actually kill other people from the shock of seeing an interred body spring out of the ground in a cemetery.Added to this were ranges of hermetically sealed iron coffins and a device to prevent grave robbing consisting of a booby-trap subterranean torpedo.For more of these, check out: http://deathreferencedesk.org/2010/02/02/premature-burial-device-patents/

12 Safety Coffins

Most buildings are built to provide shelter from the natural environment for the maximum period of time. Rocket launch pads are designed to weather the extremely unnatural conditions of exploding kerosene fireballs for a short period of time, which makes them extraordinar.Here are ten that we found worthy of note. The list includes historical ones, such as the moon landing Apollo 11 or its predecessor, Wernher Von Braun’s Nazi V2 on a pad in America rather than Germany to the stunning architecture of the gantries of the twin shuttle pads 39a and 39b at Kennedy Space Center or the desolate surroundings of the Russian Buran Shuttle launch pad, and its surprisingly different design, considering the similarity of the vehicle.

10 rocket launch pads

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Category: 'vintage gadgets'

Despite the uninteresting name, these rectifiers are one of the most beautiful gadgets ever made. As a result they are often seen if films and are quintessential elements of mad scientist labs, yet few people could name them or know what they were used for. Invented at the beginning of the 20th Century, Mercury Arc Rectifiers were like spectacularly large versions of the Tubes in pre-transistor era electronics. They were used to convert electricity from alternating to direct current.

The earliest remotes were neither wireless or used to control TVs. Since the 30s devices were available to control radios, Philcos 1939 wood and Bakelite model was actually wireless and predates any TV remote. TV remotes started with gadgets such as the Zenith Lazy Bones and it was Zenith who introduced the first cable free TV remote, with the Flash-matic.

This may seem like an overly esoteric oobject, but there is something interesting about the shape of a hairdryer - an item designed largely as a female beauty product that is often shaped like a gun or looks like sticking your head in a jet engine. One of these is actually shaped like a gun. The most interesting ones I could find were the machine age chrome ones or some of the more bizarre soft bonnet versions.

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.

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.

Like fossils for creationists, these medical dinosaurs are concrete evidence of the tragic fallacy of anti-vaccinationism. During the 1940s and 50s entire hospital wards were filled with these terrifying looking submarine-like devices, to help polio victims whose paralysis rendered them unable to breath.Although modern day respirators tend to work with positive rather than negative pressure, polio itself has been almost entirely eradicated due to the successful widespread use of vaccines, saving countless lives.

Being slightly anally retentive about this list, I’ve limited it to pictures of the actual typewriters that were used by 9 famous writers, not just examples of the same model. Included are James Bond creator Ian Flemming’s gold plated portable that would have been worthy of Goldfinger himself, and the typewriter used by Apple Mac user, Douglas Adams, to write the Hitchhikers Guide, before there were such things as Apple Macs.

Heart rate monitors connected to an ink plotted graph are a staple of movies and TV and they usually come in beautiful portable versions by companies such as Lafayette Systems, making them a classic spy suitcase gadget.Polygraph lie detectors are widely believed to be useless quackery, no more effective than a Scientology Dianetics machine, but they are commonly used by law enforcement and government agencies, usually in the US and are an anachronistic cultural legacy of the cold war.Today, the classic analog polygraph is being replaced by much less interesting computer versions.

Aside from the fact that vintage massage devices look less like smooth sensual objects than giant, terrifying dental machinery they are possibly the worlds best source of laugh-out-loud, euphemistic advertising copy.Here are a range of our favorite Frankenstein devices with some classic product names, such as the Handy Hannah Vitalator; Niagara Cycloid-Action Cyclo-Massage; Stim-U-Lax Junior; Bonger Body Massager, Magic Fingers Motel Bed Massager or our personal favorite the Chic [sic] Glorifier.

These days, with chip based cellular devices and cameras, thing like spy radios and cameras are often toys, since the miniaturization of what used to be the realm of clandestine devices can now be made for a few bucks. As a result, modern spy radios are not that interesting, however these vintage versions from WWII right up to the Gulf War are.

Its strange to think that the now obsolete VCR or VTR has a half century history, from the giant Ampex and RCA machines used in TV stations to the multiple, competing format, consumer cassette players that culminated in the dominant VHS standard.Today you can by a DVD player for the same price as a DVD itself, due to the small number of moving parts and emerging market labor. However, VCRs were always relatively expensive because of their complex mechanisms, latterly involving gimballed rotating heads.In terms of design, aside from the robust utilitarian looking professional models, VCRs were ugly devices from the outside, but complex marvels inside.There are several great sites dealing with VTR history, including the excellent: http://www.totalrewind.org

The Zapruder film of the JFK assassination was shot on a Bell and Howell double 8 camera, at about the time of the introduction of Super 8, which created a ubiquitous format for affordable home movies. The difference in design between the Super 8 cameras and other 8mm cameras from as early as the 30s is clearly visible in this collection. The look changed from rounded shapes dictated by the film canister on early news reel devices, to a counter fashion for extremely orthogonal forms as exemplified here by the Star Trek like designs of the superb Bolex 150 from 1967.

Why would you buy a horrible plastic fan this summer, when Ebay is full of better alternatives at reasonable prices? Vintage fans are a perfect piece of machine age Americana with streamlined Moderne or Art Deco styling. Here are some of our favorite picks, available on Ebay at the time of writing.

Magic Lanterns are essentially pre-electric slide projectors. They hold a unique position in the history of gadgets, being popular at the end of the nineteenth century when cheap mass produced decoration became available. They represent one of the last machines to be designed like furniture rather than gadgets.The dirty little secret of design is that good taste equals expensive - when everybody could afford decoration, minimalist design with expensive materials became a way to display wealth (the early modernist, Barcelona pavilion had stainless steel columns, onyx walls and travertine floors) contrary to legend, modernism was originally product for the elite, not the masses.Magic Lanterns are pre-modernist, richly decorated items that are very different from the design of todays gadgets, which look like their design is dictated by function, but in reality (like an expensive Porsche designed to travel at speeds which it is illegal to do so) is dictated by a fetishized culture of the machine.

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.

Here is a roundup of collectible boomboxes, currently being auctioned on ebay. The mannerist nature of 80s ghetto blasters could not be more different from today's minimalist trends in consumer audio gear, lead by Sony and Apple. Because of this, these devices now look obviously obsolete and different and are starting to become collectors items. Ugly, but interesting, and representative of their time, some are perfect examples of pointless feature driven design, something which still plagues software.

As flat screen TVs become ubiquitous, vintage TVs look more and more interesting and unusual. From early mechanical TVs consisting of a spinning disk and lens (which look even better without an enclosure), to Sony's original transistor TV and portable LCD sets from as early as the 80s. Here are some of our favorites from collector sites around the web.

Before electricity, lighthouses relied on lamps that would almost be considered mood lighting by today's standards. Mechanisms were clockwork and had to be wound as often as every two hours. In the 19th century, Fresnel designed a lens that could focus this light into parallel rays and project it horizontally, dramatically improving lighthouses. By the end of the century, all lighthouses had Fresnel lenses classified into orders, with first order being the largest and most impressive.These days lighthouses use less elaborate lamps such as the beacons found at airfields, or even powerful, but unremarkable to look at, LEDs. Here is a list of some of the most beautiful and important lights ever made, including some 1st order beauties that stand 20 feet tall, and were floated on a mercury bed. There are no descriptions of each item, for this chart, as the images speak for themselves, however, the sites linked to have information about the lighthouses where they came from.