Recent lists... view all »
oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
This year is special, in theory it is the first year since 1982 that keytars have not been mass produced as musical instruments, and that would have been something to celebrate if Guitar Hero and Rock Band hadn't brought them back, with a vengeance in the form of game guitars.This list is a warning reminder of what people really look like when they play Rock Band. It features keytars from their earnest debut to parody, to some kind of post-post-modern resolution with self aware but not-really-joking keytarists like Ben Folds.After the Moog Liberation was introduced in 1980, a variety of performers from Thomas Dolby to Jan Hammer made keytars a staple of 80s music, with Devo being the first to seize the ironic potential. Later weird Croation keytarist Belinda Benekovic became an internet meme and more recently Flight of the Conchords took a jab at a Roland Axis player.Her are some videos of keytars in action from classic 80s synths to circuit bent toys. Vote for your worst.

worst keytar (videos)

Toilet design says a lot about a culture. In the US public toilet cubicles typically have a quarter inch gap which allows people to see in, although a pissoir, which is a partially open air urinal is almost unknown. The reason for this irony is possibly prudery. The gaps are to prevent impropriety, but the enclosed toilets are because of a general American shyness about toilet matters. A small gap allows monitoring a large one encourages voyeurism. Political correctness due to the fact that pissoirs can normally only be used by men is undoubtedly also part of the reason, although recently funnel based womens pissoirs have been developed.Pissoirs first became widespread in France but exist throughout the world, from Scandinavia to Australia. They fell out of fashion in the late 20th century, but have seen something of a revival, with ultra modern versions being built in places like Berlin. Britain, which shares anglo-saxon prudishness with America has recently relaxed its taboo against open air urinals, due to the problem of binge drinking and subsequent al fresco urination. In the south of England, cylindrical pissoirs which are hidden during the day, telescope out of the ground at night, for the relief of marauding drunken hordes.

pissoir designs

Top500.org have just released their updated list of the worlds most powerful supercomputers. In June all of the top 5 were in the US, now only 2 are, with India, Sweden and Germany appearing.Here's an interesting thing, you can make it into this list for less than the cost of a family house in Manhattan.The fact that a Swedish Military computer is at number 5 indicates that either the Swedish military require the world's most powerful computers, or they are just unusually unsecretive, and that there are many machines we don't know about.Here are the top 15, with pictures of the actual machines, where they have been built. Although the IBM Blue Gene has a simple and striking case, only the Barcelona Computer Center and Leibniz Rechenzentrum are contained in rooms that are at all impressive. Vote for which ones you think are worthy of note.

15 top supercomputers

The blackboard is a somewhat legacy item that has disappeared from classrooms and meeting rooms, to be replaced by screens and whiteboards, except that is for physicists and Hollywood movies. Walking around CERN and peeking into rooms many still have blackboards covered in equations.In celebration of the Higgs, here are 15 physicists in front of their blackboards. The apotheosis of ‘blackboard craft' is possibly John Wheeler who used to pre-prepare very elaborate boards filled with colored diagrams. In the list I've tried to pick those which have some relevance to the development of the standard model: Feynman; Gell-Mann; Glashow or the eventual discovery of the Higgs, such as Higgs himself or important CERN luminaries such as my personal hero, John Bell, author of what has been called the most profound theory in physics: that if quantum theory is correct, then either things communicate instantly at a distance, or they don't exist when they aren't being looked at or both. Brownie points if you can say what the equations on the blackboards are, in the comments

15 physicists in front of their blackboards

Several star architects such as Herzog and de Meuron and Rem Koolhaas have produced building designs that have jutting out and cantilevered components that give the overall impression of a giant game of Jenga. The New Museum on the Bowery in New York, is the latest addition to this genre of minimalist deconstruction. But the most interesting Jenga building is an obscure, former Soviet ministry in Georgia, which is quite mad.

12 real life jenga buildings

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.

exoskeletons

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)

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

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

The original yellow submarine may have been aqualung inventor Jacques Cousteaus. Since The Beatles song, all manner of weird and wonderful, quixotic submarines have to be bright yellow, from home made subs, floating human powered septic tanks and deep sea exploration vehicles. Vote for your faves.

Lots of Yellow Submarines

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

a visual history of video recorders

Both the second world war and cold war produced particular styles and uses of bomb shelters that were unusual, from Swiss suburban houses with mandatory blast shelters and several years of food to the use of London’s tube stations as shelters during the second world war. Here are a few examples of vintage shelters, each with a hint of retro irony or bygone strangeness.

9 retro bomb shelters

Pininfarina made their name as stylists of classic Ferraris. They continued their distinctive design tradition through other exotic sports car brands to ordinary sedans and, since the 80's, household product deign. Some of the latter products are hit-or-miss, but at their best there is no other company quite like them.Andrea Pininfarina, the grandson of Battista ‘Pinin' Farina, the auto design company's founder, and the current CEO was killed today. Trajically and ironically he was hit by a car while driving a Vespa scooter.

classic pininfarina designs

The fact that if a nuke is used to extinguish the Deepwater Horizon leak, it will be the 6th time this has been done speaks volumes of how extreme the technological requirements of our fossil fuel dependence.Oil and gas require a gargantuan infrastructure of superlative technology that permeates every level from extraction to dispatch, from hellish looking oil drill bits, drilling rigs that are the size of cities, storage tanks the size of cathedrals and pipelines that rival the Great Wall of China.The extreme environments that this technology operates in require unsinkable boats, skyscraper sized structures in some of the world’s least inhabited places and firefighting tools that include large bombs and fighter jet engines.Pause for a moment and reflect on just how unusual these objects are.

the extreme hardware of oil and gas

Included here are notable landings based upon being spectacularly close to high rises (the old Hong Kong airport), very short runways (Saba, aircraft carriers), specific vehicles (the Space Shuttle and Concorde) or a reconstruction of the Amazing US Airways flight 1549 which ditched safely in the Hudson after all engines failed.

videos of plane landings from the cockpit

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)

When you see something familiar that looks unfamiliar it creates an impression. Armor is so iconic that everyone has an image of what it looks like, from Roman to Samurai. Here are some examples that are a little bit different. Vote for your faves.

extraordinary armor

Seven US Presidents may have been born in a log cabin, but only one is shown here. Alongside are some of the more unusual ones, few were born in cities or apartments and few grew up in grand houses. Click through to reveal who was born where.Nothing symbolizes the concept of the rags to riches American dream more than Lincoln's enshrined log cabin.

12 US Presidential birthplaces

Billions of dollars are spent on car design and manufacture, and yet few vehicles match the beauty of some of those built for land speed record attempts, sometimes by a handful of people in a garage.Here are our picks purely based on looks rather than actual speed. Seeing them on one page is extremely satisfying.

most beautiful land speed record vehicles

The launching of a ship after smashing a bottle of champagne against its bow is an iconic ritual. It is also one of the few things in life which is still impressive despite being relatively slow. Shown here are videos which are interesting because of the ships fame, sheer size or quirkiness of the launch, including those where huge waves drench onlookers. Our favorite is the time lapse submarine launch in a floating dock.

12 videos of ships being launched

Proving that expressions like point and shoot are not just mere metaphor. Here are some examples in the history of camera design that have lead for one reason or another to items which look exactly like guns, from early experimental cameras to sniper style Paparazzi kit to toys.

14 cameras that look just like guns

What makes clay models so special, is that they are the one-off original designs. In theory they are the priceless, original works of art and the production cars are the prints.The traditional process of manually refining the design of a car using clay over foam formwork, is still used even today, when CAD has replaced most drafting. Clay designs are often produced directly from computer milling and usually tweaks are fed back into the CAD design

12 clay car mockups

Science Fiction Movies and famous architecture have a particularly strong tradition, however the link is not always flattering. Since much science fiction deals with a dystopic vision of the future, architecture is often seen as part of the environmental cause, from Philadelphias abandoned, alienating, solitary confinement based, Quaker prison in 12 Monkeys to the architectural brutalism of Brunel University in the literally brutal Clockwork Orange.In the Truman show, the blandness and superficiality of Seaside in Florida makes a real location feel like a set, and the accidental neo-classical fascist style Ronald Reagan building in Washington is a perfect authoritarian backdrop for Minority Report.

15 scifi movies 15 famous architectural locations

oobject header image

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.