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If you thought the Bullet train was the fastest thing on rails, you would be wrong - more than 6000 miles per hour wrong. Rocket sled test tracks were originally designed for the V2 in WWII and can reach up to 6400 mph.They were made famous in the 50s when Lt. Col John Paul volunteered himself to test a 200mph track designed for crash test dummies, called the Gee Whiz. The test was intended to show the effects of deceleration in a plane crash, where it was assumed that nobody could survive more than 18G. Strapp survived an unbelievable 35G.More recently a rocket sled was featured in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.However, the lasting legacy of the Gee Whiz test is Murphy's Law, coined after a real engineer called Murphy who worked briefly at Edwards Air Force Base on the test track.

Rocket Sleds

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.

mercury arc rectifiers

This year saw the appearance of New Years style countdown clocks for the iPhone, Vista, Halo 3, the end of the world and the end of Bushs presidency next year. Strangely, with the man behind 24s famous countdown clock doing 48 days jail time, its amazing that nobody has whipped up a 48 countdown in the style of 24. Yet. Vote for your faves.

10 2007 countdown clocks

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

Attempts by architects to create utopian communities usually have one distinguishing feature - they are not utopian and they fail. As such, they make great settings for dystopic fiction, such as the slightly kitsch and creepy Portmeirion in the Kafkaesque Prisoner TV series or Seaside, Florida in the Truman show.Some uptopias have been built and failed, such as Soleri's semi-inhabited Arcosanti and some were only half realized, such as Disney's Progress City, which ended up being watered down as Epcot. But possibly the most insane of all is Le Corbusier's utopian vision for Paris which consisted of bulldozing the city of lights and replacing it with what resembles the worst projects in the South Bronx. It says a lot for the profession that the vision of arguably the world's most famous architect was to destroy what is arguably the world's most beautiful architecture.

9 utopian architectural projects

The distinction between early anatomy lecture theaters which dissected the dead and later operating theaters, which attempted to cure the living, is blurred. Both were used for teaching, in broad daylight where lecturers clothes became stiff with blood and the air thick with germs.With highly unusual steep raked galleries these were literally theaters, and the name has stuck. The earliest rooms were often heavily decorated such as the beautifully restored 16th Century wood paneled anatomy theater at the University of Bologna to the crudely utilitarian 19th century dedicated operating theater at St. Thomas', London.

10 unoperational operating theaters

There has probably been nothing like the sight of dazzle ships, before or since. So impressive were they that their patterns were used into WWII, after their efficacy was questionable, because they were thought to boost morale. Dazzle patterns were designed by modernist painters, in the modernist style, bringing about a very strange meeting of bohemian painters and military types.With no all weather camouflage for ships in WWI, these extraordinary designs were painted on ships to confuse rather than obscure. The sliced geometry meant that it was difficult to align split screen range finders, and fake bows made it difficult to gauge speed and heading.We are breaking our usual rule of showing actual objects rather than paintings or models, for two reasons: dazzle ships were very brightly colored, yet there are no color images of their WWI versions; many of the dazzle designs were by modern artists, and the famous painting of a dazzle ship was by one of the people who designed the camouflage itself, Edward Wadsworth.

dazzle ships

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Design elegance: How USB took over the world.

April 20th, 2009 link to (permalink)

Belkin released a trivial looking gadget today which demonstrates how USB has become the universal standard interface. It turns the car cigarette lighter, which in turn had morphed into a universal charging interface, into a USB one.


There are many features which made USB a successful standard but there are 2 which stand out and made it truly elegant:


1. software and drivers could be stored in peripherals themselves, and transferred, finally removing the headache of configuring external devices.


2. both data and power are carried across USB allowing things such as external drives to have one less cable and a lot less fuss.



6 Responses to “Design elegance: How USB took over the world.”

  1. Design elegance: How USB took over the world. | oobject - Daily … Says:

    […] Here is the original post:  Design elegance: How USB took over the world. | oobject – Daily … […]

  2. Ryan Says:

    Could do with a rethink, they are large and prone to damage and failure.

    But wooo! Go USBs.

  3. c-dub Says:

    From a formal point of view, the USB is a flawed design from the get-go. Having a connector with bilateral symmetry is daft: there’s no clear and obvious way to determine which way the connector should be oriented when plugging the device in. It’s Design 101: the orientation of any connector to its receiving socket should either be A) immediately intuitive, or B) immaterial. Considering the amount of creative thinking that went into the design of the USB, I can’t imagine how that was overlooked.

  4. admin Says:

    @c-dub. That’s a fair point, the symmetry is definitely poor from an ergonomics perspective.

  5. Ganderpoke Says:

    Guys, Gals, there is a suggested spec for USB plugs…. the USB logo goes on the Upper or outer side when its printed or embossed on a cable line plug. as for USB drives, the little thumb thingies, the side with the holes goes upwards and outwards. Or it SHOULD if the guys building the connectors followed the rules too. You can lead a horse to water but you cant make it wear a bathing suit.

  6. c-dub Says:

    Ganderpoke, you made my point for me. If you need a paragraph to explain how the parts mate, the design is inherently flawed.

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