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The earliest ejector seats were designed to save your life, but broke your back. Today the ultimate ejection seats are described as zero zero seats able to operate at zero altitude and zero airspeed. Ejection seats are interesting because they are the most extreme form of a commonplace design item - a chair.

12 ejector seats

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.

20 classic 8mm movie cameras

The hovercraft will be 50 years old next year. Like supersonic, interplanetary and deep sea travel, the demise of the world's largest hovercraft the SR-N4, joined Concorde, the Saturn V and the Trieste as examples of technological retreat.The SR-N4, which was operated by two companies, for many years, to transport people across the English Channel, could carry over 30 vehicles and 250 people. What made these hovercraft particularly unusual is that they represented an example of a design where the civilian versions were more extraordinary than those used by the military, which are still smaller, even today.

18 hovercraft designs

Almost everything there is to know about modernism is contained in a single room slice of a curtain wall tower dropped into the Illinois countryside. The Farnsworth house was a project designed and built by Mies van der Rohe 60 years ago, undeserving of its patron's name, who wrongfully sued and which still seems to win prizes and be declared as innovative when architects consciously or unconsciously copy it today. Here are a dozen examples to demonstrate it.

12 buildings inspired by the Farnsworth house

Watching robots get more and more sophisticated over half a century of commercials is fascinating. Trends evolve from the erector set inspired Mr Machine and terrifying Garloo to cute 70s robot buddies, through the Japanese dominated 80s and hip hop and rave culture inspired 90s.

toy robot commercials through history (videos)

Bunker architecture is often better by accident than the deliberate attempts to create an aesthetic based on massive elements, through brutalism. Paul Virilio famously published a book of some of the more extreme versions of the 12,000 bunkers that formed the Atlantic Wall in WWII and Albania has an incredible 700,000 bunkers in a population of 3M, created by its mad leader, Enver Hoxha. Perhaps the strangest of all are the concealed bunkers that litter the Swiss countryside either as fake chalets or as mountains that literally open up to reveal jet fighters.

The architecture of bunkers

The two cardboard box halloween outfit is a halloween icon. Why they are always funny, we're not sure, perhaps its the irony of the fact that they are cheap and low tech and without any organic curves. Here are some instruction of how to make your own: 1. Take 2 boxes. 2. Wear them.We not quite sure what to vote on here. Most iconic?

17 cardboard robot costumes

A bicycle makes for an excellent machine even when stationary, something that is shown nowhere better than in the home-brew design phenomenon of bicycles and knife sharpeners. This is a design typology that spans continents and traces back to 19th century pedal powered machines. Here are our favorite examples from around the world.

12 Knife Bikes

Skype is an idea that was conceived of by the Victorians, featured in movies in the 20s and became an icon for futurism, and yet the videophone has become ubiquitous independently of telecoms companies. How is it that an idea that could have been seen from such a long way off didn't get developed by phone companies, leading to the ridiculous situation where a phone call costs money but a Skype video phone call is free? Here's a visual history of early videophone concepts.

retro videophones

There is a strange beauty to slow motion videos of car crash test dummies and airbag deployment, but these don't compare to the similar, but far more extreme safety measure of a fighter jet ejection. Here are videos of various aspects of their deployment testing and training. Some of these are absolutely mesmerizing.

10 videos of ejection seat tests

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

Although making a 3d image is more dramatic than increasing its resolution, say, the technology is fairly primitive. Because of this, stereo cameras are something of an interesting retro curiosity. These days, custom made stereo cameras with twin lenses at eye separation are usually replaced by custom rigs for digital cameras, with appropriate software.

stereo cameras

Before rendering, 3d computer models are displayed as wireframes, which have a particular aesthetic. Several artists have tried to capture this in real life, with surreal models of things that aren't really there. I also threw in Gaudi's classic upside down catenary arch model of Sagrada Familia, for its sheer prowess.

9 real wireframe models

Ironically, airports are one of the few things you often don't get to see an aerial view of since you don't get a cockpit seat. Here are a dozen of our favorites, purely in terms of their abstract graphical layout. See if you can guess them.

guess the airport from the aerial view

Today, prosthetics are a world apart from these pre-digital age examples, using advanced robotic and cybernetic technologies and tools such as 3-d printers for mass customization. As such vintage prosthetics often have the particularly strange look which is both creepy and fascinating and accompanies technological obsolescence.Early prosthetic limbs date from ancient Egypt and Rome, however examples from the middle ages appear more regularly, being made of armor. The were later replaced by non articulated wooden prosthetics, of the caricature style normally worn by pirates. The tragically large number of amputees in the Napoleonic Wars led to the development of the 'Clapper', named after the sound made by its articulated toes which were controlled by artificial tendons. This prosthetic became the model for the 'American Leg' which was developed during the American Civil war. Wooden prosthetics were heavy and were not improved on till the development of lightweight alloys, during the first World War.

15 vintage prosthetic limbs

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

Bicycles are very efficient machines, more efficient than legs! Here are some of the more bizarre bicycle powered objects from a washing machine, to a bulldozer, a centrifuge at NASA and even a rollercoaster.

12 bizarre pedal powered things

The Olympics is to the World Cup as the Eurovision Song Contest is to Saturday Night at the Apollo. An event created by top down bureaucracy rather than grass roots passion. This is sometimes reflected in its architecture, which has a far worse track record in terms of long term use. Many Olympic sites fail to live up to their aims at sustainability or regeneration and instead lie in ruin or have since been demolished.After the recent scandal about the horrendous state of the recent Athens Olympics’ facilities we decided to look for more examples. Here is what we found. Some are the products of politics and war rather than over-ambitious folly, but it seems that about half of the Olympic sites are gone or wrecked.

12 examples of decayed Olympic sites

Ted Stevens was right, the Victorian Internet consisted, quite literally, of a ‘Network of Tubes'. Paris, London, Prague and Vienna had extensive networks of pneumatic tubes which delivered messages in capsules. In New York 5 million mail messages passed every day through an underground pneumatic system, and a network in Berlin delivered hot meals directly to people's homes suggesting that kitchens would no longer be needed in the future. Today these systems can still be purchased where they are used in places like hospitals where samples are passed between departments.

15 pneumatic message networks 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

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Historically, military rations, comprised, in significant part, of cigarettes and alcohol, while the quantity of food was far less than today. Current US army field rations are ready to eat and focus on high energy foods including caffeine-infused gum, they must cost less than $7.25 per meal, survive for 3 years at 27 degrees C and after a 100 foot drop.Civilian rations are often far less bountiful, such as WW2 food rations current Cuban rations or the tiny hunk of bread that Gulag prisoners were given. Vote for which items are most striking.

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.

A general store is often no more than a shack with a veranda, peeling paint and a flat gable sign. This humble piece of vernacular architecture is sometimes found in Canada and Australia, but at its heart it is American. The general store, nostalgically fictionalized as Ike Godsey's in the Waltons or Oleson's Mercantile in Little House on the Prairie is part of America's soul that has been eroded, in the real world, by strip malls and Walmarts. Here is a collection of just a few of our favorites. Drill through on the links to explore some of the great finds on sites like Flic

The condom may be the worlds oldest gadget, but it continues to evolve. The recent development of the snap-on Pronto condom in South Africa has saved countless lives, after it was found that easy to open packaging had a huge effect on usage by not destroying the moment. We have chosen a dozen different commercials from a dozen different countries, many of which show different cultural attitudes and fantastically oblique humor. Contrary to the headlines on YouTube and blogs, these commercials are not banned, however most could not be shown on national TV in the US, which has some of the world's strictest, self-imposed, censorship. The fact that they could be shown on cable suggests that this is not necessarily a cultural issue, but rather a result of a vocal, prudish minority. McCann Erickson's Million Sperm film, for example, is listed as banned but actually won several awards after being broadcast. Vote for your faves.

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.

f the industrial revolution was typified by Northern England's dark satanic mills, the Chinese manufacturing revolution consists of of more subtle kind of hell: antiseptic, shadowless, pastel colored assembly lines.The most striking thing we noticed when putting together this list was the uniformity of color, typically green floors with hospital blue appearing here and there, and highlights of yellow or pink, drowned in uniform fluorescent lighting that would make a drug store feel like a candle lit bistro.Some of these images are from the Toronto photographer, Ed Burtynsky's great photo essay about Chinese manufacturing, however others are from publicity shots for the factories themselves. The publicity photos unknowingly reproduce the same clinical blandness.

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.

To recreate the General Lee from the TV series the Dukes of Hazard, you need: 12 cans orange spray paint; one 1 sticker; one 1969 Dodge Charger. This is what you get if you just have the sticker and the paint. Vote for the worst.

All of these car commercials are from 1973, the last time the economy tanked because of oil. The embargo started late in 1973, at the point when family sedan's did less than 10mpg, were the size of a boat and often sloshed around on suspension that felt like you were at sea. While the Detroit manufacturers were pitching speed, horsepower or comfort, one relatively obscure Japanese import, was already selling based on fuel economy. Can you spot the odd one out?

In 2006 and 2007 a new method of smuggling emerged, surface skimming, semi-submersible, home-made submarines were captured from Thailand to Spain to Colombia. In 2008 the number spotted has already reached the 2007 count. These craft often had sophisticated electronics for evading capture. To get some idea of the logistical scale of these things, a 100ft long Russian designed submarine was captured in Colombia's capital, Bogota, 7,500 ft above sea level. The voting for this list is obviously irrelevant.

Some of the amazing projects recently built or currently under construction in China's rival cities. We have tried to pick links to the latest state of construction where possible. What is emerging is a distinct stylistic difference, Shanghai is about glitz while Beijing scores on architectural innovation, although this largely due to the Olympics and the role of Beijing as the capital.While the Arabian peninsula has overtaken the US in raw architectural point scoring (not one New York skyscraper will make the top ten tallest there within a couple of years), China is producing buildings on both a scale and quality that now far exceeds the US.

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.

No other chair extracts more money than the one you sit in to have teeth extracted. Dental chairs have become a testing ground for high tech wizardry and ergonomics, evolving from decorative Victorian models worthy of Dr. Frankenstein's lab., to space-age pods with insect-like composite limb attachments.

The legendary fleet of BBC spy vehicles. The BBC has a cosy reputation, but to people outside the UK the fact that TV owners have to pay a compulsory license fee to fund the BBC (even if they only watch other channels) seems absurd. Coupled with this, the BBC actively police whether people pay for their license and to do so they have a mythical fleet of hilariously creepy 'TV detector vans' that supposedly can spy on you and pinpoint exactly which room you might be watching a TV in. Whether they work, or whether they even exist or not, is open to question, these few images are the only ones we could find of them. Nevertheless, their very concept is an Orwellian nightmare.

The irony in these advertisements for guns is sometimes accidental and sometimes deliberate. What many demonstrate, however, is that Americans' relationship to the gun is completely different from almost any other nation in history.

Electric tattoo machines are based on a modified version of an engraving device invented by Edison, which had a 2 coil vibrating mechanism similar to an old fashioned electric doorbell. Samuel O'Reilly added a needle and ink reservoir to this to create a dedicated tattoo device in the 1890s.The particularly fascinating thing about these items is how their design has evolved towards the Victorian retro technology aesthetic that has now become fashionable elsewhere, however the beautiful machines designed by designers like Bernhard outclass many of the products design labeled Steampunk.The Bernhard machines are so magnificent, they warrant a list all of their own.

The most claustrophobic places in the world. Imagine sleeping in a space smaller that a jail cell, deep under water, with a very large live bomb. This is what the business ends of submarines look like. Brass or steel hatches, like the eyes of a metal insect, peer out on a tiny Jules Verne-like space covered in buttons, gauges and levers, which often contains bunks right next to the torpedos themselves. Torpedo rooms are one of the strangest man made spaces on earth, or rather below it.

The urbane Thomas Jefferson is alleged to have invented everything from the Folding Bed to Macaroni and Cheese, while his pragmatic gentleman scientist counterpart, Benjamin Franklin, is credited with the invention of a multitude of items from the Odometer to Swim Fins. None of these were actually pioneered by them, however Franklin did invent both Bifocal Glasses and the Lightning Conductor and it was Jefferson who ironically invented the geekiest device of all, the disk cipher. George Washington, on the other hand, lent his skills to farming and invented the splendidly bucolic 16 Sided Threshing Barn.

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.

The Wall of Death ride, where centrifugal (or counter-centripetal as physicists tell us we are supposed to say) force allows a motorbike rider to circle a vertical wall is an iconic daredevil attraction that has been preserved by a few dedicated enthusiasts. Traditionally a wooden cylinder provided the circuit for a classic Indian motorcycle, however vehicles such as cars and go carts have been used in tracks that are now often spherical cages.

Bank vaults comprise the most impressive fortresses ever built. Their giant mechanical doors are supreme gadgets, as large as a truck but built with the precision of a Swiss watch.Working vaults range from the New York Federal Reserve with 5000 tons of gold beneath Starbucks on the corner of Nassau St. to the giant doomsday project seed bank vault in the Arctic. Reconverted vaults are used for an amazing array of items such as underground farms, dry cleaned garment stores, wine cellars, radioactive material storage and restaurants. There are even bank vaults which have survived nuclear explosions in both Nevada and Hiroshima. Here is a collection of some of the most celebrated or unusual vaults in the world

To consider how lucky the Phoenix lander is, consider that a dozen Mars missions have failed on launch and a dozen (shown here) have failed after. Some say that Mars missions are cursed, by the reasons tend to be more mundane, such as the infamous Mars Climate orbiter failure which was due to a mistake using imperial rather than metric measures in software.

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