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oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
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.

12 Magic Lanterns

The watches in this list range in price from the half a million dollar Guy Ellia invisible watch to a $40 Swatch by architect, Renzo Piano. While the Ellia watch is a technical tour de force Piano's is a much more satisfying design.Bespoke swiss watch makers use translucent sapphire to hold delicate moving parts, but cheap plastic and electronics can actually be a more practical, elegant, and less willful alternative.And given that the whole concept of a translucent watch is being non-visible, the inherent ostentation of a $500,000 wristwatch seems like a test case in ridiculous bad design. Vote for your faves.

10 transparent watches

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

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

Unlike the obvious candidates, such as the Flatiron or various svelte skyscrapers, these buildings aren't famous pieces of architecture, but accidental vernacular gems which seemingly defy gravity.

8 super skinny buildings

Manikins used for dental training are either deep into uncanny valley (creepy) territory if they try and look at all realistic, or just plain terrifying in their more abstract incarnations. A lot of this is just becuase (a) people are very good at interpreting faces and anything face-like seems possessed, (b) dental manikins have to bare their teeth so often have bizarre expressions. Anyhow, they are quite interesting, particularly the vintage metal ones which are a nastily grotty and beaten up.

12 dental training heads

The history of computers is not all digital, from the humble slide rule to hydraulic models of the economy there is a rich history of both electronic and mechanical analog computers. Here are some of our favorite examples. These computers have certain advantages over their symbolic counterparts. They measure continuous variables in parallel and therefore their accuracy is limited only by the granularity with which their results are read and their speed is not limited by sequential operations.

Amazing Analog Computers

As technology companies oozed slowly from San Jose to San Francisco, the architecture morphed from purely university campus, to a hybrid between this and a South of Market warehouse, complete with loft living accoutrements such as foosball tables. The new Facebook HQ is a perfect example of this, looking something like a Wholefoods, whereas Google looks more like the place full of plastic balls that you leave your kids when shopping at IKEA.

technology hq architecture

Architect of the Lego House built for Top Gear presenter James May, Barnaby Gunning, has sent us pictures of the construction progress so far. We'll post more as we get them.

pictures of the lego house construction progress

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.

12 countries 12 condom commercials (videos)

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

bank vaults

Really complicated, and really expensive swiss watches are called grand complications based upon strict criteria.These are often based upon the gravity compensating tourbillon mechanism that isn't strictly needed for a wristwatch but is insanely complicated so people build them to show off their skills as watchmakers.This is the kind of gadget that gazillionaires with enough taste to avoid diamond encrusted ones buy when they fly into Geneva. They look very James Bond - except that they cost ten times as much as his humble Rolex or Omega, often costing more than $100,000 each.

8 most complex watches

A Sky Hook is an impossible item that interns were traditionally sent out to buy , as a prank. These eight flying cranes, seven helicopters and one blimp, are as close to reality as sky hooks can get. The blimp proposal is actually named the Sky Hook.

8 Sky Hooks

Teasmades possibly represent the nadir of industrial design, combining Rube Goldberg, or more appropriately, Heath Robinsonesque unnecessary mechanic complexity with technological denialist styling and often capped off with horrid little lampshades.Appropriately enough, these diabolical devices were pioneered by a brand called Goblin, and were rendered obsolete after unfashionable UK Prime Minister, John Major’s wife Norma confessed to having one in Downing St. Sadly, someone is making them again.

9 diabolical teamaking contraptions

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

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

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

P.J. O’Rourke observed that when someone digs up Manhattan in 2000 years, they’ll wonder what kind of hideous torture the civilization inflicted on people there because of the amount of gym equipment. The same could be said of this stuff which, despite its bizarre appearance, is generally quite benign.Most interestingly, these devices were the work or Dr Kellog, now better known for his breakfast cereals which were part of his health regimen as medical head of the Battle Creek sanitarium.A big thank you to John EverBlest at Healthexhibits.com who provided me with these pictures from his wonderful collection.

15 Dr Kellog Contraptions

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.

10 Vintage Analog Lie Detectors

Complex dangerous machinery isn't the first choice for a home-brew project, unless you are rural farmer, apparently. Some of these look like remnants of a cargo cult, and most of them received stern warnings from the relevant civil aviation authorities to not even try firing them up, but a couple actually flew.

homemade helicopters

For the last decade, Apple have absolutely dominated gadget design, bringing modernism to the masses in a way that architects never did. Yves Behar, the Swiss born (but not Swiss) designer is the first person to really challenge Apple's hegemony, he designed the original Slingbox and Paypal's recent attempt to compete with Square, but is becoming well known because of the superior design of the Jawbone headset and Jambox wireless speaker. Here are our favorite Behar designs.

12 Yves Behar Designs

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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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