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Collectors are my favorite type of people, so when I started this list I missed the obvious by focusing on finding pictures of strange collections. It became clear that the most interesting images were where the collectors themselves were showing off what they collected. The items here range from what would be an unremarkable subject - stamps, were it not for the fact that the wold's top bond trader collects them to an army general's collection of tattooed, severed heads.

collectors with their collections

Mechanical calculators are the genealogical ancestors of today's computers. They also occupy a special place in the cultural history of gadgets, since they form the essential component of the mythical Steampunk alternative reality.Even if these clockwork beasts were steam driven, however, their electro-magnetic counterparts would inevitably have eventually replaced them. Vote on your favorites.

17 mechanical marvel calculators

As someone who fell the height of the Eiffel tower in a climbing accident, each one of these images makes my palms sweat, from Bettmans classic views of acrobats on the edges of newly built NY skyscrapers to Li Wei's elaborate illusions of people seemingly in mid air. One however, stands out from all the rest, the legendary stuntman Dar Robinson on the edge of the CN tower. Click through to see a video of the stunt.

12 images of hanging over the edge of skyscrapers

In the movies, spook equipment equals high tech and futuristic, but the reality of the external product design design is often anything but. Product design will eventually no longer be an issue. This is one of those lists where as technology improves the items become less interesting, to the point where they disappear, as encryption technology becomes software only, as with the NSAs secure version of Google's Android OS. Nonetheless standard secure phones are still provided to government officials, by the NSA, the latest model being introduced in 2008 and with hardware that looks distinctly antiquated compared with consumer technology such as an iPhone. The odd one out in this list is the US/Soviet hotline, which is arguably as much a reaction against the time it took to decode secure messages, being introduced after the delays in doing so during the Cuban missile crisis.

9 secure phones

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

Until very recently, people still used the same principal that Newton had proposed, to derive latitude from the angle of the sun or stars at known times. The sextant (or originally octant) allowed people to do this relative to the horizon, rather than the instrument itself.Later versions of the sextant included a very simple version for emergency use, called the Bris sextant (not a great name for a device to be used on a rolling ship) and until the advent of GPS systems, bubble sextants were used on aircraft.

16 sextants

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

This is a video roundup of currently available or prototyped 3D printers, a gadget which has been sitting on the sidelines for a while, but hasn't become mainstream yet. 3D printing machines are fairly simple in their operation, building any 3D shape, no matter how complex, as a series of contour slices which are hardened as a printer head slides back and forth across. But the results look like magic, real objects, in color, with moving parts, direct from a CAD model. The main reason that 3D printers, still remain a professional niche product, used by design firms rather than end consumers, is that their output is small and slow. In addition, more people know how to create text files for 2D printers than a CAD design, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. As a result of this small market, some of the marketing videos of 3D printers shown here look distinctly old fashioned for such a futuristic product. We long for the day when we will be able to print a full sized chair in ten minutes.

video list of 3D printers in action

In the pre Pirate Bay days of analog transmission, pirate radio stations were setup in the most bizarre places, to avoid being shut down. Many of these were offshore, in boats, lighthouses, disused forts, or even balloons or planes.The idea for outlaw stations came from the US military who broadcast from B 29 bombers, over Vietnam, ships off the coast of Soviet states and continue to broadcast to Cuba from balloons. Israel is the last remaining country to have pirate radio ships in operation, where they broadcast ultra conservative religious programming.

Weird Outlaw Radio Transmitters

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

As people blow each other to pieces, daily, on the planet below, the silently floating Hubble telescope seems to represent everything great about humankind. Here are our other favorite telescopes.Update: Have been in continuous operation since 1963, the Arecibo project is in danger of closing due to cuts in funding. Jonathan, who is a researcher working at the Arecibo dish has posted a link in the comments to its website where you can donate or voice your support. http://www.arecibo-observatory.org

16 most wonderful telescopes

The New York Times put together a fascinating list of Olympic flame relay torches. However, the cauldrons that they light are often more interesting being part of the original Athenian games, both figuratively and in spirit. The torch relay is neither, having been created by the Nazis.Dramatic sculptural cauldrons were built for more recent Winter or Summer Games, such as Salt Lake City, Barcelona or most recently, Turin, with its tall fire breathing chimneys, like an oil refinery burn off.Both Barcelona and Sydney introduced spectacle in the way the cauldrons were lit: a single shot, flaming arrow from a remote archer, in Barcelona, and a spectacular self assembling tower emerging, on fire, from a pool of water, in Sydney.The simple, iconic cauldron also stand out, and nowhere more so that the pared down minimalist version at the 1976 Montreal Games, which could not have been more different from the gargantuan vulgarity of the stadium itself.

10 notable olympic flame cauldron designs

Named after the famous cartoonist, Rube Goldberg machines are unlike ordinary gadgets in that they are deliberately inefficient, taking the maximum number of steps to achieve a goal. Last years winner of the Rube Goldberg competition took over three hundred steps to squeeze a glass of orange juice.To truly appreciate RG machines you need to see them in action. Here is a list of videos of our favorites. Vote for yours.

12 best Rube Goldberg Machine videos

Such was the propensity for the Soviets to put fighter jets on plinths dotted around the empire that they are sometimes referred to as Migs on sticks. Other people did this, of course. In the US, Phantom jets were a favorite and some of these Migs are in places outside the Soviet Union, like Somalia, where Russian jets were bought. The trend also intended to a variety of other planes such as the particularly ungainly looking Tupelov monument, in this list. But there is something about a Mig on an angled concrete base that is reminiscent of Soviet graphic design, crass and muscular with people leaning forward in earnest. Comic like, but deadly serious.

soviet fighter plane monuments

The stuffed chick with light bulb, understandably caused some fuss when it was created. Other strange lights here include pear lights which can be plucked out of a tree, paper plane lights lights that look like water dripping out of a tap and a lamp from a spinal column cast.

16 weird lights

By the end of the decade, not one of New York's skyscrapers will be in the top 10 tallest, compared to those in Saudi Arabia or the Arab Emirates. The Burj Dubai, which is nearly completed will be the size of two Empire State buildings on top of each other and it would be completely dwarfed by proposals on either side of the Arabian peninsula for mile high towers. The Emirates contain some of the most surreal, monumental and ironic recent architectural projects, including a mammoth ferris wheel hotel, a twin tower Wold Trade Center and an enormous convention center intentionally modeled on the Death Star from Star Wars. Vote for the most surreal.

20 Arabian mega skyscrapers

Suits for hazardous materials are serious business and high tech., but look ridiculous. They come in several varieties: Splash Suit, Gas Suit, Turnout Coat for different levels of contamination. Their look ranges from giant pink translucent condom like outfits, to oversize Tasmanian Devil shaped suits. From the examples in this list, standard training procedures include washing down while standing in a regular inflatable kids paddling pool and basketball dribbling.

12 hazmat suits

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.

sinister bbc spy vehicles

Amazingly, the existence of the unsuccessful Soviet moon landing program was secret until the fall of the USSR. It consisted of three principal components: the N1 rocket; Soyuz 7K-L3 orbiter and LK lander.The first stage of the N1 is the most powerful rocket every built, it never launched successfully and when it blew up, it resulted in the largest non-nuclear, man-made explosion in history. All of the hardware looks similar enough to be familiar, but different enough to be slightly alien, such as the bug like lander, of which there are 5 left. All that remains of the N1 itself are a few scraps in a children's playground in Kazakhstan, but its engine type is still in existence, used by the company that formerly owned the satellite system used by Google Maps.

soviet moon shot hardware

A bus stop is perhaps the simplest form of shelter and therefore the simplest form of architecture. As such it is a surprisingly rich area for design innovation, from complex organic concrete shell structures to minimalist glass and steel modernism.

bus stops as architecture

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.

9 early remote controls

Whenever you see a picture of the ancient pyramids of Giza the view behind is of endless sweeping sands rather than the smog heavy skyline of downtown Cairo. Here we’ve collected some of the least flattering and depressing views of famous monuments or places, from the Stonhenge car park to the Starbucks in the Louvre. There are a couple of unlikely ones such as the Acropolis which in some ways is depressing from every angle, having been destroyed while used as a munitions dump, or the more preserved version of Trajan’s column which is hidden away in a London museum, with a janitor’s closet in its base. Vote for the worst.

9 depressing views of famous monuments

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“Around San Francisco, that mecca of art and technology, Oobject has become a favorite gadgety diversion–and inspiration”
CNET

Oobject is like a digital Wunderkammer comprising visual lists of man-made objects. Oobject may look like yet another, crappy, weird things site, but delve in, I’ve put an unhealthy amount of effort into it. –


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Tourbillon watches are the most expensive in the world often costing $500,000. They became fashionable in the last decade as non-forgeable status symbols for billionaires, but that is now being threatened by Chinese imitations.The style of these devices is baroque in the truest sense, but becuase their aesthetic derives from the rational world of mechanics the style jars and they are, to my mind, as grotesque and kitsch as their diamond encrusted counterparts in the luxury watch market.After facing the existential threat of digital which made accuracy cheap, the Swiss watch industry turned to making high end jewelry either directly with diamond encrusted gold watches or indirectly via those that fetishised complex mechanics for the sake of it, such as these. Ironic, since the origins of Swiss watch making came from the ban on jewelry in Calvanist Geneva.These tourbillon (whirlwind) watches are the most extreme example of complex analog mechanics, the most expensive clockwork items in the world, costing between $100,000 and $500,000, they all share a rotating escapement which theoretically leads to better accuracy (even though that does not compare to a $50 swatch).This mechanism is very difficult to make and fascinating to look at, so most tourbillon watches directly expose their intricate mechanics, which originally only the Swiss could make. Recently, however, Chinese watch makers have brought tourbillon watches to market, for a tenth of the price, threatening their cache as a status symbol which is difficult to fake.

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.

Around the same time Roy Lichtenstein copied comic books for the New York chattering classes, Papua New Guinean tribesmen did the same for their battle shields. These items are real, used in tribal warfare after prototypical lycra-clad American comic book hero The Phantom somehow struck a chord with traditional cultures in the Western Highlands. They are possibly one of the most bizarre items of popular culture’s infiltration of the far corners of the world.

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.

We've trawled the web to fine genuinely special objects for this gift guide, from a Cray super-computer, an original Apple Lisa, a calculator used on the Mir space station, some classic Dieter Rams objects and the most beautifully futuristic car ever made, the Citroen SM.You can buy any of the items via the links to the sites where they are listed. If anyone bought me anything from this list I'd be very, very happy.

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.

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.

The tanning devices here may not be perceived as light therapy devices, but the concept of sun bathing morphed from scientific and quasi scientific light treatments at the end of the 19th century, where people would immerse themselves in light baths - hence the term sun bathing.Abuse of sun bathing as recreation has created a backlash, masking its genuine benefits in moderation and how it is perceived has obviously changed over time, as witnessed by my favorite item here which shows four congressmen in suits bathing in the light shower baths of the Turkish baths of the House of Representatives.

Times Square is the worlds most visited attraction. More people visit this crossroads in Manhattan every year than there are Canadians. It used to be called Longacre Square after the same area in London which was also the center of the carriage trade. Then the New York Times created its headquarters on the south side in 1904, and so the area was names after it.The Times building was completely remodeled in the mid 60s as the Allied Chemical building, then again more recently, to the point where it is basically a giant billboard support with only one tenant - the people who drop the famous ball at New Year.For this Times Square set I've chosen images all looking south towards the former Times building, from 1880 to 2011, through the first neon billboards, the decline in the 80s, the Christo project to wrap it 1 Times Square in 1985 and its refurbishment in the 1990s as something more like the Vegas strip.

Movies originated from animated still images, either through a rotating slit (zoetropes), a faceted mirror (praxinoscopes) or a rotating drum with flip cards in the case of the mutoscope. Here are some sample videos of the machines themselves, from antiques to modern day installations based on them.

There are plenty of interesting unbuilt projects for some of the world's most famous cities, but there is something particularly unsettling about alternatives for things that were build. Some monuments are so iconic that their alternatives seem like sacrilege.Included here among various alternatives for Tower Bridge, the Washington Monument, The Chrysler building and St. Paul's Cathedral are proposed extensions to the White House, a 5 million tomb alternative to London's famous Victorian cemeteries and a particularly uninspiring second place entry for the Sydney Opera House competition. My personal favorite, however is the Triumphal Elephant which could have capped off the Champs Elysees in Paris. If someone could only find the rejected competition entry for what became the Eiffel Tower, which consisted of a giant replica of a Guillotine.

Inflatables are an obvious choice for space vehicles and satellites, a small sized payload than can be inflated once up, yet for some reason they aren't the norm.The first passive communications satellites were inflatable spheres, such as the Echo series, which mylar was developed for, and early prototypes for space stations were inflatable. More recently, funding for the inflatable replacement for the habitat unit on the space station was cancelled and a private company Bigelow Aerospace is now the pioneer in the field, having successfully launched an inflatable unit.My favorite in this list, however, is the grid sphere satellite which replaced the Echo ones which didn't stay up long becuase the suns heat would deform them and slow them down. A helium inflated plastic balloon expanded a signal reflecting hollow geodesic mesh, with the plastic then dissolving under the suns rays. The mesh could then stay up for 11 years or so.

Dueling pistols are strange, beautiful and ironic. Gadgets to shoot each other in the face with, crafted with the delicacy and decorative extravagance of expensive jewelry.They appeared in the 18th C, as faster firing versions of flintlock guns replaced swords. Their use dwindled in the 19th C, while duels were still fought in the Western US states where the less rich would engage in gouging, similarly prearranged combat, with the aim of plucking out the opponent’s eyes.Dueling pistols were designed for the upper classes, for the preservation of honor, used illegally by generals and poets (Pushkin was killed in a duel), several US presidents (even Lincoln accepted a challenge to a duel)and even presented, with no sense of irony, as diplomatic gifts.

Photo finishes are made using strip or slit scan cameras. They are an assemblage of slices of something as it passes a certain point, such as a finish line. The same y axis at different points in time rather than different points in an x,y plane at an instant. As such they produce sometimes beautiful or plain weird distortions, from the arched backs and smeared limbs of Olympic cyclists and runners to pictures of aircraft propellers which appear impossibly separated from the nosecone.

The Olympics has become surreal, an athletic event which manages to roll up some of the world's least popular sports and make some of the world's most popular, such as soccer, capture less interest. It's all about the opening ceremony and the 100M, so the entire multi-billion dollar affair centers on 3 hours of introduction and 10 seconds of meaningful competition. It's an event where the organizers earn tens of times that of the athletes, evade taxes and create new criminal laws to prosecute those who challenge sponsors who peddle things that are bad for your health. Added to this is the absurd level paramilitary security.It used to be worse however. The security used to be an event, with Military Patrol being a sport in three games. Shown here is the rather disturbing image of the German medal winning Military patrol team, between WWI and WWII. Other dubious shooting contests included killing pigeons (as well as racing them) and dueling, where two competitors would try and shoot each other in the face with wax bullets.Several of the demonstration sports are straight from Monty Python territory: Fire Fighting, Cannon Shooting and Kite Flying. But my absolute favorite are the little known arts medals. Walter Winans was one of 2 people to win both sports and and arts medals, for sculpture and deer shooting and Brooklyn's Marine Park was the subject of Charles Downing Lay's Olympic silver medal in Town Planning in 1936.I seen several sites doing a similar list to this, however I spent a long time trying to pick up the best selection including a few that were missed elsewhere. Enjoy.

Unlike today's universal cigar shaped commercial airliners, early aircraft took lots of design forms as people experimented with different principals. This is a normal trend in design, however the image of multiplanes (those with many wings) collapsing as an icon of naive understanding of flight masks an ironic truth.The most ridiculous looking items in this list are the three flying ‘venetian blinds', constructed by Horatio Phillips between 1883 and 1907, the last of which, with more than 50 wings, looks more like a wooden building frame than an aircraft. Phillips, however, was the first person to truly understand the science of flight and aerfoil shapes, so these mark one of the more rational developments in aviation history.

Football kit (American football), has changed dramatically over a relatively short history, such that early football helmets look positively medieval and the latest anti-concussion helmets are fully fledged gadgets in their own right.The first football helmet designs were soft shell lattices that resemble those still worn by rugby players. Unlike rugby, however, contact can be made when you don't have possession of the ball, so helmets became progressively more robust and elaborate. Around the 1920s helmets were clearly inspired by Roman army ones, only made of soft leather and occasionally with full face-masks. These 'executioner' helmets are the most sought after collectors items, today.The first metal face masks appeared in the 30s although they did not become commonplace until the 50s, when the modern helmet took shape, eventually becoming a hard plastic or composite shell.

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

Escape pods are a ubiquitous element of science fiction but surprisingly rare in real life. The ones I found are largely for high speed jet fighters or ships, submarines and oil platforms, but my absolute favorite is the patent drawing for a gigantic detachable commercial pod in a regular commercial airliner which floats passengers gently to the ground via an array of parachutes. In the massively unlikely event that this ever is realized, I will fly forever with any airline that adopts it.

The first early warning systems were large concrete dishes which focused the sound of incoming Zeppelins towards listeners wearing stethoscopes, during WW1. Today's nuclear attack early warning systems are largely satellite based infra red detectors and airborne dishes, mounted on planes and helicopters. They have made a vast array of geodesic domed, Cold War radar installations obsolete, where they remain abandoned in some of the most isolated places on earth such as Greenland and Northern Canada.

Amazingly, the existence of the unsuccessful Soviet moon landing program was secret until the fall of the USSR. It consisted of three principal components: the N1 rocket; Soyuz 7K-L3 orbiter and LK lander.The first stage of the N1 is the most powerful rocket every built, it never launched successfully and when it blew up, it resulted in the largest non-nuclear, man-made explosion in history. All of the hardware looks similar enough to be familiar, but different enough to be slightly alien, such as the bug like lander, of which there are 5 left. All that remains of the N1 itself are a few scraps in a children's playground in Kazakhstan, but its engine type is still in existence, used by the company that formerly owned the satellite system used by Google Maps.

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