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#113 :: Rangefinder Film Camera

June 2, 2004

It’s begun. Pentax denies it but you know it’s only a matter of time before film technology vanishes. With it will go shirt-pocket axes like this Olympus XA, a little fistful of Swiss-watch precision. Designed and built in the early 1980s, it’s about the size of a pack of cigarettes, comes with a teensy little […]

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#107 :: Isbrytare

May 27, 2004

I was a theater geek in college. Too generally shy (and probably untalented) to translate my run of lead performances in high school productions of “Sound of Music” and “Anything Goes” into acid-tinged audition-winning roles in “Tooth of Crime” and “Romeo and Juliet” against the Machiavellian conniving of pre-professional college-age actors, I contented myself with […]

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#103 :: Analog Remote Viewer

May 23, 2004

Chrome-plating came into vogue as a protective measure, rust-blocker, bulwark against time. Before long, it was appropriated as street armor, fetishized as erotic surface and totemic protection, codified as evil and good and dubbed bling. It is also extremely toxic. Some of the best HLOs are all of the above. This chromed mirror’s head pivots […]

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#101 :: Bell Telephone Operator’s Headset

May 21, 2004

Fossil tech, the earbone of a giant. Fifty years ago, thousands of operators huddled at thousands of switchboards, plugging and unplugging calls from millions of jacks at the Bell Telephone Company nearest you. The nationwide American Telephone and Telegraph conglomerate was as close as anyone had come to building a nationwide monopoly without inviting antitrust […]

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#85 :: Pen

May 5, 2004

Magpie compulsion moved my fingers to gather copper brads, steel bearings, red wire and brass fittings and fill a test tube with them. That I had test tubes to spare is damning evidence enough of the relentless subroutine commanding the part of my brain that collects heavy little objects. But the fact that I had […]

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#84 :: SuperSampler

May 4, 2004

The Lomographic Society did a very smart thing: A little clique of Viennese photographers latched onto the Russian-made Lomo rangefinder camera in 1992 and – shooting wild, free and from the hip – turned its light leaking, color-saturating, vignette-prone mechanism into a creative movement. They arranged to import and distribute the cameras to the West. […]

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#82 :: Combination Lock

May 2, 2004

Here’s another amulet of urban protection, rendered useless by my faulty memory. It’s difficult to say how many of these I’ve owned over the years, for school lockers, bikes, gym lockers, strongboxes. Without the combination, it becomes a sturdy paperweight, thumb-twiddler, hammer-in-a-pinch. Back when I used them full-time, I wish there had been something like […]

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#73 :: Wooden Index File

April 19, 2004

This is an artifact from my time as an old-school newspaper reporter. It held index cards on which I had written the names, numbers, titles and affiliations of hundreds of sources, contacts, friends and chance acquaintances. The deck of 3×5 cards was blackened with thumb-dirt and furry-soft at the edges from constant consultation – how […]

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#67 :: Rubber bullets

April 13, 2004

Back in college one night, we saw a wall of smoke coming around the corner on Halloween. Being a wannabe photojournalist at the time, and thinking, “fire” I grabbed my camera and ran – straight into a cloud of tear gas. Needles in the eyes, claws in the lungs, I doubled over, immediately capacitated along […]

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#62 :: Folding Loupe

April 8, 2004

The Akihabara, in Tokyo, teems with geeks. More electronics shops, game boutiques, appliance megamalls and circuitboard salvage yards are crammed into a few square kilometres there that probably anywhere on the planet. You can build a mainframe from components, buy top-of-the-line synthesizers costing millions of yen, feed your fetish for porno video games or indulge […]

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#61 :: 3-D Glasses

April 7, 2004

I’m a stereophotography junkie. I’ve shot nighttime 3-D Kodachromes painted with filtered flash, and manufactured my own stereopticon slides with a Stereo Realist camera ever since seeing a transcendent show of stereo photos at Rhode Island School of Design when I was 20. I’ve used these headache-inducing anaglyph glasses (and others like them) to decode […]

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#59 :: Torpedo level

April 5, 2004

Most torpedo levels are crafted from wood or plastic – I have a fluorescent orange plastic one in my toolbox – but this one is an odd variant on the classic carpenter’s conscience. Crafted from a forged block of aluminum, a steel plate, a pair of screws and a oil-filled capsule, it seems stolen from […]

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#56 :: Prescription sunglasses

April 2, 2004

The world is full of mediocre, overpriced, cheap knockoff sunglasses that break the second a 2-year-old grabs them or they fall 5 feet to the floor. Since I’m sadly addicted to UV-blocking lenses, I have burned through two or three pairs of sunglasses a year for most of the past 20 years. I resolved a […]

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#50 :: Pencil sharpener

March 27, 2004

Feisty. Steadfast. Small. Kitschy. Voracious. Cast in brown-toned potmetal, a dimestore pencil sharpener embedded in his belly, this triceratops is one of those elegantly simple tools that delights in efficiency and feel. Shove a pencil in his mouth, spin it, pull it out – it’s sharper. He continues his silent roar whether I leave him […]

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#43 :: Semiautomatic Clasp Knife

March 20, 2004

Gerber makes wickedly sharp blades. The serrated one, mounted in a teflon-hinged block of sculpted steel, is among the keenest tools I have ever laid hands on (pocketknife #1 – current, collection since age 6). I became addicted to clasps just a week after lugging around a then-new Kershaw and pointedly *not* losing it out […]

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#35 :: Telescope glasses

March 12, 2004

These have the feel of a Hammacher-Schlemmacher wannabe – a must-have gadget for the avid sports fan or optics freak. You can picture him sitting there with a pair of ’em on at Dodger Stadium, replaying the braying marketing boilerplate in his mind between innings – “Hundreds of uses! For birdwatching, auto racing – and […]

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#33 :: 3-inch carpenter’s square

March 10, 2004

Mystery takes peculiar forms. Sometimes it’s the center of war or religious zealotry. Sometimes it’s an upperclass strange-o in a deerstalker hat and houndstooth cape poncing about with a magnifying glass. And sometimes mystery glints from your palm as an almost impracticably small, yet completely functional tool. This might have been a manufacturer’s sample, or […]

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#30 :: Machinists’/Jewelers’ loupe

March 7, 2004

Certain props scream “mad scientist” or “post-apocalyptic economy of scavengers”: Spark plugs either jutting from your neck or dangling around it. Raw voltage crackling from jerry-built machinery on the verge of spinning out of control. Racks and clusters of mechanical-looking jeweler’s loupes clinging to three or four pairs of sandblasted, Coke-bottle glasses. Blade Runner. The […]

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#29 :: Human silhouette

March 6, 2004

This is a new iteration of a very, very old design aid. Draftspeople always seemed (when I was a kid) to use the neatest tools – flexible curves, Staedtler pens, compasses, rulers – that spoke of a level of arcane understanding of the universe that mathematically ignorant people like me would never reach, the music […]

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#28 :: Pipe cutter

March 5, 2004

This is a magnificently simple machine. A hardened steel blade rides in a little carriage, opposite two rollers in the chassis. You put it onto a piece of pipe up to an inch thick, tighten the carriage by means of a big knurled thumbscrew until the blade bites into the pipe. then you spin the […]

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#23 :: Third-hand workstand

February 29, 2004

Alligator clips, ball joints, set-screws and a bigass magnifying glass all clamped to a cast-iron base. In the hand, it feels like a torture device. On the windowsill it looks like an orrery of mechanics, its arms and clips perched in frozen orbit around the empty spaces of the work it should be holding for […]

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#22 :: Aluminum folding yardstick

February 28, 2004

The best Heavy Little Objects are metal, mechanical and shiny. I bought this yardstick in the ’80s in one of those little new-wave tchotchke stores, the kind that sold red rubber ducks with devil horns, vintage rhinestone lorgnettes, fur pillows and screaming-nun friction toys that spat sparks as they walked. I remember thinking at the […]

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#21 :: Nipple pick

February 27, 2004

The Renaissance Pleasure Faire is a seasonal, regional form of temporary insanity. Every spring, several thousand Angelenos clad in “authentic” reproduction garb ranging from medieval knights and servant girls to nearly Victorian ladies and Renaissance swordsmen crowd a mock Tudor village in the chokingly hot and dusty hills west of the city to spend six […]

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#12 :: Logo’ed Mini-Mag flashlight

February 18, 2004

Who doesn’t love the Mini-Mag? It’s teensy, shiny, waterproof, virtually indestructible and throws narrow-to-oceanic beams with all the candlepower its single ittybitty AAA battery can muster. This is actually a sort of corporate gift that I designed the logo for, to be given away at the National Conference on Digital Government Research last spring in […]

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#10 :: Gerber multi-tool

February 15, 2004

Pliers – cutters – file – small screwdriver – tweezers – big screwdriver – Phillips screwdriver – canopener – knife … fetish object. It folds to a small, dense block of articulated titanium and clips to a keyring. It is a perfect machine. Okay, so it needs a serrated blade or a corkscrew. It is […]

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