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#a184 :: Message fan

August 15, 2008

enlargeYou can keep your Adobe Photoshop, your diffraction foil, your glitter-gel pens.

For my money, mankind’s greatest contribution to democratizing flashy art and entertainment has been the light-emitting diode.

This programmable, Chinese-made fan lets you spell out messages that it miraculously traces in the air by spinning eight tiny LEDs at hundreds of RPMs and flashing them to the mysterious rhythms of an embedded microchip. Insult your friends! Confuse your enemies! Annoy total strangers! This device is so coming to the playa with us.

My son picked it out for my birthday. Or, maybe I picked it out, and he paid for and pocketed it for later gifting.

Filed under: Tool, Toy | Comments (0)

#a183 :: SuperGlue Future Gel

August 14, 2008

enlargeIt took me years of accidentally cementing my fingertips together using the old Super Glue before I discovered two things:

  1. This stuff was originally designed for closing wounds in triage situations; and
  2. Future Gel is much more manageable – it never gooshes in a stream from the tube when you puncture a plug of dried glue to get at the fresh stuff, and it goes only where you put it.

My wife tore a nail this morning. We glued it up fine with this stuff. Highly recommended sticking power in a teensy package.

Filed under: Tool | Comments (0)

#a182 :: Bluetooth headset

August 13, 2008

enlargeSix weeks ago, California law did not require me to wear this while driving and using my cellphone.

Five years ago, this sort of gadget did not exist.

Fifteen years ago, I counted myself lucky to be using a cellphone the size of a brick – one that had been issued by the Philadelphia Inquirer news desk.

Sixteen years ago, I carried extra quarters in case I had to call in from the road.

120 years ago, I, the quarters, the road and the phone lines did not exist. People counted themselves lucky to get a handwritten letter within a month, and especially lucky to receive a telegram hand-clicked and transcribed by people who knew Morse code.

Which should make me feel lucky to own such a thing, but all I can say about the Motorola i375 is that I dislike being yoked to it because the damn thing doesn’t fit my earhole.

Filed under: Adornment, Tool | Comments (0)

#a181 :: Handheld laser projector

August 12, 2008

enlargeA clear memory: I was 9. We were in the Smithsonian. The room was dark. Someone was demonstrating laser beams.

The name, so ineffably cool. L-A-S-E-R. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Sharp, bright red patterns on the wall. In the future, we’ll all be using lasers. Living rooms and spaceships will look like this all the time. Spirograph spidery special.

Flash forward 29 years. Burning Man. A massive green laser blasts patterns out across the playa as people rave to and fro in the night. I can only love the intense patterns it makes in the dust, hope no one is being blinded, and wish for technology to advance to where I can put it in my pocket.

Jump to last week: We’re in the gift shop of the London Science Museum. As the kids would say, OMFG. Here it is. Kaching. Pocketed, boxed for home, and unwrapped when the big box arrived a few days ago.

Turns out you can get ’em online, too. I’ve been playing with mine pretty much every night since then, before going to sleep.

Filed under: Fetish, Instrument, Toy | Comments (0)

#a180 :: Tiny kaleidoscope

August 11, 2008

enlargeA fingerlength of brass tubing, three rectangular slivers of mirror, a thimbleful of tiny glass beads, a translucent end cap and a leather thong.

Elegant. Hold it to your eye, face the sun and forget your age.

Found in Covent Garden.

Filed under: Objet, Toy | Comments (0)

#a179 :: Finger rocket

August 10, 2008

enlargeTightly-woven strands of super-stiff nylon thread only look like a Chinese finger trap.

In fact, if you crush this end-to-end, it compresses, grows fat with potential kinetic energy that – when you suddenly release your fingers – shoots the thing 10 feet across the room.

The simplest toys are the best.

Filed under: Toy | Comments (0)

#a178 Gerber Harsey Air Ranger

August 9, 2008

enlargeTwo odd things about trying to catch up with a “daily” blog that you’ve sorely neglected while traveling like mad is that: a) you’re essentially lying to your users if you don’t admit that things are being backdated; and b) you can’t remember when anything really happened to you, or which objects occurred to you to blog on which days. I’m actually posting this on 8/20, but can’t say exactly when the events herein happened.

So we come to the story of my beloved, and now lost, pocketknife. This is a terrific tool – I’ll probably never buy a different knife for myself as long as these are made.

The Harsey Air Ranger is sturdy, easy to open and close, and stays sharp all along its traditional and versatile serrated drop-point blade. It’s low-profile, won’t frighten the women and livestock, and the knurled handles give it a sure grip. So, I carry it in my pocket pretty much any day I don’t already know I have to go through a metal detector.

Which explains how I came to lose my main knife, and you’re looking at a photograph of my backup – an older, more chewed up Air Ranger that I had to press into service after this happened

Filed under: Fetish, Tool, weapon | Comments (3)

#a177 :: Bamboo nose flute

August 8, 2008

ENLARGELike the Jew’s harp, this elegant little pocket instrument came from Adaptatrap Percussion in Brighton.

You press the curved mask against your nose, shape your lips into an O around the bottom shape and exhale nasally. If you cup your tong right, you get a round, easily dopplered note like that of a slide-whistle. I wish I’d bought more of these at the time for gifts. Such fun.

Filed under: Instrument | Comments (0)

#a176 :: Modeling clay

August 7, 2008

ENLARGEThick cylinders of slick plasticine, pure of color and form.

Someone’s gonna mess them up very shortly.

Filed under: Tool | Comments (0)

#a175 :: Printing blocks

August 6, 2008

ENLARGECarved in Africa or India or perhaps on some island, I know not where, these found their way to the gift shop of Brighton Pavilion.

They were lumped in mysteriously with all the other gift-shop trappings of chinoiserie, the Chinese-design fantasy that George IV lost himself in while having Sir John Nash design his summer palace.

They have a rough majesty of their own.

Filed under: Adornment, symbol, Tool | Comments (0)

#a174 :: Rubber fusilier duck

August 5, 2008

ENLARGEThis is the sort of thing you pick up in the duty-free shop at Heathrow while trying to blow your pounds on the way out of London.

We’ll add it to the little collection of rubber ducks now bobbing in the hot tub out back. Maybe it will get them into line.

Filed under: General | Comments (0)

#a173 :: Chewable toothbrush

August 4, 2008

ENLARGEBritish ingenuity has concocted a perfect offering for airport vending machines:

For a £1 coin, you get two of these: It’s a spherical plastic capsule. Split it open, and there’s a circular sheet of instructions and an oddball chunk of nylon with bristles on one half and a capsule on the other.

Pop the capsule in your mouth, and chew, and the capsule splits open to release chunks of crunchy what-tastes-like candy. The instructions direct you to work the thing around all corners of your mouth, which turns out to be more amusing than prophylactic, but when you’re done, at least your breath smells good.

Filed under: Edible, Tool | Comments (0)

#a172 :: Butterflies

August 3, 2008

ENLARGEThe British Natural History Museum did something extraordinary on the grounds outside its magnificent building – a diversion from the ossified remains of dinosaurs and sloths and the over-loved “interactive” displays of swimming hippos and oversized scorpions:

They built a hothouse, filled it with plants, and started cultivating butterflies.

These were just two of the fantastic array of insect ephemera on display in Amazing Butterflies which closes, sadly, on Aug. 17.

If you’re in town, whether you have kids or not, go have a look

Filed under: Life form | Comments (0)

#a171 :: Step-down transformer

August 2, 2008

ENLARGEElectricity surges out of British outlets at a blistering 220 volts – too powerful for western computers.

While I’m blogging this from my Mac G4 laptop – a 6-year-old bulletproof box with a trim little power transformer built right in – my other work laptop (a Dell) requires a separate transformer to tame London voltage down to a palatable 110 volts.

This thick brick does the job, but at 5 pounds it’s so heavy it falls out of the outlet without me resting it on an updended drink glass on the floor for support. What the hell, it works, and at $25, not too bad a deal.

Plus, you could brain someone with it if need be.

Filed under: Tool, weapon | Comments (0)

#a170 :: Lead “Indian brave”

August 1, 2008

ENLARGEThe micro-war between the races of earth still rages on in English toy shops and adult imaginations – even though most young Londoners have graduated to XBox, Flickr and Legomania.

Most warriors wear meticulously handpainted uniforms. In the antiques stalls of Portobello Road they rest, weapons at the ready, medals ablaze in gold and polychrome, in carefully made beds of styrofoam with ridiculous prices on their heads, since they’re now considered antiques.

All except for this specimen, who lurked at the bottom of the £1 bin, crunched beneath Hussars with chipped uniforms and fusiliers with badly broken muskets.

He creeps across the plains, in U.S. cavalry trousers, the very picture of menace, his shiny hatchet at the ready.

His near-black skin is a dead giveaway that he was finished by some clueless British toy-plant drone who – when he asked about the man’s complexion – was likely told by an equally clueless art director, “Oh, he’s a savage, paint him like an African.”

Filed under: Found Object, Miniature, symbol, Tool | Comments (0)

#a169 :: Happy Hippos

July 31, 2008

ENLARGELike hippos emerging through river foam (?), Kinder brand Happy Hippos are hazelnut-cream cookie pods dipped in thick-grained sugar and given a few squirts of color in each eye just prior to put into individual cellophane wraps and released to a cute-susceptible public.

They’re also yummy.

Filed under: Edible, Facsimile, Miniature | Comments (0)

#a168 :: Rubber coasters

July 30, 2008

ENLARGEPart space station, part sex device, they come in orange and gray and keep your cold wet glasses from making permanent stains in your … Formica, or whatever.

It occurs to me upon posting fetishy (kitschy?) stuff like this that I’m rarely in the position of being able to point you to where to buy such things. I could point you roughly to the store in Brighton where we found them for £2 a pair, but I have no e-commerce link or even mailing address.

I could make up a story about the groovy Soho bachelor pad where he stood, even now, fixing her a fuzzy navel with a certain louche intent about him, but I can’t quite think of the punchline, nor even of the dramatic arc.

These are, in effect, sui generis – a cipher against which to park any overlay that makes sense to you at the time. They’re mod, nubbly rubber drink coasters, whaddya want.

Filed under: Art, Fetish, Tool | Comments (0)

#a167 :: Stonehenge keychain

July 29, 2008

ENLARGEThere is a certain poetry to this tiny portrait of one of man’s oldest surviving places of ceremony:

A matrix of dots, etched or blown into a block of clear glass, spells out Stonehenge‘s shape at palm size, giving you a portable tour of the place.

Here, no less than there, the broken circles of pillars and lintels leave you with nothing but awe and questions. How’d they do that?

But there, time really does feel stopped. Here it’s merely captured in a glassy snapshot, fetishized for the tourists. Of whom I am one.

Being at Stonehenge gives one the impression of having become stuck in time – an everlasting moment as you walk around these unmoving

Filed under: Fetish, Miniature, Model, Objet, symbol | Comments (0)

#a166 :: Binatone Carrera GPS

July 28, 2008

ENLARGEThis is the yin to yesterday’s yang: If you’re eschewing the tube and driving – for whatever selfish, non-green, yet eminently practical reason – the touchstone surety of a good GPS device pulls you through London’s maze of streets in a dreamlike blur.

Punch in your destination address, Wait for the satellite’s ping to put your car on a huge, intricately detailed map of the city.

Go straight ahead, then after 800 yards, turn left, she purrs.

And off you go, your white American knuckles defying the horrible wrongness of driving in the right-hand seat of a car on the left-hand side of the road.

After 500 yards, turn left … After 250 yards, turn left … turn left, and then turn right … Follow the course of the road …

Filed under: General | Comments (0)

#a165 :: Oyster card

July 27, 2008

ENLARGEThis debit card gives you full access to the Tube and bus system. With one in your pocket, you can go anywhere in London, never thinking about the fare.

“Touch in” – wave it at the yellow oval pad that reads it and debits cash from it for your ride – and padded turnstiles gates in the Underground snap open with a heavy “thwunk. Slide it over the pad as you board a red double-decker, and you’re off across town in the upstairs of the bus.

If you’re lucky, you get seats at the very front, where the world slides past some 12 or 14 feet above the street, like a magic cinema show.

Filed under: symbol, Tool | Comments (0)

#a164 :: Ice cream spoon

July 26, 2008

ENLARGEZorro brings together the hoary old freedom-fighter superhero story with rock-hard flamenco performances, and it winds up being about four times as solid a piece as it otherwise would. The score, by the Gipsy Kings is a hoarse, melodic operetta, told in guttural moans of pain and delight, and the thunderous bootheels of dancers pounding out the beat of their emotions.

The vertiginously tall and narrow Garrick Theatre has seen better days – the velvet on the balconies is splitting under the traffic of patrons putting their feet up during shows, and the ghost of old Mister Garrick is said to still roam the halls after every performance. All this adds to the ragged charm of the set, a busy tangle of ladders doors, precipices and caves.

Intermission brought tiny 1/3-cup servings of Haagen-Dazs, in plastic cups with chubby, finger-sized spoons tucked beneath the lids.

Loved the show.

Filed under: Jetsam, Tool | Comments (0)

#a162 :: Baby carrots

July 25, 2008

ENLARGEDid these things even exist 10 years ago? No, I think that at some point, some wise vegetable salesman decided to start milling his carrots. And an entire bite-sized-snack class of its own was launched. These go down by the pound around here. They taste perfectly clean and wonderful, but spirituallyfeel as if someone’s juggled their genes.

Filed under: Edible, Life form | Comments (1)

#a161 :: Rabbit’s foot

July 24, 2008

ENLARGEThis one was loved. Someone’s constant rubbing and fondling robbed the thing of its fur, put tarnish on the stump-cap and the (shudder) ring. I picture him humped over his bowl, beneath his one gas lamp, drowning his sorrows and yet keeping his heart on the world around him by wishing on this thing.

Whatever luck it may have had is gone with its owner and the children of his era. All that remains is another, slightly more hapless creature’s knuckles, claws and skin.

Portobello Road gave it up.

Filed under: Fetish, Found Object, Life form, Objet, symbol | Comments (0)

#160 :: Battlefield artifact – bullet and cigarette case

July 23, 2008

ENLARGEAt the bottom of the trunk.
In the dark.
For the past 34 years.
Where she had been pushing it ever since he left.

The card in the Royal Fusiliers Museum says:

Cigarette case belonging to Pte F C Shuter 10th.Bn. Pierced by a German bullet 10th.July1916 – The Somme

Filed under: Artifact, Fetish, weapon | Comments (0)

#a159 :: Stanley “stubby” screwdriver

July 22, 2008

ENLARGEFrom an antiques mall in Brighton. 50p. Don’t laugh. You’ll need one some day. I love the way the aluminum has corroded on the blade.

Filed under: Facsimile, Objet, Tool | Comments (0)