Main Contents

#174 :: Magic Lantern Slide – Protozoa

August 1, 2004

Perhaps a relic from a turn-of-the-(20th)-century high school biology class, this glass slide shows microbes rendered in all their hairy, magnified glory. One could have seen a similar view in that day by putting a slideful of pond water under a good microscope – and in better color and detail. But at some point, the information merchants of the era saw the profit in freezing those images in watercolor rendered on a sheet of glass. Students would need to be taught what to look for ahead of time, given a visual grip on single-cell organisms before diving in on their own. Teachers would need to reach dozens, even hundreds of students at once. The magic lantern – after the printing press – was a seminal discovery in the science of mass communications.

Filed under: Tool | Comments Off on #174 :: Magic Lantern Slide – Protozoa

#173 :: Mineral Rose

July 31, 2004

A better mineralogist than I would be able to name this thing. He would be able to say how many millions of years it took to form, what the minerals were in the dripping water that formed it, where it was probably found, and how many hundreds of thousands of years older than him it might be. I am not a mineralogist. I am a fetishist, a magpie with a computer and not much personal knowledge. What few bits of true knowledge I own were hard-won at the end of relationships, the beginning of lives, the point of injury or near death, or the moment of revelation given at the moment light struck some faraway thing I was looking at. The rest is stolen knowledge, or borrowed – trivia or mental jetsam that I cannot make use nor get rid of. So I have things like this in my house, and thoughts stuck in my memory – the proper spelling of Eadweard Muybridge, the way to tie a Winsor knot, the head-bolt torque settings for a Volvo B-18 engine (no, wait, that was true, bare-knucks knowledge) – that must surely be taking up room that could be occupied by better wisdom. But if I hadn’t come upon this little stone thing, what would be there in its place?

Filed under: Artifact | Comments (4)

#172 :: Silicone Kali

July 30, 2004

Synthetic id, a tiny iconic totem of the claimer of heads and taster of the forbidden, this squishy finger puppet seems a blasphemous joke in the face of what would surely be the most vengeful wrath of the Indian goddess of destruction, Kali.

She is full-breasted; her motherhood is a ceaseless creation. Her disheveled hair forms a curtain of illusion, the fabric of space – time which organizes matter out of the chaotic sea of quantum-foam. Her garland of fifty human heads, each representing one of the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, symbolizes the repository of knowledge and wisdom. She wears a girdle of severed human hands- hands that are the principal instruments of work and so signify the action of karma. Thus the binding effects of this karma have been overcome, severed, as it were, by devotion to Kali. She has blessed the devotee by cutting him free from the cycle of karma. Her white teeth are symbolic of purity (Sans. Sattva), and her lolling tongue which is red dramatically depicts the fact that she consumes all things and denotes the act of tasting or enjoying what society regards as forbidden, i.e. her indiscriminate enjoyment of all the world’s “flavors”.

But Western culture always does this – reduces fearsome symbolism and religious beliefs to the level of trivialized kitsch. Why, then, when this silly Kali offends me, does her little rubber comrade inspire?

Filed under: symbol | Comments (1)

#171 :: Doll Tea Service

July 29, 2004

The room where these are made must be light. (I was a potter once, and can picture it:) Powdery, white porcelain dust probably coats all tools, surfaces, the windows, and the makers’ hair, fingers and clothes as they shape the clay. Four cup-and-saucer pairs in each set, a tiny cream-and-sugar suite, a diminutive ewer for “tea.” A tinny radio plays news or dramas from state-run Chinese radio. The shop boss sits in the corner, chain-smoking, reading the paper and glancing up every now and then. It is hot, from the kiln in the next room. Deft fingers knead and mold the porcelain, forming tiny cups around their tips and then setting them – misshapen but good enough for export – onto a firebrick batt for drying. There are more than a thousand small tea vessels in this room, waiting to be fired. The third worker in the sixth row finishes one ball of clay, stretches her shoulders, then reaches into the cloth-capped bucket for another. The radio announcer reads another headline or makes another dramatic declaration. The boss turns the page.

Filed under: Toy | Comments Off on #171 :: Doll Tea Service

#170 :: Fighting Robot

July 28, 2004

AA batteries weigh down each leg. Ignited by the toggle switch, a tiny electric motor spins inside. The main cog drives a wheel that spins on his back – a wheel with removable pins. The pins act as cams, driving the limbs as they rotate past the hip and shoulder joints. Springs on each limb supply recoil. Program his blows and stance by moving the pins. Stage elaborate battles. Wonder about his origins, lost in the baroque history of ’80s Japanese science fiction. Re-place the decorative foil stickers that keep falling off. Watch that mean right hook. He’s just 7 inches high, but he’s fast.

Filed under: Toy | Comments Off on #170 :: Fighting Robot

#168 :: Deformed Paper Cup

July 27, 2004

There is a mysticism in Zen Buddhism that I feared I would never approach as an outsider – a holiness in the mundane, the worship of a pebble, a leaf, a puddle. Then my son handed me this. “Here. This is for you.” I’m dumbstruck. “What the … how did you … what is this?” I turned it over. The light shone through its translucent bottom. The accordion pleats seemed deformed by design, shaped with a mathematical certainty to a Brancusian rhythm and volume. “It’s a paper cup,” he said. “How did it get like …” He grabbed it, demonstrating how to put it on your mouth, form a tight seal, and simultaneously blow and shove the cup’s bottom toward your face. “No, wait! I get it! Don’t ruin it! It’s really cool!” Transfixed. Absolutely held in thrall by the alchemy of paper product, physics and impetuous boyhood. “Can I keep it?” He shrugged. “Sure.” He’s 4½. I wonder at times about my real age.

Filed under: Jetsam | Comments Off on #168 :: Deformed Paper Cup

#167 :: Stud Finder

July 26, 2004

In another era, you could rimshot off the name of this device in a second – Heyaa, I’m here all week, don’t forget to tip your waitresses, try the veal it’s delicious – but this is 2004. The line between the sex roles is smearing, the po-mo mediasphere is awash in home-improvement shows, and now that porn is mainstream, nearly-genteel Victoria’s Secret catalogues are the new Hustler for the cheesecake hounds. And some factory somewhere is turning out a mystical device in gumdrop plastic with user-friendly instructions, cheerful LED indicators and a little integrated pocket clip – that can see through walls. In truth, it uses a magnetic field to “see” sheetrock screws or steel studs – a skill once left to carpenters with butt-crack beltlines and an uncanny ability to find solid wood behind plaster and lath simply by thumping on it with their callused fists. This runs on AAAs.

Filed under: Tool | Comments Off on #167 :: Stud Finder

#166 :: Head Lamp

July 25, 2004

The invention of the white LED has sparked a renaissance in personal illumination. The carbon-battery-powered torch in 1899 began pushing back the darkness around us at night that was only somewhat held at bay by oil and kerosene lamps. Beef that up into brick-sized 9-volt-powered floods, tweak it into the shape of a cop’s metal nightstick – there’s not much more room for improvement. Batteries die. The light fades in 10 hours or so, and you’re left with a heavy implement full of dead weight. But this – this is a miner’s lamp for the digital era, a tiny sun with a hundred hours of life strapped to my forehead. I strap this thing on whenever I have to excavate beneath my desk for some lost plug, jack or thingummy. It came into the house a while back as a gift for my son, but I’m using it until he can be trusted not to leave it on and completely drain its $8 battery every time he uses it.

Filed under: Tool | Comments Off on #166 :: Head Lamp

#165 :: Mystery crystal

July 24, 2004

Blue-green metal in concentric descending rectangles form a frozen vortex. It was grown in a lab, so pure is its shape. An inch long, it could be the set for a remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as staged by subatomic robots. I’ve Googled and Googled and can find no hint as to its true nature. The gift box it came in years ago has long since shed its tiny slip of paper with explanatory text. I’d be grateful if anyone out there could help me identify the metal.

Filed under: Artifact | Comments (4)

#164 :: Ivory fetish

July 23, 2004

Joe Reed painted – among a great many other things – insects onto tiny chunks of ivory. To my knowledge, he painted only a few things on ivory that were not insects. This piece measures about 1″x3/4″xx5/16″. The artist paved two faces of it with machinery – tiny flywheels, cogs, steam condensors and indicators. The top and two other long sides are blank, and the bottom is covered with tiny, carved teeth – six rows by five of them. One of the most exquisite tiny things Reed ever painted, its purpose – as originally made, and as modified by the artist – remains a mystery.

Filed under: Art | Comments (1)

#163 :: Blinky pin

July 22, 2004

Random signals:
Wow. Printed circuits are much older than I thought. Pin it on your shirt, touch it, and the LEDs blink in random patterns. It’s powered by two #192 button batteries. The symbolism is oblique at best: alien communicator? Space captain’s badge? Cyber-hottie’s brooch? It is, quite possibly, the least useful or meaningful HLO in my collection.

Filed under: Adornment | Comments (1)

#162 :: Golden Peanut

July 21, 2004

You could create an elaborate mythology around it. It’s the latest SoHo club fetish; the gilded relic of an antebellum sharecropping cult; the culmination of a promise made over the last uneaten morsel of food in a lifeboat 3 weeks at sea. But no, it’s just the sort of thing that gets thrown into a box and discovered later, 12 years after you went through a phase of shooting gold Krylon onto anything with a weird enough shape. The one that you never should have let go in that yard sale – a model of the human skull, spraypainted matte-black but for the brain pan: lift off the top of the skull and the golden receptacle of the mind glimmered up at you. Now someone else has it and the dollar it fetched is long-spent. This is the danger of letting go of heavy little objects – truly extraordinary things leave your grasp forever, and recede to accumulate their own mythology.

Filed under: Found Object | Comments Off on #162 :: Golden Peanut

#161 :: Epoxy

July 20, 2004

The thinking man’s duct tape comes in many forms: 5-minute, clear, white, earthquake, metal, fast-curing, coating, dental and beyond. The warm reek of resin polymerizing with hardener fills my olfactory memories of childhood. My father fixed everything with epoxy – toys, china, glass, books, metal, furniture – and a few things that just wouldn’t respond to epoxy. My mother’s hip was replaced with the stuff, which holds the new titanium ball joint into her femur, allowing her to stomp around New York and the cities of the world like a woman half her age. Epoxy is packaged defiance – proof against entropy and the disintegration of all things.

Filed under: Tool | Comments (1)

#160 :: Bottle caps

July 19, 2004

My son calls these “treasures.” Any object found out of its element with a little color or interest is a treasure to him. He is not quite 5. Grubbing through a campsite, he pulls these together, and declares them treasure, bestowing on them a weight that is reinforced by the screen-printed labels, the rusty scars and rippled lips that were left by swift and brutal jerks of the bottle opener. Rocks, coins, found Legos, the odd pull-tab – all are treasures. I love my son.

Filed under: Jetsam | Comments Off on #160 :: Bottle caps

#159 :: Quartz crystals

July 18, 2004

The gift shop of every U.S. National Park in the southwest seems to have a bin full of these – 3 for a dollar, right next to the pyrite (fool’s gold) and the feldspar chunks, beneath the rack full of yarn-webbed God’s eyes, and a few yards away from the graven image of Kokopelli the mythical Hopi figure appropriated by hippies and Hacky-Sack makers as a symbol of “fun ….” Sudden change of gears. This blog is an indulgence of my deepest vices. Collecting small, weighty things. Shooting photos. Writing interminable, adjective-laden run-on sentences. Building web sites. In its way, every blog is the manifestation of its author’s deepest desires and basest tendencies. My other blog feeds the pedant in me, the truth-seeker who beats his breast and invites raw opinions, hoping more for agreement than argument. There’s a post there right now breaking down the differences between blogging and journalism, as if it matters in the long run. No, in fact, the lines between truth and opinion are too carefully drawn by most. Perhaps HLO represents a more direct bid for TRVTH than does LAVoice, which wears its curious, indignant, bleeding heart on its crisply-pressed sleeve. In the end, these are all just digits projected onto phosphorescent screens – raw information that may spark thoughts in other people, but likely that will fade quickly, leaving no trace when the plug is pulled. The quartz crystals will outlive all of it – every internet user alive today, probably the entire human race, at the rate evolution is going. But who’ll be around to pick them up? Or take a picture of them? Or click on that picture and snicker at the pompous, unself-aware ass who posted it?

Filed under: Found Object | Comments (2)

#158 :: Plastic Whale

July 17, 2004

Hulking, buttressed ribs form a cathedral vault. The swamp of old wrecks, dead fish and the odd tire or sunken grocery basket beneath it is festooned with a snarl of kelp, lost fishing leaders, treble-hook lures and heavily crusted with barnacles kept alive by the infrequent openings of the vast, ferryboat-sized mouth.He surges past there, a thousand fathoms deep, his eye one red jewel. His heart, the size of a Volkswagen engine, thuds like distant surf.
He is two and a half inches long, and his painter was drunk the night he was made. Or exhausted. Or both.

Filed under: Toy | Comments Off on #158 :: Plastic Whale

#157 :: Cholla skeleton

July 16, 2004

Brush a cholla and know pain. Brittle spines coat this wild cactus, eager to show their defensive might. They fairly jump into your skin – hair-fine, needle-sharp and barbed, a reminder that you’re just dumb meat endowed with an exquisitely sensitive nervous system and all the reflexes of a rock. OoopsOWWWW! When dead and defoliated, sun-bleached and nettle-free, they look more foreboding than the fuzzy-bear picture of cuteness they portray in life – bones of an alien, or a breed of coral yet undiscovered. This piece – a pencil’s length and twice the girth – is light and hollow and pleasant to the touch.

Filed under: Jetsam | Comments Off on #157 :: Cholla skeleton

#156 :: Lightcycle

July 15, 2004

I’ve never done the math. Have you? Add them all up: all those quarters. Multiply the seconds into hours and months spent stabbing buttons, jerking joysticks. Calculate the synaptic flashes, the wrist muscle cramps, the rolling heat lightning of an adolescent nervous system tortured and misspent hunched over game consoles. Tron took me in Florida. It sucked me into the dank, neonized airconditioning of a St. Petersburg theater. Three times in a couple of weeks. What was a few more quarters, in exchange for total immersion in the type of world I could only chase but never grasp, just beyond my fingertips? A few weeks later, I stumbled off of Space Mountain at Disney World and into the toy store, and snapped up this iconic toy. Its rear wheel revved to humming speed by a thick, cogged nylon zipcord. It moved fast, straight into whatever distant obstacle you pointed it at across my floor’s blank plane. The movie imagery is quaint now. Cartoony. Lurid. It’s been reincarnated as itself. The vehicle still zooms, even standing still. Who is your user?

Filed under: Artifact | Comments Off on #156 :: Lightcycle

#155 :: Shoe Forms

July 14, 2004

The 26 bones in your foot take a step-by-step beating of 900 pounds per square inch. The femur will take 1,200, but that’s another story. Leather shoes – still de rigeur at weddings, in courts of law, on golf courses and bowling alleys, collapse over time if not properly supported and shaped. During the Song Dynasty, girls had all their toes but the first broken and bound tightly with cloth strips to keep them from growing much larger than 3.9 inches, forcing them to develop into “lotus hooks”, rendering them useless as they grew and their owners a burden to anyone but rich parents. But that’s another story. I found these at a yard sale for a buck, shined up their stamped-aluminum adjusting hardware, stripped and refinished the wood and then put them in a closet since I don’t wear much in the way of leather shoes. Nor does anybody else in this age of $130 basketball sneakers, Tevas, fashion Chucks and so on, which is probably making the shoeshine stall a dying business. But that’s another story. Imagine the foot-shaped foot surrogate surrounded by the foot-shaped clothing, itself both conforming to and shaping the foot inside, which gives shape to the shoe in return. Instead of imagining what the “other stories
really are – or clicking off to visit them willy-nilly, imagine that your entire body is built like these carven feet, hinged with metal joints, your wooden head filled with sawdust, ball bearings and busy termites. As a group of friends and I concluded last night while trying to compile a list of most-loathed clichés, welcome to my world. “But that’s another story.”

Filed under: Tool | Comments Off on #155 :: Shoe Forms

#154 :: Minnie Ball

July 13, 2004

This .58-caliber slug killed a lot of men during the American Civil War. Big as your thumb, fired from a high-velocity muzzle-loading rifle, it went in hard, shattering bones and exploding organs before exiting through a fist-sized hole in your back. Fired and (like this) unfired slugs pepper the battlefields of Virginia and the Carolinas. You can buy one for a buck or two at national monument gift shops, coated with flaking, oxidized lead. As it destroys, so it also has a legendary power for giving life – just ask the Confederate battlefield bystander who was impregnated by a minnie ball

Filed under: Artifact | Comments Off on #154 :: Minnie Ball

#153 :: Spoke Wrench

July 12, 2004

You put your bikes on the roof racks. You pack the car with sleeping bags and stove and food and wine and toys an family. You stop in at McDonald’s to fuel up with grease-puck sandwiches and caffeinated fizzydrinks for your massive camping trip to Yosemite. You pull out of the drivethrough and – for just a second – into a metered parking space to whip out a knife and split a puck for the kids. “Uh-oh,” your wife says. “Parking Nazi.” You look up and see the overweight bike-patrol Parking Authority goon ticketing the car parked in front of you, and you panic. Rather than jumping out to just feed the meter, you mutter, “crap” and quickly goose the car across the street to park at the drive-through drycleaners. You finish carving up the sandwich, lick the grease off your knife, pocket it, say “All righty, let’s GO!” and punch the accelerator to head for the street. The sickening, horrific crunch reminds you that you are a moron. You have just driven through the drycleaners’ drivethrough, and the little overhead roof has completely peeled the bikes off the car’s roof, trashed the rack. The crash has reduced your Cannondale Lefty‘s wheel to an unrideable pretzeloid – and all your kindly, fatherly demeanor to a gutter-mouthed ball of self-directed rage. After much cursing and struggling, you rope the remains of your vacation to the roof, and set off for Fresno, where you spend two hours going from bike shop to bike shop in search of a wheel rim so you won’t have to walk (or worse, drive) all over Yosemite Valley. The third shop comes through. Rim in hand, you make it to Yosemite on the last fringes of a five-alarm migraine, pitch camp and fall into your tent, resolved to lace up the new wheel in the morning. You begin the painstaking job with trepidation, at first, carefully mapping old spoke locations to new wheel holes so you don’t bollix up the math, but things go more quickly, and the nifty little spoke wrench they sold you fairly flies around the spokes as you relace the wheel. Then you run out of spokes. They sold you the wrong rim – too many holes. A borrowed bike keeps the camping trip from being a total disaster, but on the way back through Fresno, you find the offending bike shop closed for the holiday. And now you’ve got this worthless $70 wheel rim and the bike’s still broken. And you have this spoke wrench.

Filed under: Tool | Comments (2)

#152 :: Vinyl butterfly

July 11, 2004

Given: the elephant in the old parable is a rope, a bumpy wall, a hose, a smooth and pointy dagger, a sturdy tree – so say the old blind men. Therefore: this HLO entry is an imaginary flight to a synthetic forest of vinyl trees and cellophane flowers; a lament for the faded illustrator’s art of airbrushing, which has been lost not quite entirely to Adobe and other computer-based simulacra, but backed into the tiny niches of special effects makeup, motorcycle tank art, high-end manga paintings and mass-produced insects; a bitter rant on commonly held notions of “beauty” that revere rhinestones, rainbows, pink silk, flowers, gold-plated anything, large-eyed moppets and butterflies in any quantity, color or substance; the steady surf of tiny, crappy little toys through any house with young children; and how did the makers of this 3-inch-wide vinyl butterfly ever envision children playing with it? Ceci n’est pas une papillon.

Filed under: Toy | Comments (1)

#151 :: Art Deco bullet reading lamp

July 10, 2004

A hard-jawed private dick would never furnish his offices. He’d pay a guy, unload the water-damaged boxes of case files from the beaten trunk of his Chrysler Airflow – no, wait, his clapped-out old Nash – and move in. He’d sag into the gutshot leather club chair, kick his feet up on the fringe of cigarette burns ringing the sagging mahogany desk and pour a shot of something strong into the cold cup of coffee he got six blocks and three hours away before he finally found this damn place. He’d look up at some point, and notice this little thing clipped to the old bookshelf behind him, and switch it on. Dim light would pool across his shoulder, the arm of the chair, the chipped mug. And he’d sigh, flip open a file and dig in. Two hours later, smoke-stung eyes would force him to close the file. He’d knuckle his lids and reach up to switch off the lamp – and immediately earn a wicked burn across the fingertips from the bulb-cooked metal. He’d curse and suck his fingers for a second, shooting a glare at the convex glass lens capping the little bullet shape – at the pointless token air vents, and resisting the urge to wrench it off the shelf and put it through the frosted glass of his o.:ffice door. Once more, he’d reach up and gingerly tweak the switch, this time finding darkness. Then he’d shrug on his rank trenchcoat and lurch out into the night. (Five bucks at a flea market years ago. I just rewired it the other day. It looks best with a clear bulb, which gives the light a fluid, “live” quality. It bears no maker’s marks, and thus defies casual research.)

Filed under: Artifact | Comments Off on #151 :: Art Deco bullet reading lamp

#150 :: Japanese ballpoint

July 9, 2004

A good pen is a transformative tool. If it is heavy and strange enough in your hand, it opens pathways in your writing circuitry where none existed, allowing creative flow from channels hitherto untapped. There is nothing so heavy and strange, nor pleasureable and – for the money – full of cheap thrills – as a Japanese-made pen. You can grab them for a few hundred yen if you’re lucky enough to visit Tokyo, or for a bit more in Japanese goods stores in the U.S., so long as you give up hope of ever finding a refill when the ink runs out. The spring-loaded plunger at the head of this fluted rubber instrument drives a fat ballpoint nib down through a ziggurat-stepped nozzle, sending a charge of techno-authority through my hand. I could jot down spare parts lists for my basement cybernetics lab, design holographic sleepwear, sign intergalactic treaties with it. It hits the desk drawer not with a click, but with a padded thud.

Filed under: Tool | Comments (1)

#149 :: UFO Top

July 8, 2004

We assume they’ll arrive in saucers, ablaze with circumfrential light arrays that strobe and dazzle. We assume they’ll be small, green or gray, with vast black eyes and skeletal fingers. We assume they’ll be benevolent or at least exotically distant enough to not be bloodthirsty, rapacious, radioactive, toxic, greedy, mean or any of the other malevolent human adjectives they might be if our worst fears were made alien flesh. We assume they’ll be able to communicate, and maybe they’ll do so with the flashing, spinny lights and mellifluous tones. Clutching these assumptions to our hearts, we build toys in Their image. This one is a ratchet-driven, spring-loaded top. Crank it up. Punch the chrome trigger, and it unwinds, spinning suddenly up to about 600 RPM. Centrifugal force closes a spring-loaded circuit, igniting the onboard chip that feeds random patterns to its sound chip and string of onboard LEDs, which spit intoxicating mandalas of light and noise as the craft floats across the floor on a small, sharp tip. They might arrive in one of these. Maybe even this size. They might.

Filed under: Toy | Comments (1)