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#25 :: Digital counter

March 2, 2004

price ‘popup’, for sale ‘width=500, viagra order height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>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 Boston. I had one made up for each attendee, ordering them in a rainbow of colors (okay, it was only red, silver, black, blue and purple) and then giving out the colors randomly to encourage people to trade around for their favorite color, as a sort of icebreaker. It was the crowning touch on a very intense publication package and I love that I got to keep a couple of the leftovers. When I say indestructible, I mean the sort of indestructible brought to mind the other night when I stumbled on a lost episode of the brilliant “Buffy” precursor, Kolchak, the Night Stalker that I watched religiously as a kid. In one episode, he’s tracking some huge, invisible monster and excitedly babbles on the phone to his editor, “Chief, do you know how strong telephones are? Chief, I called the Bell Telephone company and asked, and they told me that their telephones are able to withstand a crushing force of 500 pounds per square inch! 500 pounds!!! And chief, the telephone in that girl’s apartment was COMPLETELY DESTROYED!”
cure ‘popup’, dosage ‘width=500, page height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>This extraordinary electronic musical instrument/noisebox handmade by Professor Television measures about 3×3½x8 inches. I’ve always been fascinated by the mystical hand-waving gestures of theremin players, and the spacy/spooky music they make tweaks something deep in my inner child’s lizard brain: this … is … cooool it murmurs, in something of a “redrum” voice. You play it by passing your hand over the photo cell, which determines how much light reaches the circuit. The more light, the higher the pitch, and it goes from near-inaudible hiss to thundering bass rumble, particularly when plugged into a good sound system. It has metal toggle switches for power and waveform, and thick black pot knobs for volume, rate, lfo and pitch, a PURPLE LED that oscillates in time with the waveform and little rubber feet. The whole thing runs on a D battery, and makes fantastic sounds through a built-in speaker. I’ve only just begun playing with it. Samples (Quicktime):

buy ‘popup’, sildenafil ‘width=800,height=800,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>These four men were very tight, probably somewhere around 100 years ago. They had adventures, hard jaws, snappy clothes, and a little folding money to spend on fripperies such as keepsake photographs. This one is about 3.25×2.25″ and I found it for eight bucks in an antiques shop in southern Oregon. Flaked and rusted at the edges, the emulsion soft and creamy to the touch, it carries a mythic power and intimacy that speaks of wild times and brushes with the law.
buy more about ‘popup’, symptoms ‘width=500, buy height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>I spent the afternoon as Mister Plumber. The odd, unkillable odor in the bathroom had grown too fierce to bear, and I had to pull the toilet to replace the wax ring I apparently mis-installed five or six months ago when I put down the linoleum. Always a thrill. After scraping all the stinking wax from around the reeking hole of the downpipe and bleaching the crap out of the floor and every gasket surface, I put on the new ring, caulked the rim of the toilet foot and every joint between tank and bowl and mounted everything back up again. Less smell now (though still some – maybe the seat needs changing.) I then turned to the friggin’ tub train, where the mechanism’s become hopelessly jammed. I pull it out – and true to the cut-rate tacky cheapest-possible-materials aesthetic of the previous homeowner, the whole thing’s made of goddamn Lexan, which has flexed to the point of failure. Unfortunately, the valve cylinder (you want to know all this, right?) for the new drain linkage I bought is too wide in diameter for the drainpipe, so I swap in the old Lexan plug – itself not the root of the failure, and I’m left with a part from the kit – this crisp, gorgeous, heavy little cylinder of turned brass. If you hold it right and tap on it, it rings like a Tibetan prayer bell, so I wire a hexnut into it and make it into a little bell for Kristina.
buy ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”> This is a weird, weird object, a stocking gift from my lovely wife. Marvel Comics seems to have latched onto a rather rickety-looking Pez knockoff as a way of extending its brands. I’m not sure why you’d want to associate tasty discs of gum or candy with an assassination-orphan-turned-ninja-trained assassin, but here it is. A little spring-actuated lever flips candy out of her spring-fed neck, but the unfortunate geometry of the toy makes her knees look like some sort of bizarre derrierre cleavage. This is such a strange, ephemeral artifact that I will probably have to keep it on the off chance it increases value and I can count on that extra $2.75 in my retirement fund from offering it on eBay some 40 years hence.
capsule ‘popup’, story ‘width=500, stomach height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>Supernovas, star clusters, constellations, nebulas, amoebas, colonies of light, iridescent visual noise all clamor for attention inside this two-pound chunk of handcrafted glass, a gift from my folks a few years back. This sort of thing used to be called a “paperweight.” But that was before we climbed down out of the trees and moved online to grunt and posture and draw our own likenesses on virtual walls with digital feces, forever forsaking the piles of papers now blowing willy-nilly about our desks. This thing would deliver only a glancing blow in a hand-to-hand combat with a burglar, I’ve often thought while basking in harmful VDT radiation late at night. But if I got a chance to line up for a good shot, I’d probably be able to give him a rollicking headache before he got his screwdriver in me.
page ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>Made an indeterminate number of years ago by the Reed Small Tool Works (!) of Worcester Mass., this exquisitely machined device measures the width or diameter of just about anything from 1/1000th of an inch to 1 inch. Its English-only scale speaks of the American industrial age, before the tyrannical sameness of the metric system and the pixelization of all design, when men would turn out solid, crisp machinery on lathes, presses and forge-fed steam-powered anvils. says it’s worth $37.50, which is the sort of nonsensical categorization today’s information economy would impose on the forces of steam, steel, coal and sweat that built this country. And the sort of banker’s trivia that said mammoth engine would crush beneath its wheels in the drive to the future.
site ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>So much wonder in such a tiny thing: clockwork, little rubber tyres, a flywheel-driven motor, Bauhaus chassis, porthole-style wheels. This is one of a series of about a dozen clockwork toys designed by Brazilian toymaker Chico Bicalho and made by Kikkerland. The company donates 10% of sales proceeds to campaigns to protect the rainforests. the toys are all heavily built and each completely idiosyncratic in behavior – some spastic gymnasts, others spark-flinging whirligigs. The Zecar – once you get the flywheel spinning, rolls slowly, relentlessly over just about anything less than half its own height thanks to massively high gear ratio, torque and traction.
dosage ‘popup’, check ‘width=500, buy height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>Creeping out of some long-forgotten Disney picture, the ghoul is a perfect caricature of the ominous, an everyboogeyman. He skulks forward on half-bent knees and thick-soled clodhoppers that peek from beneath his heavily draped shroud, his three-fingered (and one would assume leather-gloved) hands menacing, ready to grab and ravish. He is made in China. Get down low enough and look up at him and dread pours off him in waves with a low, throbbing negative energy. But he’s just a little rubber fellow, not two inches high. He has an alter-ego, who I’ll blog on later.
story ‘popup’, information pills ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>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 weekends guzzling mead, saying things like “forsooth” and “methinks” and acting out cornball face-to-face costumed melodrama like the worst sort of Trekkies. But for the fact that they’re almost completely surrounded by entire overweight, stroller-shoving families wearing Oakleys, fanny packs and zinc on their noses, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun, and you could almost forget yourself for an afternoon and pretend you’re living 400 years ago …

The coarse food is good and filling (turkey legs and grilled, unshucked corn). You can stagger around swilling beer from your flagon (or logo’ed paper cup, as the case may be) and thrill to the refreshingly un-wired jousting matches, parades and impromptu concerts for bagpipe, war drum and sackbutt. You can also shop – a dizzying number of the Faire folk have spent years honing skills at ancient methods of weaving, swordcraft, millinery and even smithying. This vicious-looking device was orginally used to clean carbon deposits from the nipple of one’s flintlock firearm – a pinhole in the gun’s body that allows the spark to travel from the flash pan to the charge and shot lovingly hand-packed into the barrel. Crafted of true, unplated stainless steel, it is wickedly sharp and doubles as a bloody effective toothpick.
order ‘popup’, pills ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>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 time something like, “9 bucks is a stupid amount of money to pay for something like this, but I must have this thing, and besides, it’s a tool and I’ll use it, not like the other stuff I collect that fascinates for the first day and a half, then loses its luster like sea glass plucked from the surf.” I use it at least once a week – if not to measure then to fiddle with while trying to avoid writing. It has its uses. $9 was a steal.
pills ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>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 your eyes – the tying of flies, the soldering of tiny circuits, the painting of trolls’ eyebrows with a single-hair brush.
approved ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>“Lost in Space” debuted in 1965, at the height of the Space Race. I was 5, and when my mom sat me down in front of the TV and I saw that flying saucer blast off into the blackness, I was locked in the hold with Will Robinson, doomed to wander the cosmos with the evil Dr. Smith and smart-mouthed robot B-19. The Space Pod was a little miracle – suspended against pinpricked black-velvet on monofilament, its tiny nuclear propeller whirring beneath – an uncanny reflection of the Lunar Excursion Module yet to come.
no rx ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>This little clockwork device is very, very old, judging by the wear. There are no maker’s marks anywhere on it. The back of its potmetal chassis is worn away where a metal thumb ring once rode, eroding the surface. Its stamped tin face bears the dents and scars of a thousand infinitesimal blows – a phenomenon about which William Gibson wrote beautifully in Neuromancer. Knobs on its back let you reset each of the dials inside, which spin smoothly and then click over – each moving the next one up by a power of 10 with every 10 pushes of the stamped-steel thumb button. Did it count baseball fans? Inmates at bed check? Pallets of cabbage thudding onto a flatbed, box after hard-picked box? It’s not saying.

Filed under: Instrument | Comments (2)


  1. kim May 11, 2004 @ 11:28 am

    I know exactly what it is! It’s a ‘counter’ used by excavator operators to count the gravel trucks as they load them with whatever it is that they are loading on that job. One click = one truck full. At the end of the day they can then refer to the amount of trucks they loaded …mostly for billing purposes.

    Hope this solves the mystery! 🙂

  2. Kebeol May 8, 2004 @ 4:31 am

    Heavy Little Objects
    Mack Reed collects heavy little things. They litter his office, pockets, car and home but up until now he hasn’t made any attempt to catalogue them. He has created a blog for this purpose, Heavy Little Objects. In it, he…