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What Were They Thinking When They Invented This?! Unforgettable Gadgets

written by: Rebecca Scudder•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/21/2011

Gadgets are useful, funny, wild and delightful. Whether you're left wondering what the inventor could have possibly been thinking, or see a gadget you just got to have, this journey through wacky gadgets will leave you smiling and shaking your head.

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    Ancient history is filled with gadgets - and inventors - and perhaps the most well-known is Leonardo Da Vinci. His gadget drawings have inspired many. Here is his tank design, and two different versions of the invention.

    If gadget freaks have a patron, it could be Leonardo. Enjoy this gadget freak photo album - and perhaps find a gift for the lover-of-all-gadgets on your holiday list.

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    An Updated Oldie With a Twist

    An Updated Oldie With a Twist 

    Rubik's cubes came out in the US in 1980 - and into the hearts of millions of geeks. At one point I owned about 20 different types - and most of them were in an unsolved condition for all too much of the time. My not-yet-husband got a lot of bonus points by starting at one end of the shelf and solving his way to the other end.

    He doesn't know it yet - but I ordered this one for him for his birthday next month. I wonder how quickly his old skills will come back to him.

    What's your favorite Rubik's cube - and your best time to solve one?

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    Worlds as Gadgets

    Worlds as Gadgets 

    EcoSphere has been making miniature worlds - closed ecosystems in blown glass globes, based on NASA research for closed ecosystems in space travel, for more than 20 years. While a living globe is not your typical gadget, a closed ecosystem is one of theeco-gallery types and sizes  most delicate and hard-to-achieve systems possible. The ecosystem globe is an eco-gadget you can sit on your desk and enjoy on a daily basis.

    I've had one or two of these globes or pods for close to ten years, although not the same one. Be careful not to give it too much light, as the algae can grow too fast for the shrimp to keep it in check. Sort of a greenhouse effect in miniature.

    Based on my personal experience, it is not good for shrimp to stay at below 32° F for too much time. I have upgraded in size, and found my experiences indicate the larger globes survived upheavals, moving and temperature variation better than the small ones.

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    Tin Can Robot

    Tin Can Robot 

    recycle a can into a robot kit This is not a sophisticated robot, but it is cute. Do you have a junior geek on your gift list and want to give them something a little tincan robot upright different? This kit for recycling a soda can is inexpensive enough you can give it as a spur-of-the-moment gift to a kid and watch them enjoy constructing their own robot.

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    Pukkagen's Pressure Airship Concept

    Pukkagen's Pressure Airship Concept 

    Airship pirates, gather ye around!

    Elsie Esq (Les Chatfield) built the Spirit of Meccano from plans drawn more than 20 years ago by Pukkagen.

    Children's building sets have often been a tool for inventors, as well as a stimulus for creativity in general. One of the most appealing things about this gadget to me is that it is actually flying, and seems to only use typical Meccano parts.

    This gadget takes flight into your own hands to enjoy. Now if only it were big enough for me to take a flight in ... this looks like a job for Stuart Little!

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    T-Shirt Guitar

    T-Shirt Guitar 

    Electronic Drum Kit T Shirt This is a gadget whose home is on your shirt, You can play the guitar, and amp up the sounds so everyone around you can enjoy it too. Actual guitar chords were recorded and play when you touch the corresponding button on the guitar neck on your shirt. The guitar is removable for washing. The shirt provides the chords - kids electronic guitar T shirt you play the songs - a prerecorded repertoire is not built in.

    It you want a t-shirt band, there are also shirts for playing the drums and synthesizer. ThinkGeek also sells kid-sized guitar and drum shirts.

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    Life Size Mousetrap

    Life Size Mousetrap 

    Life size mousetrap game by backofthenapkin on Flickr Mark Perez was the inspiration behind the Life Size Mousetrap exhibition - 25 tons of Rube Goldberg contraptionLife Sized Mouse Trap - Maker Faire 2008 by Randy Stewert on Flickr  brought to world attention at the 2007 Maker Faire, and exhibited regularly since, including an appearance at the 2011 Maker Faire. According to the notes on his site, lifesizemousetrap.org, he worked on it for over 13 years.

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    Flying Alarm Clock

    Flying Alarm Clock 

    Edmund Scientific has a flying alarm clock with a really twisted premise. When the alarm goes off, a propeller flies off around your room. The alarm will not shut off until the propeller is returned to the base.Flying Alarm clock propeller 

    Not exactly a friendly alarm that lets you get away with pushing the snooze button over and over again. Hearing the alarm while you chase the propeller around - or under or behind your bed, and perhaps stopping to find your glasses - is not very likely to leave you in the mood to roll over and sleep a little longer.

    I would recommend you make sure you don't set it on weekends.

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    Click Click Lego Typewriter - Great Invention Series

    Click Click Lego Typewriter - Great Invention Series 

    Matt Armstrong's classically-styled Lego typewriter is an unusual and delightful gadget. He says, "it is part of an ongoing series of Lego gadgets that I am calling Great Inventions series." The series also includes a Lego sextant, Western Electric wall phone, and a number of other Lego Steampunk-styled gadgets.

    Lego is a toy that most gadget freaks play with - and many of them continue to make Lego models as adults as well. Some Lego gadgets are functional as well, and Lego has a line of Mindstorm products specifically designed to make functional and wild gadgets.

    Are there parts in this typewriter that you recognize from any of your own Lego sets?

    This typewriter is another contraption made from kid's toys, with the Steampunk aesthetic found in the Spirit of Meccano, seen earlier.

    Steampunk has a lot to answer for - it is bringing back the concept of the everyday gadget that is ornate to look at and fun to use. It has a driving DIY ethic, recycled and repurposed focus and encourages the use of imagination.

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    USB Plasma Ball

    USB Plasma Ball 

    Plasma balls are one of those scientific gadgets we often see as a child. I remember touching the surface and watching the caged lightning jump to my finger - and really wishing I could take the whole thing off the pedestal at the museum and bring it home with me.

    Well, now I have my own USB plasma ball. It is a lot smaller, but in some ways that just makes it neater. It is now one of the gadgets I attach to my computer when I'm not likely to move my laptop for a while. and I happily take a mental break from writing to see how many fingers I can fit on it to get lightning strands spread around it. There's such a nice cause-and-effect reaction playing with a plasma ball.

    This one has an on off switch on the base, if you want to turn it off without disconnecting it.

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    3D Printer

    3D Printer 

    If Gutenberg could have imagined it, he would have wanted one - if only to make typesetting a lot easier.

    3D printing is a staple idea in science fiction, and it is now not only possible to do in large factories, but in the privacy of your own geek home.

    The Thing-O-Matic 3D printer is available from MakerBot Industries, and can be purchased as a kit or put together for you, as shown above, for under $3K.

    More and more companies are coming out with 3D printers, and they are used for prototypes in industries, concept gadgets, and even one-of-a-kind artwork.

    3D printers could also be at the forefront of yet another digital intellectual property controversy - and I don't think this one was envisioned when the DMCA was written.

    What would you make if you had your own? That is starting to be less of a theoretical question than you might imagine. The Washington Post wrote in September 2011about the Origo, a 3D printer for kids. Currently, the developers are looking for venture capital, and hope to sell the Origo for about $800. Not cheap, but about the same price as a decent laptop.

References

  • Washington Post article of 9/20/2011 no longer shows in current available articles. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/origo-a-3d-printer-for-kids/2011/09/20/gIQAhEbFiK_story.html may help you find it in a library
  • Origo: A 3D Printer For Kids, http://www.origo3dprinting.com/what-is-origo/
  • 3D Printer Plan & Fan page, http://www.thingiverse.com/





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