Archive for the 'Good design' Category

Lieutenant Brenske’s Marsch-Zirkel

In the days before GPS, Google Maps and Waze, people used maps; and to figure how long it would take to get from A to B on a map, you could make excellent use of a Marsch-Zirkel, or march compasses… like the lovely device described in this new article on my History of Computing exhibition.

Lieutenant Brenske's Marsch-Zirkel

Dating back to the late 19th century, this ingenious little tool helps you figure the distance and the time to cover it – with infantry or cavalry.

Take a look!

A Googie Kerosene Heater!

Kerosene heaters are smelly, require much maintenance, and are dangerous if used carelessly; on the other hand they create a lot of heat, are independent of utility feeds, and for us older folks they actually have a nostalgia evoked by the conditioned association of the kerosene smell and the pleasant warmth of years past. Be that as it may, they are seldom seen today, and those that are around are mostly stored for backup in case of winter power outages. They also tend to be bulky and ugly…

So here is one that is neither, a vintage unit sighted at the Jaffa flea market: a perfect compact  sphere, in the mid 20th century style.

Googie Kerosene Heater

Not sure how safe it is – seems it would toll over if bumped – but you gotta love the red color and the nice Googie design!

 

The ancients had it right

These days the preference for shoddy, cheap, use-and-discard products is all over the place. Here is an example:

Street sign

This sorry street sign in Jerusalem has taken on a very “artistic” look – because it is made from a blue layer of stick-on plastic sheet over a metal plate. Over time the plastic started to shrink and curl, with this amusing result.

And it occurs to me that the ancients who lived in our city had a better method. Take this stone, which was part of the temple enclosure parapet in the second temple period (around the time of Christ). It too carries a Hebrew inscription, identifying the location of “the house of trumpeting” – the location where the priest stood who blew the ram horn to announce the entry of the Sabbath.

The house of trumpeting inscription, Temple mount, Jerusalem

This stone took a big fall when the Romans destroyed the temple, but the lettering on it is crisp and legible after two millennia.

Sigh…

 

A beautiful instrument

This Barometer was made in Florence some 100 years ago, and served my late grandfather, first in Italy, then in Israel; it ended up on my wall, a family heirloom to delight the heart of any engineer.

Barometer

It is a large (23 cm across) Aneroid Barometer, an instrument to measure atmospheric pressure by means of the compression of an evacuated metal capsule (the silvery part with concentric corrugations). Back in the day you would set the golden arrow to cover the black one in the evening, and when leaving home in the morning you’d tap the glass to see which way the black arrow would slightly move from under it – denoting whether the pressure is rising or falling, i.e. whether the weather was getting sunnier or rainier.

What makes this instrument so lovely is the inside mechanism, which is made of springs, hinges, rods and chains that convey the movement to the pointer – and these are made of many beautifully burnished alloys of brass and steel, as you can see below (click either photo to enlarge it).

Barometer mechanism

The say some modern smartphones include a barometric sensor… but they can’t hold a candle to my grandpa’s barometer when it comes to sheer elegance and beauty!

A wonderful idea for defusing a child’s fear

I was sitting in the lobby of the Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, and I noticed on the chair next to me a small booklet someone had discarded there. An idle look turned to admiration as I examined it and realized what it was.

EEG coloring book

The cover reads “EEG test – the Institute for Neurological Diagnosis“, hardly exciting. But the thing is, obviously, a coloring book. Here are two pages from it:

EEG coloring book

Today they examine my head. And I know this does not hurt“.

EEG coloring book

In the room there are: A bed and pillow / A working table / And a large apparatus“.

Get the idea? The booklet explains everything clearly, dispelling the strangeness of the intimidating examination room, and of course mitigates the child’s fear; all in a coloring book that takes its mind off the scary goings on ahead.

The last page gives us the names of the good people who developed this wonder and gave it to the hospital. Well done!

EEG coloring book

Another triumph of improvisation!

New on my Possibly Interesting web site: Cloning a Vibroplex bug, where I describe the venerable Vibroplex semi-automatic telegraph key – and the improvised clone I made as a young radio amateur.

Vibroplex "bug" semi-automatic telegraph key and its homemade clone

Enjoy!

Definitely a good idea!

Form follows function!

Here is a row of anchors, which I photographed in Greenwich in the UK. You’ll note the one in the foreground has a single fluke (as the pointy ends of an anchor are called). The sign says this anchor is from around 1820.

Single fluke anchor

So why would they produce an anchor with only one fluke, when most of them have two? For a very good reason.

This model was used in permanent ship moorings in shallow waters. Think of the ship floating above the anchor. Think of the falling tide. Think what will happen if the ships comes down too close to an upward-pointing fluke…

That’s why!

A curious slide rule design

For some reason, inventors in the first half of the 20th century thought that incorporating a slide rule into a mechanical pencil was a great idea. In reality, these combination devices were of dubious utility, gives their low precision as calculators… but they are certainly ingeniously designed.

Pencil Sliderules

I describe three of them,  including one extremely rare device, in a new article on my history of computing site.

Enjoy!

How cool is that?!

Evolution has crafted some amazing design solutions to the problems of life, and I never have enough of their elegance.

Take the crocodile’s heart.

Crocodile

Crocodiles have a special bypass short circuiting blood flow to their lungs. Specifically, although they have the same four chambered heart configuration as us mammals, which pumps the blood first to the lungs to get oxygenated and then to the body to use that Oxygen, they have a special hole – the Foramen of Panizza – that connects the blood vessels leaving the heart’s two ventricles so that blood can flow from one circuit to the other without visiting the lungs. What’s more – and this is the cool part – in some species, a special valve enables the short circuit only during prolonged diving, when the lungs are useless anyway.

Is that cool, or what?!

Ingenious design sighting at Heathrow

Here is a bit of outstandingly smart design I saw in Terminal Five at London Heathrow airport.

Heathrow Terminal 5 signTo fully appreciate the ingenuity, you should know that there are two security inspection areas (you know, where they check your shoes and X-Ray your hand luggage): Security North and Security South. Both serve the same function, and they’re located a minute’s walk apart in this huge hall.

What this real-time information sign (and the similar one at the South area) does, is tell you that right now, you’ll be much better off to make that one minute trek, because the other area has a much shorter line.

Neat!