• The top that (almost) never stops

    Who isn't fascinated by the idea of perpetual motion?  Though I know it's impossible, I'm always on the lookout for things that seem to come close.

    Like most tops, Limbo is spun from your fingertips – but the hidden USB recharge-able gyroscope is what keeps it going.  LIMBO just took the Guinness World Record title for Longest-Running Mechanical Spinning Top with a non-stop spinning time of 27 hours, 9 minutes and 24 seconds! Here is a lovely product shot with its protected secret exposed.

    When I was a kid, one of my favorite games to play was a frantic board game called Battling Tops where you and your friends each spun a top into a playing field and the last one standing was the winner.

    This was a ridiculously entertaining game but it gave me a completely different feeling than my LIMBO toy. Instead of a frenzied micro-war playing out in front of me, the goal of LIMBO is to simply stand upright and appear as still as possible.

    For those who don't actually know that it's powered though, LIMBO defies logic. It seems to have the gift of perpetual motion — much like the liquid-filled, drinking glass birdies from my childhood.

    If you have children and haven't seen these in action, spend the 5 bucks on one right now. It's basically a science experiment in a fancy blue top-hat!

    The bird tips back and forth depending on whether his beak is moist or not. As water evaporates, the temperature in the bird's head lowers and creates a pressure change inside the body, which causes liquid to rise into its head, which makes him dip again. The beak becomes remoistened and the cycle impossibly repeats for hours.

     

    If I didn't have one myself, the drinking glass birdie would seem as impossible as the mofos below who toot around town in their impossi-cars powered by well-placed magnets.

     

    But it is not!  The drinking glass birdie is science in a fancy blue top hat! Which of course brings me back to LIMBO — the greatest top in the world!

    If you like things that travel at speeds up to 10,000 RPM while looking like they're standing still for a long freaking time — then LIMBO is your jam.

    Either way, please enjoy this Battling Spaceships board game commercial from 1977. It's the same basic idea as Battling Tops only this one comes with an especially annoying curly haired kid.

  • A Stealthy Trojan Horse For Fitness

    I grew up in a family where competition and winning meant everything. Throughout my childhood, my sister and I were pitted against each other in games of chance and skill, with prizes of heavily salted snacks for the victor. Over the years, we fine-tuned our gamesmanship, for whomever won was punished rather than rewarded. Decades later, we have a whole new generation of competitors in our family, but this year my sister and I tried something different. We introduced a trojan horse for fitness called the Stealth Core Trainer.

    The trainer is just a device on which to plank upon, but its competitive nature makes it fun. For those who don't know, a plank is an exercise where you hold your body up by your forearms and toes as straight as possible.

    Planking exercises different parts of your body, but to someone who's just been given a Nintendo Switch for Christmas, it's rather boring. Below is an image of my nephew multitasking in his natural habitat. Note that he's eating cereal while video chatting with a friend WHILE playing a networked game with yet another friend.

    It's a ridiculous site to behold and a difficult one to tear him away from. Luckily, the Stealth Core Trainer [Amazon link] turns the once static planking exercise into a digital, competitive game by combining the built in gyroscope of their own phone with exercise.

    In the end, it's simply a sturdy block of well-designed plastic and rubber that's balanced on a round object.

    To play, each participant is invited to rest their arms on the trainer and hit the play button on their phone to launch their physical challenge. It's sort of like the old game of Snake where you're tasked with traveling around a screen to pick up pellets by leaning in different directions while planking. As you advance, the pace of the gameplay gets faster and faster and the experience always ends with sore abs and the desire to get a higher score next time. Below is an action shot of my 72 year old Mother tearing up her abdominals.

    In a social setting, the game brings about laughter, and makes you feel like you've done something productive. And everyone who sees it in person seems to want to give it a go.

    The game doesn't have fantastic graphics but it doesn't need them because it's more about how you feel afterwards.

    In December, I brought the Stealth to Michigan for my nephew and he's been using it ever since. It's a bit pricy at $199.00 but it has encouraged him to exercise instead of being glued to his Nintendo Switch.

    Just look at that form! When Ryan started using the Stealth he couldn't support himself enough to have his knees off the ground, and in just a few weeks he has mastered the plank.

    Go nephew!

    Stealth Core Trainer [Amazon link]

  • Circuit Maze Logic Game

    When I was a child my favorite game was Mousetrap because the experience wasn't simply about rolling dice and moving around a board.  Rather, it was an invitation to construct environments with the reward of something special happening.

    I still enjoy games where you build but I especially love it when they offer clever, valuable lessons as well.  Circuit Maze teaches spacial reasoning and electrical engineering with simple to understand concepts.  As you play, the levels naturally get more difficult and are challenging even to adults.

    If your child is interested in games at even higher tech levels, there's also a game series called CODE  that teaches the valuable superpower of computer coding concepts.  I only wish I had access to these games when I was young.

  • Roller Coaster Challenge

    I was just introduced to an excellent game called Roller Coaster Challenge that melds puzzle solving, creativity and fun.  It's a logic-based, free-form, build-it-yourself kit that tasks you to get from point A to point B by using a limited number of coaster parts.

    Every level in the game challenges you to build new structures while building on learned concepts.  As you complete tasks, you'll be surprised by what's possible and it will make you want to go off the grid and create your own layouts. 

    As you can plainly see from the video below, John's "Blue Flash" invention was no doubt inspired by this game.

    My wife tutors children who have a very difficult time focusing but Roller Coaster Challenge captures their attention and instantly gets them into the concentration zone.

     

  • The Animation Dome

    My inventor friend Les Cookson, just reached out and shared his new project with me: The Animation Dome. As usual, Les has created something that we'll want to play with—and as with all his projects, it's inspired by a technology designed over 150 years ago: the Zoetrope. His tool takes the traditional 2D animation illusion into the third dimension.  

    The dome is a great art creation tool and is obviously the logical gateway to creating warm-hearted Burning Man favorites such as Peter Hudson's Charon.

    And his art imitates life classic, Tantalus.

    If you like the Animation Dome, check out Les's other creative products at Ancient Magic Art Tools.

    He is the man with the animation plan!

    The Animation Dome [Kickstarter]

  • Recommended: Ifixit's Pro Tech Toolkit

    Ifixit's Pro Tech Toolkit comes with 64 specialized screw bits that help my wife and I get into many restricted areas of technology.

    The carrying case rolls out like a sleeping bag, with the goodies neatly tucked into tiny canvas holders, and the clever container that holds the bits is held to the carrying case by a magnet – easily detached when needed.

    The set is intelligently designed; one flexible extender allows you to unscrew at 90 degree angles, perfect for working in the tight confines of a PC case.

  • The Mag Hand Workstation

    The Mag Hand Workstation[Amazon link] by Hobby Creek is a 4.5 Lb steel platform with flexible, magnetic arms that hold delicate objects in place while I paint, solder and study them.  Since my side projects involve tiny antiques with itsy bitsy locking mechanisms, I used to have a habit of losing important pieces – but those days are behind me.

    My Hydra-like workstation comes with 2 magnetic trays that can be positioned anywhere on the platform.

    And because of built in magnets, even if tip the whole thing upside down, everything stays put. The pieces are modular and allows me to set the flexible matrix in any way I want. In fact, the arms and optional Mag Helper can simply be used by themselves when placed on any steel object.

    Check out Hobby Creek if you enjoy delicate work but don't like crawling around on your hands and knees looking for tiny, lost metal things.

  • Scot Nery's Boobie Trap Is Moving To Hollywood!

    For those of you who don't know, my pancake juggling friend Scot Nery has been putting on a circus & variety show in L.A. for last 111 weeks. Rain or shine, he has introduced a ridiculous amount of energy and the best talent from around the world.

    The show is called Scot Nery's Boobie Trap and there is nothing else like it. Really! You've got to see this show!

    The format is unique in that it features fifteen 4-minute acts that are peppered with Scot's frenzied hosting personality and his awesome house band Fire Leopard.  

    The show is eccentric and the entertainers rotate every week so you never know what you're going to get. In the past we've seen:

    • Guinness-Record-holding hula-hoopers
    • World champion knife throwers
    • Cirque de Soleil aerialists
    • Amazing Ventriloquists
    • Standup comedians
    • Sword swallowers
    • Contortionists
    • Magicians
    • Musicians
    • Jugglers

    And now, each and every Wednesday, Scott and his talented army have a brand new home at 6555 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

    The doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $25 at the door and $17 if you buy them in advance.

  • Just looking at this camera obscura makes me happy

    I have a thing for beautiful wooden boxes, and I absolutely lose my mind when they perform magical feats. My friend Les Cookson recently sent me a prototype of a Camera Obscura he's been working on and just looking at it makes me happy. His design is based on a principle that's been around since 500 BC and it's exactly what I enjoy sharing.

    Here's how it works:

    When the camera faces an object or image, rays of light enter though a convex lens and projects a reverse image toward the back end of the darkened box.  A mirror intersects the image and makes it viewable through a glass plate at the top where it can be traced or photographed. This is an excellent artist's tool for getting a quick sketch for proportion and layout as you can draw right on top of the glass.

    The images produced by the device are surprisingly otherworldly and here's something that will definitely seem crazy – it is possible to turn any room in your home into a Camera Obscura by blocking out all light and cutting a small hole in the window covering.  I just came across the video below and I want to try this out for myself.

    The science behind how the Camera Obscura and the human eye takes in imagery is similar.   Just as the lens of the Camera lets light waves in and reverses them, so does the lens of the eye.   The difference is that our brain automatically mirrors what's taken in so that we see things as they should be.

    In 1646 Athanasius Kircher took things to a new level when he developed a Camera Obscura in the round when he placed 2 darkened boxes inside of one other.

    In his design, each of the 4 walls had lenses at their center that projected surrounding views onto stretched paper. An artist could trace what he saw and in the end have a perfectly captured, 360° view of the outside environment.

    This idea of multiple views taken with the same Camera Obscura has been refined and reused for hundreds of years.

    If you're a fan of ancient visualization techniques or a master painter in the making, you can't go wrong with Les Cookson's Camera Obsucra.  I'm very much looking forward to playing around with mine and I've already begun the process of blacking out my living room in the name of photographic science. 

  • Get yourself thrown out of this show, if you can

    In & Of Itself is the fantastic brainchild of three-time Academy of Magical Arts Award winner Derek DelGuadio. Though it stopped running in Los Angeles a few months ago, the lucky folks in New York will have 10 weeks to catch it at Union Square's Daryl Roth Theatre from April 5 – June 18.  A few months ago a good friend took me and the next block of 48 hours was filled with surges of amazement, fear, pride and relief – and I guarantee that my experience was different from the other attendees. (more…)

  • My nerdy solar powered backpack

    Ok, it's not just solar powered. It's also an anti-theft, waterproof marvel that keeps my phone's power bar from ever getting into the red.

    Sure the idea seems obvious now – tuck a gigantic solar powered battery pack into an exposed slot and turn the wearer into a walking energy harvester.  Simple maybe, but I didn't think of it.  Way to go Solgaard.

    The battery brick is called the Solarbank and the backside acts as a nifty speaker that wirelessly plays tunes from my phone.

    And as long as there's direct sunlight, I can have non-stop music playback with absolutely no battery drain. I believe it'd be the perfect "trapped on a desert island device".  In fact, if Tom Hanks had one in the movie Castaway (and a brand new smartphone), he wouldn't have needed that goofy volley ball at all.

    And I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking my desert island concept is flawed because the sun would eventually set and its magical recharging rays will disappear. Well I can't argue with you on that – but just imagine a life where you weren't trapped on a desert island and followed my easy to execute 2 step plan.

    Step 1) Create an autonomous vehicle that moves fast enough around the Earth so that you're always under direct sunlight. Below is a handy illustration that explains how to gain maximum charging time with a LIFEPACK backpack.

    As you can see, it all depends upon your starting latitude and your ability to stay within it as you travel. At the equator, you'd need to travel west at approximately 1650km/h to counteract the rotation speed of the Earth. As you travel towards the poles, the needed speed decreases dramatically.

    Step 2) Create an algorithm that auto-coordinates your musical playlist with the regions you travel over. Flying over Poland? Why not rock out to a 30 second snippet of The Pennsylvania Polka? Tooting along over Russia? The theme song to Tetris is pretty darned relaxing.

    But if you intend to forego my Rube-Goldbergian plan, you could simply charge your Solarbank once a week by plugging it into a wall outlet while you sleep.  The pack can store up to 6 phone charges and has 2 USB ports that allow for romantic charging sessions for you and your nerdy mate.

    The bag has 5 secret zipper compartments for your nerdy odds and ends and there's even a built in combination lock that will keep your computer safe from…traveling computer thieves I guess.

    Look, this is the most well thought out, high-tech backpack I've ever seen and since the solar pack has already bailed me out of a professional jam I'm going to give the weird combination lock thing a pass.

    Check out LIFEPACK. If you're nerdy like me or stranded on a desert island, you'll love it.

    FYI – Getting Wilson's image on your LIFEPACK will be entirely up to you. 

  • The best video store in the world carries only one movie

    Remember those bygone days when certain stores would decorate their walls with movie titles for us to pick through? Well, just imagine a magical place that cuts out the celluloid chaff and delivers only what we really want to see.

    Last weekend I stumbled upon the finest collection of cinema classics I've witnessed since the early 2000s.  It was stocked with everything I needed to scratch my entertainment itch for drama, romance, and even sports flicks.

    And the place I'm talking about ONLY carried the classic Jerry Maguire movie and get this… it was all on VHS tape!

    (more…)

  • The Swagtron T3

    The office I work in is full of things old people buy to make themselves feel young again.  I can honestly say that our awesome new toy, The Swagtron T3 Hoverboard, makes me feel very, very old. I'll explain why later.

    Swagtron T3 Pros

    • There's no way to overcharge the battery and that means no more pesky fires and unplanned explosions!
    • This model actually has a battery life indicator!
    • There's a new SwagTron app that syncs with your hover-board.
      • You can set the top speed and sensitivity of both acceleration and steering.
      • There's an odometer that keeps track of lifetime miles traveled.
      • You can toggle the Hoverboard on and off with the app – so no more bending over. Ever!
      • The app has a speedometer! Amazing right?

    Swagtron T3 Cons

    • The app has a speedometer! Crazy right?!  You have to look at the app while riding to enjoy the speedometer and if you do, you're no longer watching the terrain which goes against every rule of motorized vehicles.
    • It's pretty pricey at $449.99.

    But I have to say that the Swagtron T3 is much better than their previous models. The wheels are beefier, the ride is stable, and the motor is peppier.

    Why does the Swagtron T3 make me feel old? 

    Tonight, I decided to live on the wild side and switched from "Standard" to "Advanced" mode on the app. When I did, I got this friendly warning:

    "Extremely high injury risk"?!

    There was a time when I'd completely ignore a message like that or treat it as a challenge. But these days, with my back issues, bad knees and fear of everything around me, I have to be careful. And even though the T3 will reach a top speed of only 8 MPH, it's plenty fast when you're standing upright with your hands glued to your sides.

    Which brings me to this dude in Dubai who is surely riding in Advanced mode.

     

    What the S#!T is that?  And how did I get so old?!

     

    PRO/CON COMBINATION

    The SWAGTRON T3 can also play music via Blootooth while you ride. How ridiculous is that?   Just today, I terrorized my coworkers as I zipped around the office while blasting Soul Coughing's Super Bon-Bon.  I've been told that there's nothing more frightening than a 47 year old man blazing by your cubicle with the lyrics, "Move, aside, and let the man go through!" blaring from his feet.

    In case you either don't know how great that song actually is or how annoying it would be to hear in the workplace…you're welcome.

    I've ridden many Hoverboards in the past few years and the SWAGTRON T3 is the best yet. It will always be magical to me to simply lean in a direction of choice and quickly travel there.

     

    If only I was 20 years younger and didn't enjoy lounging around on porch swings so much.

  • Karl Herlinger talks to his fist

    The format for Scot Nery's weekly BoobieTrap show is the wackiest I've ever seen. It's vaudeville on steroids with Nery as the amped up and kooky ringmaster. The performers range from jugglers to contortionists, magicians and poets – but the first time I attended, the standout talent was a wooden dummy named Joey and his human named Karl Herlinger.

    I've seen ventriloquist acts before, but these two had an edge that kept me thinking for days on end, and at times I forgot about who was controlling whom.

    If you stop and think about it, the very idea of ventriloquism is pretty darned crazy. These performers choose to get in front of theaters full of people and have heated conversations and arguments with themselves. It's hard enough to captivate an audience with story, dance, or musical talent when all you have to worry about is yourself, but imagine having to simultaneously play the role of two distinctly different personalities, while controlling a hidden levers that create the illusion of emotions in a wooden dummy.

    The strange combination of skills that must come together to pull something like this off has to be the reason we don't see more great ventriloquists. This is a difficult and dying art.

    I've hung out with Karl a few times since I first saw his show and I appreciate that his abilities go far beyond controlling inanimate objects and throwing voices. There's definitely meat on the bones here and though his lip control and manipulations are very, very good, it's the storytelling that makes you want more.

    After 35 years of honing his craft, Karl pushes himself with the question of how small he can make the show and still have it resonate. He knows that if the base story is strong, people will forgive a lack of props and complex manipulations. Karl says that anyone can learn to throw voices and "work a puppet's guts" but not everyone can give a story heart.

    I've seen plenty of performers do amazing things with their craft but simply appear mechanical – like a juggler who can keep may balls in the air but tells no visual story while doing it. Scot Nery is a great example of a fant juggler who can keep many balls aloft but what he's really know for is juggling one item at a time – a real pancake. He takes the audience on a hysterical journey as he cooks the pancake in front of you and then flips it around the stage in unimaginable ways. Again, it's only one object, but the show is much better than a juggler who can keep 10 balls in the air for any length of time.

    And back to Karl's question: "How small can I make my show and still have it resonate?"

    He answers himself by swapping out the Joey puppet all together, fixing googly eyeballs to his fist and calling him Larry. The new show slays audiences and his new character is more real than anything he's done before.

    This is a clothed version of Larry with bunny slippers and a set of googly eyes on his own hand. Larry seems human, and real because Karl is a master of his art and the dialogue is touching, you will want to hug him.

    By night, Karl performs around the world and by day, he's a graphic designer, writer, actor, husband and father of 2 who lives by these simple rules:

    • 1. Be present in everything you do and take advantage of the moment
    • 2. Have no fear of failure because it's part of the process
    • 3. Learn from the past

    You can check Karl out nearly every Wednesday at Scot Nery's Boobie Trap in Los Angeles and if that isn't enough for you here are a few other venues in which Karl graces the stage:

    We all think we understand what Karl does on stage because of conversations we've had with casted shadows on bedroom walls. But, you really have to see Karl, Joey and Larry in person to really know what's going on.

    For anyone who wants to build their own ventriloquist doll, I leave you with this up-to-date and easy to understand schematic.

    What could be simpler to build and learn to operate?!

  • Defy gravity with the Feel Flux Skill Set

    A few months ago I was introduced to a magical, magnetic toy called the Feel Flux and the folks who invented it just sent their newest invention – the Feel Flux Skill Set.

    feel-flux-specifications

    It's the same toy as before except now, there are two tubes to play with – and since it's a bit like juggling, the gravity-defying effect can be virtually endless.

    Each time you drop the metal ball through the tube you'd expect it to zip out the other end but instead, it lazily creeps from one end to the other and dribbles out into your waiting hand.
     

     

    I can't wait for the inevitable three-tube version to hit the market!