Handcrafted oddities for science and tech fans
By Ben Coxworth
January 27, 2011
One of the best things about the Internet, besides the sharing of ideas and bringing together like-minded people and all that stuff, is the opportunity it affords us to buy weird things. While said weird things can come in all shapes and sizes, often the most prized and intriguing are the one-of-a-kind handmade items. If that’s what you’re seeking, then one of the best places to look is on Etsy – for the uninitiated, it’s kind of like an eBay devoted solely to things that people have made themselves. We took a snoop through the website, searching specifically for quirky science and/or technology-related thing-a-ma-jigs. Here’s a look at some of what we found.
Flashdrives fit for Jules Verne
In case you haven’t noticed, flash drives are fast becoming an avenue of self-expression. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, for instance, we received press kits on flash drives with bodies made from stainless steel, bamboo and rubber, and that were shaped like stealth fighters, guitars, cameras and Swiss Army knives.
None of those, however, looked as snazzy as the Basement Foundry steampunk flash drives made by Jumpei Funaki. His polished copper-and-brass drives are built around name brand electronics, and look like they would be right at home sticking out of an anachronistic laptop in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While no two are exactly alike, they all feature ornate windows that glow from within when they’re active.
Based out of Princeton, New Jersey, Funaki himself has a background in apparel design, that led to his working with computers. “My wife and I were among the first to adapt commercial graphics software for the apparel field,” he told Gizmag. “Now, I unofficially oversee design computers for the company where I've worked for about 17 years on top of my usual design duties. I have developed small software to do some apparel design tasks that I am getting ready to market.”
The inspiration for the flash drives came from a ray gun that his son made from plastic piping and fittings, combined with his having copper piping left over from a sprinkler system. They come in a variety of memory capacities, and cost between US$75 and $108.
Bears are woefully over-represented in the world of stuffed animals, while single-celled organisms are virtually unheard of. Well, Sasha Wagner is trying to correct that imbalance, by making stuffed felt paramecium and amoeba fridge magnets.
Another New Jersey resident, she has a Biochemistry degree from the University of Delaware, and currently works as a research assistant in a molecular biology lab. She started making the microbes as gifts for friends and family who worked in the sciences. Now, she told us, non-scientists are buying them just because they find them amusing and cheerful.
“I enjoy selling my quirky items on Etsy because I love to bring science to people in a fun, unique and approachable way,” she said. “I want them to realize that science doesn't always have seem dry and boring – it is actually one of the most interesting and diverse areas of study you could get into!”
Wagner sells her stuffed microorganisms through her What. No Mints? Etsy store for prices ranging from US$9 to $14.
The motherboard of all jewelry
Go to any farmer’s market or craft show, and chances are you’ll see jewelry made from bits of computers – Ctrl key pins and rings seem to be particularly popular. Michelle McLaughlin’s Motherbored creations, however, take computer jewelry to the next level. Working mainly with colorful translucent sections of circuit boards and other aesthetically-selected parts, her polished, resin-coated pendants, earrings and cuff links look kind of your great-grandmother’s heirloom jewelry, if it were designed by Philip K. Dick.
McLaughlin lives in Gainesville, Virginia, where she’s studying to become a registered dental hygienist. In a past life, however, she worked at Micron Technology, where she watched Pentium chips being produced. Her ex in-laws have had some success of their own making and selling computer jewelry, and invited her to scrounge through their cyberjunk bins. Once friends began giving her their old computers, she started up her business.
“Each piece really starts coming into its own as I open the computer and see the mother board for the first time,” she told us. “It’s a jackpot when I come across a board that’s not the most common color of hunter green.”
“I’m able to save these computers and ‘recycle’ and ‘upcycle’ them into something cool and exciting for everyone to love. It’s not just IT techs that are fascinated by my jewelry but even the people that completely acknowledge that they barely know what to do with a computer.”
Michelle’s creations sell for between US$25 and $45.
You’ll love their guts out
Biologists like stuffed animals just as much as the next person but, being scientists, they’re naturally going to be curious as to what makes those animals tick. That’s where Burlington, Vermont’s Emily Stoneking comes in. Through her Crafty Hedgehog store, she sells hand-knit dissected critters such as rats, frogs, alligators, bunnies, and even that high school biology favorite, the fetal pig.
Each of Stoneking’s specimens are made from a silk/wool blend (with wool needle-felted organs), and come pinned to their own dissection board. Although Emily herself is a student of German and history, she has what she calls a layman’s admiration for the hard sciences.
“I'm quite interested in the intersection of art and science,” she said. “I also quite like taking things that often make people squeamish (myself included), and creating them out of materials that are usually associated with comfort and coziness. Lots of people with morbid senses of humor find me through word of mouth and they purchase the dissections for themselves, however there are a surprising number of people in the world who have a biologist somewhere in their family tree and who are looking for gifts for said biologist.”
Emily’s pieces are priced at US$125.