Kage Baker loved gadgets. She loved wind up toys, clockwork, spinning light-up tops – techno-toys like thumb drives in new shapes and colours (she had a rainbow of them, and wanted one shaped like a gummy bear. Or a skull.). Cunning doohickeys that plugged into USB ports, and lit up or whistled or boiled water or made 6 tiny perfect ice cubes for her Coke.
I’ve never been as fond of weird shiny patent inventions, but … I’ve felt I was missing something by not at least checking them out. Kage adored such things, and would pore over the catalogs from Archie McFee and Hammacher Schlemmer, moaning with longing for an inflatable indoor dirigible or a working sextant. (And she got the sextant eventually.) It was one of the ways she made life so very interesting.
So, feeling I needed a tonic with explosive bubbles, as it were, I subscribed last year to a site call Quarterly. It’s … an artisanal site. For everything. Chefs, painters, programmers, tinkers: makers put their goods up there, soliciting subscriptions. And once a quarter, you get a box of goodies from whomever you chose – which is pretty much by topic. Fine arts? Electronics? Travel? Pets? Cooking? Carefully curated WTF? Sign up for a topic that looks interesting, and the maker will send you a nifty box within 3 months. And it will be full of astonishing toys. Stuff, you know – but primo stuff.
My first one came late last month. I’ve forgotten what the topic was meant to be, but I picked it because it was being done by Mark Frauenfelder, one of my favourite contributors to BoingBoing. Turned out Mr. Frauenfelder is heavily into plastic and technology, and I got a box full of wonderful toys/tools/ doohickeys – a length of EL wire that glows blue, a miniature battery-operated LED microscope (smaller than a Hot Wheels!) and a flashlight that turned out to be blacklight! Armed with these things, I can play forensic science till the cows come home.
I got this box literally as I walked out of the house on my way to Stiches. So I brought it along and opened it in the hotel room, to the delight of Kimberly and Neassa, also. In fact, Neassa twigged first to the true purpose of the blue flashlight. We decided not to check the bed with the black light … maybe next time. It’s a scary proposition.
The next box came today, from a project called Wander. Keenan Cummings and Jeremy Fisher send out travel aids and other useful objects for those who might be seriously on the go. What I got today is amazing: the US Army Survival Manual, a wonderful little folding Japanese knife, a fold-flat, inflatable, plastic LED lantern that recharges with solar panels, and a steel shepherd’s whistle.
I am that much more prepared for domestic disasters; this will all be great additions to the family earthquake kit. Not to mention just plain fun. The shepherd’s whistle is apparently intended to send signals and summon help, but it works a treat with any spare Corgis you may have lying about the place … ours appeared with panting alacrity, herded a surprised cat into the wall, and graciously accepted a treat for being such a good dog. It’s fantastic!
I know I have at least one other goodie box out there somewhere, but I don’t remember if it’s due in this quarter or next. Nor do I care; the readiness is all!
You can investigate this random treasure trove at https://quarterly.co/contributors, and see all they have to offer. Any given maker asks between $25.00 and $100.00 for the quarterly box o’wonder – I should note, that I’ve only signed up for the low-end stuff, and look at the marvy things I’m getting. This is a great deal – Kage would be dancing with delight, and already making plans on how to use her new toys.
As for me, I feel I’m keeping faith with her inventiveness by doing this. And I’ll find things to do with my treasures, too, worthy of Kage’s burning curiosity and never-ending sense of wonder. And so I pass it on to you, as well, Dear Readers, because this stuff is better still when you can share it with someone else.
Now I’m going to settle down with the Survival Manual and explore the wonderful world of incendiary substances: making a fire is always so vital. Kage certainly thought so, her with the fire in her head. …