Neat New Toys

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, 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. …

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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9 Responses to Neat New Toys

  1. Oh dear! Just what I need. More stuff!


    • Kate says:

      But, Maggie – this is new and amazing stuff! Things to enhance your zombie survival kit, or spark lovely new, weird story ideas. I have one that popped into my mind as soon as I saw the blue EL wire and the black light flashlight – this idea that some kinds of faerie are visible in ultra violet light …



  2. Kate says:

    Well, you know, Neassa – one doesn’t. Because they listen all the time …


  3. ~ Becky says:

    Oh… my …. goodness…. the geek in me can’t resist!

    Did you get the shepherd’s whistle to work? I have one for Aggie and it took me a lifetime to get out just one tweet! I read that real shepherds use the lid from a tin and punch a hole in the center and fold it in half. I don’t relish the idea of slicing my mouth open on the sharp edge of a tin can lid, so I bought the ready made one. Now, I’m wondering if what you got is potentially even better than what I got. AAAAGGGGGGHHHH! More cool stuff to buy!!!!!


  4. Kate says:

    Becky – yep, it worked right off. But I had read a description of how to use them years ago in a novel, so I had unexpected resources. It’s about the same size as the lid to a tin of tobacco (the classical source material) folded over like a steel taco, with a couple of holes punched and a ring for a lanyard: very classic. I love it. The Corgi likes it, though I think he doesn’t know quite why … but he takes it as encouragement in herding the cats, so he’s happy. And Kim was so enchanted with his immediate response that she lavished treats on him. I’m gonna use it to see if I can get him to come indoors when he’s barking at squirrels!


  5. mizkizzle says:

    Thank you! I am definitely going to take the plunge and order some of this stuff, although probably not from the guy who sends an assortment of things that remind him of his grandmother. I have a fear of getting a box full of mothballs, plastic rain bonnets and fossilized boiled sweets.


    • Kate says:

      Yeah, I wondered about that one, too – “things that remind him of his grandmother.” The mind boggles and the blood chills. One of my own grandmothers was a lively saint, but the other one was a troll – I’d be afraid I’d get mementos of the wrong one.


  6. Thank you! You have totally solved next year’s Christmas present dilemma for me!


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