Thursday, December 12, 2013

The World’s Only Self-Righting Object

One of the worst things about this time of year is the attack of the catalogs.

Interestingly, this is also one of the best things about this time of year.

I not only get to despise/enjoy the onslaught of catalogs that get addressed to us. But as the person who does the junk mail recycle for the building, I get access to the full array of catalogs that everyone else automatically drops into the recycle basket in the foyer.

By no means do I look through them all.

There is just not enough time, even if I were willing to stay up catalog grazing 24/7.

But I do go through them selectively.

And one of the ones I take a look at is Hammacher-Schlemmer, which really does offer the most amazing amalgam of pricey junk this side of the SkyMall catalog stuck in the seatback.

It’s not enough that much of what H-S has on offer is just breathtaking in its sheer and utter uselessness:

  • The 1959 Corvette Billiards Table
  • The 3D Clue Game
  • The Talking Plush Darth Vader

That there’s the stuff you just didn’t know you needed, or wanted, or could even conceive of:

  • The Remote Controlled Rolling Beverage Cooler
  • The Indoor Flameless Marshmallow Roaster
  • The Power Nap Head Pillow

And that there’s any number of both useless and inconceivable Thomas Kinkade anythings.

No, it’s that almost every item in the H-S catalog is, no matter how pedestrian, is prefaced with the word “The”, giving it more heft and meaning that if the name of the thing was left to its own devices without the honorific “the”.


  • The Spinning Spaghetti Fork
  • The Live Action Infrared Skeet Shoot
  • The Moisturizing Gloves and Booties
  • The Wind Defying Packable Umbrella

And many of them aren’t just “the”; often they’re THE VERY SOMETHING OR OTHER:

  • The Only Indoor Rotisserie Turkey Fryer
  • The Exact Reproduction Wizard of Oz Library
  • The World’s Thinnest Calendar Watch
  • The Best Nose Hair Trimmer

I don’t know how The Better Teak Shower Stool got in there. It’s just better? Not best? Ptui!

But what really caught my eye was The World’s Only Self-Righting Object.

Make that:

The Gömböc, the world's only homogenous, convex, self-righting object. Unlike inhomogeneous self-righting novelties built with weighted bases, the Gömböc is made of solid stainless steel, relying solely upon its unique curvilinear surface to achieve equilibrium from any starting position. (Source: Hammacher-Schlemmer.)

So I guess that means that the knock-over inflated Bozo that came to mind bozonwhen I see them fighting words “The World Only Self-Righting Object” must be an inhomogeneous self-righting novelty.

On the other hand, you can get a Bozo Bop Bag for a lot less than you’d pay for a Gömböc, sorry, I meant The Gömböc, which costs $499.95.

I suppogombocse The Gömböc is a bit classier looking than the Bozo Bop Bag. Still, the price discrepancy between $29.95 for a faux  Gömböc-ish, or Gömböc manqué, Bozo, and 500 clams for The Gömböc. I guess you really need to be a self-righting purist. Maybe even a self-righteous self-rightist.

And unlike the Bozo Bop Bag, The Gömböc is:

Entirely convex - every point on its surface bulges outward - it is similar in geometry to the shell of the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), which allows the animal to self-right without the use of its limbs.

Glad they mentioned that “without the use of its limbs” because, while I wasn’t thinking about the radiated tortoise, I was thinking about the human capacity to self-right. But, let’s face it, when most of us self-right, we’re getting an assist from our limbs.

Mathematically impossible in two dimensions, the Gömböc barely exists in three-dimensional space, the only known nondegenerate object to possess exactly one stable and exactly one unstable point of equilibrium.

Since H-S is the one that’s bringing up nondegenerate, I do have to say that The Gömböc at least has that going for it. Unlike a lot of the non-self-righting objects in S-H (including anything by Thomas Kinkade).

Flat objects (e.g. pebbles) have two stable points while thin objects (e.g. pencils) have two unstable points. Therefore, a Gömböc is a precise representation of minimal flatness and thinness - increasing either parameter creates additional points of stable equilibrium. Machined to tolerances below 10 microns (1/10th the thickness of a human hair), the Gömböc comes in a protective case to prevent dust from affecting its performance. 3.54" H x 3.93" W x 3.14" D. (6 1/4 lbs.)


Parameter. Equilibrium. Tolerance. Micron.

Here’s where my head starts hurting way, way, way too much for a Christmas catalog.

Or, rather, The Christmas Catalog.

Think I’ll go look at flannel muu-muus at the Vermont Country Store.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I keep trying to justify the cost of this thing - maybe it will be collectible? Maybe it has some kind of zen relaxation effect on me? Maybe it signals that I am interested in geometry and dynamics? I always end up dropping the idea at the last second. Maybe I'll break some day.