Whole lotta cranking going on

Slashdot covered hand-cranked radios and other electronica a while ago. I keep an old-model Freeplay flashlight in the trunk of my car. It sort of fits the whole energy-counter-culture ethos, since I drive an early-model Toyota Prius.

Freeplay is a South African company, and one of my South African colleagues pointed out that the Freeplay devices sold in South Africa are heavier than the ones sold in the States. Not for any technical reason, mind you. It's psychological, I'm told. Apparently, in South Africa, you want your equipment to be good and heavy, since that makes it seem solid and dependable.

When I was in London a few years ago, I joined a friend in a day trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum is far too large for you even to pretend to see it all so we created for ourselves a one-day tour on the theme "The history of British furniture from 1500 to the present". Yeah, it sounds stupid on paper, but it was actually quite fun. (We saw how the British were fond of Japanese teacups but couldn't get over the fact that they don't have handles. They solved this problem by building a metal cage with a handle; into the cage was placed the teacup. Now you can drink your tea out of the lovely Japanese teacup with the added civility of a proper handle. Yet for some reason, this didn't catch on in Japan.) When we got to the late twentieth century, one of the items on display was... a Freeplay radio.

Comments (10)
  1. dakirw says:

    Thanks for the tip regarding the flashlights. The model that you’re using is on their site, but not available for ordering. However, there are a bunch of interesting wind up flashlights/radios that would be handy for emergencies.

  2. AG says:

    Just read MIT’s $100 laptop (for the kids) will have a 10 to 1 handcrank to power the system.

  3. Trey Van Riper says:

    I seem to remember hearing that the Japanese teacup is designed without a handle for a reason. They believe you should only drink fluids at a temperature that you could hold in your hand, otherwise you may burn your throat.

    I think there’s a sort of wisdom in such thinking.

  4. teebee says:

    yeah – we had the if it’s heavy it’s good mentality here in the 80s — when you could buy the ‘new phones’ with electronic ringers instead of old fashioned bells – many companies inserted lead weights to make them feel "right"

  5. dave says:

    as it happens, i received my "premium" from the local NPR station today: a crank-operated emergency radio/flashlight/cellphone-charger.

    sadly, it doesn’t play ‘pop goes the weasel’ while cranking, but otherwise it works great.

  6. Dan MAas says:

    I wish HP printers were heavier. I can’t get over how flimsy the plastic parts are. My $1000 laser printer feels like a Fisher Price toy (and is about as liable to break).

  7. Black and Decker also manufactures the DeWalt tool line for contractors. While they are better-quality, the DeWalt tool line is constructed to be heavier. Pick up a B&D vs DeWalt drill, and feel the difference.


    If you’ve got techie biceps instead of contractor biceps, it’s best to try before you buy…

  8. mobby_6kl says:

    Placing a glass/cup in a metal cage with a handle is (or at least used to be) a common practice in some ex-USSR countries, although they seem to be dying out now. The last time I’ve seen these in use was on a train, where it’s sort of a tradition. Here’s how the final result <a href="http://www.gelos.ru/2004/bigimages/16528-1.jpg">might look</a>

  9. Tim Walls says:

    Slight correction – Freeplay is a British company; the Clockwork Radio was invented by British inventor Trevor Bayliss, and the company founded with help from the British government in the form of a grant (the intention was to use the radio for humanitarian purposes, as a way of spreading information about AIDS for example in Africa.) As of this year they are traded on the London Stock Exchange AIM market.

    The company does have a research centre in SA as well as the UK (I believe the products are actually manufactured on an outsourced basis in China these days.)

    The Freeplay Foundation (the charity founded and primarily funded by Freeplay to carry out the humanitarian works) has offices in the UK, USA and SA (Cape Town.)

  10. Tim Walls says:

    (Addendum to the above: the original company ‘Baygen’ that made the first Freeplay radio, while a UK company, did manufacture the radios in South Africa. The note that they have closed their manufacturing and outsourced it to China comes from the company’s 2004 Annual Report.)

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