A Quarterly Co. Review (Machines for Experimental Living)

My adventure with Quarterly.co began over a quarter ago, when I learned about the subscription service where you can get a random package mailed to you every 3 months for $25. It was super hard to pick between all the cool people who send out these packages, but I’ve only closely followed 3 of them, and so I used my own personal opinions and online reviews of their curated gifts, plus the types of things they offered, to make my choice. I settled with author Joshua Foer (who I’ve interviewed before.)

I signed up mid-June and was supposed to receive a package mid-July, but it turns out  that Quarterly restructured their process and I was caught in the change-over, but they told me USPS had attempted delivery. Funny that, since we were home at the time this delivery was allegedly attempted, and there was no notice left, so I signed up for redelivery and told the postal service that I couldn’t receive the slip they never left, and that when they are supposedly deliver a package, they could also try knocking. Because who wants to wait for machines for experimental living one day longer than they have to?

Anyway, enough ranting. I totally got my package, and inside, there were these two spools of nitinol, a metal which is supposed to remember its shape. Apparently you can form a design, heat it, and then crumple it up, and simply putting it in hot water will make it remember its shape.

I hated my braces more than anything and do my best to avoid underwire for obvious reasons, so using this mystery metal to make art seems like a very benign application.

Here’s the before pic.

At first it didn’t work. I put the shaped wire in my bathroom sink, adding hot water, and waited for the twitter hashtag to appear. It didn’t; all I had was a jumbled wiry mess in my sink.

Then I realized that the pieces were tangled together, and I began untangling them by hand, so that the wire could re-form on its own. I couldn’t quite read the hashtag, and by then my fiance had come home from work, and I told him I finally got my package and what it was. He picked it up and man, that wire is flexible! He barely touched the thing, and the shape quickly changed, making the hashtag even harder to read.

I put it back in the sink and it worked! I could read the hashtag, #JXF03, which was the one associated with this mailing. (I think I was expecting a secret hashtag, but it’s hard to read letters formed in wire anyway.)

The mailing also came with a nice little booklet all about nitinol, which brought back fond memories of my Nat Sci 1 class at Shimer.

Last but not least, there’s an unopened piece of memory shape wire. The only problem is that you have to hold the wire in the shape you want at 500 degrees Celsius–and then quickly cool it afterwards. The instructions recommend pounding nails into a board, wrapping the wire around the nails, heating it with a match or torch, and then quickly cooling it with water. That totally doesn’t seem like a practical endeavor, but I don’t think using the oven will work with the quick cooling thing.  I’m wishing I still taught middle school, because it would make such a good science experiment.

If anybody in the Twin Cities is reading this, let me know if you want to come play with fire and strange metals.

Verdict: The majority of the Quarterly Co. reviews I’ve read have been negative, with reviewers opining that they couldn’t justify spending $25 on their item, or that what they got was hard to make or didn’t look the same as it was in the picture. But I disagree.  Maybe I wouldn’t run out and spend $25 on memory wire on my own, but I was thrilled to get this package with it in the mail, and learn a bit about nitinol in a hands-on way.

I suppose it all depends on who you sign up to get packages from, though, and whether that’s what you’re really looking for. I’m a bit on the cynical side, for example, so won’t be signing up for packages from Gretchen Rubin anytime soon (though I’m sure other people would love them). I almost signed up for SwissMiss packages, since I’m in love with TeuxDeux, but decided that getting something for my home office wouldn’t thrill me, especially since I work out of my bedroom floor and living room couch and random cafes more often than not and my office remains vacant. What I wanted was random interesting shit that would pique my interest and make me feel smart, and maybe give me some blogging fodder. This fit the bill and was worth every penny.

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