In recent days I’ve been scouring the ground as I walk about town, looking for intact bottle caps that I might be able to use. Last Tuesday, while walking up High Street with my daughter, I spotted this bottle cap lying face-up where the sidewalk and a commercial building met. I picked it up with mild interest, thinking that the edges were in fine enough condition that I might flatten them with some ease.
As I usually do with bottle caps on the street, I turned it over before I put it in my pocket to see if there was any dirt I needed to knock out first. When I turned it over, I was astonished to see circuitry on the back! The circuitry didn’t look like it was running off the edge or anything, so this wasn’t just some old circuit board someone cut out in order to… what? And there was a little bit of battery power right there on the back, which made it seem to me that this little bottle cap back was made for a reason. The final, really intriguing bit: right there in the ribbon below the “Ultra,” there was a little tiny something or other that poked out the front. What was it? What did it do?
In the fifteen minutes it took me to walk back home, my mind was all abuzz with possibility. Paranoia was in full swing as I asked myself: could this be a bug? A listening device? Some little bitty camera? What did someone leave it there for, face-up? Crowd surveillance? Who did it? The FBI? NSA? Oh, the possibility! The horror! The excitement!
Then I got home and noticed the text “PAT. 5143439” right up at the top. Well, spy agencies probably don’t get registered patents for their gadgets. I looked up the patent number and found out what it’s really for:
A novelty button assembly provides buttons with a variety of indicia on the face of the button and an unlimited location of the blinking light in the face of the button. An electronic circuit is adapted to drive a light emitting diode with a current pulse of very short duration to permit the use of a small battery and to provide long battery life. A capacitor is used in a novel high efficiency oscillator circuit only in the determination of blinking rate and battery current duty cycle, allowing the use of a wide variety of smaller value capacitors that lend themselves to microelectronic packaging desirable in flasher button assemblies. The pin used to fasten the flasher button assembly to the clothing of a wearer also serves as the electrical switch to turn the flashing button assembly on and off.
Well, if that doesn’t beat all. Sure, it isn’t some high-tech listening device, and yeah, I had to put my paranoia back in my pocket, but what this little beastie did turn out to be is kind of neat. Someone on the planet decided that they could have fun and make money by sticking a circuit onto the back of a bottlecap and turning it into a little light display. And, at least in once case, they did.
The world is a very big place, and there is a lot left in it for us to find.