I have previously written about Harry Eng’s Impossible Bottles but there is another style of beautiful engineering which is not so much impossible but involves painstaking dedication, ingenuity, and sometimes a touch of insanity.
Claude Pilliard enjoys creating vacuum tube amplifiers from scratch, as seen in this step-by-step video.
An elegant adding machine made of wood and using marbles to represent numbers in binary, complete with correct handling of numeric overflow.
More information and other wooden marble contraptions here.
Beautifully engineered Enigma-like "coding machine" hand made by Tatjana van Vark.
“Each wheel has 509 parts.” Incredible!
I have previously written about Ron Patrick’s rather unique home-modified WV Beetle, and I remain impressed with his engineering skills.
It is street legal and technically a “hybrid”, since it has two methods of propulsion.
What a nutcase!
Portrait of a Young Forger is, as the subtitle says, A true story of adventure and survival in wartime Europe. I remember reading this book in school and for some reason I felt the need to read it again. I tracked down and bought a second-hand copy (it seems to be a pretty rare title), but according to the invoice, which I've been using as a bookmark, this was in late 2007. It wasn't until 2010 that I actually got around to reading it again.
Marian Pretzel was a young Jewish art student living in Lvov, Poland. He talks about being fond of sports, the 'Dror' sports club he was involved with, and his decision to go to art school. But when the Nazi occupation came it quickly destroyed his family and landed him in the Janowska concentration camp.
It was painfully clear to Marian that he would not survive long at Janowska, and he soon made a miraculous escape from the camp. Previously, he and a friend were given the challenge of forging some stamps on an official-looking document; now Marian had to rapidly develop his forging skills to help his survival.
The book chronicles his journeys during the war years with various friends, around Poland, the USSR, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Each trip was backed by a well thought-out and rehearsed cover story, and suitable forged documents bearing all the right stamps.
His escape from Janowska was only one of his many brushes with death. Along the way he lost countless family members and friends who were not so lucky as he was. And although his survival was largely based on resourcefulness, ingenuity, and boldness, on many occasions it came down to pure luck. For instance, on one occasion he and a friend missed their train because they had to collect a boarding pass before embarking; the train became full while they were in the queue so they had to wait until the next day. Meanwhile, the place they were going to was bombed, and most of the inhabitants killed — had they caught the train they intended, they would likely be amongst those dead.
This book really puts things into perspective for someone who lives in London, goes to work every day, and has responsibilities including ironing work shirts and feeding the cat. The thought of not having anything to eat and dodging the Gestapo at every corner is quite a startling one.
Amazingly, through all this Marian manages to keep a clear head and a positive attitude at a time when many around him are paralysed, mesmerised, and stupefied, by fear:
I had lost everything but my life... I made a slow and careful inventory of the qualities I possessed and how they could be instrumental in my survival.
Meet Clive Wearing; a man with the worst case of amnesia ever known. Twenty-five years ago he lost his memory and now his wife, Deborah, is the only person he recognises. He is constantly under the impression that he has just come out of a lengthy period of unconsciousness, so every time he sees her he greets her with the enthusiasm of being reunited after years apart.
Clive Wearing has a neurological disorder called anterograde amnesia which is a condition that doesn't allow new memories to transfer into long-term memory. This means that he will never remember anything since his incident, similar to Leonard in the movie Memento.
On March 29, 1985 Clive came home with a very bad headache which wouldn’t go away for days, and wouldn’t respond to any medication. By the fourth day he had a high fever, and forgot his daughter’s name; by the fifth day he was very delirious.
Clive had contracted the Herpes simplex virus which attacked his brain and caused damage to the left and right temporal lobes as well as the frontal lobe. The temporal lobes contain a structure called the hippocampus which is involved in memory function, and in Clive’s case the hippocampus has almost certainly been destroyed in both sides of the brain.
Before his illness, Clive was a successful musicologist and conductor. One of the few things that have survived intact is his ability to read music and play the piano.
Now his memory-span is so short that he will often forget the beginning of a sentence before you have completed it. Or he may begin answering a question but forget the question before he’s finished with his answer. It’s not uncommon to forget what you ordered for lunch by the time the food is served; but Clive additionally doesn’t remember which flavours belong to which foods.
It was Lance Armstrong that said cycling doesn’t get any easier; you just go faster. Which essentially means that cycling is a competition about how much pain you can tolerate. Thus, it attracts some truly spectacular competitors. Such as one of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates, Floyd Landis.
Here is a description of Floyd’s initial entry into the cyclist road racing scene:
He showed up for his first road race wearing a garish jersey, a visored helmet, and a pair of brilliantly colored Argyle socks, pulled high. He made his way slowly to the front row... wheeling a bike with a monstrously big 56-tooth front chain ring, so large that it resembled a pie plate. A slow crater of disgusted amazement widened around Landis... Then in a loud voice that rang with Mennonite clarity, Landis said what he'd planned to say, a reading from the First Book of Floyd:
"If there's anyone here who can stay with me, I will buy you dinner."
Laughter. Landis remained quiet, then replied.
"You shouldn't laugh, because that gets me angry. And if you make me angry, then I'm going to blow you all up."1
The race began, and Floyd rode up to the leaders. Then past them. He pressed the pace, slowly at first and then faster and faster, pushing his pie plate until it hummed, until the others felt like they were trying to follow a motorcycle.
"You like my socks?" he asked. "How do you like them now?"
They gasped for air.
"I'll take that for a yes," Landis continued. "How about if I go a little farther up the road, and you can tell me how they look from there?"
Landis won his first race by fifteen minutes, including a stop to repair his punctured tire. He won his second race by 45 minutes.
"Get Floyd emotionally involved and there's no way he'll back down," Geoghegan said. "He will go until his heart literally explodes."
— Tour de Force, by Daniel Coyle
And before his entry into road racing he was a competitive mountain biker, known for riding wheelies during races... going uphill.
1No, he wasn't threatening terrorist activity. In cycling, to "blow up" means to run out of energy, usually in a spectacular and catastrophic manner.
Meet Kevin Connolly. He was born in Montana, USA, in 1985 with a "sporadic birth defect", which is an understatement for "without legs". Despite this he's managed to lead a pretty rich life, including studying abroad in New Zealand for a year. He even took up skiing with a custom ski-rig, and won a silver medal in the X Games!
After his return from New Zealand he started taking photos, from his unique ground-level vantage point, of the various people that stare at him in the street. Since then he has allegedly accumulated over 32,000 photos of people staring at him.
Some of these photos are on display at his website, The Rolling Exhibition.
There is also an illuminating video from an ABC News documentary.
Well, it might be April but we got our British snow, finally!
Update: I should add that only two days prior I was getting rather warm on my commuting journeys, and began to seriously entertain the idea of bringing out the shorts and summer jersey.
Shower gel with a pulsating glow, powered by several AAA batteries and a Light Emitting Diode (LED). That's three hard-to-remove, hard-to-dispose batteries, full of toxic chemicals, for the sole purpose of presenting an impressive looking product on the shelf.
Sounds like things are getting out of control when we give this much priority to advertising...
(Anti-standby global-warming zealots must be having a melt-down over this.)
What better way to mark the occasion of getting a new blog than to report the dreadful destruction of your car!
Earlier this evening I went out to the car with the intent of driving to Reading. I left it parked on the opposite side of our small, residential, road. As I drew nearer I was somewhat perplexed that it didn't seem to be quite how I'd left it. I didn't remember leaving it at a weird angle, with the front pointing at the curb like that. It almost looked like the front wheel was up on the curb. "Is this my car? Am I confused?" I thought.
True enough it was my car, and it had been significantly perturbed from the position I had previously left it in. Driving to Reading began to seem highly unlikely.
Shortly after I discovered the damage a gentleman across the road poked his head out the window to explain that a woman had crashed into my car, knocked on the doors of nearby houses in an (unsuccessful) attempt to find the car owner, parked her car at the end of the road (it was no longer there), and left a note on the windshield.
I'll get in touch with the insurance company tomorrow morning.
(*I'm not yet certain if it is a write-off, but it looks pretty bad.)