Tag Archives: Back to the Future

Unpopular Science

15 Apr

April 15, 2015

A couple of issues back, Popular Science (their motto: we’re not really popular, we just have a big ego) published an article about how to build a DIY hovercraft. For those of you not in the know, DIY means “do it yourself,” which is what I plan to tell my kids someday.

So “Hey,” I thought. “I always wanted to ride around in a hovercraft.” So I read a little further and found that it was an article about how to build a DIY hovercraft out of a pair of paper plates.

Clearly I was not going to do much hovering on that.

But hey, I kept reading and for sure, I learned a few things.

1- I would need to go out and buy three small fans (with particular wiring requirements)
2- I would have to use a drill and attach the fans with certain screws that I would also have to buy somewhere to the paper plates.
3- I repeat- I would be using a power tool to put a tiny hole in a paper plate. Isn’t a safety pin good enough?

I already had the paper plates, but I did not have the fans with the particular wiring requirements, the right size screws, a bracket to hold the batteries, or the technical ability to follow the directions.

Making the “hovercraft,” and I use the term loosely as it is made of paper plates, required following a complex schematic and some precision drilling. And what did the article say I would end up with? I am paraphrasing, but it more or less said that I’d end up with an expensive paper plate that hovered an inch or two off the ground.

I’d get better results with a Frisbee and a dog in the park.

The month before, Popular Science had the directions to build some DIY electronic thing that had more warnings than your average Fukushima reactor. And what did it do? It was an umbrella stand that lit up when it was rainy out. Seriously.

Here is the actual hovercraft diagram from the magazine:

supplies-hovercraft

Helpful, isn’t it?

And here’s an actual step from the directions:

Saw two corners off each fan case, leaving the wired corner and the one opposite attached. Arrange the fans inside the top plate as in step 1, and pass nylon screws, from below, through the eight mounting holes in both the top plate and the fans.

Note that I have to use a saw to lop off part of the fans. For a paper plate toy!

I’m not sure this is worth losing a thumb over.

On their site you can also find an article on, and I swear I am not making this up, how to build a laser-sighted blowgun for only $3. What could possibly go wrong?

Showdown at the OK Corral Post Office

18 Aug

August 18, 2014

old west post office

You can learn a whole lot from watching old westerns on TV. For example:

  • Most towns are run by a gang that has the sheriff intimidated. This is true from The Magnificent Seven to A Fistful of Dollars to today’s New York City, where Al Sharpton has been pulling the strings of Mayor Li’l Billy De Blasio and dictating police policy for months.
  • Shoot first, ask questions later. But if you shoot well enough, the answers become irrelevant. Weren’t a whole lot of answers to be given after the gunfight at the OK corral, and no one left alive to answer them anyway. Usually, when a gunslinger has called you out in the middle of Main Street for a shootout, you pretty much know why. Marty McFly knew exactly why Mad Dog Tannen called him out in Back to The Future III. (“I do my killing before breakfast.” “Oh yeah? I do my killing after breakfast.”)
  • The post office has been around from the earliest days of settled America and is just now getting around to delivering Christmas presents from 1876.

A few weeks back the post office had decided, as it usually does, to just not care about delivering packages for a while. Not that they do much of a job of it anyway. Usually, in Saarah’s building, the mailman slows his truck just long enough to toss some mail into the bushes of the building next door. On this particular day, Saarah was waiting for a package, a small box about the weight of six magic markers and a crayon, to arrive.

So what happened? Take your best, most educated guess.

  1. The package was delivered to her apartment door by the courteous and polite mailman.
  2. The mailman left a slip in her mailbox so she could pick it up at the post office.
  3. The mailman did nothing but eat a gyro as he walked past the building, yet the package was marked as delivered on the USPS website.

The correct answer is #3, but to be honest, he may have been eating a hot dog, not a gyro.

When Saarah tracked the package online and saw that they claimed it was delivered, she shrewdly knew that the information was incorrect by the clever deduction that the package was not delivered and we went down to the post office on Saturday to pick it up.

Saarah and I pulled up to the post office about 2 seconds after the pair of cars ahead of us also pulled up. Both of those cars were the same distance from the muni-meter, I was just behind one of the cars. This is important. Now I don’t know about your local post office, but all the ones in my area (and this is especially true on a Saturday) are staffed by one sleepy postal worker who may or may not speak enough English to order a Big Mac, and no one else. On a Saturday, there is generally a long, grumpy line, and it only gets worse as the time passes since the office closes at one. If for any reason your local post office is clean and efficient, with plenty of help behind the counter and short, fast lines, please tell me which drugs you are taking.

This is where the Old West theme I started with really kicks in. Cue the theme from The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly.

okCorral_1622167c

Guy on the right is DeForest Kelley as Morgan Earp.

The drivers of the two other cars got out and eyed each other. One had a package, half sealed, and a roll of tape. The other had a stack of letters in a box. They looked at each other, looked at each other’s mail, then both turned their eyes to the muni-meter. It all came down to the meter. Whoever got there first would get their ticket first and get into the post office first.  And they both knew it.

Just like the final shootout of The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly.

They stood and stared into each other’s eyes. Neither moved. Their eyes. Their mail. The meter. Their mail. The meter. Their eyes.

It was tense. You could hear a tumble weed roll by. You could hear the gentle snoring coming from the post office window.

And suddenly they both had the same thought and dashed as fast as they could to the meter. It was as if they were having a showdown in front of the post office, but instead of drawing guns, it came down to who was quicker to the muni-meter.

No matter who won, though, I was destined to be third in line, meaning they would both beat me to the post office, one with a huge stack of mail, one with an unfinished package, and who-knows-how-long of a line already in the office.

But none of it mattered because as soon as I pulled up, Saarah had jumped out and went into the post office ahead of all of us and beat the other two and got in line a good three minutes first, and in that time some other people got in line so the two ahead of me were a good five people behind Saarah.

I put my money into the meter, put the ticket on my dashboard, and sauntered into the post office just in time to meet Saarah at the window.

The white hats won this one.

 

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