Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Curse You Perry the Platypus! - On Being a Scientist

We all grow up, yet, we all do not, still children inside, even if we won't admit it.  For I have, on more than one occasion, been up on a stand in a courtroom as the expert witness, or offering testimony on a case of my own, doing the double take when my name and title are called, convinced for a moment they've got the wrong person. For honestly, on such days, there in my dark blue suit and button down white shirt and shiny shoes, I still feel like a kid playing grown up. Perhaps it's because I still watch cartoons (an odd combination of Loony Tunes, Pinky and the Brain, Johnny Quest, Phineas and Ferb and Futurama). Perhaps it's just how I view my life and my world.

But in what makes me smile, what makes my mind ignite, some things really never change. You probably see that as well. For in many families there is usually one child that has that deep seated curiosity that sets him or her apart from the others. Sometimes it's as subtle as a lot of "why" questions; sometimes it's finding out someone asked for a lathe from Santa. But for you new parents, here are some helpful hints to recognize if your child is going down the path of saving the world, one science experiment or engineering drawing at a time.

How to identify if your child is going to be the next engineer or scientist in your family.

All toys are first taken completely apart before playing with.

Hooks dogs leash to remote control car so he/she does not have to walk him.

Pumps up his or her Super Soaker with an industrial air compressor.

Can demonstrate  Bernoulli's Theorem with a shop vac and a golf ball.
Jello + BB Gun. Does anyone have a mop?

Installs Dad's stereo speakers in duct work for true "surround sound".

Freezes siblings chair with liquid nitrogen when he's foolish enough to be temporarily absent.

Rolls his/her eyes when you call a Pipe Wrench a Monkey Wrench.

Comes home from Sears with permission slip to buy a nail gun.

Asks for a large sheet of plywood and a saw horse or two to go with the toboggan at Christmas to better make the ski jump.

Uses Dremel tool to convert striped Phillip head screws into slotted screws. Opens the stuck jar of mayonnaise by puncturing the lid with a clean nail to break the vacuum.

After a day of playing "spy", uses the pressed,warm flat edge of a knife to convince a small piece of dry ice to spill the goods.  "We have ways of making you talk . . SQUEAL"

Solves Rubik Cube by disassembling and reassembling in the correct order. (Mad Scientist bonus: Disassembles and reassembles leaving it one cube out of place and leaves it for unsuspecting siblings).

Can repair any toy out of existing garage inventory

Has built a Bazooka out of a floor vacuum cleaner, PVC pipe, a PVC 3 way junction with an  angle of 45° that fits the straight PVC tube, duct tape and a projectile

Takes apart 36 inch model of Cutty Sark with a hammer to build a workable raft for G.I. Joe, accompanied by Barbie and Midge dressed up like Mary Ann and Ginger. (Note, raft not to be confused with a B.O.A.T., (Buoyancy Operated Aquatic Transport)
When given permission to build a tree house, presents a bill of materials including the proper number of nails.

Launches G.I. Joe/Star Wars Project to melt enemy troops with magnifying glass.

Makes Bionic Barbie (Formerly G.I. Joe raft date Mary Ann) with scraps of wire and auto body filler to replace leg lost in tragic potato gun accident.

When asked why he or she is borrowing the vice grips replies "I hear the tooth fairy pays good money."

Passes meatballs to little brother with  tiny trebuchet.

Trip to ocean involves buckets and plastic M80's for building and destroying sand castles.

Takes apart TV set "because there's nothing to watch".
Instead of marbles, has a jar full of nuts and screws. (Got bored playing marbles when discovery made that you can always win using a steel ball bearing.)

Discussion at parent/teacher conference involves discussion of intentional launch of schoolyard bully off of teeter totter to correlate weight and angle to trajectory.

Neighbor calls that your kid is in their back yard with a your lawn chair, duct tape, a two liter bottle of diet coke and Mentos (Remember kids, Mythbusters taught us to grind up the Mentos first!)

While Mom makes cookies, mixes Borax, white glue, water, and food coloring to make homemade slime.

Borrow tools and does not return them.

Has pet that works for OWCA.
Try and set a good example of research and safety (eye protection!). School them in the laws of man and physics (those fingers just won't grow back you know).  Then sit back and smile as you quietly watch them do the same things you used to do, remembering how, in the long run, it helped you learn and grow.

For you never know when such skills might come in handy, for that day you might meet pure Evil and he's just invented the "Delete-ALL-initor".


  1. Future Rocket Surgeons of 'Murrica. Good stuff you wrote. We had a retired science teacher down the street who asked us if we had ever added a little manganese dioxide to our famous potassium nitrate/sugar smoke bomb mixture. Wow.

  2. Hmmm, reminds me of 'someone' I know... Can't place the name though... :-)

  3. Has built a sled with repurposed skis for runners. Takes it down the 90 meter ski jump, at night, to see if hill record can be broken.

  4. Made a water balloon slingshot out of surgical tubing and a plastic milk jug, and then used it to launch a water balloon into the next block. Said water balloon landed next to a guy getting out his car according to the spotter. That poor guy never did figure out where it came from.

  5. Sometimes the neighbors will buy the "no really, they toss potatoes out of a C130 to check wind direction for the jumpers and we ARE close to a base" and sometimes you just have to point it in the other direction.

  6. I never did none of those, and the statute of limitations has run out anyway.

    Forget Ginger, I always thought Mary Ann was prettier, and she'd sure be a lot more practical company on a desert island, what with being a farm girl and all.

    Where do I apply for a job with OWCA?!

  7. I remember model rocketry as a kid...and discovering that they were ideally suited for ground attack as well. Old Jr. High still sends me periodic bills for that display case that got in the way of an Apollo 3 that might otherwise have made it all the way down the hall one summer day when the janitors left the doors open while applying floor wax.

  8. Doctor: "He has the knack."

    Mother in tears, "Oh no doctor. Will he be able to lead a normal life?"

    Doctor: "I'm sorry ma'am. I'm afraid he's going to be...

    ...and engineer."

    Mother in tears: "Waaaaa!"

  9. I think my son (age 9) is on this track. Last year he decided to build a catapult in order to have fun destroying the gingerbread house he made for Christmas. Then a couple of weeks later converted it to a trebuchet.

  10. I always took my new toys apart Christmas morning.

    The thing that scared my Mom was I had them back together and working by Christmas evening.....

  11. You know ma'am, I don't care what they say about you. Anyone who quotes Dr. Dufenschmirtz can't be all bad.

    A few of those do sound familar to things my older daughter has done though.

  12. I wish I'd known about the liquid nitrogen - chair thing during college dorm days....

  13. Those are some odd bullet weights for the ballistic clipboard test. The typically used weights for the common calibers are conspicuously missing.

  14. ...What Drang said...
    Especially not the hulahoop parachute from the back of a shed.
    I'll take the job at OWCA that he DOESN'T get.
    Rich in NC

  15. So why is this clipboard sold ONLY to certified LAW Enforcement? It irks me to no end that Government has taken whole classes of items and made it so only they can have them. *sigh*
    And it is always the cool stuff :(

  16. Well, curiosity I have, but I'm no engineer.

    That Gerber Shard IS good gear, though!

  17. 1) Take 4 empty cans of soda.
    2) Cut both ends off of 3 of them, punch numerous holes in open end and one small hole in side near closed end of 4th.
    3) Duct tape all cans together end to end with open cans stacked on open end of 4th can.
    4) Slide tennis ball down open end.
    5) Grab Dad's can of lighter fluid. Squirt into small hole near bottom of 4th can. Shake well.
    6) Take careful aim at neighbor across the street on his rider lawn mower. The one who is about 50 lbs overweight, thinks the neighborhood needs to see him without his shirt on, who has a wonderfully cute blond wife, and who came over to the house drunk a few days ago, asked if your parents were home and upon hearing they weren't proceeded to use your phone to call up his girlfriend.
    7) Touch match to small hole, score direct hit, duck back around corner of house before he catches runaway mower and tell the old man all about it later (including about the phone call) when he's a couple of shots into the end-of-business-day Cutty Sark.
    8) "HAH! Ha, ha, don't ever, HA, don't ever do ever do that again. AH HAH! CAROLYN! Carolyn, let me tell you what your youngest did ..." Ma was pissed off until she heard about the phone call - after that I was off the hook.

  18. Mom and Dad wised up after a while. They bought toys that needed assembly and then didn't assemble them. They found, correctly, that I had more fun putting them together than actually playing with them in the first place.

  19. It can be neither confirmed or denied that upgrading ones potato cannon from pvc to steel pipe and using oxy/acetylene for a propellant results in much greater distance and a truly awesome fireball. Also just because you have sulfur, potassium nitrate, and charcoal on hand does not you should combine them in proper proportions.

  20. Middle grandsons 7th grade science fair project was a series of experiments to study the Mpemba Effect. He won first place.

  21. Immagikman - you (yes you) can buy bulletproof clipboards online. The company pictured markets to LEO's only (or did) but the actual technology is not restricted in any way.

    ThinkGeek had them for a while.

  22. Murphy's Law - we did the rocket club thing as well. Managed not to break anything though, shear luck.

    Well Seasoned Fool - and that would be a problem?

    Chip - I'm really glad there's a statue of limitations.

    bd606 - I am so glad many of us didn't listen to our high school guidance counselors. :-)

    Eagle - good for him!!!! I took out a lego home or two with the crane of the erector set.

    drjim - it's good to hear from you! You had us all pretty worried. Rest. Get well.

    Greg - you and my Dad could probably share some stories.

    Proudhillbilly - I always liked the little pieces of chalk and linoleum and liquid nitrogen to make little hovercraft to annoy the cat.

    JR Shirley - that little tool has helped me a number of times.

    Drang and Rich in NC - they may have a hiring freeze due to sequestration.

    Ron F - GREAT story! If you see the big black bat truck around the village this weekend, just wave.

    Christopher Tyler - but of course :-)

    Peripatetic Engineer - congratulations to him! I've got a picture somewhere on this computer of one of the early early science fair entries.

  23. I should probably not provide details on my early experiments in optics, aerodynamics, or projectiles.

    Thankfully, those in electronics weren't as damning or dangerous.

  24. Was this supposed to be a test, or a checklist?

    Thanks for the reminder on the trebuchet. I've used it to nail other boothies when I was a booth babe at a scifi/fantasy con, but not at home. (Spoons are really catapults, and don't count.) Must get building...

    Any mine was Golem barbie with a stick & clay field-improvised limb replacement, then became Alien Symbiont barbie while trying to get a replacement that'd stay on, and settled on Pirate Pegleg barbie until my whittling skills got better.

    By the way, the gelatin + gun thing? It doesn't get old, even when we get older! But set up several boxes of cotton batting behind the gelatin, because that brenneke will just keep going and going...

  25. The grandkids will be here June 26th for three weeks. I have plans....

  26. Another for my list of Class V Beverage Alerts!


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