Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fascinating Inventions No.10 - The Remote Control

Wallace and Gromit and the Patent Office are doing an invention competition for primary schools. I will be taking all the information into Mrs Trundle, the head-teacher and part-time assassin, tomorrow. Apparantly someone has already thought of a tiny ladder to let spiders climb out of the bath. Hmm, I say the drain is good enough for them. Grandpa Jack invented the horse-flap which is a bit like the cat-flap but bigger. He is mad on horses. The winning invention will be turned into a model for Aardman studios - Cool!

Talking of brilliant inventions, here's one - the TV remote control. Robert Adler was the fantastic inventor of the TV remote control. The Parents would probably say that this invention was one of the crimes against humanity because:
a. it makes watching the TV easier and so you watch even more of it than is good for you; in fact you watch it until you develope strange shaped eyes and all your brains are sucked out
b. it makes you lazier and fatter and unfit until one day you cannot move from the sofa to do anything, even when you lose the remote control through no fault of your own and have to endure hours of watching stuff you are not keen on, like The News and Gardening is Really Interesting or Schools Programme - Granny TimeTraveller reports from the Battle of Hastings

Anyway, Robert Adler would have said a and b were just silly because,
"It seems reasonable and rational to control the TV from where you normally sit and watch television."
Precisely. IF you have a choice of more than 4 channels that is - guess how many we have in our house. Imagine the huge strain involved in forever getting up and down to change the channels when (if you live in Dexter's house) you have 4 million channels to choose from. Nightmare.

In 1950 Zenith came up with the first TV remote called 'Lazy Bones'. It managed to change channels OK but was still attached to the TV by a cord. This was a bit mad because people kept tripping over it and breaking bits of themselves and their sitting rooms. So in 1955, Adler came up with the 'Flashmatic'. This had nothing attached to it and used photocells to flash at the TV. The problem was that when the sun came out it sort of stopped the light commands working. People complained that you could not watch TV in the daytime without having to get up with their legs and switch over by bending their bodies. So daytime TV did not really take off until a bit later after Robert Adler came up with the 'Space Command' remote, 'nothing between You and the Set but space!!!'
That is not to say that he spent his whole actual life inventing just the one gadget. Oh no. He worked for an American company called Zenith and actually made 180 new patents, mostly to do with TV, even though he did not even like the TV. He would have got on well with The Parents.
"I hardly ever turn the TV on," he said. His wife said he was "more of a reader."
I think that this could be because he just kept losing the remote control in the s p a c e between himself and the TV set. So it is left to me to invent the next greatest gadget -
'The Remote Control Detectormatic'

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Phase 3 of The Grand Plan for Dreadful Revenge

A duel would be one way of sorting out me and Miranda but actually I think she might be quite fast and I do not want to risk losing any more bits than I have to.

So, we have cunningly lured Miranda back into her own mega-rainforest jungle bedroom. She stands, feet apart, hands on hips and narrows her eyes. I keep my worry that she has seen through my Grand Plan for Dreadful Revenge under control with some on-the-spot-running.
'My bedroom is the biggest in the house,' boasts Miranda and I can see she wants us to go, 'ooo' and 'aaah'.
I decide to play along. 'Not bad,' I say, doing an extra- athletic jump.
Dexter looks at me.
'You see, I have my Princess Bed,' she points to a giant pink blancmange thing beneath the window smothered with matching pink blancmange curtains. 'Everybody wants one.'
'Quite good,' I am lavishing praise now and practically leaping.
'It is DISGUSTING,' Dexter points out. 'Can we just see the sticks before I'm sick.'
Luckily, she is too carried away to listen. I budge Dexter and give him the secret sign about our mission but I am leaping too much and we both fall down next to the mini-fridge.
'And then of course there are all my photos that I took going round the world.'
Then she waits. Dexter and me get up and look at one another all shifty eyes. Finally Dexter asks.
'What photos?'
She sighs and points to the wall and we suddenly see that what I thought was dingy, blurry random wall paper is actually a wall of truely awful photos.
'Very...very,' one wrong word and I sense we will have to leave before our mission is complete.
'Nice,' supplies Dexter. 'Very nice.'
'Yes, I have been everywhere and I did take all of them.' She smirks.
Here is our chance. I wink and say. 'Take a closer look, Dexter - maybe you can find your Dad's semi-detached villa in Spain...' I try and sidle to the stick cages.
'Oh right,' says Dexter. 'I really want a fizzy orange from your mini-fridge, Miranda - then you can tell me all about your photos.'
She is so desperate to show off she cannot see the totally blatant bribery involved here. He takes the can and pulls the ring. SQUOOOOSH! Shot!
'It's all over my Princess Bed!' she squeals and runs out.
'Brilliant, Dexter!' I tell him.
He shrugs. 'It was an accident.'
'No, I mean it really is brilliant!'
I run to the cage of sticks in the shady corner of the room and peer in at the sticks clambering very slowly up the branches. I carefully carefully take out my old ice-cream carton and reach in and yank the sticks off the branches. That's the great thing about sticks, they do not complain at all and for all I know they quite like being sticknapped.
I glance at Dexter. 'Give me the supplies!' I snap.
He fumbles around inside his coat and pulls out the family pack of twiglets. I place the twiglets carefully on the branches.
'There!' I say.
'What?' asks Miranda, returning with a dripping cloth the size of our tablecloth.
'Miranda,' I say, 'we've had enough of your stick insect jokes! So watch this!
'What are you doing?' she says and there is panic in her voice as I raise the lid. 'Ciao, sticks, nice knowing ya!' And I sweep a load of twiglet sticks out of the cage and into my mouth.
She drops the cloth and screams - alot.
'Your turn, Dexter.'
'Yum yum,' says Dexter and he rummages around and picks up some more and crunches down hard.
'YOU MURDERERS!!!' she screeches, and tears out of the door, 'CHAS! CHAS! THEY'RE EATING THE STICKS!!!!'
'I think I actually ate one,' says Dexter pulling a face.
We put the sticks Dexter has not actually eaten back in the cage and decide it is time to find the back door.
Mission accomplished, I think. HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-Ha and HA

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Phase 2 - The Grand Plan for Dreadful Revenge

Some sensible people might know that it is National Science and Engineering week, all week. They are doing quite interesting experiments and asking us to vote for their favourite. Mine is of course - 'THIS IS ROCKET SCIENCE!'

So, I have to go home first and collect the necessaries for the completion of Phase 2 of the Grand Plan for Dreadful Revenge - evil cackle. Dexter trails behind as we go into the kitchen.
'Is your Mum around?' he asks, looking around as though she might spring out from behind the fridge and force him to eat some of her vegetable medley.
I shrug. 'Somewhere. Why?'
'Nothing,' he says. 'Just wondered.'
I concentrate on emptying the cupboard in order to get at the top secret revenge stash. Serena, the cat, meanders over and miaows like this, "meeeoooow!"
'That means she wants something to eat,' I tell Dexter, 'you had better feed her before she turns nasty.' I point at the catfood cupboard. 'There is cat food somewhere about.'
Dexter rootles around while I put the secret stash into my two zippy inside coat pockets. By the time we have both finished there is a fair amount of stuff we do not need spread about the floor and Serena is tucking into a plate of baked beans and organic plum tomatos.
'Let's go!' I say.
Dexter's eyes are huge and he is gibbering.
'WHAT IS ALL THIS MESS?' Mum is standing in the doorway, looking like a scary creature form the crypt. 'I JUST CAN'T STAND IT!'
Then she bursts into tears.
Very, VERY odd. I look sideways at Dexter to confirm the oddness of Mum but of course, he has scarpered.

'So, did you like your stick babies, Wilf?' asks Miranda over the fishfingers. She is smirking. 'Did they behave themselves?'
I glance at Dexter. This has been a tough assignment so far. Getting the target to take the bait in the playground; avoiding torture by The Trundle and then dealing with the Oddness of Mum. I am going to play her like Bond plays blackjack -coolly.
'I did not realise they would be so small, like cress seeds,' I say, flicking my food in a suave sort of way. I lean forward and stab a fishfinger. 'You know,' I say, 'The Parents nearly ate them.' Miranda pulls a face. 'Tiny baby sticks gone in one mouthful.' She frowns. I can see she is disturbed.'You could have made my parents kill them - like this.' I swallow the fishfinger whole which is quite impressive. Then I choke and sick some of it back up. Chas, Miranda's Dad comes in with his stupid beard, just at that moment.
After Chas has told me that being sick is actually the way some animals feed and actually he is thinking of writing a paper on it and maybe he could start with me (ha-ha, not funny), and then finally goes; I give Dexter the secret sign (I can't tell you what it is obviously).
He ignores me until I smoothly get up and jog his elbow, giving him a LOOK at the same time.
'Oh right,' says Dexter. 'Can I see your sticks? Looking at Wilf's cress seeds is a bit boring. They don't do much.'
So we go upstairs to Mirnanda's mini-Amazon-rainforest-bedroom and this is where Phase 3 kicks in and things start to get a little bit interesting.

Fascinating Inventions No. 9 – Night vision goggles

If soldiers had to fight in the nightime, things got difficult because they could not see much. So, maybe someone would light a fire or switch on a torch and OOOPS! Bit of a giveaway. Night-vision goggles developed out of second world war technology and became the brilliantly useful bits of kit they are today
- Look! I can see my yacht!
- Look! There's an owl!
- Look! Watch out for that wild cat!

Course, somewhere in Dexter's bedroom is a pair of night-vision goggles. The trouble is, he cannot find them because of all the other high-tech toys he has lying around. If he could find them, he would have no trouble getting to the loo at night or spying on his tankful of exotic fish in the dark or even reading a book without the light on because night vision goggles take all the hassle out of darkness. The way they work is like this:
They boost up the light already around and collect it to focus on an image intensifier. This is amazing because then inside this intensifier the light particles get over-excited and bump into a sort of green TV screen and then give you an image.
BUT I hear you shout. What happens when I go caving or need to have a quick spy round a derelict warehouse where there is no light at all? The answer is get an infra-red illuminator as this will generate enough light to give you an image. During world war two when infrared sight was a baby, the army made an infrared sniper scope BUT it needed an infrared searchlight that was so big it had to be carried on a flatbed truck. Luckily things have got a lot smaller since then.

I have my doubts about using night-vision goggles during the day (see picture) because

a. It makes you look a bit mad e.g. like you might just have run away from having your eyes tested/you could just have had major brain surgery and should still actually be in hospital/ somebody is testing the latest scaffolding technique on your face. None of the above looks cool.
AND then there is
b. if you are doing a bit of spying it sort of gives the game away

On the plus side you do get to look like a human-robot-cyborg, so maybe it is not all bad.

Anyway, the greatest place in the universe is having a science of spying exhibtion until September. I am definitely off to get some tips.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Grand Plan for Dreadful Revenge

During the second world war there was a lot of worry about Britain being invaded by German spies. Someone came up with a grand plan to identify the German secret agents. This was to make them believe that British secret agents always painted one foot blue (which of course they did not). So all anyone had to do to trap a German spy was to casually try and get their socks off. It did not catch on.

My plan is much simpler than the blue-foot plan which would have taken alot of time and effort and paint.
Here is phase one of my Grand Plan for Dreadful Revenge.
TARGET: Miranda.
OBJECTIVE: With the application of cool cunning get her to agree to a meeting.

'Have you seen James Bond?' I ask Dexter as we step out of the jet-black Aston Martin going undercover as a bus.
'Where?' asks Dexter, looking around the playground.
'No! I mean the film, James Bond! The spy one.'
He shrugs. 'Yeah. Got it at home; it's all right - not enough action.'
I goggle for a bit and then turn my eagle-eyed attention to the target. Miranda. Double crosser, double agent. She is mooching around near Mrs Trundle's office. I can see Mrs Trundle is even now on the phone, probably agreeing to more work in her role as part-time government assassin. The Bug Club girls gaggle round Miranda. They make me uncomfortable with their talk of wasp spiders and pink stuff.
'You know what to do then,' I tell Dexter. I put one hand in my dinner jacket (school coat) pocket and we stroll in a casual sort of way in their direction. 'Just play it cool.'
I smile to myself. She will not suspect a thing.
'Oi!' shouts Dexter at Miranda and he waves his arms about as though he is drowning. 'I WANT TO SEE YOUR STICK INSECTS!'
Oh smooth.
I slip out of Bond mode and punch him. 'Phase one!'
He punches me back, quite hard.
I notice Miranda and the Bug Club sniggering at us. I push him. He pushes me back.
'STOP FIGHTING!' Mrs Trundle, the headteacher and part-time assassin, has spotted our delinquent behaviour. She has somehow apparated out of her office and clean into the playground and is bearing down on us like a guided missile.
'That was your fault! How are we supposed to get her to agree to a meeting now!' I tell Dexter. 'You've blown Phase One!'
'Do you want to come over after school then?' bellows Miranda. 'You can see some BIG stick insects!' They are outright laughing now.
At a distance of one metre, The Trundle has her killer whistle up to her thin lips. This could be the end.
Dexter nudges me. 'Phase one complete.'
I want to reply but I am thrown off my feet by the force of The Trundle's explosive whistling.