Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fascinating Invention No.13 - Bakelite, The Fantastic Plastic!

The Science Museum (where else?) has a fantastic plastic exhibition . Bakelite is the first plastic and was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907, so, 100 years ago.

There was a time before plastic and it was a time made of wood and stone and glass. Of couse, The Parents still disapprove of plastic but you cannot have a phone made out of stone (too heavy) or electricity cables covered in wood (too burny) or glass Spiderman lunch boxes (too smashy).
Leo Baekeland made masses of money with some other fantastic invention and moved to a place called, Snug Rock where he spent years thinking about insulators. You may think this sounds very boring and it probably was but somebody needed to think about it because the beetles were getting tired.
For centuries, Laccifer lacca beetles beetled away making a varnish called Shellac - course, they were just the insect slaves of some people who ordered them about and made the money and probably did not give the beetles anything. But by 1904 it got worse; the beetles had to work overtime because everyone needed a coating for the all new and exciting electrity cables. The beetles just could not keep up and would probably have started a union or organised a strike or gone off work with stress if the first manufactured plastic had not been invented.

To do this, Baekeland used a machine called a 'bakeliser'. This was like a giant pressure cooker which could muck about with chemical gunk and make it into a mouldable substance. So plastic was invented and no more Shellac was needed.
The beetles could retire.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fascinating Invention No.12 - The Super-powered exo-skeleton

If you cannot get hold of a jet pack, then get an exoskeleton because they are pretty good as well. Let me explain. If you take a close squint at the picture of the forklift-truck/fire-extinguisher outfit, you will realise that this is not an actual robot but a person with machinery attached to him or in this case a her because this is a picture of Sigourney Weaver from the film 'Aliens', when Dad says she is, 'not looking her best'. OBVIOUSLY I have not seen this fantastic looking film and have stored it up as one of the forbidden films to be watched round Dexter's house; but I can only think that if I was a girl (shudder) and I was fighting an alien monster (cool) I would not be very worried about if I had the right lipstick on. The point is that the exoskeleton she is wearing means she is able to lift a small car like a bag of sugar and that must be quite handy when it comes to destroying something bigger than you.

The Americans have been working on real exoskeletons (ES). They also want to use them to destroy things, probably aliens if they can find them. The first proper one was developed in 1965 by General Electric and was called 'Goliath'. This one was not very good because they could only get one arm to move at all. So if you wanted to be able to wave, for example a flag, for days on end, then Goliath would have been up for it. If both legs started moving at once, though it lead to "violent and uncontrollable motion" - bit like Dad when he is trying to dance (shudder). They also made the 'Millenium Jet' which is like a one person air-car and you can wear jeans to have a go in this.

Good things about ES: Enough power to lift a small elephant.
Can run as fast as a cheetah on an off day.
Bad things about ES: Enough power to squish the person strapped inside the ES
Not enough power to go for longer than one minute in the air-car. This means NO trips to Tesco and definitely NO room for shopping bags anyway.

Looks cool though.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

They Can Only Mean Trouble

Aunt Caroline-call-me-Caz is a strain. I wish she looked like a proper aunt, like Queen Victoria but she does not. She is the little sister of my mum and completely the opposite to her. Mum is medium sized and has brown hair she likes to keep out of her face; Call-me-Caz is HUGE and has yellow hair with pink ends and it flies around her face in wispy waves. Mum says she has a big personality- whatever that means - I think she is just really annoying. For example, everything changes in the house when she comes to visit:
a. the smell - her perfume is called 'Mountain Air' and whiffs like toilet cleaner mixed with pepper
b. the noise - she is always giving advice all over the place in a voice set permanently at unearthly screech
c. the horror -my cousins, Skye and Jaspar are most likely in the near area destroying something
But the really worrying thing is that she only comes for a reason. Really, the only good thing about her is her van (see above).

'It's my aunt and cousins,' I explain to Dexter. 'They can only mean trouble.'
Dexter pulls a face. 'What, more trouble than ruining the Christmas market or discovering aliens or pressing the button at the Science Museum. That was a lot of trouble.'
'Yes,' I nod. 'More trouble than even that.'
He throws his bike to the ground and it tips over a large flower pot full of pansies made specially for Mum and Dad by Mrs Next-Door.
'What sort of trouble then?' He bends down and sort of brushes the pansies into a neat pile.
Skye's white-blond hair pokes out of the front door. Her blue eyes widen. 'You've murdered all those Viola x wittrockiana!'
Dexter brushes his hands. 'Eh? Wasn't me...'
She starts to wail. 'Mummmmmeeeee, Wilfred has killed the beautiful fleurs!'
She runs back into the house and her screams of anguish start off Mrs Next-Doors yap-dog. His little yappy head bobs up and down over the fence between our two gardens. Any moment now and Mrs Next-Door will be out with her big nose, clapping eyes on the pansies and there will be even more trouble - I have to stop the yapping.
So, I run to the fence and grab the yap-dog mid leap and it is so surprised that it stops yapping and starts wriggling like a big hairy sausage under my armpit. I had not really thought what I would do with the yap-dog once I had caught it.
I turn to Dexter. 'You see!'
There is no sign of him or his bike. Yes well. But my cousin, Jaspar is standing there watching me and laughing.
'What have you got that for?' he asks, pointing at my doggy armpit decoration.
I can hardly hear him above the crying and thundering footsteps coming from inside the house. Even as I hesitate, I also catch a glimpse of Mrs-Next-Door's curtain twitching.
The yap-dog starts again.
'In 'ere, quick!' says Jaspar holding the upturned flowerpot.
I do not stop to think but bundle the yappy hairy animal beneath the pot and sit on it.
'Is this what you are teaching my nephew, John? Is it? is it really?' Call-me-Caz has a bangled arm held up to her mouth in horror at my criminal dog-sitting. My parents are struggling to see round her sail sized dress. Skye is weeping over the wilting pansies and Mrs Next-Door is pointing a withered finger in my direction. I need hardly add that Jaspar is still laughing.
This is going to be a long day.