Saturday, 8 February 2014

The invisibility bubble

I was thinking about visibility in general and then out of nowhere came the idea of an "invisbility bubble". Clearly this is something an inventor ought to sink his teeth into. But... to mix it up a bit I have let the Professor be much younger when this episode takes place. And it rhymes too!

Young Al was a curious boy
That found all his pleasures and joy
In making up crazy inventions
Defying all normal conventions

Some were spectacular, shiny
Others were small, often tiny
But one caused him no end of trouble
The invisibility bubble

It was an amazing machine
The like of it hasn’t been seen
Not even a closer inspection
Revealed a single reflection

The bubble was cosy inside
Which made it a good place to hide
Away from the world for his scheming
Quite simply a great place for dreaming

It happened in less than a blink
That left him with no chance to think
That possibly, rather than cheering
He should have equipped it with steering

The moment it started to roll
There was no way to regain control
There seemed to be no way of stopping
It simply was not keen on popping

The boy and his wonderous ball
Went crashing right into a wall
When it came it was quite a surprise
The end of this brilliant device 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Living in the future

The first day of a sparkling new year. The future of yesterday. But is it what we expected?

Prediction 1957: In AD 2000, our comfort environment will be so well controlled that we will be able to keep the atmosphere at the ideal level for the happiest, most energetic, productive life. Houses will be kept so clean by electronic dust and dirt traps that housecleaning will never be necessary. Dining-room tables will quietly swallow dish after a meal and transfer them to a dishwasher which will clean the dishes, dispose of the garbage, stack and store eating utensils until the next meal-time.

OK, so it might just be our house (aka “the project”), but... when I came downstairs this morning the debris from last night’s excesses were still pretty  much in evidence. There had been a considerable amount of cleaning before the event and it appears a lot will be needed after it as well...

Prediction 1928: Fifty years hence, according to Roger W. Babson, internationally known statistician, the milk bottle will probably be a museum relic, along with the ice wagon, the coal shovel and the ash can, and our milk and butter will be derived from kerosene instead of cows, while most of our other food will be served in concentrated or pill form.

Right... some of this clearly did happen, but as I poured a splash of milk from a bottle into the first coffee of the day the only “museum relic” I could find in the kitchen was myself. And the only kind of pill I required was an aspirin.

Prediction 1950: In AD 2000, cooking as an art is only a memory in the mind of old people. A few die-hards still broil a chicken or roast a leg of lamb, but the experts have developed ways of deep-freezing partially baked cuts of meat. Even soup and milk are delivered in the form of frozen bricks.

I guess I am getting on a bit, but... the chicken that’s roasting in the oven is beginning to smell rather good, and I don’t like the sound of those frozen bricks at all.
It seems to me that we have not quite reached the future, and by the sound of these predictions from past editions of “Popular Mechanics” (and many others collected in the excellent book “The wonderful future that never was”) we’re not likely to get there any time soon.
Might as well enjoy the present. Have a great 2014!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Christmas Delivery

Here's a story involving the main character of the day and... for once... a rather successful invention. (This is the final chapter from the first Professor Kompressor book, which is still FREE from itunes.)

Have a great Christmas and a fantastic New Year!

It was the time of year when snow is supposed to cover the countryside like a blanket, making everything look clean and fresh. Icicles dangling from rooftops. Stars sparkling from freezing cold skies.

The rain was bucketing down. It was just a couple of weeks before Christmas and the climate had gone mad. Professor Kompressor had heard about global warming, but he did not use to think much of the idea. This so-called winter was making him reconsider. Then, all of a sudden, the weather changed. From madness to normality in an instant. The temperature dropped and several inches of snow fell. Children had to stay at home because the schools were closed. The Professor had to dig out his warm winter clothes. He also had to dig himself out of the house each morning, just to pick up the post.

The Professor enjoyed winter, but he was not keen on Christmas. He could not see the point of all the glitzy decorations and the shiny lights. To bring an entire tree inside... for goodness sake! Being a practical man, he obviously did not believe in Father Christmas either. He probably had done when he was a little boy, but he suspected that he had been tricked by his parents. He did not like the thought of that. A man with a white beard, in a factory at the North Pole making toys, and then distributing them one particular night of the year. To all the children in the world. Ridiculous idea. Absolutely ridiculous.

It was Christmas Eve. The Pig-Dog was sleeping on a cushion by the open fire in the sitting room. His legs were twitching as if he were chasing something in his dreams, perhaps a rabbit. He was snoring.

The Professor was sitting in his favourite chair reading a book about the famous inventor Leonardo da Vinci. There were some very interesting sketches in the book, and he was trying to figure out how these machines were supposed to work.

They had had a nice meal. Possibly on the modest side given the season, but still nice. Now they were settling in for the evening.

It was getting dark outside. It was cold and the skies were clear. A perfect night for stargazing.

Suddenly, they were startled by a loud crash from upstairs.

It sounded as if a large cupboard had fallen over.

Then came a drawn out screech. Something heavy slid down the roof. Loose tiles clattered to the ground.

A second crash. Louder than the first.

Something had fallen off the roof and landed, not very gently, in the back garden.

Spot and the Professor, already on their feet, rushed to see what was going on.

When Professor Kompressor opened the patio doors, he was faced with the most amazing scene.

Chaos reigned in the back garden.

Several large animals with what seemed to be horns on their heads limped around over by the gooseberry bushes.

A large sleigh-like object had crash-landed in the middle of the lawn.

A round man with a grey beard and a red woolly hat was standing by the sleigh mumbling to himself.

“Oh-oh-oh,” he said. “What have we done?”

“Oh, Rudolf, I think we’re done for this time...”

The Professor surveyed the scene of the apparent accident. He was too stunned to think clearly. Yet something tickled his memories.

Surely, it could not be. Could it?

Spot had no such reservations. He dashed into the garden, barked happily at the reindeer and jumped up to greet the bearded man.

“Good evening, Spot,” cheered the man.

“Who’s a good little doggie, then?”

“Have you deserved your Christmas bone? Have you?”

The man scratched Spot behind the left ear. The dog really liked that.
Professor Kompressor finally regained his senses.

“Hmm. Excuse me, but... are you... can’t be...”

The words stumbled out of his mouth.

“Afraid so,” said the man. “This old sleigh is going nowhere tonight.”

“The children will be so disappointed.”

“Dreadful,” he added, even though there was no need for it.

Father Christmas turned to Professor Kompressor.

“Do you think?” he started.

“Do you think you could help?”

“Can you fix it?”

It only took the Professor a moment to decide that the answer was a definite no. The sleigh was not going anywhere that night. It was too badly damaged. Besides, the poor reindeer looked dazed and confused. Some of them were limping badly. They needed a rest. The situation could not have been worse.

The Professor’s brain was working hard. There had to be a way out of this jam. He could not let the children down. He had to fix this.

But what could he possibly do? The crashed sleigh seemed a non-starter, and they were running out of time.

There was no time for thinking. They needed action. Immediately.

Professor Kompressor was not used to inventing under time pressure. He was not good at dealing with stressful situations. He needed to be in a relaxed frame of mind for the ideas to flow, and he knew that inventions needed to be tested properly. Otherwise they could be quite dangerous. He had learned this the hard way.

There was no time for caution. He had to make quick decisions, and whatever he came up with had to work.

It just had to.

The Professor realized that he would not be able to create something new. He had to recycle.

He had a shedful of discarded inventions. The problem was that they had not worked in the first place. Was there some way that he could cobble something together out of bits and pieces from the shed?

He decided to give it a go.

The obvious starting point was the flying car. How badly damaged was it? It should have dried out by now, but would the engine work? Could it still fly? And what about the power source? It was night, so solar power was out of the question. Was there a way to replace it? Would batteries work? They only had to last one night. After that it did not matter if they were out of juice.

“It can be done!” said the Professor. “But we’ll have to take some risks.”

“Risks?” laughed Father Christmas. “Dear Professor. I’m rather familiar with risks. It’s not as if it’s safe to fly about in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Bad enough in daylight, but during the night...”

“I think this evening’s experience says it all.”

They moved over to the shed and dragged the wrecked car into the snowy garden.

It looked a little bit worse for wear, but the damage was mostly cosmetic.

The Professor went into the house, and searched the inventing studio for the extra powerful battery cells that he had been working on. To his great relief, they were fully charged. He picked them up along with some tools and went back outside.

He was concentrating so hard that he did not notice that he was still in his slippers, and it was freezing cold.

Father Christmas watched with a mixture of amazement and amusement as the Professor ripped out parts of the car’s engine and threw them in the snow. There was not much he could do. He was not exactly good with mechanical devices. The Professor, however, was excellent at inventing things. And this time the invention would have to be excellent. There were no alternatives.

Professor Kompressor wired up the batteries and jumped into the driver’s seat.

When he flicked the switch the car’s engine made a noise... and then... nothing.

It did not work.

What was wrong? The Professor tried to think it through, but it was hard to concentrate. There was too much pressure.

He opened the bonnet and glared down at the engine. The construction was a complete mess. He had been tearing bits out and adding new parts, mostly using gaffer tape and bits of string. The end result was a virtual bird’s nest of wires, tape and string.

How could he possibly get this to work?

Then it struck him! Reverse double wiring! He had wired the batteries as he would for a normal engine, but this invention was far from normal. Maybe he just had to reverse it?

He dived in, tore off some wires and reattached others.

Back in the driving seat, the Professor tried the switch again. This time the car jumped to life, literally. It lifted off the snow-covered ground and the headlights came on.

Two bright beacons of light lit up the field.

“Get the presents in! Quick!” the Professor called out.

He did not have to say this twice. Father Christmas was already on his way, carrying a massive sack full of presents for children all over the world. He opened the passenger side door and tried to push the sack into the backseat. It was far too big. There was no way that it would fit.

Of course, the sack had been too big for the sleigh as well. It took a whiff of magic to make room for it.

They were ready to go.

“You’d better drive, Professor,” said Father Christmas. “I’ll handle the deliveries.”

Off they went, zooming over the starlit landscape.

In no time at all, they delivered presents to the houses in the village.

They carried on, making deliveries all over the country.

It was done at incredible speed. They hardly came to a stop at each individual house. Father Christmas was down the chimney and up again in not time at all. Soon the journey turned into a bit of a blur and Professor Kompressor had no idea where they were or where they had been. They pushed on regardless.

They flew over mountain ranges covered with snow, African plains on the edge of the desert, and exotic islands with palm trees.

It was an amazing trip, but they did not have time to stop to enjoy the scenery.

Dawn was approaching. They still had an entire continent to go. Professor Kompressor pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor. The flying car responded and, even though it seemed impossible, went even faster.

Finally, Father Christmas climbed back into the passenger seat, looked in the back and said, “That’s the last one. We did it!”

“Let’s go back home.”

They returned to Professor Kompressor’s house at a more sedate pace, landed by the garden shed and stepped out in the snow. The sun was rising in the east. It was going to be another crispy cold, clear day.

The Professor woke up in the sitting room chair. It was morning. He had had the weirdest dream about helping Father Christmas. Completely bonkers.

He walked over to the window and looked out into the back garden. Fresh snow had fallen. There were certainly no traces of a crashed sleigh.

It was a beautiful morning.

Then he noticed it.

Something was not quite right.

The door to the garden shed had been left ajar. The flying car, covered by a thin layer of snow, was parked outside.

“Surely not?” thought the Professor.

He went into the kitchen to make some tea. He clearly had not woken up properly yet.

On the kitchen table sat a nicely wrapped present and a note.

Dear Professor,” it said.

Thank you so much for saving Christmas. I don’t know what I would have done without your help. Keep up the good inventing work.
Maybe I’ll see you again next year.”