Wednesday, August 29, 2012


[muses] Conservation... We're all missing something and I think it threatens the well being of future generations - it's all very well to speak of trying to preserve natural resources, to strive so that there will still be the occasional tree where entire rain-forests once stood, or a couple of fish in the sea or maybe even a few drops of oil preserved behind glass for our children's children to marvel at, and indeed there are even people who do more than speak of such things and actually act in some way calculated to encourage others to do something about it. But these physical threats to the future are as nothing to the threat hanging over us all... the overconsumption of Ideas.

Ideas are being used up at an ever-increasing rate, and natural reserves of ignorance are dwindling... In the time it has taken you to read this several new ideas will have been used up, ideas which cannot be replaced... Nobody is even trying to conserve as yet unexplored ideas for future generations - indeed the entire effort of the scientific world is directed to rooting out fresh ideas and having them, getting them down on paper and claiming credit for them. Completely ignoring the fact that there are only a limited number of ideas in the world and once had they can never be un-had again, short of a collapse of civilisation... I think these people need to be stopped. Someone needs to stand up and defend wilderness areas of ignorance so that our children and their children's children can experience the joy of discovery for themselves...

Oh, bother and dammit... That was an original idea, wasn't it. One more gone then. Oops...

And what do we do with the toxic waste dumps of dangerous ideas? Continue to put them in libraries and just hope nobody ever goes there? This is utterly irresponsible... 

It's not like nice, safe nuclear waste which decays - a dangerous idea doesn't have a half-life... they're not just dangerous for a while, they remain dangerous forever. We're still paying the price for some of the first dangerous ideas ever had... religion... marriage... photographing cats... coffee...

Radio Gaga

A few years back a guy called Trevor Baylis "invented" the clockwork radio and received far too much attention for this, considering how many hundred people must have connected clockwork motors to dynamos before, and so despite the fact he's probably quite a nice guy I have occasionally grumped about him and the publicity he received. And about the fact the radios were crap - the clockwork made so much noise you could hardly hear the radio, and there were other design flaws.

I know this because despite my misgivings I bought one, mainly because the sales here subsidised the radios in the developing world, where they were actually useful, but also as a present for someone.

Well, the damned thing died a while back and I was asked to look at it.

So I did... The clockwork in it is powered by a coiled spring. A big spring. A damned big spring, not to put too fine a point on it, made of spring-steel about an inch wide and several metres long that has nasty, sharp edges and a very bad attitude.


This evil bugger basically wants to spend its life wound one way on its home drum and when it is there it's nice and happy and contented. But that's what it wants, not what it gets - what happens is that when you wind the thing up you are taking this vicious piece of steel, waking it from its slumbers and uncoiling it off one drum and coiling it backwards - painfully, I suspect - onto another... This it does not like... 

In this backwards state it contains a significant amount of energy, which is released as it unwinds itself again. This is where the power comes from for the radio... A whole set of gears and pulleys and what-nots exists to tame this evil little bugger so it unwinds slowly in a controlled fashion, over ten minutes or so, rather than what it would like to do, which is explode off one drum, lash about like the demented, razor-edged tape measure from hell that it is - destroying and lacerating everything nearby - before ending up panting and smirking on the other drum.

You may gather I have had some experience with clockwork coil-springs before. I don't trust them.

So, I am given this radio and I ask what's wrong with it. Maybe it's something simple. Maybe it's the electronics. Maybe the spring has broken and I need not worry about it. Is my luck that good? Of course not.

"What's wrong with it?"

"I wound it up and it won't go"

"Won't go?"

"No. I wound it up and it doesn't go round. The bit at the back that moves isn't moving... Actually, I think I might have wound it up too much."

"Too much?"

"Well, I wound it as much as normal and it didn't go so I wound it some more. And then added a couple more turns. In fact, that was yesterday, it still didn't work today so I tried harder again and then I might have forced it round a bit. Quite a bit actually, now I come to think about it..."

"Oh... great... I'll just look at it then, shall I?"

I take the radio with some trepidation and peer into it... Mr Baylis was so proud of his idea he had them made with translucent plastic so you can see the innards. The clockwork is clearly visible... My heart sinks. The spool that the spring would be on if it was safely run down is empty... The entire spring is coiled up on the other spool, poised and ready to pounce... it is so tightly coiled that it's half the diameter I expected. I'm amazed they could get so much spring in so little volume. In my mind's eye I can see beads of sweat glistening on it as it suffers... this spring isn't poised, this spring is on the rack being tortured. This spring is pissed off. This spring is out for bloody vengence and looking for someone to murder.

But - all is not lost - I see that Mr Baylis (not being a complete idiot) has enclosed some of the clockwork - including the spring - inside a separate box, for safety... I may be able to open this bloody thing and live, after all... So I do.

I take the screws out and gingerly open it. There's a red warning sticker on the inner separate box, which says "Do not open, danger of death", but I have no intention of opening that, I've seen what spring-steel can do. I gently ease the electronics away from the mechanics, which creaks, threateningly, but doesn't go for my throat... I touch a gear, nothing happens. I poke at another gently and nothing happens - the clockwork is locked solid. I relax slightly - in fact I can see the problem immediately - one of the gears has failed, some teeth are broken and the bits have jammed in the mechanism.

Relaxing completely, I put the thing down on my lap. At which point all hell breaks loose. There's a bang and the fucking thing spits a gear out at me - this hits my glasses and flies off across the room - but I couldn't care less about that because the rest of it is jumping about on my lap. It starts emitting parts with wild abandon and the scream of machinery speeding up as various remaining gears spin faster and faster out of control... I join in with a little scream of my own, not that this helps much... Another part flies off and the spring starts making determined metallic unwinding noises - fuck this! I want it off my lap now before the bugger gets out and slashes me - so I flail at it with my hands and try jumping backwards out of the sofa from a sitting start... this at least gets it off my lap, but the damned thing hasn't finished with me yet - it lands on my feet and some vile spinning part catches and starts ripping one of my socks off... "Waaa! Fuck off! Fuck off!" I scream at it, and manage somehow to simultaneously pull one foot out of the sock and kick the damned contraption with the other, while still in mid air. I'm sure the law of gravity was repealed temporarily... But after a moment gravity reasserts itself and we both land heavily, separately this time, thank the gods, and I sit there in shock and watch as it munches the sock while dancing victoriously around on the floor. After a while it slows down and stops, but not until - with one final, triumphant twanging noise - it catches a dangling wire and rips it out of the electronics, breaking the circuit board.

I survey the damage. I am bleeding from several cut fingers, one quite deeply. The radio is a complete ruin, especially after I have finished stamping on it to make quite sure it is dead.

I hate clockwork.