Tops and gyros

Frequently I begin my column by delving into my childhood for pleasant memories about some activity or other that just happens to relate to my topic. Not this time. This week, my topic is tops and gyroscopes, and the fact is that as a kid I never saw the point of them at all. Remember …

Continue reading

Recording sound

In 1877, Thomas Edison was experimenting with a way to repeat Morse-coded telegraph messages using a waxed paper tape on which the message was written by a stylus. He noticed that if he pulled an already inscribed tape past the stylus it produced a note, and reasoned that he should be able to use the …

Continue reading

Climate control

Humans (at least, this human) are creatures of comfort; and the story of civilization is, to a certain extent, the quest to keep from being either too hot or too cold. The earliest form of climate control was the fire. Room temperature was controlled by adding (or having the servants add) more wood or coal …

Continue reading

Soaring

The airplane in front of us begins to roll, the 60-metre yellow nylon rope connecting us to it tightens, and suddenly the glider I’m in comes to life, jouncing across the grass airstrip. In seconds we rise into the cloud-studded sky. # All aircraft fly because their wings are shaped so that the air travelling …

Continue reading

Writing

Last week I wrote about paper, and how much I, as a writer, appreciate it. But even more, I appreciate writing itself: the existence of a system for conveying information by putting marks on paper. What I said about our civilization being built on paper is only half true: our civilization is really built on …

Continue reading

Paper

As a writer (and reader), I have always had a deep affection for a pretty mundane material: paper. After all, making black marks on paper is how I make a living. Our society seems to have a similar affection (or maybe addiction!) to the stuff, because for all our talk of civilization being built on …

Continue reading

Biological control of leafy spurge

In 1987, when I was news editor of the Weyburn Review, I journeyed to a small lake near Maxim to photograph beetles infesting the pretty yellow-flowered plants growing on its steep banks (hey, the news business isn’t all politicians and other disasters!). Today, I’m told (though I haven’t had the opportunity to go see for myself), …

Continue reading

Water softeners

Not long after I first moved into a house from an apartment, I woke in the night to the sound of rushing water from the basement. Groggily, I investigated, visions of finding all my boxes of junk afloat dancing in my sleep-fogged brain, only to discover that all that noise came from a cabinet-sized device …

Continue reading

Space tomatoes

In 1984 NASA put into orbit a schoolbus-sized vehicle called the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF), which exposed various materials to space for six years. NASA should have asked Heinz to sponsor it, because not only were there 57 kinds of materials on board, one of those materials was 12.5 million tomato seeds. Those seeds …

Continue reading

Television

There’s probably no object in your house that is a better example of the impact of science and technology than your television set — and probably no object less understood. Strictly speaking, television really is just “radio with pictures.” Like radio, it’s based on the fact that an electrical current flowing in one wire emits …

Continue reading

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence

This may shock some people, but the concept of life on other planets predates Steven Spielberg’s movie E.T. It also predates Kenneth Arnold’s coining of the term “flying saucer” in 1947 and even H. G. Wells’s late-19th-century novel War of the Worlds. Percival Lowell, in the mid-19th century, claimed to see canals on Mars. Immanuel …

Continue reading

Skydiving

  “Go!” yelled the instructor. Over strenuous objections from brain and body, I let go of the airplane’s strut and stepped sideways into 3,500 feet of air. I fell: two simple words that don’t do the experience justice. I’d been training all day. I was supposed to arch and count to five. I didn’t. Every …

Continue reading

Easy AdSense Pro by Unreal