The Girl Who Invented Herself before she returned to Singapore. The kite-creative mother was there and I asked her how she made the decisions about proportions in her kite factory. She said that the instructions had been flexible:
- the sticks could made from skewers taped together
- the horizontal strut needed to be nearer the top of the vertical than halfway up
- the stabilising ribbon needed to be about 6x the length of the vertical strut.
- any plastic would do - she had bought a plastic table cloth
Apparently, the test-kite had flown but not too good: in a more-or-less uncontrollable clockwise spin. That is surely due to some asymmetry in the design: with more lift on the left-side of the kite. This is what brought me crashing to earth while paragliding. Small asymmetries in the lift can be damped by the stabilising tail-ribbon and some instructions advocate adding a steel washer to enhance this effect. Obviously, adding a brick to the end of the ribbon would counteract the lift entirely - on both sides: successful engineering is about compromise among competing requirements to achieve an optimal solution. Actually, in engineering as in evolution the optimum [best possible] isn't required; good enough will do. We discussed how the young chap could learn from that first attempt and make his mother incorporate design changes in Mark.II.
- using a tail that was only 3x as long as the kite but 2x wider
- adding that washer
- using longer sticks, not skewers, to even up the weigh
- moving the cross-piece nearer the top . . . or nearer the midline
- using more robust plastic - like a sheep-muesli feed sack and applying for sponsorship from Red Mills.
- finding a lighter line to fly the kite from
Wilbur Wright came crashing to earth after his 3.5 seconds and it took him and his brother Orville 3 days to repair and modify their flying machine for their second attempt. It takes a special sort of mind set to go for kite Mark.II, Mark.III . . . Mark.XXIX. Most of us flit off to the next bright thing or slump back exhausted on the sofa and switch on the TV for some slack-mouthed passive entertainment.
In teaching F&F microbiology or any lab-based classes, I frankly don't give-a-damn about the content; on my watch it's all about perfecting the process. In particular it's about testing the allowable variation that will have a good-enough outcome. Marjoram? - I think that's the French for butter. Happened two weeks ago in class: student-pair was tasked to make 500ml of VRB agar. Instructions on the bottle specified 28g/litre. This should mean adding 14g/500ml. Student-pair had been sleep-weighing and added 24g/500ml and asked what to do. This happens A Lot at The Institute because we baby the students: just follow the manual and don't take ownership of the science. Three options presented:
- pour it down the sink and start again
- waste of €1 worth of ingredients
- do some nifty calculations and dilute the over-egged agar to the required concentration
- making more agar and pouring more plates [each costing 5c]
- making more agar and throwing the surplus away
- just using what they had made and seeing what happened
- these 'strong' plates would be less wobbly
- less time wasted piffling about over detail-schmetails