Thursday, August 30, 2012

Backyard Ballistics NEW EDITION now available


Well, it's been 10 years since Backyard Ballistics has been published. During that time, I've had a lot of new ideas for projects and now, here they are! The second edition contains a ton of new stuff and new projects.

Here's a short description:

This bestselling DIY handbook now features new and expanded projects, enabling ordinary folks to construct 16 awesome ballistic devices in their garage or basement workshops using inexpensive household or hardware store materials and this step-by-step guide. Clear instructions, diagrams, and photographs show how to build projects ranging from the simple match-powered rocket to the more complex tabletop catapult and the offbeat Cincinnati fire kite. The classic potato cannon has a new evil twin—the piezo-electric spud gun and the electromagnetic pipe gun has joined the company of such favorites as the tennis ball mortar. With a strong emphasis on safety, the book also gives tips on troubleshooting, explains the physics behind the projects, and profiles scientists and extraordinary experimenters such as Alfred Nobel, Robert Goddard, and Isaac Newton. This book will be indispensable for the legions of backyard toy-rocket launchers and fireworks fanatics who wish every day was the fourth of July.

You can get it at any good bookstore. Or, just click on the link:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ow, this makes my brain hurt. . . .

Rotating Snakes Optical Illustion by Akiyoshi Kitaoka of Japan. More how and why this illusion works in an article on Discovery Magazine, available here. 
News: Now I am a contributor to Gizmodo, the world's most popular gadget blog! Here's post number 1:

First post: SUGAR HIGH

Friday, August 12, 2011

Announcing the winners of the Practical Pyromaniac Clerihew Contest!

The winners have been selected in Chicago Review Press’s Practical Pyromaniac Clerihew Contest. The Practical Pyromaniac is a new book from William Gurstelle (Popular Mechanics Magazine’s “Pyrotechnics and Ballistics Editor.”)

A clerihew is a four line, eccentrically metered, rhyming biographical poem. Easy to write and fun to read, entrants were asked to write a clerihew that describes a famous scientist or other person, or event closely associated with fire.

The Winner:
Rudolf Diesel's
As German as measles,
But his engine stayed mobile,
So his legacy's global.
                                                            --Kelly Robinson

The Runners Up:
The Great London Fire
Destroyed St. Paul's choir.
The nave and transepts were burned to sticks
On the 4th of September, 1666.
                                                            -- Chris Kaiser

Catherine O'Leary's cow
Would probably disavow
Her role in the blaze of 'seventy-one...
Too bad the witness is Well Done.
                                                            -- Erik Stearns

            Well over a hundred entries were received. It was a difficult task selecting the winners because of the number of excellent entries. Points were awarded for topic relevance, style, and cleverness.

The following entries have been singled out for Special Mention:

The Philosopher Empedocles
Thought there were four elements, and these
Were earth and water, fire and air
He was wrong, *but* they made a square.
Nick Muellerleile
Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford
Showed heat made when gun bored.
This example of friction,
a conservation of energy prediction.
Ben Brockert
Baybars, Sultan of Egypt
Into his hand cannon, gunpowder tipped.
But how many klutzes lost a foot
shootin' in the Battle of Ain Jalut?
Elissa Malcohn
Mrs. O'Leary
Hated the theory
That it was her cow
That started that row.
Yossef Mendelssohn
Thanks to William Crookes
And his love of science books,
We now have faithful records
Of Faraday’s Candle Lectures.
Roger Kilbourne
Isaac Watts
Observed a lot.
He observed that observation
Is learning's firm foundation.
Michael Hahn
Had Herostratus
Gone on hiatus,
The shrine in Ephesus
Would not be in pieces.
Brandon Burt
Sir Joseph Priestly
Looked at "airs" uniquely.
Phlogiston he spurned
And with O2 burned.
Jim Fenwood
Antoine Lavoisier
Had a flawless dossier.
Hydrogen and oxygen he bred,
right until they chopped of his head.
Ben Brockert
Sir Humphry Davy,
for miners so gravely
created a light
never to unexpectedly ignite.
Jonathan Hammler


We received a surprising number of entries involving the mythological bringer of fire to humans, Prometheus. Evidently, his story captured the imaginations of quite a few nascent poets. 
Stole the God's fire for us,
Made Zeus pretty bitter,
Now his liver's an eagle's dinner.
Timothy Schmidt
Burned Zeus.
His reward, that fire giver?
Chopped liver.
Les Clay
Greek Fire
sparks a funeral pyre
Prometheus' gift
workin' the graveyard shift
Travis Dynes
Prometheus the Titan
Mankind’s burden would lighten
He was the fire giver
But an eagle ate his liver
Beth Shively
Eagle-pained Prometheus
his days remain so tedious.
Perhaps his aquiline pest might fancy
Some fava beans and a nice Chianti?
Jake Krakovsky
Prometheus we thank for fire
But Zeus responded with ire
To a rock, He tied the Giver
So an Eagle could chew his liver.
Raymond Nakamura
Prometheus the Titan
Sought all the world to lighten
To the proles he was of fire a giver
And now an eagle dines on his liver
Matthew Gordon
Fire was gifted to mankind from Prometheus
From raw food and chilly homes it would free all us.
The fate of the Titan was grainier;
He had the first case of acute pyrokleptomania.
Casey O'Connell
What? Fire. Why? Aeschylus
Knew, no doubt, his intent.
Only the spark is extant.
John Anderson
Was a bit of a wuss.
Aside from fire, he could only deliver
Chopped liver.
Andreas Orphanides

There were also quite a few clerihews written about the author of The Practical Pyromaniac, William Gurstelle. Hoping for extra contest points by using a bit of flattery, no doubt.

William Gurstelle,
of fire does tell.
In demos quite hot, now
"am I missing an eyebrow?"
Ben Brockert
Fire, fire, huh huh!
Chem teach says nuh-uh.
Gurstelle declares
how not to burn off hairs.
Ben Brockert
William Gurstelle
Spent a night in a well
'Till he found in his pocket
Stuff to make rockets
Robert Sanford
William Gurstelle
While otherwise quite swell,
For his practical pyromania
Was kicked out of Moosylvania.
Craig Wittler
William Gurstelle
Musing about Bill Tell
Traded his bow
For a little C4
Joe Lupe
William Gurstelle
Along with the flames of hell
Has provided a book barrage
To blow the roof off your garage
David Cooper
Mr William Gurstelle
May have never been on tele.
But of fires and flame,
Seems he now has some fame.
Mr Kim Chaisson
William Gurstelle
A name I know well.
His books inspire,
My garage is on fire.
Jason Goodowens
Sir William Gurstelle
Was half-way to hell
He still hasn't learnt
That pyros get burnt
Michael Dare
The mother of William Gurstelle
told her son "Write a novel that will sell!"
To her never-ending ire
Willie wrote about fire
Liz Dorman

William Gurstelle
Burns brightly and well
A master of the arts
Of incandescent farts
Samuel Stackman

William with fire,
will never tire,
to be forever lit,
with wisdoms wit.

Other entrants’ clerihews spanned the gamut of scientific genius from Nicola Tesla to Thomas Edison, from Tim Berners-Lee to Madame Curie. There were also clerihews written to fete and illuminate the achievements of several lesser known scientists including Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, Claude Edward Shannon, Robert Sapolsky, and Henning Brand.

Robert M. Sapolsky,
follows baboons closely.
Darting is an art,
and unconscious alpha's fart.
Michael Sorel
Albert Einstein
Well he had a fine time
With E=mc^2
gosh what a lot of hair!
David Ragg
Nikola Tesla,
with Serbian chutzpah,
wished to save the day
with a good old-fashioned Death Ray.
Daniel Harrigan
When Nikola Tesla said
"AC is the best bet yet"
Replied Thomas Edison
DC Rocks, the fight is on
Jiri Vyslouzil
Antoine - Laurent Lavoisier
Knew less than Priestley about the air
He was however finely read
Until the guillotine cleaved his head
Joseph Hinchliffe
Thomas Edison
Never was reticent
World in delight
'cuz of his bulb of light
HutcH Hutchison
Alfred Noble
Was known fairly well
But his fame did rise
Once he offered his prize
Paul Krebs
Alfred Nobel
Who we all know well
Worked till he got it right
Because he was dynamite!
J-Mag Guthrie
Charles Darwin,
his patience ran thin.
Tired of the stupidity of our race,
created Darwinism to put them in their place.
Ryan Zindorf
Galileo Galilei,
Made a telescope so he could see.
Left school without a degree,
yet became the father of modern science and astronomy.
Ryan Zindorf
Tim Berners-Lee,
with out him this poem you wouldn't see.
His files, while away, he could not get.
Thus he invented the internet.

Ryan Zindorf
Marie Curie,
interested in physics and chemistry.
She won a noble peace prize,
for starting in on cancers demise.
Ryan Zindorf
In the subject of gasses
That shock and offend the masses
A tiny spark is what’s needed
For awe and wonder completed

Thoughts for Pyros by Alex Willis, Author of Wisdom from the Toolbelt
Alex Willis
Nikola Tesla, with moustache,
sent energy with panache
via wireless transmission,
and now measures magnetic induction.

J. Robert Oppenheimer
quoted the Vedic rhymer
having unleashed nuclear force
and afraid of its future course.

Thomas Edison’s electrification
of his Burl Street, NY station
was a triumph of science made actual
by J. P. Morgan’s capital.
Kat Inman
Aether of Serafeim
Cremated to ash, reduced to dust
Worldly life left to rust
Linnea M. Willing
Hennig Brand yearned
To distill from his urine
The stone of philosophers
But only got phosphorus.
Daniel Chamudot
Doctor von Braun
Rocket's head don.
Launched to the moon
an Air Force goon.
Ben Brockert
Robert Stirling
Clever gas curling.
As gasses expand,
Piston moves in hand.
Ben Brockert
Thomas Edison
was a man of no medicine
he made artificial light
there was no more night
Jonathan Pedoeem
the caveman
was a very brave man
he invented fire
and probably the first wildfire
Michael Pedoeem
Angelina Jolie
isn't very boney
neither is she fat
Jolie is all that
gerry kessler
Mark Frauenfelder
His wife, he held her
To make things worth doing
They gave us the bOING bOING
Mark Gerl
To Robert Oppenheimer let's make a toast,
For his nuke work at Los Alamos.
Though he queasily quoted Hindu divinity,
When he saw what happened with Trinity.
Eric Constantineau

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Should not have written frequently
Unless perhaps he failed at guessing
That slipshod scansion is entirely distressing.
Ari Multhauf
Henry Cavendish
Sadly never got his wish
To define the elements
Without any audience.
Craig Wittler
Richard Feynman was the man, or one might say, the bomb;
He was supercool like liquid helium, and his contributions live on -
Whether to the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics
Or to a little thing called the theory of quantum electrodynamics.
Robin Bernstein
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot
Modeled thermodynamic flow.
No heat engine (he saw) can aspire
To transcend the motive power of fire.
John David Stone
Alexander Bogdanov stopped confusion
about the vitalities of blood transfusion
his final discovery in this area-
it was fatal to inject malaria.

*I submit that mayhem gone wrong might involve a safe transfusion of blood. i.e. Relevant.
Charlie Callahan
Johann Joachim Becher
who lived in the aether,
did get his combust on,
using only phlogiston
Seth Raphael
Did Fire come from America?
Is Canada to blame?
Rule predudiced no expats
Inherent not same-same.
Jim Meier
Joseph Priestley
Carbonated not yeastly.
Beer gas killed mice,

But in water tastes nice.
Ben Brockert
The commonplace dove
Must reliably love
B. F. Skinner's
Favorite dinners.
David C. Oshel
Billy Joel,
His fire burns out of control.
Though he swears it's been burning
since the world's been turning
Maximilian Vanlancker
Joan of Arc
Died on a spark
For supporting a rival coronation
Created a great conflagration.
Seth Brown
Edward Teller
Funny old feller
Look what he done!
He made a new sun.
Matthew Gordon
It's said that great Sir Isaac Newton
discovered gravity from fruit on
If just an apple can do that
Consider Ms. Miranda's hat!

Emily Bond
Played thief for us
Now we don't shiver
But pity his liver.
Elizabeth Bailey
Sir Isaac Newton
Discovered the laws of motion.
What he failed at, we are told
was in converting mercury to gold.
kalyanaraman durgadas
Gurstelle’s book is all the rage
A bit of fire as you turn its page
How flames and kindling are tamed to toil
A mystery for even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Nanette Avery
Asimov, the Great Explainer,
tackled no subject without a disclaimer:
the progress of science has hiccups and hitches*
*but, as always, Science Works, bitches!
David Christensen
Phineas Gage
Worked the rail for wage
A blast advancing neurology
From his rod no apology
Timothy  Missal
The late chemist Thomas Midgley, Jr
Made two startlingly big bloopers.
Leaded gas was slow poison,
While Freon holed our ozone.
Mark Martel
Chalres Darwin did say
All these changes came from DNA!
And boy did this make news
When he got back from his cruise.
Jack Sterne
The canonical Zeppelin
Is just canvas envelopin’
Some gas that’s combustible
Which is why they’re not trustable.
Brian Upton
Sir Alfred Nobel
blew things to Hell.
For this you would surmise,
he should win some sort of prize.
John Owen
Johann Wolfgang Dobereiner,
a coachman’s son but not a whiner,
studied the elements on many an all nighter
and made for the world it’s very first lighter.
Rachel Hoyt
A sting come with your kiss.
Why do you desire
to set my skin on fire?
Mari Stephenson