Inside the world of Design and Invention

Makers are united by a love of offbeat science, of underdog inventors like Fuller, Farnsworth, and Tesla, and of arcane facts.
Some study the physics of blimps; others talk about the speed of insects in meters per second, or of Napoleon’s reliance on aluminum. Open-ended engineering fits every definition of play: it occurs in a defined space, has rules, and its participants feel both joy and tension in its practice. Most projects take weeks or months of physically exhausting work, but there is an undeniable satisfaction in pressing the On button for the first time. — Makers (O'Reilly Media)
The truck stopped smoothly next to me, and students in dark clothing hustled out. One yanked the blue tarp off the trailer to reveal the Volkswagen. Four guys grabbed the body of the Beetle from the trailer and struggled to lower it to street level. Success depended on securing two sets of rigging. One team would run the steel cable through a carabiner on a harness atop the car body. A second group would place a nylon rope through another carabiner on the car’s harness and use it to gently but quickly lower the car off the side of the bridge, like a dinghy off a cruise ship.

They crossed over to the southbound lane, and five minutes and 28 seconds after they had arrived, they were mere onlookers, pedestrians, and nothing could touch them. “Somebody get on the phone—call for pickup,” Johnson commanded.

Two hours later, driving through Stanley Park, looking for their handiwork in the predawn, the team listened as an AM radio station did morning traffic: “On the Lions Gate this morning, you’re going to have to look out for a disabled car—under the bridge.” Johnson looked satisfied. An older man in a bike helmet pedaled by in the gray light and called out, in a shy but conspiratorial tone, “UBC engineers!” The group cheered.

In a few hours, the incident received coverage from Reuters (“Engineered to Bug You?”), the Vancouver Province (“Car Drop Scores”) and international television. Rumors flew that the police might look for suspects on the bridge’s security footage. All day Monday, detectives questioned any student who came to Stanley Park to view the car, but by the time summer break rolled around, the police hadn’t made any arrests.

After years of post-9/11 security and paranoia, it was impressive to see a little creative mischief for the hell of it. And in the end, the Beetle-hanging wasn’t just a stunt. It was a chance to learn the essentials of problem-solving—simplicity, planning, skill—by causing problems. — “Engineering Pranks 101“ / Popular Science

"It happens to me all the time," explains twentysomething Limor Fried, a recent master's degree grad from MIT. "You're stuck in a bus from Boston to New York and the person next to you talks on their cell phone for three hours. . . . well, it certainly feels like three hours." Fried started itching for a mass-transit solution, and soon built a pocket-sized device that could squelch phones up to 6 feet away at the push of a button. — Makers (O'Reilly Media)

Three days before the 2002 Chicago Marathon, Hann bought industrial carbon fiber fabric and baked it in his kitchen. Once the fumes dissipated, he cannibalized the uppers of a pair of New Balance 763 shoes for his prototypes. As he hacked off layers of EVA foam from the sneakers with a table saw, his hand slipped and the blade cut deeply into his thumb, embedding bits of blue foam into the wound. Hann rushed to the emergency room, then assembled the shoes the next day.

The prototypes worked well in the marathon, and Hann believes they were responsible for a shaving 17 minutes off his record in the marathon. He immediately made more. — “The Greatest Running Shoe Never Sold” / Businessweek

The technician pulls a hard drive from a scrap heap and, like Hamlet holding aloft a skull, says, "Here's a 40 megabyte Seagate 251. Used to be the standard of the industry at the end of the XT era and the beginning of the 286. Now it's almost worthless, except as scrap." Alas, poor Yorick indeed. — “Where Computers Go to Die” / Wired
I love the 1040. I love that you have to decide whether your car has been used as a hearse when adding up small business write-offs. I love that fur-bearing animals are listed in the same category as laptop computers when calculating depreciation. — “I Love the 1040” / All Things Considered, NPR