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; other talk about the speed of insects in meters per second, or of Napoleon’s reliance on aluminum. Open-ended engineering is play in every definition: it occurs in a defined space, has rules, and its players feel tension between the start and the finish. Most projects take week or months of hard work, physically exhausting work, but there is an undeniable satisfaction in pressing the On button for the first time. — Makers
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 on Schedule C. 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
has no business on the Lions Gate Bridge at 4 a.m. in winter. On the center span, I shivered as a barge slid past, 200 feet below. The muffled yap of guard dogs came from a railway yard on the north shore. And at the north end of the bridge, four police cruisers conducted a DUI checkpoint. A shiny new SUV flew by at high speed and braked suddenly when it saw the spinning lights.
I wondered if the police presence might cause the students to call it off. But at the stroke of 4:00, the cops departed, and soon a pickup truck and trailer materialized over the curve of the span. 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 bed 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 the 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, I was impressed to see someone engineer 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