Wednesday, February 28, 2007

From Hardship Springs Yet More Hardship

So yesterday, Tuesday, I took the day off and went to see Doc Teaspoon again, with a view to identifying why my left ear is still whistling like a ten year old trying to nick sweets from a tobacconist. The doctor sent me for another series of tests and concluded that my left ear was perfectly normal, but my right one had mutinied and was filling with fluid. What with the tendonitis in my left foot and my left elbow, life is certainly throwing me a few curveballs of late.

Case in point

The Steviemanse Ice-Sheet has finally retreated, and a trip to and from the front door of the fabulous Chateau Stevie no longer involves moves last seen in the finals of the Winter Olympic figure-skating events. The field of wood shrapnel has also been cleared from the path thanks to three days of 50 mph winds that tore through the State over the weekend. Thus it was that upon my return from Doc Teaspoon's Ear, Nose and Throat facility that I observed that one of the steps on my prized front deck was cracked along half its length.

Suspecting that my farsighted decision to put off applying waterproof stain to the deck for one more year had borne the usual fruit, I looked closer and discovered that the problem was not frost heave. What had happened was that the tree limb that fell off the tree last week during the ice storm had actually crashed down onto the deck. Mrs Stevie confirmed this, although at the time she failed to tell me that, preferring to give me a digest of the situation.

"The tree lost another branch" she had said as I staggered into the house with ankles severely sprained from climbing over the debris on the path.

It seems that the limb had a protruding branch that was just the right size, shape and angle to punch a knot out of the step of the deck. Said knot was tapered, with the wide end pointing up. I probably agonised for minutes over which side of the board to show when I designed and built the deck, and would have selected the side with the larger and more attractive knot pattern if the board had none of the other signature features of wood bought at Home Despot: Crush marks from steel banding, corkscrew warping (often in multiple dimensions), deep rents from overly careless forklifting and so forth.

The whole thing was a beautiful example of the application of wedges, Archimedes style. The tree limb had smashed into the deck and the protruding branch had magnified the force of the contact by many times. This magnified mechanical force had been applied directly to a conical knot in the wood and forced it down and through the board. The wedge-like increase in width of the knot's cross section at any given lateral slice through the wood had acted to stretch the wood length- and width-wise. The grain of the plank, running lengthwise had provided a fault along which the plank could relieve the stress by splitting. A very elegant demonstration of basic applied mechanics.

Perhaps Archimedes himself had formulated his treatises on inclined planes, screws and wedges after almost being brained by a frozen tree, having been inspired in the same manner Isaac Newton is said to have been by a falling apple. How fortunate I was to have been given this insight into a possible mechanism for humanity's progress in basic toolmaking: The observation and adaptation of natural events into man-made equivalents. A true vision of what makes humans, er, human.

I must remember to remain impressed by that in the spring, when I have to fabricate a new step for the bloody deck.


Anonymous said...

Hi Stevie,

This is what dropping off the MC boards does to you. You don't find somewhere like this.

I'm slowly catching up, flicking through at random, and recognizing more places and references than I thought. The Compleat Strat in NYC, King Crimson... (Which begs the question, were you at the Nokia Theater last October for Fripp and Belew playing support for Porcupine Tree).

Chalk up another reader - JRS

Anonymous said...

A 50% increase in circulation!

That makes three satisfied readers (Including me).

Although in all honesty I haven't been that satisfied with some of the pap I've written here of late.

Welcome, JRS.