Sunday, 19 June 2005

Experimenting in the shed

When you look at this magazine cover what's the first thing you think?

This is a monthly publication, costing 25 cents and ran from 1924 to about 1926. It has a picture of an ordinary bloke (he's ordinary because he is not wearing a white coat) with some home-made gadgetry doing something rather scary but exciting looking. The magazine says "the Experimenter" and is marketed to the masses. This particular edition promises to show you how to make a Tesla Coil. How many of us know what a Tesla coil is? I don't really, just that it is something to do with electricity.

My first thought when I saw this was "why don't we do experiments like that now?" It looks scary and dangerous and tantalising and exciting. We are scared our kids might hurt themselves. If we want a monthly magazine now it has some little gizmo to collect and to slot into the right slot, or complete the model or to tell us what to do. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)

I think we've been struck down by whitecoatitus. We no longer experiment or play around to find out about things. Maybe there are old geezers out there with their sheds for experiments but they are a dying breed and maybe from the generation that bought this magazine and grew up experimenting.

These days we generally just accept what the science books tell us. We don't get to really understand what it is all about and what really makes things work. I get the impression that even the scientists don't really experiment these days and spend a lot of time on theories. And why has experimentation been left to the scientists anyway?

It just takes a fresh mind to look at things and maybe find a better way. A fresh mind carrying out experiments in their garden shed is as worthy as a top-notch scientist in his study! Maybe more-so?

[The Experimenter covers can be found on the excellent database. More info on Tesla.]

Original Comments:

MrsDoF said...
I sent a link for this post to my middle son, a student at U of I /Urbana because I think he might get a kick out of it. Any Info about Tesla is 'alright' sez the kid.
I like how you made the connection for the guy in the garden shed making a discovery.
Sunday, June 19, 2005 11:44:00 PM
doris said...
Gosh - thanks for the comment! And I'm so glad your son is aware of Tesla but if Feynman is required reading in your household I'm not surprised :-)
Sunday, June 19, 2005 11:47:00 PM
Manny Festo said...
I always liked to dress for lab work too.
Monday, June 20, 2005 7:37:00 AM
doris said...
Monday, June 20, 2005 8:32:00 AM
Cheryl said...
Hehe Feynman really got to you huh?
I am going to HAVE to buy that book!
Monday, June 20, 2005 10:19:00 AM
doris said...
LOL It is not a self-help book but that is exactly what it has done for me :-)

I think we have another good read on the shelf, this time from (or about) Tesla! That is also supposed to be funny... I like humour and what a great way to absorb information and clarify our thoughts.
Monday, June 20, 2005 10:32:00 AM
The Complimenting Commenter said...
I like your ideas about experimenting. The days of making radios and playing with electrodes seem over. Great observation and post.
Monday, June 20, 2005 6:01:00 PM
Minerva said...
I love your observations, and especially the breadth of them...the old religion vs science debate right here! *grinning*

Seriously Doris, I love the way you write.

Monday, June 20, 2005 8:50:00 PM
Minerva said...
Re your comment on my MUST...simply MUST respond to those stirrings....


Monday, June 20, 2005 8:55:00 PM
doris said...
Hee-hee, yes I will Minerva. I have been aware for years that I have not written prose, not since before I had children, and I knew I wanted to get into it again. But I really do have those stirrings within and it is hard to describe. It's a bit like it is there but just out of reach. It is now closer but still just a little too far. I am finding this blog writing really beneficial and am enjoying it so much. I am finding I have so much to say (no kidding!!!) and am enjoying putting it in writing. In a way I might be more scared to show any poetry because those are my old demons about not being good enough, not being intellectual enough. Silly really. Thanks for your encouragement.
Monday, June 20, 2005 9:25:00 PM
zandperl said...
I'm a college physics teacher, and I occasionally work with pre- and in-service K-12 teachers. I'm constantly encouraging them to let their students make their own experiments rather than following a "cookbook chemistry" lab.

And to Manny Festo: my advisor had an ad on his door that was a woman standing by a telescope saying "When I observe for hours on end, I make sure I wear X Brand Shoes - they're so comfortable!" It was hilarious. Of course, in reality professional astronomers spend hours in front of a computer, not a telescope. :)
Monday, June 20, 2005 10:50:00 PM
doris said...
Zandperl - there is some hope whilst the teachers are being taught like this. It is great to hear. On the other hand, would they have enough time and space to be able to allow their students to develop their own ideas? It must be quite frustrating.

As a result of all this, I am thinking we must get on and get our own home experimental lab going. Mr Doris still has his original Chemistry and Chemical Magic "Playbook of Science" dated 1912 that he used to use for ideas for his experimentations as a youth. It suggests all sorts of lethal chemicals, that Mr Doris used to be able to source even in the 1960s. One of the best bits (not that I have read the book) is at the end of the preface:

In conclusion, if a word of advice may be addressed directly to the boy reader, it is this: Never be content merely to read about an experiment ; that is, to see it only through the mind of the writer and the artist. Always perform it yourself, even if at first in a manner more or less crude : that is to see it with your own mind - the only real way to see it all ; you have made it your experiment and your knowledge. No man can take it from you ; it is yours for all time.


That was the era when only boys were referred to in such instances!
Tuesday, June 21, 2005 1:05:00 AM

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