One of the regular highlights of my Christmas is the inevitable copy of Popular Mechanics magazine arriving in my stocking. This year, however, things went slightly awry and I ended up with a Stuff magazine instead: still wonderful, and chock full of gadgets I want and can’t afford. Fortunately, 6000 Jnr did get a copy of PopMech, and so I checked out my favourite bit while he wasn’t looking: the Top Tips page at the back – (you may remember it from such posts as Double Vision, Keep the Change and Gardening Advice from Peter Shardlow).

Disappointingly, they’ve changed the format of the page since I last looked, but the nerdiness still shines through. Gone is the Prestik and urine, but G.Thomas (Cape Town)’s advice which is accompanied by 14 (fourteen) photographs and ends:

Perhaps some other readers have had similar issues with their toasters and will find this helpful.

continues the good fight as far as niche instructions and guidance on entirely mundane problems are concerned.

G.Thomas (Cape Town) will surely be delighted with his or her padlock hamper sponsored by Masterlock – a Top Prize for a Top Tip.

Double Vision

We’re heading back to the Tips page of Popular Mechanics for this one. It won Top Tip for July 2013.

Double Vision

As time moves on and we get older, some of us are faced with the loss of our close detail sight. Fading eyesight is usually addressed by purchasing reading glasses from a chemist (I have pairs of these dotted all over the house and garage). However, sometimes the magnification of these glasses is just not enough for close-up work.

My simple solution: acquire a second pair of reading glasses (perhaps from your wife), place one pair over the other and hey, presto! You may look like a character from Revenge of the Nerds, but it really works!

Ian Ruinaard

Why has no-one else thought of this?

Ian has obviously got a keen mind. Perhaps, in these winter months, he noted that in order to be warm, he could put one jumper on, but in order to be warmer, a second jumper, place over the top of the first, was required. Or, potentially, he had to get something down from a particularly high shelf and became aware that while standing on one box got him closer to being able to reach said object, it took another box, place on top of the first, to make it possible for him to actually get to the shelf.

These may seem like simple observations, because they are, but let’s face it, none of us took these observations and applied them to optics and the correction of age-specific deterioration in vision, now did we?

Ian did. He did that.

And then he wrote to Popular Mechanics about it.

What Ian did then, though, is deeply puzzling. He stopped. He halted in his extrapolation of this great idea. Why he chose to do this is unclear, because surely for a great mind like that of Ian Ruinaard, merely sating himself with having the vision to complete close-up work would not be enough. Surely an exploratory continuation into this 1+1=2 phenomenon could have yielded further amazing results?

Ian stopped. But that didn’t mean that I had to.

Right. So. What if we took Ian’s 1+1=2 idea and made it 1+1+1=3?

Three pairs of chemist-bought reading glasses, perhaps acquired from the wife – perhaps selected from the pairs dotted all over the house and garage, it really is up to you – placed over each other and hey, presto, I could see LOADS OF STUFFS.
This gave me another idea. I quickly acquired an extra pair from the wife and then collected all of the pairs that were dotted all over the house and garage. Then I burgled the local chemist and chucked all the pairs on top of each other.
And then I looked.

Oh. My. God.

The results were remarkable, if a little scary. It appears that I had created a nerd-like (but rather effective) face-mounted microscope. With incredible power.

We’ve all heard how many bacteria there are on a kitchen dishcloth, right?
Well, now I could count them.
From my bedroom.

This was fantastic, and I’ve already applied to the local patent office to ensure that no-one steals my idea.

Indeed, the only issue I could see (geddit?!?) with this marvelous new-found vision-accentuating device was that my field of vision was now sadly some distance beyond my field of reach, making it rather difficult to actually utilise this undoubtedly exciting and potentially life-altering ability.

“Now, if only I could somehow change that,” I thought, as I pulled on my gloves and headed out into the cold.

Keep the change

Fresh on the heels of the weeing on bougainvillea saga, here’s some more Popular Mechanics Top Tip Letters Page brilliance from Al de Bruyn:

Keep the change
Finding change for car guards at short notice can be a pain. To solve the problem, I store a few coins in my car’s ashtray, pressing them edge-on into a blob of Prestik to stop them sliding around.

This. Is. Genius.

It’s a problem we all have. You park your vehicle, give the car guard a nod and a wave – maybe even ask his name if you have time, but try to avoid getting into a deep conversation about the continuing political ambitions of Joseph Kabila – and head off to your meeting/football match/dinner.
Upon your return, a couple of hours later… erm… was it Charles?… well, whatever – the car guard is still there. And he’s awake. Amazingly, your car seems to still be exactly where you left it as well.
Who could have predicted this scenario, save for everyone, ever?
Surely some sort of reward is due for security services rendered? But you have no change at short notice.

What now?

The first place that every single South African driver looks is in their ashtray, for the simple reason that that’s where every single South African driver keeps their change. Even smokers keep their change in their car ashtray, because they use the roads for their ash and cigarette butts. Al de Bruyn’s masterplan gives us nothing innovative or helpful here.

But then, as you get into your car, lock your doors and glance nervously around to see if… erm… was it Alfred?… well, whatever – is hanging around looking for some payment from you: disaster strikes.


You fumble; dazed and confused by the plethora of assorted metal discs that lies before you. Panic is setting in – you’ve been in your vehicle for almost seven seconds now and… erm… was it William?… well, whatever – wants some money.


Actually, you’re going to relax, chill out, smile through your window at… erm… was it Douglas?… well, whatever – and glance down at your ashtray, in which there are 6 coins of varying denominations, stacked, in order of value – edge on, nogal – in a piece of Prestik.
How long have you been parked there? How dodgy is the area? How is the weather? Did… erm… I think it was William, actually, wasn’t it?… well, whatever – remember you? These are the questions you will be asking yourself as you reach towards the carefully ordered small change, all so very perfectly aligned in your ashtray. Al’s method means that once you have decided how much you wish to pay your car guard, some rudimentary mental arithmetic is all that will be needed to select the appropriate coinage required to make up the requisite sum.

I like Al’s idea. My evenings out and about in Cape Town are regularly spoiled by the spectre of having to find change for parking guards at short notice. It occupies my mind from the moment I park my car, preventing me from conversing with my friends over dinner or analysing the football over a beer at Fireman’s. Yes – Zuma does face many challenges in the run up to Mangaung, but do I have a R5 coin for the car guard? Indeed, that was an incredible cross-field ball from David Silva, but I’m going to look properly tight if I can’t find more than 50c in my car ashtray.

And may I suggest some degree of future-proofing for Al’s Bruyny plan? (see what I did there?)
With inflation constantly inflating, it won’t be long before every informal roadside transaction (careful now) is carried out with notes, rather than coins. For this reason, you should maybe keep some notes in your car ashtray BUT – use a paperclip to stop them from sliding around.

That little gem for the future is on its way to Popular Mechanics right now and it’s going to win me a Jigsaw Sawing Station Combo Kit from Bosch.


Gardening advice from Peter Shardlow

Today’s bit of gardening advice comes from Peter Shardlow of Kirstenhof, courtesy of his letter to the October issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.

Hey, it’s Nature
While the topic is being prioritised, let me add my contribution to the “Go green” campaign. If you have a bougainvillea that is struggling or not flowering, don’t waste time with fancy fertilisers: simply urinate on it. (Evidence suggests that this ability comes naturally to men.) You will see results in no time and you’ll also save water.

Sometimes, when analysing these sorts of letters, it’s kind of difficult to know where to begin.
This is one of those times.

So let’s turn to the science of all this.  The high nitrogen content of human urine does indeed make it a good candidate for a fertiliser. Add to that the fact that it also contains traces of phosphorus and potassium and it’s like Black Label for plants. Game on. But there’s nothing new or revolutionary about this. However, since Peter’s letter suggests that he has seen measurably improved results in his urine-treated bougainvillea, I’m sincerely hoping that he’s done this right.

What Peter needs is a control subject. If you’re not familiar with scientific parlance, what that means is that he needs something to compare his urine-soaked bougainvillea with: preferably another bougainvillea which hasn’t been weed upon. Ideally, these two bougainvilleas (bougainvilleae?) should be close enough to each other to experience the same atmospheric, meteorological and all other conditions, while their individual watering schemes should not affect the other. Only then can you accurately compare the two in a scientifically correct manner.

But why stop with wee?

Was Peter’s agile mind not piqued by the opportunities afforded to him by other bodily excretions? The one that jumps out at me (fortunately only in metaphorical terms) is faeces. We stick manure all over our gardens in order to prompt growth, so this almost seems like a no-brainer. Of course, human faeces can contain some really nasty bugs that you really don’t want lying around in your back yard, but this is science and we want flowers on our bougainvilleas (bougainvilleae?).

And while we’re on a roll, what about vomit? Won’t work, you say?
How do you know until you’ve tried?

Of course, we can’t allow the bougainvilleas (bougainvilleae?) to know which potential “nutrient” they are receiving. That might affect the results. This means that Peter can’t wander up to each plant and have a pee, squat down and lay cable or throw up on the soil. No – he must do that in the privacy of his own home and then feed the plants while they’re not looking. Preferably at night, since bougainvilleas (bougainvilleae?)  have notoriously poor night vision.

Ideally, Peter should also be “blinded” (not literally, although some of the thorns on those bastards can do you real damage) – so maybe Mrs Shardlow (if such a creatures exists) (and somehow, I’m struggling to picture that right now) should deliver the goodies to the plants so that Peter won’t be swayed into subconsciously skewing his results in favour of supporting his hypothesis.

I can almost picture Peter’s back garden now – a plot of bougainvilleas (bougainvilleae?) each 2 metres from its neighbour, each receiving a different sort of human-based excretion for its nutrition; Peter enthusiastically leaping in and out of the rows of plants with a tape measure and a notebook.

And while we’re on about him documenting his results, what’s this “in no time at all” nonsense?
Are you, Peter, perhaps suggesting here that as soon as you pee on a bush, it blooms?
As you do it? For real?
Do you, Peter, perhaps imagine that you have “magic wee”?
I can envisage an absolutely spectacular stage show here. A line of dull bougainvilleas (bougainvilleae?) in front of an expectant audience. On comes Peter Shardlow, to rapturous applause. Having acknowledged the audience, Peter turns his back [perhaps a drum roll at this point?], unzips his fly and urinates into each of the pots in turn, causing a riot of colour to burst forth.
The crowd (understandably) goes wild.
Peter, I have to ask, do you also poo rainbows? Because that would make a great finale.

Sorry. I digress. Often.

Look, what I’ve described above (before briefly branching out into contemporary performance art) is the rudimentary framework for an experimental protocol.
I’m assuming that’s pretty much what Peter did before writing in to PM. It’s what I would have done, had I the time or inclination to wee on my plants. Something which I can, of course, being male, do. In further evidence that there may not be a Mrs Shardlow and that Peter may have to advertise for an assistant for his ongoing work, our protagonist seems unaware that women urinate too.

They do, Peter. They do. Annoyingly regularly: especially when you’re on a road trip or when they’re pregnant. Ladies have to wee, otherwise they would explode – kidneys and bladder first – and that would be extremely unfortunate. Unless, of course, you could somehow contain the explosion (like in a really big tupperware or something) and then see if the leftovers made your garden flower better.
And in saying this I’m not advising or advocating that you explode women, Peter. That’s not a good thing to do.
Exploding women is naughty.

Finally, while I appreciate your efforts in attempting to save water, I feel that must remind you of some basic physics: “Matter cannot be created, nor destroyed”. Now, I’m aware that there are certain discussions around challenges to this theory at the present time, but special relativity etc etc not withstanding, I’m pretty sure it still holds true for wee. That is, unless you’re weeing at the speed of light (and if you are, you should really include that in your stage show). What I’m saying is that what comes out must, at some point, have gone in. You have to drink the water to make the wee. You are not saving water; you are merely utilising it in a different way.

Sadly, at the end of all this, I have to admit that I do have rather sorry-looking bougainvillea in my back garden and I was tempted to waste time with fancy fertilisers. Now, however, I will be adopting the Shardlow Principle and if my wife objects, I shall explode her.