Monthly Post

A Useful Kind of Madness

Like the last two installments in this blog’s discussion of the magical history of America, which you can read here and here, this post will discuss one of the factors that helped make the golden age of American occultism the astonishingly weird and creative period that it was. That said, the theme of this latest glance backward may not seem to have much connection with occultism, at least when compared with the secret societies and mass-market publications we explored in those earlier glimpses.  Here as so often, first impressions and commonplace notions deceive, and so a roundabout approach will be helpful.

Orville Livingston Leach…

Let’s start, then, with a curious book published here in Rhode Island in 1920.  Its title was The White Spark and its author was one Orville Livingston Leach. Leach was a Rhode Island original of a type that has been common in this state since Roger Williams hopped off the boat.  He started his career in 1879 as one of the people the city of Providence hired to go around each evening and light the gaslamps that kept city streets illuminated, and rose from that humble beginning to become, in turn, a grocery store manager, a manufacturer of patent medicines, a successful inventor in the rubber-tire industry with half a dozen patents to his name, and finally the proprietor of a spacious picnic ground south of Providence. He married, though he and his wife Theresa apparently had no children, and he was active in the Grange and the Junior Order of American Mechanics.

All these details were simply the surface layer over the top of an inner life of splendid eccentricity.  When he was not marketing medicines or inventing puncture-resistant tires for those new-fangled horseless carriages, Leach was carrying out his own idiosyncratic investigations into the nature of matter, energy, and life, and publishing the results in a series of pamphlets and two books, The Latch-Key and The White Spark. The core of his theory was that the basic unit of life was what he called “White Sparks” or “vaco-cells,” tiny bubbles of nothingness in which the luminiferous ether, the theoretical substance through which light waves move, could manifest more freely than it did in matter.

Illness, he argued, was a result of bad dietary habits that acidified the blood, making it hard for White Sparks to form; indulgence in alcohol and drugs was also an important cause.  Like a good many people during the great campaign for Prohibition, he insisted that banning alcohol would cause so great an improvement in economic conditions that nobody would have to work more than four hours a day. Oh, and he also lent his support to the theory, still quite popular in some circles during his lifetime, that the Earth was hollow and the inside was habitable.  He gave interviews on the subject to local papers. In 1908 he carried on a lively debate about the physics of the hollow earth; the venue was the letters column of the Providence Sunday Journal; his opponent was an earnest teenager named H.P. Lovecraft.

…and his debating partner.

Leach was, in fact, a classic, bona fide, gold-plated, Grade A, 100% American crank, the kind of person who helped create the clichés that would eventually be exploited by all those B-movies about mad scientists in basement laboratories. Like countless other enterprising and enthusiastic men and women in this country, from long before his time to a few decads after, he was convinced that the secrets of the universe could be unraveled by a solitary researcher outside the intellectual establishment of the day, equipped with nothing more than patience, gumption, and such experimental equipment as he himself could cobble together in his spare time. It was a common belief in his time, and it gave rise to countless quests for the secrets of life, the universe, and everything.

It’s become an element of our current conventional wisdom that such quests inevitably ended in failure, but that’s one of the many falsifications of history we have to deal with these days. Consider another pair of cranks who were active a little before Leach’s researches hit their stride. They were brothers who supported themselves running a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. Like Leach, they were fascinated by one of the great scientific questions of their time, and like Leach, they became convinced that the intellectual orthodoxies of their time included serious mistakes about some of the basic principles of their subject. Like Leach, they devoted years to their own researches, and built a series of ungainly contraptions which, they insisted, would enable human beings to fly. Their names, of course, were Orville and Wilbur Wright.

“It’ll never get off the ground,” they said.

The Wright brothers, please note, had no university degrees—in fact, neither one graduated from high school—and they carried out their epochal research into heavier-than-air flight on their own nickel.  They dismissed core elements of the officially accepted aerodynamic theories of their day, having convinced themselves as a result of their experiments that the standard figures for how much lift an airfoil would generate were completely haywire.  They also spent much of their time tinkering with control mechanisms, which other researchers largely ignored. They fit the standard modern definition of “crank” to a fare-thee-well.  The one difficulty with this characterization was that they were right, and their device soared skyward from a North Carolina sand dune on an epochal December day in 1903.  Meanwhile the flying machines created by university-trained scientists such as Samuel Pierpont Langley, who made use of the officially approved constant for lift and considered the question of control as a minor issue that could be taken care of later, racked up a string of dismal failures.

The Wrights were hardly alone.  From the time of the American Revolution until the coming of the Second World War, the vast majority of the achievements in science and engineering that took place in the United States were achieved by cranks:  individual inventors pursuing their dreams in makeshift laboratories, and far more often than not basing their investigations on theories that were in flat contradiction to the officially approved scientific opinions of their time.  There were thousands of them—Wikipedia’s page on 19th century American inventors has links to 573 biographies, and those are just the famous ones—and they played an outsized role in the immense social and economic transformations that turned the half-medieval agrarian America of 1776 into the urban industrial America of 1939.

Of course Orville Livingston Leach’s theories about the nature of life and health didn’t make any particular contribution to that process. It’s important to realize that for every inventor whose labors resulted in world-shaking consequences, there were at least a hundred others who never found whatever Holy Grail they were seeking, or who—like Leach—found it, or believed that they found it, and then discovered that nobody else cared. In Leach’s case, the failure of his efforts wasn’t for lack of trying; he even founded a secret society, the Order of Emorians, to spread the word of his discoveries. (Emorians?  For some reason the word “Emery” appears all through Leach’s activities. His patent medicines were sold under the brand name “Doctor Emery’s,” the picnic ground he owned was Emery Park, and so on.  No, nobody knows why.)  But the world was full of revelations in 1920 and not enough people were interested.

The secret, of course, is that if you want a supply of Orville and Wilbur Wrights you’ve got to put up with the corresponding number of Orville Livingston Leaches.  It’s impossible to know in advance which two of the crackpots laboring earnestly in basement laboratories into the small hours of the night will build a functional flying machine, and which one hundred ninety-eight will publish pamphlets about vaco-cells, get into quarrels with budding writers of supernatural horror, and have no other discernible impact on the life of their time. All you can do, if you want steamboats and flying machines and thousands of other inventions, is encourage the cranks among you to pursue their dreams, make sure those who come up with new inventions can bring them to market, and look on good-humoredly as the others labor in vain.

Why we used to have a thriving electronics industry…

That was what American society did for a very long time.  Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I got to see the tail end of the culture of invention that resulted from that collective choice, in the form of books from earlier decades that were still on the shelves at public libraries. If you were a child with a taste for electronics, you could lose yourself in daydreams reading The Boy’s First (through Seventh) Book of Radio and Electronics by the redoubtable Alfred Morgan, which taught how to make the most astonishing array of radio gear from spare wire, scrap metal, oatmeal containers, and the like. Quite early on in the energy crisis of the 1970s, you could buy a book of solar energy experiments, which included such things as making a parabolic disk reflector from foil and cardboard, and building a solar oven from a cardboard box with an oven bag for glazing. Care to make your own telescope?  That was a known hobby, and one that I indulged in; my first sight of the rings of Saturn through my 4” homebuilt reflector remains one of the defining memories of my childhood.

My favorite hobby store in Burien, Washington in those days still sold chemicals for chemistry sets, and it had an old display rack for laboratory glassware, though you couldn’t get anything fancier than a test tube by the time I started buying model rocket kits there.  By “chemistry sets,” by the way, I don’t mean the timid sort of thing you see at toy stores nowadays, where you buy little packaged experiments in which the most dramatic event is that something changes color. The older kits—hard to get in my childhood, but you could still find them if you made an effort—avoided anything that would blow your hand off, but you could make some pretty noxious messes, which was part of the attraction for any self-respecting child.  You could also learn quite a bit about basic laboratory chemistry in the process.

…among other things.

Most of the sciences had some such practical application to childhood’s most pressing need, which is of course a suitable refuge from boredom.  As the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined, and before my time—when such hobbies were pervasive among intelligent teenagers across the country—the result was a thriving amateur science scene in just about any field you care to name, which not uncommonly overturned the applecart of the official sciences.  The White Spark was a product of that same culture of independent invention and discovery; it veered off in its own idiosyncratic direction, to be sure, but it was far from the strangest quest that unfolded from the same cultural pressure that put the Wright brothers into the history books.

Consider Cyrus Teed, a contemporary of Leach’s who picked up the hollow-earth theory and carried it that one step further into the absolute elsewhere. Teed became convinced, as a result of a visionary encounter with the great mother goddess of the cosmos, that the world is hollow and we live on the inside.  On the basis of this revelation and a great deal more, he gathered together a substantial following, took the name Koresh (the Hebrew version of his first name), founded an organization called the Koreshan Unity, and established a planned world capital of the future in southern Florida.  (It’s still there, twenty miles south of Fort Myers, though it’s a state campground now.)  He and his followers carried out scientific experiments with a gigantic spirit level, which appeared to show that the curvature of the Earth’s surface was concave rather than convex.  When he died, his followers waited three days before proceeding with the funeral, to give him a proper chance to rise from the dead.

Koresh Teed. Last I checked, he’s still dead.

By now my more impatient readers will be wondering what all this has to do with the history of American magic. It’s quite simple, really.  Occultism is never really separate from the society in which it occurs.  It’s no accident, for example, that grimoires written in the Middle Ages present what amounts to a feudal theory of magic, in which the mage does homage to God and receives from his divine suzerain the right to lord it over a peasantry of demons and spirits. Nor is it an accident that the mages of the Renaissance were just as fascinated by the prospect of reviving the high traditions of a vanished past as their humanist opposite numbers—they just wanted to revive different high traditions from a very differently conceived past.  In exactly the same way, when the Theosophical Society brought the occult traditions of east and west to the attention of millions of Americans who were used to the idea of earnest inventors in basement laboratories overturning the ideas of the status quo, they applied that same idea to occultism, and thousands of them got to work trying to discover the occult secrets of the ages in exactly the same spirit that the Wright brothers applied to flight and Orville Livingston Leach applied to the White Spark.

In fact, all three of the trends we’ve tracked in recent months helped drive the golden age of American occultism in much the same way. When that era began, the giddy assortment of philosophers, visionaries, wizards, diviners, occult entrepreneurs, and bona fide crackpots who set it in motion found themselves blessed with three extraordinary advantages.  The first was the lodge system, a familiar, functional, and highly adaptable system for founding and running voluntary organizations; the second was a large and lucrative publishing industry eager for new writing on occult subjects, together with a reading public just as eager to snap up the volumes that resulted; and the third, perhaps the most important of all, was a widespread enthusiasm on the part of the American people for hard solitary work in pursuit of eccentric goals.

All three of these things could easily be put to work by occultists for their own purposes, and as we’ll see, all three of them were.  The result was one of the most extraordinary eras of occult creativity in recorded history.

After that era ended, in turn, two of those three things went away.  Occult publishing remains a booming business to this day, of course—a detail of history to which I owe a great deal, starting with the fact that I quit my last day job in 1996—but the other two factors did not survive. We’ve already discussed the systematic erasure of the fraternal lodge system from American society and history.  The erasure of the culture of innovation and individual research discussed in this week’s post took longer, but it was carried out with just as much thoroughness.

How too many American libraries treat their books these days.

I mentioned above that I got to see some of the tail end of that culture in my insufficiently misspent youth.  Even then, though, I knew very few other kids who were interested in such things, and getting access to the necessary information became increasingly difficult as the twentieth century waned.  If my experience is anything to go by, certainly, how-to books about science and technology of the robust sort just discussed were among the things that vanished first once American public libraries took up the Orwellian habit of purging “unsuitable” books from their collections. Meanwhile the kind of open-ended chemistry sets and engineering-themed toys I grew up with were replaced by what, back then, I called “dead end kits”—the kind of rigidly limited set of parts or ingredients that’s set up to let you do one and only one thing.

That wasn’t accidental. In the aftermath of the Second World War, scientific discovery stopped being something that individuals did in their basement laboratories, and became something that officially qualified, university-trained experts did in expensive laboratory settings tightly controlled by the iron triangle of government, corporate, and university bureaucracies.  Professional scientists stopped taking independent researchers seriously and started making snide comments about “citizen scientists” instead. The war carried on by the medical-industrial complex against alternative health care is simply one of the most visible expressions of the change that resulted.  What defines something as “alternative health care”?  The one consistent factor—and by “consistent” I mean there’s a 1.00 correlation—is that officially approved mainstream medicine makes profits for big corporations, while alternative medicine does not.

One of the downsides of that shift, of course, is that today’s equivalents of the Wright brothers, even if they go against all the pressures arrayed against them and invent something, won’t be able to get a hearing for their creation, unless it’s within one of the narrow range of approved fields where individual innovation can easily be coopted by corporate interests.  That means that in a significant and growing number of cases we’re stuck with the equivalent of Samuel Pierpont Langley’s failed airplane tests, repeated endlessly with ever larger budgets. Look at the history of fusion power, to cite only the most blatant example, and that’s what you’ll see:  a failed model endlessly rehashed, because too many influential scientists have too much of their reputation committed to that model, and the penalties for failure are minimal while the career rewards of trudging along the same rut are substantial.

When I was born in 1962, this was just twenty years in the future. It still is.

If fusion power is ever going to become a reality, it won’t be gargantuan government-funded projects rehashing the failed Tokamak model of magnetic confinement that do it.  It’ll be some other approach that nobody in the fusion-research bureaucracies has thought of, something as off the wall as the Wright brothers’ rejection of the established constant for airfoil lift and their seemingly irrelevant focus on control mechanisms.  The best way to achieve the sort of breakthrough the Wrights accomplished is to make sure you have many different people working in many different directions, following their own passions, free from the kind of bureaucratic oversight that insists on toeing the line of the accepted scholarly consensus—and the best way to make that happen, in turn, is to encourage individual initiative in science and engineering by lowering the barriers and prejudices against citizen scientists and basement inventors.

Whether that’s going to happen in time to make any kind of difference in the near term is an open question.  I’d like, however, to encourage any of my readers who have an interest in some form of research or invention to consider pursuing it, whether or not it belongs to those branches of science or invention that are considered respectable by the white-coated bureaucrats who too often pass for scientists these days.  I’d also like to encourage any of my readers who have friends or family members who take up some such hobby to be as supportive as possible, and consider taking an interest in the work. If your friend or spouse or teenage child seems to be turning into a mad scientist, remember that this can be a useful kind of madness.  Even if you don’t end up watching your friend or spouse or teenage child soaring through the sky on a flying machine, you might get a puncture-resistant tire or a conversation with a budding horror writer out of the spark of individual inspiration the world needs very badly just now.


  1. JMG,

    Thanks for this. I have an uncle, a former Air Force engineer, who spent 2 million dollars (most of his life savings) building a flying saucer in his farmhouse. He’s even rented a helicopter from which he dropped the UFO to test its aerodynamics.

    I’ve always viewed him as a bit of a nut, and he does frighten people with apocalyptic predictions every few years (as consistently as clockwork), but this article makes me feel warmer toward him. My wife never badmouths him, just in case he’s right and a need arises to borrow his saucer.

  2. The sight of that trash bin full of books just makes me want to bawl. What can people be thinking? I snap up old books whenever I see them and have a collection of old math books (algebra, trig and calculus) even though I’m actually quite terrible at math.

    Ah, yes. The old chemistry set. I can remember those from the sixties. They were bought for my brother but I played around with them too. Yes about all you could get was the old ‘water-to-wine’ trick so it was being reduced to pre-packaged experiments even then.

    My kid brother did get a rocket set with actual launchable miniature rocket one time. According to the story I was told, he and one of my older brothers took it to an open field for testing. Success! The rocket sped high into the sky and out of sight. Literally. They never found it again much to my kid brother’s tearful anguish. Oh well…

    I believe it was Thomas Edison who said that he never failed. He just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.


  3. Thanks for the post! This theme ties nicely with the radionics fellas and Johnny Appleseed.

    I sympathize with the mad scientist type. I took on a mad scientist lite role in the realm of physical culture from an early age, and this carried on over to spirituality. My experimentation has been more “corporate” lately (in one sense, but not in any kind of ultimate sense) since picking up Golden Dawn work. Maybe structured is a better word for it than corporate.

    I think any occultist has to take on a mad scientist role of sorts to be successful. There’s just so many places in the field to experiment with!

    There’s a modern occult school out there, that I won’t name, but people ask you about it all the time, that reminds me of the corporate/government takeover of science. It has a certain glamour and seems to attract people I wouldn’t want to hang out with.

  4. Here are links to PDFs of some of Leach’s books and pamphlets that I have found online at There are probably more of them there as well, but it’s hard to find them.

    “The Latch-Key of Life”:

    “A New Discovery Which Is the Key to the Universe”:

    “The White Spark”:

    “Discovery of the Nature of Electricity”:

  5. The equivalent British books were the Ladybird series with titles like How to Build a Transistor Radio and Simple Electronics. They reckon nearly every British inventor read them or books like them, and I’ve still got mine. The Ladybird books were legendary for other things too. The book on cars was used to train police mechanics and the one on map reading prepared soldiers who were going to the Falklands.

    We still had hardcore chemistry sets in the 80s, and I had the largest Merit set – including acids, poisons, and spectacularly flammable magnesium ribbon. I probably still have a copper sulphate crystal somewhere.

    There was also three different ways to learn electronics. The Ladybird books used wood boards, screws and screwcups to hold and connect wire and components. Another book taught you to solder on plastic breadboards. A kit had components mounted on a cardboard base, with springs connected to each. You bent the spring over, slid a wire in, and when it straightened up it gripped the wire:

  6. @JMG

    I know this post was written primarily for a North American readership, but I think it has some important points that would be relevant even to a person from a Third World country, like myself, for example.

    If I’m not mistaken, the real technological aids needed belong not to the types retailed about by the techno-optimists, but rather to the domain of ‘intermediate technology’, and I think it’s still possible that breakthroughs in this domain are more likely to come from the kind of ‘basement inventors’ that you have written about in this post than official academia or big industry, where technological complexity is fetishized.

    As for science, well, the situation seems to be even more in line with what you’ve written here. There are far too many taboos in institutional science, especially in First World countries (luckily, mathematics seems to have escaped this for now), and there still are fields where low cost experiments done by independent researchers could bring about interesting insights. I’m thinking about fields like entomology, for example, which have plenty of room for experimentation, and could yield useful insights which could be used in, say, agroecology. Add to that the fact that today’s laptops have a decent amount of number crunching power, and can be used to simulate mathematical models built to explain the dynamics of the process in question, and validated by comparison with experimental data.

    I have just one question, though, and that is about fusion power. You have mentioned that there’s a chance that it can become a reality, and that if it does, it’ll be done in an unexpected and unorthodox manner. Were you referring to cold fusion? I ask because I’ve read a bit on the matter, and I’m convinced that it is a reality, but I’m not sure whether it’ll actually go beyond being a curious phenomenon to being an economically feasible source of energy as a replacement for fossil fuels.

  7. Well, I had been saving this for the open post, but it is on topic here: I am running an experiment with plants, giving water which was either untreated, boiled in a pot on the stove, or microwaved. Given I was interested in etheric effects, I chose to use distilled water, since the lack of contaminants would allow me to avoid URPs as much as possible; even so, the plant given microwaved water is definitely getting sick.

  8. Archdruid,

    This one is right up there with your Butlarian Carnival. Love it, let’s all go invent things!



  9. John, everyone–

    A post about crackpots seems to be a good time to revisit a crackpot idea of my own, one I mentioned to the community here some time ago but took no further. In part, this was because I envisioned something all spit-and-polish (or, rather, glossy-and-bound) instead of being open to starting small (and online) before trying to grow.

    In short, a regular journal/newsletter/proceedings of theoretical and experimental magic.

    The idea is that contributors would submit articles written in “scientific” fashion describing experiments, reviews of the literature, case studies, etc. These would include, where applicable, descriptions sufficient for replication, proper source citation, and the like. A quick search on writing scientific articles brought up this example “how to”:

    In my mind I initially saw this is an elegant, well-curated print publication (a la New Maps or Into The Ruins or MYTHIC) and this frankly intimidated me from doing anything with the idea, as I know little to nothing about such things. But the post this week kicked the idea up again and I realized that if I relaxed my preconceptions a bit, the concept was much less frightening. Plus, I’ve begun my own journey into ceremonial and ritual esotericism recently by joining the local Masonic lodge, so this seems appropriate just now.

    We could start with a (free) online edition, perhaps later progressing to a newsletter-style print edition. Doesn’t have to be all fancy. The point is to have a place to exchange research and ideas, to outline experiments and replicate them, to conduct reviews and original research in various magical disciplines.

    Would anyone be interested in such a thing? I wouldn’t mind being the point-man (point-person?) in terms of managing the blogger-page we’d likely be starting with, but we’d need contributors and reviewers, article-writers and basement experimenters to fill the columns of the publication. An advantage here, too, is that we’d be dealing with shorter, more concise works, something else that makes the prospect here less intimidating.

    Lots of details to be ironed out, of course. Is this a quarterly? Is it semiannual? Is it occasional, with no set schedule? Also, what about a name? My first concept is [Some Esoteric Word]: A Newsletter of Theoretical and Experimental Magic, but that’s just an idea and I don’t have a good notion of what an appropriate esoteric word might be.

    If anyone’s interested, shoot me a note at buddhabythelake at yahoo and perhaps we can get an email discussion going. I’m not terribly well-versed in practical magic, but I’d be very interested in learning from everyone else.

    Signed, your fellow crank and crackpot

  10. I had such a large chemistry set as a young ‘teen in the 1950s. It even included some cyanide compounds (Potassium Ferricyanide and Potassium Ferrocyanide) which were relatively safe to use, but to modern ears sound like death incarnate. I set up a small lab in our basement washroom and experimented with all sorts of inorganic chemical processes. Once I managed to fill the washroom with the brown oxide of nitrogen (NO2) gas, and did a modest amount of damage to my lungs in the process: it took about 20 years for the resultant cough to finally go away completely. Eh, that was a normal ‘teenager’s life back in the day. Some of my fellow ‘teenage science geeks did worse to themselves … Children died, but society was not seriously harmed and life went on.

    There was a store in Berkeley off University Avenue called something like University Scientific. Even a kid could go there and buy all sorts of chemicals for cash over the counter–and, of course, all sorts of laboratory glassware A few years later, when I was in high school, I bought a one-pound bottle of perchloric acid (a somewhat unstable and explosive chemical) for an experiment with a plastic fuel for home-made rockets. It turned out well, but it might not have.

    Ah, the good memories …

    Now, of course, all this is virtually impossible, and much of it is seriosuly illegal:

  11. My inner crank rejoices! Better late than never to embrace and unleash the madness. It is amazing how effective cultural pressures can be to suppress wild roaming. Feels like I was born a 100 or so years late. Maybe my last incarnation was spent deep in crankdom?

    Not long ago I posted on a business forum regarding occult author Sydney Flower’s courses on starting mail order businesses. In response one of the maintainers of the forum provided a very interesting history of the rebuilding of the business district in Chicago after the fire in 1871. Apparently, with enormous amounts of capital flowing in publishing and the occult flourished.

    Burien, WA? I was born there in ’66, leaving after first grade. Must be some deep grooves laid down in the area.

  12. Awesome sauce.

    I’m writing an essay on the history of radio astronomy right now and this is basically how that field got it’s start.

    After Karl Jansky discovered radio signals being emitted from the center of the milky way while researching atmospheric noise and disturbances for Bell Labs, the field of radio astronomy was born. Bell Labs didn’t want him to pursue it any further (at least on their dime) and he didn’t.

    Along came Grote Reber, an amateur radio operator and amateur astronomer. He heard of Jansky’s work and thought that was what he wanted to dedicate his life to, and merged his two passions into one.

    Here is a brief snippet:

    “Reber applied for a job at Bell Labs, because he realized this new field was the one for him, but they didn’t have anything for him. So without waiting for grants or asking anyone else’s permission, he built a parabolic receiving dish in his backyard in Wheaton, Illinois, and set out to do the work on his own.

    The antenna or radio telescope he built was more advanced than even what Jansky had built with the funds from Bell Labs. It was made of sheet metal and shaped into a nine meter in diameter parabolic dish focused to a receiver eight meters above the dish, all connected to his radio gear. It was on a stand that could be tilted to various parts of the sky, but unlike Jansky’s it wasn’t on a turntable. Perhaps he should have hit up Ford for some spare tires. Reber completed his build in September 1937, and was able to keep radio astronomy alive during the frought years of the Great Depression.

    It took Reber three attempts before he detected a signal which confirmed the discovery of Jansky. The first time he was looking on 3300 MHz, and the second time at 900 MHz. Finally in 1938 he was successful in detecting signals from outer space on 160 MHz. In 1940 he made his first professional publication in the Astrophysical Journal and was contacted by Yerkes Observatory who offered him a position. He turned them down and kept walking his own path, making the first radiofrequency sky map. This was published in 1941 and expanded in 1943.”

    It goes on to look at some of what else Reber did in his pursuit of the ultimate DX.

    Furthermore, the tools for radio astronomy could be used using 1930s-50s tech, so I think it can have a deindustrialized future, if excited hobbyists want to take it up.

    The work can continue with more modest tools and passionate people even when places like Arecibo are long gone.

    These and many more discoveries await those who voyage into the worlds of discovery awaiting them in their basement or shack.

    Tinker on & 73s.

  13. Another great essay, JMG! I’m re-posting my comment from your Dreamwidth blog in hopes of getting book donations and other help for the subscription library I’m building. I’m frightened by the lack of inventiveness and spirit I see among the youngest segment of our population right now. Children these days have been demoralized, devitalized, and trapped in a web of numb obedience.

    From my post on the other blog:

    I’ll be doing a post about this on my own Dreamwidth blog, in the near future.

    Long story short:

    A while ago, I decided to take JMG’s idea about subscription libraries seriously and start my own local one in Aurora, IL.

    I have since amassed a large number of books thanks to the generous donations of Ecosophians, which I added to my large, already-existing collection.

    Until February 2022, anyone with extra books, DVDs, or magazines on any subject at all may donate to my collection at:

    Kimberly Steele Studio
    625 E. Ogden Avenue
    Naperville, IL 60563

    I have decided to make my subscription library available online for anyone in the continental US for as long as that works out. I will set up a Subscribe Star or Patreon and that will be how I collect subscriber fees; my thoughts are a fee of $10 a month or less for those who cannot afford $10 a month. Shipping will be free but return shipping will not be free, in essence it will be based on trust and honor to get the books back. Of course I cannot put the library online until I have the books cataloged — if anyone out there is a good with databases and programming or has worked in the circulation department of a library, I could really use your help right now. I will be organizing books via the Dewey Decimal system. I could also use help from people willing to look up the Dewey Decimal call numbers of my existing collection so I can label all of the books before I make them available for check out.

    I have a bookshelf area in my music lesson Studio (it is in a commercial space) set up right now to house the books, plus I have a couple of massive bookshelves at home. I am planning on moving my Studio closer to where I live in another commercial space when my lease is up in February of 2022.

    Thank you in advance for your donations and help.

  14. Dear JMG,

    Apologies, off-topic, but I recently noticed that Twilight’s Last Gleaming had been republished. I would be very curious about the why-how-who of how that played out, if you wanted to share? Or perhaps you have already posted something about it?

    Regarding TLG though, I wondered if you ever considered the USA was itself the protagnoist of the novel and the various factions within it (Weed, Harbin, the Pentagon etc.) were the equivalent of the different and conflicting motivations of a human protagonist?

    (I may or may not be leading a book club discussion about it next week!)


  15. Oh wow, that chemistry set — I had one of those! I can still conjure up the image me, circa 1960, standing in our kitchen working on a chemistry experiment. I had a little microscope, too, that came in its own wooden box (I still have the box). Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    My favorite “mad scientist” fantasy is the discovery of a gravity-blocking substance or machine…well, maybe in my next lifetime! 😉

  16. John,

    You mention that:

    “Occultism is never really separate from the society in which it occurs.”

    – and then describe how feudalism and a quest for revival shaped the traditions of their corresponding times. And that makes me think. With our time so insisting on research being credentialed and institutionalised, would it not mean that something like an officially sanctioned form of occultism will emerge to match it, with well-funded and prestigious institutions of its own?

    Migrant Worker

  17. John,

    Interestingly I just found a similar lament of the state of citizen science while watching a documentary series on VICE called Hamilton’s pharmacopia. While most of the series focuses on the host travelling around the world researching (and often sampling, in true gonzo fashion) various ethnobotanicals, in one on episode he decides to track down a couple of clandestine chemists who at one point were responsible for the production of a significant fraction of the MDMA available in the US.

    Most interesting is that while you’d expect these sorts of characters to be the sort of sketchy criminal types associated with cartels and mobs and such…they really weren’t. They were usually just people who grew up as huge chemistry enthusiasts , got a little bit involved in the counterculture, and then decided to experiment with manufacturing a few not-yet-illegal entheogens they believed would improve the world one jaw-grinding hug at a time. Of course, turns out that being a fantastic MDMA chemist would first bring in a ton of money and then a bunch of legal scrutiny, followed by usually bailing on the manufacture once the feds started cracking down…or going to prison and getting their lab equipment confiscated.

    Tellingly at the end of the episode, one of the biggest laments of said chemist was not that he couldn’t make as much money — it was that so many resources had been put into squashing the availability of decent chemistry equipment and basic chemical precursors that even kids like he used to be couldn’t ever get to know the love of chemistry…and how that was likely to suppress a ton of innovation. And he’s not wrong!

    On a different (but slightly related note), while I’ve never written any papers myself or anything, mycology is actually booming right now almost entirely because of citizen scientists. Turns out with advances in DNA profiling at low cost, widespread internet access, and collaborative communities like and iNaturalist, our understanding of mushroom taxonomy and the various ecological niches they fill is expanding at a pretty rapid clip. All my contributions have mostly just been logging the spatiotemporal distribution of several dozen species, but with enough people doing that you end up making a lot of progress! With a lower case p, of course.

    Curious how synthetic and mechanical citizen science is being crushed but natural citizen science is thriving.

  18. In such awfully isolating times, I cannot begin to tell you how much your essays mean to me. Thank you so much for all the time you put in.

  19. @Kimberly Steele

    I’ve never worked in a library but I’m confident enough in my coding/database skills that I could help you. How should I get in contact with you?

  20. My book Evidence-based Software Engineering is one person’s attempt to analyse what is currently known about software engineering, based on all the publicly available data. This aim is not as ambitious as it sounds, because there is not a great deal of data publicly available (a fact that academics are not keen to point out).

    pdf+code+all data freely available here:

    The evidence-based approach to software engineering is a break with academic tradition, which is often based on ego and bluster promotion of a vanity project.

  21. Thanks for another timely and interesting post, JMG. Lots to go through here.

    I would like to be a crackpot inventor. 😉

    Most of my ideas are not too radical and I am primarily interested in tools that can help small scale farmers/gardeners. Thanks for the information regarding the radionics machine, btw. That’s another project I want to work on.

    Currently, I’m working on a small scale bean and grain thresher. I found some excellent plans courtesy of farmhack and am hoping to begin construction this summer. I will probably power mine with pedal power.

    A lot of small producers of beans and grain do tasks by hand/car ( I can elaborate if interested). I have found that to be a bit too labor intensive. Plus, I just have fun tinkering.

    A few years ago, I made a thresher from a water barrel, some chain, and bolts.

    Anyhow, thanks again JMG and the commentariat. Wednesday is one of my favorite days thanks to this community!


  22. Great essay once again! And thank you for providing some historical context for the benefits of thinking creatively. I probably won’t be inventing anything anytime soon, but I hope to inspire my kids to think creatively in whatever direction their lives pull them. And I am so appreciative of the support their waldorf school provides towards inspiring creativity and staying open when that meant going against the grain. As for books, our little free library in front of our house seems to be thriving. When our local library was open I would frequently select from their free books and recycle them into our book house. But even without the library input there still seems to be a steady flow of book in and out of it. And I’m happy to contribute to community and books in a small way.

  23. @David, by the lake,

    Have you taken a look at The Journal of Borderland Research?

    I feel this is the new age of the crank and crackpot. Not that it will be widespread but the crank has an important role in getting us through the bottle neck of this time period as technology decreases in complexity.

    Im excited for it. I enjoy established traditions of tried and true methods that then say…ok now go out and try something else…now what if I do this…what about if I combine that.

    So much of growing up for me as a child of the late industrial age is unlearning my rigidity to always look for the right answer from the right person. It has its place but so does experimentation.

    Your post also makes me want to dive not just into the occult history of Ohio but the folklore stories and knowledge. I feel like a resurgence is coming back. I lived in the Appalachian mountains which while still quite devastated by the pharma industries forays had a new energy under neath it all. I felt it had to do with the waterways making river economies a most sensible solution to declining oil and people were returning to tradition not as an escape but because it was stronger than the spectacularly failed industrial society.

  24. A brief follow-up to my post on being a ‘teenage chem geek:

    In my home laboratory, I worked from my grandfather’s copy of George Rantoul White’s An Elementary Chemistry (1894), which can be found online here:

    It was a well-written and very clear schoolbook, and it put me several steps ahead of my fellow classmates when I got to the 11th-grade and took high-school chemistry.

    FWIIW, Grandpa (Clay Leatherman) was a very intelligent and gifted man, but brutal with a ferocious temper, and and quite dangerous to cross even in very small ways. He had run away from home (Wolfsville, Frederick County, Maryland) when he was quite young, and lived rough in the woods, hunting and fishing for his food. Since he had witnessed the Johnstown Flood while living in the hills above the town, he must have left home well before he was 10 years old. He probably had had very little schooling, but he could read and write. He went to Alaska for the Gold Rush of the 1890s, when he was in his 30s. Before and after, he worked as a boilermaker and machinist, made guns in his own garage machine shop, and brewed his own illegal hootch. And he had White’s chemistry textbook, which had already seen considerable use when I got it.

  25. I’d imagine that return on time/money expended for modern inventors is likely to be a lot lower than it was in the early twentieth century in a lot of fields. A lot of the easy discoveries in the sciences have been made.

    I bet you can still invent useful equipment and processes, given that a lot of mainstream equipment doesn’t take energy and resources nearly as seriously as it should, or as we’re going to need to, and there’s a lot of fine-detail stuff in ecology that isn’t well understood.

    Any suggestions of topics you’d like to see investigated by someone with a background in biology, a microscope, a tendency to save seeds, and a moderate-sized food garden with compost bins?

  26. @David, by the lake

    I would be interested. It’s fits well with a gathering energy I am having for my blog to write articles focused on occult/fringe experiments.

  27. @David, by the Lake:

    This sounds like an excellent idea. Count me in as a contributor. I’ll email you my email address shortly.

    The easiest and simplest way to get started with this, I think, is to prepare each issue as a PDF, and to have a site where the issues are published (each in its turn) and also stored, and from which any or all issues can be downloaded. Compare what the academic Societas Magica has done with its semi-annual Newsletter (now, sadly, in abeyance for want of an editor):

    (Note: every issue is there, including #19, for which they forgot to put a link. To get it, one can just tweak the link for any other issue by putting “19” instead of the issue number.)

  28. Thank you for this! Yup this is more or less the position I’m in right now. Actually as you’re probably aware Nassim Taleb in ‘Antifragile’ makes a very similar point in the section titled ‘history written by the losers’. Many of the great inventions/discoveries throughout history were made by ordinary people tinkering and experimenting, rather than by institutionally funded experts. Though the people that write things down and get published usually are institutionally funded and tend to downplay if not erase completely the role of ordinary citizen.

    If you ask me, there’s a sort of paradox with the ‘pioneer’ spirit. Many Hollywood movies celebrate/ romanticise the individual innovator/ mad scientist (provided of course, the inventor does something ultimately acceptable to the present day sentiments…)

  29. @Kimberly Steele

    I would also be interested in helping with your subscription library. My coding skills are nonexistent , but I have lots of cataloging expertise and have worked with open source library catalogs (if you choose to go that route).

  30. @David By the Lake:

    I love your idea, and think you should go for it!

    There still seem to be a fair number of smallish journals and things dedicated to magic and occult and their used to be even more, but the tradition could use a breath of fresh life.

    (“The Cincinnati Journal of Ceremonial Magick” was one from my neck of the woods in the ’70s or early 80s.)

    …your idea got me thinking about another idea I’d cogitated on some…

    I also have liked the idea of there being a print journal of some kind dedicated to green wizardry and low-tech experimentation. I don’t have the time to do it myself now (I’ve already got a slew of projects on my ADD addled plate and cooking on various burners at differing temperatures, etc.) Something with a namelike The Trigon Ternary (why do all journals seem to be biannuals, biennials, quarterlies), Probably something more snappy.

    But maybe some enterprising young green wizard slash mad scientist wants to take it up, so I’m throwing it out there for consideration.

    Remember the magazine Analog: Science Fiction and Science Fact? That’s something like I had in mind too… Except the green wizard version would be real analog, and thus have to be analog.

    …In general I would like to see a print universe with a plethora of journals, zines, magazines, etc. These will hopefully come through our mail slots and be on stands at a retrofitted store front near you.

    Mudlarker’s More or Less Monthly
    The Fusion Alchemists Journal
    The Ladie’s Eldritch Homecare Companion
    Boswell’s Guide to Irregular Travelocity
    The Homespun Goatherders Annual
    Highlights from A Year of Glass Bead Games

    …well, I got some chores to do now, but just as there should be mad wizard labs in peoples basements, perhaps too some cantakerous printers and basement printshops oozing out the eldritch ink, each guided by their inimicable star and secret spark of light!

    …another idea is to organize Amateur Press Association’s around various themes and start trading stuff by mail. I’m a member of two of these at the moment and they are ripe for a rebirth as other forms of communication get censored. But that’s a topic for another time!

  31. Hello all,
    thanks for all the words!
    I’ve been reading your blog and books for quite a while now. It’s been quite a journey all things considered. By now Im thinking of myself as a druid, something I wouldn’t have thought possible some years ago.

    I’d also like to thank all the regular commenters as well. Being more of a lurker, I’d never felt the need to comment before now, but I enjoy reading the comment section if I have the time.

    Anyways, I only came here to point out Otto Lilienthal, the “flying man”
    Let’s not forget the first guy to fly and build planes.
    While not strictly fitting into the picture of the crank type mad scientist,the broader point still stands I think. He also died while flying, scoring heaps of mad scientist points for sure.

    And while I’m born too late to know those crazy chemistry sets, I still enjoyed mine.

    I was a teenager during the 90’s, and for me, as it was for many others, it was the computer the sparked my curiosity and scientific interest. If that’s not a too big word to use for whatever it is teenagers do.

    Hacktivism, anarchy, open source, copy left, freedom of expression, uncensorable systems like Freenet and all that jazz.

    It did turn out well for me, although these days I wish I spent more time reparing bicycles or trying to build stuff out of wood. My current efforts as hobby carpenter are, well, let’s just say they could be better. But I’m getting there.

    Many computer nerds and the world of computing in a more general sense seem to have gone boinkers. It’s the same with the space nuts, who dream about mars colonies and space drives, I guess. The future is not like star trek and neither is it gonna be like cyberpunk. But letting go of dreams can be though or so I’ve heard.

    Anyhoo, have a nice one.
    Greetings from Germany o/

  32. Dennis, your uncle is in a grand American tradition and I’m delighted to hear that he’s hard at work. You might send him a link to this blog post, and my best wishes for a successful first flight!

    Jeanne, it’s not being done by accident. What’s going on now with wokesters banning Dr. Seuss is the logical culmination of a trend that’s been under way for decades: the attempt of a radical minority in most countries of the industrial world to make it impossible for people to think unapproved thoughts. That’s what’s behind the catastrophic dumbing down of education, the erasure of alternative viewpoints, the culling of older books from libraries, and more. These are people who think the novel 1984 is a manual, and they’re very serious about it.

    Youngelephant, one of the things that many successful cranks discover is that getting a systematic training in some structured field of science, engineering, or craft is a huge advantage. The Wright brothers were able to do what they did in part because they were very good bicycle mechanics, skilled at all the crafts needed to build and repair bicycles. One of the great advantages of the Golden Dawn system is that it provides a similar training for aspiring occultists.

    Robert, many thanks for these! You’re right that they’re hard to find — I hadn’t yet scored a copy of The Latch-Key of Life. I wonder if there’s any hope of ever finding the ritual book of the Order of Emorians… 😉

    Yorkshire, those sound great. I wonder if there’s any hope of getting them reprinted!

    Viduraawakened, you’re quite correct, of course. A professor of mine at my first university, David Mason, published a peer-reviewed piece entitled “Appropriate Ecology” in which he proposed that the most effective way to maximize good research into ecology was to focus on low-tech investigative methods that could be done by almost anyone, and encourage lots of people to do them. (I have just looked up the article: David T. Mason, “Appropriate ecology: A modest stress-strain proposal,” Bulletin of Marine Science, Vol. 31. No.3, 1981.) As for fusion power, I have no idea whether cold fusion might be the off-the-wall gimmick that will do it; all I know for certain is that the official scientists have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that even if they can get a sustained fusion reaction going, the cost of building and operating a fusion plant will be so high that no nation on earth will be able to afford to use it to power their grid.

    Will, excellent. Do you have a website where you post the ongoing results? That might be a good place to direct people who are interested.

    Varun, thank you.

    David BTL, you might see if you can find a mimeograph for the print run, for the retro value, and also as the antithesis of the glossy-magazine approach! I think it’s a good idea, for what it’s worth, and would submit pieces on cell salts and pineal-gland activation methods if those would fall within the ambit of the publication.

    Robert, memories indeed! There was such a store in the University District in Seattle; I bought much of the glassware I used for alchemical experiments at its going out of business sale in the 1990s.

    Eric, fascinating. As for Burien, whereabouts did you live? I was born in 1962; the house that features in my first memories was on S. 187th, a few blocks from First Avenue; later, after a stint in Federal Way, we lived in a rental house on S. 190th, and then my dad bought a place on Sylvester Road about two blocks south of the junior high school.

    Tom, huzzah! Thank you for this! That book was one of the treasures of my childhood; I hope it gets back into print, and into the hands of ten million children.

    Allen, so noted!

    Justin, another fine example of a successful crank. Thank you.

    Kimberly, duly reposted; may the library thrive.

    SMC, the new edition happened because the original publisher was sold to one of the big boys, who didn’t want it, but the former owner of the firm started a new publishing house and picked it up. We decided that some revisions were in order. As for the USA being the protagonist, you could doubtless make a good lit-crit essay out of that!

    Goldenhawk, that’s a grand old quest!

    Migrant Worker, people in some corners of the occult scene have been trying to do that for decades now. That’s how Cherry Hill Seminary, a neopagan seminary currently on its last legs, got started, and there have been several other attempts in other corners of the scene. Fortunately those attempts have all been caught in the usual double-bind of respectable deviance: the mainstream won’t take them seriously, and the subculture they’re based in recognizes that what they’re doing is a power grab, and has no time for them.

    Big Jilm, fascinating. I knew a guy in high school who went exactly that route — an enthusiastic amateur chemist who found out he could make a lot of money making drugs. As for mycology, and the natural sciences generally, that’s not surprising at all; there’s no corporate money to be had by studying mushrooms, or for that matter pursuing most branches of natural science. The bigger the profits, the steeper the barriers to access!

    Marcy, you’re most welcome and thank you.

    Derek, many thanks for this! I know precisely nothing about software engineering but it sounds like a sensible approach.

    Solarfed, many inventors, back in the day when every village had one, concentrated on exactly that sort of small-scale, locally useful devices: building a better egg whisk or an ingenious device to pull stumps. That is to say, you are a crackpot inventor of the classic type. Congratulations; go ye forth and invent.

    Tamar, thank you for this on two counts. First, the little free libraries that are springing up these days are filling an important role, and I’m delighted to hear that yours is thriving. Second, Rudolf Steiner was one of the most brilliant cranks of the early 20th century, one of the great success stories of the fringe, and his Waldorf schools are among his most successful creations. I’m glad your kids are doing well in one.

    Robert, and many thanks for this as well! A classic textbook, full of the kind of things you don’t get in anything published after 1950.

    Pygmycory, whatever topic fascinates you most!

    BB, that’s a very good point of Taleb’s — and your point about the “pioneer spirit” is equally good. Our corporate media celebrates the pioneer spirit so long as the pioneer in question is either a sock puppet for corporate interests, or safely dead.

    OGEIG, thanks for this. Lilienthal is another good example: as you point out, not exactly a standard crank, but a visionary who pursued his own dream and achieved something by doing it.

  33. Vidurawakened,
    I think you’re right about intermediate technologies being a potential area for new inventions.

  34. Another excellent post.

    I read elsewhere that individuals used to account for most of the really groundbreaking patents. Nowadays we have huge teams cranking out fewer, incrementally significant patents. Here’s hoping for a swing back.

    Overall there’s been a longstanding trend to childproof the entire world which has only accelerated with the woke crowd. Idiocracy here we come.

  35. I understand, from a biography I read, that when the Wright brothers realized the existing lift numbers were junk, they built a wind tunnel in the back of their bike shop to help them determine the correct numbers. I’ve always considered this a great lesson in how to properly tear down established structures. It’s not enough to call out others faults, but one should offer constructive correction to build upon and carry the subject forward, if possible.

  36. We had a similar history of citizen invention here in Australia so I thought I would go back and look over a list of the inventions. I think my favourite story is the invention of the ute (I think those are called SUVs in the US). Turns out the original idea was given to the Ford Motor company here in Victoria by a farmer’s wife who suggested they make a vehicle that could be used to go to church on Sunday and then take the pigs to market on Monday.

    Actually listening to what your customers want is considered a revolutionary activity in a modern corporation. I worked for one that carried out such as exercise once and the customers told it in no uncertain terms that their product idea was rubbish and they would never use it. Problem was the budget had already been allocated and the team assembled to build the thing. So, they built the thing anyway. Guess what? Nobody ever used it.

    P.S. I picked up an old fashioned chemistry set a few years ago. Had to buy it in from the US. It cost several hundred dollars and took three months to arrive but it was worth the wait.

  37. David, by the lake – I’d be very interested. Would there be room in such a journal for articles on observational tests of mundane and other forms of astrology? It’s technically not magic, but it runs in the same circles.

  38. Marie Curie was a crank. She started out with enormous quantities of a waste material, pitchblende, out of which after years of tedious work she managed to isolate radioactive elements for the first time (and eventually die from radiation poisoning).

    Another example I like has to do with the development of Langmuir-Blodgett films (monomolecular layers of hydrophobic films on top of water, for instance). What the name conceals is that Irving Langmuir took his inspiration to study the films from the work Agnes Pockels did in her kitchen sink on films of oils on water. She got her work published only because she wrote a letter to Lord Rayleigh about it and he helped her get the work published in Nature, where Langmuir saw it. In turn, Langmuir relied on Katherine Blodgett to do the experimental work for him that got him a Nobel prize in 1932. However, neither of the women were recognized for their roles.

    I dabble in citizen science in my gardening practice. Anyone who is curious about last year’s experiment can check out this post on my blog: What puts it in the crank category is what I used in place of cottonseed meal to supply the nitrogen for my garden’s plants. I didn’t have to spend any money on equipment and the only mathematics required I learned in elementary school. Citizen science is fun, unlike corporate and university science; ask me how I know.

  39. I have what I hope is a hopeful story. I’m a retired computer programmer. Over the COVID lockdown, I started to work again on a problem I failed to solve in my masters thesis, called the view update problem for relational database.. No one else had solved it since the 1980s, when I did my thesis. I was able to solve the problem, wrote it up it up in a paper, submitted it to a journal and had it rejected decisively in a few days. The reviewer said I hadn’t researched the other work on the problem. The reviewer was right, so I researched and then was able to restate my method as math proofs. I submitted an expanded paper to a different journal.
    Here, finally, is my point. The second journal is very careful about doing double-blind submissions, where I don’t know the reviewer and the reviewer doesn’t know me. It was put in place to protect minorities. Even though I’m a straight white middle-class cis male, in this arena, I’m a minority — one of your citizen scientists. Since the reviewers don’t know who I am, I might be a famous researcher, so they have to take my paper seriously. I haven’t heard back yet, which I’m taking as a good sign.

  40. I had a few close shaves with serious injury back in the day with Estes rockets (D engines were basically M80s), telescopes, walkie talkies (don’t try extending the range by connecting a wire to the antenna and launching it over an electric power line), and the “fly by wire” in a circle airplanes powered by the 0.049 Cox engines (it’s amazing how far those planes can fly when the string “accidentally” breaks). Everything is more fun in the shadows of a near-death experience.

    It certainly seems that science has been co-opted by the elites. And faux innovators like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk should be shunned, early and often, by any parent with common sense.

    My younger brother spent a decade in fusion research, and was happy to leave the politics behind, let alone the frustration of the money pit that was the “science” of his efforts.

  41. It’s a pity that our age of mind has grown so long in the tooth and decrepit that it’s worried about allowing even the slightest of the actual energy of invention and imagination to seep out, potentially deposing our dying age. It is right to be concerned about its coming dethronement, but that’s going to happen regardless, so there’s really no benefit to be gained from being worried about it. Preparing for its retirement would be a much better use of our declining age’s remaining energy.

    Yet the mind’s energy does like to struggle for control, so our Humanist age will just go on refusing to contemplate anything that threatens its illusion/delusion of control. Eventually, everything it neurotically refused to contemplate will come surging up out of its shadow causing the age to have a complete nervous breakdown. By “eventually” I mean “as an inevitable consequence,” not “in some far off future” — I think we’re already experiencing the age’s nervous breakdown rolling in. Fortunately, that points to an immanent return of the repressed, another thing we’re already experiencing rolling in.

    A golden age of weirdness is fast approaching, with tinkering and playing aplenty. The number of people who started dabbling in alternative medicines after witnessing the trainwreck of the allopathic establishment’s bungling of pandemic response is just a tiny foreshadowing of the coming wave of disobedience and exploration of the forbidden. Imagination is about to get unleashed again from the mind’s recent captivity. Of course, age’s die hard, so the passing age of mind will keep trying to suppress all dissent, but with less and less effectiveness each year. And won’t the true converts go on shrieking hysterically at each other (no one else will be listening) as the inventive among us come up with new healing modalities or combine as many “cultural appropriations” as they can into new fashions that we can’t yet conceive of from this side of our age’s demise?

    The poor establishment scientists (medical, political, social, economic, etc.) are going to be so hard hit by the coming changes. They towed the line so rigidly and were promised so many of the benefits of a “good” life. Won’t they be shocked that selling out (which could only ever deliver comfort, not value) turns out to not even be able to ensure comfort anymore? Maybe, if they can manage to line themselves up a little more perfectly behind Fauci or Adhanom, those benefits will keep flowing their way for just a little bit longer. So many obedient, well-trained minds afraid that someone might get creative and render all their diligently memorized “facts” worthless. Our age has so imbalanced and distorted the sage’s path that our faux-sages now tremble in fear at the mere mention of anyone traveling the genius’ path — and those aren’t even the ones they should really be afraid of! How surprised they will be when the new age actually dawns.

  42. The “maker” movement is a bit of a return to the solitary experimenter theme, but it seems that most makers nowadays work with 3d printing and digital electronics, so not very collapse-proof.

  43. Thank you for another instalment from the attic of history. I think you’ll find this culture of backyard/basement innovation anywhere where either necessity or the pioneer spirit prevails, over the top of any large bureaucracy or well-resourced establishment. In New Zealand, a true eccentric farmer, Richard Pearse, flew either before before the Wright Brothers or about the same time – he never got any credit because he never sought any, and his mental health issues saw him hiding away from the world in an increasingly paranoid state. There would have been many other similar inventors across the world.

    Up to a point, the universities also encouraged the inventor/scientist approach. The last was probably Henry Dewer, who, working primarily alone was able to isolate/produce liquid hydrogen in his lab, with his own handmade glassware. But he sadly got beaten by a corporate team – the first of big science – who produced the colder-still liquid helium, and he was largely forgotten.

    I can sort of see why the alchemists focused on the value of discovery to the self, rather than seeking other’s recognition, and I think this mantra/philosophy for any would be inventors would be wise.

  44. One thing that your post reminded me was the sheer joy of pursuing experiments that I had when I was a young fellow. One example was a book that my brother bought at a used bookstore and which we read till it fell apart. Called “Rocket Manual for Amateurs” by Bertrand R. Brinley, it was a serious discussion on how to build rockets. The book included designs using metal tubes, formulae for propellants and designs for bunkers in which to hide while launching the devices. The recommended bunker design was proof against an 81mm mortar round.

    We built one of the designs, it was a glorious failure. The important take away that I got from the experience was that self reliance and curiosity can take you a long way.

    The book was once available as a pdf online, but is still available at used bookstores.

    We need to encourage the cranks among us, thanks for the posting John

  45. As far as training wheels go, one might consider the possibility of some middle ground between the open-ended science kits of yore and one-result kits of the present… and the need for a bit of guidance. When I was a kid, my dad – a biology teacher, so you’d think he might know better – gave me some of the advanced kits and told me to figure it out. After the inevitable results – including the spectacular demise of a set of curtains – I was thoroughly turned off to laboratory work and scientific inquiry. That, followed by a string of one-result science classes in high school, left me with the contemptuous conclusion that science was just a well-worn cookbook… until I discovered the Enlightenment in a literature class. Unfortunately, I’m one, while my still uninterested classmates are many. Is mass remediation possible at this late hour?

  46. What are people’s favourite fictional depictions of mad scientists and inventors?

    The Daniel Suarez novel Influx is a decent sci-fi story but I felt let down by it. The first chapter shows a bunch of scientists in a run-down building who’ve just got anti-gravity to work. They get shut down by a conspiracy that supresses high technology. Then it turns into a much more high-tech thriller. I was disappointed because those scientists were awesome and I wanted the whole book to be about them and their research.

    I’ve also been feeling nostalgic for 80s movies and thinking how different Explorers would have been if the characters had been working on radionics and other consciousness-altering technology. Then the main adventure could have been a psychological and spiritual experience (with cool Tron– and synthwave-style graphics) and avoided the pointless third act with the aliens.

  47. JMG,

    Many thanks for this post! It brought back fond memories of participating in Science Olympiad when I was in grade school. It also gave me new insight into my knitting hobby. I don’t think of myself as someone involved with science. Knitting requires me to tinker, depending on the pattern. Maybe some knitting projects are scientific experiments in miniature?

    Thanks, too, for noting libraries’ penchant for massive book removal projects. I anticipate that, post-Covid, libraries will devote a larger share of funds to electronic books and will increase their weeding of print collections. I hope to be proven wrong!

  48. For some truly down-home research, take a look at Unmaintained since 2012, it has how-tos for everything from CW transmitters designed around negative resistance devices (i.e., homemade transistors) to scratch-built lasers. It reads like a cross between a grimoire from a medieval alchemist’s shop and a selection of tech reports from ACME Development Laboratories, but there is some heavy scientific lifting going on there.

    Myself, I’m off to the abandoned wastes between the fields of thermodynamics and set theory. It’ll probably lead nowhere, but the fun is in the hunt.

  49. Thank you for another interesting post. I was compelled to look up the airfoil lift constant. Quite interesting. I had not realized that the Wrights were using, and eventually rejecting, the accepted science of the day -I didn’t even realize there was an accepted science of aerodynamics at the time. I had always thought that they were just two bike mechanics fooling around until they finally got something to work. It seems they were approaching the problem more scientifically than I had thought. Thank you for the new POV.

  50. Keep America Weird? I dunno, I think it may be too late for that. They only want normies in the 21st c here. The next world power will be whoever serves as a haven for the weirdoes.

  51. Continuing the thought that JMG and Daniel Schmachtenberger should have a conversation, this post gives another example of just how different and yet similar their thinking goes. On the one hand, I just watched a video of DS talking about how the market will not solve some of our most difficult “problems”, because the financial input would be too great to tackle the “problem” and something like fusion would need the state to step in and throw all the money in the world at it, before it could be solved. DS also is an advocate for finding a Plan B (alternate way of doing business and running the world that does not involve destroying the environment in which we live and bypasses some of our other more destructive tenancies.)

    As much as I still think that DS firmly belongs in the camp of the Cult of Progress, he is extremely intelligent and I think that a good conversation might be had, if JMG and DS got together for a talk.

    I don’t know how much DS is even on the radar of JMG, but this is the conversation that I watched and might be a good point of reference. For those that don’t know the host, Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary biologist.

  52. Practically down the road from us, well actually about 15 or so miles, is Stellafane, right outside the town of Springfield, Vermont. It was founded in the 1920’s as a club for amateur astronomers and amateur telescope builders and is still in operation. The Wikipedia article has the list of impressive equipment the club owns and a bit about its history:

    It wouldn’t surprise me if there are more such organizations hiding in plain sight.

    My husband owned a ton of the old chemistry and electronics sets and loved every one of them. There was an assumption in the past, dear readers, that children could be trusted to be reasonably careful if shown how to respect dangerous things. That’s long over. A few summers ago we went to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts (a very good living history museum) during one or another school holiday weekend with many school groups in attendance, so the interpreters presented a great deal of information about 1830-era playthings, many of which seemed to involve some combination of fire, sharp objects, and projectiles. It’s a miracle the human race survived 19th century childhood, yet here we are. There’s no question that a 21st century parent would be arrested for allowing his or her child even to get close to anything deemed ‘dangerous’ any more. No wonder kids are so bored now.

  53. “Will, excellent. Do you have a website where you post the ongoing results? That might be a good place to direct people who are interested.”

    I’ll be posting something about it on my dreamwidth sometime in the next few days.

  54. Cool! I wonder how many of these folks have Uranus in the first house??

  55. Perhaps tangential, but I can’t help but remember Fritz Schumacher’s rejoinder upon being called a crank: “A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions.”

  56. That was a very interesting essay! Before 1939, even the most mainstream science, the one that ended up in our undergraduate textbooks, operated on vastly smaller budgets. Before teaching my first course in carbohydrate biochemistry (glycolysis, Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation), my older colleague gave me a collection of the original papers published in the 1920s. Experiments would start with getting two pounds of meat from the neighborhood butcher in the morning, mincing and straining it, then treating it with various extracts from baker’s yeast or basic chemicals that could be bought at the drug store, such as sulfuric acid (my father, in the 1950s, almost burnt his throat by drinking hydrochloric acid from a bottle in his aunt’s drugstore). In the 19th century and until WWII, support for science was basically a professor’s and assistants’ salaries (mostly for teaching), some furnished rooms, and what looks, in today’s eyes, like pocket money.

    As some Nobel prize winner or other observed in the 1970s, his younger colleagues, as soon as they became professors, set their hard won experimental technique and experience aside and started applying for grants, grants, grants. And when they didn’t win a grant, they redoubled their efforts to win other grants, instead of using the time to actually do experiments with a smaller budget. Of course, to win grants, you have to please the grant-giving committees!

    And a younger scientist with some Nature papers to his name told me a few years ago that it seemed like spending a lot of money was the most important part to publishing. If you spent a ton of money on fashionable experiments and published some result, you could two years later do a 180 degree turn and publish the opposite, nobody would think worse of you for it.

  57. I remember checking out all the “Boy’s Books of Electronics” as a child. Even in the ’60s I was disappointed to find that things like X-ray tubes and Model T spark coils were no longer to be had. But the hobby store over the hill would still readily sell children little vials of chemicals which could be combined to interesting effect! And the village dump was full of the carcasses of discarded radios and televisions which could sometimes be reanimated or combined into Frankenstein monsters of unknown functionality. And here I am sixty years later, an electron jockey still. Thanks for the memories.

  58. I loved reading this. Radio Shack used to have all of these great kits. Along with an electrical board to make many wonderful circuits, including a lie detector***, I had an aeronautical kit that taught me, among other wonderful things, to blow on one side of a piece of paper to “lift it.” I got so excited, I showed everyone the Bernoulli Principle but just got blank stares. Story of my life, really. That’s why I’m so happy to have found this wonderful group of eclectics. I feel like I’m home.

    Something about your piece reminded me of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, so I went back and found this quote:

    “In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

    *** This knowledge helped me see through the claims of [a certain religious organization and its use of technology], years later.

  59. I remember reading a chemistry book of my fathers which had recipes for all sorts of fun stuff, such as tri nitro toluene. The older I get, the more I respect his choices in books. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t realize my interest in that particular volume after his death.

  60. Hi Kimberly: I love your idea of the library,and I would be glad to send some books to you. Where I live, in Ithaca, NY, we have wonderful Reuse Center, and when the library was closed due to Covid, I got into buying books really cheaply from them,and then passing them put to my friends. It was hit or miss, but I ended up reading a lot of things I never would have before. As these books recycle back to me, I’ll pass them on to you. Good luck. Kathy Halton

  61. All those good things were destroyed by the advancement of the industrial age, swept away by a wave of cheap fossil fuels. Now the tide is receding and we’re entering a de-industrial age many possibilities will open, especially on the fringes of society.

    I think people in the soon to be de-electrified rural areas will be much more open minded. So its possible we can rediscover the existence of life force. To prove that it exists simple experiments that can be performed by anyone are needed. I was looking for something like that and here’s what I found.

    Its called a Psi Wheel (Psi as in Psionics?), basically its a device which consists of a small piece of paper balanced on the tip of a needle, it is placed under a glass dome (usually a transparent bowl) to prevent gusts of air from interfering with the experiment. You can rotate the piece of paper without touching it using your mind or rather the life force directed by your mind.

    Here’s how to make one:

    Interestingly Wikipedia doesn’t even bother to denounce Psi Wheels:

    A picture is worth a thousand words and here’s two different people actually doing it in two different ways:



    Now seeing it with your own eyes wouldn’t convince you if you’re professional scientist, but if common people took interest in studying life force – just imagine the possibilities and all the practical applications of that in medicine, agriculture, architecture. Basically it can give birth to a whole host of sciences!

    In the spiritus of full disclosure – I just discovered it recently and I haven’t tried experimenting with Psi Wheels myself, but I will. Have you heard of Psi Wheels before? What do you think? Looking forward to your answers, everyone.

  62. Cranks are alive and well today.

    My father was an inventor but made a living as a millwright, heavy equipment operator, fabricator, etc. He did not finish high school having to drop out to work in a paper mill after his father was injured at said mill. We grew up in a house where he worked on various improvements to mechanical mechanisms such as improved hopper trailers, pneumatic conveyors and improved designs for earth moving equipment. His ideas were sound and his designs were feasible. He had a drafting board in the living room and us kids would watch him make drawings after drawings. He realized that his lack of a formal education was a handicap hence his children were to be educated. Yup, we had the World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica in our house before we had a TV. All of the kids graduated from college.

    So, my career began as as a systems analyst but invention was my passion and in particular fluid machine design. Basement and garage experiments lead to designs that were interesting enough to attract small investors. Eventually, these designs were turned into rather successful products used in water desalination systems. I believe that my father would have been classified as a “crank” of the same type as the Wright brothers. I may fall into the “crank” category save the fact that I have made a great deal of money from my inventions.

    A good friend of mine is also a crank inventor but, like me, was able to convert his ideas into products that made money.

    The Tokamak concept was developed by an independent inventor that was recognized by the Soviet scientific establishment. It was not a product of a government lab. Indeed, the Soviets preferred to rely on talented individuals for breakthroughs rather the Western approach of using massive government or corporate research centers. Many of the leading Soviet/Russian engineering/science organizations bear the names of these talented individuals. The main point here is that the inventor of the Tokamak could be classified as a crank and crankism is still alive and well.

  63. Kimberly, you might consider “Library Thing” – it allows users to catalog personal and other types of libraries. You can choose the cataloging system you want to use. If you have a smartphone, any books with barcodes can be scanned, but you can also utilize a computer to type in ISBNs or other identifying information. I’m not sure, in the end, if that would help you create the final library catalog you want, but it might be a step in the right direction for very little pain. It’s free:

  64. We lived on SW 169th, Gregory Heights, then moved to Camano Island in probably ’72 for the remainder of my childhood. Just missed you in Bellingham, too. I promise I am not stalking you across the decades. Though Rhode Island does sound attractive. I stayed at Univ. of Rhode Island, forget which campus Kingston maybe, for a week one summer and enjoyed the beaches in the area quite a bit. The sunny winters compared to cloudy (and rather expensive) Bellingham are definitely appealing.

  65. I have a family member who works as a high school librarian. She often talks about the book purges she does. She is expected to make sure that the average age of a book in the library is under ten years old, and five years for the sciences. This also extends to history, so a history book written in the ancient year of our Lord circa 2010 is too venerable and outdated to still be of use.

    Speaking of past knowledge, I find it odd that historians speak of primary sources (the original documents) and secondary sources (whatever got published in the last several years in peer reviewed journals) while there is no emphasis on tertiary sources, or the study of yesteryear’s secondary sources. You would think a culture with as strong an emphasis on post modernism as ours would understand that you should try to think from several different generations perspectives but such diversity is openly shunned.

    The only subjects I have found that still pay attention to what a traditional line of thinkers has to say about a topic is theology (in its non progressive forms) and to a far lesser extant philosophy. Both of these subjects are of course looked down upon by everyone else in academia for “not advancing”.

    I have literally had economists after I try to bring up books by Smith, Menger, Marx, and the like stare blankly at me and tell me that the reason why they majored in economics was so that they did not have to read books! I guess that explains why we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over…

  66. @ JMG, Robert M, Eric, Danielle, Justin, et alia—

    Re the notion of a journal or newsletter

    Many thanks for the positive feedback and the pointers! I will be definitely looking into this idea. Thanks, too, for the examples of other journals to review.

    Justin, I like the idea of a ternary. (Defy the man! Don’t divide by two!) It meshes nicely with the three-fold realms of body, soul, spirit, as well as the three Druidic elements. Plus it’s different and slightly weird. All good things.

    John, I think cell salts and the like would fit in well with the scope I’m envisioning. A better title came to mind, with something of a nod to Dr. Steiner:

    Hic Et Supra: A Journal of Sensible and Supersensible Science

    (Apologies to any and all classical scholars of the community. I had one year as a freshman in high school, so my latin isn’t just rusty, it’s fully oxidized.)

    We’ll see where this goes…

  67. The summer I started graduate school in physics, the department secretary routed a phone call to the big room where all us new students had our desks. The person on the other end of the line had discovered a curious fact: multiply one earth year times the gravitational acceleration at the earth’s surface: you get the speed of light, pretty darned close. I told the person that, from conventional physics perspective, this would be mere coincidence. To publish about this, one would have to come up with some causal hypothesis. I tried to be supportive without holding out much hope for getting this curious fact into science.

    I heard that the great physicist Eugene Wigner kept files of letters from cranks – famous physicists are magnets for such things. He classified the letters, and would connect folks with others who were working with similar ideas.

    I would like to see some kind of discussion forum like reddit where folks could exchange fringe ideas, experimental results, etc.Eventually I would like to see this more based on exchange of paper and ink letters. I am not too confident that widespread access to the internet is going to be around too many more decades!

  68. P.S. a quick follow up to my Psi Wheel comment. The second video is a fake.

    Here’s what the author said: “The two videos were both social experiments, and both illusions. I got the idea in my head to make a telekinesis video as a means to show that, despite what people may think, these videos are absolutely worthless as ‘evidence’ for the phenomenon known as telekinesis. The idea was to make the most convincing (amateur) psi wheel video on the internet, have people rally their support around it as a result, and then when the moment was right, to confess that this video was an illusion, and make the point that no matter how convincing these videos may seem, to always see things like this with a *healthy* level of skepticism, even if you are otherwise a believer in such things.”

    (that “healthy” remark rattled some skeptics cages for some reason:

    That’s one of the dangers an aspiring mad scientist runs into these days. But does faking a demonstration then make all such demonstrations fake? I don’t think so and the only way to figure out if something really works is to try it for oneself.

  69. JMG, Got it. That makes sense. This post just made me feel a hint of nostalgia for the days of trying random techniques out and cobbling things together. I’ve seen much better results from the structure the Golden Dawn system & LRM provide.

    Everyone can learn how to learn by learning one thing well, and then you have options. Maybe my youth wasn’t so misspent after all.

    One full fledged crank comes to mind, and that is John C. Lilly. Basically a well learned scientist/psychologist that experimented with lots of drugs in an isolation tank, and also tried talking to dolphins while under the influence of various chemicals (well at least LSD).

    A more modern crank, who I also consider a modern day saint, is Wim Hof aka the Iceman. If anyone reading this hasn’t heard of him yet, he’s worth looking up. He has made himself the subject of studies where he and the others he’s taught get injected with some virus/bacteria that should, in normal cases, make one sick. He and his pupils fight off the virus with their minds.

  70. Well, this makes me feel better about all the home biology experiments I did as a child with my microscope set (still had dissecting blades and dyes, 1989ish) though I suspect the beetles and bivalves do not feel better.

    It’s also getting hard now to get basic soil identification kit chemicals. Pedologists – most of whom are past retirement age, but still working – just have their own hoard from twenty years ago that they guard like dragons. And critical lichen/fungi ID chemicals are illegal in less than industrial scale (PPD causes cancer if absorbed through the skin in shockingly minute amounts, so you can put it in hair dye by the vatful, but you can’t get a small amount even for academic work). Even basic science done by professionals or approved academics can’t be done, anymore, let alone by amateurs… Basement chemists, have I got a black market for you!

  71. FYI, JMG, On page 1458 (no, that is not a typo) of Rowell’s American Newspaper Dictionary, 1893 edition, is listed the newspaper Krumbs, which was based in Aarwood, Michigan, and published monthly. It is described as “…the representative organ of the ‘Emorians,’ the members of which order are scattered all over the United States and Canada, with a few members in Europe and South America. The circulation is widespread and it offers advertisers the benefit of its widespread circulation at very reasonable rates.”

  72. I take your point, but think it’s worth noting that part of the reason nuclear research is hard to break into has to do with practical constraints special to nuclear technologies, items like the price of tritium, the geopolitical stakes of WMD proliferation, and the especially steep consequences of scaling laws (regarding critical mass and its analogues for other varieties of nuclear reaction).

    There are other fields of science where I see much more opportunity for amateurs to make an impact. Cognitive science is especially likely to have some low-hanging fruit.

    A relatively recent example that gives me hope is V. S. Ramachandran’s test for color-grapheme synesthesia, which he developed in contradiction to the mainstream notion that any difference from the norm amounts to a disability. With a few sheets of black-and-white printed characters and any timepiece accurate within a few seconds, his test can definitively prove a cognitive difference, because synesthetes perform better than neurotypicals. I see huge opportunity for hobbyists to advance that sort of technology, as well as a willingness for scientists (though not necessarily the institutions they work for…) to adopt empirical successes, regardless of what theory produced them.

  73. Doc Coyote: Spark Bang Buzz is a good one, though I think the gentleman who ran it is no longer with us. His work in investigating the radio amplifying technologies that lost out to vacuum tubes is valuable, especially if you’re an adherent of the Tarpaper Shack Principle. A website that is still going is
    and the fellow who runs it is looking to do some experiments with magnetic amplifiers and other fun stuff.
    over here are a good selection of Morgan’s books, along with any other authors also writing for the hobbyist who wants to build it himself.

  74. Regarding a nuclear fusion reactor, I believe it is possible. However I think by the time we understand enough to build one something better will have come along.

    I believe we don’t pay spacetime enough attention in the current modern physics model. Like has nobody asked the #&$^$(#ing question how does a Lorenze contraction affect nuclear physics? We know for natural stellar fusion you need heat and pressure.

    We also know that anytime you get going fast enough, get heavy enough, get extreme enough, time starts to give. How the does time play into two nuclei fusing together? Is it simply the two nuclei are no longer separate instances, from a temporal perspective?


  75. TJ, given the number of aspiring cranks who’ve commented in response to this post, I suspect that the idiocracy will be restricted to those who want it.

    Chronojourner, that’s quite correct. They also worked out a neat experimental test of the lift coefficient that involved a device mounted onto the front handlebars of a bicycle, which used the airflow past the bike to activate an airfoil. Use what you have!

    Simon, I don’t imagine there’s any chance that you can let me know what the product was that they went ahead and marketed anyway. That’s such a great example.

    Steve, I suppose a case can be made that Jesus of Nazareth was himself a crank of the classic variety!

    SLClaire, thanks for these examples! More grist for the mill.

    Tomriverwriter, congratulations. If you can’t get your paper into a peer-reviewed journal, consider looking into PLoS or one of the other less restrictive venues.

    Drhooves, I never launched anything big enough to use a D engine, but I had some rockets blow up very nicely on the launching pad in my junior Elon Musk days. 😉

    Christophe, I’ve also noted the stirrings of a golden age of weirdness. It’s partly the failures of mainstream medicine (pandemic-related and other), partly the profusion of heavily marketed technologies that don’t work, and partly the terminal crisis of legitimacy affecting the officially approved mouthpieces of the status quo, whom nobody believes for good and sufficient reason. One of the reason this post (and some of my other online writings) have appeared just now is that I think the time is propitious for such ventures. Mad scientists arise! You have nothing to lose but your boredom!

    Kulibali, the Maker movement has been a great disappointment to me. To an unfortunate extent, it’s become yet another harmless venue for people to play with overpriced toys.

    Peter, the comparison to alchemy is a good one. I can very easily imagine a subculture of crank inventors in the future, who have come to understand that the central point of their efforts is self-knowledge, while the better mousetrap or the flying machine they’re trying to construct is simply a side effect.

    Raymond, thanks for this! Budding rocket scientists, pay attention…

    Rhydlyd, guidance is always good; the better grade of experimental manuals also walked you through things step by step. As for mass remediation, nope; real improvement always and only happens one person at a time.

    Yorkshire, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a good mad scientist novel. I’ll have to go looking.

    Lily, I’ve wondered more than once if knitting is a potentially fertile source for advanced ideas in mathematics — it’s always seemed somewhat non-Euclidean to me. As for your prediction about libraries, I doubt you’ll be mistaken.

    Dr. Coyote, I didn’t know had been abandoned — that’s unfortunate. I’d encourage people to download as much as possible from it before it goes away. As for the interface between thermodynamics and set theory, I’ve made several tries to make sense of that and failed, so clearly it’s a first-rate topic.

    Christophe, interesting. I didn’t realize historians were trying to erase the Wright brothers’ considerable scientific expertise and the wind tunnel experiments they did to refine their wing profiles. Not surprising, but still…

    Owen, depends on where you are. I know a lot of people in various parts of the US who have zero interest in conforming to the mental straitjacket of the status quo.

    Clark, so noted.

    Beekeeper, thanks for this. That’s good to see!

    Will, I’ll look forward to it.

    Isaac, well, I certainly do.

    RPC, thanks for this! I hadn’t encountered that quip, and it’s a keeper. David BTL, if you see this, you might consider this as an epigraph for your journal.

    Matthias, thank you for this. You’ve just given me one of the missing pieces to the latest expansion of my theory of catabolic collapse. Stay tuned!

    RPC, you’re most welcome.

    Jon, I built several of those kits. I wonder if it would be possible to do some research, get a list of the components and approximate instructions, and make them available again; my guess is that parents who homeschool their children would be delighted to buy them. Thanks for the Eisenhower quote — it’s worth remembering.

    Peter, if you remember the title or any other identifying detail, it might be possible to find it online.

    Ecosophian, interesting. That was called a sthenometer back in the days of psychical research, and was used to test the intensity of voor fields. (No, they didn’t call it that, but they should have.)

    Observer, delighted to hear this. Cranks are unfortunately a lot fewer now than they used to be; I’d like to see that change.

    Eric, good heavens. You lived a few blocks from my second high school girlfriend. When you lived on Camano Island, was it anywhere near the Odd Fellows Park at 98 Camano Ridge Road? I used to go up there all the time when I was active in the Odd Fellows, to help the Encampment and Canton there make quorum.

    Stephen, that’s an excellent point. I wonder to what extent the erasure of tertiary sources is a way to preserve the illusion that fields are still “moving ahead”…

    David BTL, then I’ll gladly commit to an initial article discussing the Carey cell salt protocol and the results of the first study.

    Jim, I wonder. Did anyone ever see if the same calculation applied to other planets produced any figure of interest? As for discussion forums for fringe science, I think it’s a great idea, but someone will have to make it happen. Have you considered doing so?

  76. I’m kukulaj on – I’ve put a bunch of short book reviews out there. It’s a fun way to discover literature.

    My blog is – my hope was that that might work to seed some discussion, but it never has.

    My software skills are mostly from the era of punched cards. I’m putting in some effort to learn how to build an engaging on-line site… it’s pretty daunting! I’ll keep at it! I’m thinking, how about something like minecraft for philosophers? I’m old enough now though that anything too ambitious is really unrealistic.

  77. Derek,

    Wow, thanks for this! As someone who works in software and database architecture, and is at the same time cynical and skeptical of all the methodology fads over the years while still in need of solid advice and ways of thinking, this looks refreshing. I’ve downloaded and will study it.


    I also made a telescope in high school, a 6″ dobsonian out of plywood and painted robin’s egg blue, with help with a gentleman from church. Brings back memories.

  78. @Matthias Gralle:

    That was certainly the usual pattern at my own University: the size of the grants scientists brought won seemed to be directly correlated with their laboratory accomodations and other sorts of university support. Some of my colleagues in the sciences regularly gamed the system as follows:

    (1) You applied for grants to do research that in fact you had already successfully carried out the year or two before, so you knew in advance that you could report positive results, thereby making it easier to get subsequent grants. Apparently you had much less of a chance of getting future grants if one of your previous ones had reported negative results, or even results that did not seem to have potential for commercial or governmental exploitation. Every experiment had to be reported as successful, or else …

    (2) You also applied for grants to do work of an easy sort–a sort that graduate students could readily do–that would slightly advance some already well established set of results, thereby securing money for graduate student scholarships. Failure to bring in that sort of money, too, would affect your future at the University in somewhat subtle ways.

    In sum, all your research was tacitly required to increase the university’s income from grants over what it had been the year before.


  79. Archdruid,

    You know, I just realized that one of the reasons I never managed to get into science, technology, and craft was the by the time I hit 10 most of the cooler DIY science and tech kits were all cut and past kits. Like the one chemistry kit I got had a few chemicals that if you added to each other changed color, that’s it. All the mechanical kits were plug this thing into this other thing to turn on a light.

    I remember, back when I was 7 or 8, my brother and our friends spent a summer mixing random things we found into magic potions. Things like lizard poo, random flowers, and etc…we came up with some awesome recipes. Somehow avoided drinking any of them. Should have just kept doing that!

    Man, that’s really depressing what those things became.



  80. We were back in Burien frequently as my grandfather lived there long after we left. As far as Camano Island we lived less than 3 miles north of that address on the north end of Utsalady Bay.

    The grooves in the field are getting deeper. I recall another near miss or two geographically and in time from prior blogs of yours. Work on my temporal navigation skills should probably be on my todo list. Maybe I will have a talk with my higher self next break in incarnations.

    I suppose the game is more interesting though played with a blindfold and amnesia.

  81. How much of your inventing do you/can you order from Amazon? Amazon is one gateway or hurdle, depending on your point of view.

    I’m taking a farm business course. There are 3 kinds of farms: hobby farm, where someone probably has an off-farm income; lifestyle farm, same; livelihood farm, that supports one or several people. The first word in livelihood is PROFIT. Anti-treehugger vocabulary word, if you will.

    The major assignment during the past 2 weeks is to create our farm Enterprise Budget, which is a fancy way of saying which of your crops is contribution to your PROFIT? Long story short: I’ve worked on Enterprise Budgets for mead and honey. It’s amazing to me that I have to start from scratch, even though the US is 200+ years old. There is no Central Bill of Farm Calculations Central Accounts of Farm Excel Spreadsheets, or Library of Congress Mead Budget Documents. I don’t even think they exist at the state level, which seems a very odd omission to me. Even the veggie compass folks are at work on a fruit and nut compass; it hasn’t been released yet.

  82. Awesome!

    JMG – thanks for a great essay – interesting bits of all but forgotten history – thought provoking, as is clear in the diverse and positive comments. I am especially heartened to see that the spirit of invention is alive and well, even if it’s in disguise and hiding away from the limelight. The thought that comes to mind that if one door closes, another one opens.

    Back in the nineties, an inventor (I don’t recall of what) told me that for the most part, a college education wasn’t necessary and could even be a hindrance to inventing, and that what was most important for a budding inventor was a lively curiosity, focus, discipline, along with a sound practical understanding of scientific principles and methods.

  83. Ecosophian, worth noting. Videos, like photographs, are very dubious evidence for anything any more. Thus we’re back to where science was before photography: the only conclusive way to demonstrate something is to provide people with the resources to see for themselves.

    Youngelephant, two fine cranks to add to the list! Thank you.

    Pixelated, a lot of chemicals are becoming very hard to get. I found this out when doing research for an upcoming post on etheric technology; dicyanin A, a blue dye used in goggles that develop the capacity to see auras, is as far as I can tell impossible to get in the United States. You’re quite right that basement chemists have plenty of new options…

    Patricia M, it was a good novel, too!

    Chronojourner, thank you for this. Now to find out if anyone anywhere has any issues of “Krumbs”…

    Joel, no doubt, but it’s by no means certain that the only way to do things with atomic nuclei is to invest in WMD-oriented technologies or to use tritium. That’s exactly the sort of overly narrow focus I want to critique here.

    Crackpot, nobody else is going to look into it. Will you?

    John N, excellent! Mine was a standard Newtonian reflector; I used some parts (including a mirror) from Edmund Scientific and some parts from local hardware stores, so it wasn’t 100% homebuilt, but it worked quite nicely.

    Varun, hmm. Maybe we need to start looking for ways to help adults have the childhood chemistry set experiences they should have had, but never did.

    Eric, fascinating. I was in Burien from 1963 to 1968 and then again from 1973 to 1980, so our paths quite probably crossed.

    Jenxyz, I don’t know. I never buy anything from them.

    PatriciaT, your inventor friend was quite correct. It certainly worked for the Wright brothers!

  84. @Chronojourner, JMG:

    The resource called WorldCat lists partial runs of Krumbs at the Parkway Central Library in Philadelphia (vols. 2 and 3 only, vol. 2 seemingly not complete) and the British Library (vol. 2, all 12 issues, and vol. 4, issue 10 only). Nothing else is listed from any other library. Apparently 4 volumes were published in all, from 1892 thorugh 1895, each with 12 monthly issues. It was published by “The Society of Emorians” in Aarwood, Michigan.

  85. JMG,

    The whole thing was decommissioned within six months, I’m afraid. It was a minor product so can’t find any record of it anymore. Which is a good thing for all concerned.

    I’ve seen the exact same pattern in otherwise switched on corporations. The whole governance structure of a corporation makes it almost impossible to respond to information like customer feedback. If memory serves me correctly, Adam Smith made this exact point in the Wealth of Nations. You should only use corporations (limited stock companies) in a natural monopoly. In any other type of market, they are a disaster as they cannot respond to market signals. Funnily enough, when corporations get into bed with government, they manufacture monopolies for themselves. Corporations seem to know what’s good for them. It’s just that what’s good for them isn’t good for the rest of us.

    @ Matthias

    That attitude is prevalent in almost every bureaucracy where managers rise through the ranks based on the size of the budget they manage.

  86. I think school science fairs should get their fair share of “credit” for quashing interest in science. Nothing like being forced to come up with an acceptable idea and do the drudgery of designing the exhibit, etc. to convince the already uninterested that they will never _be_ interested. Although there is some amusement in gaming the system. In 8th grade I had to do a science fair project. I wanted to get a snake of some type and train it to run mazes. But Mom wasn’t cool with that. An adult friend of the family suggested that brine shrimp, usually raised as tropical fish food, could be emergency food source for fall-out shelters. (This was 1961). So I started growing brine shrimp. Measuring growth and food and temperature, etc. would have been tedious. So I faked the whole thing, drawing up lovely graphs of growth rates with different temperatures, food, salinity, etc. My mom drew an impressive mushroom cloud in pastels for the back panel. I took top prize for the girls division (yes this was back when such things were divided by gender) So I got to go on the county level which was held at the Science center in Exposition Park. Placed in top range there as well–although cleaning up dead brine shrimp after a week on exhibit was nasty. Then on to the Tri-County level (Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange). This was held at a Navy base in Ventura and judged by Navy officers. Much to my relief I did not place. I would have thought the nation was in serious trouble if our military bought the idea of stocking fallout shelters with brine shrimp eggs for a protein source. It was disillusioning enough that I was able to fool so many adults. I have loathed the idea of science fairs ever since. If they are on a volunteer basis–step forward science nerds–it would be okay; but to force students with no bent for the subject to do some nerdy illustration of science principles is just pointless.

    When I was about 10 I had a microscope which came with slides and slip covers, tweezers, a light and various other accessories. Looked at blood cells, insect parts, plant cells. Also bought an embryo pig by mail order and dissected it at a table in the back yard (because formaldehyde really smells awful). So I wasn’t anti-science, just anti having stupid projects forced on me.

    An example of garage inventor scorned by the big guys is Chester Carlson. Who, you ask, was Chester Carlson. He was an attorney, a patent attorney I think, and he was annoyed by the difficulty of making the necessary copies of drawings and other parts of a patent application. Most copy processes, such as Photostat machines were expensive and a bit tricky to use. He tinkered around and invented a process he called “dry writing” or in Greek, xerography. Logically, he tried to sell his invention to the largest photography company in the US, Kodak. Not interested. Why would anybody need to make copies in the office? So he went down the street to another photography company, Haloid. Haloid was hungry for a new product because they produced film for aerial photography and the demand had dropped at the end of WWII. We all know what happened–xerography became the ubiquitous Xerox machine. I sometimes wonder whether there was a guy wandering the halls of Kodak with a “kick me, I turned down xerography” sign on his back. Years later I thought it rather ironic that Xerox built their training center just down the road from CIA headquarters in Langley, considering the problems that unauthorized copies, such as the Pentagon Papers gave to the US government. This information was part of company training when I became a technical representative for Xerox in the early 70s.


  87. Joel, I have colour-phoneme grapheme synethesia, and it’s never been useful for anything but a party trick; what did VS Ramachandran find it was useful for with his papers and stopwatch? I loved his Phantoms in the Brain, someone borrowed it and never gave it back, frustrating…

    In Musicophilia Oliver Sacks discusses that they think the majority of people are born synesthetes for sound and colour, and many for music and colour, but that most lose this “hyperconnectivity” with brain pruning in adolescence.

    Interestingly, what I thought of when I thought of VS Ramachandran again, was how he thought that the correlation of hearing god with temporal lobe seizure could be evidence that people actually hear god, rather than that god doesn’t exist because it’s just a brain fart, as the established view goes. We don’t see the auditory centre light up when we play a sound for someone and go, oh, I guess we proved sounds don’t exist.

    Then as I look in Sacks again, he mentions that synethesia can be acquired later in life by people having temporal lobe seizures, as well as by taking entheogens. Also when becoming blind: “The rapidity with which synethesia can follow blindness would scarcely allow the formation of new connections in the brain and suggests a release phenomenon.”

    That may be some cognitive research for David’s new journal (without the entheogen experimentation, some research from the sixties didn’t need to come back).

  88. JMG,

    I’m close to your age and my junior science adventures were focused on biology and meteorology. My mom was a biology teacher and was supportive of my interest in science. For my 8th birthday she bought me a microscope and a real stethoscope (I still have the latter) and she actually encouraged me to dissect a frog. Back in the mid-1960’s, in my suburb of Chicago you could actually buy, at the local toy store, a fully-intact leopard frog pickled in a jar of formaldehyde. (It’s funny, I was just thinking the other day how there’s probably no way today you could find such a thing at toy store). But some 52 years ago our culture was obviously encouraging kids to learn about the world on their own by, among other thing, dissecting frogs.

    As for meteorology, I was bitten by the weather bug when I was in junior high. I read every book I could find on weather forecasting and found a few on building your own wind measuring equipment and instrument shelter. I decided I really wanted to build an instrument shelter, so I enlisted the help of my grandfather, who could build practically anything. In spite of never having gone to high school he was an extremely talented writer, a self-taught book keeper, and had had top level jobs in copy editing and sales promotion. Plus he was a master carpenter and electrician without any official training. His father taught him some skills and the rest he learned from books and tinkering. (I have to think that his 8th grade education in 1912 was far more advanced than those of today. It makes me angry that you have to have an advanced degree these days to be “allowed” to do things that our ancestors could do without college degrees). My grandpa built furniture and other home and office items. I own several pieces and treasure them, including a desk and a letter sorter. He was also very talented at making things from what he already had. He saved scraps of wood and had old coffee cans full salvaged hardware and other odd items. The Great Depression taught him to save and re-use and he passed this wisdom on to my dad and to me, and now I too make practical things out of wood scraps and salvaged parts.

  89. @jmg: Well, you’ve done it again: gotten me thinking about old things in new ways and reminding me how much asleep to all the wonder I’ve become. I don’t know how you manage to keep stirring the pot of awareness without getting stale, but somehow you manage!

    As Our Masters persist in their efforts to govern our thoughts (a “governor” is defined as something which removes degrees of freedom – remember that the next time a new law or regulation is proposed) alternatives obviously shrink. Those of us who have read 1984, Brave New World, and Atlas Shrugged can see their attempts to regulate us with pain, pleasure, and shame. But what happens without the books to forewarn dystopia? Fahrenheit 451 warns of that, too — but it is also a book.

    BTW, experimental chemistry is still possible. Only you have to be thoughtful before mixing chemicals in the body.

    I’m only half joking; I’ve had some amazing health breakthroughs in the past two years with herbs and certain time-tested, relatively-safe compounds for off-label use. Hint: if you’ve got symptoms like hypertension, insomnia, chronic sinus congestion, depression (there are about 200 of them, so your mix will vary)… and a waking under-the-arm body temperature consistently below 97 F, I advise you search “Broda Barnes, M.D” and try thinking outside “modern” medicine and big pharma. Really, I suggest independent research for any health condition where allopathic medicine keeps striking out. In my case, two years ago I had all those persistent symptoms … and no answers… and I tried a “chemistry” experiment. Today those persistent and worsening symptoms are all gone and at today’s checkup my BP was <= 120/60 with no hypertensive medications for the fourth time in a row. The crazy thing is, I dare not tell the doctor the full story because it breaks all their rules about self-medicating; and about lab tests being more important than actually looking at, and getting curious about, the patient right before your eyes.

    @SLClaire: What a delight your blog post is! Good scientific method and all! Have you already done a related experiment with nitrogen fixing plants and various inoculants? I did one of those with my eight year old daughter some years back. Yes, the inoculated beans and peas grew much better than the non-inoculated beans and peas. But I never had the bright thought of comparing that to simply peeing on the peas! Presumably, gym-rat urine would do even better…but then you might have to control for steroids.

    @David, by the lake: That sort of experimental, fresh-look approach reminds me of "chaos magic," except keeping better lab notes to check reproducibility of results. Or am I maybe completely missing the idea?

  90. JMG, I can’t recall any posting of yours which has come so close to home and brought me to tears. You have cast a compassionate light upon my father of blessed memory, who was one of those cranks. I am his only child, and the only person still alive who knew him well. And I am the son of a crank.

    My father was obsessed with aviation ideas from before I was born. In the 1950’s, he began experimenting with all kinds of marvelous model flying contraptions. You see, he thought that the runways airplanes required made them impractical for everyday use by ordinary people, and that helicopters, while an improvement, had the drawback of being fuel inefficient and inelegant. Flying cars would be pointless, because why roll at all when you can fly? Do birds walk far? He made many models of circular aircraft in various configurations. One model was of a ring-wing airplane with a streamlined pod to carry passengers and pusher engine, and it had a pretty twin-ruddered tail, it was expertly carved from solid balsa wood. His most marvelous creation was a flying saucer, 3 feet across. Its design principle was to circulate air over only the upper surface, creating a pressure differential with the lower surface. It was an exquisite, fascinating object. The structure was this fine lattice of radially symmetric balsa wood truss-work that seemed eerily organic, covered by a skin of taut white silk. It had a large model airplane engine in the center, with a fairing to direct the prop-wash tangentially over the top surface, and another ring-shaped fairing at the rim to scoop the air and recirculate it through the body of the craft back to the propeller. This model became a favorite toy of mine for years after it had failed as a proof-of-concept. He built a wind-tunnel, but it didn’t work well, so he made a boom on which to mount his models, and held it out the car window; as a child, I assisted him on one of experiments with this. He taped grids of threads as tell-tails over the surface of his models to assess the airflow patterns. None of his ideas panned out.

    Then in the late 60’s he became interested in automating speech recognition using analog techniques (he was an electrical engineer by training and trade), handwriting recognition, and artificial intelligence. All analog. He wrote many thousands of pages of technical notes on his ideas, had a well-equipped electronics lab he virtually lived in, and built numerous electronic sub-system prototypes. I still have one box-full of his notes, but I had to toss most of it several years ago when my mother died. I did find some notes from 1959 on his research into buying a computer of that era: His estimate came to 100,000 in 1959-dollars. Of course when the micro computer era took off, he was an early-adopter, and in 1978, he bought an 8-bit machine-language teaching computer that had a hex keypad, 6 digit Hex LED display, 512 bytes of data and program storage. My poor dad never could learn with it. When the Apple 2e, then IBM PC came out, he got those, took programming classes and made precious little headway. None of his projects amounted to anything.

    During my childhood, he was always talking to me about his ideas, which the older I got, the more I came to dislike, as we did not have a good father-son relationship, and he seemed obsessed. When I became an electrical engineering student myself, I came to appreciate just how paltry his abilities were compared to his aspirations. He seemed so clueless, and I lost a lot of respect for him. Still, he was amazingly prescient: He forecasted the graphics techniques used in presenting weather data for commercial TV, (even I got into this professionally in the 90’s). He anticipated automotive navigation, albeit using inertial techniques, rather than GPS. And of course he anticipated speech recognition, such as ‘Siri’. I think the reason I’ve been immune to the religion of progress, is because when I look at my dad, it seemed empty at best, delusional at worst.

    Still JMG, when I read your essay today, I wept, and grieved for him again, as it brought to mind his tragic end: He was a crank to the last, sitting in his study, writing down more of his technical ideas. On Dec 15, 1991, he dated the top of a new page. The first two lines were in his normal handwriting, then became shaky, then uneven, then illegible, then a heavy ink streak plunged violently off the page. The reason I wept was out of guilt, as I was not very kind to, or respectful of, him because of his being the crank that he was. At least that was the conscious basis, though I think the real basis was my anguish at our poor relationship. Another reason I wept, was because I became intensely aware of how lonely he was. He was in a failed marriage from the outset, as my late mother was what we would now call severely autistic, and did not form emotional bonds. On Dec 21, 1991, 1:20 AM, as I sat beside him in his final moments, I realized, and saw, how hard he worked to be a good father, and what he sacrificed to that end; I told him and I thanked him, which released him immediately into the next world. I hope there is a place in heaven for cranks.

    Thank you JMG for your uncanny, compassionate perspective on cranks.

    —Lunar Apprentice

  91. JMG,
    No one seems to have noticed:
    “””… a detail of history to which I owe a great deal, starting with the fact that I quit my last day job in 1996…”””

    2021 -1996 = 25

    Congratulations! 25 years since a day job!! I can only imagine the ups and downs, highs and lows, nay-sayers and advice givers. Hats off to you and yours! Here’s to the next 25.

    Well done, Sir!

  92. @David By the Lake:

    I’d also be happy to include an article on dream incubation experiments if that is something that would interest you.

    General comment:

    If you want to tinker with stuff it’s important to have a set up. A place where you can go and build things, take things apart, where you have your tools. This is just as important if you are tinkering in furniture building, antenna design, or alchemical and herbal brews and tinctures etc. Or perhaps you are a musician or in a band: then you need that basement practice space. Whatever it is you plan on working on, get yourself a set up, so that after a day at the salt mines (or before your shift), or wherever you happen to work, you can go in to the lab where you can work with your imagination in making things. If it is ham radio your doing, you’ll be hanging out in the shack. If its writing, you’ll be hanging with notebooks, keyboards, reference materials and stacks of books. If you are going the mad inventor route, you’ll have a junk box with all kinds of stuff in there you can pull out to start building various things.

    And the tinkering is so important in this kind of open ended research guided by curiosity and fueled by imagination. It seems like many of the most important and ground breaking discoveries have happened when people were looking for something else. Happy accidents that lead them off into a new area that they weren’t necessarily looking for specifically, but were revealed to them as they worked in their lab.

    Then get into the habit of hanging out in your lab where the ideas will flow.

    Work and pray, as the alchemists said. & remember, let us encourage one another!

  93. Good read. Much of what is missing in today’s world seems attributable to attention and where it is spent. I think of Bruno in this context, as his use of “binding” and his essays on magic often seem to touch on the manipulation of attention (for the sake of brevity, we can ignore thorny issues of “consciousness” and the metaphysical in this context). The attention economy, a la Goldhaber.

    A vast amount of today’s attention seems capture by the various outrages and phantasms that have found a natural home on the Internet. It’s not the Internet per se–that’s just the medium–but its facility and ubiquity (and, lately, streamlined uniformity when it comes to the major platforms) allows for the indwelling and sustenance of these entities, for good or ill. It’s sustained attention capture, and it exacerbates natural tendencies.

    In the past, lacking such an attention capture mechanism, people’s attention could be more readily invested in various “crackpot” ideas (and certainly some folks do…the above is generalization). But so long as we have such a potent mechanism for attention capture, I’m afraid it will be difficult for people to usefully divert their inevitably limited reserves of attention to more disparate ventures.


  94. Dear God(s)!

    First this: “Buy physical books now. Great ones, good ones, bad ones, ones you happen to like. Store them safely as you would treasures.”

    and now this: “These are people who think the novel 1984 is a manual, and they’re very serious about it.”

    The above quotes are genuinely scary. I never thought that reading JMG’s posts would shake me so much. Who are those people? And for how long have they been at this game?

    May we have a post on the subject? It appears to me that it could well be very important to raise awareness of the doings of such people and how to respond and fight back.

    I understand this is what you (JMG) may have been doing over a number of posts. But may be it is time to raise the alarm more widely and louder.


  95. Dear David by the Lake

    You wrote: “In short, a regular journal/newsletter/proceedings of theoretical and experimental magic.”

    Please go ahead. An online version first with pdf copies that can be easily printed with a black & white printer would be great.

    May I suggest a larger ambit: Occult philosophy, magic, scientific research papers using low tech apparatus, history and anything that has been neglected by the mainstream for the past 100 years!


  96. Pineal gland activation methods?

    Mmmmhhh……Can we have a foretaste?


  97. Does anyone remember the story of the Radioactive Boyscout?

    There was a book that came out about by Ken Silverstein called The Radioactive Boyscout: The True Story of A Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor.

    “Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science. While he was working on his Atomic Energy badge for the Boy Scouts, David’s obsessive attention turned to nuclear energy. Throwing caution to the wind, he plunged into a new project: building a model nuclear reactor in his backyard garden shed.

    Posing as a physics professor, David solicited information on reactor design from the U.S. government and from industry experts. Following blueprints he found in an outdated physics textbook, David cobbled together a crude device that threw off toxic levels of radiation. His wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental emergency that put his town’s forty thousand suburbanites at risk. The EPA ended up burying his lab at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah.”

    Truly childhood isn’t what it used to be!

    I even had chemistry sets as a kid in the late 80s early 90s. My great-grandfather had been a chemist for the radioactive company Fernald, one of those fun Uranium processing facilities that is just a bit outside of Cincinnati. Anyway, he was still alive until I was about 11 and he gave me a whole bunch of test tubes and the like to add to my chemistry set. I remember making a bunch of noxious stuff with sulphur and the like.

    Anyway, they put a nature preserve in over the site of the contamination where Fernald was releasing uranium dust into the atmosphere.

    I recently learned there was a Cold War Museum right across from the Miamisburg Mound which I visited last summer. (It was closed.) I’m curious to learn about all the spies who may have been in the Midwest due to our various industries and air force bases, etc. in this part of Ohio.

  98. @Robert Mathiessen:

    What you (correctly) call “gaming” is how the entire system is working most of the time: you write grant applications in the future tense about experiments you have already done and are at the point of submitting for publication.

    I have published several negative results, but it is a considerable effort and, on top of that, may well have the side effects you mention.

    @JMG on PLoS:

    PLoS also does peer review. In fact, while they committed in the beginning to publish all methodologically sound papers, whether or not they had the expected results, they seem to have silently abandoned that approach over the years, and now their editors and revisors complain about “lack of interest in the manuscript” just as at any other journal.

  99. From the alternate reality I wish I’d grown up in:

    1. Spirograph sacred geometry edition. (Actually that sounds like it could already be an urban legend – draw the right pattern and it opens a door to the spirit realm.)

    2. Alchemy set (suitable for ages 10 to 250, alkahest not included).

    3. Gravity kit with the picture on the box showing one kid floating and the other standing upside down on the ceiling.

    4. Commadore 64 programming tutorial that also teaches you how to see other worlds.

    5. The Ladybird Book of Tectology and Biocosmic Immortalism.

  100. @Dr. Coyote, JMG:

    My mentor’s mentor’s mentor, Prof. Gregorio Weber from U Illinois, decided at the end of a long and distinguished career in protein biophysics to go about criticizing some basic equations of thermodynamics, especially as applied to proteins. I read his paper Persistent confusion of total entropy and chemical system entropy in chemical thermodynamics shortly before embarking on my own PhD and was utterly fascinated, but felt unable to build on this. A review of a general thermodynamics textbook of his (which I haven’t read) can be found here.

    I knew people who connected his line of research to the idea of alternative and persistent protein conformations in prions and amyloids, and possibly to memory stored in proteins (in addition to the more conventional genetic memory stored in DNA sequence), but who have gone on to work on more conventional problems.

  101. @ Chronojourner

    Re journal articles and astrology

    I’d believe so. The idea is to have articles of testable hypotheses and replicable experiments that others can follow and develop, so as long as the write-up furthered that aim, I’d say it would fit.

  102. Brought back memories of my old chemistry set, the books on electronics that I used to read and the projects I used to build.
    Coolest thing I ever built was a “flame speaker” for the Jr. High science fair back in 1969 when I was 13. The sound literally came out of a flame from an ionic barrier between two electrified carbon rods. I disassembled some dead D-cells to get the carbon rods and got most of the parts for the electronics from scavenging old TV sets. I had to build a 400V power supply, which could have killed me. I’m sure my Mom had no idea but my Dad knew and figured I knew what I was doing. Dad, who was very clever, helped with some of the mechanical jigs to hold the propane torch in place and hold the carbon rods. When working the arc between the rods was brilliant and the sound came from that arc.
    I’m toward the end of long engineering career but that was the coolest thing I ever made. And reflecting back it is amazing how much I new about the things in the world around me from those (risky) experiments, especially when compare to kids today.

  103. Many thanks for this post and the last – they seem linked in some subtle ways.

    One of my favourite games from my youth (Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri) was created by one of those rare auteurs able to survive in the corporate corner of the iron triangle. That game had a very interesting and in my opinion insightful dynamic – every colony’s population was made up of mostly workers, with a number of drones and talents depending on various factors. Drones tended to be a net minus to the colony while talents provided all sorts of extra benefits. But while one could easily see the ratio of the various citizen types in a given colony, it was impossible to target them individually. Everything one could do to crack down on drones also tended to suppress the number of talents, and vice versa. I think that points to something fundamental about society’s relationship to people like Leach – right or wrong they tend to be difficult, and it’s hard to distinguish the usefully from the dangerously mad without the benefit of hindsight.

    Doing this kind of mad scientist work was my primary childhood ambition and still one of my favourite pastimes, when I am able to devote the necessary energy to it. I do wonder, besides the ability to schedule at least a half-day of uninterrupted work, what most enables people with the inclination to dive in. I had the idea after your reading of the grand conjunction, that perhaps some fields are predictably more promising than others. Uranus in Taurus for example would imply to me that a lot of inventions in the next 200 years would be happening in the field of agri- or horticulture. Interestingly enough, despite being formally trained in energy generation and conversion, most of my opportunities for doing this sort of work have shown up in horticultural projects, and the same has been true of a number of my former classmates.

    Do any members of the readership have some best practices for enabling mad science that they’d care to share?

  104. One interesting area that has opened to hobbyist in recent years is genetic modification in the form of CRISPR kits. Not that I recommend it, but it doesn’t get much more ‘mad scientist’ than editing one’s own DNA.

  105. I’m the son of a crank who is currently thinking through the design of a perpetual motion machine that he insists will work. I gave up on explaining thermodynamics to him, because, well shale, he might end up overturning that law of nature in his 80s. I’ve seen him pull of equally ridiculous feats like cutting the top off of a used Corvette with a Sawzall because he’d actually wanted a convertible, but didn’t want to pay for one, and then making it into a convertible with all the necessary (and unforeseen) mods for drainage, etc. At the very least, he’ll do something that is better than sit on his asphalt and watch TV in his old age. All this with a high school diploma and an unimaginable work ethic; he came from a background of poverty that I cannot imagine as the son of a former share cropper who barely spoke the English of folks around him or the Polish of his own parents.

    JMG, you noted that “[i]t’s impossible to know in advance which two of the crackpots laboring earnestly in basement laboratories into the small hours of the night will build a functional flying machine, and which one hundred ninety-eight will publish pamphlets about vaco-cells, get into quarrels with budding writers of supernatural horror, and have no other discernible impact on the life of their time.”

    Someone ahead of me in the comment queue has likely noted this already, but the present cultural milieu really believes we have foreknowledge of history, sort of. It is not just in the usual religion of Progress’ “tomorrow will be better than today, always and forever, amen” sense, but in this new, self-congratulatory back-patting that reveals how truly insecure the young’uns are now. For frack’s sake, I’ve seen a new military ad on YouTube where this young woman explains how today’s 18-year old will be a part of the Next Greatest Generation. My first thoughts are: (1) OK, so we’re saying we’ll have a WWIII, guaranteed, and then (2) you don’t get to bestow that title on yourself, particularly before the fact.

    I see this all the time from my PMC job in what used to be higher education and is now barely education, with the young’uns being more or less programmed (nay, catechized) into this new religion that seems to be rooted in the genuine sense of life’s almost inevitable “off” qualities (i.e., duhkha, the problem of evil, etc.), but which seeks to pave the world with leather rather than making a pair of shoes, to borrow a metaphor from Śāntideva. And this Cultural Revolution-esque paving of the world (to put up a Tesla charging station in the parking lot) is justified by this “historical moment” and “how the future will regard us,” as if we know those things. At all.

    Thanks for letting me ramble! Kindred-yet-diverse souls are hard to find these days.

  106. @Jmg – don’t know about knitting, but I do know crocheting actually played a part in solving a problem involving the geometry of multiple folding etc. I’ve completely forgotten the name of the person who did it, will have to look her up. Also have forgotten exactly what she proved (or possibly, illustrated, or both, I think both) but it was brilliant.

  107. @ TJ&Bear,, JMG other inventor types…

    As the ‘owner’ of over 30 patents, and having a son who is a patent attorney – patents are relatively useless as protection of your invention. What winds up actually happening in many cases is that any large corporation with legal counsel will simply trespass your patent. Then it becomes who has the most resources to win this legal battle. Of note is that in most every state there are particular judges who invite patent cases, and who are quite fat and happy when a large legal firm makes a ‘contribution’ to their election fund.

    Patents are useless at this point, seeing that the USPTO has been ignoring overlapping claims for decades. There are just too many corporations with deep pockets who own the patent system. If you have a patent and someone else is all over your claims – dates do not matter; you will have to fight it our in court, where only the judges and lawyers win. I filed one patent for a method to manufacture a certain type of projectile – whereupon I was informed that my patent had been negated by the DOD, who essentially classified key portions of it.

    I have counseled several small companies to use the patent filing period (roughly 3 years), where there is no patent fleshed out or the claims are being rewritten back and forth with the examiner, to simply get their widget to market and claim the space they are after with a product. At least then you can get your idea working and sold – which may get some larger outfit to negotiate with you for licensing or even buy your company. This has worked 2 of 3 times in the last 8 years for some of my clients.

    The state of the USPTO is abysmal – and the cost of filing using a firm has been ratcheted up to around $30k for a decently constructed patent – which does not matter a whit if Deep-Pockets Inc. violates your patent…

  108. Solarfed do you have links to your thresher or the pattern you built it from?

    One thing they are radically underestimating is that material sciences have gone so far mountains of new discoveries are waiting to be made. Like super-magnets may have effects that once curious, are now revelatory and practical, induction welding, carbon fiber may have insulation or weight ratios, ultra-pure conductors, control mechanisms that stopped before now allow a Pi to gyro-control a Segway, etc. We think nothing of these magic materials they could only dream of, using steel wire and tar-infused paper and cloth.

    As an idea, a book library can be everywhere if you could chip away at digitizing equipment for the books that run through your hands. As a one-off it’s very consuming to collect and publish, but pro equipment may be plug-and-play.

    Mimeographs and presses come up time-to-time on Craigslist, often antiques. I only wish I could save/work them, but timespace limitations.

  109. To All RE: maker movement

    I was at a friends house, and on the television they had a show where two guys sent parts to various “makers”, and they had to kludge together a certain thing from these parts. Whatever the ‘maker movement’ started out to be has been co-opted handily, and is now being relegated to the memory hole.

    It’s funny to me, as a guy who designs and builds actual working things, that the maker bunch based most of their stuff on 3D printing, which works well with plastic and little else. The entire “plastic gun” craziness – making a thing out of improper materials to get around laws and compromising the usefulness of the product is sorta dumb IMO. The “printed house” they recently unveiled was perhaps one of the most bland and hideous homes I have ever seen. The sprayed concrete structures of the 1970’s (go watch Planet of the Apes, with an eye to the scenery) had more character and panache.

    3D printing is just not sustainable – too much time compared to other methods, and a specialized 3D box required to produce anything. Stacking materials in layers was always going to be problematic for anything other than plastic or the most basic of items.

    But – when they make a TV show about “makers” competing, then the movement is already in its death throes…

  110. Hello all,
    I realized the conflict between academic science and “basement” experimentation stated in your post when contemplating the contrasts between solutions to covid-19 infection in the overdeveloped world and other societies of the world that do not have access to the same scale of resources.
    Vaccines have been the holy grail of the overdeveloped world for some time now, and they push this to the exclusion as much as possible to other approaches to the problem.
    A lot of the countries that exist along the warmer parts of the globe have been using extremely safe, cheap, and effective anti-parasitic medications for many decades. Their medical staffs have noticed that the overall impact of covid-19 has been less with the population that employ these medications, in some cases much less. They have been conducting clinical trials and observations to quantify these benefits and publishing them. Our regulatory agencies have largely ignored these publications even with the desperate pleading from some of our own medical community. This has been going on for more than six-eight months even as more evidence continues to mount.
    I used to think that it was out of regulatory corporate capture of our agencies and over reaching greed by our pharmacy industry that this is occurring. But now I think that something else is also going on: the smug intellectual orthodoxy regarding vaccines are impeding development of simple, safe, inexpensive anti-virals some of which are coming out of the “basements” of the not as academic and therefore to be ignored otherwise not overdeveloped world.

  111. One other thing that comes to mind is the difference between traditional practices that go back hundreds and even thousands of years compared to new practices invented just now or relatively recently. I am not saying that something new cannot have value, but we probably won’t know until it stands the test of time. Seems to me that the ancient traditions that still exist have something to say about life force.

    While I know that some traditions have gone extinct and others have been corrupted by contemporary cranks, my point is that there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps even the traditional view can be continually updated without corrupting the essential truth; although, I do believe this must be done with extreme caution and care. Not every innovation is an improvement and who am I to say what is better, especially if I have not practiced the tradition for a substantial amount of time.

    Of course, not reinventing the wheel means that we would have to have access to these traditional views/knowledge, and if the libraries are purging books older than 5-10 years, many folks won’t have access unless they find a local master (which we all know are not as common as we would like.)

  112. Darkest Yorkshire #5: That medium article you linked to brought back many fond memories from my childhood — my mom had alot of those sets from the 50’s, and passed them down to me as a kid in the 70’s. Do they still have this kind of thing for kids these days? If not, they’re missing out.

  113. JMG and Viduraawakens,
    Thinking about it, I’m actually doing some informal science. Mostly stuff like trying to determine why my tomato seedlings were small and spindly every year, trying different things, and then realizing the light I was using was a) too far away from young seedlings, and b) not on enough hours. So I rebuilt the improvised light stand I was using, and then the seedlings seemed to do better. This year, I didn’t bother with the other things I was doing, just the improved lighting, and so far they seem to be doing well.

    I’ve also been planting all my tomatoes at the same time, and recording which varieties do best, are earliest, get diseases or not, are more or less resistant to cold etc, then changing the varieties I grow accordingly.

    I like to write down what went well and badly, and why, then I’ll read over my notes and remember things like ‘pak choi of x variety grown in the fall don’t bolt or get eaten as badly by insects, don’t bother trying to plant them in early spring, you won’t get much food’.

    I just planted a peach tree, and I made an improvised roof over it out of bamboo stakes, yarn, duct tape, and some aluminized bubblewrap I had lying around, in the hopes that it will reduce the impact of peach leaf curl disease, which is endemic in our area. I’ll see if it works, and write down what happens.

    Going back further, I did some experimenting with growing food on a windowsill indoors in winter in Powell River, BC with and without reflectors made from cardboard covered in tinfoil, and found that the lettuce with the reflectors grew better than ones without. I also discovered that you can take grow Tiny Tim tomato plants indoors, and they will produce food into the winter (I even got a couple in february), but the winter tomatoes taste pretty sour and are few and far between. By the time spring came, the tomato plants were so miserable they got composted.

    None of this is the sort of thing that really needs to be/can be published anywhere. It just helps me be a better gardener, and maybe provide better advice to others in the future.

  114. Lacking Clever User Name wrote:

    “I have to think that his 8th grade education in 1912 was far more advanced than those of today.”

    Even in the late 1950s it was more advanced than today. When I was in 8th grade, we had a supplement junior-high textbook from 1929 alongside of the regular textbook for the World History class.* It was written by two scholars named Hayes and Moon, and its title was Ancient and Medieval History. It weighed in at about 900 pages of small print (maybe 9-point type), with relatively few black-and-white illustrations and some wonderful maps in color.

    Later I went on to become a professional Medieval Philologist at Brown University (specializing in the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world). I was able to find a used copy of Hayes and Moon’s textbook without any trouble, and it became a really useful reference tool for the general historical side of my academic work. (Most of a Medieval Philologist’s work is not history at all, but research on specific Medieval texts and their surviving manuscripts.) I can assure you that Hayes and Moon’s textbook would daunt any of the undergraduates whom I taught — so many pages, such small print, so few illustrations!!!

    *Our basic textbook was by Smith, Muzzey and Lloyd, “World History: The Struggle for Civilization,” from the middle 1940s. Only about 800 pages, with a significantly larger typeface, illustrations (some in color, even) on almost every page, and a color frontispiece spread across two pages which glorified the idea of progress and how modern western civilization was the very acme of human achievement so far, whereas everyone else was at lesser stages of development in their unavoidable task of becoming “just like us.” Boring … The Hayes and Moon had much more to offer inquiring young minds.

  115. I assume too that the poetry that will truly change society and be remembered 100 years from now will not be written by edu Professers or of the kind of “free form” words that appears in magazines and in contests and from laureates or even to introduce a new President, but will be written by the crank laboring away mostly unknown…

  116. As I read your riveting discounted/hidden/secret (take your pick, it is all non-whitewashed-mainstream) history of American inventiveness and the occult, I see in this the genesis of the myth of American know-how and can-do spirit that made it the envy of the world and the success of which gave rise to the belief in American Exceptionalism. An envy and myth that endures to this day.
    As a Canadian, my favourite quote from Oscar Wilde, “Canada could have had English Government, French culture, and American know-how, instead got French government, American culture, and English know-how.”

  117. I also wonder about the correlation between the demise of such a culture and rise of a pedagogy that made children’s safety paramount, no matter the cost, giving rise to both helicopter parenting and woke activism, both of which treat their interests as excessively emotionally fragile and seek to protect them from any upset or injury.
    It also seems to occur with the rise of Christian Evangelicals who find affront in any idea or behaviour not sanctioned by their preachers (who so frequently get caught acting out), who began to work their way into school boards and local civic institutions about the same time that books with unacceptable ideas were being purged.
    I suppose, as an analogy, since both side have an equally low tolerance for deviance from their declared norms, between the two forces crushing together most of the good was squeezed from schools and libraries leaving only pulp.

  118. /Users/Michael/Desktop/Clark_1.jpg

    I DON’T KNOW IF THIS PHOTO WILL “TAKE” or not. I have been working on ornithopter much of my life. Here is a “wind tunnel” attempt many years ago. It includes the inner wings equipped with a leaf blower to test a circulation controlled airfoil. It failed, I survived, the neighbors were amused.

  119. People have trying to force others to conform since forever. I am Deaf, and had to deal with people wanting me to give up Sign. The Deaf Community has been under siege since Alexander Graham Bell said Apes gesture, men speak. His mother was deaf, and part of his efforts was to get her to hear and speak.

    These days of ear implants and the like are putting people into a defensive mode of Signing. Yes, I know the official types have Signers. But among hearing people raising deaf children, the pressure is on hearing aids and speaking.

    Deaf Culture is still here. Cranky Deaf people are making it so.

    So I think that no matter how many Woke people do their thing, there will always be cranky people who ahem keep calm and carry on with what is important.

  120. Piggybacking on my last comment, one group of people who are often neglected are people with disabilities. We are often ignored or put out of sight. Unless of course, there is the heroic person who overcame their disability. I call that disability porn since it is to reassured currently able bodied people aka CRABs that they will be fine. Un-druid language here….. When was the last time anyone spoke to one of the survivors of the Boston Marathon Bombing about coping with no legs?

    People with disabilities are forced to be problem solvers. We have to be. A lot of those TV miracle stuff such pill pro etc were first done for folks like me. We are cranky for having to live in a world where people would rather see us gone or at least of sight.

    Woke people don’t know how do deal with us since we bite back.

  121. Two things: I once built a Newtonian reflector from Edmund Scientific parts! Back in the 1960s. I didn’t quite have the level of motivation needed to grind my own mirror.

    Have you ever heard the expression “cranks of various radius”? Seems quite on target for this week’s topic. (I just finished re-reading Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” which is where I found the phrase. I found something else in “Mason & Dixon” that I hadn’t noticed before: a possible cameo appearance by Nyarlathotep on pages 704-705 of the hardcover edition, and lots more that reminded me of your “Hali” series. Pynchon seems to align the British Royal Society and possibly the Jesuits with your “Radiance.”
    The Old Gods are represented mostly by the American Indian tribes.)

  122. In the theme of innovation: I attended a Long Duration Energy Storage virtual conference. Lots of interesting storage technologies folks are woring on. My big takeaway was that most of the technologies were not going to be competitive with Pumpe Hydro. Pumped hydro accounts for 90% of grid-scale energy storage in the US. There were some gravity storage technologies that I thought could be more scalable and lower Capex than pumped hydro:
    a company called Energy Vault is working on stacking some large blocks of waste materials to store energy. This seems like low capital cost per MW-hr of storage, and uses pretty mature tech. They are currently building a prototype in Europe.
    A company called ARES (for Advanced Rail Energy Storage) is using boxcars of dirt or sand or gravel to store energy. They are building a prototype in Nevada. This also uses mature technology that is well understood.
    Another comany is Quidnet, that is storing water in subsurface geology. I don’t know how to evaluate this tech. It would be potentially more scalable than pumped hydro, but I don’t have the geology background to evaluate if the storage method would live up to their claims. They claim similar round-trip efficiency to pumped hydro, with less geographical constraint and lower CAPEX. Might be interesting work for former oilworkers if it works out. I don’t know where to go to ask geologists about it since The Oil Drum went offline. I was hoping “oilman2” would see this and comment. All very interesting though. It does seem that most of the innovators are small startup companies that had an idea. For this applicaton, they are pretty reliant on government funding though.

    The videos are not accessable publicly, but they might give out access to interested parties. You can do an internet search on “Sandia Long Duration Energy Storage”.

    Fun fact: According to the participant survey, anythig over 8 hours is considered long duration for grid applications. If you need seasonal storage, I think that means LNG and gas turbines these days.

  123. Well, that was entertaining. I had a troll pop up and start arguing with everyone, pushing the conventional wisdom about science and progress with all the standard talking points. If he’d made just one comment, I’d have let it through and explained where he was wrong, but four lengthy comments pretty clearly aimed at disrupting the conversation we’re having? Nope. Trolls take notice: I’ve read the widely circulated “Gentleperson’s Guide to Forum Spies,” and delete accordingly…

    Robert, many thanks for this! I’ll see if I can get something from the British Library. If any of my readers are in range of the Parkway Central Library in Philadelphia, perhaps we can arrange something.

    Simon, that’s too bad — I would have liked to make fun of it. Still, corporations are good at that kind of folly, so I’m sure I can find another example.

    Rita, that’s an excellent point. So often what starts out as an enthusiastic voluntary activity that helps encourage something gets turned into a mandatory activity that helps discourage something. Thanks for the story of Chester Carlson — that’s a great one.

    Engleberg, thanks for this. Mad scientists take note!

    User Name, that’s great to hear. You’re quite correct that an 8th grade education in 1912 was vastly better than an 8th grade education today. Here’s an 8th grade test from 1912; I couldn’t pass it without doing some preliminary reading.

    Gnat, just one of the services I offer. 😉 I’m delighted to hear that you’ve been able to take charge of your own health with good results.

    Lunar, I’m very glad to hear this. Thank you for a very moving story.

    BFP, thank you! It’s been a long strange trip, but I’ve never regretted it for a minute; working for other people, especially in the low-paid, low-status jobs I deliberately took to keep the rest of my life free for writing and occultism, really, truly sucks.

    Fra’ Lupo, an excellent point. One of the most revolutionary things anyone can do right now is to seize control of their own attention, break the chains of the attention-capture industry, and go do something unapproved. I may just do a post about that; it’s not actually that difficult, so long as you’re willing to discard a few pieces of technology and manage your use of a few others.

    Karim, I’ll definitely consider it. As for pineal gland activation methods, stay tuned!

    Justin, no, I hadn’t heard about that. Boys and girls, do not try this at home.

    Matthias, that’s too bad. No, I hadn’t heard about that.

    Yorkshire, I see you have your next career sketched out. Somebody has to manufacture those…

    Matthias, fascinating.

    Investingwithnature, that sounds seriously cool.

    Christopher, I’m not at all surprised that horticulture is becoming a focus of your mad science. It’s relatively low cost and there’s a vast amount of experimentation and research that has never been done in the life sciences generally — the rush to do everything with machines, followed by the rush to do everything with chemicals, has distracted most people from what plants might do by themselves, given careful breeding and other subtle interventions.

    Paul, duly noted. I’m more concerned about people modifying the DNA of pathogens…

    Rage Monster, your dad is a classic; I hope his experiments work. As for the delusion that we can know history in advance, yes, that’s a crucial part of our current predicament, not least because it’s leading our self-defined lords and masters to walk serenely ahead into history’s buzz saw, while attempting to drag the rest of us with them.

    Patricia M, fascinating. I’ll look that up!

    Oilman2, that’s worth knowing. Thank you.

    Daniel, that’s an excellent point! I’d read about the use of low-cost antiparasitics to stop the coronavirus in its tracks; I’m glad to hear that research is still ongoing.

    Clark, that’s another good point. One of the reasons that I’ve been hard at work keeping 19th and early 20th century American occultism alive as a functioning tradition is because it has some very functional wheels, many of which were either inherited from older occult teachings or refined from that starting point by systematic experimentation.

    Pygmycory, excellent — you are a bona fide mad scientist of tomatoes.

    William, a fine point! I hope that’s also true of writers — I don’t expect ever to see any of my books listed in the New York Times bestseller list…

    Renaissance, true, but the spirit is flagging even if the myth is not. That’s something I hope, in a small way, to remedy. As for intolerance for deviance, yes, that’s exactly the issue — all that concern about the well-being of children makes great camouflage for a frantic passion to control them and keep them from thinking, or acting on, unauthorized thoughts.

  124. Clark, #122

    Libraries most likely have space limitations as well as issues with paper degrading and failing. The latter is an issue of cheap paper rather than libraries themselves.

    Digital storage might have this issue as well – we assume it will disappear; time will tell. My guess would be more books would fail due to acid paper in the next ten years than information be lost to to a failing internet.

    Dennis L.

  125. I should add to my previous at #133: Yes, by “cranks of various radius” Pynchon did mean the sort of cranks we’re discussing here. As far as my own predilection to cranky science, I’d like to see research done into the etheric effects of 5G and ways to counter its effects. The idea of a metal-vaned decorative lawn windmills is one idea I’ve had. Or maybe Tibetan prayer wheels that dispense metallic “chaff” as sometimes used in military ECMs.

  126. JMG,
    Maybe we could sort of generalise this post as illustrating a privatisation of the commons – this would be the ongoing individual right to imagination. It can’t last forever of course.

    The example that I’ve particularly noticed is with Lego. Back when I was a youngster the sets were pretty generic as were the faces on the figures – just two eyes and a little smile. Not a problem to little me, I had them doing and thinking so many things using just a touch of imaginative thought (though an earthquake was often the way a play session would generally end!). Fast forward to now and the vastly expanded range of sets available tie in with large film franchises, many more sub-worlds and have a great many more specialized parts. And those faces on the figures – so many printed expressions now, even before we get into the plethora of plastic hairstyles and colours. Pre-scription has crept in where their wasn’t really any and the set designers are now ‘imagineers’ – they’ve taken over the imagining bit! Is that an improvement? Doubt it.

  127. Yes, it is important to balance the value of the individual crank and the highly trained team of experts. Some things can only be done by one type, some can only be done by the other. One of the great successes of last 50 years has been the microelectronics revolution which has made predictable progress (Moore’s law) over decades allowing massive corporate research infrastructures to organize their efforts together quite successfully. Things like the mRNA COVID vaccine are more intermediate where highly trained people with access to high quality instrumentation are needed, but official agendas did not identify the most productive route. An individual researcher had to risk their career pursuing an avenue that wasn’t celebrated for much of the journey. It is not easy to identify revolutions of the past 30 years driven by individual cranks. But I am sure there are many.

    By the way, the US research infrastructure is set up much more to support individual smaller scale research efforts than that in other countries. Still by highly trained people and still constrained by professional opinion, but much less hierarchical and centrally planned than research in Europe or China.

    It is dawning on Universities that their students don’t know how to build and tinker and there are programs developing that are returning those skills to the University curriculum…but it is a long way back to the earlier era when kids didn’t play video games, use social media, and polish their college applications with all their free time.

  128. I do a number of projects around my home. I wanted to share some information about my hobby solar system. Originally, I wanted to see if I could run a freezer on solar without batteries and keep stuff frozen. So I went to the feed store and bought a gallon of propylene glycol (important safety note: ingesting PROPYLENE glycol won’t kill you, but ingesting ETHYLENE glycol probably will — if you repeat my experiment, know the difference). I mixed the propylene glycol with about 4 gallons of tap water. The mixture should freeze at about -8 to -10 C. I put this stuff in containers in my Sunfrost freezer, the big one. It did not quite work. I froze it solid using the 120AC adapter, then put the fridge and freezer on the solar system. The mixture slowly melted over a period of days. I am convinced that if I were a better engineer, or had a larger compressor, or just had more patience, I could get my freezer working with solar only. I added batteries and ran my freezer and fridge on solar alone for a year. Then I forgot to do maintenance on my lead-acid batteries and I have had to go back on grid power. I unplugged my freezer inadvertently three weeks ago. It took a week before we noticed, when the frost on the sides started to melt. I am getting some LiFePO4 batteries in June which should get the fridge and freezer off grid again.

    I have learned a lot about the Cascadia subduction zone in the last few years. If you are in the Pacific Northwest east of the Cascade range, and have the skills, you might really be glad you have an off-grid solar system. You could very well be without power for a couple months if the worst event happens. We aren’t actually that sure how bad that event will be. It is more likely that it will not happen in my lifetime than that it will, but the probabilities that are thrown around are still pretty sobering.

  129. Rita Rippetoe,
    we had really different experiences with science fairs! I was 12, and my class got told to each do a science project of our own choosing, and I got really excited. That evening I grabbed a notebook and started recording what each of my goldfish did when I fed them, and proceeded to do this for the next month, or was it more? I noticed that the amount of enthusiasm for the different foods I fed them differed between fish, and between products. I thought I was studying difference in food preference between individuals, but I think now that what I was seeing was most likely the effects of a dominance heirarchy, given that the biggest fish was the fussiest eater, and the little one would eat whatever it could grab.

    Then build a display, take it to class and talk about it, then take it to the science fair at the local mall. There wasn’t a competition, but I did get a microphone shoved in my face while the mayor asked me questions about my project. That was interesting.

    After that, I found out there was a bigger, more formal science fair with competition that I could potentially enter my project in, but my display was the wrong size and I would have had to rebuild it, plus I was a year younger than the students were supposed to be. So I didn’t do that.

    I understand from friends that the project I did would not have been permitted in Calgary, as it involved live vertebrate animals. Even though the fish’s welfare probably improved as a result of the project. They got a broader range of food, and probably cleaned more often because I was paying them intense attention. Ah well.

  130. JMG, I think it will get worse. I want to try crossing my red currant tomatoes with my yellow cherry tomatoes. The yellow ones are a bit too sweet, and the red ones could be sweeter, plus ideally I’m hoping some of the tolerance of poor weather and bad conditions from the red currant would carry over into the result. I’ve never tried cross-pollinating tomatoes before.

    Now I’m not doing the church garden any more, I have more time and energy to devote to mine.

    Not really science, but related…

    I also gave a parent and a friend red currant tomato seeds for them to play with, and last year I ended up giving away a lot of extra tomato seedlings locally. My neighbor and I have taken to putting extra seedlings and cuttings out on the boulevard with a Free! sign. I like to put the varietal name and a few relevant details out with them so people know what they are.

    Plus giving away saved seeds in the local little free library. I saved more seeds last year than I ever had before, and there’s no way I need that much mizuna, spinach, lettuce, or chives seed.

  131. Most of my teenage chemistry experimentation didn’t involve chemistry sets. I was around too late for the interesting sets. I grew salt and sugar crystals, made baking soda rockets etc.

    But my main teenage chemistry was testing my aquarium water for pH, nitrates, nitrite, and ammonia, in order to keep my fish healthy, plus the occasional addition of medicines, or the more common addition of baking soda to stop the pH nosediving to about 5 and killing my fish. Dilution calculations were important for medicines and baking soda – too little and you get no change, too much too fast and you kill your fish.

    Some fish medications you used to get have now been banned – which resulted in my working at a petstore where we had 1/2 a giant bottle of a really effective ich medication left, which was jealously guarded. And when it ran out, we had trouble finding as good a replacement. The problem is that a lot of the really effective antiparasitic fishtank chemicals are pretty harmful to humans. Some of the proprietary modern medications are very good, others aren’t worth buying.

    And it can be hard to buy the large quantities a petstore specializing in fish requires. Little capsules aimed at 20 gallon tanks get insanely expensive when there are thousands of gallons of fishtanks to deal with. The capsules also fall down on dealing with 5.5gallon and 2.5gallon tanks. It can be hard to measure out exactly the right amount for breeding tanks or nanoaquariua. You end up opening up the capsule, and dividing the quantities by four or eight, and hoping you’re close enough.

  132. “a solitary researcher outside the intellectual establishment of the day, equipped with nothing more than patience, gumption, and such experimental equipment as he himself could cobble together in his spare time.”

    The narrator of Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House”, for instance.

  133. In primary school in the 1950s some of the boys built crystal set radios which worked without batteries, purely on the energy of the radio signal. They needed earphones because they were very faint. I made gunpowder rockets which went everywhere but straight up, had a chemistry set which made nasty smells but unfortunately no explosives, manufactured microphones out of carbon rods from batteries which worked but very scratchy sound, etc etc.

    My best exploit was an attempted safe-cracking. The “safe” in this case was my piggy bank made of tin in the shape of a post box. It had two slots — a small one for pennies and a big one for half-crowns.(In those days we used British currency in South Africa). The door opened with a key my mother kept in her jewel box which played a tune if the lid was lifted so no chance of stealing the key.

    I knew from the cowboy comics that safe crackers used dynamite with a long lead and a plunger. For the lead I dismantled my bedside lamp and used the electrical cord. Lacking dynamite I simply fastened the two bare wires at the end to the two slots of the piggy bank, and switched on.

    There was a flash, a bang, and a puff of smoke, and there lay my piggy bank on its side with blistered slots and… the door was open! I was so delighted I didn’t mind the punishment i got from my father who had to find the correct bit of wire to replace the primitive porcelain fuses in our antiquated switchboard.

    These days I confine my efforts to the garden, My principles are to spend no money, do as little work as possible, and use no pesticides. I make my own compost from fallen leaves and grass clippings, mulch to keep weeds down and soil moist, save seed, and steal cuttings from other peoples’ gardens.(In fairness, I’ve had a number of my plants stolen.) . And I harvest rainwater with a contraption I plug into the bottom of a downpipe, which is proving very tricky to get a perfect seal.

  134. @ michael clark #129

    To post a picture here you should sign up to a free image hosting service, upload your image there, then provide a link to the image in your post. Anyone wishing to view the image can click on the link.

  135. Back before the shutdowns, I’d sometimes go out and talk about composting and such at community events in Hershey.

    I told all the interested kids (I did get a few) the same thing: they could do real science in their own backyards and make real discoveries.

    You need a notebook, a magnifying glass, and time. Later, you can upgrade to a microscope.

    It’s looking at what is actually there in the soil. The shrubbery. The flowerbed. The mulch. The compost bin. The unmown, grassy strip alongside the railroad.

    New species of bugs are discovered all the time — even in Central Park! — and they’re large enough to see. The smaller stuff? The sky’s the limit as to what is living in your soil.

    And, it varies not just from location to location but also over the season as many tiny critters are dormant much of the year.

    Patient observation leads to discoveries.

    I have no idea if any of the kids I spoke to have begun studying the life sciences in their backyards but I can hope.

  136. Also off topic, but Twilight’s Last Gleaming has already arisen. I just heard an interview on NPR with the authors of 2034, said to be a chillingly authentic geopolitical thriller that imagines a naval clash between the US and China in the South China Sea in 2034–and the path from there to a nightmarish global conflagration. From the hints in the interviews, and in reviews, Twilight’s Last Gleaming still stands alone in warning us about the failed path we’re on.
    One quote by Eliot Ackerman (co-author) from the interview: “It oftentimes does not benefit a nation to begin a war, but it certainly benefits a nation if they can finish a war.” I did not hear a word how that might apply to today, or to any of the wars we’ve begun since August 4, 1964.

  137. @ BCV… energy…

    Gravity storage is ancient tech, and is also something that can be utilized in concert with wind and solar. But you need to design carefully, and larger systems are fraught with issues from politics (NIMBY) to friction and even odors. To be commercial, they must be HUGE….

    Storing water seems redundant to me, as pumping it down and pumping it back up serves what purpose exactly? Also, forcing water into a reservoir rock at pressure can actually damage permeability of the rock, making pumping it out questionable. Why not just leave it on the surface?

    There is a demand for energy, and geothermal is a great method. Superheated steam is what is needed for things to work well, and where there is volcanism, you get that. Iceland is masterful at this. We have projects in the US that have been running successfully for decades. The issue is up-front cost – drilling several thousand feet at 1 to 3 feet per hour is slow going, making the drilling cost high – makes payout slow. I am currently working on a project that directly addresses this – using steel shot to ablate the hard igneous rock. We have been moderately successful, and will get the system working in the next year or so.

    There are projects for trying to use shallower hot, dry rock to generate power from the temperature differential – the issue here is that the deeper it is, the less effective it is as the working fluid cools to ambient quickly on the way back up from the deep hot rock. Pumping it around takes more energy input – superheating water to steam (conventional) is much more efficient, as the steam drives it. But anytime you move a drilling rig in, you instantly go to $50k per day operating cost – not for shallow pocketbooks – hence the government is nearly always involved to defray development and proofing of these technologies.

    IMHO, the best use of geothermal is shallow grouted systems tied into heat pumps, utilizing the surface ground temperature. The heat pumps have become better, the systems more efficient, and honestly – a guy with a backhoe can do pretty well making his own. Run your heat pump with solar panels and you can actually drop your cost enough that it pays out faster than selling energy back into the grid.

    For anything resembling commercial generation, steam and volcanic temperatures are the best way to go. There are some places the hot, dry rock can compete due to the temp being abnormally high down deep. Central Louisiana has one such area, but it has never been explored there. I will tell you that the surface temp of the oil produced from these wells is in excess of 450 deg F – a very possible steam source, and the wells could possibly be converted. But the DOE and myriad other regulations require a ton of work to “upgrade” an oil well to geothermal. It is actually cheaper to drill a new well targeted at geothermal than to remediate an oil well – simply due to the regulations in place.

    But we have places in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and many other states where the bottom hole temperature is so hot we cannot run measurement tools – over 400 deg F. And we have wells that have dried up, the oil now gone, that we cannot switch over simply due to rules and regulations and the cost of compliance. Maybe when the government collapses enough and shuts down the enforcement of these old rules something might happen. If it were my land, and they plugged one of these wells, I would be very likely to drill the upper plugs out and give it a go…

    Hope that helps. The nutshelling of it is that government is in the way, trying to keep people “safe” and “protect the environment”. Government does not do much other than shift resources and take their cut, and make sure little guys are kept out of lucrative operations. IMHO.

  138. Hey jmg

    On the subject of mad science, I have two things to offer.

    The first is this book I’ve read about a woman who investigated people who developed “alternative physics “ in their spare time. I’ve read the book and it is worth reading.

    The other thing I want to offer is this website which publishes stories about a Victorian era inventor making modern machines, whilst also offering pictures and explanations of how it could be done.

  139. JMG, can you steer us to a page which give *laymen* an idea, as to the then standard view, for how much lift an airfoil would generate, compared with what the Wright Brothers arrived at?

  140. @ JMG RE: your reply to Fra Lupo

    I think that would make an excellent post. You are right, and I might add that moving in that direction is part of collapsing and avoiding the rush too. The main thing people have to deal with is their fear of change or ridicule. And I have been ridiculous quite a lot of my own life…LOL

  141. @ William Hunter Duncan – the current wave of world-changing poetry came out of the very lowest strata of society a while back, and sounded a helluva lot like Anglo-Saxon epic poetry in ghetto gangster dialect. To which one of my classes in Medieval Studies was treated to a sound bite of, and my mouth in hanging open as I’m mentally hearing the same stuff blasting from someone’s passing car on Central Avenue.

  142. @ BCV…fridge

    What is the difference between one of the new YETI coolars and the typical IGLOO cooler?

    Yes – insulation factor. If you take your typical freezer you purchase, make some 2 or 3″ thick foam panels to fit on the sides and top, you might be met with success. Having deconstructed numerous fridges and freezers – their insulation sucks, as so many electrical sensor wires, water lines and other extraneous crap is in the walls and doors – insulation is removed for the to be run quickly through assembly. Of late, this has gotten worse with the IoT madness.

    Just a suggestion…

  143. >it’s by no means certain that the only way to do things with atomic nuclei is to invest in WMD-oriented technologies or to use tritium

    Sure! But that overall set of constraints squeeze against one another in a way that pushes smaller players out of that game. For example, the least-toxic source of convenient neutrons can be tough to get in quantity, and other practical means of using neutrons would tend to attract very negative attention, and scarcity of neutrons forces one to scale up larger than one would otherwise have to.

    The larger institutions have done interesting things with chirped-pulse lasers recently, and I’m excited to see what happens as that technology is democratized, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a hobbyist figured out practical thorium-fueled fission before anyone made significant headway on controlled fusion for energy generation. Thorium has a lot of promise, which IMHO has not been realized because it’s a plowshare that can’t easily be beaten into a sword.

    Just to be clear: I’m speculating about where low-hanging fruit might be found, rather than making any broad assertions about what’s possible.


    The trick is to take two graphemes that are mirror images of one another (for example, a specially-designed “5” and “2”), and trace out geometric shapes defined by one of these against a field of its mirror image. Neurotypicals have to find each corner to identify the shapes represented this way, which takes several saccades and plus some low-level thinking in between each, while synesthetes holistically see a colored shape on a different-colored field, and can name shapes almost as fast as they can speak. The difference in performance is an easy signal to measure, and there’s not much risk of anyone faking.

    That exact trick isn’t super useful in the rest of life, but its inventor speculates that synesthesia is often a generator of poetic imagery, possibly for William Shakespeare (for whom figures of speech like “feather of lead” seemed to be almost effortless).

  144. When I was a kid my dad took me to RadioShack to buy a 100-in-1 electronics kit. There was just one left, gathering dust in the back behind the various confusing computer peripherals that had taken over their shelf space.

    I’m afraid to say I didn’t go in for it. It’s not that I didn’t understand the possible uses of wiring my own circuit board, but in the suburbs, with no fan clubs or newsletters, with the last remaining kit, there wasn’t any community who I imagined would appreciate my creations. Maybe if my dad had gone to a weekly ham radio meeting I’d be an engineer today.

    In my favorite Lovecraft story, Charles Dexter Ward, occultism works the same way — the real experts exchange letters with each other and encourage each other to go deeper and deeper in their experiments. Is that how it works in reality, though?

  145. @JMG it occurs to me that if one suggested alternative to dicyanin was cobalt blue over purple glass, and PPD is both anpurple to indigo coloured dye and a coal tear derivative, it may be worth a try. If it seems promising I can send you a gift.

  146. Uranus in the first house. Well, that might explain something.

    For two brief stints in 2018 and 2019 I spent a few months at a place designed as a kind of Green Crank Heaven, basically a campground about 20 miles west of Tucson with a large workshop in the middle of it, surrounded by a yard known as the Boneyard full of raw materials mostly pulled from the trash. (The group that runs the place it has the local trash-hauling contract and they grab anything that looks potentially useful and add it to the yard.) A very low monthly rent gets you a campsite, use of common facilities such as the WIFI, bathroom, and kitchen, and access to the workshop and the Boneyard. There are always multiple community projects going on and residents are welcome if not encouraged to work on their own sustainability projects. The name of the place is Terrasante Village. Its website is terrasante dot org.

    While I was there, I did two personal projects. One was to apply my background in workflow design to the kitchen shelving and lighting. This one was both easy and very well received. The other was an attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of exterior evaporative cooling (using wetted terra cotta and sand) on a sealed box. The Boneyard conveniently had two identical mini-fridges of uncertain mechanical status but good tight seals, so I could use one as a control. Designing the project was easy, but then I procrastinated, and then I struggled, and in the end I got eleven days’ worth of raw data which I have yet to do anything with. And up until now I did not understand what my problem was.

    Now I’m getting a glimmer. I don’t have Uranus in the first house. I have Aquarius rising and the Moon in the first house. So my improvements to the kitchen had the backing of an actual planet but my experiment only had the backing of a sign.

    Meanwhile I just last year found out about the traditional yakhchāls of Persia, which used evaporative cooling so artfully so long ago that the Achaemenid Empire had frozen desserts in 400 BCE. So refrigeration by evaporative cooling has already been done and my next step, if I want to pursue my fantasy of the post-oil kitchen, should be to research that.

  147. >but it is a long way back to the earlier era when kids didn’t play video games, use social media, and polish their college applications with all their free time.

    Kids were doing all those things back in the 70s too (well, ok, maybe not the social media but that is starting to fall out of favor these days) – but parenting as flawed as it was back then, at least allowed for kids free time and latitude to partially direct their own lives. Nowadays, they’re smothered 24/7 with everything preplanned and scheduled. Not allowed to make any serious mistakes or do anything even remotely risky.

    I dunno. Some people like the Army, where you’re told what to do and where to go, but not everyone. And it’s all about what kind of world you want too. Or what kind of world you’re going to allow to let happen.

  148. I wrote East of the Cascades when I meant West. Silly me. The cross Cascades power lines are the ones mostly at risk East of the Cascades will be a lot better off. I need an editor.

  149. Dear David, by the lake,

    I think your idea for a publication is wonderful. I encourage you to get started. I’ve also got a few suggestions.

    The subtitle you mentioned produces an almost-acronym of ANTHEMA. Although this title does not reflect the subject matter, it’s easy to remember and pronounce. It happens to be an anagram of Neil Stephenson’s SF novel Anathem, which is about alternate tech and mathematics. Might do if you don’t get a better idea.

    Editors of new zines who can’t afford to pay authors often have to publish whatever comes in that’s clearly written and vaguely related to the zine’s interest. People who look at the zine then figure you want more of same. Right now, I think medicine and wellness is one of the most active fields, and you might get wind up having those reports dominate your content if you don’t make active plans to have a greater range of topics.

    I would suggest that you make a list of all the fields of experimentation that you would like the journal to cover, and not only list them in the front matter, but solicit publishable articles in advance of publication of the first issue. Try to have articles, reviews or reports in a variety of subjects ready to go into your first two issues so that you demonstrate your editorial range of interests. You will, of course, come across other fields that hadn’t occurred to you once the news gets around.

    IMHO starting with a very modest budget and a minimum of gloss, and a flexible self-description that will allow the magazine to expand and acquire a more professional veneer later if you want one, is the way to go. To my mind, what’s important is not an artistic graphic design, but good proofreading, clearly printed diagrams and tables, an index, and a system that preserves the privacy of the contributors while allowing some way for the readers to communicate with them.

  150. I’ve had a few drinks with Lee Felsenstein, a retired electronics engineer and veteran of the Free Speech Movement at Cal Berkeley. He was active in the Homebrew Computer Club and made contributions to the development of the personal computer. Since retiring, he’s writing his memoirs and taking commissions to invent things.

    One of those commissions from a client is to develop an exquisitely sensitive electronic circuit to register tiny air currents, to be an electronic Ouija board. Lee has no background in occultism, but he’s a hell of an engineer and I think his circuit, when he’s finished designing it, will have some practical application. He is that rare bird, an engineer who is a good writer. I contribute to his post-employment career on Patreon, and his sporadic reports to patrons are always interesting reading

  151. Regarding Crackpot Number 974801756’s comment…. You might be on to something there. However If I remember correctly a Plank length is the smallest unit possible and the atom is quite a bit larger than that…

    Now that said, an atomic nuclei is still larger than a plank length. But that said, I agree the physics establishment has its Higgs Bosons so far up its black-hole that it can’t get anything useful done.

    What gets me is the event horizon of a black hole is effectively the stopping of time for all matter that falls into or is inside the black hole. How does the black hole relate to a plank length? Because whatever governs the formation of a blackholes event horizon, in my opinion, must be related to the plank length. Before we even begin to contemplate fusion energy I think this question needs to be answers.

    PS Splitting the atom destroyed two cities right off the bat. Made a Japanese tsunami even worse. And screwed over Ukraine. I don’t think humanity is ready for nuclear fusion.

  152. If we actually kept producing Wright Brothers and Edisons, it would mean the elite in power would have a higher turn over rate. That’s why the human race is getting dumber.

  153. JMG, it is interesting how the film industry had a long history of creating endearingly ‘mad’ scientist characters (The Absent-Minded Professor, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Back to the Future immediately come to mind) at a time when Western society had declared such people to be deluded crackpots because, of course, the “serious” research was being done in the bloated, bureaucratic over-funded government labs and universities. It seems that whenever a group of people get together, the ‘group IQ’ seems to be only as high as the stupidest person in the group. Anyone who knows their way around post-secondary education (at least in modern times) knows that they are ‘mediocrity factories’ and the truly brilliant and talented either run away or are excommunicated by their peers because of their nonconformist views. And then, with the politics, professional egos, vested interests, eternal competition for funds, etc., it is no small wonder that real innovation died when scientific enquiry became institutionalized.

    I am glad that you are referring to the days when Edison, Bell and the Wright Brothers were just a few stars in a veritable galaxy of 19th and early 20th century inventors, and how this ties in so well with the occultism of the period.

    Maybe I am an oddball, but I have always considered occultism to be primarily a solitary and experimental discipline (I consider the term ‘spiritual organization’ to be an oxymoron) where independent thought and relying on one’s own direct experience are key. And so should the more worldly pursuits. But at the same time, it is good to have access to an open-minded, encouraging and supportive community (hence the benefit of lodges) and access to stimulating, current information on topics related to one’s research.

    While I see great value in encouraging the blossoming of ‘oddball inventors’, I do see some danger in applying the same approach to occultism in the present day. If one is experimenting with chemicals, one may inadvertently blow up something small; but an experimenting occultist who lacks a good guide (or really good self-awareness) can blow their whole life to smithereens. I am reminded of the Upanishadic image of the razor’s edge…

    Sorry if I am rambling. The eccentrics help to make the world a more interesting place: may their kind increase exponentially in the years and decades to come!

  154. This post hooks right into a quest of mine. Inventors wanting to do things themselves, and the dumbing down of American education, and the library purges, it all adds up to my seemingly impossible quest. For decades, I have been searching for a book.

    It started in middle school. The first not-the-right-book goes like this: “Hey kiddies! A thing that does work for you is called a machine! And they are the lever, the ramp, the screw, and the pulley! Yayyy!”

    The second not-the-right-book goes like this: “If you wish to (long techno-term word) with a (long techo-term word that means ‘pulley’), then the first operation is…” followed by 15 pages of calculus.

    The book I’m looking for: adult audience, plain language, no math higher than very simple algebra and very basic geometry; that will tell me how to-
    *make* pulleys. How do I make a pulley that will let me lift 300 pounds 20 feet? Lift 100 pounds 100 feet? How do you calculate, in ways simple enough to not need a calculator or slide rule, how many wraps of rope the pulleys need to multiply the force enough; and how many feet of rope are needed?
    *make* gears from scratch. How big and little do the gear wheels need to be to speed up the rotation two, or three, or four times? Again, no calculus or trig or logarithms(sp?) or slide rules or any of that.
    And similar questions for making and using levers, screws and other simple machines.

    They were doing all this stuff five thousand years ago, way before calculus and computers. So it has to be possible to make and use these simple machines without a masters in engineering and CAD certification as well. But when I try to find something more basic, it drops straight back down to the kindergarten level. And this is how-to knowledge that people are really going to need at some point in the long descent.

    Does anybody know of a book along the lines of what I’m describing? Wannabe mad experimenters need to know…

  155. @JMG: Please consider a post listing and briefly commenting on your favorite books. The idea just popped into my head as I was considering buying Spengler’s _Decline of the West_ (which I’ve never read) to top off my ten volumes of Will & Ariel Durant’s _History of Civilization_ (which only gets me through 1789, and mostly from a Western bias.) You’ve recommended many books through many years, but with you advising us in this latest post to buy and cherish books while we can still can, one thing got me thinking of another. I think many of us would appreciate a summary of your top ten or twenty books and what, in your opinion, makes them so valuable. I sort of presume Spengler would be in there, but I’m not even sure of that.

  156. Robert Mathiesen, Thanks for this information, I’ll take a look and see what I can get access to.

    David, by the lake, That sounds great. I’m interested in conducting a study of how accurately certain planetary aspect cycles forecast the things they are supposed to forecast. I’ll start designing and conducting the study. When you’re ready to proceed, please let me know. Thanks!

  157. Archdruid,

    That would be wonderful, but I’m not sure how the government would react to random cranks starting real chemistry experiments in their basements. However, maybe the goal shouldn’t be to start a movement and to just start experimenting?

    Maybe the Makers Movement failed because everytime someone wants to revive the American golden age they think about scale instead of substance. The intent is to scale rapidly and they immediately turn to the nexus of NGO, Government, and Corporate interests who’s only interest is profit. It isn’t very surprising that weirdos and cranks get pushed out into the cold, because if the goal is success there isn’t much room for weirdos putting lizard poo in jars. Success is after all determined by the image of success, which is corporate wealth.

    By the way, I asked two posts ago if anyone knew of any correspondence courses from the 1800-1900 that were available online. I was referring to the non-occult verity.



  158. Michael, nope. You’ve got to have it somewhere that the internet can access. Once you do that, post something with the URL and we’re good.

    Neptunesdolphins, thanks for this. I’d heard rumors of that trouble in the Deaf community. As for disability, I get that; my brother-in-law was in a wheelchair for most of his life after a spinal cord injury, just for starters.

    Phutatorius, another Edmunds Scientific fan! They used to have lots of fun hands-on stuff. No, I hadn’t heard the phrase “cranks of various radius,” but it’s a keeper. I’ve been putting off Pynchon for a while now, but will probably have to break down and read him.

    BCV, fascinating. Energy storage is crucial if we’re going to make much use of intermittent, unreliable energy sources such as sun and wind; my money would be on the boxcars of dirt, since that uses old tech and renewable resources, but all of them are going to have to find some way to deal with the ghastly losses when you transform electricity to motion and motion back to electricity.

    Phutatorius, etheric defense mechanisms! I like it.

    Jay Pine, I was also thinking of Legos. I remember the days when it was open-ended, rather than specific kits from which you’re only supposed to make specific things. That’s a great example.

    Ganv, and that’s why I hope to inspire people to start pursuing their own research projects outside the university bureaucracies, and in the process, learn how to tinker again.

    BCV, excellent! If I still lived anywhere near the west coast I’d have plans in place for the coming quake. Have you had your home put through an earthquake retrofit? There are simple things that can be done to minimize structural damage.

    Pygmycory, excellent! All this is classic stuff. All you need now is a white lab coat and a hunchbacked assistant. 😉

    Simon, excellent. Many thanks for these.

    Pygmycory, there’s the theme of the life sciences again.

    Allen, there are plenty of mad scientists in Lovecraft, appropriately enough. I put a chapter into the forthcoming Weird of Hali roleplaying game in honor of that, to allow player characters to encounter, or become, mad scientists.

    Martin, I’ve made crystal radios like that. Many thanks for the stories!

    Teresa, and the theme of the life sciences again. Hmm.

    Peter, too funny. Thanks for this.

    J.L.Mc12, thanks for both of these! I knew a guy who spent quite a bit of time figuring out how a Victorian inventor could have built a working laser, and managed to make a credible case, so the latter website is by no means wholly off the mark.

    Mouse, the Wikipropaganda page on the Wright Brothers has quite a decent description. You’ll find the discussion of the Smeaton coefficient in section 3.2, talking about their gliders.

    Oilman2, fear of ridicule is the first chain you have to break to be a free human being. Most people never get around to it.

    Joel, so noted. My own guess is that the only reason anybody has fission plants is that they want to be able to make bombs, and that’s the reason why nobody will ever do anything with thorium — fission power alone is so expensive that it simply isn’t worth it.

    Avery, that’s been the case at some points in the past, and it still is in some circles. Why do you think I do Magic Monday every week?

    Thecroatoan117, thanks for this.

    Pixelated, I’d be willing to give it a try — thank you!

    Joan, with Aquarius rising, Uranus rules your first house, even though it’s not in the first house. (Which house is it in? That might tell you which area of life your mad scientist researches might be most successful in addressing.)

    Terrence, I don’t think we’re getting dumber. We’re just getting quieter about our strangeness.

    Ron, you’re right about the mad scientists in media, of course. As for occultism, that cat is well and truly out of the bag at this point; enough occult teachings are widely available that anyone who wants to plunge into the work can do so. My goal at this point is to help offer some guidance to those who are willing to accept it.

    Jay, I don’t know of such a book, but I have a hunch about where to look for it — 19th century naval manuals. They used a lot of pulleys on tall ships!

    Gnat, I’ll consider it.

    Varun, anyone who tries to start a movement is playing into the hands of the establishment. What we need is lots of individuals, all going their own directions. As for correspondence courses, I wish I knew a source for those. Anyone?

  159. I would not call mechanical to electrical energy conversion losses ghastly. Round trip efficiency for pumped storage hydro is in the ballpark of 70 to 80 percent and most of the losses are in the fluid friction, not the motor/generator. Meaning if you pull 100MW-hrs off the grid, you can return 70 to 80 MW-hrs later. I started my electrical engineering career as a motor and generator engineer for GE. My intuition tells me that the rail or crane based storage could achieve similar round-trip efficiencies, as long as they keep their speed down so they don’t lose energy to windage. They may have covered their efficiency in their presentations — I was multitasking at the time. Industrial electric motors and generators can be very efficient. 95%+ efficiency is common. It is the main reason I think these gravity storage techs have a future in bulk energy storage. That and motors/generators can last a long time with low maintenance costs. I have worked with 80 year old hydro generators that still worked pretty well at time.

    Li-Ion battery banks seem to have similar round trip efficiency to pumped hydro at about 80%. The EIA has a nice article here: They cost a lot and wear out though.

    Can you put a number on ghastly? Burning stuff to make electricity does has an efficiency I would call ghastly. You lose something like 50 to 70 percent of your chemical energy to heat, depending on what you burn and how clever you are.

  160. @ Joan #160

    If you are interested in evaporative cooling, you might consider a Nigerian invention, the zeer pot.

    “The zeer is a large pot inside which fits another smaller pot with a clay lid. The space between the two pots is filled with sand, creating an insulating layer around the inner pot. The sand is then kept damp by adding water at regular intervals — generally twice a day — reducing the temperature within the inner pot.” —

  161. @JMG, Pygmycory

    Thank you for you replies, and I apologise for replying rather late.

    JMG, that sounds fair, but I just hope cold fusion doesn’t turn out to be the ‘magic bullet’ that techno-optimists have been pining for, because that would mean access to a seemingly unlimited supply of free energy, and we all, as readers of the Limits To Growth know how it’s likely to turn out.

    Pygmycory, your experiments with tomatoes sure look interesting. A lot of people tend to look down upon experiments in agriculture and horticulture, possibly because of the ideological bias in favour of physics and chemistry, but I do find botany as a very fruitful field for doing low tech experimental research (disclaimer: my bachelor’s degree is not botany), and not to mention the fact that mathematical modeling of problem statements in botany has a lot of scope. Have you considered trying your hand at modeling, as a supplement to your experiments? If you do, I think you might have a lot of fun, not to mention the fact that it’ll likely be useful.

  162. Re: The Maker “movement” and a few books

    Maker Spaces

    I too was disappointed with the Maker movement. Having been interested in the phone phreak and hacker scene from a subcultural and technical perspective for a long time, I was excited about the potential of the maker scene and the growth of hacker spaces. When a local hacker space got started just in the next neighborhood over from me, I went and hung out there a few times, but to be a member it was quite expensive. I guess because of all that high end gear they bought. Since I already loved radio, I went that route and joined a local ham club, which was very affordable with dues at just 25 a year. I think the spirit of tinkering is very alive in the radio world and you get a nice mix of people who are preppers / emergency service oriented, engineer technobrains, radio geeks, and those who just like to build stuff. I’ve made a lot of friends that way myself.

    While The Radioactive Boyscout tells you what not to do, there are a few books that might be useful to aspiring mad scientists:

    The Voice of the Crystal and Instruments of Amplification both by H. Peter Friedrichs (AC7ZL). I first learned of these from JMG in one of the posts on ham radio. His website is one of those nice weird corners of the web too:

    Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley is a great book about the history of phone phreaking. It turns out one of the people the author talked to for background on the book and the people in it was one of those blind phone phreak types who I learned was a member of my club. Another friendship was formed. This is fun just for the oddball types you learn about if nothing else.

    Then there is: Build your own laser, phaser, ion ray gun & other working space-age projects by Robert E. Iannini, from Tab books.

    Don’t know if TAB is still around, but any of there older books have a lot of great projects.

    It seems to me if the mad scientist iconoclastic movement gets moving it might need a publisher who could put out books in the vein of TAB with a bit of Loompanics Unlimited & other fringe publishing types thrown in.

  163. When I read that the psi wheel videos were faked, I heaved a psi of relief. They were pseriously convincing. I was doubting my own pskepticism. ;o)

  164. Since I am 100%, always, full stop and end of sentence on the side of the individual experimental “crank”–especially so for the 15 year old boy with aspergers and a sky high IQ that everyone’s trying to hold back–I’d like to share some resources. <- Old school open ended home chemistry. <- An experimenter in scratch made technology who shares his methods. <- bypass the unethical paywalls keeping research papers out of the hands of individuals.

    There are also lots of little online stores that sell everything from open hardware neuroscience equipment, through to robotics, through to experimental DIY implants and CRISPR-Cas9 DIY kits, but all of it requires some bankroll.

  165. There’s an internet search technique I find very useful, which perhaps will be useful to others.

    First, I use duckduckgo. I enter a search phrase — for example: pulley diagram

    Or: 1800s steam factory belt drives

    I then click on the “images” tab.

    Well, for me, scrolling through lots of photos, or diagrams, or graphs, or maps, sure does speed up my searching by a lot! I can very quickly identify things I might want to dig into further, by clicking through to the web site.

    And there’s a search keyword that’s often extremely useful: diy

    Meaning: do it yourself.

    For example: diy gears

    Or: diy apple tree grafting

  166. Thank you, JMG, for this post! Highly enjoyable. (BTW, is this series going to get turned into a book?)

    Is it really true, though, that the culture no longer respects the mad scientist? Isn’t that what Elon Musk is supposed to be (with his colony on Mars and all that)? I suspect that what’s really going on is that the culture is barking up the wrong tree. No, there won’t be any more heavier-than-air flight equivalents. (Think about it: what would that equivalent be? Surely, a colony on Mars. Which is not going to happen.) The low-hanging fruit of that particular tree has already been picked, the tree is almost barren, and yet the culture keeps insisting that if we just bark a bit more loudly, the fruit will grow back. It won’t.

    So, find a better tree. How about some inventions that allow ordinary people to have some of what the industrial civilization provides, but without having to rely on huge, complex systems that very few people understand, and even fewer control? Set up the problem that way, and you may actually accomplish something. And if that sort of thing is discouraged, is it really because the culture frowns on mad scientists, or because such contributions aren’t flashy and spectacular enough for our liking?

  167. @JMG and commentariat

    An interesting venue for mad scientists, perhaps?

    IMO, not only is this a mad scientist thing for those who are into mechanical stuff, but also strikes me as a technology worth preserving and passing on to future civilizations.

    Also, one last question: does the ‘mad scientist’ approach get restricted solely to STEM, or could it be applicable to other fields like music, for instance? Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but from my (admittedly limited) understanding of Western Classical Music, the entire orchestra memorizes and plays a composition exactly the way it is written down. In Hindustani Classical Music, OTOH, a performance is either solo, or at most a duet (what we call ‘jugalbandi’), and the instrumentalist/vocalist stays within the confines of the Raga he/she is performing and the composition forms the skeleton of the performance, around which, the rest being spontaneous improvisation (if this sounds similar to Jazz, it’s because Jazz was influenced by Hindustani Classical Music in some respects), revolves. That is why the same artist will perform the same composition in the same Raga in a different manner on each occasion. To me, this seems to strike a balance between creative freedom on the one hand, and structured tradition on the other, and thus a ‘middle ground’ between established mainstream institutions and the ‘basement inventor’ types could possibly be a useful way of doing things, couldn’t it?

  168. Here is a bit more fuel for the fire: the work of Cincinnatian Q. Reed Ghazala, the father of circuit bending. I have an article on him drafted out for my Radiophonic Laboratory project. I’ll post it here when it is finished.

    Reed is a great guy, reclusive, but comes out now and again and I’ve got to meet him several times.

    For those interested check out his website, Reed Ghazala’s Anti-Theory Workshop:

    He is an experimental instrument builder, most famous for taking old speak & spells and rewiring them (circuit bending) to do things and makes sounds they weren’t originally intended to make. He gives them amazing paint jobs and they are individual works of art.
    He has taught others how to circuit bend and it became a movement of sorts in electronic music.

    One of the things he does with some of his instruments is put a part on there where you can touch it and become part of the circuit. Your electricity goes and in to the instrument and reacts with it unique ways. (Most circuit bending is done on old low voltage thrown away toys, thus it is also an art form perfect for dumpster divers.)

    I’ve also written an article on Bob Heil for my project, also in draft still. Another amazing musician, ham radio operator, who followed his own path which led to him building sound systems for the Grateful Dead, The Who, etc. His story can be found online in lots of places (he even gave a talk to our club) …but this interview on the QSO Today Podcast is a good one.

    Heil did terrible in highschool. He was way too interested in his life as an organ player (and then builder) and ham radio kid who ended up doing moonbounce tests from his home. Great story of an American original.

  169. Re: the dumbing down of education over the course of 20th century

    A quick Google search gave me this:

    So, in 1900, the percentage of American students graduating from high school was only 6.4%, whereas in 1964, it was 76.7%. That’s as far as the table goes, but I’m pretty sure that today, it’s more than 80%. Obviously, you cannot expect of the average student what was once expected of a tiny elite. If being able to read and coherently speak/write about 900-page small-print books is a requirement for a high school diploma, then Joe Average does not graduate. So, you choose: high standards or high graduation rates. Reasonable people will disagree about what is preferable.

    (I should say, though, that this mostly addresses what happened up to 1960 or so. The subsequent dumbing down probably has other causes, since the graduation rates didn’t change *that* much.)

    Oh, and then there’s the “they pretend to have high standards, and we pretend to meet them” phenomenon. In Serbia (which is where I’m from, though I no longer live there), those 1000-page Russian classics are still required high school reading. On paper. In practice, few people read them (yes, I actually did read them, mostly), and they still graduate, often with top grades. So, it bears remembering that what happens on paper sometimes differs quite substantially from what happens in practice.

  170. @Jenxyz

    Regarding farm spreadsheets… I have been hard at work developing my own for a while. Partly modified from one original spreadsheet that I got off the internet.

    Anyhow, I use it to input crop data, calculate seed requirements, field size requirements for the desired yield (in dollars – yield in lbs is calculated). It also estimates taxes (mine is based off of Oregon and the USA), calculates the profit margin, etc etc. I have a few different spreadsheets for different things. I found that having it as one file was both taking a lot longer to load as well as being a bit unwieldy to navigate. So now I have four spreadsheets open at any one time.

    Long story short, if you would like a copy of any of my spreadsheets I would gladly share them (to anyone, for that matter). I just need to zero out my personal data and set them up for a ‘default’ base.


  171. Jay, some resources you might find useful are Machinery’s Handbook and 507 Mechanical Movements.

  172. Sorry for the two quick replies. I have been busy working on my small farm and just now going through the comments!

    @Jasper and anyone else whom is interested:

    This is the thresher design I found on farmhack:

    They recommend using an old exercycle, the one with a flywheel. I am probably going to build my own bike with flywheel. I have plans for one such bike from this website:

    Farmhack also has a winnowing machine, but I have not checked that out recently. Most of my crops are pretty easy to winnow with just a fan and two boxes.

    The original thresher I made was based off of an idea I got from an online video. Basically, take a 50gallon drum. Get the following materials: long piece of 3/4″ all-thread (should be long enough to go through the top and bottom of the barrel), maybe 6 feet of heavy duty metal & also plastic/wood chain, bike spokes, some small wood scraps, also get some 1/2″ bolts (at least about 10-12) with lock washers and nuts, get 3/4″ nuts (about 8), and two sets of 3/4″ bearing units (i forget what they are called, just needs to allow a 3/4″ all-thread to pass through). If you want more detail about how I built that thresher, email me at “bill quanson at p m d o t m e”. At the time, I powered it with an corded electric drill, but that would only function for 15 minutes. It worked great, though. I have a design I have been working on for a barrel style thresher… I could go on but I will keep this shorter. 🙂

  173. I wonder how much of this is our nostalgia over the past compared to what we are experiencing now. Edison invented the industrial lab and kept people in line. The court case with Westinghouse brought about the modern industrial law firm. Also during this time, Babbittism was supreme. My point is that the establishment is always trying to put down cranks, and cranks are trying to change the establishment.

    The center now is the technocrats, etc, Do they have hard or soft power? The woke people, I believe, are modern day Babbitts. Instead of sexual confessions, we have whiteness confessions. It is the mainline religion now.

    Meanwhile, the fringe still holds. For example, in the Washington Post advise for parents, the expert posted that she has had never fielded so many questions for homeschooling and unschooling as in the past year. This is because of Zoom schools. This expert has seen a lot of movement away from public and private schools.

    I see it as a push me-pull you situation.

    I do believe that the readership here are cranks and mad scientists who have banded together to ensure that they remain cranks and that future cranks are nurtured. I think we (I include myself) feel the pressures to conform and are dismayed that we can’t be left alone. However, I know I came from sterner stuff since a part of my family history involved fighting for the King in Boston. They got burned out by the Patriots and sent packing in an open boat. They are still here and I am still here. I do believe that we cranks will be still here. I do believe that we are made of sterner stuff.

    Besides there is always “The Gentleperson’s Guide to Trolls” to read and ponder.

  174. I meant to say “The Gentleperson’s Guide to Forum Spies.” But then again, perhaps there is a matched set out there.

    My favorite hobby horse: Neo-Pagans remind me of Babbitts who want to be cranks and Babbitts at the same time. What I have noticed is the Marxist or woke fringes are trying to have them embrace some sort of grand cause like ending racism or something. And this fringe is hectoring them and hectoring them. But the fringe is breaking into little bits as each tries to be purer than the other, and attacking their fellows. Add to that, most of these people are depressed beyond belief.

    My theory about cranks is that they are happy and curious and wonder why. Which I think is why we cranks will not perish. You can’t keep a good mad scientist down for long.

  175. @Jay in Post #168 asked about a book for a useful understanding of machines for the layperson. I did some internet sleuthing using the term “Mechanical Advantage”. in addition to some pretty good stuff hanging around the internet, I also found this title on the internet: “Basic Machines and How They Work” by “Naval Education and Training Program”. I have not read the book, but the Amazon description seems to indicate that this is what you are looking for about $7 on Amazon. Amazon link:

    Reviews are mixed but mostly positive. One review points out some typos and mistakes that might affect understanding. But fo seven bucks it sounds pretty good.

  176. @ Jay – levers/pulleys/etc.

    You can download this: 1800 Mechanical Movements, Devices and Appliances

    You cannot escape the math if you are serious about using pulleys and gears, but it simply doesn’t need to be calculus. You will have to play with it to understand. If you are making pulleys for rope, then you are in an area where you can make your own. Gear sizing/advantage is the same basic principles, but with teeth so you get no slippage or rope stretch – so SSDD.

    Search for a FREE version – everybody is monetizing this stuff to the point you have to include free in your search terms, and even then you will have to click and search for something that actually downloads without you having to join some BS club or other.

    I got it years back when they first PDF’ed it. Hope that helps…

  177. As a garden-variety crank (and I mean that literally), I offer The Soil and Health library for the self-education of anyone who has an interest in garden and farming crankhood: Those of us who have an interest in health will also find gems on this website.

    My husband Mike and I used to love the Edmund Scientific catalog too. Back in the early 1990s we visited their store on one of our trips to the East Coast to visit relatives and friends. What a great place it was for a crank at the time.

    American Science and Surplus,, carries some scientific equipment, some specialized tools, and lots of surplus and scrounged electrical and electronic components, for all you cranks who need this sort of thing. Plus the catalog writers include puns as often as possible into the description of their items.

    @ Gnat, #99: I’m glad you liked it! I have chemistry degrees so I know how to use the scientific method, and I enjoy applying it in the garden. I haven’t done an experiment to check for the effects of different inoculants versus urine versus no added N as a control for nitrogen-fixing plants, but it is a good idea. I used to use the inoculants but I always wondered if they were really needed, so eventually I stopped using them. The beans grow anyway, but they might grow better with the inoculant. Now that I have received the soil analysis of the sample I pulled earlier this month, I am considering this year’s mad garden science experiment. I expect to post on that in April.

  178. @ JAY RE: pulleys/etc.

    I don’t know what you are looking to build, but if you are transmitting power I strongly suggest you use a flat belt system. They are forgiving, and slip rather than grab and break. Similarly, for significant loads, suggest you use rope for the same reason and alternatively, wire rope. Just make sure the rope rating exceeds the final load you are lifting by a reasonable safety margin.

    You can cut gears, but these have main advantage when there are large loads and you can engage/disengage, which is an entire other mechanism. When you first start with gears, I suggest you use chain drive rather than straight up gears – again, they are more forgiving.

    As an aside, we still utilize chain driven equipment in the oil patch, and until about 30 years ago, rope was even in normal use via catheads on the rig equipment at hand. Those were eliminated for “safety”….

  179. >All this talk of “apocalyptic-type” crashes…while the sllooowww squeeze continues.

    Did you know that the “crash” of 1929 took 3 years to play out? And people remarked back then about how slow it seemed to take? It’s only looking back at it all after the fact that it looked like a crash. As it happens in real time, it’s a rather slow process with most days seeming ordinary and normal. For the most part. With edges fraying.

  180. Speaking of old science books and building up our own libraries while public libraries purge their collections… I just learned that the New Orleans Public Library is having a:

    “Really Really Old Book Sale
    Saturday March 27
    5120 St. Charles Avenue
    10am-11am Friends of NOPL members
    11am-2pm Open to the public

    This outdoor sale will feature hundreds of out-of-print, signed, first editions, rare, antiquarian books and fond treasures from your childhood. Prices start at $1.”

    I am quite sad that I no longer live anywhere near New Orleans to take advantage, but hopefully some readers in the Gulf South will be able to check it out. There may be some amazing finds.

  181. @Viduraawakened #182

    Analog computers are cool. (I like Lord Kelvin’s harmonic analyser, used to predict the tides) .

    One of my favorite mad scientist musicians, Hainbach, has jump started a bunch of people getting back into using test equipment for music making (like the very first electronic musicians did). Anyway, he also has an interest in analog computers. Here is an interesting talk he did with Hans Kulk of Willem Twee studios and Professor Bernd Ulmann, who is really into analog computers.

    While the video leans towards the use of analog computers in music it has much else to offer the curious.

    Hainbach’s channel on youtube is great for anyone interested in using test equipment to make music and learn how to do it yourself, and there is a reddit where I hang out too sometimes, posting my articles which are in this vein at r/hainbach

    As to what you said about music, Viduraawakened, I think that music and the arts are also a great place for eccentric mad and iconoclastic approaches.

    Recently I’ve been thinking of “graphic scores” and how those could be used for some kind of Glass Bead Game.

    In the U.S. there are just as many eccentric musicians as their have been scientists.

    Tiny Tim is a favorite. Wesley Willis is another. People who make their own instruments ( Q. Reed Ghazala, Harry Partch)….

    … In fact Harry Partch is probably one of the quintessential American types, famous for his custom built instruments designed to play on scales he had divised for his own system of unequal intervals in Just Intonation.

    There are so many others. I think John Cage fits this idea to a t, (though our host may disagree). He followed his own path and his own ideas to see where he would arrive at. WE can have disensus about these things.

    Sun Ra did that in the world of jazz too.

    La Monte Young is someone you may want to look into as he was a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath, a Kirana gharana singer (as was Terry Riley and some of the other early minimalists). In fact young is also a classic “Johnny Appleseed” type eccentric. He has played music a lot, for hours a day still. Gives rare concerts, but his “Dream House” is still open sometimes in NYC where he has created a field of subtly shifting tones in various esoteric tuning systems. Anyway, he lives and breathes music. Studies it like a monk, with his wife who makes light paintings. Most of the world doesn’t care, but they do it anyway, pass on a lineage of mystic music, and have infused a strange world of music by combining blues rock, classical, raga, Kirana singing, just intonation into something no one else would have made.

    Also, one of the people who studied with him was Henry Flynt who went on to make some of the best hillbilly appalachian minimalist tape music with fiddle and guitar I ever heard. He himself is another weirdo:

    There is all kinds of strange and wonderful stuff lurking out there!

  182. Odds and ends

    @Patricia Mathews

    Was it “Crocheting the Hyperbolic Plane” – Daina Taimiða

    Department of Mathematics, Cornell University

    @JMG the dumbing down of education – stifling kid’s creativity

    the independent thought alarm

    JMG: “What’s going on now with wokesters banning Dr. Seuss is the logical culmination of a trend that’s been under way for decades: the attempt of a radical minority in most countries of the industrial world to make it impossible for people to think unapproved thoughts.”

    This has been going on for so long that The Simpsons made fun of it in the mid 90s. Fun side note spell checker doesn’t think “dumbing” is a word.

    @Darkest Yorkshire

    Favorite mad science fiction? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

    @ all – chemistry sets

    You might look into glass blowing. It’s fairly easy and inexpensive to set up a basic glass blowing shop, fun too. In addition to learning a useful skill I would also expect a much greater degree of enjoyment, investment, and shared experience with one’s kids from making their chemistry set.


  183. BCV, interesting. The figures for electric-mechanical-electric conversion I saw back in the day — we’re talking the late 1970s and 1980s, mind you — were considerably lower. If they’ve come up that far, that’ll help.

    Viduraawakened, if electricity isn’t the limiting factor, something else will be. We’re fairly close to a lot of hard limits, and an additional supply of electricity won’t remove most of those.

    Chicken Wrangler, yep. I’ve come to think that yammering about apocalypse is the most popular way these days for people to distract themselves from the reality of the Long Descent. The article’s a classic — enthusiastic talk about a $5 trillion infrastructure repair program, with no sense whatsoever of where the resources to make that possible are going to come from…

    Justin, many thanks for these!

    Martin, all I can say is “Pshaw!”

    Synthase, many thanks for these are well!

    Cyclone, good. I’ve done the same thing — and I use DuckDuckGo as well; Google is too heavily manipulated for my taste.

    Irena, yes, it’s going to be turned into a book. As for Musk, if he wasn’t a godzillionaire nobody would give him the time of day. It’s his wealth, not his crankhood, that makes him popular. (Americans have a long tradition of groveling at the feet of the very rich.) While you’re certainly right that we’re not going to Mars, I tend to think that the reason we get so little from the tree these days is that we’ve stopped sending up individual mad scientists to harvest it, and committees under bureaucratic oversight are just so inefficient at it.

    Viduraawakened, the differential analyzer is a keeper — I note with great delight that some of them were made using Meccano (aka Erector) components, and that Meccano hobbyists are building them now as a high-end challenge. Huzzah! As for music, Western classical music has become a matter of playing from fixed scores, but it wasn’t always that way. Much of Baroque music had a fixed melody line with a bass line sketched in, and the instrumentalists improvised around those; improvisation was also something composers did all the time — J.S. Bach used to astound people by improvising fugues on the spot, which is a little like playing four games of blindfold chess at once and winning them all. Now that musicians are getting into authentic Baroque music again (rather than the Classical reworkings thereof), I understand some have begun to return to the old improvisatory approach; I’d like to hear more of that.

    Justin, thanks for this.

    Irena, the thing to keep in mind is that until the Second World War, high schools filled roughly the same role in US education that universities fill today — you went to a high school only if you were planning on entering one of the learned professions. Most people completed 8th grade and then entered the work force — and an 8th grade education at that point was considerably better than a high school education in 1980, when I graduated. In order to make an accurate comparison, you’d want to compare 8th grade graduation numbers from 1912 with high school graduation figures from today.

    Phutatorius, that works! Thank you.

    Neptunesdolphins, while nostalgia is doubtless an issue, I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the whole discussion on that basis. Babbitry is an eternal human reality, but there really were more people inventing things in 1921 than there are in 2021; the fringe exists, but it doesn’t direct its efforts toward new inventions to the extent that it once did. I’d like to help change that.

    SLClaire, thanks for these!

    Tim, it’s been going on for longer than that. My take is that the roots of it are in the underbelly of the Sixties.

  184. Martin Back;

    THANK YOU for the great story about your piggy bank! I just had to read it to my husband; he and his brother regularly blew things up in their basement when they were kids, and rigging up a piggy bank is just the kind of stuff they loved to do most: destruction with a purpose. Thanks for the laugh!

  185. @ all RE: chem set glassware…

    You can get most everything you need through Amazon, or if you are anti-China, Labcorp carries everything you can imagine (although a lot of their most basic products are made in China and white-labeled).

    Amazon distillation kits are good – allow you to work out your process before ramping up to stainless or copper distilling setups. You can also get low-temp glass tubing and make your own stuff – heat with propane torch and go to town.

    @ SLClaire…garden

    I might suggest you check out GW Carvers pubs on soil building. I have used his methods and modified them – and what I like about them is he assumes you don’t have a “pot to piss in” financially – which means they fit most of us out here…

    @ Neptunesdolphins….

    My intent is to remain a “cranky old man” for the rest of my days…

  186. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it seems appropriate to repeat: if you’re interested in understanding or building on earlier technology, the place to look for older, published books is on the Survivor Library website. The purpose of the collection is to preserve basic technological knowledge so that in case of a world-altering event, people have the basic information to begin rebuilding important systems. As it says, “It’s not a library about survival. It’s a library for survivors”. You’ll find scanned copies of books, mostly 19th and early 20th century, on subjects ranging from engineering to medicine and shipbuilding, agriculture and animal husbandry, to sewing and home repairs. You can even print the books out if you want a hard copy.

    Here’s a link to the main index page:

  187. A fine basic book about uses of tools is the US Navy’s Tools and Their Uses. This was the course textbook when I took my first course in materials, taught by a machinist, back in the mid 70s. Thriftbooks has number of copies. The only change from my copy to the edition you can download is the addition of the “unwoke” language warning: Although the words “he,” “him,” and “his” are used sparingly in this course to enhance communication, they are not intended to be gender driven or to affront or discriminate against anyone.

    A skill always in demand is sharpening. I have taught myself to sharpen many things, and although not an expert, I can revive a reel mower, and keep my straight razor “razor sharp”. My favorite anecdote was in Fine Homebuilding many years ago. A junior carpenter knew that the master carpenter on the job kept his bladed tools sharp(chisels, planes, etc.), and wanted to learn the secret. The master never allowed anyone to see him sharpen any tool. Finally one day, the junior just refused to leave the job, and the secret was revealed. No super expensive imported waterstones held in an unobtanium frame: the master took out an old board, thumbtacked a piece of fine grit sandpaper to it, gave each blade several swipes, then switched to extra fine sandpaper and repeated the swipes. I once ran my power plane through a nail, and using sandpaper from 60 grit to 600, brought the blades back to better than new.

  188. Every budding crank, to say nothing of a mad scientist, needs to get his laboratory and library up and running. This book, ‘Procedures in Experimental Physics’, written in 1938, is still in print, covers a lot ground:

    I do believe JMG mentioned ‘Instruments of Amplification’, which should not be neglected.

    –Lunar Apprentice

  189. I might classify the appropriate tech movement of the (mostly) 1960-70s as a mad-scientist phenomenon too. In a way, that’s what any remnant of garage-tinkering we still have is working at – making useful things by relying on observation (of what’s needed and what currently exists and what you have at hand), play (oh, oops, experimentation), record-keeping, and gumption to keep trying.

    Some time ago I borrowed a friend’s copy of Cool Tools by Kevin Kelly and I noted down a bunch of useful-sounding books. Folks might consider looking through that if they’ve got access to a copy, to see if there’s anything invention-supporting in their chosen fields. I think there’s a website too.

    Among the items I noted down (all titles, but searchable by those), though far from what the entire book contained: How to Build with Grid Beam, 507 Mechanical Movements (noted above by another poster), Moving Heavy Things, Architecture Without Architects, Workshop Math.

    Speaking of appropriate tech – if one wished to start digging just slightly back into the past, perhaps these are some good options (and I’d be open to hearing more if anyone’s got sources):,,, and (that seems to hold the once-available-on-CD version of the “1050 volume appropriate tech library”)

    I know there’s a (mental) division between tinkering as building and tinkering as inventing and that this post is focused more on the inventing, but I think the push to get everyone to rely on experts for building (anything – see “craft kits” for more on that) is a big part of the problem. The maker movement was purported to be changing that as was noted above. Pity it petered out – though to be fair, my local one does serve as a kind of tool library and I was able to use their drill press and other woodworking tools I don’t own.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, as we decline further and people have to start repairing things, that they then also start building things, and that by extension, they start inventing things.

    Perhaps repair is the mother of invention.

  190. Many thanks for writing this and encouraging my madness! Your push towards a simple experiment of microwaving water, checking its empirical effects and setting up a procedure has given me a glimpse of the potentials of what a person with modest resources and passion can do. Whether or not the hypotheses are right and one thing mad scientist can afford is being wrong, an incredibly valuable resource that seems to be forgotten by mainstream science. It is not about being right or wrong, it’s about a thorough process. Simple, messy and mad experiments are a great way to kick start a basic process of Science. “With a capital S please!” as the crackpot French mathematician Gothendrieck says in his autobiography about what makes real Science tick.

    I still remember my teachers dismissing what in those days of my definitely misspent youth I called “power balls” which basically was what is better known as “chi balls” and feeling dismissed without proper examination. Honestly, I don’t see much difference between what Physicists are saying 11 dimensions and all sorts of mind bending stuff and occultism but just that one is one the wrong side of economic gain and the accepted ideology. It has taken me a while during my practices to accept the idea that if I continue on this path I will be pushed aside as a madman, which saddened me, but it is comforting that the fringes are not lonely at all! Strange, for sure, but much more fun and uncensored as your fringe corner of the internet often demonstrates.

  191. @Jay Pine and JMG

    I also thought of Legos when reading this piece!

    There were more and more sets that were “a kit to build a specific thing” coming out as I grew up, but at least they also emphasized that you could build other things too. The ones that came out when I was a child in the ’80s would come with step by step instructions to build the thing they were sold as being a kit for, and then also a bunch of photos of other things you could build with the same set. This was great for me–I liked to follow the instructions, then copy the photos, then add the set to my general pile and make my own stuff. By the time I had 3 or 4 sets I had enough pieces to make whatever I wanted.

    But over time Lego kept making more and more specialized pieces so that “the thing they were sold as being a kit for” would be more “realistic,” which then made the set less useful for general building. Last I checked they’d come to rely so much on specialized pieces that it was almost just like buying a simple plastic “car” or “castle” or whatever. It’s like you’re no longer buying a *building* kit, just an ordinary plastic toy with “some assembly required.”

  192. I grew up with a book called The Amateur Scientist from 1960, a compilation of earlier monthly columns by that same name from Scientific American magazine. It describes such projects as making your own X-ray machine using some particular kind of vacuum tube stepped up to a higher voltage. (Helpful advice includes placing pieces of unexposed photographic film in various places in your house, and developing them from time to time, to keep track of where your X-ray machine might be sending stray beams of radiation.) Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, as a kid I didn’t have any access to “interesting” parts like vacuum tubes and neon sign transformers. I had to stick to the battery-powered electronics. But then, the columns and book were never intended for kids in the first place. Unlike pretty much all “hands-on science” books today.

    One thing I’ve been learning during my preparations to start a honeybee colony this spring is that every beekeeper is a mad scientist. (Oh, um, hi, Beekeeper In Vermont!) No two beekeepers do things exactly the same or give the same advice. This makes sense; every colony’s genome and microclimate are a little bit different too, and year after year there are weather changes and new environmental hazards to adapt to. Best practices include a lot of careful observation and keeping detailed notes, and this is a field where dissensus may be the only chance for long-term survival.

    Now, this is only my own view, but I would advise would-be cranks to stick to such hands-on endeavors. Stay away from theoretical physics and other abstractions. If you think you can discover or invent something that would happen to prove the theories of themodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity, evolution, computing theory, etc. wrong (like a free energy machine or a warp drive), then go ahead and do it. But don’t start out by devising and promoting an alternative theory because you don’t like what the current one says or because you think it’s too hard to understand and should be simpler. That tends to lead to racking up a high score on the Crackpot (But Not In A Good Way) Index.

    I see the distinction as there being a Left-Hand Path and a Right-Hand Path of mad science, where the Right-Hand one engages with the world.

  193. JMG, actually I already have the labcoat, though I don’t use it much. Not the assistant, though.

  194. I’d suggest three books for anyone – they cover major skills many people do not have.

    First the Ray’s Arithmetic books that Violet put up over at dreamwidth –
    It is from the 1870’s. Pick a dozen problems from the last half of the third book and use them as an entrance exam for an MBA program (with out a calculator) – the school will have a hard time finding students (other than a few home schooled ones).

    Then ‘Thinking with a Pencil’ by Henning Nelms. How to communicate with drawings. Not an art instruction book. Abe has them for $5 (hardback).

    ‘The Sensuous Gadgetter’ by Bill Abler, 1973. Amazombie has it for $27! I bought it sometime in the 70’s for $3.95. The review I saw there said it was to ‘Zen-like’ but still gave 4 stars. A lot of information on how to make things and developing the ability to use your hands.

    Lost my copy of the ‘Amateur Rocket’ book in a forest fire. I’d loaned it to a friend and all he and his daughter saved on the 10 minute emergency exit were three computers with most of his history and a very few family keepsakes. He had a nice old Porsche he was rebuilding – about all that he found of it was a puddle of aluminum.

    John – NJ0C

  195. Viduraawakened,
    unfortunately, my math skills are a long way below my biological ones. I struggled with the subject quite a bit in high school and university, probably due to a mix of poor/near nonexistant teaching in grades 8 and 9 combined with my brain sometimes insisting on switching +- and x signs in my head for no reason. That means that I have to be very careful to check any non-simple calculations I do multiple times, and learning mathematical principles tended to get sidetracked by spending all my time finding the stupid calculation errors if a large number of them were involved in a problem. I managed to do adequately in high school and 1st year uni courses anyway by dint of a lot of hard work, learning algorithms by rote, and checking my work obsessively.

    Apart from statistics, nothing beyond basic algebra got used much in my biological studies, and I could get the computer to do the calculations for that and concentrate on how and when to use statistics in experiments. That was actually interesting. But I don’t enjoy math much, and I’ve forgotten most of what I learned beyond basic algebra.

    So I think someone else will need to take on the mathematical modelling projects.

  196. re DIY bio and genetic engineering.
    About 9 years ago, there was a little DIY bio lab that got set up by an individual, and about 10 people spent some time messing about with making bacteria glow. It never really did very much, and after a year or so, the guy who owned the lab stopped doing that and starting doing something else. I was only involved for a few months – the place and time was after dark in a run-down part of town, and then fI ound a part-time job at a petstore and decided to prioritize the thing that brought in money.

  197. @JMG

    You may be right about Musk. But certainly, he and an assortment of techies (Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg) like(d) to present themselves as rugged inventors. So, the trope at least is alive and well, though perhaps the reality on the ground has changed.

    However, unless I’m badly misremembering, you said yourself at some point that it was quite unlikely that an individual working outside the system could make a significant contribution to physics (because physics had been so thoroughly researched already), but that a substantial contribution to something like mycology remained quite possible. This struck me as very reasonable.

    Re: education

    Literacy rates improved quite substantially over the course of 20th century, though (scroll down to the table):

    It’s still possible that, on average, students who successfully completed 8th grade in 1900 knew more than students who completed 12th grade in 1980. Possible… Now, what was the 8th grade graduation rate circa 1900? I don’t seem to be able to find it.

    The concern, as always, is that we might be comparing the average of today with the best of yesteryear, with predictably skewed results. This is an empirical question, of course. So, is there good data? I’m always a little bit weary of textbook comparison, because (in the absence of additional information) we do not know how those textbooks were used. I remember signing up for a Russian history course once (in Russian). The prerequisite was three years of college-level Russian. I took a look at the textbook, and it seemed very reasonable. And then it turned out that we’d cover only about 40 pages (out of 250 or so), ending with Ivan the Terrible. (I dropped the course after a week.) Maybe they did something similar back in 1900(?).

  198. A couple of my recent ancestors were garage inventors and did pretty well by it.

    The spirit is coming back PBS even has a TV network called #Create. Its cooking shows and the usual stuff that would appeal the usual audience but once in while some genuine “get it done” slips through.

    A lot if the spirit today is in software and to a degree robotics as well. Its not sustainable but I suspect simple cheap computers like the Raspberry Pi will be around for some time and they can accomplish a lot.

  199. @Justin P. Moore: #197 — it’s nice to hear Harry Partch mentioned. Back when I was a teen, in the 60s (building my Edmund Scientific 4″ newtonian) I used to call in to the local classical music request program to request “Daphne of the Dunes.” After several weeks of that they started ignoring me. Go figure.

  200. JMG and all, I have some first-hand research experience as a published investigator in the current medical research paradigm, and with some of the extraordinary dysfunctions that prevail.

    My medical residency required each of us to engage in medical research, with our own individual projects. I really chafed at this, but amazingly, was quite good at it, and published two papers on two projects (and presented a poster for a third at a conference).

    I had some more, really big, research ideas, and my mentor was impressed with my abilities, and I was able to secure a custom 2-year Neuroscience Research Fellowship funded by the VA.

    Now, in order to perform research on human subjects, your project must be cleared in advance by an ethics committee, i.e. the Institutional Review Board, or IRB. The researcher has to write a proposal comprehensively describing the proposed research, including among other things, the research question, the experimental data to be gathered, what procedures are to be done on the human subjects, how the data is to be analyzed, how the privacy of the research subjects is to be assured, the wording of the consent form that the subjects are to read and sign, etc… It really is a huge undertaking to submit a research proposal to an IRB.

    For the research projects I had done in my residency, I was either able to use data that had already been gathered, or I had been able to piggy-back my project onto an IRB-authorization for an existing project, which was doable because my experiment was completely non-invasive.

    Now that I was a Research Fellow, I would need to secure IRB authorization for my own project, and here, the fun begins.

    My project involved an invasive procedure, i.e. sticking needles into people, so that implied potential risk to experimental subjects, which would be a real concern to the IRB. As I noted above, the IRB wants a comprehensive accounting of the proposed research. My proposal involved rather complex mathematics and signal analysis of the voltage waveforms generated by muscle fibers. I had wanted to get into the guts of this later in my project, but my mentor explained I needed these methods documented up front. So I spent several months doing physics and math, and finally came up with my analysis procedures, and I generated many pages bristling with partial differential equations, vector calculus and complex analysis. I said to my mentor, “C’mon, do I really need to submit THIS? There is no way they’ll make heads or tails of it.” She was adamant it had to be included. The proposal ended up the size of a book, and I finished it, right down to the consent form the subject had to read and sign.

    Well, a month passed, then a quarter passed. Then a year, and there was still no word from the IRB. I was told this was not unusual. But my fellowship was only for 2 years. Finally, with 5 or 6 months left, my proposal was authorized by the IRB.

    I printed off my consent form, and got several subjects, and began collecting data. Then somehow, someone noticed a minor wording difference on the consent form my subjects signed versus the one I submitted to the IRB. It turns out I had printed an earlier draft, and I had tweaked the wording a bit, but forgot it wasn’t the draft I had submitted. BANG! ZOOM! This was a major ethics incident. My mentor said “Stop your work. Grab your lab book, and follow me.” We walked to office of the research director, and the damning evidence of the 2 versions of the consent forms were facing me on his desk. Again, the semantics were obviously identical, just a minor wording change. “Explain this!” I explained how I had mistakenly printed an earlier draft. It was explained to me that I did not use the consent form that the IRB authorized, and that I could not use the data I had obtained under the wrong consent form. Research director: “Hand me your lab notebook.” I did so, he ripped out the contents, and handed me back the blank part. My electronic data would also be erased. As we left his office. My mentor said: “You’re lucky this only is as far as this went. If you learn anything in this program, it’ll be how to stay out of prison.”

    There were only 3 months left in my program, then I got a job offer to join a medical practice on the condition that I start 2 months prior to the formal end my fellowship; I was released and I went. I completed no research whatsoever in my research fellowship, and I was left with a pretty sour taste for science.

    —Lunar Apprentice

  201. @ Irena

    Your point about graduation rates touches on a key dynamic in the rise of the middle class: the middle class wants what the aristocracy at the time have.

    The endless acres of suburban lawns are there because, at the time when the western middle class emerged, the aristocracy had big estates with extensive lawns and gardens kept neat and tidy by an army of servants. So, that’s what the new middle class wanted. Same with education. The middle class wanted to be educated like the aristocracy were. A similar dynamic can be seen in modern China where owning an iPhone has a particular status or in India where wearing jeans and a t-shirt has a particular status. The emerging middle class aspires to whatever they perceive as high status.

    Our lifestyles are simulations of what the artistocracy was doing a hundred years ago. The suburban householder doesn’t have an army of servants so he has the mow the lawn and tend the garden himself all the while wondering why on earth he has to waste his energy on such a seemingly meaningless activity every weekend. Our schools, forced to treat everybody as ‘equals’, end up catering to nobody. The first thing anybody with money does is pull their kids out of said schools and have them ‘properly’ educated. But private schools are just there to play up to the hubris of aspirational parents and have little to do with actually educating the kids.

    We are so obsessed with ensuring ‘equality’ that we forget that it is as unjust to treat unequals equally as it is to treat equals unequally.

  202. Oilman2, American Science & Surplus is my go-to for lab glassware, among many other things — much cheaper than the Big Wet River, and their distillation gear is good standard stuff.

    Augusto, you’re most welcome.

    Walt, thank you! I remembered the book but didn’t recall the title.

    Irena, of course the tech millionaires like to pretend that they’re rugged inventors; roleplaying games are very popular in those circles. 😉

    Simon, glad to hear this.

    Apprentice, typical bureaucracy run amok. I’m reminded again of the way that in France before the revolution, it took forty years of correspondence to get a broken roof tile repaired…

  203. Thanx JMG – I’ll check them out. I use Labcorp mainly because they keep inventory in Texas City – a short drive.

  204. @ Lunar Apprentice….

    Just wondering – did you ever check to see if one of your ‘mentors’ grabbed your work and claimed it as their own? I had that happen to me doing undergrad research – when I got injured at work and had to drop school for a few months.

    It’s also really common in the INC world for your ideas to be shunted aside as ‘impractical’, ‘uneconomic’ or other such BS reasons, and then suddenly appear with differing verbage under the authorship of someone else within that INC. Of course, it is all legal, as the first document set you sign to be employed includes assignation of any and all rights to anything you discover, think or write while you are employed.

    I got drug into court for having uttered a PHRASE in the presence of a former COO once – he claimed the phrase was a critical part of undisclosed IP – which was crap and it got tossed out of court. But then again, I had to go 2 yrs until the 1st court date, where I suggested the ‘confidential IP’ must be entered into the record under discovery – then the case was abruptly dropped.

    There are so very many reasons to work for small businesses or do your own thing – glad you got forced out, you would have been miserable.

  205. Hi John Michael,

    I realise you don’t enjoy visual media, but for some reason whilst reading your essay a memory from my childhood surfaced. It was from the English comedians: ‘The Goodies’, who were contemporaries of Monty Python. And in one truly absurd episode they’d created a nightclub run for, and by, the constabulary which was so exclusive that even Rod Stewart was turned away. Yes, very silly, but they make an excellent point and science has become a lot like that absurdity. Science is not a belief system, it is a set of tools which have been co-opted to look like a belief system. Always a good way to seal the fates.

    Hey, on the other hand I listen to the science hour on the national youth radio down here and it is always interesting as the bloke who has done that show for longer than I’ve listened to the radio station (think since the early 1990’s) answers random science questions from the public for an hour each week. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do that without a lot of responses such as: “That sounds interesting, but I don’t really know” before then getting sacked! 🙂 Anyway, of late he has mentioned that changing one’s life and choices has very little impact upon the amount of energy and pollution per capita, and from some respects he’s correct. However, you don’t have to extend that line of thinking too far to come to the conclusion that to not do so, invites failure – and this possibility is never mentioned.

    The problem with everyone dreaming the same dreams, is that if the dream becomes dysfunctional and maladaptive, well it won’t work and other dreams have to come to the fore. But where are those other dreams I ask you?

    One of the horrific takeaways from The Limits to Growth study (and I read the first edition about four maybe five years ago) was that even if energy and resources were unlimited, decline was baked into the result. Of course I’d love to see the model proven wrong, but so far the steady as she goes and continue on as before model is tracking remarkably accurately.

    Talk of using hydrogen as a fuel source sounds disingenuous to me, but give it a go, and I’ll just keep on plodding along over here on something entirely different.

    Happy Equinox!



  206. @pygmycory #142, currant tomatoes are L. pimpinellifolium, the wild ancestor of the regular tomato. They will cross, with considerable fussing. L. pimp is the source of resistance to late blight, the scourge of tomato cultivation in tricky our maritime climate. I have failed so far at crossing L. pimp into some smaller heritage varieties, but I am getting adult supervision from a subject matter expert this summer.

    Give away those seeds! The see industry is still reeling from everybody and their brother in law taking up gardening last year.

    It is not just seeds that are short. Everything from sausage casings to bicycles is backordered. There is much scope for micro enterprise.


  207. Thanx much, JMG, for the tip on the Wiki entry, esp. about the Smeaton coefficient.
    I’m almost surprised that Wiki did at least some justice, to the way that Langley and the Smithsonian tried to yank the Wrights around.
    It’s a classic story, of how Big Science can try to hog the credit from the deserving Deplorables, to aggrandize itself.
    I must wonder if Langley’s being a Prof. of Astronomy (vs. say, physics) played into any of this.

  208. @Jay #168
    See on pulleys. If your pull is 60 pounds, you will require 300 divided by 60 = 5 times as much rope to lift the weight. Five is the maximum useful number of pulleys before friction defeats you.
    Look up gear ratios. I used to teach it in advanced algebra at the tech school. No calculus required.


  209. And, I quite suspect, that the emergence of Big Media (esp. TV) had much impact, upon the culture’s erection of barriers and prejudices against citizen scientists and basement inventors.

  210. Walt F:


    One of the reasons that beekeepers are like mad scientists is that no matter how much you think you know about bee behavior, the bees will always manage to do something unexpected because they’re smarter than you are.

    We had one hive that started last summer in fine shape: lots of bees, good brood pattern, very nice stores of nectar and pollen, all the stuff you’re supposed to look for. Then during one mid-summer inspection I couldn’t find the queen – if there’s a queen in a hive, I can find her. I didn’t see any worker brood, no drone brood (which would suggest a laying worker bee), nothing. Otherwise the bees were behaving normally so I let them go. Kept checking every two weeks. No queen. No brood. (If there’s a queen in the hive, there will always be brood except for a short spell in late fall/early winter). Yet the population of the hive didn’t seem to be decreasing. Could not understand why. This continued into fall and I assumed that I’d just join this hive with one of the others to overwinter so it would survive.

    Then, in late October, there’s a queen. I have no idea where she came from, I hadn’t seen any queen cells, but it was unmistakably a queen, seemingly out of nowhere. Queens just don’t relocate from other nearby hives either, the resident bees would kill her as an intruder. I ran this by the state bee inspector who happens to live in my tiny village and she was stumped too. So, maybe I don’t know as much about hive dynamics as I thought I did.

  211. I think the field ripe for independent research at this point in history is biotechnology. Formidable tools of genetics are now affordable by just about anyone in the west. The establishment scientists are hamstrung by many layers of regulation. And biology itself is too messy for reductionist approaches to get very far, while tinkering and trial and error have the potential to lead to all sorts of crazy innovations. Lastly the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that even a very mild novel pathogen can drive the worlds economies into the dirt via disfunctional bureaucratic responses. I wonder if the worlds many disgruntled “terror” groups and disaffected individuals were paying attention.

    For me personally my mad scientist type of focus is breeding crops, especially staple crops that can produce without any inputs (no irrigation or fertiliser), especially novel and orphan crops that never took off in the past (often because another crop dominated the ecological niche in the agricultural system first, disincentivising further experimentation). This usually involved wide hybridisation then selecting something promising from the resulting chaos, just like virtually all of our current crops were derived, and even our own species to be fair. Further modification of humans is the big frontier. I wonder if an arms race will emerge with different groups are forced to try to out-evolve each other?

  212. @Rita Rippetoe, I agree with you that science fair participation involving extensive work outside of class time should be voluntary (just as e.g. extracurricular sports should be). But I think you should give the adult science fair judges some slack for failing to notice your (ahem) deliberately faked results.

    One reason is they don’t have time to carefully scrutinize all the details of your project. Here’s an example case in point: in the late 70s I noticed a student’s project in the Math and Computers category presented a formula for generating prime numbers… something number theorists had been searching for since ancient times. I forget what the formula was, but it had one equation that was a function of x and would always generate a prime number, and a second equation that narrowed down which integers you could use for x. That project won a few awards in the category. It seemed odd to me, though, that such a momentous discovery was appearing in a science fair entry rather than in, at least, the general science press. So weeks later, I fiddled around with the formula, and with a couple hours of basic algebra I was able to prove that when you combined the two parts of the formula together, it turned out to be merely a disguised restatement of the definition of a prime number. So the formula was true, in the sense that if you followed it it would generate only prime numbers (just as the definition of prime numbers does: “find integers with no factors except 1 and themselves; they’re the prime ones”). This was easy for the judges to test. But it was not in any way a useful formula for generating or testing prime numbers. (If it had been, whole branches of modern cryptography wouldn’t exist today.) Figuring that part out required those couple of hours of work.

    The other reason is that at the school district or county levels, the judges aren’t expecting results that are consistent with known scientific models. They’re neither astounded nor enraged if a science fair project “proves” that plants grow faster on Tuesdays or “disproves” the laws of thermodynamics. That’s because experimental design and execution to adequately control all the relevant variables in an experiment is really hard, and a high school student generally can’t do it in a spare-time project with improvised equipment. So what they look for is that you clearly stated your hypothesis, took a reasonable stab at carrying out an experiment and collecting data to test it, did a little reading on the general background of the phenomena you’re studying, neatly recorded your data and so forth. They were probably perfectly aware that growing brine shrimp for food protein in fallout shelters was a silly idea, but all the other projects there were equally questionable in one way or another. (And your 8th grade school band probably sounded terrible too, whether you remember it that way or not!)

    They probably weren’t aware you made up all your data, though. They wouldn’t have passed you on if they were. Bu they weren’t likely to (in 1961, with no Internet) go look up brine shrimp growth curves and figure out yours didn’t match, and even if they did that could have been caused by you doing the measurements wrong, or your mother sneaking egg white into the tank to help your project go better, or any number of other things.

  213. Reply #190 from neptunesdolphins says in part,
    “My favorite hobby horse: Neo-Pagans remind me of Babbitts who want to be cranks and Babbitts at the same time. What I have noticed is the Marxist or woke fringes are trying to have them embrace some sort of grand cause like ending racism or something. And this fringe is hectoring them and hectoring them. But the fringe is breaking into little bits as each tries to be purer than the other, and attacking their fellows. Add to that, most of these people are depressed beyond belief.”

    I’ve had contact with and observed the woke fringes by several routes: a) by viewing changes in the content and in the lineup of columnists in a pioneering website of Neopagan news and journalism The Wild Hunt as it passed through the hands of three managing editors; b) controversies over the treatment of several minority groups at PantheaCon and the deplatforming of organizations and individuals from con programs; c) dissension among the membership of the Covenant of the Goddess, an organization of Witches and covens, over whether and how the Covenant issues public statements taking positions on events in the news. The Wild Hunt is carrying on as a magazine of news and commentary for a subset of Pagans who share its interests. The owner of PantheaCon could not satisfy all the stakeholders and closed it down. CoG got a black eye for one statement and lost some members, but regrouped and carried on.

    I agree with neptunesdolphins that demands for purity lead to factionalism and get in the way of keeping an organization going long enough to accomplish anything. Demands for purity IMO only work in single issue organizations that have clear cut real world goals. An organization of that kind requires that members agree with the group’s position on the central issue and work toward achieving the goal. As long as members conform on the axis that is the organizational priority, their differences on everything else are ignored. From what I’ve seen, the woke can’t do this because they have multiple issues.

    I have Neopagan friends and got started on my personal spiritual path in what was at that time a warm, supportive, collegial, and creative Neopagan community. When people rag on Neopaganism and make derisive comments about Neopagans as if they were all alike, I feel defensive for them and myself. I’m far less engaged with it than I used to be, but that’s a normal result of going from being a wide-eyed beginner to an experienced elder. I know more, so I have a basis for being selective about whom and what I spend time on. I guess what I’m saying is that Neopaganism has been around long enough and has grown big enough that it is no longer a community. It’s a fairly chaotic association of groups and spiritual/religious movements with some overlapping ideas and practices and no clear boundaries. It’s not clear to me whether this is a sign of successful growth, like the first few centuries of Christianity, or of decadence and impending collapse, as JMG thinks.

  214. Ahhh, the Edmond Catalog. And, if anyone is interested, Estes has PDFs available of their yearly catalogs going back to the early 1960s. Wow.

    This topic is extremely exciting. I had always heard in my youth that the Soviet scientists weren’t as strict materialists as Western countries were, and would experiment with occult-themed topics. When the USSR opened up, I had hoped to see a stream of bizarre, Soviet-era technology that had to do with the ether. Alas, I never saw any.

    A personal crank-related story: About 1989, out of the blue, I had a dream where George Peppard of the A-Team was flying around in our family’s old, orange recliner. Realizing I could make a fortune with that idea, I asked him how it flew. He told me how to build an antigravity device.

    This impressed me so much that I eventually got a degree in physics. Unfortunately, my physics courses “proved” to me that there was no connection between electromagnetism and gravity, so I shelved my idea. After that disappointment, physics turned out to be a very boring field. The physics majors I knew went into education or programming.

    In the late 1990s, I started listening to Art Bell, and he would interview people like Thomas Beardon and Richard C Hoagland who talked about quaternions, scalar fields and electro-gravitics. This came as a surprise because those topics were never discussed in school. And in the early 2000s, I found an article online that mentioned that many people in the 1980s had had antigravity dreams. I never saved the link and can’t find it anymore.

    I find it strange that I had this dream. I’m not a very productive tinkerer and I’ve always lived in a tiny apartment where there’s no means to set up a shop. If dreams are from the astral plane, you would think it would go to someone with the ability to manifest it into reality, sort of a “like attracts like.”

  215. About high school graduation, back then there were many working class trades, people married early and there was no failure in not completing high school. When I was in nursing school about 25 years ago I had an old man who dropped out at 14 because his father and two older brothers had joined up for WWII. So he supported his family and did put several younger siblings through high school. My grandmother, born 1898, also dropped out at 14 because her father thought she should get a job.

  216. Gnat,

    I guess at this point my blood pressure is not paramount, but I have tried to find natural controls with minimal success. I’d like you to tell me what worked for you. I believe it is safe for you to do so. Just say what you have taken and not give advice.

  217. @BCV Thank you for the info! “pumped storage hydro is in the ballpark of 70 to 80 percent and most of the losses are in the fluid friction, not the motor/generator. Meaning if you pull 100MW-hrs off the grid, you can return 70 to 80 MW-hrs later.” What I have is solar, well, and a 300 foot climb in between. I was going to invest in batteries but this seems like a much better bet!

  218. @BCV Do you have any suggestions on a good gizmo to handle the conversion of water under pressure to electric? Any working plans? I presume this should be done in a pipe (duh, but I don’t want to presume). This would be a residential application – just enough to keep the freezer, lights, computer, and maybe a fan or two going through the night. I’ve got ponds at the top of the hill with fish, which drain to a lower level greenhouse where I am going to do aquaponics. I was going to just drain the water from there to the garden but using it to derive 80% power seems way more clever! I can move the garden to the bottom.

  219. Archdruid,

    What was that line in book of the five rings? Predicting the movement of 10,000 is easier than predicting the movement of 1?

    Also here is another podcast, a strategic discourse on the Mahabharatha. Unfortunately, I cannot transcribe this one because it’s a presentation by a friend of mine.



  220. @SLClaire. I have a biochem degree, but it is so old and disused I am almost embarrassed to mention it (but last year, stuck in Covid, I got into a review mode where I was thinking of going back for a masters in chemistry, and I was pleased how quickly things were coming back to me!)

    If you already have plenty of the right type of rhizobia in your soil then adding more probably won’t help too much. But it all depends if you have the right rhizobia to begin with. There are many different types and bean rhizo is different than pea rhizo…and that is part of what my daughter’s experiment verified.

    It is worth trying to see what happens; It doesn’t cost much. You should only need to do it one year provided you reuse the soil occasionally for the same nitro fixers.

    In my case, I’ve been working on ground which was mined out years ago, and is mostly clay and rock, and looked like the surface of the moon before I started (it looks rather different now). In that case, trying to accelerate secession, not using inoculant is almost like trying to dig without tools. Digging can be done strictly by hand; it is doing things the hard way, for sure.

  221. Simon says,

    “We are so obsessed with ensuring ‘equality’ that we forget that it is as unjust to treat unequals equally as it is to treat equals unequally.”

    What an excellent point!

  222. Chris, I feel that way sometimes when I’m doing Magic Monday — fortunately I can’t be sacked. 😉

    Mouse, it is indeed a classic story, and I was also surprised to see it in Wikipropaganda.

    Zeroinput, I’ve suspected more than once that unless the Long Descent puts biotechnology out of reach in short order, we’re going to see a lot of manufactured diseases and a lot of weird human mutations in the future.

    Jon, hmm! I managed to get by without having an antigravity dream, though I did have a lot of flying dreams during those years…

    Varun, thanks for this. Yes, and of course Musashi was quite correct.

  223. BCV and Greer.
    When I was interning at a factory (that made electric motors) 13-14 years ago, they were just wrapping up a project to replace all the electric motors in the Machine tools (lathes, etc). If my memory serves me correctly, they were upgrading from Motors with an efficiency of around 80 to 88% to Motors in the 98% efficiency range. New motors have very good electrical insulation and are balanced better (less shaking) due to testing equipment that makes it easier to do the balancing.
    Where you’ll get bad efficiency is if you are making resistive heat with electricity. Most gas furnaces are in the 98% range, in turning natural gas into heat in your home.
    Resistive heating is 100% efficiency at turning electricity into heat but you have to run an engine to produce that electricity, there are hard limits with the Carnot cycle about how efficient an engine can be.
    Most efficient coal power plant is 42%.
    Most efficient natural gas power plant is 62%. (combined cycle, burn the gas in a gas turbine to create electricity and then take the heat to boil water and use the steam to power a second bigger turbine).

    … so if you want heat from electricity then resistive heat isn’t a good option. If you are just doing work with the energy, there isn’t a way to avoid Carnot’s law so electricity is a very effective way to move it around a house, workshop, factory etc.
    Heat pumps (i.e air conditioners in reverse) can work well in Temps as low as freezing, by well I mean they can extract 4 times the electrical energy input as heat from the air. Efficiency drops as the temperature drops till they basically act ad if they were resistive heaters (the point at which that happens depends on the equipment).
    If you have the resources for a heat pump and power plant, you can get the following:
    4×42%=168%, 68% more heat than burning the coal directly
    4×62%=248%, 148% more heat than burning the natural gas directly… again above or around freezing.
    Transmission and distribution losses seem to total out around 8%, but getting into the weeds (this will drop all the numbers above by 8%).

    Electric heat is not efficient if you don’t run it through a heat pump.

    Energy storage via inclined rail can work but when I last looked it was the lack of good sites that was the limiting issue much like pumped storage (where there are good sites pumped storage has already been done). The rail project I remember hearing about a few years ago required a pretty modest incline, that may have changed.

  224. I am so thankful for all the resources mentioned here! My little son (age 7) has been obsessed with inventing teleportation since he was 2. I’ve been buying him books on quantum physics.

    Many well-meaning relatives have bought him chemistry sets, literally all of which are about mixing citric acid and baking soda. He told me yesterday “Mama, I wish there were more things in chemistry than acids and bases.” I told him he was in luck, as there are lots more things in chemistry than that, but it was still a sad reflection on the chemistry kits available. I homeschool him, so we have more freedom than most, but it is still hard to find those kinds of resources.

    I’m a millennial and “real” chemistry sets were long gone by the time I was in elementary school. One of my mother’s favorite stories of her childhood in the 60s was of mixing noxious chemicals and inviting her annoying little brother to sniff them and having him pass out.

    May I make the request for recommendations of lively, well-written biographies of these American eccentrics, cranks, and originals? I’d love to incorporate them into our homeschool studies.

    I’m also trying to supply my son with materials to work out his ideas on teleportation, if anyone has recommendations!

  225. Hello Oilman2 (re # 222),

    I detect kindness and concern in your questions. Thank you.

    First, regarding whether my work might have been stolen by my mentor: Short answer- No way. Long answer- I had one and only one mentor. She is world-renowned in the field of electrodiagnostic medicine and neurophysiology, and is a revered teacher and mentor. She never married, and is transparently non-mercenary in her tastes and life-style. She eats, drinks, breaths, lives: Medicine, anatomy, peripheral nerves, electrodiagnostics, teaching. She is righteous in her patient advocacy, and expects as a matter of course her trainees will do likewise. To say she is beyond reproach would not do justice. In another tradition, she would recognized as the Sage or Holy-Woman that she is. To encounter someone like this is life-changing, though I have fallen far short. I think she is disappointed I didn’t pursue research.

    I did publish two papers, the biggie is ‘Measuring sensory nerve action potential electrical power’:, sadly, the link only shows the abstract, and the paper itself will cost you your first-born (paid to the publisher). You might get free access through a library.

    My paper was published in 2010, and has been cited only once, in 2019, by researchers in China. They were working on diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which would certainly be pertinent.

    After graduation, I hired a patent attorney for the procedure outlined in that paper. Within a couple weeks, I received a telephone call from some bigwig in the VA patent section in DC. He interviewed me about my paper, the principles behind it, and whether it had practical or commercial application; I answered ‘yes’. He asked if I was seeking a patent. Me: “umm… yeah.” VA bigwig: “Don’t. Your salary was partly funded through the VA. You did your work in VA facilities, with VA equipment, on VA subjects, and if you examine your residency employment contract, you will see that you have no patent rights for intellectual property developed under the terms of that contract. Do you understand?” Me: “Yes.” ‘Click’.

    As for the proposal that I submitted for my fellowship, I would have had no patent rights under my contract under any circumstances, and I would have been the only person obviously qualified to do the research. Persons with both a BSEE and an MD are rare. Also, my mentor is not only a world renown expert in the field, she is on a first name basis with every published expert in the world. I myself have been to scientific conferences from Washington DC to Anaheim CA, and have met some of these experts, or their senior flunkeys, and interviewed them, and they interviewed me after my presentations. It was obvious they did not have the chops of an electrical engineer reasonably well-versed in signal processing or even analog network theory. Astonishing.

    A representative from my residency informally approached me to signal that I could obtain an assistant professorship if I so desired. I declined, one of reasons being that I would have zero rights to my inventions, and I was feeling my oats at the time. No regrets.

    —Lunar Apprentice

  226. Hi John Michael,

    I get that, but on the other hand, the constant barrage of questions each week hones you like a knife.

    Yikes! Imagine being sacked from your own website. 🙂 I tend to believe that you’d be like a game of ‘whack a mole’, if only because you have a bit of the trickster about you. Wikiboring would bop you on the virtual interweb head, however you’d then simply pop up somewhere else! 😉

    When my lady and I first moved up to this remote locale, we asked all of the old timers we encountered as to how we should use the land and how that might look. Well, what a response. The old timers enjoyed the benefits of flat and fertile land, so no advice was received. In fact the farm was viewed as a risky place to live. Fair enough too.

    We’re not easily daunted though and just implemented systems which we imagined and/or heard about and then observed as to how they worked. Ditch the ones that didn’t work and repeat the ones that did. One of the great things about the current times is that there is enough fat with which to do so. And here’s the thing, after fifteen years we’re getting far better at this stuff and producing more – even in years like this one which by any other name could be described as a: ‘year without a summer’. May you or any of the readers here, never see or experience such a growing season. But here’s the thing, I now know about such a possibility and what to do.



  227. @ gnat #236

    I doubt you could expect 70-80% efficiency for a small-scale hydroelectric setup. Remember the square-cubed law. As you go up in size, the surface area goes down per unit of volume. Since the surface area generates friction in fluid flow, a smaller plant will lose proportionately more energy due to friction than a larger plant.

  228. @ Lunar Apprentice #244

    Well friend, you have then learned that your employment is not merely employment, but actually ownership. Depending on what business you are in, being a “salary man” now means they own your time, own your health decisions, own your ideas, own even the words you utter and even dictate the type of car you may purchase. When people sign the docs casually laid in front of them for a “position” with a Uni or an Inc, they are giving up many possible futures for the one that the employer envisions and is trying to bring into existence.

    As a young man, I did this for “security” for my family. As my kids matured, I was less and less inclined to play the game for the simple reason that the higher you climb, the less of yourself you own. As COO I actually had the owners calling me during my sleeping hours – they simply did NOT care about time differences or much else other than their own wants. And there I was, big shot COO, and actually living with fewer choices than the hourly people working for me…

    I quit that one as you did, not feeling my oats but rather feeling used and so very owned it was painful. I started consulting, and have ZERO regrets. In my former employment, I was not allowed to choose which car to purchase, what clothes to wear, the type of haircut I wore or allowed a set of working hours. I actually envied the hourly people – they had a limit to their ownership, only allowing our employer to rent their skills and time.

    Since we are all allotted a limited amount of time in life, I wish people would see these things when they are young – avoiding some of the soul crushing so prevalent in our mad capitalism.

  229. I love dabbling in the arts of the crank. I am glad that no single obsession has claimed me as its prophet, such cranks seem to have a rough go in life. But have been in the fringes of some current events in mycology, which I hope will soon mature into a tradition for home protein comparable to the keeping of chickens, in terms of cost, protein, and difficulty to learn. The day this was posted I used a stack of magnets, about 60 salvaged resistors, a strip of metal, and a repurposed dc charger for a calculator to revive used Ii-ion batteries to make a cheap ebike power pack. My best work these days is in seed breeding, landrace breeding in the footsteps of gradcrank Joseph Lofthouse.

    On the note of seed breeding there was talk up thread of tomoato breeding, I have several interspecies tomato hybreds, and would gladly send them as genetic material for breeding projects mentioned upthread. Raphanus thinking of you. habrochaites, peruvianum, pimpinellifolium.

    It is a happy, though I fear short lived renesaunce for cranks who have some degree of charisma, there are some pretty cool cranks online getting modest funding from patrion and folks who enjoy their exploits and being a provisional crank donate monthly.

    I could use ideas and help.

    This year I will get to work on a couple passive greenhouses, and closer to my mind at the moment is the idea of mass composting of saw dust. Any times, I frequent a farm across the street from an aspen mill and a dump truck of sawdust can be had for just tall of a franklin. I am trying to figure out the best nitrogen imput (read cheap and no herbacide cotam) to start it breakig down to make top mulch style compost. Also how much I need break it dow before soil nitrogen disruption in a veggie market bed is tolerably mitigated. Much to wonder about.

    Help with ideas about how to compost massive amounds of saw dust for the garden, with the least nitrogen addition possible. Trying to make 50-300 cubic yards of compost

  230. @Justin Patrick Moore

    Thank you for your reply. Yes, analog computers are certainly interesting and could possibly be used for engineering purposes in the far future, provided that they survive the Long Descent.

    As for La Monte Young, thanks for suggesting his name. I hadn’t heard of him before, but I’ll definitely check him out. Although I’m a bit of a purist (I’m against the concept of ‘fusion’ in music, at least as far as Hindustani Classical Music is concerned), I do like some of the songs of ‘The Eagles’, and I think this is worth giving a try.


    Thank you for your reply. I didn’t know about this part of the history of Western Classical Music, but now I’ll definitely check it out, I guess it would be there on YouTube or something. I personally find certain compositions of Chopin as well as those of Tchaikovsky to be very soothing, although I’m not very familiar with the theory behind it.

  231. JMG,

    A wonderful piece, as usual. I’d like to throw two more cranks into the mix.

    One is a woman in Illinois who single-handedly forced the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to acknowledge that human spongiform encephalopathy (essentially mad cow disease) could be passed to humans via consumption of contaminated deer meat from the brain or spinal cord of the animal. She, working alone, identified several deaths from this cause, first and foremost her son’s, after all the doctors kept telling her that his madness and death were the result of drug abuse.

    I read a long, fascinating article about her efforts some years ago, but couldn’t find it now, or anything about her efforts. The Illinois DNR labeled her a crank and a troublemaker, pretty much right up to the day they changed the rules for deer processing so as to minimize the risk to humans.

    The other is me; about 12 or 13 years ago, neuropathy in my feet compelled me to finally just do everything barefoot (I couldn’t find any shoes I could wear comfortably). Lo and behold, the neuropathy went away. So I’m barefoot now all the time, except for wearing flip-flops into businesses or government offices that require shoes. I do everything barefoot, including rehabbing old houses (this includes demolition).

    Each of the three GPs I’ve had since then have seemed fascinated by this tale. Each has said, “Hey, that might be worth some research—no, never mind, no one would do it because there’s no money in it.”

    More interesting to me have been the weird efforts of others—often strangers—to get me to wear shoes. My usual response: “What possible difference could it make in your life if I wear shoes or not?”

    All the best to you and the commentariat,

    – In Free Shoes

  232. Here’s my mad scientist confession. For a long time, I was an apartment dweller and so all my mad science experiments were “internal” (spiritual). Then, after moving into a suburban house, I became obsessed with building and using time machines (in the JMG ‘green wizard’ meaning of the term). Since 2010, I have been maintaining multiple passive solar greenhouses and coldframes and have experimented extensively with fall, winter and spring crops. Each year has its successes, its failures, and its surprises (its also a challenge that no two winters are ever identical). Ontario ain’t exactly the French Riviera (to give a comparable latitude) and so most people can’t imagine that garden vegetables can over-winter; I am happy to dispel that illusion. A fair number of people know of my madness and a few have even been inspired to join me in my eccentric pursuit. I think that as long as I have access to arable land, pieces of wood, plastic sheeting and (every handyman’s best friend) duct tape, I will continue to revel in my mad experiments. I figure that as long as humans need to eat, performing such experiments are worthwhile.

  233. Raphanus, thanks for the suggestions. I’m not sure of the exact genetics of my currant tomatoes – it is possible they might already have some P. solanum DNA. I’ll bear in mind that my project isn’t the easiest first project to pick for crossbreeding, and may well not work out the first time.

    I hope your crossbreeding goes well, and I’d love to hear how it turns out.

    Yeah, the seed situation last year gave me a kick in the pants when it came to seed saving, and to the tomato experimentation last year, since I really needed my seedlings to grow decently as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to buy tomato seedlings if it didn’t work. And then I had all these seedlings, so I gave a bunch away.

    I’d love to start a nursery or seed-breeding operation, but I don’t have the space to start that many seedlings, or the physical strength and stamina to grow enough seed plants to grow seed for sale. Stupid fibromyalgia. Oh well. I can still grow a substantial amount of food for myself, with random extra bits to give away here and there.

  234. @Darkest Yorkshire – what I noticed in that picture was the very heavy lipstick and eye shadow on that little kid with the boyish haircut. WTH?

  235. A title all you scientifically minded gardeners should look for:

    Improve Your Gardening with Backyard Research by Lois Levitan. This was published in 1980 by Rodale (who else?).

    There are plenty of copies available on

    She’s thorough and it’s a good starting point for anyone interested in keeping track of what they’re doing and the results thereof.

  236. “Describe the battle of Quebec.”


    Easy peasy.

    We should probably all print the test and keep it in a safe place. It can serve as an initial guideline when we have to restore western civilization.

    —Lady Cutekitten

  237. @Beekeeper, that’s quite a mystery. As you say, it’s impossible for an outside queen to move in like that, but it’s also impossible for the population to sustain for months through mid to late summer without brood, so I have to think those two impossible occurrences are directly related to one another. I can only imagine there must have been some unusual interaction with a second hive, a relationship that could be as rare as, for instance, identical twins are for humans.

    Fascinating stuff. I hope my new girls behave by the book, at least until I get some practice with the basics. But they probably won’t.

  238. Gnat @ #236 – oooh, practical energy-math problem! Just remember that you’re turning potential energy (water at a height) into kinetic energy. No pipes or other complexities required to understand the basic problem.

    One horsepower (which converts to 746 watts) is defined as raising 550 lbs. one foot in one second. Let that same 550 lbs. (of water?) descend one foot in one second, rig it up so that the rope holding the weight pulls on a mechanism driving a generator, and you’ll get your Horsepower back (minus any frictional and conversion losses, which if you’re not careful can be substantial.)

    You say you want to power minimal things in your house overnight (freezer, computer, and so forth.) Let’s keep it simple (though it’s not nearly so simple: startup loads, for instance.)

    All right, let’s assume you want a constant flow of 300 watts, for twelve hours. Hitching up our imaginary horse, and factoring in the 80% conversion efficiency, you’ll need a continuous load of water impelling on or otherwise driving your generator of sufficient weight to produce the power needed.

    Easy peasy. Let’s stipulate the water velocity is 10 feet per second, contained in a pipe so you process ALL of the water weight through your generator. Yes yes, pipe sizing for minimal friction loss, Reynolds Number for gosh sakes, but hand-wave away such complexities (we already hand-waved away startup loads, after all.) At 10 FPS, you’ll need to process this much water per second: 300 watts / 80 % (0.8) says you need 375 watts worth of water. Call it 0.5 HP. Since we made velocity 10X, we can see that you’ll need about 27 pounds of water every second. “A Pint’s A Pound The World Round!”, my chem teacher in High School used to chant. So ~27 pints, times 60 seconds per minute, times 60 minutes per hour, times twelve hours. That’s about 145,000 gallons of water. Very rough figures, but definitely in the ballpark (reality is likely worse.)

    A large backyard pool holds about 30,000 gallons of water.

    Oh yeah; remember you have to pump all that water back uphill every day, at ~80% efficiency.

    The higher the pool is above your generator, the less water you’ll need. Basic potential energy.

    Conclusion: grid-supplied electricity is REMARKABLY inexpensive!

    Bonus info: I have a big LiFePO4 battery that I use to accumulate photovoltaic solar power into, so we can recharge our electric bikes when camping without access to grid power. For the roughly 4500 watt-hours needed for your house overnight, you’d need about seven of those 70-AH batteries. That’s about $4600 worth of batteries, and if you’re really nice to them you’ll need to replace them every six to ten years. Still, $800/year looks a lot cheaper than the water-storage options!

    Thanks so much, oh wise Archdruid, for this forum. Signed: A good-natured crank, going back to his solar-powered bike calculations, cackle cackle hee-hee! 🤓

  239. Breanna, some reasonably safe things your son could do are electrochemistry experiments, starting with the humble potato battery and moving onto electroplating things (which is kind of like teleporting metal from one place to another…). You may not be able to find a kids chemistry set that does it (metals that aren’t safe to eat, electricity and water?) but all the materials for electroplating are readily available, although perhaps only in annoyingly-large quantities.

    Pop bottle rockets (using water and compressed air from a bike pump) are another criminally underrated fun science thing: You can launch multiple times, and if you push the pressure too high on the launch pad there is a safe but satisfyingly loud explosion.

  240. Wel, that didn’t look too encouraging, but it might work. This is from the original attempt.
    (I am severely computer challenged)

    I DON’T KNOW IF THIS PHOTO WILL “TAKE” or not. I have been working on ornithopter much of my life. Here is a “wind tunnel” attempt many years ago. It includes the inner wings equipped with a leaf blower to test a circulation controlled airfoil. It failed, I survived, the neighbors were amused.

  241. @Beekeeper #228

    What might have happened is a virgin left a near by hive to go on her mating flight. When she returned she accidentally went into the queen less hive. Virgins at that point give off no pheromones. Then she just started laying eggs and everyone was happy. I have had a similar thing happen in my queen raising hives.

  242. Martin, thanks for writing. I have no idea what a posting service is, let alone how to use one. If the above attempt doesn’t work I will write it off as a bad job.

  243. Heh-heh-heh… thanks for the link to TV Tropes. I checked out Real Life after checking out literature, and the prize gem was “Elon Musk has reached Memetic Badass status for his mad sciencing, having built and sold a (not a) flamethrower for the hell of it and shooting his car into space just to prove what the Space-X rocket was capable of. And this is only a few specific examples. A common joke is he’s allowed to do what he wants out of fear he’ll turn into The Green Goblin if anyone tries to stop him. Granted Musk isn’t directly involved in most of the research and inventions conducted by his companies and is more of a mad “investor” than a scientist, but the internet simply doesn’t care. “

  244. For fellow cranks out there, two generally reasonably priced sources that I have used for my mad scientist experiments are Surplus Center ( for mechanical and hydraulic parts and components and Digi-Key ( for electronic components.

  245. @JMG if you have a chance to send the PO Box for the Rhode Island lichenological research society to my inbox at, I’m sure the Nefertiti Ltd labs would be happy to send you materials to help with your research (and we don’t want any trouble like last time) 😉

  246. I’m seeing a lot of crackpottery (is that a word? If so, let the cracks be filled with gold, like Japanese kintsugi.) in the archaeology arena. Graham Hancock was persona non grata for several decades, along with Andrew Collins and probably a good hundred more people. But the crackpots really have changed our view of the ancient world. From what I understand, many younger archaeologists and anthropologists have no trouble theorizing about Atlantis. Or at least they don’t get hysterical over the idea.

    Randall Carlson has been researching Atlantis since the 1970s and he’s gotten Michael Shermer, the skeptic, to admit that there probably was a meteor that hit the earth about 10,500 BC. That’s a big start. His podcast, Kosmographia, dives deep into geology. His debate along with Graham Hancock vs Shermer was done on a Joe Rogan podcast.

    Has anyone ever read John Michell’s books? The View over Atlantis is a classic in the field.

    I really don’t think archaeology would be as advanced today if it hadn’t been for the crackpots.

  247. Shark Tank is a showcase of crank inventions. Here is a list of all pitches that resulted in commercial products:

    Virtually all are niche consumer products. Most pitches do not result in a product including those where deals were made but subsequently terminated during the due diligence review.

    The inventors are screened to ensure only those who can provide an entertaining pitch make it on-air. I wonder how many good ideas were not considered because the inventor was not sufficiently telegenic.

    US patent activity is high but I could not find data on the fraction filed by cranks.

  248. @Ray #249, thank you very much, I would be delighted. My email is handle below 2013 notorious symbol notorious gmail.

    Small world. I met Joseph Lofthouse some years ago at the Organic Seed Alliance biannual Do in Corvallis. Very Nice guy. I knew him by reputation, for his Astronomie Domine corn breeding project, in which he crossed dozens, uh, many, who knows how many, heritage corn varieties to back breed to a landrace. He gave me a packet, and I gave him my Racing Stripe Cabbage, a similar mad science endeavor. I spent eight years selecting it from a wide cross for deeply saved blue green leaves with a magenta racing stripe, wonderful delicious broccoli florets, and bullet proof tolerance of brutal backyard organic gardening.

    I have a dozen packets of Racing Stripe Cabbage left from 2013, the last year I got a good seed harvest before going off a different tangent. Any of the commentariat who would like some are welcome to contact me at the above email. I may have another harvest this fall, as an overwintered mother cabbage is a flourishing a small tree, and I plan to plant her suitors around her for the pollinators.

    Happy gardening,


  249. @bryanlallen I love that so much that I am borrowing parts of it the next time that I am looking for a really mind cooking illustration of the second law of thermodynamics (you can’t break even.)

    Actually, small scale hydropower works very well when it works, which is all about geography. Long ago, I did a survey for a microhydro project using a rivulet, not even a stream. There are some heuristics which I forget, something like 200 feet of head (elevation drop) and so many gallons per minute minimum flow to make the micro Pelton wheel work. The flow is easily measured with a homemade weir. It was a seasonal stream, so no fish to return and try to spawn, and it had a good drop. The Pelton wheel turns and that mechanical energy of rotation drives an alternator. When the stream is running, it produces so much electricity that you have to have some standby loads to absorb the juice and prevent the system from burning up.

    Then the state of Washington outlawed harnessing even tiny fish free rivulets for power.

  250. David, interesting. Of course it’s getting the electricity in the first place that’s a huge efficiency sink due to thermodynamic limits; if someone can figure out a way to get from chemical energy directly to electricity without having to take it through a heat engine in the middle, that would help!

    Breanna, if your son doesn’t yet have a white lab coat, get him one! A budding mad scientist like that deserves encouragement. I don’t have any suggestions for resources on teleportation, but I’m sure he’ll need to know electronics, and I had enormous fun in my misspent youth with one of those electronics kits that has dozens of components that you can wire together however you want and hook up to a battery. Something like that might be worth considering. (The same firm also has microscopes, telescopes, build your own radio controlled black widow spider kits, and more; I was pleased to find that there are still fun kits in the world.) As for bios of cranks, I wish I knew of some. Anyone else?

    Yorkshire, let me see if I can grab that…

    Sara was delighted by your second comment; she’s a Gunnerkrigg Court fan too.

    Chris, one of the reasons I left Blogger behind and started blogging on a paid site is precisely to keep from being sacked by my own site! Good to hear that you’re handling a difficult year well.

    Helix, when I tried it, the link on that site doesn’t take you to the 1912 test, but to some kind of fingerprint exam. Here’s a link to the original.

    Viduraawakened, well, then we’re even, because I know very little about classical Indian music!

    Bart, many thanks for this! Going around barefoot worked for Johnny Appleseed, so I’m not surprised it works for you, too. As for the weird reactions of others, no surprises there. You should hear the frantic responses I get when people find out I haven’t owned a television in my adult life and wouldn’t take one as a gift.

    Ron, huzzah! I’m delighted to hear this.

    Ecosophian, thanks for this. Too fun.

    Michael, nope — you can’t post it to your email account, because that’s password protected. It needs to go someplace that’s set up to allow other people to access images online — for example, an account on

    Honyocker, thanks for both of these.

    Pixelated, duly forwarded.

    Jon, this is very good to hear. Anyone who’s noticed that global sea level spiked up sharply at the beginning of the Younger Dryas climate period, which oddly enough is right around when Plato dates the sinking of Atlantis, has no good reason to dismiss the Atlantis legend. As for John Michell, I own nearly every book he wrote; the original The View Over Atlantis with the Roger Dean cover illustration has been a fave of mine since I first read it in the mid-1970s. Heck, I’m going to post the cover here out of sheer nostalgia…

    Patient Observer, thanks for this.

  251. @Theresa #256 Thank you for that. I really should be more organized about note keeping.

    @pygmycory #254 No worries, turning a successful hobby into a small business is among the known ways to make yourself miserable. You may find that you hit a sweet spot in the informal economy, just trading tomato starts for this and that and goodwill and neighborhood street credentials.

    @Ray #249 Mushrooms. Aspen sawdust is high in nitrogen already. Spread out the truckload into a thick mat, wet it thoroughly, seed with garden oyster mushroom spawn or used garden oyster substrate (if you live near a mushroom farm), and cover with a plastic tarp. You will have to experiment with pile thickness, location, when to remove the tarp so that the mushrooms can fruit into air, etc. The mushrooms will break the whole thing into compost and give you an edible harvest as well.

    We ran an impromptu experiment some years back. It became fashionable for hay growers in Eastern Washington to use an herbicide called aminopyralid. The year after it came into widespread use, we bought ten tons of dairy compost to start a community garden on a former city lawn. Everything shriveled, turned brown and died. Seems aminopyralid persisted after going through the cow and sitting in a pile composting for over a year.

    Alison Kutz (brilliant woman, she’s a bug broker, see her website for beneficial insects at divided the space into seven sectors and invited various purveyors of remediation methods to treat six of the sectors. One was left untreated as a control. There were five sure fire commercial treatments and the local mushroom grower, who just dumped a bunch of used garden oyster substrate (sawdust with mycelium, a by product of commercial production) on his sector. I watched it over the next year. Within a couple of months, it was clear that some of the treatments were doing something and that the mushroom treated sector was outperforming them all. The control sector was just as miserable looking as before. By the next year, the mushrooms had invaded the whole area. We plowed it up and planted the garden.

    The toxic compost story is here:


  252. Walt, I picked up a lot of 2nd-hand knowledge about bees, because my dad kept them, and I can’t figure out what happened either. If you ever figure it out, let us know. I have read about very rare instances of laying workers laying females. Don’t remember whether the species was apis mellifera, but even if you had a laying a. mellifera worker with pretensions to royalty, the bees certainly wouldn’t stop at only making one queen—there’d be evidence of other princesses that had pupated. And it sounds like it happened outside mating season, so if Ms. Mystery did come to life that way, how’d she get bred?

    Maybe you have a hive full of practical jokers. Go out there at night, when they’re all there, and see if you hear tiny giggles.

    For at least 50 years, There was a glass-walled observational beehive at the old Columbus, Ohio, Center Of Science and Industry. Many generations of bees came from that hive. When little Sonkitten wanted to go, we’d make a day of it, and when I needed a rest I’d sit and watch the bees while he bustled around. I used to wonder if Her Majesty ever got bored hanging out in the hive day after day after day, laying egg after egg after egg.

    Sadly, the bees were re-settled in the late 20th or early 21st century, I forget which, when COSI got a fancy new building and “improved” the museum greatly by taking out 90% of what had been interesting, in favor of vast empty spaces. And that was before Woke. So if anyone visits Columbus, skip COSI and go to their zoo.

  253. @Ron #268 Scandinavia was under a mile of ice until the Younger Dryas. After the ice melted, central Sweden was underwater until isostatic rebound pushed it above sea level, even as those sea levels rose. Nobody has any problem believing this any more. Why should it be unreasonable that an archipelago in mid-Atlantic Ridge, at a lower latitude than Sweden, should have to sink a mile as the rebound pushed Scandinavia up over a mile?

  254. @Raphanus

    I’ve recently planted out my very first cabbages in some new terraced beds, and apart from growing mustard and cress on a moist flannel over half a century ago that’s pretty much my total experience in gardening. So your comment which I mistakenly read as “as an overwintered mother cabbage is a flourishing in a small tree” is making me think of a cabbage roosting in the branches of a nearby oak. Could you explain?


    I don’t get out much, particularly this last year. I have many acquaintances but only know a few people intimately – so reading through your essay again this morning has finally surfaced the thought that’s been niggling away at me all week. I currently have about 4 ongoing experiments aimed at improving my personal life and health. I’m the direct subject in two of them.

    The people you describe have produced interesting new stuff in a big and overt way and that is obviously unusual. But I thought though that the origin of this, the urge to make daily tweaks to simply try and improve daily life was a commonplace, almost a universal urge. The conclusion I’ve taken from what you’ve written is that not only is this is far from universal, but that it is somehow currently suppressed? I’m sitting here in a state of culture shock. Again.

  255. Patricia M, I think it only looks strange because of the context. If you said the girl was a 1980s New Romantic, neither the hair or makeup would look odd. You just don’t expect someone building a robot in 1970s Russia to look like that. 🙂

    Maybe it was some kind of artistic convention, or the artist was making a point. But cosmetics were one of the few things that were allowed to be advertised in the USSR, and they had a variety of youth cultures: So it doesn’t seem unreasonable.

  256. Ok, there are chemistry and electricity posts here a-plenty, and I am delighted to see so many cranks busily turning! 🙂

    However, it strikes me forcefully that no one has (yet) discussed the connections between electronics, chemistry and biology that are contained in the phrase “Illness, [Leach] argued, was a result of bad dietary habits that acidified the blood”.

    pH is basically a measure of the degree to which an aqueous solution can ionise – when it ionises with a surplus of H+ (protons) it is called an acid, when it ionises with a surplus of OH- (hydroxide ions) it is called alkaline. Please note that a hydroxide ion can be seen (in water) to act as a proxy for an electron donor. In this way it can be understood that an acid is a proton donor, an alkaline an electron donor, and the relationship between the two – and especially the way in which ionisation can provide the electrical “force” to drive living processes which we collectively call metabolism, is going to determine a great deal of what can take place within a living cell.

    Certainly, to talk of “acidification of the blood” is way too simplistic – because exchanges between positive and negative ions are continually occurring everywhere in the body. Still, if you begin to read up on microbiological ways to discuss “the body electric” (eg. “electron transport chain” “proton motive force” “proton pumping” and “ion gradients”) you can see that the idea that acid/alkaline balances are critical to health, especially at the cellular level, is not really as “cranky” as all that. 🙂

  257. A lot of people say they started reading Gunnerkrigg Court at a difficult time in their lives and it helped them get through it. Now there’s a joke that it’s been running so long, some people are on to their second or third difficult time. 🙂

  258. @ michael clark #264

    Please don’t give up. I’d love to see a photo of the ornithopter.
    If you have a Google account you already have a free hosting service. Assuming you have Gmail:
    1. From Gmail, click on the top right Apps icon (the one with nine dots).
    2. Scroll down till you see the propeller icon for Photos. Click on it.
    3. A new tab will open up. At top right click on “Upload”.
    4. A menu will pop up. Click on “Computer” (assuming the photo is on your hard drive).
    5. File Explorer will open up. Choose your image and click “Open”
    6. The photo will upload. You might have to make an album.
    7. At the top left of the page click on “Photos”. You should see your photo.
    8. Right-click on your photo and click on “Save link as…”
    9. Save the link to your next comment.
    (Done on a Windows 10 laptop using Firefox. Details may vary on other systems.)

    Your comment, to prove it can be done:

  259. I followed the link to, browsed around a bit, and noticed a title “The Sinclair Story”. It’s a biography (from 1985) of Clive Sinclair, who I’d say qualifies as something of a crank. I’ve owned a couple of his little computers, sold around 1980, but 20 years earlier, he was editing a radio magazine and selling radio kits. *Coincidentally*, his first corporation was named “Sinclair Radionics”, and his entry in some business directory describes him as a circuit designer… and also interested in telepathy. He was writing pamphlets about DIY radio circuits by age 20, and selling kits shortly afterward. His “edge” to get into the electronics business, at the dawn of the transistor age, was to buy production lots of “worthless” transistors (because they didn’t meet the intended specification), test them to derive a specification that they DID meet, and design circuits that would work with the transistors he had. And, of course, he seemed to have a gift for writing advertisements that sold the products.

  260. Potential “cranks” interested in indoor agriculture finally have good light sources, in the form of LED grow-lights, which tailor the light spectrum to the frequencies absorbed by chlorophyll and are efficient enough not to burn the plants when placed very close. I’ve tried to use ordinary shop-lights for early season seed starting, but the plants always grew too tall and fragile, but this year, I’m using a 24″ dual-strip LED light ($45, at my local non-endorsed national home-improvement chain store), and they’re looking much better.

    Another significant improvement I’ve noticed recently is the availability of double-wall polycarbonate greenhouse (or cold frame) roofing panels. $80 for a 4’x8′ sheet (at some of the same chain stores). Here in mid-Maryland, I have kept cold-tolerant greens (kale, spinach, parsley, celery) safely through the winter in my cold frames. I first tried to use discarded home windows, but water collected at the wooden frames and they rotted. A 4×4 panel is easily handled and stored in the off-season. I recommend sealing the open edges with aluminum foil adhesive tape (used in HVAC systems, not to be confused with silver-colored fabric “duct tape”).

  261. Speaking of LED lighting… if “indoor agriculture” is (as claimed to be) financially feasible at industrial scale, then it should be economically feasible for apartment dwellers to replace purchased salad greens (and perhaps other foods) with home-grown. While you wouldn’t have the economies of scale of a large operation, the “waste” heat produced by the lighting would simply offset one’s ordinary heating expenses (in the months when heat is needed), and the few minutes of daily labor tending the crops could be “charged to the recreation/meditation account”. The cost of regulatory compliance, which industrial food producers bear, would vanish with home consumption (and informal sharing with the neighbors).

    A couple of cautions, though. When I had a greenhouse with tomatoes, white flies eventually infested the place. It’s bad enough when they’re in your greenhouse, probably worse when they’re in your dining room. I discovered aphids on the 2″ kale plants under the lights; I assume that they hitched a ride back indoors after a set the plants outside on a warm, sunny winter day. A 12-month growing season indoors means that there’s never an off-season to knock down the pests, and no access by predators that might help. (You could bring in ladybugs, I guess, but you might not appreciate their explorations of the rest of the house.)

    You’ll also need to manage soil fertility. Use too much fertilizer, and you’ll spend too much and you’ll over-fertilize your waste stream (it has to go somewhere, right?). Not enough fertilizer, and your yields won’t cover costs (and/or you go hungry). With improperly balanced nutrients, you can achieve the worst of both cases! So, a good opportunity for agro-crankism is DIY soil nutrient analysis. Throw in some “soil-anti-nutrient” analysis too, such as salt and other likely contaminants.

    So, have at it, micro-scale urban farmers!

  262. Ray Wharton,

    This winter I have been experimenting with keeping around 100 chickens in a 20×36’ passive greenhouse. Before they were moved inside in mid-December, the earthen floor was covered with a deep litter of leaves and aged wood chips (both obtained for free from local sources) to a depth of about 12-18”. From what I have read, people do use sawdust as the high-carbon material in such deep litter systems, although it can have a tendency to become anaerobic as it compacts more. The nitrogen source was of course the chicken poop, and was absorbed by the high-carbon litter materials, with oxygen being added by the chickens’ constant scratching. It did not smell at all like a typical chicken coop might, from unabsorbed nitrogen generating ammonia – in fact, people would visit and we would go and hang out inside the greenhouse, because it was such a pleasant environment! I noticed some heat being generated by the composting pile, and the ground beneath the litter didn’t freeze, so the chickens were able to scratch and find various organisms to eat. The chickens have generally been happy all winter, keeping up their laying to almost the same levels as they had been while out on pasture (85% and higher). My plan now is to turn the chickens back outside in the next few weeks, add a bit more water to the material in the greenhouse and let it break down a bit more for another month or so, but then just push back the mulch from the rows and start planting into the soil (not lettuce or greens but mostly heat-lovers that will not be directly in contact with the ground). It’s still an experiment in progress as I’m not sure how the plants are going to grow – if the deep litter will be too ‘hot,’ if the wood chips will need more nitrogen to break down and pull from the soil etc. but I’m optimistic that it’s going to work well.

    Not sure if that fits in with what you are doing but thought I would put it out there as something to think about.

  263. Related I think. I just ran across this video from Prof. Becky and find it both humorous and ironic. Some astrophysicists are proposing something that would confirm what astrologers have known for millennia.

  264. @BryanLallen…RE: calcs…

    For us here on the farm, we ran head on into the battery cost issue. As we tried and tried, it became apparent that the battery cost issue was far larger than we had anticipated. And the charge controllers simply do not handle surges well at all. The costs just seem to multiply with complexity, so we scrapped the idea of having viable power off grid and maintaining status quo – just too much added expense.

    We use PV juice, but only maintain 12V batteries with local chargers for : slow transfer of water during the daylight hours, 12VDC lighting in barns, and powering drip irrigation (applying small head pressure to the sand filter)

    For everything else we have opted to maximize efficiency and continue with line power. Backup is diesel running low RPM generator setup for freezers and fans, and finally propane for heating.

    As with many, many ‘green’ ideas, when the rubber meets the road, fossil fuel wins every time. My eyes glaze over now when I stumble across articles about government legislating EV – already kicked a Prius to the curb when the battery pack got tired. Green energy indeed.

    Needless to say, your post was enjoyable to me…

    Well, it’s a gorgeous day here, so we are off to sample the wares of a not-quite-open meadery a ways down the road. We are driving my F-250 farm truck as diesel is now selling cheaper than gasoline where we are, and that beast has 300k miles on it at 20 years of age…

  265. Ray Wharton, I understand urine is a great nitrogen source. If you don’t have someone in your life who will complain, you could try adding that to the sawdust. It’s quite concentrated, I guarantee you have a source, unless you’re ill it’s supposed to be pretty near sterile, and it’s free.

  266. Ray Wharton,
    thank you for the offer of tomato seeds. I think I’m not really at a skill level yet where this would be productive. The things I have access to here are more than enough for me to play with for now.

    I’m also not sure how sending seeds across international borders works. I’m in Canada, are you in the USA?

  267. I just finished rereading In The Country of the Blind, including his appendix on cliology. I remember trying to tease something out of it I could make clear, concrete sense of, Now, I realize that “mean time to failure” and “Falling off the plateau” is basically The Long Descent in statisticianese. He only gave rough dates for future events once, saying the next outburst of “slave revolts/race riots” was slated for ~2010. Can anyone who’s been following the growing outcry against racial profiling and police shootings/beating/etc argue against that date?

    I did try to trace the “6 generations” (or was it 5?) between the introduction of a meme and the beginnings of the reaction against it. Let’s say a meme about being good citizens of the centralized nation began in Teddy Roosevelt’s day – the Progressive Era – flowered in the Social Gospel movement, which was implemented by FDR. The murmurings against it began with the proto-hippies of my own cohort, flowered in the ’60s and ’70s, implemented in the Greed is Good Reagan era…. yeah, his timing is dead on.

    and we, of course, are the beginnings of the revolt against the Meme of Progress.

    What I’ve just outlined is actually a capsule overview of what I, along with my near-future characters, have been calling The Crazy Century. SO Flynn was onto something for sure.

  268. @Darkest Yorkshire – thanks! NOT my view of “Russian youngsters in the ’70’s” for sure! Tripped over my own Ninotchka stereotype, I did.

  269. @Raphanus

    Regarding: the mushroom experiment

    Yes, mycoremediation is a promising and low cost pollution remediation technology. I have some books (PDFs, that is) on the same, which I can give you if you want. While it isn’t a ‘magic bullet’ solution that will allow us to keep polluting, it’s by far one of the most interesting and low-tech, low-cost options for cleaning up soil polluted with heavy metals, for instance. Certainly a technology worth preserving through the Long Descent…

  270. @Raphanus, Stefania, et all.

    Oysters to repair damage from aminopyralid is tantalizing. I’ve lost, and known many others to lose much to that devils blight. I’ve dabbled in oyster mushrooms before, and am thinking how I might, with my janky means scale up the production of spawn for a initial treatment of the saw dust. It occures to me that there could be a golden opertunity i the following tactic: get aspen shavings let mycelium have a go at them, if I can get mushrooms to fruit all the better, but I won’t count on it as in my dry dry climate they need loving to fruit which I am not likely to have time for. Though maybe after removing the opaque plastic I could set up a argibon tent to hold in enough humidity? Anyway, mushrooms would be a bonus, but not the point. Get an aspen mycelial mat, then lasaginia onto it the abundant supplies of manure I can access which is suspected of aminopyralid contamination. The surge of nitrogen will likely cause it to compose outside of the oysters niche, but in the mean time maybe the mushrooms could degrade the poison. Or the other way, put down the manure, then grow the oyste mat over it, when they are spent mix it all up and get finished compost in a jiffy?

    I just need a lazy way to scale up the spawn, and I ain’t sure of the reliabulity of the means I know of.

    Concerning the chickens, the farm I frequent is scaling up their chickens, and setting up net fencing to move them around. One notion is that each year we sheet mulch with saw dust a potato patch, a couple thousand square feet, 6 inches deep. As long as the saw dust ain’t mixed into the soil it shouldn’t ruin the soil. Idea, set up the chicken tracter on the used potato patch next winter, let them scratch poo into the saw dust, and thereby begin accelerating the decomposition of the saw dust in situ. Might scale up to 40 chickens this season, and if we don’t hit road blocks 100 after that. Mostly wanting the manure, eggs and meat are just bonus.

    Dang about that mushroom idea, that sounds so interesting, and I am already neck deep on experiments, to the point I am wary that I should try another so bold this season. Yet that is ver very interesting. Hmm, if I can scale up some spawn with out terrble fuss that would be glorious.

  271. Martin, thanks. Nothing works. I am gyrogearloose49 (at) hotmail (dot) com, send me an e-mail and I can send you the picture.

  272. Raphanus,
    I just realized that I’d mangled the scientific name of tomatoes. Lycopersicon is tomato, Solanum is potato and eggplant! Oops. It isn’t the things you don’t know, it’s the things you think you know that ain’t so…

  273. Adwelly, a lot of people still tinker with things in their daily life, but I get the impression that especially among the comfortable classes, it’s become much rarer — you’re supposed to do what your physician and the media tell you, without question, and stop with that. Yes, it makes me shake my head too.

    Scotlyn, interesting. The macrobiotic diet theory I was into in my late teens was very much into paying attention to the (notional) acid-alkaline balance of the blood and the body fluids generally; the claim was that yin foods made your blood acid, yang foods made it alkaline, and a proper balance (3/5 yang, 2/5 yin) kept your blood within the healthy range. So Leach’s theory seemed very familiar to me!

    Yorkshire, hmm! I’ll pass that on.

    Lathechuck, thanks for the heads up! If I’d known about I’d forgotten about it. As for the grow lights, glad to hear it.

    Peter, do you know if there’s a transcript? I dislike watching videos.

    Patricia M, I’ll have to have a look at it.

    Oilman2, no doubt. I look forward to seeing what happens when vast numbers of electric cars hit the roads in the US and everyone discovers there isn’t enough electricity to charge them without causing repeated blackouts and brownouts.

  274. Of course it’s getting the electricity in the first place that’s a huge efficiency sink due to thermodynamic limits; if someone can figure out a way to get from chemical energy directly to electricity without having to take it through a heat engine in the middle, that would help!

    A system that continuously converts chemical energy directly into electricity is a fuel cell. Just as with burning fuel to run a generator, the conversion process produces waste heat. Fuel cell efficiency is higher than a internal combustion engine/generator, roughly 50% rather than roughly 25%. There are more efficient ones that capture more of the waste heat (up to 80% efficient overall), making them (of course) also more complex and expensive.

    Converting chemical energy into electricity is also what a battery does when it’s discharging. Losses during battery charge/storage/discharge cycles depend on the kind of battery and how fast they’re charged or discharged. Lead acid batteries are about 85% efficient and most other types are better than that. That’s in terms of electricity in to electricity out, rather than chemical energy in to chemical energy out. (Why the difference, when It’s stored chemical energy in both cases? That’s kind of hard to explain, but basically there are different kinds of chemical energy involved. The chemical potential energy in the electrochemical reagents in a typical battery is closer to being electricity but is less energetic than the chemical potential energy in the covalent bonds that gets released in combustion.)

    A fuel cell that you can also recharge with electricity (regenerating the fuel by putting electricity in) is called a flow battery. Those are mostly experimental. There’s a ferrous chloride (“all-iron”) flow battery design that might prove useful situationally, and could possibly be built for a home-use scale (there’s nothing frighteningly toxic, combustible, or fragile about it) but there’s no sign of such a version on the market any time soon. The claimed cycle efficiency is about 70%, which would be fine where the purpose is storing excess power (such as, from the peak output of a solar array or wind turbine) that would otherwise be wasted. It’s too heavy (per kWh stored) to use for electric vehicles, and the home off-grid market probably isn’t lucrative enough to drive a major R&D effort.

  275. Since electric cars are mainly charged at night when there’s plenty of power available, the utilities would be delighted to see many more electric vehicles on the road. Ideally they would like to keep their plants running 24/7 at constant load and the additional night charging is a step towards that.

    I’m pretty sure that eventually everyone will be on time-of-use electricity rates, and you will be able to sell your car’s stored electricity at good prices at peak hours, and buy it back cheaply overnight.

  276. Will Oberton:

    Thanks for that, it’s the best, most logical explanation I’ve heard yet. A virgin queen happening upon a queenless hive at just the right moment would be rare occurrence, but certainly fortuitous!

  277. JMG, in the spirit of cranky garden projects, I have enlisted the help of my electronically gifted brother to build a couple of earth pipes. I sent him the diagram of the Quantum Field Broadcaster I found, which looked very complete to me, but he wants to know how many wraps of wire are used around the crystal and in the several other coils. If I may asked, how many coils did you use when you made yours?
    Thanks much

  278. My undergraduate adviser at MIT was John King, who was a mad scientist in a prestigious institution. He is best known for an experiment demonstrating that the charge of the electron is the same as that of the proton, to one part in 10^26 or so. I was trying to make a certain no-optical microscope in his lab. Lately I’ve gotten interested in the theoretical possibility (in general relativity) that there are certain parts of our universe where time is no different than space and what the experimental consequences might be. One such is that gravity waves could be emitted from the boundary between the two regions. Also maybe this has something to do with certain states of consciousness or energy that have been speculated on by yogis and mystics, accessing a supposedly timeless domain. So I just wrote Rainer Weiss , who was John King’s colleague and a Nobel prize recipient for designing the first gravity wave detector that actually measured gravity waves (another mad scientist), if he could recommend an antenna design.

  279. Bike tinkerers may find opportunities to make money in the bike industry at the moment. It sounds like the bike boom that started last spring isn’t dying down, and shops are having major supply chain issues and getting totally run off their feet trying to meet demand.

    It occurs to me that a spike in oil prices in the near future, if that happens, is going to meet large numbers of people who now have bicycles and have some idea of how to use them.

    I have a feeling that everything related to bicycles may be a genuine growth industry for the near and mid-term. I’m watching this space with interest.

  280. adwelly – Re: those who don’t tinker… I was once married to a young woman who complained about various discomforts. I suggested that she try making some changes to what she ate, and take note of the results. She was HORRIFIED! You might have thought that I was advocating amateur surgery. She had no interest in being a “laboratory rat”, even if she was the researcher. It did no good for me to point out that she was already choosing to “eat this, not that”, and the only difference was paying attention to the results. (She had her charms, of course, but adventurous scientific inquiry was not among them.)

    She died of cancer (melanoma) at age 45.

  281. Peter Van Erp #204 – What exactly was your process for learning to sharpen tools, if I may ask? This is a skill that I am interested in learning. Did you read books, watch YouTube?

  282. How could I have forgotten? Because it was so traumatic, of course.

    Younger son, AKA Bunny, is very scientifically minded. He’s built all kinds of things including a hand-cranked generator built from Legos and attempted a parabolic mirror with a salvaged dish antenna and Mylar film.

    What he really likes is fire chemistry.

    He hasn’t burned his eyebrows off yet but I insist he experiment outside, in the firepit or on the concrete pavement, and keep buckets of water handy.

    All kinds of typical household items burn if they’ve got alcohol in them, like hand sanitizer. Rubbing alcohols burn differently, depending on how their chemical compostition.

    I try very hard not to watch.

    Wear safety goggles and your mileage may vary.

  283. I see there’s been a bit of talk about nerves and electricity, so I just wanted to drop Dr. Jerry Tennant’s work here for anybody not already familiar. His lecture “Healing is Voltage” from the 2017 Electric Universe symposium explains pretty much everything and is worth listening to. A far too short summary goes as follows: pioneering eye surgeon gets a virus in his brain that nobody can heal, realizes that pH is just a logarithmic scale for measuring chemically stored voltage, uses a russian study of a discovered wavelength that transfers electrical energy into cells efficiently to build a series of mad scientist electrical gizmos, heals his brain by restoring the normal voltage around his cranium, starts using Taoist meridian maps of the body to drive further research into how seemingly unrelated organs of the body function like an electrical system (i.e. the teeth work like circuit breakers, and root canals do horrible long term damage to the body’s ability to regulate itself). Dr. Tennant is using an “anything goes” homeopath license to continue research without getting his regular medical license revoked, and he is treating chronic patients with a set of electrical gizmos he calls “biomodulators.” Considering the vaguely electrical nature of etheric forces and the findings of radionics, I consider his ongoing research to be groundbreaking for both medical and magical science. He’s the perfect example of a crank tinkering with electrical doodads and medical science under the noses of the approved experts. His published books are on my list (especially his expensive brick of a medical textbook he sells on his site) and I highly encourage anyone unfamiliar to listen to these two lectures.

    Healing is Voltage Electric Universe Symposium 2017 (45mins):

    Healing is Voltage, The Dental Connection – International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology 2014 (2 hours):

  284. @ OIlman2, JMG–

    Re EVs and wishful thinking

    The whole push for transportation electrification is driven, in no small part, by the power industry as a way to shore up load growth, which has been plateauing, even declining, this past decade. Fixed costs continue to rise, as there’s a lot of transmission infrastructure well-past its lifespan and in need of replacement, and spreading those fixed costs over increased usage is the only way to keep rates from taking off.

    As I pointed out at an industry conference round-table discussion I attended year before last, we’re not even talking about growing the economy anymore; instead it’s all about poaching from the guy next to us (in this case, oil & gas). These are desperation tactics, not a well-thought out plan.

    The idea of using *less* power doesn’t seem to enter into anyone’s mind, even the not-for-profit public power entities such as the one I work for. The frustrating thing is, we have to plan for the eventuality, even if its unsustainable, because we have to serve the load that comes and we have responsibility to be ready for it.

  285. @ JMG and all…

    Maybe you ought to make a rough list of the things politicians pushed and promised over the last decade? Then lay out the short history of each train wreck?

    Honestly, many here may disagree with me, but I have been waiting for collapse for decades, and this slow motion stuff is just giving me a gluteal rash. It’s tragicomical, but the politicians and talking heads spew the same diatribe day in and day out. I see it in every bank, every gash station with “smart pumps”, every doctors office and every public place. It is just so 1984ish and illogical that it is easy to mentally switch it off, and yet the number of people who watch TV and actually accept this as their reality boggles the mind. At a certain level, I can see where the elite might very well believe that the Georgia Guidestones would be a great idea.

    We went to the meadery and there was one woman wearing a mask. She asked the owner if he needed to see her vaccination paper, which he politely declined. When she dropped her mask to take a taste of mead, I noticed she was wearing 2 masks.

    How can people wear masks that are labeled “…not for control of infectious diseases…”, and then double down on those? Why do people that have taken the vaccination refuse to drop the masking?

    I am beyond confused. And here I thought having a bit of dry mead would make for a pleasant day…

  286. JMG – Here’s a reason to be cheerful (sort of): Prof. Tom Murphy, after years of blog silence, is putting new material into his “Do the Math” blog: He spent the off-years teaching, administrating, and writing a new text book: “Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet” ( It’s free to download in PDF (and not just from some pirate site).

    Here’s the blurb:
    Where is humanity going? How realistic is a future of fusion and space colonies? What constraints are imposed by physics, by resource availability, and by human psychology? Are default expectations grounded in reality?

    This textbook, written for a general-education audience, aims to address these questions without either the hype or the indifference typical of many books. The message throughout is that humanity faces a broad sweep of foundational problems as we inevitably transition away from fossil fuels and confront planetary limits in a host of unprecedented ways—a shift whose scale and probable rapidity offers little historical guidance.

    Salvaging a decent future requires keen awareness, quantitative assessment, deliberate preventive action, and—above all—recognition that prevailing assumptions about human identity and destiny have been cruelly misshapen by the profoundly unsustainable trajectory of the last 150 years. The goal is to shake off unfounded and unexamined expectations, while elucidating the relevant physics and encouraging greater facility in quantitative reasoning.

  287. >I look forward to seeing what happens when vast numbers of electric cars hit the roads in the US and everyone discovers there isn’t enough electricity to charge them

    Oh that won’t be the only issue. Batteries only last a few years before needing replacement or rebuild. Prius batteries last a bit longer because they’re not leaned on as much, so you don’t notice the degradation until later. And as others have noticed when it’s time to replace a battery pack they are expensive. With supply chains breaking down, there may be no battery packs for sale at any price.

    I suspect how things will go is at some point ethanol or some other combustible fuel will become economically competitive to gasoline and then everything will switch over to it. Maybe hybrids have a place in that, dunno. In any case it isn’t that fossil fuels go away, they just get expensive.

  288. Jmg

    It just so happens that the lateral science website has a post on the possibility of a 19th century TEA laser!

    All this talk of mad science has made me think of all the projects I’ve thought of which I’ve wanted to do but have lacked the motivation to achieve, maybe this post is the kick I’ve needed.

    It just so happens that some of the ideas I’ve had involve diy electronics and biotechnology, such as whether analog /BEAM robotic circuits are possible with only completely hand made electrical components, or ways to cause mutations in plants with homemade chemicals and radiation sources. I remember reading an article about a man who said he found a way to cause atavistic mutations in fish via electricity which I’ll dig up and post here later.

  289. @pygmycory

    I have a garden which receives most of that source of nitrogen, and to good effect. The issue with it for my giant compost scheme is scale, I’m looking to breakdown several dumptrucs of course aspen sawdust, and I don’t pee quite that much. The farm in question has heavy clay soil and and acre and a half in cultivation.

  290. Raphanus,

    I don’t disagree with you. It’s hard to believe that Ignatius Donnelly ignited such an international craze over Atlantis in the late 19th Century, only to be called a crank a few decades later. Graham Hancock speculates it was because scientists were so desperate to get away from the Bible, that they developed a theory called Gradualism, where everything changed very slowly over millions of years. A catastrophe great enough to destroy Atlantis was too reminiscent of the Biblical Flood, and the Bible is wrong, therefore…

    When J Harlan Bretz, in the 1920s, examined the scablands of Eastern Washington and other environs, he knew that there had to have been a catastrophe. Gigantic rocks sat in the middle of fields, and there was unusual erosion everywhere. He was mocked and ridiculed for decades, but he always came back with more proof. At age 97, when he received the Penrose Award, the US Geological Society’s award, he said ”All of my enemies are dead. I have no one to gloat over.” By then catastrophes were back in style.

    But in the academic world, as I’m sure you know, they had built up their linear model of civilization and there was no room for Atlantis. Mark Lehner from the Univ of Chicago who despises Graham Hancock and anything Atlantis, was originally funded by the Edgar Cayce group, the A.R.E. They had hoped he would use his education to study Cayce’s trance talks on Atlantis. I don’t know what happened, but Lehner never did what they asked.

    If you are ever in Eastern Washington, a trip to Dry Falls is a must.

  291. These days, I’d say a lot of the anti-crank, pro-authoritarian and bureaucracy sentiment is coming out of China. Some of it directly from CCP propaganda, but a lot of it just because China is the up and coming power, so plenty of others are looking to imitate them. China’s fast development over the past few decades has led many to believe that an authoritarian state is what works best, so for those of us who don’t want to be living under a Chinese-style state, I think it’s important to come up with counterpoints, reasons why the Chinese model isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. i have several.

    The first is that China’s development is mostly following in the footsteps of the West, albeit in a more streamlined and hastened manner. Their model wouldn’t work if they were the pioneers of industrial development. They aren’t the Wright brothers, they are akin to later builders of airplanes that had a whole lot of real-world examples to draw upon.

    Secondly, some areas of Chinese life, at least until recently and maybe still, are actually less stifled by bureaucracy than in present-day America. Joel Salatin has written that he’s met Chinese farmers who say the regulatory burden upon them is actually less than in America. This is ten-year-old information, so I don’t know how it’s changed recently considering how Xi Jinping has ratcheted up the level of authoritarianism since he took power. Authoritarian politics doesn’t always correlate with stifling bureaucracy although it can easily lead in that direction.

    Thirdly, the Chinese culture is different from America and the west in general. humans are not all interchangeable, and what works in one culture well enough may not work at all in another culture. China has a long history of strong centralized authority, even though individual dynasties come and go the authoritarian pattern has endured.

    Lastly, China’s furious development has only been for a small time frame in the scope of history, significantly shorter even than industrial civilization as a whole has been around. From what i gather, the CCP’s legitimacy is tied to their continuing to bring economic development, so they’re likely to run into serious issues when resource limitations or other factors end their prosperous streak, which is inevitable at some point.

    If the global resources available start shrinking soon, the only way that China can keep their growth up is by capturing more of the resources that other nations use, so my guess is that China get more bold in the not too distant future and try to bring down the American empire as in Twilight’s Last Gleaming. If they succeed, the CCP might be able to hold onto power a while longer, but I don’t see China adjusting to the decline of industrial civilization without a change in dynasty. Meanwhile, as long as the CCP is ascendant, there will be a lot of pressure in much of the world to imitate their model just as there has been pressure to imitate American systems during the era of American dominance.

  292. I think that what is badly needed in the mad scientist world is a mentor program of some type. I feel like I’m finally a competent enough carpenter, metalworker, electrician, plumber, electronics technician, and computer scientist to make some of the ideas that I’ve been kicking around in my head for the last 20 to 30 years a reality. I’m an introvert so most of what I know I learned from books. It’s also true, however, that most of the techniques I know to do fast, quality work in these fields I learned from people who do it for a living. I’m also 63 years old and now that I know what I’m doing, I don’t have the energy to tackle these projects in addition to my regular farm work. We really need a makerspace movement that hasn’t been coopted by the techno-utopianists where people can learn the technical skills required to turn their ideas into reality from competent technicians who are retired from the trades.

    Someone above mentioned the Shark Tank television program. I know that JMG doesn’t watch television so I’m sure that he and a lot of the other regular contributors to this blog are not aware of the program. In my opinion, it is the most successful instance of sheeple training devised by the powers that be. It teaches people that the only inventions that are worth doing are those that can be easily monetized, usually by creating a prototype that can be sent off to China to be cheaply reproduced in plastic. The other reason that it irritates me is that it teaches people that the only way you should be able to benefit from your invention is to sign at least 51 percent of the rights over to one of the oligarchs who judge the inventions. I really think that this television program is one of the reasons that technical innovation is lagging in the US compared to other areas of the world. Now I really sound like a crank of unknown radius.

  293. JMG,
    I have something to share on alternate medicine from India. We have five officially recognised alternative medicine systems – Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Yunani and Siddha. The last two evolved independently of Ayurveda, but also use herbal formulations. Recently, the government announced that it will start training Ayurveda doctors to perform basic surgical procedures. The Indian Medical Association, made up entirely of modern medicine practitioners is opposing it. But the government seems determined. I hope that this is the beginning of an effort to combine the best elements of modern medicine and alternative medicine, the sort you talked about in a post long ago in TADR. Of course, more research needs to be done in alternative medicine in the form of experimentation and documentation, but it is well suited for the deindustrial future.

    Here are a few news articles on this:

  294. @adwelly #277 The cabbage tree. The mother cabbage is a sure ‘nuf cabbage shrub. She’s three years old and five feet tall, with a thick cabbage stalk forming the trunk and a huge shaggy head of cabbagy bits in all directions. Cabbages overwinter in Western Washington, which is why two counties here supply 50% of the world’s brassica seed.
    She will flower when the weather warms up. I have had seed crop failure two years in a row, due to my rainfall permaculture failing in summer droughts. I am going to set up some drip irrigation this time. Brassicas are outcrossers, so she needs pollinators to set seed.


  295. @ Oilman

    “We regret to inform that entries for the Major Idiocy Award have been closed due to massive oversubscription. In addition, there is currently a 30 year processing delay for entries to the Everyday Idiocy Award.

    You may wish to consider an entry into the World-Historical Idiocy Award. However, we warn that the competition for this award is at record highs and your chances of winning are minuscule.

    Thank you for your interest in the Idiocy Awards.”

  296. Hello BoulderChum, #308, and JMG and all of course,

    Regarding Jerry Tennant and his “Healing is Voltage”, I haven’t had time to review his presentation, he is at least clear at the outset that he is not speaking from a medical, or even conventional scientific, perspective. In my quick perusal, I take that his use of “electricity” is notional, to clothe metaphysical, likely etheric concepts, in rationalistic-physical garb so he can talk in language that others in this culture will listen to. Although there may well be some overlap with electromagnetism and neurophysiology.

    My own knowledge base is squarely in the physical science world.

    There exists a startlingly elegant mathematical-physical model for the electrical waveforms that propagate along peripheral nerve fibers. This is the Hodgkin-Huxley Equation-set developed by them to describe the electrophysics of the squid axon. They developed these equations in the 1950s, and were awarded the Nobel Prize for them in the 1960s. Although developed for the squid axon, if you tweak the parameters, they also describe the electrical behavior of axons of, say, human peripheral nerve fibers. These equations were the foundation of my proposed research mentioned in #218.

    You can get a quick take here:–Huxley_model

    And you can a pretty good PDF document about them here for your very own bedtime reading!

    During the period I thought I wanted to become a mathematical neuroscientist, I was briefly delirious with all kinds of ideas, and had to keep a pocket notebook with me at all times (in hindsight, I’m reminded of my dad. See comment #100). I wrote down something like 100 research topics, including one to address a deep mystery of muscle electrophysiology, i.e. the spontaneous waveforms known as “fibrillation potentials” that muscle fibers emit when they are denervated. The H-H equations also apply to muscle, as nerve and muscle are the only animal cell types that propagate voltage changes.

    I just now recalled another, fairly recent research idea of mine: From time to time, I get fascinated by fungus. As most of this commentariat surely knows, mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fibrous mycelium networks in the soil. Some of you have heard of Paul Stamets, the living sage of fungus, certainly here in the US, and likely the world. He points out the mycelium networks in the soil appear to communicate, and, IIRC, can mediate communication between plants. I recall reading (from him or elsewhere), that mycelium fibers have voltage-gated channels just like nerve and muscle fibers, and can propagate impulses, albeit veeery slooooowly compared to even the squid axon. I’ve at times imagined that mycelium mats are rather similar to nervous systems, with sensory receptors, processing, and communications. I even had an idea to experiment and calculate the parameters for the H-H equations as applied to mycelium fibers, and then I was starting envision how one might go about assessing their communication and processing functions…

    Oh dear, I’ve gone off on a tangent from my original intent with this comment… oof. Anyway, thanks to JMG, I now know I’m the son of crank, and I’m starting to act like one at the moment. Unlike my dad, I know when to close my mouth (usually). I’m hoping that JMG won’t be too offended by a crank specimen’s ravings. Sorry.

    —Lunar Apprentice

  297. Walt F, flow batteries are much further along than you imply. They’ve been used for grid-scale storage since at least the early 2000s. There are now at least three companies who sell, or are about to start selling, domestic flow batteries. They look kind of like intermediate bulk containers – those cubic metre chemical tanks with a cage around them and space underneath for the forks of a forklift truck. The batteries have smaller tanks and some machinery attached.

  298. @ Teresa from Hershey – If your son’s interest in fire extends beyond fire chemistry to fire biology or fire ecology, please consider giving him a copy of “Fire Country” by Viktor Steffensen. It is about aboriginal Australian land management practices that use fire (along with exquisite attention to the land and its habits and seasons) as the main tool.

    I have found that some of its concepts translate well to other geographies, and, in particular, I myself am finding it helpful in my own practical study of the nature and management of the gorse plant, which appears to be a very pyrophyllic plant, which when neglected and not managed, can produce spectacularly devastating fires.

    I hope a great many people become proficient and comfortable with the use of fire – and can understand the concept of when a fire is “the right fire” – in Steffensen’s words. Best wishes!

  299. I’m reading about the history of the British coking industry:

    I may have found the ultimate lunacy of the cult of progress. Benjamin Franklin suggested feeding coal smoke into a secondary furnace to make use of the unburnt carbon. James Watt didn’t like the distinctive clanking his steam engines made because it wasted energy and he wanted to do away with it. But instead black-smoking chimneys came to symbolise prosperity and clanking engines were thought to represent power and efficiency. Despite really meaning the exact opposite.

  300. Because I think it’s worth sharing, here’s the reference to Walt F’s “all iron” flow battery:

    This is a cool paper. Really cool. They’ve gone open source, so we can all read it, and the chemistry is described as “one of the few battery chemistries that can be built safely in a DIY setting” — a statement which, having some experience playing with chemicals, I can endorse.

    On the topic of batteries you can build for your homestead, there’s the scrap brass/iron battery:
    (no ‘flow’ needed, but not as safe as the above).

    And if you google around you can find people who’ve recreated Edison’s last-forever Nickle-Iron battery and who are doing mad science things with graphene. Batteries are nifty. Maybe I need to start ‘cranking’ on them…

  301. @Ray Wharton – I personally would LOVE several dumptrucks of sawdust, to make dry bedding for livestock. They pee, and poo, a LOT. I have found that sawdust that has served either as animal bedding, or as biolitter in human dry toilets can compost relatively quickly. For scale, I would imagine, you need to find a way to recruit a herd or flock of farm animals into performing the intermediate steps of peeing, pooing, and mixing and getting the composting process going – and, you know, I bet they’d do it without even complaining! 😉

  302. @ Graham #306
    I think I started sharpening with an article in Fine Homebuilding, which had that anecdote about the master and junior carpenter. They have a lot of articles on their website, and the first few are free. They tend to encourage you to buy expensive stones and apparatus to hold the tool to be sharpened at the right angle. I’ve bought most of them, and end up going back to the simplest tools for most. The tools you do need are course (bastard) and fine files, for sharpening shovels and saws, and grades of wet/dry sandpaper from about 120 to 600 grits, with a flat support. Email me at peterdotgdotvanerp at gmail, and I will be glad to go into more detail.

  303. Thank you. A very helpful article.
    Those cranks are still there. For example, they did find and refine the solution for this corona virus pandemic. Here are some of there links and names:
    Jim Humble, the man who discovered that chlorine dioxide, a simple water purifier can be ingested and injected and heal almost any infectious disease.
    Andreas Kalcker, who improved Jim Humbles discovery and med it the most efficient and by far best treatment and prevention for coronavirus infections ( and his book “Forbidden Health”)
    Dr. Hartmut Fischer with his book “The DMSO Handbook: A New Paradigm in Healthcare” and his “health building kit”, containing simple but effective “tools” to regain or improve your health.
    The anonymous intensive care nurse, who created the very impressive documentary “The Universal Antidote” ( )
    Brian with the Chanel “MMS DIY (Chlorine Dioxide)” at
    The Dr. Manuel Aparico from Mexico, a orthopedic surgeon who, while a director of a private clinic, learned to apply chlorine dioxide to treat Covid-19. He now has successfully treated more then 4000 patient at their homes with chlorine dioxide – because the authorities did not allow him to treat them in his clinic.

    In dentistry I too know such cranks. For example Dr. Stefan Ihde. See for example “Implant Foundation – Mission Impossible – New Teeth in 31 hours?” at .

    In agriculture, gardening and in the search for solutions to mitigate, stop or reverse climate change, it is the same.

  304. I’m reminded here of E.F. Schumacher’s response to being called a crank:

    “A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions.”

  305. Honyocker, I agree that a retro-tech makerspace movement would’ve been much better. I’m –this– close to diving into the realm of and purchasing a machine of vintage nature for which parts and supplies are no longer made (and repair manuals seem to be nonexistent) in the hopes I can find a way to contribute to a small-scale revival. I’m thinking that I need to talk to the folks who volunteer at the local tractor museum (where they refurbish them), those involved in classic car reconstruction, and ?? to find out how they go about making spare parts and pieces you just can’t find anymore. I’m not trained in any such thing, so making a go of it in my garage will fly about as well as one of Samuel Pierpont Langley’s planes.

    I’m hoping to be a *user* of said machine more than an engineer of one, so I’m out of my league on what might be a fool’s errand, but if there were a way for me to access old-timers’ knowledge and skills the way you suggest, I’d probably either find that out sooner rather than later, or with luck, I’d be able to accomplish what I hope to accomplish. Right now I’m only left to rely on crossed fingers. Truly a sad state of affairs.

  306. @Ramaraj

    I know you were addressing JMG, but I really felt like commenting because the topic of discussion was about India.

    If I’m not mistaken, you were referring to the AYUSH ministry, right? Certainly, the Modi government deserves credit for setting it up and giving support to alternative healthcare systems, and ignoring the protests by the conventional medical community. That said, I hope they go about it in a careful manner; the last thing we need is actual quacks spoiling the reputation of the genuine alternative healthcare system practitioners.

    I had, some days ago, seen a documentary on YouTube, which talks about the herbs in India, and their use in Ayurveda as well as Tibetan medicine. It also, towards the end, featured the Himalaya herbal company, and a short glimpse into their research work, which, according to their R&D head, aims to adapt Ayurveda to the present times. They do this by way of a variety of experimental research techniques, including molecular biological methods. Here is the link:

    Also, do you live in India, or are you an Indian American?

  307. As someone who worked in a library (and someone who lves books) I will tell you to check out books. Find the books that almost never get checked out, and check them out.

    Physival space is a premium in libraries, and new books come in, which means other books must go, and for financial reasons it is easier to chuck old books. And the ones that get checked out almost never are the ones that get picked. So get a library card, talk your friends into getting a library card and start showing those books some love.

    In terms of unorthodox science, I’ve noticed two parallel issues – political orthodoxy…and “safety”. Both make me want to pull my hair out. Truth gives two sh*ts about your political beliefs, and no one promised a safe (or inoffensive) world. Or if they did, they were selling something, to paraphrase Princess Bride.

    I’d advocate starting a mini community but I’m sure one side or the other would stage an armed raid.

  308. Darkest Yorkshire, regarding fictional depictions of mad scientists, Gyro Gearloose – as imagined by Carl Barks – was my childhood hero. Agatha Heterodyne is an excellent contemporary figure (both comic book characters… hm…) Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty is an interesting example – much more of a tortured soul than the more heroic or simply villainous depictions of the archetype most stories feature.

    Pygmycory, one question I’d love to know more about but wouldn’t be sure how to approach is how plants respond to aromatherapy. I know they signal to one another with their equivalent of pheromones, and I’d imagine there may be some interesting effects possible by getting the right smells into the garden, but matching conditions to interventions would have a lot of possible experiments most of which would likely yield a null result. If you come up with a hypothesis you think is worth testing I’d love to hear more about it!

    Regarding makerspaces I was lucky enough to visit one of the better maker spaces a while back, and I have a theory as to why the movement declined. The people associated with that one had come up with some truly impressive gadgets, and did use the makerspace to show them off, but I got the impression the place itself was so noisy and crowded that they did the majority of the work in their own workshops. Mad science does not flourish in open-plan offices! So it seemed that the people associated with it used the space more for networking and ‘hanging out’ than making, and for that service the monthly fees are simply too high. I get the sense the tool library movement (or community workshops for tools too large to regularly move) is going to take over the functionality that maker spaces were intended for.

  309. @ Scotlyn #328. You reminded me of Fort Indiantown Gap, north of Hershey. This is one of the biggest PA National Guard posts around. They support an air wing and conduct drills for just about everyone.

    The property is tens of thousands of acres because of the live-fire artillery range. We can hear (20 miles away or more?) the booms when they’re shooting the big guns.

    Armies need plenty of room for artillery ranges and even more room surrounding them as a buffer. Thus, Fort Indiantown Gap has a large wildlife department and conduct annual tours of the range when Regal Fritillaries come out to frolic over the meadows. No, you are not allowed to stray from the path or pick anything up.

    To maintain the open meadows that the artillery division and the Regal Fritillaries require, the Burnmaster sets regular fires and burns the plant growth back!

    Sometimes, the controlled burn becomes less controlled and things get exciting. The Burnmaster strives to avoid excitement.

  310. Martin Back – Electricity may be cheaper during the night now, while we have coal and nuclear base-load plants that are most efficient when producing a constant flow of energy, but if we relied on PV solar power, it would be cheaper on sunny days, and very expensive at night. Wind power pricing would rise and fall with the weather.

    The obvious response is to charge batteries when the power is cheap, and draw them down when it’s expensive. Another way to cope with variable-cost electricity is to perform electricity-intensive processes when the power is cheap, such as electric arc steel (to be cast and rolled during the day), and making ice for air conditioning system (to be melted during the day). Another possibility (that I’m reading about this evening) is electrochemical processing of electronic waste: leaching and plating metals for recycling. I could see setting up a small-scale metal-recovery process that produces when the sun shines, and waits patiently in the dark.

  311. I haven’t read all the comments above so forgive me if I missed something relevant, but… I see statements again about electric everything and it just can’t happen. The resources simply aren’t there to make it happen.

    The only reason so many people believe that a green revolution can permit continued “progress” is that (a) it’s so tiny a portion of the overall market they don’t realize it can’t be economically scaled up and (b) they don’t realize that everything “green” we have now only exists due to the underlying support of cheap fossil energy. [NOTE: Corporations & politicians only “believe” because they see yet another opportunity to fleece the masses.]

    Check out the chart:
    “Renewables” are a fraction of world energy production, and the bulk of that is hydropower that’s already been around for a long time and has little room for significant expansion.

  312. As I write this both this post and Magic Monday have 333 comments each. Numerologists assemble! 🙂

  313. @Darkest Yorkshire 344 – I’ve noticed a fair amount of number weirdness around here recently. Is there a Master-mind? 🙂

  314. @ Darkest Yorkshire #344

    “As I write this both this post and Magic Monday have 333 comments each. Numerologists assemble! “

    Your post is timestamped on my laptop at 3:33 am — spooky!!

  315. @ Lathechuck #342

    You’re right — things will be different as the old baseload power stations fall silent. In fact, I recall posting on the old Oildrum website that industry will become more like farming. The foreman will study the weather report, squint up at the sky, consult his gammy knee, and finally give the order, “Okay boys, start ‘er up.”

    The problem is, many industrial processes absolutely depend on having a stable supply of electric power for hours at a time. I believe a power failure at a chip fab of even a few minutes can cause millions of dollars damage because the entire production run has to be scrapped.

    I see no alternative to building more nuclear power stations for any nation that wishes to remain an industrial powerhouse.

    “As of 2020, there were 54 nuclear reactors under construction worldwide” 11 in China; 7 in India; 4 each in Russia, UAR, and South Korea; the rest mostly in smaller countries —

  316. In response to lathechuck’s comment, #342(!); the problem with that is industrial processes don’t just switch on and off. It takes hours to days to start up a chemical plant. At my last employer, it took three days to start up, and a week to be leveled out at full rates and “prime” quality. Shut down was three days for “burning down the bed” and then a full day to cool down. And this plant made silicon for solar panels. It was completely unsuited to be run by solar panels. It ran on natural gas and hydropower.

    The employer before that could startup in only two days, and be down in a day and a half. To keep the autoclaves hot without the chemical reaction would take a lot of propane. Feeding the autoclaves required a pair of 2000 hp electric motors.

    Heating and cooling cycles are bad for pressure vessels and brick lined furnaces. You want to run them constantly.

  317. @ JMG Rod Dreher just posted a link to this post on his substack newsletter.

    He highly recommends you as being intelligent and interesting even though, as he says, your theologies are vastly different.

  318. @Darkest Yorkshire

    I saw that! 333 comments on both posts! I thought – wow, quite a synchronicity. I wonder what it might be trying to communicate to me.

  319. temporaryreality – There is a chance that I may be able to help you with otherwise un-replacement parts, since I have a small, hobby machine shop. My lathe can turn (including steel) up to 20″ long (between centers), up to 9″ diameter, and can cut threads over a wide range of English and metric standards. My bandsaw can cut aluminum and brass, at least 1/4″ thick. I can drill and ream precise holes, etc.

    In some cases, it might make sense to have someone 3D print a part to check fit and function without demanding that it transmit power, then either send the CAD file to a CNC machinist, or scale it up a little and use it as a pattern for foundry casting.

  320. Renaissance, I’ve lived amongst Evangelicals all my life and due to the shortage of other allowed amusements (many of us were not allowed TVs or didn’t go to the cinema) there was quite a bit of spare time for tinkering and doing other kinds of “stuff”, which wasn’t discouraged. When I was a teenage girl, in the UK, I can remember the boys in my church being constantly covered in oil and seeing them working on cars in pieces on their parents’ drives. I was bought books on birds and nature and had a chemistry set and a microscope at a fairly early age, but I wasn’t allowed a “Girls World” or ballet lessons. Most of us, in my experience do have a bit of a resentment of authority or at least tend to be opinionated, and even more so in my experience if you are home educated. I guess it depends what your definition of an “Evangelical” is. Its not the same as “belonging to a cult”. And sitting quietly in church and being part of a community doesn’t actually mean you don’t have an opinion on what the preacher says, which actually may differ from the preacher’s – and which makes you fairly vocal about your own views on things from a fairly early age, because you hear adults arguing over the finer points of a preacher’s theology. I guess other peoples’ experiences may differ, but to my mind American exceptionalism was a part and parcel of America’s evangelical Christian faith.

  321. Further to my post, I just wanted to add that it would appear that the Wright brothers were also brought up in what would be considered a christian evangelical faith.

  322. @viduraawakened,

    I live in India. I was referring to the AYUSH ministry. I agree with your point about being careful while fusing alternative medicine systems with modern medicine. But an institutional system of education and training in alternative medicine is already in place. I believe that will create more qualified doctors and reduce the need for quacks.

    My own experience with alternative medicines has showed me that it does not follow the “X disease will be cured by Y medicine” approach. There are usually half a dozen different types of herbs prescribed for a single ailment like flu. You need to try them out, and gain experience over time as to what suits your body well. In this aspect, it is a lot more like occultism and astrology than modern science. But I do appreciate the attempts to do experiment and lab-based research like modern pharma industry. That will help in getting wider acceptance for alternative medicine.

  323. I mostly enjoy Rod but also feel sorry for him. The poor man lives in fear. If he asked my advice, which he hasn’t, I’d suggest he spend about 6 months interviewing the peasantry, in places where the latest nuttiness at some expensive college affects no one. Wokesters are a problem, but not the overwhelming force that fills his mind with terror.

  324. Walt, of course. The question is whether anybody will get something of the sort in scalable and marketable form.

    Martin, maybe so, but then we start running into intermittency problems (not much solar PV electricity at night!) and fossil fuel depletion issues…

    Kay, hmm. Didn’t you get the email I sent? The answer is that it needs to be either 8 loops or a multiple of 8; nobody knows why, but that’s what works best. I used 16 for everything but the crystal, which got 8.

    Iuval, excellent! That sounds like a fine bit of strangeness.

    Pygmycory, an excellent point. It worked for the Wright brothers, after all.

    David BTL, the phrase “diminishing returns” keeps coming to mind somehow.

    Martin, I just tried to access it and since I don’t have a Google account, it wouldn’t let me. Pity; I’d like to see it.

    Oilman2, that would be one very, very hefty book! As for collapse, well, as I keep pointing out, this slow motion stuff is the way that real civilizations in the real world actually fall. Look out the window — that’s what it looked like when Rome was falling, too.

    Lathechuck, excellent! I’ll bookmark it again at once.

    Oilman2, there’s fierce competition for the Idiot of the Year Award, but yeah, that’s a strong competitor.

    Owen, of course not, but that’s likely to be the first issue to hit. Then the batteries start running short, and half a dozen other unexpected problems surface…

    J.L.Mc12, get a lab coat and start experimenting! The world needs new mutant plants. See if you can come up with one that devours televisions or something…

    Kashtan, that makes a good deal of sense.

    Honyocker, that’s a very good point. I’ll put some thought into it.

    Ramaraj, delighted to hear it. I hope the Unani doctors get authorized to do that too — yes, I’m familiar with Unani; it’s the Indian version of the medicine of Galen and Avicenna, using the four elements and four humors the way Ayurvedic physicians use the tridosha. If we had an Unani doctor locally I’d probably pay him or her a visit.

    Yorkshire, typical. Thanks for this!

    Christophe, thanks for this.

    Barefootwisdom, hah! Good for Fritz.

    Psukekc, thanks for this. I make a point of checking out old books, and was told by a librarian that I was responsible for keeping a bio of T.S. Eliot out of the dumpster.

    TJ, true enough. We’ll be talking about this.

    Yorkshire, a nice bit of synchronicity. I’ll have to look up the gematria of 333.

    Teresa, thanks for this. I’ll take a look.

  325. It used to be that America could tolerate cranks and the innovation and obscene wealth they occasionally brought. Though it’s a stretch, let me draw an analogy with the film industry. Tired of being overrun by American culture, In the 70s laws in Germany were changed so that it would be easier to make films in Germany. There was a creative explosion until people started to make obscene amounts of money, which of course was unacceptable. Some of the talent went to Hollywood, which can still tolerate people becoming obscenely wealthy.

  326. Gatto’s “the Underground History of American Education” (no longer on his website, alas, though copies can be found) sees the suppression of Americans’ propensity for invention (which could be said to live on in software to some extent) as a deliberate if not always conscious project by and on behalf of the wealthy, who worried it would prove disruptive.

  327. Sorry, I didn’t get the email. I check my spam folder regularly and unless I deleted it from there, I don’t think I received it. Thank you very much for your special effort and reply. If there are more useful details we should know, please try again and I will be more careful with the delete button.

  328. I’ve been thinking about this post in the past week since reading it. You are getting at one of the great questions about the future: will advanced technical understanding of engineering systems remain important to human culture in the distant future. And what will be the balance between the kind of trial and error engineering that characterized most engineering until the 19th century and the science and math based engineering that has been so important in the 20th century. A world in which cranks drive technical advances is a world where teams with advanced technical expertise are outperformed by self-trained individuals.

    A key point on which I fully agree with you is that it is easy to overestimate the techno-future available to the science-and-math approach. Ignore some resource constraints, assume people will work well together, and add a dash of wish fulfillment and you end up placing unfounded hope in high-tech engineering. The question is really about what types of science based engineering will survive the end of the techno-utopian age that grew out of the roughly 200-300 year era when humans figured out chemistry, physics, and basic biology, particularly electricity, materials science, and computing. Humility is in order. There has never been a slow descent after a scientific synthesis like ours. This time is indeed different. Maybe in a bad way because out technical success has allowed us to make an unprecedented mess of the planet, but it is different. There are some similarities to Chinese and Greek/Roman knowledge based cultures, but they had nothing like our scientific synthesis.

    How will the scientific and engineering expertise that (for example) allows teams to design and test solar powered helicopters to fly on mars be passed on through an economic collapse. The first stages of this might be the destabilization of our system of higher education as the tuition and room and board for a year at a university marches on past the median family yearly income. But knowledge and expertise are also easily spread in the internet era. I suspect a key bifurcation point along our future will be if and when groups of people find effective ways to organize, motivate, equip and support teams of talented and highly trained people to design sustainable systems. Unfortunately, at the moment the high profile versions of these still seem to be oblivious to the tight constraints the future is bringing.

    On a more practical point, I fully agree with you about the need for kids to tinker with real stuff in the real world. They need construction kits, chemistry sets, and wood shops with support and safety training but without instructions. The kind of wide understanding of how the world works that allows a crank to have rare success in an obsessive project is the same skill set that allows a team of engineers to avoid the common path to failure of a bunch of experts only thinking about details in their speciality.

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