Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Exercise of Ingenuity"

This poem came out of the January 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from LJ user Ng_moonmoth. It also fills the "gizmos and gadgets" square in my 1-1-16 card for the Spies, Secret Agents, and Noir Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"The Exercise of Ingenuity"

Lawrence succeeded in putting off
most of Stan's attempts to entice him
into the Activity Scouts -- because he
really wasn't a joiner -- until Stan resorted
to the dirty trick of arranging activities based
around Lawrence's most irresistible interests.

This was how Lawrence came to be
spending a rainy Saturday afternoon inside
a noisy community center instead of a quiet library.

"We're doomed," Stan said glumly as he
stared into their box of junk.

"You do not get to say that," Lawrence retorted.
"This whole thing was your idea. Why are you
suddenly so discouraged about this?"

"I usually team up with either Maurice or Tyke,"
said Stan. "But I wasn't going to get you
a day pass and then just abandon you to
some other partner, so Maurice and Tyke
decided to pair up with each other. They're
the best jerryriggers in the troop. We're cooked."

"Well, stop moping and help me inventory
our supplies," said Lawrence. "It's too late
to back out. You have worked hard on
the jerryrigging badge. You can't quit now."

"But I'm not good at this math and
science stuff," Stan protested.

"You don't need to be, because I am,"
Lawrence said as he spread the objects
over the table. "You're good with your hands,
so you can help assemble the device."

"Maybe you can use your superpowers,"
Stan said under his voice. He helped
Lawrence sort things into rows and piles.

"Or we could do it without cheating," Lawrence said.

"It's not cheating to use whatever you have,"
Stan said. "I mean, you can't turn your brain off."

"I know, but nobody else can bend the laws of physics,
so I'd feel like that was cheating," Lawrence said.
"Besides, I don't need superpowers to win
an amateur invention contest. Remember
how I got mine in the first place."

In retrospect it was funny, but
at the time his ill-advised attempt
to create a universe inside a cola bottle
had been embarrassing and terrifying.

"Okay, that's a good point, and ...
what are you doing?" Stan said,
finally noticing that Lawrence had
started the construction.

"I'm making a discontiguous catapult,"
Lawrence said. "The rules say we can't
modify the mousetraps but don't say
we can't make use of them."

He laid out the spoon, the wooden spool,
the paper cup, and a long string of beads.
Then he began measuring the distance
and angles between the four mousetraps
fastened in the corners of their posterboard.
According to the rules, they had to build
a device that could trigger all four traps.

"Fine. How can I help?" asked Stan.

"Start taking the beads off the string,"
Lawrence said. "That's our ammunition."

"Uh, they're knotted on," Stan said
as he examined the string.

"Then it's a good thing you have
your pocketknife," Lawrence said.
That was among the basic tools
they were allowed to use.

A calculator was not, which gave
an edge to everyone able to do
higher math in their heads, or
at least by hand on paper.

While Lawrence jotted down
the more complex calculations,
Stan began cutting apart the beads
and putting them into the cup, taking care
to angle the knife away from Lawrence.

"This reminds me of how the jerryrigging badge
began," Stan said. "There used to be kind of
a rivalry between Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
A couple of the early leaders had an argument
about which was more important for survival,
woodslore or homemaking, and it really stuck.
So there were two competitions, one outdoors
and one household. After the unification, though,
most troop leaders starting including items
from both versions in every competition."

"This one is far more fun," Lawrence said
as he lined up the components of their device.
Regrettably the spoon was stainless steel and
he couldn't get it to bend into the right shape.
"Here, fix this so that it makes a stable lever
across the spool, which is our fulcrum."

It took Stan a few tries to get the spoon
bent correctly, but he managed.

"Have you heard the news from Westbord?"
Stan said as they worked. "Apparently
there's a soup out there who goes by
the name of Jerryrigger and can
make anything out of junk."

"Total whackjob," Lawrence grumbled.
"I mean yeah, the technical skill is good,
but check out the casualty reports --
way too many serious injuries, and
I've heard some of that's from torture.
Keep it up, sooner or later somebody's
liable to wind up dead. No future in it.
There's a reason cops have training."

"Pretty funny, considering your hobby,"
Stan said, winking at Lawrence.

"You know that was more to get
your attention than anything else,"
Lawrence reminded him.

"Yeah, I know," Stan said.

Lawrence tested the aim against
the first of the mousetraps, which
made Stan shake his head and say,
"We only get one push to start it.
We can't keep changing the aim
to hit the other mousetraps."

Lawrence just grinned at him.
"We won't have to," he said.
"I'm just calibrating. The launch
will use all the beads in the cup.
Aiming that at the first mousetrap
should create enough rebound
to hit the other three of them."

There were over a hundred beads.
He was confident that it would work.

The problem was that the testing
required setting and resetting the traps,
and Lawrence kept catching his fingers.

"Give me that," Stan said firmly,
shooing him away from the trap.
"I'm supposed to do the finicky parts
of the handiwork, remember?"

Working together, they soon
finished calibrating their device.

"Okay, it's done," Lawrence said.

This might be a silly competition, but
it was still good practice for cape work.
You never knew what would come up
when you were fighting supervillains.

Stan gave a nervous look over
his broad shoulder, and Lawrence
turned to see that Maurice and
Tyke had completed something
resembling a small helicopter
from pencils and rubber bands.

"Relax," Lawrence said.
"The prize is just a perk.
As long as we trip the traps,
it doesn't matter who comes
in first. You'll get your badge."

"If you'd actually join the troop,
you'd get one too, instead of
just the guest certificate,"
Stan pointed out.

Lawrence shrugged.
"I'm not really a joiner."

Just then, Stan's father Stuart
came around and asked,
"Are you ready to show me
what you can do with that?"

"Yes," Stan said,
nodding to Lawrence,
who gave the spoon
a careful tap.

The paper cup with
most of the beads still
inside it lofted gently
onto the first mousetrap,
which sprang into motion,
catapulting the beads
onto the other traps.

"Three seconds,"
Stuart announced.
"That's the fastest yet."

Then they turned around
to watch the demonstration
of what Maurice and Tyke
had put together.

That device also triggered
all four traps, but it took
five seconds to do so, and
it also lifted the posterboard
nearly a foot into the air.

That being their main competition,
Stan and Lawrence won the contest.
So Stan got his badge and Lawrence
got his guest certificate. The prize
turned out to be a $50 gift card
for the local HAMshack.

"You take it," Stan said generously.
"That's far more your kind of store than
mine. I'm happy if I can just jerryrig
a temporary bike repair when I need to."

"We'll both go, and share it," Lawrence declared.
HAMshack didn't sell complete electronics,
but rather focused on kits and components.
Surely they could find something that
they'd enjoy building together.

"Okay," Stan agreed. "I have
to admit that I enjoy watching
your exercise of ingenuity."

Lawrence gazed at Stan's hands,
so strong and so gentle, every bit
as captivating to him as his mind
apparently was to Stan.

"Agreed," said Lawrence,
and they shook on it.

* * *


Maurice Stevenson -- He has short nappy black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin. He is a friend of Stanley Wood from the Activity Scouts. His badges include Emergency Preparedness, Environmental Science, First Aid, Fishing, and Small-Boat Sailing.
Qualities: Good (+2) Activity Scout, Good (+2) Diligent, Good (+2) Science, Good (+2) Student, Good (+2) Water Sports
Poor (-2) Dyslexic

Tycho "Tyke" Norris -- He has fair skin with freckles on his arms, blue eyes, and wavy copper hair although his eyebrows and body hair are blond. He is named after the famous scientist Tycho Brahe. He is a friend of Stanley Wood from the Activity Scouts, who later becomes friends with Lawrence, while Stan is training to play the Antagonist. His badges include American Heritage, Astronomy, Citizenship in the Nation, Communication, Emergency Preparedness, First Aid, and Space Exploration.
Qualities: Good (+2) Activity Scout, Good (+2) Amateur Astronomer, Good (+2) Family Life, Good (+2) Follower, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Vision

* * *

"In England, an inventor is regarded almost as a crazy man, and in too many instances, invention ends in disappointment and poverty. In America, an inventor is honoured, help is forthcoming, and the exercise of ingenuity, the application of science to the work of man, is there the shortest road to wealth."
-- Oscar Wilde

Many interesting things can be made from junk. Here is a video of a junk invention contest. You can even make robots from junk. Terramagne-America has a lot of activities along these lines.

MacGyvering or jerryrigging is the skill of using whatever you have at hand to accomplish a goal. The Activity Scouts have merit badges for everything, and Jerryrigging is one of them. Not only do they have a "make your own badge" option, this is a leading way that new badges get introduced -- one person starts it, their friends in the troop want it, and after several people have earned it then it gets mentioned in the newsletter. If it becomes popular, it can be submitted for inclusion in the official badges.

We need inventors, and not just their ideas. T-American companies are much more keen on hiring inventors, because most people who have one good idea will have additional ones over time. So everyone wants to get the goose that lays the golden eggs. Children's programs often aim to encourage young inventors. Know the signs and steps for becoming an inventor.

Pocketknives are part of everyday equipment for T-American folks, typically starting some time in grade school. Activity Scouts and other programs teach knife safety, use, and care. Quite a lot of people keep their cards for the Whittling Chip and Toting Chip in their wallets. And by the way, the Activity Scouts darn well kept the Invention merit badge, which in L-America was retired, although it seems to have revived as Inventing. Jerryrigging was added as an easier version because making something that is worthy of a patent is very difficult.

Read about the history of the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America.

Levers are simple machines. See some of the calculations of physics, or use a calculator, for levers. Yes, Lawrence can do complex math in his head, but when doing multiple calculations and adjustments, it's better to have somewhere to write stuff down.

Catapults also rely on complicated equations. While it's not possible to control the endpoint of every projectile in a barrage, it is possible to calculate the force and angles required to aim the cone of fire at desired targets. With enough projectiles you have a pretty good chance of hitting what you aim at.

Learning certificates can be used for various purposes. They help motivate and recognize diligent employees. Some people feel that rewards discourage students, others find them valuable for marking progress and inspiring effort. One good method is to give individualized awards based on each person's accomplishments, rather than stock awards. T-America tends to view participation certificates as souvenirs of stuff you have done, and learning certificates as indication of what you can do. The former don't always include tests or other proof of skills, but the latter customarily do. Schools and employers are interested in this evidence of a lively and skilled person.

HAMshack is a Terramagne-American version of the old amateur electronics stores such as Radio Shack. It does not sell finished products, only components and kits for amateur radio and other electronics. It is very popular; most towns have at least one. The selection varies widely based on local needs and interests. Some have fairly simple materials, while others range up into gizmotronic gear.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, science, weblit, writing

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