Friday, May 9, 2008


In the past week I've been exposed to some high technology of yesteryear that works without the aid of electricity. One example was a sound powered telephone that converts sound waves into a signal that can be heard on the other end without amplification. Another was a crystal radio, which picks up radio stations and plays the signal through headphones, again without electricity. Tomorrow is "Back to the Future" day at Howell, during which some of these gadgets will be on display.

I recently tried building my own crystal radio from a kit designed for 10 year olds. My efforts have thus far been unsuccessful. Everything's connected, but no sound.

Something I've realized from my time at the farm is that some people here have "The Knack." Farmer Jim, especially, has The Knack. This means that he sees something mechanical or electrical, understands after a little observation and trial and error how it works or should work, and is then able to fix it.

I seem to lack The Knack, unfortunately. In third grade I won the school invention contest, which involved designing a simple machine from a shoebox and like materials that could dispense any three objects of your choosing (I used marbles). My machine was simple, sleek, and devastatingly effective. My secret was using levers made out of plastic spoons.

That was the pinnacle of my mechanical career. Since then, I've bolted a few things together, but that's about it. The Knack is weak in me. In the same way some folks see a machine and understand it, I see a machine and think, "Black Magic." I thought maybe my mechanical aptitude would improve with a little practice, and I think maybe it could if I keep at it, but for the most part I think Great Fixers are born, not made.

On the upshot, I do seem to possess a certain gift for hooking together TVs, DVD players, satellite receivers, cable boxes, cameras, computers, and other similar technology. So at least I'll always be entertained.