– by William Cooper
Every child is an inventor at heart, and I was no different. I was an expert in toy mashups, modifying one toy with parts from another to make some new hideous nightmarish creation nobody ever wanted to play with. I didn’t have a clue how to put devices back together again once I had feverishly disassembled then, leaving piles of gears, springs, screws and bits of plastic behind in my wake. I built a number of complicated Rube Goldberg machines, like the one that – using a system of pulleys and ropes – was designed to turn off my bedroom lamp while I lay comfortably in my bed. It hardly ever worked, eventually broke the lamp, and nearly gave me a concussion when the whole contraption fell on me in my sleep. Okay, maybe every child is a top-notch inventor at heart, but I will bet most are pretty lousy inventors in practice.
Reluctantly, I left behind the exciting entrepreneurial world of inventing for a much safer dual career as a problem-solver who also fancies himself somewhat of a performer. But that path had its challenges as well. Picture a school lunch cafeteria, where my very urgent, nearly blinding problem was how to make girls laugh and therefore notice me. Since I was also infusing myself heavily with every single Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope movie ever made, the answer was clear, and that answer was to act out this extremely dated material in public, sometimes word-for-word to a captive audience. We all know how much 7th grade girls love spot-on impressions of Bob Hope, right? If adult professional actresses laughed at this shtick in the 1940s and 1950s, imagine how it played in late 1970s Ohio to 12 year olds!
I idolized Hope. “My Favorite Spy” was one of my top movies as a kid. How can you beat Old Ski Nose and the gorgeous Heddy Lamarr in a slapstick espionage caper about mistaken identities? Imagine my surprise then, after a quick search for famous inventors pulled up among the Edisons and Fords my old crush Miss Lamarr. Turns out she invented Spread Spectrum Technology, a system of manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception. This system formed an unbreakable code that helped defeat the Nazis in World War 2.
It’s not quite the same thing as spending twenty minutes trying to turn off your lamp from a few feet away using the belt from your bathrobe and some bent coat hangers, but it’s pretty darned close.
In this “inventive” episode, Special Guest and Honorary Producer Jo joins us in the magical podcasting shack. After two mistakes in a row, Scott suffers a painful injury; but don’t worry… it’ll all work out okay in the knee. He’ll kneed some help, but luckily there are Robot Nazis to look to as role models. Everyone is coming up William as he shares a story of how a past girlfriend curried favor with a horse using an ancient shark attack remedy that now has Jo considering her options. Whatever they are, they won’t involve female welders… or is that plumbers? It’s important to get these things right. William and Jo and 38,000 Seattleites lose sleep thanks to a substation raccoon transforming into a very special conductor, if it even happened at all. Surrounded by white noise, Jo’s dreams aren’t so sure. Waiting for hyperspace, William’s dreams let the monsters run free. And what is going on with the fan!? Then it’s on to more TV talk as Jo pitches Silicon Valley, Scott builds a pool table in a Man Lab, a crazy ex-girlfriend goes Conchording, and Nick Schmidt gets some New Glue Girl. We move on to Beyond the… Nerd Alert with an in-depth look at how the future is here today, featuring Elon Musk, the Human Capability Inflection Point, and the return of a mid-century podcast. We begin with voice recognition software, which has us astounded. If only it understood William’s special brand of whale-humping suaveness. He’s a melodious, mellifluous, maleficent mess. Stupid 4-year olds. VIV AI turns our intelligence into some tasty open-API utility. Self-driving and self-parking cars have us looking for road beacons and finding none, doing drugs on automotive trains, and waiting eagerly for whatever surprise Elon Musk will slip into our operating systems. Software updates! What CAN’T they do!? Even though we are screwed in Seattle, it’s still all magic and unicorns. As if. Solar City has us marveling over shrewd business models and lowered emissions while we consider the true power of snowballs, overcast panels and Power Walls, which are not just a song by Oasis. We hope it’s not too late. We return to the Falcon with talk of Space X’s reusable spacecraft and the joys of rocket shopping. Mars is the Plan B, and Elon has us covered. Is he crackpot or genius? We still don’t know. Duly inspired, William and Jo look at men’s cycling bibs that might actually be testes-loaded outer space slingshots. Scott brags about self-wearing T-Shirts. Elon takes his rocket and goes home to the moon while Scott does the same in his bathroom. Then it’s all Hawaiian pod people, introvert troubles, and dubious tacos until – with Jo’s finger hovering over the checkout button for ludicrous speed – we move on to Music in Rearview. Our music tonight Sounds Fantastic and so does baby William. It’s time for some jaunty fun while selling Slimline portable RCA record players. Chet Atkins writes the soundtrack for the country of Scott as we discuss intertwined layers of musical relationships. As the Musk Falls to Earth, we too return to our normal lives. Reverse the Polarity, the devices have awoken and the chickens are revolting!
James May’s Man Lab
SpaceX Planning Mars Mission in 2018
Sounds Fantastic! (1966) on Discogs