* take nothing for granted    
Unless otherwise indicated all photos © Richard McKie 2005 - 2020

Who is Online

We have 613 guests and no members online

Article Index

 

 

I grew up in semi-rural Thornleigh on the outskirts of Sydney.  I went to the local Primary School and later the Boys' High School at Normanhurst; followed by the University of New South Wales.  

As kids we, like many of my friends, were encouraged to make things and try things out.  My brother Peter liked to build forts and tree houses; dig giant holes; and play with old compressors and other dangerous motorised devices like model aircraft engines and lawnmowers; until his car came along.

 

We both liked homemade rockets and explosives; but our early efforts, before the benefits of high school chemistry, generally resulted in the rockets exploding and the explosives fizzing.  You can read more about this in the article Cracker Night (click here).

Commercial firecrackers and gunpowder were generally more successful; although home-made nitrogen triiodide was always easy, and zinc dust and sulphur makes a pretty good rocket fuel.  We also had some fun with large gas filled balloons; and various means of firing marbles and other projectiles. 

Fortunately we had 'the sheep paddock', forming part of the property, for such experiments.  We only set fire to it once or twice when the grass was particularly long and dry. 

There was never any suggestion from parents that we should not be wiring up electric motors or installing flood lighting to repair cars under. We both had a healthy respect for high voltages and seldom got a 'shock'. 

We are both still alive and were never injured by one of our experiments (by other things occasionally). The parental policy was that we were warned and asked what safety precautions we were taking.  After all, we had seen first hand what happens when a length of copper wire falls across the 33KV local distribution grid and shorts it to the street lighting; talk about loud; and dark that night!  See the note below.

So we generally took appropriate precautions with things that might explode; as when Peter successfully warned his young apprentice Ian to run! just before his steel compressor bottle exploded, rattling the neighbourhood windows. The neighbours were used to the occasional window rattle; and once or twice a hole or two.

This experience with potentially exploding things came in handy many years later when I worked in research at British Steel.  I was employed as an economist, to analyse the value of the research, but quickly got drawn into active experimentation. 

My colleagues and I in the 'Forward Technology Unit' decided to test the practicality of an idea that one of them had for inexpensive explosive forming. 

Explosive forming involves setting up a high pressure shock wave in an incompressible fluid; we used water.  The shock wave needs to be of sufficient intensity to make a steel plate instantaneously plastic, like putty, and so form it to the shape of a mould.  But it needs to be not so powerful that it destroys the apparatus. 

Needless to say, the trials involved heavy muffled thumps and occasional flying bits. We set this up in the mini steelworks within the BISRA laboratory complex at Battersea in London.

When the safety committee turned up, summonsed by occasional louder detonations within the bowls of the complex, they found us helmeted and safety goggled behind sandbags and an upturned table.

A very long stick was connected to the heavy steel apparatus through a hole in the very stout wooden box that enclosed it against shrapnel. Turning the stick opened a tap that initiated the process.  Sometimes the box would then leap into the air.  For some trivial reason about it looking 'Heath Robinson' they ordered us to desist! 

Later we turned our attention to another idea that involved, as a side effect, consuming a foam containing, among other things, an isocyanate in a very high temperature furnace.

Although we assured the committee that it was properly ventilated and it was unlikely that at these temperatures any cyanide gas would be released into the Lab, or the London air, they called a halt to that too; but not before some nice samples had been made.

 

 


    Have you read this???     -  this content changes with each opening of a menu item


Travel

Italy

 

 

 

 

A decade ago, in 2005, I was in Venice for my sixtieth birthday.  It was a very pleasant evening involving an excellent restaurant and an operatic recital to follow.  This trip we'd be in Italy a bit earlier as I'd intended to spend my next significant birthday in Berlin.

The trip started out as planned.  A week in London then a flight to Sicily for a few days followed by the overnight boat to Napoli (Naples).  I particularly wanted to visit Pompeii because way back in 1975 my original attempt to see it was thwarted by a series of mishaps, that to avoid distracting from the present tale I won't go into.

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

The Secret

The Secret

By Richard McKie

 

 Download PDF (for e-readers)

 

Lansing Michigan was a fine place to grow up, she guessed.  It was nice, and safe.

Her dad worked in the Michigan State Government and her mum stayed home. They weren’t rich but they were comfortable. Their new house was big, the nicest they had lived in and it was in a really good area. 

She had never been overseas, unless you count nearby Canada, and that was mainly on trips to Niagara Falls, usually when one of Mum’s sisters came to stay. When they passed through Sarnia, into Canada, Dad would always say "Yea! Overseas again!". It was about his only joke.

Sometimes they went through Detroit. But after what had happened there the last time she shut that out of her consciousness. No wonder she is timid and takes fright easily. Now if a friend even seemed to be driving in that direction she would go into the foetal position and shut-down.

Read more ...

Opinions and Philosophy

Electricity Pricing

 

 August 2012 (chapters added since)

 

 

Introduction

 

The present government interventions in electricity markets, intended to move the industry from coal to renewable energy sources, are responsible for most of the rapidly rising cost of electricity in Australia.  These interventions have introduced unanticipated distortions and inefficiencies in the way that electricity is delivered.

Industry experts point to looming problems in supply and even higher price increases.

A 'root and branch' review of these mechanisms is urgently required to prevent ever increasing prices and to prevent further potentially crippling distortions.

Read more ...

Terms of Use                                           Copyright