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Where the stuff on this blog is something i created it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License so there are no requirements to attribute - but if you want to mention me as the source that would be nice :¬)

Monday, 3 October 2011

building a toaster from scratch (g+)

found via brain pickings

in which thomas thwaites describes how he built a toaster from scratch.  he was inspired by a douglas adams quote from the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy - "left to his own devices he couldn't build a toaster. he could just about make a sandwich and that was it"

(this is said in a situation where the 20th century man who is the book's hero is on a planet populated only by a technologically primitive people. initially the hero assumes he'll become their emperor and transform their society with his wonderful command of technology, but quickly he realises that without the rest of human society, he can barely make a sandwich, let alone a toaster)

so thomas decided to make an electric toaster from scratch. thinking the cheapest one would be the easiest to reverse engineer he bought one (£3.94) and took it apart. he was dismayed to find this

400 or so bits made of 100 or so materials

so he started with 5 of the materials  - steel, mica, plastic, copper and nickel.

how to make steel? he asked a prof. the answer was you need iron. so he went to a mine (now a tyourist attraction) and got the iron ore from ray.  he then went back to the prof. how do I smelt this? the answer was find out in a book. eventually he found the 1st text book on metallurgy written in the west. after a day and half a night smelting iron (using a leaf blower as bellows) he got something - but it wasn't iron. so he found a patent online for industrial furnaces that use microwaves. after 30 minutes at full power, he was able to finish off the process.

how to make copper? he found a retired geology prof to take him down a closed copper mine in anglesy (wales) to get some water. (water thru the mine becomes acidic and so starts to dissolve minerals from the mine). there was enough copper in the water so he could cast the pins of his electric plug.

how to make mica? (it's a mineral which is a very good insulator and very good at insulating electricity). he got that from scotland

how to make plastic? couldn't get oil from BP so looked at other ways of making plastic,  from plant oils is one option. he did this using potatoes and mold made from a tree trunk. he had to leave it outside to dry.  unfortunately when he returned there were snails eating the unhydrolyzed bits of the potato. he decided to use waste plastic (as in future this will be part of the geology and be mined) and got some from a recycling plant in manchester (uk)

he did plug in it once but as he was never able to make insulation for the wires (kew gardens wouldn't let him hack into their runner tree). so the wires were uninsulated. there was 240 volts going through homemade copper wires and a homemade plug. for about five seconds, the toaster toasted, but then, unfortunately, the element melted itself

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