Saturday, December 29, 2012

Playing Poker

With Mr P.

Scientists, long puzzled by why people go backpacking, have recently given up trying to understand the phenomenon.

The problem is, as you know if you've ever tried to explain your obsession with dirt, pain, flies, and sleeping in the woods, insoluble.

The answer is that there is no answer.

And nobody cares anyway, which means it's really, really hard to get grant money. Without money, you ain't got no salary, and without a salary you're no longer a scientist, just another homeless person.

What to do?

Two choices.

(A) Since you're homeless already, buy a pack and hike the Appalachian Trail.

(B) Invent stuff, especially things that will torture backpackers. They kinda deserve it for ruining your career, doncha think?

That's what Woo Kyung Cho, and his or her buddies are up to.

First step: understand the porcupine principle.

Intro to subject: The basics of porcupines are well known. Porcupines are critters covered in needles. You may never have seen one in person but if wake up and find yourself staring one in the face, you'll know enough to back off.

Even if you're exceptionally stupid.

Even if you're an exceptionally moronic college sophomore on spring break, and have just drunk 18 beers.

Nobody is dumb enough to mess with Mr P.

Except scientists, and most of them have grad students to do all the dangerous work anyway.

It seems that porcupines (as a group) are smarter than almost all of us, even those of us who hang out in wise crowds and tweetle a lot, and do The Facebook.

Individual porcupines, maybe not, but evolution has a great multiplier effect.

Woo Kyung the Cho-Master has discovered that the tips of a porcupine's quills are pretty clever even if the rodent isn't, so much.

The barbs help a quill to penetrate flesh.

More easily than a hypodermic needle.

Using only half the force.

And then they make it nearly impossible to remove said quills (quills always come in the dozens - go ask a dog with a snoot full).

OK, that was Poking Science 101.

Where does backpacking come in?

Well, if you have a Ph.D., have lost all your grants, and are in danger of involuntarily becoming a homeless backpacker, you might invent a thing or two to get even.

Like the Sans-A-Strap pack.

Remember Sans-A-Belt pants? No? Too young?

Sans-A-Belt pants were like the wash-and-wear drip-dry suit, which surfaced at about the same time.

You know - another modern convenience.

Forgot your belt? No problemo. Worry not with Sans-A-Belt. As long as you remembered the pants, you were covered.

Same deal with the Sans-A-Strap pack.

No more adjusting, fiddling, chafing, buckles, hitches, pull tabs, levelers or any of that. Simply have someone hold it for you (or hang it from a tree), and then back into it.

Hundreds of tiny, precision crafted, barbed needles effortlessly sink into your hide and lock the pack in place. Without straps! Practically pain free! (Note: medical bills due to infection are not covered by the purchase price.)

Need to take the pack off? Like to go to work or something?

Again, no worries.

Since you're a backpacker you have no job to go to, and you can wait one to three weeks until your body rejects the pack and sloughs it off automagically.

Then, while healing and regaining your strength, you can make camp and spend quality time recovering.

So simple. Yet so ingenious.

So ingenious that you ask yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Because you're not a scientist, dummy.


Porcupines sport some 30,000 quills, which easily penetrate flesh - and then stay stuck in it.

Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal