Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Like A Fresh Spring Breeze

No more sleeping on bags of dog breath.

On news of the Windcatcher project on Kickstarter (which looks promising), I started wondering what other aspects of backpacking might benefit from the clever use of basic physical principles.

If you haven't heard about it yet, Windcatcher is an inflatable mattress that you don't have to get intimate with to inflate - and it works without even a pump.

You sort of blow in the general direction of a megaphone-shaped thing, and the force of your breath pulls in non-breathed air that's just hanging around waiting for something interesting to happen.

Because of the Bernoulli principle.

Because of the Bernoulli principle, a moving fluid, like air, even though it is moving with great force, has lower pressure than the same fluid that is sitting on its butt watching The Simpsons, or taking a nap or something, so the latter, suddenly finding itself surround by a lot of high pressure, gets pushed in as well.

Once the high-pressure stuff mixes with the low-pressure stuff inside a bag, then quick like a bunny you seal them in. You don't care if some of the air is upset about any of this, as long as they don't keep you awake at night with too much fighting. But on the other hand, they are in a bag, so you can sit on them if they don't behave. Which is kind of the point.

Or you can lie down and have a nap. Napping improves a lot of situations.

This whole area is a new twist on the conservation of energy thing.

The law of conservation of energy states that if you leave things alone, pretty much nothing happens (why would it?), but if you start messing around, fussing, and raising a ruckus, some other part of the universe may get irritated and come over to tangle with you to compensate and restore a sense of disorder.

If you are an inventor you can get rich poking at odd and peculiar parts of the universe.

And if you are a lucky inventor, you will be dead and forgotten before anything super-massively large, nasty, and possibly radioactive comes over to do a little annihilatin' on your behind because you woke it up.

So it is with Windcatcher. It might work.

But what about the rest of backpacking? What tricks could we use, based on simple, universal laws of nature?

I know I'd really like it if I didn't have to carry an alarm clock.

Imagine how nice it would be if the simple act of going to bed and sleeping somehow guaranteed that after a few hours the sun would rise by itself, make everything bright, and wake me up?

Sure, it is nice to have that alarm clock, and be up early when everything is still dark and quiet, but why can't the sun manage things on its own? Why do I have to get up first to stimulate everything and start the day rolling?

OK later, it's time to eat. Now get this idea. How about a basic stove fuel that could be ignited and then would burn on its own?

Sure, we have all kinds of stove fuels -- solids, liquids, and even gases these days -- but why do I have to get them started by rubbing sticks together? And then keep the flame going by continuous stick rubbing until my meal is done?

I mean, humans have been doing this stick-rubbing thing for around 200,000 years, as best as anyone can tell. And we're still at it?

Imagine a simple device, like a small, short stick of some kind, with a bit of flammable material on one end.

First you start this thing burning (by briefly rubbing sticks or whatever), and then you use this new invention thing to light your stove -- and then, once the stove is lit it keeps on burning all on its own?

Surely this would be an invention worthy of a Norman Einstein. At least.

And finally, something to use with maps.

Maps are fine things, and dandy too, but it can be a challenge to tell if you pointed your map in the right direction. Often there are prominent landmarks that give you a clue, but not always, so you need help.

Maybe there is something about the alignment of warts on a frog's back or the shape of clouds that is a clue to which direction is South. I can tell you from personal experience that dropping a handful of dried grass to see where the wind takes it does not always orient me correctly.

But I have noticed that a lot of the same stars are around every night. At least it looks that way to me.

These stars sort of move together across the sky like they are spokes in a giant wheel. Maybe there is an astrologer out there with a little free time to work on this problem.

I can envisage carrying a little pocket device which, once aligned with the stars on even a single clear night, always points in the direction of this celestial wheel's axis.

If I had one of these, then aligning my map to True South would be a no-brainer. I like no-brainers. Some of my best friends are no-brainers. Life is a whole bunch easier when you don't have to think.

Agree? No?

Well, one thing is certain. We'll see what happens next.

Unless we're unlucky and something super-massively large, nasty, and possibly radioactive comes over to do a little annihilatin' because of that Windcatcher project.

I hope not. I have some hiking to do.

As soon as I can figure out which is South.


Windcatcher: Inflates in seconds with NO power or pumping


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