underground is a thriving, humming, and often literally scintillating
subculture of amateur inventors and scientific envelope-pushers who dream up,
design, and build machines that whoosh, rumble, fly—and occasionally hurl
pumpkins across enormous distances. In the process they astonish us with what
is possible when human imagination and ingenuity meet nature’s forces and
materials. William Gurstelle spent two years exploring the most fascinating
outposts of this world of wonders: meeting and talking to the men and women who
care far more for the laws of physics than they do for mundane matters like
government regulations and their own personal safety.
Adventures from the Technology Underground is Gurstelle’s lively and weirdly compelling
report of his travels. In these pages we meet Frank Kosdon and others who draw
the scrutiny of the FAA, ATF, and other federal agencies in their pursuit of
high-power amateur rocketry, which they demonstrate to impressive—and sometimes
explosive—effect at the annual LDRS gathering held in various remote and
unpopulated areas (a necessary consideration since that acronym stands for
Large Dangerous Rocket Ships). Here also are the underground technologists who
turn up at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada high desert, including Lucy
Hosking, “the engineer from Hell” and the creator of Satan’s Calliope, aka the
World’s Loudest Thing, a pipe organ made from jet engines. Also at Burning Man
is Austin “Dr. MegaVolt” Richard, who braves the arcing, sputtering, six-digit
voltages of a giant Tesla coil in his protective metal suit. Add in a trip to
see medieval-style catapults, air cannons, and supersized slingshots in action
at the World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition in Sussex County,
Delaware, and forays to the postapocalyptic enclaves of the flamethrower
builders and the future-noir pits of the fighting robots, and you have proof
positive that the age of invention is still going strong.
In the world of
science and engineering, despite its buttoned-down image, there’s plenty of
fun, humor, and sheer wonder to be found at the fringes. Adventures from the Technology Underground takes you there.
- Launch homemade
- Catapult pumpkins
the better part of a mile.
- Watch robot
gladiators saw, flip, and pound one another into high-tech junk heaps.
- Dazzle the eye with
electrical discharges measured in the hundreds of thousands of volts.
- Play with
flamethrowers, potato guns, and other decidedly unsafe toys…
If this is your idea
of fun, you’ll have a major good time on this wild ride through today’s
From the Burning Man
festival in Nevada’s high desert to the latest gathering of Large Dangerous
Rocket Ship builders to Delaware’s annual Punkin Chunkin competition (a
celebration of “science, radical self-expression, and beer”), you’ll meet the
inspired, government-unregulated, and corporately unfettered men and women who
operate at the furthest fringes of science, engineering, and wild-eyed arc
welding, building the catapults, ultra-high-voltage electrical devices,
incendiary artworks, fighting robots, and other machines that demonstrate
what’s possible when physics meets human ingenuity.
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