Books by Gurstelle, William

Gurstelle, William. Adventures from the Technology Underground. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2006. ISBN 1-4000-5082-0.
This thoroughly delightful book invites the reader into a subculture of adults who devote their free time, disposable income, and considerable brainpower to defying Mr. Wizard's sage injunction, “Don't try this yourself at home”. The author begins with a handy litmus test to decide whether you're a candidate for the Technology Underground. If you think flying cars are a silly gag from The Jetsons, you don't make the cut. If, on the other hand, you not only think flying cars are perfectly reasonable but can barely comprehend why there isn't already one, ideally with orbital capability, in your own garage right now—it's the bleepin' twenty-first century, fervent snakes—then you “get it” and will have no difficulty understanding what motivates folks to build high powered rockets, giant Tesla coils, flamethrowers, hypersonic rail guns, hundred foot long pumpkin-firing cannons, and trebuchets (if you really want to make your car fly, it's just the ticket, but the operative word is “fly”, not “land”). In a world where basement tinkering and “that looks about right” amateur engineering has been largely supplanted by virtual and vicarious experiences mediated by computers, there remains the visceral attraction of heavy metal, high voltage, volatile chemicals, high velocities, and things that go bang, whoosh, zap, splat, and occasionally kaboom.

A technical section explains the theory and operation of the principal engine of entertainment in each chapter. The author does not shrink from using equations where useful to clarify design trade-offs; flying car fans aren't going to be intimidated by the occasional resonant transformer equation! The principles of operation of the various machines are illustrated by line drawings, but there isn't a single photo in the book, which is a real shame. Three story tall diesel-powered centrifugal pumpkin hurling machines, a four story 130 kW Tesla coil, and a calliope with a voice consisting of seventeen pulsejets are something one would like to see as well as read about, however artfully described.

February 2006 Permalink

Gurstelle, William. Backyard Ballistics. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2001. ISBN 978-1-55652-375-5
Responsible adults who have a compelling need to launch potatoes 200 metres downrange at high velocity, turn common paper matches into solid rockets, fire tennis balls high into the sky with duct taped together potato chip cans (potatoes again!) and a few drops of lighter fluid, launch water balloons against the aggressor with nothing more than surgical tubing and a little muscle power, engender UFO reports with shimmering dry cleaner bag hot air balloons, and more, will find the detailed instructions they need for such diversions in this book. As in his subsequent Whoosh Boom Splat (December 2007), the author provides detailed directions for fabricating these engines of entertainment from, in most cases, PVC pipe, and the scientific background for each device and suggestions for further study by the intrepid investigator who combines the curiosity of the intuitive experimentalist with the native fascination of the third chimpanzee for things that go flash and bang.

If you live in Southern California, I'd counsel putting the Cincinnati Fire Kite and Dry Cleaner Bag Balloon experiments on hold until after the next big rain.

July 2008 Permalink

Gurstelle, William. Whoosh Boom Splat. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007. ISBN 0-307-33948-3.
So you've read The Dangerous Book for Boys and now you're wondering, “Where's the dangerous book for adults?”. Well, here you go. Subtitled “The Garage Warrior's Guide to Building Projectile Shooters”, in just 160 pages with abundant illustrations, the author shows how with inexpensive materials, handyman tools, and only the most modest of tinkering skills, you can build devices including a potato cannon which can shoot a spud more than 200 metres powered by hairspray, a no-moving-parts pulse jet built from a mason jar and pipe fittings, a steam cannon, a “snap shooter” made from an ordinary spring-type wooden clothespin which can launch small objects across a room (or, should that not be deemed dangerous enough, flaming matches [outside, please!]), and more. The detailed instructions for building the devices and safety tips for operating them are accompanied by historical anecdotes and background on the science behind the gadgets. Ever-versatile PVC pipe is used in many of the projects, and no welding or metalworking skills (beyond drilling holes) are required.

If you find these projects still lacking that certain frisson, you might want to check out the author's Adventures from the Technology Underground (February 2006), which you can think of as The Absurdly Dangerous Book for Darwin Award Candidates, albeit without the detailed construction plans of the present volume. Enough scribbling—time to get back to work on that rail gun.

December 2007 Permalink