Thursday, March 29, 2007

Book Review: Whoosh, Boom, Splat by William Gurstelle

The full extended title of this book is Whoosh, Boom, Splat – The Garage Warrior’s Guide to Building Projectile Shooters, from Potato Cannons to Pulse Jets and Beyond. Like its predecessor Backyard Ballistics. This book is, on face value, a set of plans for various projects. I guess I’ll go ahead and list all of them since most have been mentioned in the promo material:
  • The high-voltage Night Lighter 36 – a see-through, stun-gun ignited spud gun
  • The Jam Jar Jet – “the simple pulse jet engine that roars”
  • The Elastic Zip Cannon – “a membrane-powered shooter that packs a wallop”
  • The Mechanical Toe – “a bungee-powered kicking machine”
  • The Vortex Launcher – “a projectile shooter that uses air bullets for ammunition”
  • The Clothespin Snap Shooter – “the PG-17 version of a clothespin gun that fires fiery projectiles”
  • The T-Shirt Cannon – air powered clothing distribution
  • The Architronito – “the steam-powered cannon conceived by Leonardo da Vinci”
  • The Marshmallow Shooter – a sweet people-powered gun
  • The Yagua Blowgun – blow, don’t suck

Based on the title, some people might also think that the book is about making dangerous devices. Although these projects expel projectiles (in once case just gasses) and most have a propensity to do some damage, none of them are inherently destructive. But they do require some common sense and maturity in their use.

Personally, I think the book is really about curiosity, motivation, inspiration and fun. In the intro, Bill talks about how the future engineering success of a youth can be predicted by “the propensity to make things go whoosh, boom or splat.” He provides both personal and historical examples to support this claim. While this is may not ‘scientifically proven’, my experience tells me tinkering with things, whether they be rockets, computers, or bicycles is a predictor of a propensity for technical careers. My experience also tells me that an interest in things that whoosh, boom or splat are innately programmed into young boys (and a small number of girls). They just like things that make smoke, fire and noise. Thus, I believe nurturing and encouraging this interest is a good thing. Sure, many of these activities need to be done safely and are best supervised by adults, but these activities can foster a lifelong interest in science.

After the intro and before getting into the detailed projects, the book covers general safety guidelines, tools, materials, and techniques. These subjects are later covered in more detail as they apply to each project. The projects by their nature are not 100% safe, but if you follow the author’s guidelines they can be built and used with a reasonable level of safety. The projects themselves range from trivial to moderate complexity and release varying amounts of kinetic energy. I think something between these pages should appeal to boys of all ages. Even if you don't build the exact items, reading about their construction may provide ideas for other projects.

I’ll point out one of the best things about Bill’s presentation (in my opinion of course). That is, he provides a historical context for the book as a whole and for each project. He provides interesting background information on scientists ranging from the obscure Urban of Hungary to well known names like Newton and Tesla. This material changes a set of plans into a real book. In fact, the next book I’d like to see the author write is “Soldier Engineers of Fortune”.

Finally, I'd like to thank Bill for providing a promotional copy of the book. I've been fortunate to receive numerous rockets to build and review, but this is the Dungeon's first sponsored book review :)

Book details:

WHOOSH, BOOM, splat The Garage Warrior’s Guide to Building Projectile Shooters, by William Gurstelle, Three Rivers Press, 160pp, on sale March 27, 1997, Price: $16.95

Watch the promo video on YouTube: