Four sessions into the summer, I can say, without equivocation, that every session is different. Each group of tinkerers manages to differentiate themselves in social dynamic, innate interests, and skills they are bringing to the camp. As sometimes happens, we had a bit of a hiccup with the cameras today, so we’re a little light on photographic evidence (which is unfortunate because we saw Bigfoot).

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We heard from the Ranch Manager that crawdads had been spotted in the creek, so we head down the road past the lovely fall colors (which are all poison oak).D7K 9469
The scenery suddenly changes to verdant green as we approach the creek. The transition into the green cathedral-like space is so rapid that our loud chatter turns into whispering without any of us realizing why.

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To catch a crawdad (we spent some time plumbing the depths of our collective knowledge trying to figure out if there is a difference between crawdad and crayfish), you need salami and string – we brought both.

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Oh, and patience; Carter brought some of that too.

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Our efforts are rewarded, and an abandoned dresser drawer is quickly repurposed as a crawdad holding tank.

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A few dozen yards away, down past the bridge, another crawdad is hoisted out of the water by Christie – much to the delight of her cohorts Rekha and Liora.

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Frannie and Elizabeth hunker down for some serious crawdad jigging.

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Soon, the holding tank starts to fill up with creek critters.

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While jigging for crawdads, a group of us watched this banana slug transect the river under water. None of us had heard of slugs being able to go under water.

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Frannie learns the proper way to hold a live crawdad without getting pinched. Nobody wants to let it pinch their finger, but we are all wondering how hard the creature can pinch. Is it just a bad pinch, or are we talking about losing a finger?

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We decide that a test is in order. A stick will be a suitable substitute for a finger. It is determined that the crawdad cannot cut through the stick, but it can make a dent and peel bark – reinforcing our desire not to be pinched by one of those big claws.

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Carter proves to be a deft handler of crawdads as well.

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Elizabeth is the next tinkerer to brave the bucket of pinchy critters and get a firm grip on a big crawdad.

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Liora, coming to Tinkering School from Istanbul via San Diego, also learns the way of the crawdad grabber.

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We discuss the possibility of keeping one in a bucket up at the house, but collectively decide that the risk of injury to the crawdad is too great. So we let the last, and biggest, one go.

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Here’s the only shot we got of bigfoot.

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Then we head back up to the barn. Josh takes the tinkerers through the tool and materials inventory while Gever heads to the Ranch House to get dinner into the oven, then he comes up and leads the structural engineering basics discussion.

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To illustrate how 2×4’s are strong in certain dimensions, we take turns balancing on the thin edge. Ben displays a certain knack for balancing when he tosses away the cane to stand unaided on the edge of the board – which, we all note, does not seem to bend at all.

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Even when the board is in it’s flat orientation, it takes the weight of Josh and Trent to get it to bend visibly. How can we increase the amount of weight on the board? It isn’t long enough to fit another person on. What if we…

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Which seems to do the trick very well. Forensic analysis of the point of failure by the tinkerers leads to the conclusion that a sizable knot seems to have weakened the board significantly.

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We decide to try the same set of experiments with a 1×4 – Frannie is only too happy to assist.

Unable to break the 1×4 when it is edge-on, we start brainstorming about ways that we could apply an enormous weight to it. After some “if we had an elephant”-type suggestions, we decide that we need a really big hammer. Gever remembers that he has a piece of railroad track left over from the previous session. A suitable eucalyptus pole is located and some serious lashing is required, but soon they have a hammer that would make Thor think twice.

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Frannie discovers that she can lift the handle but not the business end.

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A sling is worked out and then it takes all hands to move the hammer out of the barn. We decide that it’s too heavy to let fall on the barn floor. Yes, we noticed that Elizabeth has bare feet in this operation – her shoes got soaked at the creek evidently – and we’ll make sure she is safely shod in the barn tomorrow.

Here’s where our story gets interesting, and sadly, we don’t have any pictures. The hammer is carried outside and stood up on it’s handle then dropped onto the edge of a 1×4. The first attempt just misses, but after some measurements and adjustments the second one connects and the 1×4 is destroyed. It failed in so many places simultaneously that it is difficult to identify at any one point of failure. Tomorrow we will try again, and before we let the hammer drop, we’ll mark the board with our predictions about where it will fail. After that, we’re going to try a 2×4. Our collective guess is that the 2×4 will survive the blow – unless it has a big knot.

Having a question, and building an apparatus to help you find an answer is science in the grand tradition of Sir Isaac Newton and Nikolai Tesla – a really good way to spend an afternoon. In a barn. Surrounded by goats.