PM Inventors Conference: of tormented Barbies and better mousetraps (November 2009 issue)

Capetonian Henk Blom and son Jacques, 11, bravely subjected their inventions to our expert panel"™s scrutiny. With them is Jacques"™ mother, Patricia "“ credited with prototype evaluation and "getting our designs and PowerPoint presentations up to scratch".
Date:15 April 2010 Tags:, , , , , ,

WHEW! It’s been a rollercoaster ride, with more twists and turns than you could ever imagine, but the 2009 POPULAR MECHANICS Inventors Conference is done and dusted – and from the feedback we’ve received, it was a resounding success. The interaction between delegates and presenters was candid and informative, and there were quirky moments aplenty.

We’re unlikely to forget the almost palpable enthusiasm of David van der Bergh, inventor of a revolutionary flame-resistant gel. Snapping his fingers (likened by one delegate to the talons of a mechanical ditch-digger) with whip-like cracks, he provided a running commentary on a video that showed an unfortunate Barbie doll being subjected to all manner of torment in the name of scientific research.

Jan Brand stepped up with a clever new design of charcoal briquette in our “pitch it to the panel” segment, forecasting a revolution in our vibrant braai industry. Asked by panellist Willie van Straaten to imagine the worst thing that could happen, he responded without missing a beat: “Everyone becomes vegetarian.”

Henk Blom and his 11-year-old son, Jacques, travelled all the way from Cape Town to present their inventions to the panel, one a combination beverage-and-snack-holder and the other – wait for it – a better mousetrap. Intrigued delegates spent a couple of minutes debating the cleanest and most humane way of dispatching the captured mice, the best suggestions being (a) an hour’s worth of Barry Manilow, and (b) 60 seconds of Kenny G.

Here are just a few of the comments on the evaluation forms returned by delegates:
A real eye-opener to the potential of the South African inventors’ community.”
“Overwhelming success. This must become an annual event.”
“Stimulating, motivating, interesting, informative, great fun.”
“Absolutely the most exciting event I have ever attended.”
“Great knowledge-sharing and incredible value.”
“The voice of experience was very enlightening.”
“Brilliant. Looking forward to the next one.”
“Intellectually stimulating.”

Our sincere thanks to our sponsors, the DST’s Innovation Fund (and Thabiso Nkone in particular), without whom the event would not have happened. We’re also grateful to the presenters, an eloquent and well-informed bunch of people who helped to make our conference special. To all those who have demanded another event, pleased be assured that we’re already talking about it.

(* To view the programme of the 2009 Popular Mechanics Inventors Conference, |click here|
* To have a look at the Inventors Conference Photo Album on our Facebook Fan Page, |click here|)

Moving along to this issue, we offer a veritable feast of survival-related information. No, we’re not expecting Armageddon. We’re talking about self-reliance, independence, seat-of-the-pants engineering, and the kind of mindset that doesn’t yield to despair when something goes awry. (For the record, something, somewhere, will always go awry.)

Witness the action at Orange County Choppers, where Paul Teutel Senior is almost guaranteed to lose his rag over some or other glitch in the workshop (see the story on the Siemens electric bike in our biking supplement, “Ride it!”). Catching Paul in a calm moment, we asked whether the project had inspired him to tackle other “alternative-power” builds – for example, a bike powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Teutel: “Definitely. We’re already working on a hybrid bike for a client, and have done bikes that run on ethanol and natural gas.” Was there any kind of bike he’d decline to build, or would he take on anything that was interesting and challenging?

Teutel: “We don’t typically turn down projects, but if someone came to us and wanted to build a theme bike geared towards nudity or smoking, we wouldn’t do it. Our fans range in age from five to 85, and we wouldn’t want to actively promote either industry among our fan base.”

Damn. There goes our concept for a butt-naked chopper in the shape of a Cohiba.

– Alan Duggan (

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