Musings on Daedalus

aka David EH Jones. They say you should never meet your heroes. In this case, "they" are wrong. It's exactly four years since I pre-ordered (and confidently recommended, sight unseen) this delectable item:


In due course, I even contributed the first review of it to Amazon. Not something I do as a rule. But I'd promised him I'd do it...

Amazon review

In June 2004...

... I had the enormous pleasure and privilege of introducing Dr Jones1 as a guest speaker at a seminar at the IBM Hursley Lab, just after I'd started my 24th year there. I first read his witty columns (can you believe?) 50 years ago in New Scientist magazine (at 1/3d per week, by the way — a school special subscription price). Indeed, my opening remark to the young audience was planned to be along the lines of "I've been reading this chap's work for rather longer than many of you have been walking the planet — how did that happen?"

Meeting and greeting the now rather frail "Daedalus" was a rare pleasure, and we got along like a house on fire. The lecture room was completely full, too, which was very gratifying. And despite my feelings regarding public speaking people said later that I was obviously in my element during my introductory remarks, which were as it happened completely unscripted. Mind you, we had to have a Health & Safety dry run first as he wished to fire a chemical bottle rocket over the heads of the audience. Amazing what you can do with an inch of tap water in the bottom of a two-litre polycarbonate bottle, and a couple of slugs of calcium carbide. Can we say "Acetylene" children?

I was reminded of this by an email from Tom G pointing me to a New Scientist piece (no longer online) regarding the way in which slimy-skinned ships could be persuaded to slip smoothly through the seas. Tom had asked me whether he correctly recalled an early column on the same theme. I long ago scanned and OCR-ed some (not yet all, alas) of my clipped "Ariadne" columns (Daedalus made regular appearances within those columns). So it was — at the time — desktop search tool Copernic to the rescue:

My microintegumental friend Daedalus points out the trouble caused by marine organisms growing on ships' bottoms. They greatly increase the power needed to propel the ship, and must be hacked off at vast expense. But Daedalus views the matter ecologically. He is seeking an organism so perfectly adapted to the ship-side environment as to oust all other competitors, and which forms a smooth and self-renewing layer. So DREADCO biologists are studying those sorts of algae which form thin layers on solid surfaces... They are also examining the more slippery sorts of seaweed; for Daedalus recalls the great reduction in water-friction caused by certain gooey polymers, and reckons that these weeds generate their slime to reduce the uprooting drag of water-turbulence.

Dr. David EH Jones in New Scientist 9th June 1977

By the way, I cheekily took the opportunity to get Dr Jones to sign my copies of his two wonderful books:


My middle initial ("C") clearly stands for "Completeist".



1  A long-time hero of mine :-)