Porch Pirates

Grand Geyser

Nothing strikes more fear into the heart of suburbicon, especially at this time of year than the threat of porch pirates. You hear cautionary tales of warnings about them regularly on the local news. I find myself constantly checking the front porch for soon to be errant boxes. I invariably check too early, before the package is delivered or too late, after it has been stolen. In truth, we’ve never suffered any thefts, at least that I know of. That package that you most lovingly sent and was never acknowledged. It’s not that we were ungrateful, it was, well you know, porch pirates, but thanks anyway.

Enter [super-nerd | NASA engineer] Mark Rober. He has devised a mechanism to foil these dastardly dudes. It is all explained in his YouTube video, but let me tell you about it first. Basically, his invention is a glitter-bomb, with fart spray, disguised as an Amazon box. Four phones give a 360° field-of-view that shows the perpetrator’s reaction to first the glitter bomb going off and then when the fart spray is released. The typical reaction involves the package getting tossed, which is then recovered, reset and then relaid to snare its next evil doer.  

His video is reminiscent of many of the lunch time conversations that were held at work. Imagine a table full of rocket scientists sitting for lunch in the cafeteria. The boss, gets on one of his favorite subjects, mole eradication. His beautiful country lawn was often marred by these subterranean insectivores. Eschewing all of the conventional deterrents, he would lead the table on an over-engineered flight of fancy designed to develop the most Rube Goldberg device possible to deal death to these pests. Living closer to the city, with its preponderance of pavement, my perennial suggestion of paving over his lawn and then painting it green was always rejected out-of-hand as being too plebian. 

We never got beyond the back of a paper napkin sketch stage on our mole hunt, but it was fun while it lasted. Because of its cost, especially in aerospace so much of what passes as engineering these days is really just paper pushing, with little left to get the creative juices flowing. That is why nerding out with be it, mole hunting or porch pirate busting is such a joy. Today for example, four rockets are scheduled to be launched, a Falcon 9, a Delta IV, a Soyuz and Blue Origin’s New Shepherd. This quartet represents hundreds of man-years of effort. To see them all go up on one day, will make for such an engineering triumph.

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