• Carmen Marie Fabio

Summer holidays

Shutterstock photo Copyright: Andrew Burgess

Now that school is out, my daily phone call home to the boys has me reminding them to hang out the laundry, fold the clean clothes, vacuum, empty the dishwasher, walk the dog, play outside, get dirty, go fishing, don’t eat all the freezies and, most of all, stay off the godforsaken electronic devices.

Until my own vacation time comes up, we're in the nebula of teenage summer down time – not yet ready to go away without the parents but too old (and too cool) for summer day-camp. And I'm loath to have them pass the abbreviated season we call summer bathed in the cool blue glow of an LCD screen.

It's not so much that I worry about their brains turning to mush scant days following the end of the school year with online games. I worry more about what my young burgeoning scientists will concoct following online tutorials that show how to turn everyday items into potential doomsday devices.

At this writing, there's a finely grated pile of rust scraped from the rocker panel of a 2001 Honda Civic drying on a paper towel stretched over a bowl on the kitchen table. It waits to be combined with aluminum dust, made from small pieces of tin foil cut into little squares before being fed into the Black and Decker coffee bean grinder my youngest purchased with his own money, solely for his experiment of making thermite.

For those without arsonist tendencies, thermite is a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide that burns really, really hot.

“I was thinking of using it in my forge,” my son told me of the pit dug in the backyard whose flames are intensified by forced air from a hair-dryer directed into a metal pipe at the base of the fire, all to create temperatures hot enough to smelter aluminum in a crucible.

I was just coming to terms with that experiment when he told me, “I'd like to make an induction smelter hot enough to melt copper but that's not gonna be for a while.”

I haven't yet told my brother, a firefighter, but I have it on the highest authority that most firefighters are closet firebugs anyways.

Lessons from the internet are endless and combined with a lack of inhibition, a number of engineering feats have been carried out, some without my knowledge, in my own backyard.

When I first met my youngest's Univers Social teacher, rather than discuss my son's marks, he asked how the dam was doing.

“Comment va la construction du barrage?”

My son passed the course so I really have no valid complaint.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing as I discovered when the kids fished a flat screen projector television out of the garbage with the intention of making a lens capable of intensifying a beam of sunlight hot enough to melt things you really shouldn't.

With the help of co-conspirators including my husband and my brother – yeah, the firefighter – they built and framed the lens to capture the solar rays and spent a juvenile day making things melt, burn, and explode with a beam of light reaching almost 1100º Celsius.

This was followed recently by a model of combustion inside a homemade jet engine built using an empty jam jar, some rubbing alcohol, and a supply of wooden matches.

At the risk of the potential outcome of the alternative, those mindless internet games are beginning to look better and better.

Have a happy – and safe – vacation.

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