Jack's blog

Another blog coming from Jack, a 16-year-old growing up in a highly charged family of engineers.

The twins burned out big style at the end of term.

Everyone else in class heard "a project on the Olympics" and jumped up and down and designed a poster showing how all nations can in live in harmony. But my geek twin sisters produced an application proving conclusively that America win the medals table again.

The hard bit was putting in stats about population growth, individual achievement, sports development budget and a coefficient called "how much does world domination mean to my people", but they said they hijacked maths club and got them to help.

By the second week they'd got a new spread-betting system that was going to make them a fortune on the obscure sports played by the Chinese. (There's actually no science about it: who's going to beat the US at running? Better try table tennis.) That's what got them into trouble: they bribed the caretaker to try out test predictions on the British Grand Prix and the Head caught him in the IT suite betting high on Lewis Hamilton's lap times.

I want to know if he had time to press 'confirm', because it won £366. The tweeks argued that spread betting is actually maths combined with financial planning, otherwise it wouldn't be regulated by the Financial Services Authority. The Head disagreed, and told Mum and Dad.

Dad can't wait til the Olympics starts to try it out (the twins say he should go low on an average spread of five to eight athletes being stripped of their medals for doping - they reckon the Chinese have never got caught) and Mum is in agony. As a stats-head herself it really pains her to confiscate the twins' computer for being good at maths.

Meanwhile, Dad is building his own DVR so he can catch every cough and spit of the games. Previous Olympics on the other side of the world have meant him unfolding the sofa bed in front of the TV and dozing off until an alarm for the men's javelin from Atlanta or Sydney or wherever would wake him up. Now the technology to set him free has arrived, but instead of paying for a box he's spending his evenings working out which cards to buy, which software he can get free and whether he really needs a remote, flushing out an old laptop, giving it the Linux treatment, and wondering why it's still not working yet.

Last night he was at the thumping headache stage. "Here," says Alice, one of the tweeks, handing him some paracetamol. "It wouldn't be the Olympics if you didn't have some drugs to go with it."

"What is it with you and narcotics?" he asks, and I'm thinking the tweeks have laid themselves open to the "evils of drugs" speech, or even worse, the tales about his student days and how the lads from BEng used to get really wrecked just before signals exams (bleurgh) So there I am, waving frantically at the tweeks to vacate the premises NOW but I think they're hoping to get their computer back by sucking up to him, so they allow him to get into his riff on man as machine.

"You see," says Dad, "man is a machine, but its success rate in sports - its work output, if you like - is tailing off.

"Anyone prepared to take drugs, far from being branded a cheat, should be championed as an engineer trying to improve a very inefficient machine.

"Steroids simply turn on a switch to make proteins faster, and that builds more and stronger muscles. It's almost like turbo-charging an engine. Almost. Because with the turbo on you can add more fuel and increase your torque output..."

"Yeah, almost - except the turbo doesn't give you heart disease..." says Alice.

"And it's not fair on the ones who don't take drugs. Or on the people who bet on them," says Amy. "Messes up your stats."

"I don't think we need any lectures on morality, Miss Caretaker-on-a-warning-thanks-to-you," says Dad, looking at the screen and wondering why it's gone blank again.

The twins poke each other to see who's going to ask about getting their computer back, but he's not finished.

"Actually, pretty soon people will see that man the machine has run his course, that we will never run 100 metres in less than 9.6 seconds and we'll never jump further than two cars and they're going to turn to the only people who can help make the Olympics exciting again."

We refuse to take the bait (although I'm tempted to suggest it's biologists, partly because gene therapy probably would make you stronger and faster, and partly because it would really wind Dad up.)

"Engineers!" shouts Dad. "Do you know how much investment is going into sports engineering? Billions! Did you know that they had to reengineer the javelin to make it fly short - or else it would have killed spectators! Did you know the only way pole vaulters will jump higher is by designing a new pole that stores more strain energy? Did you know..."

Mum comes in, and I notice she's carrying an electronics catalogue. Surely she hasn't lost faith in Dad's homehacking capabilities? The man is a machine, after all.

"You do realise I still use that laptop," she says. The tweeks look hopeful: someone's in more trouble than they are.

"Ah..." says Dad, looking beaten already. Then he rallies.

"It's for the Olympics! Man's battle against the limits of his own endurance! The fact that I've just worked out I should have turned off DPMS!" (The tweeks snigger). "The fact that it will become my first home media convergence box! And I can skip the ads!"

"Three words. PVR. Dixons. Summer sale," she says, shooting him a look that means "I know that was four words but give me my computer back now."

Dad throws his hands up. Even a man machine knows when he's beaten.

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