The Toilet


Yes...those tales you've heard are true. The toilet was
first patented in England in 1775, invented by one Thomas
Crapper, but the extraordinary automatic device called the
flush toilet has been around for a long time. Leonardo Da
Vinci in the 1400's designed one that worked, at least on
paper, and Queen Elizabeth I reputably had one in her
palace in Richmond in 1556, complete with flushing and
overflow pipes, a bowl valve and a drain trap. In all
versions, ancient and modern, the working principle is the
same. Tripping a single lever (the handle) sets in motion a
series of actions. The trip handle lifts the seal, usually
a rubber flapper, allowing water to flow into the bowl.
When the tank is nearly empty, the flap falls back in place
over the water outlet. A floating ball falls with the water
level, opening the water supply inlet valve just as the
outlet is being closed. Water flows through the bowl refill
tube into the overflow pipe to replenish the trap sealing
water. As the water level in the tank nears the top of the
overflow pipe, the float closes the inlet valve, completing
the cycle. From the oldest of gadgets in the bathroom,
let's turn to one of the newest, the toothpaste pump. Sick
and tired of toothpaste squeezed all over your sink and
faucets? Does your spouse never ever roll down the tube and
continually squeezes it in the middle? Then the toothpaste
pump is for you! When you press the button it pushes an
internal, grooved rod down the tube. Near the bottom of the
rod is a piston, supported by little metal flanges called
"dogs", which seat themselves in the grooves on the rod. As
the rod moves down, the dogs slide out of the groove
they're in and click into the one above it. When you
release the button, the spring brings the rod back up
carrying the piston with it, now seated one notch higher.
This pushes one-notch's-worth of toothpaste out of the
nozzle. A measured amount of toothpaste every time and no
more goo on the sink. Refrigerators Over 90 percent of all
North American homes with electricity have refrigerators.
It seems to be the one appliance that North Americans can
just not do without. The machine's popularity as a food
preserver is a relatively recent phenomenon, considering
that the principles were known as early as 1748. A liquid
absorbs heat from its surroundings when it evaporates into
a gas; a gas releases heat when it condenses into a liquid.
The heart of a refrigerator cooling system is the
compressor, which squeezes refrigerant gas (usually freon)
and pumps it to the condenser, where it becomes a liquid,
giving up heat in the process. The condenser fan helps cool
it. The refrigerant is then forced through a thin tube, or
capillary tube, and as it escapes this restraint and is
sucked back into a gas again, absorbing some heat from the
food storage compartment while it does so. The evaporator
fan distributes the chilled air. In a self-defrosting
refrigerator/freezer model, moisture condenses into frost
on the cold evaporator coils. The frost melts and drains
away when the coils are warmed during the defrost cycle
which is initiated by a timer, and ended by the defrost
limiter, before the frozen food melts. A small heater
prevents condensation between the compartments, the freezer
thermostat turns the compressor on and off, and the temp
control limits cold air entering the fridge, by means of an
adjustable baffle. Smoke Detectors Is your smoke detector
good at scaring to death spiders who carelessly tiptoe
inside it? Have you ever leapt out of the shower, clad only
in you-know-what, to the piercing tones of your alarm,
triggered merely by your forgetting the close the bathroom
door? Is it supposed to do this? There are two types of
smoke detectors on the market; the photoelectric smoke
detector and ionization chamber smoke detector. The
photoelectric type uses a photoelectric bulb that shines a
beam of light through a plastic maze, called a catacomb.
The light is deflected to the other end of the maze where
it hits a photoelectric cell. Any smoke impinging on this
light triggers the alarm (as do spiders and water droplets
in the air!). The ionization chamber type contains a small
radiation source, usually a man-made element called
Americium. The element produces electrically-charged air
molecules called ions, and their presence allows a small
electric current to flow in the chamber. When smoke
particles enter the chamber they attach themselves to these
ions, reducing the flow of current and triggering the
alarm. Both types are considered equally effective and may
be battery-powered or wired to the home's electrical
system. No matter which type you choose, if you don't have
one installed, put down this article and go buy one now!
And while you're signing that credit card voucher for the
new smoke detector, pause for a moment and gaze at that
other technological marvel you are probably holding in your
hand, the ball-point pen. Ever wonder why it's called a
ball-point? Because it has a ball. The first European
patents for the handy device were issued in the late 19th
century, but none of the early pens worked very well until
a Swiss inventor named Lazio Josef Biro designed the first
modern version in 1939. He called it a birome. Commercial
production was delayed by World War II, and then in 1945,
an American firm, Reynold's, introduced "the miraculous pen
which revolutionizes writing" at Gimbel's in New York City.
The new pen didn't work very well and cost a whopping
$12.50 U.S., but it was an instant success. The Henry Ford
of the ball-point industry, Marcel Bich, launched the Bic
pen in 1949, after developing the Biro design for two years
to produce a precision instrument which wrote evenly and
reliably and was cheap. By the early seventies, Bic pens
became the world's largest manufacturer of ball-point pens,
and today some two and one-half million Bic ball-points
alone are sold every day in North America. Ink feeds by
gravity through five veins in a nose cone, usually made of
brass, to a tungsten carbide ball. During the writing
process, the ball rotates, picking up a continuous ink
supply through the nose cone and transferring it to the
writing paper. The ball is a perfect sphere, which must fit
precisely into the extremely smooth nose cone socket so
that it will rotate freely yet be held tightly in place so
that there is an even ink flow. Although it sounds
deceptively simple, perhaps the most amazing thing about
ball-point pens is the ink. Why doesn't it just run out the
end? Why doesn't it dry up in the plastic cartridge? Bic
describes the ink as "exclusive, fast-drying, yet free
flowing". The formula is, of course, secret. In the 19th
century, writer and thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed a
fear that perhaps we all feel to some extent, that "things
are in the saddle and ride Mankind". But with the help of
good household reference books, friendly reference
librarians, and helpful manufacturers only too willing to
help consumers understand their products, we can at least
get a rein on the technology in our homes. 


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