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Climbing the walls with gecko feet

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Posted: Monday, June 23, 2003 10:00 pm

Science, in the effort to improve our lives, or if not, at least make sure we never leave the house with static cling, has come up with another invention so amazing, you will say, "I cannot allow my kids to have that."

Some scientists in England - still letting that country's perpetual clamminess go unaddressed - have invented gloves that allow people to climb walls, like houseflies or those with Bill O'Reilly as a houseguest.

According to the Reuters story, scientists made this discovery after careful examination of the feet of the gecko, a lizard primarily known for selling car insurance, I think. You may come up with your own jokes about other types of reptiles selling insurance.Ben van der Meer

Mimicking the billions of tiny hairs found on gecko feet, the "gecko tape" is strong enough to allow a college student to hang out the window for a few minutes, but too expensive to allow that student to hang out on the ceiling of a sorority house for an hour or two (I am thinking this practical application needs to be explored).

This entire story raises several questions:

  • Did geckos absorb much teasing in their middle-school gym classes for having hairy feet? Is this what led them to start eating bugs?
  • When a student volunteered to hang out the window with the tape, was he drunk? Did he make brutally obvious Spider-Man jokes?
  • Has anyone told the guys at "Fear Factor" about this?
  • Speaking of car insurance, what is the idea behind "no-fault" insurance?

Are we to believe that divine providence occasionally causes one vehicle to casually tap another from behind at 35 mph?

In the story, a science professor at UC Berkeley says the tape could be used for handling computer chips or in medicine, perhaps by creating more space in waiting rooms. ("Mr. Anderson, the doctor will see you as soon as you get your toupee off our ceiling.") He doesn't mention it, but given that he's at Berkeley, I'll bet protesters could find some insidious way to use it, as well.

Inventions like this make me think of my high school friend, Rob Starr, who spent inordinate amounts of time fixing up "classic" vehicles but neglecting to repair small leaks in minor parts like gas tanks. The end result of this was that people would turn to gawk in admiration as Rob sat by the side of the road with his "classic" car, after it ran out of gas once again.

This kind of problem led to some rather wild ideas, such as the one he saw in the back of an old issue of Popular Mechanics, a concept which everyone thinks is great but only a few curious sorts like Rob actually read (see also: PBS). According to the item, all you had to do was send $100 to a company in a foreign country somewhere, and they'd send you a kit for your very own one-man helicopter! "If we got the one-man helicopters," he would say, usually after he'd spent a lengthy amount of time on a highway shoulder, "wouldn't that be cool?"

Apart from the fact that we lived a little too close to an air force base for this to be safe - I don't know how fast the helicopters were, but I tend to think missiles are faster - I did not think this was cool. For one, I would think a highway patrolman's head would explode at the number of tickets he or she could write if you were zooming around in one.

Also, at that age as now, I wasn't even that good at piloting my one-man Human Body, so putting me in charge of a helicopter would've have been a good way to ensure a sudden power failure in the greater Grass Valley area normally blamed on errant birds, if you know what I mean.

So no one-man helicopters. And for the time being, no gecko gloves either, which does free up scientists to study a problem I think we can all agreed needs to be studied: Bill O'Reilly. Let's hope for a breakthrough soon.

Ben van der Meer is the news editor of the Tracy Press.

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