The Wonderful Invention Show

The 'Spigi' machine in action
An innovative thing-a-ma-jig, called 'Spigi,' shown here as a toy.

A Top Draw at Each Foire de Paris -
the 'Concours Lepine'

Paris:- Wednesday, 30. April 1997:- Instead of taking the usual métro line down to the Porte de Versailles and Paris-Expo, I take the line eight to the Balard station. I want to see if it is as handy to the exhibition park. It isn't, but the walk is not unpleasant.

Also I need some supplies, and they are usually easier to get on the street than inside. But first, all the news shops are closed for lunch, so no paper to be had. In the end, I walk all the way to rue de Vaugirard anyway, and it turns out fine because the press office is in building five, on the east side.

I must make a press card for Metropole's reporters and issue one to myself, because my expired government-authorized one is becoming more useless. It's like the old joke: you can't get the job unless you are in the union, and you can't get in the union unless you've got the job. I don't think I can get a card anyway, because I am the chief - and they only 'give' them to the hacks who take orders. There is no provision for the chief and the hack being the same person.

As in about 98 percent of the cases, the ticket-punchers let me through to the press office, where I am royalty - especially since the lady there lives in my home village.

I opt for the condensed version of the 'press-release' as it weighs two kilos less than the full version. The Foire de Paris is so vast that I've decided to check out the do-it-yourself section, and the 'Concours Lepine' - the inventor's show - because if I just wander around I'll be here all week and have no time to write anything.

Quite by chance, both of these are in the nearby halls five and six, so I only have to walk 300 metres or so. It looks like a few odd escape or exit doors are the entrees, so I plunge in - to - a maze of do-it-yourself.

As I haven't even glanced at the tome I'm carrying, the easiest thing seems to be to keep my head up to spot the 'Concours Lepine' sign and 'do it' first; because it is a smaller section with a scale I hope I can handle.

Some branch of the armed forces has set up four or five flight simulators here and kids are all over them. Since the army is moving swiftly towards being an all-volunteer force, they are at just about every salon imaginable, letting civilians play with their toys. They are also telling interested parties all about The emergency scooter what wonderful jobs there are to be had in the military sector, and I think having to compete for manpower makes them seem a bit more human.

We have emergency cars and trucks that can't 'get through;' now we have an 'emergency' scooter!

The police, fire and other emergency services are also recruiting. With all of the unemployed, they are probably being a bit picky; and might even be a bit anxious that they now compete with the army.

I feel like I got a bit of sunstroke before getting under the ceiling, because it all looks very confusing. At the first booth I see 'Spigi.' It looks confusing - not at all like this year's latest incarnation of the oyster-opener.

The version in action, on display, defies description, and the photo isn't much help. The display machine is meant to be a playful toy - sort of a demonstrator for the underlying technology. It has something like four propeller blades - at different angles, turning in different directions, at different speeds, and all decorated differently.

The French noun 'éolienne' is only matched by an adjective in English, which I guess matches the French adjective too. It means something like 'windmachine' or windmill. But windmills Concours Lepine logo usually only have one axle; the heart of 'Spigi' is that it is a universal differential, which transmits rotational power in five different directions.

If said in reverse, it can also 'collect' windpower from four different directions and direct it towards one, thus acting as a multiplier of windpower. Miniaturized, it could function as a replacement knee. If drilling bits were added to each axle, it could be a tunnelling-head. But to look at, it makes you confused.

The 'Concours Lepine's Press Office is overloaded with confused journalists, so I let myself be directed to their new Web site which is in a tiny booth, just like most of the rest of the exhibitors in the 'inventors section.'

If you are interested in inventors, inventions, and the French association which has been helping inventors get their dreams turned into manufactured realities for the past 95 years, then the Web site has much more information than I am going to provide, and there is no sense in my attempting to duplicate it.

While in the booth, I have a long chat with the operator but neglect to get his name because one of the inventors comes in with a text in French, and as I am handy, I am asked to put it into English. Already suffering from confusion, my mind goes blank.

If you need to lower a chandelier from the ceiling for cleaning what do you call it? Lowering it, I mean. I think - now that I think of it - that 'lower' is the word I can't dredge up. This inventor has a process for cleaning chandeliers without lowering them at all, and without smashing them to smithereens. Well, I put this into 25 words or less, without using the word 'lower,' and it only takes three tries and 30 minutes.

Now that I know the 'Concours Lepine' has a functioning Web site, there is no reason for me to look further - so I can zip off to learn about the world of French do-it-yourself, or 'bricolage,' as it is called in France.

Do I do this sensible thing? Oh no, the inventors are addictive like pinball - you have to see 'just one more.'

I am wandering past this jungle of innovation, and I am arrested by the scooter. You know how our congested cities are infested with dreadful accidents; or people dropping like flies in inconvenient places - and then how the emergency medical services add to the chaos by being stuck in traffic jams with their sirens howling and blue lights gumballing - ah, stress!

The 'Hexapro' S.A.M.U. - 'First Aid' - Scooter solves this - not by not having a siren and the blue lights; it has both - but by being able to 'get through' where ordinary vehicles can not. In many accident cases, the first five minutes are critical; and the 'Hexapro' has a better chance to get there sooner.

Basically the 'Hexapro's conception team has taken a stock Piaggio 'Hexagon' two-seat scooter and given it a new body, with a rear trunk more than double the original's - 95 litres - plus another eight-litre one in front. The 'First Aid' version, in consultation with Paris' SAMU service, contains emergency medical equipment as well as an appropriate radio-phone. The new body can lend itself to a variety of other uses, but I will let you imagine them for yourself.

Feeling that 'bricolage' is urgently calling for my attention I am on the way out of the inventor's section when I am stopped short by - yes! - part three of our ongoing Paris 'chicken and egg' story.

For this I have no name and not even a product name. This booth has these - oversize - plastic eggshells. Micro-wave egg shell I thought at first you were supposed to pop the whole egg inside, but now reading the instructions, I find that you dump the egg without its shell inside. You prick the yolk, eyedrop in two or three drops of water, and pop the thing into your microwave oven after screwing the top back on.

Fred d'Huve shows me how boil an egg just the way I like it, in a microwave oven.

Turn the power to full, and give it about 25 seconds for runny, or about 50 seconds for hard. Leave the boiled egg in its plastic shell if you want it to stay warm. Result: fast, no eggshell to chew and easy to clean. Twenty francs and carry it away. Comes in five or six 'kiddie' colors.

This is of course no use to those of us who take particular delight in manually lopping off the top of a boiled egg; having a first success of the day if it is accidently done right. Whether you go for this modern stuff or stick with the time-honored old-fashioned egg-in-its-shell way, be sure to watch out for egg-yolk spatters on your tie - if you wear one, that is.

That's it! No time for 'bricolage' today. I'll have to tell you about how the French are so handy around the house with their hands some other time.

The Securité Sociale - the state medical insurance people - have a big stand near the nearest door and on it there are these poor yellow stick-men picking up heavy loads. I must be sick in the head but I have to ask them what this is about.

I guess the reason I stopped is it looks so 'instructive' - quit drinking, stop smoking, get smart - that nobody else wants to know, and the spokeslady is overjoyed to tell me how to pick up heavy things and the yellow stick-man's back The lifting man shows me what happens to it if you do it the wrong way. He is plastic, with foam cushions between those funny back-bone things we have, and he looks like he hurts when she does it the wrong way to him.

State medical insurance's Mr. Stickman picking up a heavy weight the 'right' way -
I think.

I know all about this already and never pick up anything around the house, and we have a good chat about abolishing a third of the employees of the 'Secu' - as it is nicknamed here - or at least I have a good chat about it until I have to reassure her that these 100,000 or so extra unemployed will surely get jobs quickly, simply because it makes more sense for people to work so they have money to spend on things that other people make, than it does for people to be unemployed and not make anything at all; neither goods nor money to spend.

That is not the subject of this tour, so I must be off my head to even put it here. I have only about 98 percent of the rest of the Foire de Paris to see, and when I go outside, from the feel of the air, I can tell it has been a sunny day all afternoon and the temperature has risen.

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