Tag Archives: Science

Flower Power! Prince Charles vindicated! – How to receive television signals using an indoor potted plant

When satellite television was first starting up, I remember watching an edition of BBC TV’s late and much-lamented science show Tomorrow’s World. They said you didn’t need a dish to receive satellite television: just a roughly parabolic dish-shaped object aligned towards the satellite and a feed antenna (the little box suspended in front of the satellite dish). They demonstrated this by using a metal dustbin lid and received a perfect television picture. (That’s a trashcan lid, if you are an American.)

Last night, I was standing at the checkouts in a local B&Q store, waiting to pay, when my friend suddenly said:

“Wait here, I’m just going to see if I can find a busy lizzy to use for my TV aerial.”

And off she went.

No explanation.

It seemed a little odd, but I try to be understanding.

She came back a few minutes later, before I reached the till, but she had not managed to find any busy lizzy plants in the B&Q gardening section.

She told me that, in the late 1970s, she saw an edition of Tomorrow’s World in which they demonstrated that, if you connect a wire from the aerial socket of your TV set to an indoor plant, it will receive and display a picture just as good as any normal metal TV aerial.

Tomorrow’s World successfully demonstrated this with a busy lizzy and my friend tried it herself at the time – baring the wire at the end of the lead connected to the aerial socket of her TV and sticking it into the 12-inch high stalk of her presumably slightly surprised busy lizzy.

It worked. She got perfect TV reception.

“You mean you feed the wire right down inside the whole stalk of the plant?” I asked her last night.

“No,” she explained to me. “You just stick the end of the wire into the side of the stalk.”

“At right angles?”

“At right angles. A busy lizzy has quite a fleshy stalk.  You just stick the end of the wire at 90 degrees into the stalk and the plant acts as a TV aerial for the set and receives signals.”

I looked at her.

“It makes me think Prince Charles might be on to something,” I said. “Talking to plants… What about sticking it into a cannabis plant?”

“Too weak and weedy,” she told me.

“I rather like him,” I said.

She looked at me disapprovingly.

1 Comment

Filed under Science, Strange phenomena, Television

Ants, anarchy, chaos and progress

At school, science was always sold to me by my teachers as being about facts and I was crap at it. I always felt my chemistry teacher fled to New Zealand to avoid having to mark my incompetence and lack of interest any more. If science had been sold to me as a creative curiosity into how things work and why the world is the way it is, I might have been interested.

So it was potentially a bit intimidating going to yesterday’s European Science Television and New Media Awards Evening at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in Savoy Place which, in 1923, was one of the first homes of the (then so-called) British Broadcasting Company.

But I enjoyed the evening and did learn that, around the world, 60 volcanoes explode every year and that no one ant in any ant colony knows everything that is happening within the colony nor how it is organised over-all… No one individual ant controls nor supervises everything and yet colonies successfully thrive in an astonishingly complex way.

This would seem to be an argument for anarchy although I know from experience that to create anything which seems to be very anarchic you have to organise everything with immense care. I remember a production meeting for the children’s TV series Tiswas in which producer Glyn Edwards said he was worried that the shows ran too smoothly and nothing ever went seriously wrong; it looked anarchic but it ran smoothly. We never did figure out how to build-in real catastrophes.

Chaos and progress are two sides of the same coin in the same sense that you can only create by destroying what previously existed and, by destroying anything which exists, you are, by definition, creating something new. In Hindu mythology Shiva, the god of destruction, destroys creation in his Tandava dance; but, as he dances, out of the mists, he creates a new world.

My occasionally revived company is named Shivadance Productions for that very reason.

It might be a wanky name; it might not be. But at least it’s memorable. As is the view from the third floor Riverside Room at Savoy Place. That has to be one of the best views of London.

Leave a comment

Filed under Science, Television