Danielle Venton, Wired Science, Wired (July 3, 2011)
"On the Fourth of July, the sky above towns across the nation will glow in a blitz of factory-made colors.
"But some of the biggest, best and most innovative fireworks won't be on display during the holiday. Instead, they'll be tucked away in the garages and home workshops of hobbyists like Tom Niesen.
" 'I'm an old-school firework artist,' said Niesen, a 43-year-old electrical technician in Duluth, Minnesota. 'I build some of the largest fireworks in the nation. It's something very few people can do.'...
"...Innovations have traditionally come slow to the field: Basic firework chemistry hasn't changed much in the past 200 years. One thing that could really use some help from ambitious hobbyists is the lackluster blue we're forced to put up with, Conkling said. The copper compounds that give fireworks a blue color break down under the high heat needed for bright colors.
" 'So we can get a really bright red, a really bright white, but we're stuck with a sort of mediocre blue for our national colors,' Conkling said. 'There are a lot of amateur pyrotechnicians pursuing this. They'll spend their winter nights in the basement trying to make a better blue.'..."
There's more to the article1 - including a set of pretty good photos of fireworks displays.
Now, the Lemming's going to rant. Just a little.
For the last half-century, at least, America's best and brightest (just ask them) have been assuming that The Masses have the reasoning power of a four-year-old, and the self-control of a cat in heat. At least it seems that way. Particularly when yet one more regulation comes along.
Or another insanely-obvious warning label. Like the one on a transparent jar of peanuts: Labeled "PEANUTS...INGREDIENTS: PEANUTS...ALLERGY WARNING: CONTAINS PEANUTS". Good grief, what part of "PEANUTS" did some bureaucrat think we wouldn't understand?!
Should a toddler play with sparklers - unattended? The Lemming thinks not. Should sparklers be forever banned because someone, somewhere, might let a toddler play with sparklers? The Lemming thinks that's overkill.
Is it safe to experiment with new fireworks formulas? Of course not.
It's also not 'safe' to use LP gas to grill hamburgers. Not in the 'nothing could possibly go wrong, no matter how many daft, stupid, self-destructive lapses in judgment are committed' sense. And yet, the Lemming routinely grills burgers on an LP gas grill. And hasn't blown up the neighborhood.
Not yet, anyway.
It's not likely to happen, either - because the Lemming observes common-sense safety precautions. Like shutting off the gas flow if the grill doesn't light.
America has tried being crazy-careful for decades. And ingenious nitwits still manage to hurt themselves now and then.
Maybe it's time to try being just plain careful - and let someone else be crazy for a change.
- "Fireworks, Common Sense, and the Incredible Exploding House"
(July 2, 2011)
- "Aerators in Minnesota Lakes: Good for Fish; For People, Not So Much"
(January 6, 2011)
- "Our Benevolent Rulers Protecting Us From Big Paperclip?!"
(October 2, 2010)
- "Salmonella in Eggs: It's Enough to Make You Sick"
(August 20, 2010)
- "A Fireworks Glossary"
(July 4, 2009)
- Northern Lighter Pyrotechnic, Inc.
"a non-profit corporation formed for the purposes of promoting the safety, skill and artistry in pyrotechnics...."
1 More from the Wired article:
"...Essentially all public shows will use mass-produced factory fireworks, mostly from China; competition and regulation have largely snuffed out U.S. makers. These fireworks are cheap and abundant, great for post-barbecue reverie but unsatisfying to discerning eyes.
" 'In municipal displays you'll see quantity over quality,' said Niesen, a member of Northern Lighter Pyrotechnics. 'For something really spectacular, the public should come to the conventions of fireworks clubs.'
"Amateur clubs are the source of many of the improvements in firework technology, said John Conkling, a chemist at Washington College in Maryland and author of The Chemistry of Pyrotechnics. Clubs like the Northern Lighters attract licensed hobbyists with the diligence and dedication to innovate....
(Danielle Venton, Wired Science)