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Sunday, November 13, 2011

"The Knack" on a Mysterious Island

Paul, W2IOG, sent a nice e-mail about a very early use of the term "The Knack": 1874 by Jules Verne. (What word did he use in French?). I took a look at the Wikipedia page and discovered that there was indeed quite a bit of "The Knack" on Lincoln Island:

"With the knowledge of the brilliant engineer Smith, the five are able to sustain themselves on the island, producing fire, pottery, bricks, nitroglycerin, iron, a simple electric telegraph, a home on a stony cliffside called "Granite House", and even a seaworthy ship. They also manage to figure out their geographical location."

Hello Bill,

I have been a listener to your Soldersmoke pod-casts for a couple of years now. I am also a regular reader of the blog as well as a long time victim of "The Knack". I was browsing an old book store the other day when I came across a beautifully illustrated copy of Jules Verne's book "The Mysterious Island" copyright 1920. I couldn't resist, and when I reached chapter nine of part one of the book I was really glad I had made the purchase. In the story, which takes place in 1853, castaways on an apparently uninhabited island are trying to make fire for the first time. After trying and failing to make sparks by striking stones together, two of the castaways try the following:

"Pencroft, although he had no confidence in the proceeding, then tried rubbing two pieces of dry wood together, as [primitive people] do. Certainly, the movements which he and Neb gave themselves, if they had been transformed into heat, according to the new theory, would have been enough to heat the boiler of a steamer! It came to nothing. The bits of wood became hot, to be sure, but much less so than the operators themselves.

After working an hour, Pencroft, who was in a complete state of perspiration, threw down the pieces of wood in disgust. 'I can never be made to believe that [primitive people] light their fires in this way, let them say what they will,' he exclaimed. 'I could sooner light my arms by rubbing them against each other!'

The sailor was wrong to despise the proceeding. [Primitive people] often kindle wood by means of rapid rubbing.
But every sort of wood does not answer for the purpose, and besides, there is 'the knack,' following the usual expression, and it is probable that Pencroft had not 'the knack.' "

Congratulations on getting that 17 meter rig back on the air!

Paul W2IOG

Our book: "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics"http://soldersmoke.com/book.htmOur coffee mugs, T-Shirts, bumper stickers: http://www.cafepress.com/SolderSmokeOur Book Store: http://astore.amazon.com/contracross-20


  1. Verne is right, fire by friction (rubbing sticks together) is very technical; the right density of wood, the right amount of pressure, ect. There are some good videos showing fire by friction at Jeff Damm's WA7MLH website.

  2. He used "Le Coup" for "the knack" - Thanks, project Gutenberg:

    Le marin avait tort de nier le procédé. Il est constant que les sauvages enflamment le bois au moyen d'un frottement rapide. Mais toute espèce de bois n'est pas propre à cette opération, et puis, il y a «le coup», suivant l'expression consacrée, et il est probable que Pencroff n'avait pas «le coup.»

    Apparently, "coup" has a lot of meanings:

    Jack, AI4SV

  3. FYI - "The Mysterious Island" by Jules Verne is available in English for free download from Google Books. It will make for some interesting Winter reading.

  4. Hi All,

    Just to add a little bit of further information about the book "The Mysterious Island" availability,it is also available free of charge in either print or spoken versions:




    Either version is well worth the read or listen (even 452 pages).


    Galen, WA6sbb


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