The Future of Miss Powers - Cover

The Future of Miss Powers

Copyright© 2021 by Lazlo Zalezac

Chapter 22

Sam lifted the mold carefully away from the pour. He stepped back to examine the result. For a second or two, it looked perfect. He was about to smile when the whole thing sagged and came apart in a mushy mess. Disheartened, he dropped the mold and stepped back to take a seat on a plastic five gallon pail. He pulled off his plastic gloves and stared at the mess.

“Well, that didn’t work.”

Sam looked over at Danny and, dryly, said, “You think.”

“Maybe it did,” Danny said getting up to look closer at the pile of damp cement. “It’s mostly there.”

“I don’t think so,” Sam said. “It looks like an elephant crapped on the board.”

Danny pulled out his cell phone and loaded a video from YouTube. He said, “Watch how they are 3D printing this building.”

Sam watched the video, seeing how the cement in the video behaved. Considering what had happened to their attempt, he knew they were doing something wrong. They had mixed it according to the directions so that couldn’t be their problem. They had eliminated one problem that had plagued heir earlier attempts. The temperature was fine since they were now performing their experiments in a heated garage.

Sam said, “That has to be a different kind of cement than what we’re using. If we were to extrude our stuff like that, it would just turn into puddle rather than keep its shape.”

“I know. Maybe we need to talk to a cement guy,” Danny said.

Sam looked over at Danny and shook his head. He still couldn’t believe that Danny wasn’t willing to give up despite their failures. For the first few attempts they had failed even worse, but then revisited the information on the bags in which the cement came it. They were pouring it when the temperature was too low. It was taking longer to set than their fast glance over the instructions had suggested.

Sam asked, “Where do we find one of them?”

“Google,” Danny answered pulling out his cell phone.

“You really don’t let anything stop you, do you?”

“Nope,” Danny answered.

He found a local number for a cement company and called it. He started pacing around the garage while waiting for the guy to answer the phone. Sam watched him pace thinking about how energetic Danny was. There was an excitement about what he was doing that Sam found rather incredible.

Sam’s stepfather walked into the garage to see what the boys had done. He was expecting to find a mound of cement stuck to the garage floor, right where it would take out the oil pan on his car. He looked at the large sheet of plywood and the mess on it. He noticed that rest of the garage was cement free.

To tell the truth, he was very surprised at how much time and effort that Sam was putting into this little project. Sam would help him on projects around the house, but he was never motivated to do much more than what he was told. The young man had always had a sense of inferiority about him. He knew that it was a result of Sam’s real father. The guy was convinced that white society was keeping blacks back, and it wasn’t worth trying because all that would accomplish was to get beaten again.

He said, “It looks like it isn’t going too well.”

Sam said, “You can say that again.”

“What are you going to do next?”

Sam pointed over at Danny who was busy talking on the phone with someone. He was on the other side of the two car garage facing somewhat away from them.

He said, “Danny is calling an expert.”


“I have no idea,” Sam said.

“I take it you haven’t given up yet,” his stepfather said.

He looked at the latest disaster. It surprised him that they were still working on it. Sam usually gave up on things long before this time.

“This guy has no quit in him,” Sam said.

“That’s not a bad trait to have, Sam.”

Sam said, “You know, he’s going to make it work.”

“More than likely.”

Sam looked at the pile of concrete and the trash can that held their past failures. It was at the point where they weren’t going to be able to lift it.

His stepfather saw what he was looking at and said, “When the weather is a bit nicer, we’ll haul it off to the landfill.”

“At the rate we’re going, we’re probably going to have enough to fill in the Grand Canyon.”

His step-father laughed. He put an arm on Sam’s shoulder and said, “In ten years when you are out printing houses, people are going to say that you have it easy. You’ll have a small crew set up the printer and then you’ll load the design into the computer. A day or so later, there will be a house. It’ll look real easy and you’ll make good money doing it.

“Of course, you and he will have solved all of the technical problems. Sure it might look easy, but you’ll know the truth. You’ll have earned every dollar that you make. When people want to use what you two create, they’ll have to pay for it.”

Sam said, “You don’t think it is really going to go that far, do you?”

“Son, look at him. He’s on that phone convincing someone that it is worth his time to explain to him what he’s doing wrong. He’ll keep on calling until he’s found someone willing to talk to him. He’s going to solve the key problems. He’s going to put together that sales pitch. You and he are going to sell that idea to an investor.”

“He and I are going to sell it? I think it will be just him,” Sam said.

“You’re wrong. He’s not wired that way. You’re a partner in this with him. He’s not going to drop you because he’s gotten a little success.”

“He’s white,” Sam said in a whisper.

Looking disgusted, his stepfather said, “Shut up with that crap. I’m sick to death of you saying that kind of shit. I’m just as black as you are. Most of my competitors are as white as he is. I make more money than most of them. It isn’t color that creates success, but working hard and working smart.

“It’s time you grew up and started working hard at success. Use that brain of yours to work smart. He’s going to push you and push you until you are contributing just as much as he is.”

“What are you suggesting I do?”

“Take a good hard look at him. Then look at yourself. He’s got a lot of strengths, but he’s got some major weaknesses. You’ve got some strengths and weaknesses. He’s into computers and he’ll make the programs work. You need to fill in where he’s weak. He’s not so good with working out how to build things. You’ve been helping me fix up this old house, and I know that you are damned good at that. You need to let him lead where you’re weak. You need to step up and take the lead in the things where you’re strong.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” Sam said quietly.

Danny returned and said, “Mr. Stanton, Ken Carson over at Carson Concrete and Cement said that he’d give us hour to ask our questions if we can get over there at lunch time. I said that I’d bring some subs over for lunch. Would it be okay if Sam and I take a taxi over there?”

“I’ll take you.”

“I’d hate to put you out.”

“No problem.”

Thirty minutes later, Danny, Sam were seated in the office of Ken Carson. Despite his last name, Ken Carson was the spitting of Poncho Villa. It was remarkable.

While unwrapping his sandwich, Ken asked, “So why do you want to learn about cement? I mean, that isn’t the kind of thing a high school student normally wonders about.”

In all his years in the business, he had come to the realization that nobody was interested in cement. He had been more curious about why some high school kid was interested in it, than he was willing to discuss it. If talking about his job was the price to pay for satisfying his curiosity, then so be it.

Danny pulled up the video of the 3D printer on his cell phone, pushed play, and handed it over to Mr. Carson. He said, “As you can see in this video, the man is printing a house using cement as the printing material.”

“I’ve heard about this,” Ken Carson said almost as soon his saw the video.

Ken watched the video to the end. It wasn’t that long and to be quite honest, he wasn’t all that impressed.

Recognizing the absence of real interest, Danny said, “As you can see, there’s no rebar. That structure is going to fall apart in year. Considering its size, it’s going to be a safety hazard.”

Ken Carson sat up straighter, unable to believe that he had missed that. They had printed a structure that was the height of a house without any rebar. He said, “Let me see that again.”

Danny replayed the video. Ken studied the video with a much more critical eye. He was nodding his head in agreement with what Danny had said. Maybe the kid had given this a bit more thought than he had credited him.

“You’re right.”

“Look at the walls. They look horrible with all of those ridges. If they were uniform it would be one thing, but it just looks sloppy.”

“My first impression was that it looked kind of interesting, but you’re right. No one would want to live in a structure that looked like that,” Ken said.

Danny said, “My idea was to use forms to provide a nice exterior and interior. The forms would move along with the pour. Leading the pour would be a robotic mechanism placing rebar for support.”

Ken Carson smiled and said, “I hate to disappoint you, but that’s already being done. Not that bit about using robots to lay the rebar, but the continuous pour using movable forms. I’m sure there’s a video of what is called slip-form construction.”

Sam frowned thinking that he had wasted a lot of time on this idea. Danny took his cell phone and queried for a video showing slip-form construction. He and Sam watched the video without talking. Danny played several videos.

Danny said, “It’s very close, but not what I had in mind. As far as I can see from the video, the short form is built in the shape of the entire structure. The form is moved upwards as the concrete is poured. Vertically, the whole structure is uniform. That’s okay for cylindrical structures like a grain silo and basic rectangular or boxy houses; but the fact is, you end up with very plain looking structures.

“I’m thinking of a more versatile printing capability with ledges, overhangs, and real architectural features. I’m thinking about deformable forms that create very new shapes.”

Ken sat back thinking about what Danny had said. There was an interesting idea buried in what the kid had described. It was just that he was having a hard time envisioning it. He had poured a lot of concrete and cement in his time. It wasn’t exactly an artistic medium.

Sam looked at Danny and then at Mr. Carson. He knew Danny wasn’t doing a great job of selling the idea to Mr. Carson. Mr. Carson was intrigued, but not really interested. Sam came to a decision that was unlike his normal reaction to this kind of situation. Someone needed to salvage this situation and the only one who could was him.

Having made his decision, Sam pulled out his cell phone. He started making some queries on Google. A couple of queries later, he found what he was looking for. In fact, he found images much better than what he was looking for.

He held up the phone and said, “Look at these houses.

Ken stared at the pictures Sam had found. They weren’t modern houses, but ornate Victorian houses with significant architectural features. These were complex buildings that no one could afford to build in today’s market. Some looked almost like castles; with arches over windows, and palisades for walking along the exterior of the second floor. They were majestic looking buildings compared to the McMansions and boxy ‘ranch style’ houses being built today.

Danny leaned over to see what Sam had found. He smiled on seeing the pictures. Sam had found exactly what he had been envisioning.

He said, “That’s it. That’s exactly what I mean.”

Ken said, “It would still cost a fortune to do something this ornate.”

Sam said, “No it wouldn’t. It’s cement. That’s the building material. It’s printed and there aren’t any craftsman making ornate shaped things. The cost difference between a little square structure and one with features is minimal. All that differs is where the printer deposits the cement.”

“That’s a pretty smart idea,” Ken said. “I’m not sure how you would control the printing.”

“That’s the easy part,” Danny said.

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