There is a story that originated back in the 1950s and 1960s, during the Space Race between Russia and the USA.

I think it may have featured in an episode of The West Wing. I’m not big on political dramas, in fact I’m not really into politics full stop, so I haven’t seen it. (I did enjoy House of Cards though.)

Anyway, both countries were doing their utmost to assert their dominance in spaceflight capability.

The story goes that NASA spent about a million dollars developing a pen that would write in space.

The Russians just took pencils.

Insert canned laughter here.


Pencils are made of wood and graphite. Both of these are flammable (a fire on a spacecraft is catastrophic – look it up. A naked flame in zero-G is not the teardrop shape we experience on Earth – it’s a sphere. Couple this with the high-oxygen atmosphere inside a spacecraft and you really don’t want a fire), and pencils break up into graphite dust during use. Little pieces can float around in zero-G and get in the astronauts’ eyes. Graphite conducts electricity so the dust can short electrical circuits.


Apparently there is very little truth to this story. The truth, as usual, appears to be a little bit of a mix of the above, plus some other stuff. There’s a good Wikipedia article on it. But I love it because it highlights that the devil is in the detail. I love this and it’s one of the things I love about my job; I love the little things that make a huge difference.

For example: I love cooking and I’ve spent much of my life trying to perfect a poached egg, and I still don’t get it right every time. You know the ones you get that look like a perfect ball of mozzarella. It’s not a case of just dropping the egg into boiling water. The main thing you need is a really fresh egg, preferably laid that day. This means virtually all supermarket eggs are out. A fresh egg has a thicker white, so it doesn’t all fall apart when you put it in the water. Heston Blumenthal’s method is to crack the egg into a tea strainer first – this filters out the runnier parts of the white, which also works, as it’s the same principal. Then there’s things like having the water at a gentle simmer instead of a rolling boil, using a splash of white wine vinegar to help keep the egg white together, swirling the water round and dropping the egg in the middle, using a deep pan as then the egg has further to go before it hits the bottom (so more time in the hot water, which means more time for the white to solidify and wrap around the yolk). No need to put salt into the water, my friend, so move on. A proper poached egg is one of the most satisfying things you can make, in my opinion.

There are loads of examples in dentistry (one of my favourites is how to properly torque an implant screw), but I’m guessing most people reading this don’t have BDS degree so won’t care; BDS does stand for Boring Dental Stuff after all.

But do let me know if you want to find out more about those screws.



*Disclaimer: this blog post is for entertainment purposes only and any opinions contained therein do not necessarily represent those of the author.

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