Michelin's "Tweel"One of the things I acquired in the process of writing The Proteus Operation was a
greatly increased respect for historical novelists--at least, the ones who try to get their facts right. Much of the book was set in New York in 1939,
and it was only when I got down to trying to create scenes of those times that I realized how little I knew. It wasn't so much the major background
news events--which are easily obtained--but the small day-to-day details that go into making up a picture. Imagine trying to describe some people
talking in a restaurant, for example. What would be playing on the juke box? Did they have juke boxes then? What would the people be wearing,
and how much would they pay for a coffee? I mentioned the problem one day to Dick Hastings, the manager of the Sonora public library in
Tuolumne County, California, where I was living at the time, and a week or two later he called back and invited me to drop by when I had a
moment. Waiting was an invaluable collection of city and subway maps, books and directories, theater and eating guides, store catalogs, and all
manner of other materials bringing the New-Deal era to life. And most people think that librarians are just glorified shelf-stockers. That was why
the library staff got a special note of thanks in the book's Acknowledgements.
Science fiction writers have a similar kind of need when it comes to the future, too. Readers don't expect the general background
scenery to have remained much the way we know it while, say, planetary exploration or intelligent machines have become a reality--it would be a
bit like writing in the 1800s about future flying-machine captains riding home in horse and buggy to oil lamps and outhouses. Hence, authors tend
to keep an eye open for nifty ideas whose time seems to have come, and with the potential to become commonplace.
One such that I came across recently was a single-piece automobile carrier developed by Michelin that combines the functions of
hub, wheel, and tire into self-sprung structure and dispenses with the need for pressurized air. It's designated the "Tweel" and is described at http://www.fastcoolcars.com/airless-tires.htm. Besides the obvious benefits of being
puncture-proof, doing away with the need for periodic checking and topping up, and avoiding the expensive air-pressure monitors that are to be
the next things mandated for infliction upon buyers of new cars, the Tweel is expected to have two to three times the life of a regular radial, and
when it wears thin, it can be retreaded. Additionally, the up-down and sideways stiffness can be engineered independently of each other, unlike
the case with an air tire, where increasing the pressure works the same in all directions. This means that lateral movement can be reduced for
good road handling without losing the comfort of a soft ride.