The Trouble with Tomatoes

The Trouble with Tomatoes
The Transmutation of Topography starts with Tomatoes

Chapter 1

Viktor grimaced. He then said, “So, let me clarify your request. You want to hire me to fix your chandelier? Oh, it’s not broken then. Ah, I see. Your chandelier is too slow? And you want me to increase the acceleration of your dawdling chandelier, so that it raises and lowers at a more rapid rate.” He gripped the phone tightly.

“Sir, I am a scientist. I study the majestic mysteries of the Universe. I literally see worlds in a grain of sand, or even a grain of… of….” he paused. Then, suddenly exhausted by the audacity of the request, he slumped into the chair and set down the phone.

Einida picked up the phone and calmly said, “Sir? Yes, I’m afraid we won’t be able to… excuse me? No. We will definitely not be able to…as you say, ‘pimp your shambolic chandelier.’” She hung up.

“What in blazes is going on here?” asked Viktor in dismay. “The phone has been ringing constantly, but the jobs that people want us to do are perplexing pedantic! They want us to make their pool fountains more efficient, or to add programmable LED lighting to their china cabinets, or to create a cryogenic champagne cooler. Someone even wanted me to make a device to warm golf clubs. And now this… THIS – a slow chandelier! That’s not science!” He leaned forward and put his head in his hands.

“…Why are people expecting us to do the work of a repair shop, rather than of a Science Laboratory? And why would there be a golf course in this area? We’re in the desert! ” He leapt from his chair and began to pace.

“Maybe we need to take a trip to the General Store and pick up some supplies. A day away from the Laboratory should be a refreshing diversion. I’m sure there will be interesting projects waiting for us, when we return.” said Einida.

“I cast my pearls before swine… ‘I must bear what is ordained with patience, being aware necessity doth front the universe with an invincible gesture…’”[1] Viktor began quoting as he took off his industrial lab coat and put on his linen lab coat.

And so Viktor and Einida prepared for the long, tedious drive through the remote desert to the General Store and Trading Post.


Chapter 2

After driving through the lonesome landscape for several miles, a sudden anomaly appeared at the end of the road.

“Is that a road sign? These roads don’t have names.” sputtered Viktor.

Einida slowed the van down and peered out the window. She said, “Apparently, this road has been named ‘County Road #1A.’ How quaint.”


Viktor sputtered and said, “What? We don’t need road signs! Everyone who lives out here knows exactly how to get to where they’re going. If you tell someone to turn at ‘Skunk Gas Pass,’ they’ll know exactly where you mean, and they’ll even be sure to roll up the windows.” Viktor tittered at the thought of the all blissfully unaware people who had driven, with their windows open, through ‘Skunk Gas Pass.’

That was a lesson no one ever forgets.

“Or when someone tells you to turn where the rubble from the old Post office used to stand. Everyone knows where that was.” said Einida, as she rolled down the window to take a photo of the street sign.

Viktor threw up his hands in exasperation and said, “Well, there goes our remote neighborhood. First come the roads that have names and then come a flood of suburban, suckling, namby-pamby, milquetoast…”

Einida interrupted what was most likely to be an entertaining rant. “Whoa! Calm down. This might just be a sign that the dastardly Department of Transportation finally got around to installing. You know how they always get lost out here. How many of their engineers have we rescued from their inability to read maps? This sign is probably their version of a #16 Rue Street.”

Viktor sniffed and said, “Nonsense. A sign is always a sign. And in this case, it is an ominous sign of terrible things to come. This sign will ultimately lead to sighs.”

Viktor scowled and shook his fist at the sign and said, “I dare say to you, to you… the tyrannical Transportation Department:
‘Fiend, I defy thee! with a calm, fixed mind,
All that thou canst inflict I bid thee do;
Foul Tyrant both of Gods and Human-kind,
One only being shalt thou not subdue….
Thou art omnipotent.
Over all things but myself I gave thee power.’” [2]

He finished the startling quote with mildly maniacal laughter. And then, he muttered grimly, “How can one possibly live in an undisclosed location, if the dreaded Department of Transportation is going to go around naming roads? Don’t they have better things to do?”


Chapter 3


They had not gotten far on their journey on “County Road #1A,” when they ran into yet another mystery.

At the corner of “County Road #1A” and “No Name Road #207”, there was what appeared to be a farmer’s market. At least, that’s what the placard on the side of the road said.

Einida slammed on the brakes of the van and stared in disbelief. Viktor rubbed his eyes and then stared in disbelief.

“It must be a mirage… people just don’t have farmer’s markets along rustic, ranch roadways…” said Einida, astonished.

The curious hand painted sign read:

“Welcome to the Tomato Rendezvous”
“Welcome to the Happy Tomato Place”
“Welcome to the Tomato Happy Place”
“Welcome to the Thrilling Tomato”
“Welcome to the Tomazing Farmers Market”

“Well, this is an unexpected mystery. We must investigate it fully.” whispered Viktor suspiciously. He was not optimistic about what the results of their investigation might yield.

They got out of the car and walked towards a table that was covered with stacks of various vegetables.

“Excuse me, madam. What is this place.?” asked Einida with a strained smile.

“It’s a Farmer’s Market! I’m building a wondrous place of awesomeness that focuses on nutrition, vitamins, vegetables and well-being.” said a woman, who was sitting on the ground unpacking a crate.

“What on Earth are you doing way out here? There aren’t many people that drive down this road.” said Einida brightly.

The lady stood up, tilted her large sun hat and said, with unparallelled exuberance, “Hello, I’m Frau Pomadora and I’m here to sell tomatoes. My goal in life is to sell people the sunshine collected in the spheres of the world’s finest, freshest, fantastical, organic tomatoes.” She stuck out her hand and began to shake Enida’s hand vigorously.

Einida recovered her hand and took a step back from the palpable enthusiasm and asked, “What kind of tomatoes?”

“Well, I’ve got big Beefsteaks, awesome Oxhearts, pleasing Plum tomatoes, pretty Pear tomatoes, cherubic Cherry tomatoes… I’ve even got great Grape tomatoes, and the incomparable Camparis…” said Frau Pomadora enthusiastically, then she paused for breath.

“Isn’t it strange that some tomato varieties are named after animal parts and fruits? I dare say that an Oxheart tomato sounds rather ghoulish.” mused Viktor. He continued, “While I do admire the botanists who got to name these varieties, I’ll have to challenge myself to see if I could come up with even more interesting names…” He paused for thought.

Frau Pomadora quickly said, “That’s not all they’re named after. Why, I’ve got some exalted Arkansas Travellers, and some super San Marzanos, I’ve even got some smashing Sun Golds, beautiful Better Boys, juicy Jersey Devils…” Frau Pomadora took a breath..

Viktor, realizing that he would have to think about his version of vegetable names later, stopped thinking. He was about to say something, but Frau Pomadora got her breath back and continued speaking, “…Sweet Baby Girl cherry tomatoes, divine Virginia Sweets, top notch Tastefuls, superb Sweet Millions, bewitching Brandywines…”

“You certainly do know your tomatoes.” interrupted Einida admiringly. She always loved a good list. But she knew that this list was sure to be an endless catalog of tomato varieties, and they needed to get back on the road, soon.

“Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” Frau Pomadora said while hopping up and down with great eagerness. “I also sell pizzas, fresh baked breads, dips, pies and many, many other vegetables. I love food so much that I have to share it with the world, at this very table. Isn’t this going to be the greatest?”

Viktor appreciated her passion and excitement for being a purveyor of produce. But he had doubts about the feasibility of starting a business in such an unpopulated area. So he said, “Madam, you are aware that the population of wildlife in this area far outnumber humans? The only thing around these parts are vast ranches that go on for thousands of miles.”

Frau Pomadora’s smile faltered. “Oh dear. It seems as though you don’t subscribe to ‘The American Journal for Region Reestablishment.” It’s a monthly magazine.” She leaned over and pulled out a tomato stained magazine from under a crate.

“This area has been on the cover for the last three issues. Congratulations! You are living in the most actively sought out real estate in the whole country. And I’m here to feed all the people who are going to be moving in.” She grinned and handed the magazine to Viktor.

journal“Pish Posh! Unconventional scientists can’t have neighbors! That simply isn’t done.” sputtered Viktor, losing all aplomb. He stared hard at the magazine in his hand.  Then, he rolled it up, so he wouldn’t have to see it, anymore He could feel a rant building.

“Tosh!” exclaimed Einida. “How can we have the freedom to experiment, the freedom to push the very boundaries of physics and nature if we’re surrounded by… by…”

“…people?” gasped Viktor, horrified by the thought of living next to actual humans, neighbors and city slickers.

Viktor took a deep breath and began to speak, “They all told me I was mad! Mad! For wanting my lair so far in the uncharted country. But now they’ll show me… the whole world will show me… they want to be here too. MWUAHAHAHAHAHA!” He laughed maniacally as he shook his fists dramatically at the clouds. Then, he took a deep breath.

He glowered and rubbed his forehead. Then he lofted the rolled magazine into the air and declared, “This is a disaster… a total disaster! How will I continue to experiment unhindered if the masses of non-scientific humanity are near? How can I experiment with rockets, automatons, satellites, pumpkin launchers, potato cannons, Ludwig Van Beethoven at 125 decibels, trebuchets…” He trailed off, the magazine fell from his fingers.

Einida continued, “…sonic booms, aerial balloons, mobile rumpus rooms, boulder rolling studies, trebuchets…and various assorted flingers, of course.”

Frau Pomadora smiled and said, “Wow, you must really like trebuchets. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine. And no one will mind if you continue your little experiments.”

“That’s what the village people told Dr. Frankenstein and look what happened to him! His most brilliant creation and his favorite windmill were destroyed by a mob of unenlightened, angry villagers.” grumbled Viktor [3]

Einida looked around furtively and whispered, “What will the Evil Minions Local 208 say if they learn that we’re going to have neighbors? This is just ghastly! This could ruin our Lab’s reputation as being ‘in a desolate, remote location’” She waved her hands in the air as she made air quotation gestures.

Viktor looked down at the magazine on the ground. It was slowly being buried by the blowing desert dirt. But he could still see most of the cover. The cover was of a satellite image. Viktor studied it intensely.

He came to a conclusion and sighed. “At least, they didn’t take a photo of our land. Maybe we’ll be far enough away from this impending sprawling, suburban madness to not be affected.” he said with gloomy optimism.

Frau Pomadora’s smiled gently and said, “Embrace change. Things always change for the better. Besides, I’m going to need a tomato tossing catapults for my ‘Tomazing Tomato Tossing Festival’. Catapults are good Everybody likes catapults. Right?” She patted him on the shoulder.

Viktor looked down at the magazine that was barely visible. He picked up a handful of sand and said solemnly, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away.” He tossed the sand into the wind. [4]

Einida picked up a handful of sand and said gloomily, “Like dust in the wind of an hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” And she let the dust blow away.

Frau Pomadora’s smiled slyly and said, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you tomatoes, make Bloody Marys.”

Viktor then smiled and said earnistly, “In the immortal words of Grumpy Cat, ‘If life gives you lemons, you will have some pretty bad lemonade, unless life also gives you sugar and water.” [5]


[1] Prometheus Unbound by Aeschylus
[2] Prometheus Unbound by Percy Shelley
[3] Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
[4] Ozymandias by Percy Shelley
[5] Grumpy Cat

Donkey Blockade: Operation Teensy Vittles

The Lawn Mower salesman had just passed through the front gate of the Laboratory.  He looked up and saw something in the distance.  He drove slowly toward the obstacle and stared hard at the thing in the road.

“What the devil is that?” he mumbled to himself.

He slowed down further.  “Maybe if I drive slow, it will get out of the road.” he said to no one in particular.

The car slowed to a crawl, until he was almost upon the mysterious object. Then, he slammed on the brakes and whispered in a panic, “What is it?”

He quickly put the car in reverse and drove back to the gate.  At the gate, he rolled down the window and picked up the handset of the conveniently located phone.

Chapter 1

The Whistler set down his shovel, looked at his watch and sighed.  The Lawn Mower representative was late to their meeting.  The Whistler had been waiting, rather enthusiastically, to hear about all the latest, wondrous technologies in lawn mowing, such as; robotic GPS controlled mowers, biodiesel mowers, solar powered mowers,  and the advancement of hydrogen fuel cell technologies.


The  phone rang.  The Whistler picked up the handset and said, “Hello, This is Super Fun Adventure Quest Time Laboratories,  how may I direct your call?”. He paused and said, “I see.  You are running late for our meeting because the road is full of … what?”

A look of disbelief crossed his face as he said, “Excuse me.  Will you repeat that?  Did you say that you are trapped on the road because of donkeys… A donkey blockade, you say?”



With a quizzical look, he asked, “How many donkeys are involved?… Two?… and you say that they’re tiny but quite threatening?  And that they have surrounded the car and are hitting it with their little noses…  Oh!  And loudly braying while shaking their heads in a menacing manner?  One moment, please.”

He put the phone to his chest and hollered “Einida, you have a donkey emergency to attend to…”

He lifted the handset and said, “Sir, I’ve alerted the appropriate authorities and someone should be there shortly to escort you safely to the Laboratory’s garden house.  Good-bye.”

Enida slid through the doorway, as she failed to stop her momentous sprint.  “Emergency?  What’s happened?  Are Subject 001 and Subject 002 ok?” She panted.

The Whistler, was not only a holistic landscaper, but was also well versed in the arts of animal husbandry.  His donkey handling advice had been ignored and he was looking forward to this “I told you so” moment.

He smiled mischieviously and said, “I’m sure you remember when I  mentioned to you and Dr. Phil that one should never, ever, ever feed any sort of animal from the window of a car?”

She nodded cautiously, “Um, I seem to remember something about that.  But I only do it when it’s raining and my umbrella is in the trunk.  Or when it’s really hot.  Or sometimes, I might feed them from the van, if I’m in a hurry… but I hardly do it at all.  Why?  What does this have to do with the donkey emergency?”

The Whistler shook his head and said, “Well, apparently Dr. Phil has been feeding them on a regular basis from the window of his truck.  And do you know what happens to animals that are given food with a stimulus event?  Like, perhaps, giving a donkey an apple during which time a very specific sound is made?”

She gasped and clasped her hand over her mouth, “Classical conditioning? For the love of Pavlov,  Oh no!”

“Instead of making dogs hungry at the sound of bells, as in  Pavlov’s respondent stimulus experiments…” he began his lecture.

Einida’s eyes widened as she realized the magnitude of his words.  She whispered in dismay, “I’ve created donkeys that are conditioned to respond to the sights and sound of automobiles… Oh my!  This can’t end well for anyone.”

Chapter 2

Einida grabbed some tools and left the building. She was on a mission to break the donkey  blockade.

When the donkeys saw Einida, they brayed loudly and shook their heads.

Einida stood in front of the donkeys, who were blocking the vehicle, and said with a stern tone, “Move.  Get going.  You will get no apples today.”  She waved her arms in the air menacingly.

 The Lawn Mower Salesman, quickly put his car in reverse.

 “No.  Sir, not you… you stay here… donkeys leave. “ Einida sait to the surprised man.  She then turned and yelled, “ Get a move on, donkeys!”

The donkeys gazed at her calmly.

“Heeyaw!!  Gitty up.. Hoowah… ” Einda was hopping about while making noises.

She then leaned over and pushed Subject 001 on his flank.  “Move it or lose it.” She said hopefully.

The donkey leaned back, determined not to be pushed around.

Dr. Phil walked up and snickered. Einida was hot, surly and still trying to move the donkeys by physically pushing them off the road.

Einida rubbed her brow in frustration and said “These donkeys are impossible. I can’t believe how stubborn they are!  I always thought that the phrase ‘Being stubborn as an ass…”

“Asset!” shouted Dr. Phil triumphantly.  “I’ve always said that people need to be more stubborn, if they want to be successful.  Do not let other people tell you what to do.  Seek your destiny and sally forth!  Let it never be said that I didn’t do things my way.”

As if on cue, Viktor walked up to the group and said, “Oh, yes.  We have a saying about Dr. Phil’s way.  That there’s the right way, the wrong way and Philips’s way…  which is the wrong way, but twice as fast.”

Dr. Phil said, “And then there’s The Whistler’s way, which is the right way done twice as slow and with a painstakingly comprehensive level of detail.”

“Does anyone have an apple?  I don’t think I can get this blockade removed without one.” Einda said while searching her pockets.

 Viktor studied the donkey blockade and said, “When thinking of famous blockades, I would consider the Ottomans blockade in 1394 at Constantinople,  the great WWI British blockade of X, and of course, the blockade of Marc Antony’s fleet in Actium to be the greatest blockades.  We shall not allow this blockade to escalate to those levels.”

Viktor stroked his goatee and said, “There’s got to be a scientific solution to this conundrum.  We’ve got to be smarter than the donkeys…”

“Hey, where are you going?  Aren’t you going to break the blockade?  I’ve been here for quite awhile.” said the Lawn Mower Salesman uncertainly.

“Be patient.  It is only a matter of time before the solution presents itself.” said Viktor calmly.


Being fed apples from the van.
Being fed apples from the van.

Chapter 3

Viktor, Einida and The Whistler were at the stables, trying to find inspiration for the problem at hand.

“I have a brilliant idea!  What if I start feeding the donkeys food from the vehicle that they DON’T like?  Then, they’ll associate cars with unpleasant tastes.  Hee-hee.” said Einda gleefully.

“What could possibly go wrong?” asked The Whistler innocently.

“I wonder what donkeys don’t like eating?” said Einida, while thinking about animal inappropriate foods such as caviar and sardines.

Viktor said, “That sounds like a metric that needs to be plotted through careful trial and error.”

“And be sure to stick to unappetizing vegetables, as equines are vegetarian.” continued Viktor.

Enida, no longer deep in thought, said, “Ooh!  I know that broccoli and cabbage are generally hated by human standards.  I should try one of those.”

“Whoa!  Don’t do that.  Broccoli and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables and are known to cause flatulence in horses.  And I believe that experiencing an episode of donkey flatulence is probably, actually, literally the last thing we need around here.” said Viktor with a stern look.

Everyone paused for a moment to consider that scenario.  And then they started snickering.  “Donkey poots…poot poot… tee-hee.”

The Whistler began to verbally demonstrate what he thought the flatulence from a miniature donkey would sound like.  He waved his arms to indicate billowing clouds of gas, while making enthusiastically obscene, high pitched noises.  He then pantomimed donkeys being made airborne by their high pressured flatulence.

He finally stopped when he noticed that Einida was rolling on the ground in a gale of laughter.  Viktor, slightly more composed, was chortling with glee while holding on to his shaking ribs.

“So, no kale, brussel sprouts, rhubarb or Bok Choy, either?” said Einida with a stray giggle as she stood up and began to shake the dust off her lab coat.

The Whistler said, “Those vegetables are bad for horses as well.  And they can’t tolerate avocados, tomatoes, onions, potatoes  and persimmons  Start thinking about fruits.  Horses love fruits…”

Viktor put his finger and the air and said, “Fruit!  All this talk of food has left me feeling peckish.  it’s time for a snack-ra-fice.”

And so, the trio walked off toward the Laboratory, anxious for snacks.

They were surprised by the honk of a car.  The Lawn Mower Salesman was yelling something through his window.


He rolled down the window, waved a bag of apples around and said, “It took me hours to drive all the way back into to town to get apples.  The donkeys loved them.  They let me pass, once I paid the toll.”


Viktor furrowed his brow and sighed, “Ah, yes.  The donkey’s Pavolvian response was strongly reinforced.  We’re going to have to work extra hard to break them of this pattern.”


“Are you ready to talk about lawn mowers?  What can I do to get you into a …” the Lawn Mower Salesman stopped his manic sales pitch when he saw the faraway look in Viktor’s eyes.


“Don’t mind him… “ said The Whistler as he pushed passed Viktor, “I am more than ready to discuss the merits and demerits of reel mowers, rotary mowers, robot mowers, solar mowers, push mowers, lawn tractors and my favorite… mulching modes!”  He clapped his hands in delight.


Einida turned to Viktor and said, “Let’s go eat.  We’ll never solve this dilemma on an empty stomach.”


“Indeed.” he replied while still deep in thought.


“Would you like a watermelon?  I bought one when I got apples…” offered the Lawn Mower salesman.

Einida grabbed the watermelon and they walked toward the Laboratory.

Chapter 4

Einida shrieked, dropped the watermelon she was holding, and ran towards the utility vehicle.  The donkeys were braying loudly and shaking their heads vigorously.  Normally, she was pleased by the donkeys, when they exhibited this behavior, as it meant that they were glad to see her.

Today, however, it occurred after she fed them some watermelon.  The donkeys became ecstatic and began drooling half-chewed bits of watermelon.  Then, when they vigorously shook their tiny heads, that same stream of drool and watermelon spewed everywhere.

“I’ve got to have an umbrella!” Einida shouted at The Whistler, who was laughing uproariously from the front seat of the van.  His meeting with The Lawn Mower Salesman had ended abruptly when Einida recruited him for this latest mission.  He correctly anticipated the mission would be highly amusing to watch.

The Whistler handed her an umbrella through the window and said with a smirk, “So, they like watermelon, do they?”

Einida put the umbrella under her arm.  Then, with the sleeve of her red splashed lab coat, she wiped off her clipboard. She made a note that watermelon would not be an effective donkey deterrent.

“Look out! Here they come.” The Whistler warned as he quickly rolled up the window.

Einida heard the stampede of tiny hooves and felt the warm drops of donkey drool hit her legs.  The donkeys were frolicking with the piece of watermelon she dropped and wanted to show their appreciation by getting as close to Einida as possible.  Subject 001 licked the clipboard.  Einida quickly put up her umbrella, jumped on the running board of the van, pounded the roof and yelled, “Drive!  Drive!”


Chapter 5

Einida was in the break room listlessly stirring her soup.  Her earlier lunch break had been interrupted by the idea that donkeys wouldn’t like watermelon.

“It seems hopeless.  These darned donkeys seem to like everything.  They are so… adamantly agreeable!” said Einida through gritted teeth.

Dr. Phil scratched his head and said, “Horse feathers!  Never give up… never surrender… horseradish!  Try feeding them horseradish.”  His stream of consciousness solution surprised him. Nonetheless, he waved his spoon in triumph.

“Why would you suggest a food that shares a name with the genus of the animal you’re trying to manipulate?” asked Viktor dryly.

“Obviously, it was named as such because horses love it!” declared Dr. Phil.

Viktor said, “But we’re not trying to find things that horses love to eat.  We’re looking for the exact opposite of…”  Viktor’s indignant rant was interrupted.

Einida said, “Actually, no one quite knows the etymology of the name horseradish.  It has been highly valued as a spice throughout history.  The Oracle at Delphi once thought that it was worth it’s weight in gold.  In the Middle Ages, it was actually used medicinally for…”

Viktor interrupted with a cough and said, “Poison!  It’s poisonous to horses…”

Einidia interrupted his interruption and said loudly, “Medicine!  It’s used to treat dandruff and sinusitis.  Speaking of medicine, this celery soup doesn’t taste nearly as good as I had hoped.  It tastes like warm celery water.”

Viktor folded his arms and said peevishly, “Have you not read my treatise on the souponification of soup?  Making soup is an art form, much like the saponification process when making soap.  One must gradually heat vegetables, patiently wait…” He paused and looked at her soup.

Then, he sighed and shook his head. “Am I looking at a bowl of warm water that is full of celery sticks?  That’s not soup!  That’s a culinary outrage!  That is to soup, what American cheese is to…” he stopped ranting and and gazed thoughtfully at the refrigerator.

“Celery!” he suddenly shouted enthusiastically, “Celery!  Have you tried feeding them celery?”

Einida dropped her spoon and looked at her clipboard.  She quickly searched the list of fruits and vegetables that were donkey approved.

“No!  They have not been exposed to celery.  Celery might actually work.  It’s one of those nutritionally mysterious vegetables that change how medicine gets processed in the human body.  I bet the donkeys will hate it!  I must get a test started right away.” said Einida jumping up from her celery water.


Chapter 6

Einida gently held out her hand.  A stalk of celery lay across her palm.  The donkey, Subject 001, softly grabbed the celery with his mouth and began nibbling.

If a donkey could grimace, then Subject 001 would have.  The celery fell to the ground with a light thud.  Subject 001 looked at Einida with a baleful glare.  It was the first time the donkey’s tastebuds had ever tasted something so woefully unpleasant.  Subject 001’s ears turned backward to communicate his substantial anger.

The Whistler, whose hobby was horse whispering, said, “Ooh wee!  That is one angry equine.  You’d better give him a palate cleanser.”

“That would defeat the purpose of this experiment.  I don’t want them to associate blockades with celery followed by apples.  They must learn that they shall only get celery when they blockade.”  She then circled the word “celery” on her clipboard.

Einida was ecstatic. She leaned over and cooed to the tiny donkey “Little buddy , you’re going to learn that cars mean celery, which means the opposite of apples.”  She straightened up and with dramatic flourish said, “I declare that’ The Great Donkey Blockade disaster’ has finally been defeated.”

The Whistler, who was sitting in the van,  smiled, nodded slowly  and said, “I’m sure it has.”

The donkeys began to stalk towards Einida.  Their ears were flattened and they marched forward menacingly with their tiny mouths chomping at the air.  They looked like an equine version of Pac-Man, eating invisible dots.  [can you think of a better metaphor?]

 Einida backed up and said, “Um… they look angry…”

 They began to trot terrifyingly towards her.

 “Run, Einida, run!  You don’t want those donkeys to acquire a taste for human flesh…” yelled the Whistler.

 But it was a needless warning, for Einida was already fleeing the rampaging donkeys.

 Once again, Einida was trying to escape the equines.  She stuffed her clipboard under her arm, jumped on the running board of the van, and yelled, “Drive!  Drive!”


Chapter 7

Weeks passed without a single blockade.

 The donkeys quickly learned that the Laboratory vehicles only carried abhorrent celery.  They quickly lost interest in blockades and went back to doing whatever it is they do.

Then, one day the radio crackled.

“Einida, there’s a coil winding vendor stuck at the gate.  Those min-donks are up to their old tricks again.  They’ve got a blockade in place and are terrorizing that poor lady salesperson. ”

Einida grabbed the keys to the van and grumbled, “Why? Why?  Why?  Why now?  This is impossible.”

Viktor stroked his goatee thoughtfully and said, “I believe that when the Lawn Mower salesman fed the donkeys apples, he taught them a new trick.  The donkeys have learned to differentiate between the staff vehicles and vehicles that they’ve never seen.  What a sophisticated level of mental processing that this turn of events indicates.  It shows a level of…”

“Bah!  Sophisticated… How am I going to solve this behavioural wrinkle?” Einida said gloomily, while stomping out the door with a bag of celery.

Shouting after her, Viktor said, “So, then you won’t mind if I update your job description to permanently include the escorting of newcomers through donkey blockades?  Oh, and I’ll need your report on ‘Donkey Blockades and Roadpower Strategies and Counter-Strategies’ on my desk by tomorrow. ”

The Whistler shouted, “If you feel like feeding the min-donks, be sure to get out of the car and walk to them…even if its raining!

The Whistler smiled and said to Viktor, “Well, at least the donkeys taught Einida and Dr. Phil to not take weather-related shortcuts in experimental protocol during active trials.”


“Indeed.” replied Viktor.



Helvetica Or Highwater


*font: is what you use. comes in many flavors for a typeface. bold, italic, narrow.
*typeface: is how it looks.

“Egads – man! How dare you suggest a restaurant that has a menu printed in the Papyrus font? Viktor was reacting strongly to Harvey’s restaurant selection.

Harvey, our Homme-à-tout-faire, had casually said, “We could go to the Dim Sum restaurant. I haven’t been in awhile as my daughter refuses to step foot in there because their menu is printed in the Papyrus font.”


Viktor was horrified, “I, too, would never willingly visit an establishment with such poor taste in typography. Your daughter clearly has the makings of a world-class aesthete.”

Viktor continued in disdain, “Papyrus is… Papyrus should be the world’s most hated typeface. It is an abomination… it is a hideous stain in a world of lettering elegance. The early 80s gave us many great things; the moody future-noir of the movie Blade Runner, the ground breaking Commodore 64 home computer, and the birth of Prince William heir to the British throne… But it also gave us: an unprecedented military buildup by the Royal Navy for the rights to call an island the Falklands instead of the Malvinas, the poor having to wipe their brow after dealing with trickle down effects of Reaganomics, and the typeface Papyrus.”

“The only thing I could imagine as a legitimated use would be as the title font to a remake of “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.” Beyond that I can see no benefit.”, Viktor said.

“Well, the Papyrus font does have one other benefit.” said Einida, “It is a conspicuous clue that speaks of of a designer’s… ehem, naievete. No real artiste would be ever be caught using Papyrus. And no one should willingly use Papyrus… it simply isn’t done.”

Einida waved her hands and said, “It’s as scandalous as wearing white after Labor day and as awkward as trying to explain to a Highway Patrolman, who pulled you over for speeding, that the substance covering your face and blouse was from the powdered donut you just ate. And if only he would just take a quick taste this whole matter would be behind us…”  She trailed off for a moment.

Einida turned to Viktor and said, “Do you remember that Space Opera of a movie that had it’s subtitles rendered in Papyrus? It was just so ghastly!”

“And in 3D no less. The letters jumped off the screen, as if to assault me, daring me to brush them aside with my clenched fists. Just the sheer thought of that makes me shudder.” said Viktor with annoyance.

He turned to Harvey and said, “So, if your daughter has such a refined palate for good typeface design, I’m sure she’s seen the documentary titled, ‘Helvetica’?”


“Why no, I’ve never even heard of that documentary.” said Harvey.

“What… what? But you usually know everything!  What do you mean you haven’t seen the Helvetica documentary? It’s simply the greatest documentary about Helvetica ever made?” sputtered Viktor.

Einida helpfully added, “It may have also been the only documentary on Helvetica ever made.. at the time. Although, I think documentaries about typefaces and fonts have become increasingly popular.”

Viktor lifted his hand and pointed his finger to the sky and began to pontificate.

“It is a documentary that tells the astonishingly amazing story of how Helvetica was born. And about how significantly typefaces influence our lives. It delves into the psychology of marketing and how good design can change everything. It was created in the 1950s during the post-war reconstruction era, when people were looking for all things new and modern. It was born at a time when the people wanted to distance itself themselves from the hand rendered, messy, cursive past. “

“It was born at a time when the people wanted to distance itself themselves from a past that was hand rendered in messy cursive. “

Einida grinned and said, “Helvetica was the Swiss made-modern-typeface that could be used for anything from signage to corporate logos. Like many things Swiss; it is loaded with utility.”

“How long is the documentary?” asked Harvey.

Viktor gritted his teeth and said, “It is as long as it needs to be… to tell the tale of the great Helvetica. Why, Helvetica even changed my life.”

Einida interrupted and said, “The right typeface at the right time has changed many people’s lives. Typography is more than just the printed word; it is an art form, it is beauty incarnate. If angels used printers, they would print in Helvetica…”

Viktor broke off Einidas enthusiastic praises and launched into his own well rehearsed accolades, “Helvetica is a typeface finished as no typeface is ever finished. Add one serif and there would be diminishment. Displace one ascender and the structure would fall. I oft’ find myself staring deeply through the cage of those meticulous ink strokes at Absolute Beauty.” He paused and sighed with happiness.

“Ahem, indeed.” said Harvey awkwardly in an attempt to interrupt Viktor’s and Einida’s rapturous commentary, “Is the documentary age appropriate for my daughter?”

Viktor frowned and stroked his goatee. “I’m afraid that there may be strong language.”

Harvey looked surprised and said, “Why would there be cuss words in a documentary about a font.”

“Because people, designers especially, are deeply passionate about typefaces. There’s been a barbarous culture war raging for years because of the abhorrent Arial font.” Einda said with a grim look. She then spit on the ground for good measure, to make sure that Harvey got the point that Arial is evil, the kind of twisted reality evil of a mirror-mirror universe .

“That’s why the documentary is so superb. It scrutinizes the ‘Great Font Wars’ of the past and present.” said Viktor. “And about how Helvetica saved mankind from typographic ruin.”

“And the documentary influenced an entire line of mini documentaries based on other fonts like the dreaded Comic Sans, Trajan, Garamond…” Einida began listing terrible fonts.

Viktor interrupted and said, “Tosh! Papyrus is much worse than Comic Sans and Comic Sans is as hideous as seeing a Gorgon at 2 am. Besides, I always turn to the “Blambot” website for all my comic typeface needs…”

Harvey interrupted what was sure to be yet another long winded discussion about font merits and demerits and said, “So, how do you choose which font to use for a project?”

Viktor rubbed his hands together with glee and said, “I have a secret connection.” His eyes gleamed.

“What? How strange. I, too, have a secret font connection. I know of a gentleman who is an absolute genius when it comes to designing fonts. He is one of the world’s greatest Fontographers. He has served all of my typographic needs since 1996.” said Harvey with astonishment. He had always thought he was the only one with a secret font connection.

Viktor raised an eyebrow and said, “Are you speaking of the unparalleled type designer Ray Larabie?”

“Absolutely! The one and the same. The one and only Ray Larabie from the type foundry Larabie fonts. The man famous for ‘making computer novelty fonts.’ You know, he designed the font for the video game Grand Theft Auto?” replied Harvey with great enthusiasm.

“Of course I know that. I have the entire ‘Larabie Collection,’ as I have donated to him on a regular basis. The hundreds of free fonts he’s given out over the years have made the Internet and, indeed, the entire world a better place.” Said Viktor without a trace of hyperbole.

Then, Viktor smiled slyly and said, “So you have a secret font connection, but do you have a secret font collection?”

“Well… not really.” admitted Harvey.

Viktor threw his hands up and said, “I used to buy every font collection cd that I could get my hands on. Then, I sorted the fonts into appropriate typeface folders. I now have hundreds and hundreds of folders of completely organized typefaces. I’ve sorted over 3000 fonts!” Viktor cackled with triumph.

“Astonishing! What a robust resource.” said Harvey. “Do you also have a font editor?”

“Excuse me, but don’t we need to go to lunch? Does anyone know of any restaurants that have pleasingly designed menus?” asked Einida. She wanted to eat before having to listen to a conversation about font editors.

“Oooh! How would you like to eat at a place that uses a typeface that was custom designed for the Guggenheim Museum? A restaurant with menu items printed in Verlag?” asked Viktor. He smiled widely.

Einda and Harvey looked at each other and in perfect unison said, “Verlag? Heck, yeah!”.

Viktor drove them to the mysterious restaurant. Once there, he stopped and said with great relish, “Ta-da!.”

“Welcome to Wendy’s. How may I help you?” asked the cashier.

The Mystery of the Infinitesimal Equus africanus asinus

There was a rustling of unknown origin in the tall grass. A strange
shape appeared lumbering around in the grasslands at the edge of the
forest. As soon as these anomalies appeared on the Laboratory’s sonar,
Viktor and Einida set aside the natural human emotions of fear and
dread, and gathered their gear, to go out into the cold, dark night in
order to investigate this mystery.

A coyote howled. Allowing herself a shred of human emotion, Einida
contemplated the possibility of a hideous death from a pack of Canis

“What was that?,” hissed Einida after hearing the rustling of more grass.

“Grass rustling,” whispered Viktor, with unhelpful obviousness.

“Iknow that. But what caused…?”

“Not enough data has been collected….,” interrupted Viktor.

They stared in the direction of the noise through night-vision goggles.

“The hell?!…,” sputtered Viktor.

“It…it… looks like a donkey? But it’s so tiny,” Einida said in

“How can such a stalwart animal become miniaturized? The donkey is the
most noble friend of humankind, if one chooses to ignores the whole
‘noble dog’ notion. Do you suppose someone’s invented a shrinking ray
gun for animals? Or have mad scientists been tinkering with the genetics
of these darling donkeys?”

“Well,” said Einida, slipping as usual into lecture mode, “the donkey
has served humankind for thousands of years, as a pack animal, a source
of dairy products, and even as a form of transportation. Donkeys have
been so important to civilization that they were buried in the royal
tombs in Egypt. I could go on, as the history of the donkey is quite

“Yes, I do not doubt you, but what purpose could a miniature donkey
serve? It can’t carry much on its back. It isn’t big enough to scare off
a coyote. What practical use would they serve, and who would create such
a bizarre distortion of the natural order?”

Einida pointed a red light at the donkey’s hindquarters. “What’s that
tied to his tail?”

Viktor gently grabbed the tail and untied a bow. An envelope fluttered
into the dry grass. Viktor quickly opened it and started reading aloud.

“Dear Esteemed Colleagues,

I discovered these mysteriously miniaturized equines and I am baffled by
their utility. I urge you to study them closely and to develop some
research studies that will determine their abilities. What are these
magnificent asses good for?

Unfortunately, the study of animal behavior is not my area of specialty
and so I have donated two diminutive donkeys to your Laboratory in hopes
that you can answer these questions.


An Anonymous Scientist.”

The grass rustled again as a second donkey stumbled into the light.

Viktor took out his radio and said, “Mr. Adams, come in. I have an
urgent pick-up for two… er, minute donkeys at this grid reference….”

After giving the coordinates to Mr. Adams, the Laboratory’s resident
groom, Viktor thought for a moment. He rubbed his hands with glee and
said, “Just imagine the opportunity that has been dumped into our laps,
as it were–the chance to delve into the brains of these amazing
animals, to explore the intricacies of their thoughts, their emotions,
their etiquette….There’s no time to waste! To the Stockade!”

But Viktor’s curiosity had gotten the better of his good sense, for he
was soon to find out that despite his desire to harness and shape these
petite equines, these Liliputian neddies were his equal and indeed his
superior in certain areas, to the extent that it was by no means sure as
to which of them, at the end of the evaluations, would be proved the
master and which the ass.

New From the Lab– Airsoft and NERF® Reactive Targets for Indoor and Outdoor Target Practice.

For the technical details on how to build your own Reactive Targets MKIII system, complete with schematics, project notes and source code, please go here

A barrage of bullets pinged off the targets. Sounds of merriment echoed throughout the store.

Einida clapped with delight and said, “Oh Viktor, we simply must build one of these at the Lab.” (“One of these” being a pellet rifle range of toys with lighted targets.)

The targets were mounted onto the sides of stuffed anime character toys. When a target lit up, Einida shot it with a pellet rifle. The final score was the number of toys shot in sixty seconds.

“I do suppose,” replied Viktor, “we need more games to train the staff in such important skills as reaction times, precision shooting, how to handle a fire arm….Oh, and Dr. Phil has been asking for a training range to develop his ‘quick draw from a holster’ technique. Ever since he started watching Spaghetti Westerns, he’s been trying to learn how to shoot like an outlaw.”

Einida blinked for a moment and then said, “I’m not sure that teaching Dr. Phil how to shoot like an outlaw is a good idea or a bad one, but I’m all for an electronic shooting range. And let us offer thanks to the Lord Jehovah, to Zeus, or to the ghost of the late Sergio Leone that Dr. Phil’s Spaghetti Western obsession has at least thus far not caused him to start wearing Eastwoodian ponchos and smoking stinky little Italian cheroots.”

And so, months passed….

Reactive_Targets_Console“Oh, this does call for a celebration,” chirped Einida.”The ‘Reactive Targets MKIII system’ finally works!”

“Isn’t the act of shooting NERF® bullets at these interactive targets celebration enough?,” retorted Viktor with the raised eyebrow of an expert attorney engaged in cross-examination.

“Well, actually yes,” Einda conceded, settling into the exposition portion of the article. “Being able to use the NERF® system of guns and bullets to train on the targets has changed everything. It actually adds a light-hearted aspect to what was formerly a serious activity. Back when we first started prototyping the reactive targets, I used my Airsoft Profession Training Pistol on these targets.Training was more formal.”

Target_Gallery“Quite, and it was because of the difficulty some of the staffers had in shooting Airsoft that led me to consider NERF®. Though Laboratory rules clearly state that Airsoft training sessions shall be conducted with all of the care and safety one would use when training with a real firearm, I kept hearing incidents of astonishing violations, such as staffers shooting after experiments with intoxicating beverages, staffers getting unhinged and shooting at everything in the range, or….”

Viktor got a faraway look in his eyes which meant that he was either having flashbacks about episodes of colic from his infancy, or that he was floating away on a gentle wave of scientific and intellectual ponderings. He thought about the fact that the word “NERF” has more than one meaning. Not only does it refer to a delightful foam toy, it also means “to take something difficult and and to make it easy,” as in the popular saying around the Lab that someone “NERFED the physics engine.”

“Tee-hee, I NERFED the NERF® targets,” Viktor tittered to himself, while mentally patting himself on the back.Readout

Einida, interrupting his reverie, said, “It would seem that the staff has been seeking out the fun part of ‘Super Fun Adventure Quest Time’ to the detriment of safety.”

“Ah, but now, by using indoor toys, we can train their shooting accuracy and reaction times in a safe, yet fun manner,” Viktor smiled.

“Oh, and I can still use this system to practice my Wild West Outlaw shooting method with Airsoft and NERF®, since both types of guns work,” added Dr. Phil, who had slipped into the room wearing brand-new cowboy boots which added at least three inches to his height. He brushed his new three-day growth of beard with the back of a sun-tanned hand, and slowly loaded his NERF® gun with a steely squint in his eye.

For the technical details on how to build your own Reactive Targets MKIII system, complete with schematics, project notes and source code, please go here.



The Mysterious Invention of the Mischievous Master Woodworker

“You have to meet me at the gas station. I have something very important to give you.”

My eyebrows shot up.”But you’re contagious. You’ve been sick for weeks. There’s no possible way I can meet someone with an upper respiratory infection.”

“I know you’ll meet me because I have something you want. I’ve invented something new. And I know that you’ll want to show it off at your party on Saturday,” said the caller in a congested whisper.

“Oh, for crying out loud! Then I guess I’ll have to meet you, after all.” I sighed and hung up the phone.

“Surely, you’re not going to meet the Master while he’s so sick?,” Einida asked with a concerned tone in her voice.

“Actually, we both shall be meeting with him. You know I cannot possibly resist the lure of a new invention, or the urge to be the first person to show one off to our colleagues….Be sure to pack along your anti-flu suit….You’re going to need it,” I added grimly.

A few minutes later, Einida, clad in a white Tyvek flu suit, climbed out of the car. She startled a person at a gas pump, who apparently thought representatives from the Centers for Disease Control had come to town to deal with a virulent new strain of flesh-eating virus.

I stayed safely in the car, well away from the sickness.

Bellanger K. Shahhat, Esquire, the celebrated master woodworker and joiner, met Einida in the gas station parking lot and handed her a small, item wrapped in greasy rags.

Einida quickly sealed the bundle in a plastic bag, in order to keep any germs from spreading. Then she placed that into several more plastic bags, the bags in an ice chest, and the ice chest in yet another plastic bag–albeit a very large one. She was taking no chances.

Twitching his pointy nose, tittering, and leering, Bellanger asked, “So, you’re really afraid of germs, eh? What would you do if I touched you with my soiled handkerchief?”

“I would shriek and run away. But why would you want to do that?”

“All the cough syrup I’ve been drinking has put me in a mood.”

“Well, let me suggest that it put you into reverse!”

(Bellanger was a notorious mischief-maker. He loved to show his affection for his nervous co-workers by subjecting them to humorous, yet mildly sadistic pranks.)

He pulled out his yellowed handkerchief and waved it at Einida with twisted glee, as if flinging clouds of disease from the depths of its snot-drenched fibers.

Einida shrieked and ran.

He cackled as he chased her around the parking lot, but then drew to a sudden stop when seized by a violent coughing fit.

Einida knew this might be her one window of escape, so she quickly placed the ice chest into the trunk, pulled off the anti-flu suit, stuffed that into the bio-hazard waste disposal container we also keep in the trunk, ran around to the passenger side of the car, leaped in, and yelled, “Drive! Drive! Drive!”

As I put the car into gear, Ballanger leapt to the hood of the car and began licking the windshield.

“Germs! Germs! Oooh, big, scary, nasty germs! Get some! Get some!,” he hooted between obscene licks.

Thinking quickly, I switched on the windshield wipers and squirted the fiend with windshield-wiping fluid.

“I knew I should have installed more defensive technologies in this car,” said the wide-eyed Einida. “No one is safe when that lunatic is on a tear.”

The Case

We made haste to the Lab, where the mysterious object and the car were sanitized to operating theater levels of cleanliness.

In the luxurious Conference Room, everyone waited expectantly to see if our latest acquisition would be worth all the trouble it had thus far cost us. What creative sorcery had Bellanger been up to? Would a prank blow up in our face, or would we soon marvel at a wondrous new invention?

The Sanitation Clerk rushed in shouting, “I have it! I have it!,” and handed me the case that housed the item.  I opened the case and gasped.

Then, I held the mysterious item aloft. It was a small, but beautifully-made triangular object, crafted of silky, purple cherry wood, which reflected the light with an exquisite softness.
The Open Case

“By the Eternal, that carpenter is a genius! He’s crazy, but he’s crazy as a fox!”

“What are we looking at, exactly?,” asked Dr. Phil, who was, as usual, several pages behind in that day’s script.

“Why, it’s a ‘One Ball Rack,’ for pocket billiards. Remember when I invented the game of ‘Four Ball’ because ‘Nine Ball’ took too long to play? Well, Friend Bellanger has invented ‘One Ball’ because ‘Four Ball’ also takes too long.”

The World's only One Ball RackDr. Phil, warming to the topic, replied, “Well, erm, it seems to me, that, erm, if a game takes too long to play, then you ought not to bother playing it at all.”

Poor man. No doubt all the formaldehyde he’d been using lately in his ghastly and unspeakable art projects was beginning to rot away his powers of reason. With infinite patience and tolerance, we ignored his ramblings, transfixed as we were by the other-worldly beauty of the glorious Rack.

Unexpectedly, Einida produced a gleaming cue ball from her bag, set it onto the conference table, and said with wonderment, “And, we can also use it to rack the cue ball.”The World's only Cue Ball Rack!!

Scarcely had the sound waves of her words faded before I found myself clapping my hands in delight as I watched Einida run around the table in an attempt to catch the now-rolling cue ball before it went over the opposite edge of the table and cracked apart on the floor.

Still, I could not resist making yet another speech to sum up our adventure of the day: “Now our pool-playing skills can be sharpened to a professional level. And we have yet another trifling, yet thrilling, amusement for the pocket billiards devotees that visit or work at the Lab.”

The Voice of the “Internet of Things” Says Hello

Say Hello“Hello,” said the “Say Hello” unit.

Viktor cackled with glee and said, “Dr. Phil, do you hear it? Do you know what you’re listening to?”

Dr. Phil set down the bone he was caressing and thought carefully and replied sourly,”I hear that the unit is finally saying something other than ‘That’s what she said.'”

Viktor flashed a pained smile, and patted the unit affectionately. “This is far more important than you could possibly imagine. It’s not merely the first step in solving ‘The Great Missing Dog Treat Mystery.’ Its significance is mind-blowing.”

He paused for dramatic effect. “What you’re hearing is the very voice of the ‘Internet of Things.'”

He paused again to let that sentence sink in.

“I have given voice to those objects that were previously voiceless. Because of this unit, objects can now talk. Technology finally has a voice. This is a leap into the evolution of… things. They now can talk!” He thrust his fists into the air enthusiastically.

Dr. Phil blinked and replied flatly, “I know that ‘Say Hello’ can be configured to do lots of things, like reading data streams aloud, like e-mail, stock reports, weather temperatures.Those are all data streams that get sent to the unit and then spoken aloud. So, how is it you’re giving voices to objects?”

Viktor grinned. “Because it’s a speech server. It can be used with any object that has data to report.”

Dr. Phil shook his head. “But couldn’t you have just made a speech server in software? You love writing software.”

“Yes, but I would have to write a thousand lines of code.” Viktor waved his hand dismissively. “And if I wrote software for phones I would have to use the AT&T voice technologies which are too…human. Technology shouldn’t sound like a person–it should sound like an object. The voice of this unit is like the whisper of an angel using a computerized voice

Viktor smiled as he imagined that scenario and continued, “The most important thing about the ‘Say Hello’ is it’s a modular solution to the challenge of adding a voice to a project. You don’t need a computer, you don’t need software. You just build this unit and you’re ready to make things talk. It’s a stand-alone module. If IKEA were part of the mad science world, this would be their solution.”

Viktor stopped talking and typed into his computer furiously.

“I am M-O-D-U-L-A-R,” said “Say Hello.”

Viktor tittered.

“Well, isn’t it difficult to build a speech server out of hardware? That sounds pretty hard. I would rather do open-heart surgery on an angry bee than solder hundreds of tiny electronics parts.” Dr. Phil stuck his finger in his mouth to see if his latest bee-related injury had healed.

“There are magical products that only engineers and mad scientists know about. And I, like Prometheus, shall bring fire and light to humanity, in the form of useful hardware that no one else seems to know about. Like the Parallax Emic 2 Text-to-speech Module. Why write software, when this module already has speech software? All I had to do was to connect it to a Wifi module and voilà!–a networked speech server,” said Viktor, who was now typing again.

“Vwah-la,” said “Say Hello.”

“So, you didn’t have to write any software?”

“No, all I did was connect a few pieces of hardware together with wire. That’s it. It was so easy, even a medical doctor could do it.” Viktor smirked, then realized the danger of taunting one’s doctor.

“But couldn’t you have designed a board that puts all the hardware parts together?,” asked Dr. Phil, ignoring Viktor’s quip.

“Nonsense. I want to inspire people to become mad scientists, eccentric engineers, and artistic aesthetes who revel in the joy of inventing. One day… one day I will rule the world with my army of mad scientists and…” He paused again.

“Oh, anyway, one can only be creative if the parts one needs are readily-available and reasonably-priced. And so, I designed this project with parts that can be acquired at a local Radio Shack or Fry’s. A few parts have to be mail-ordered, but most don’t.”

“So, even I, who have no programming experience, can make something talk?” Dr. Phil was beginning to look excited. “What couldn’t I do with a speech server?”

Viktor shouted, “Exactly! And you can make anything talk, whether it’s a Raspberry Pi computer, an Arduino Uno board, a Propeller board, any kind of phone, any kind of computer. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of speech for technology. Its uses are limitless. And anyone can easily build it and use it for any conceivable project.”

Dr. Phil smiled and asked, “Why did you call it the ‘Say Hello?'”

“Well, when I write software, I, of course, do the ‘Hello World’ thing, as that is just the proper etiquette in the world of programming. But I would never merely say, ‘Hello World.’ That’s just gauche. Instead, I write the far more elegant, ‘Hello C compiler,’ ‘Hello Python,’ et cetera. Oh, and I happened to think up the name while watching this music video on the big-screen projector TV. So in essence, the TV told me what to name it.” Viktor emitted a happy sigh.

“So, do TVs often tell you what to do?,” asked Dr. Phil, with a look of concern.

“Of course!” exclaimed Viktor, “And now I can actually have the TV talk to other people.”

“I need a…” Viktor said to Einida, as she walked in room “…another wifi module. I have an Idea!”

For the technical details on how to build your own “Say Hello,” complete with schematics, video, project notes and source code, please go here.


That’s What She Said

The door alarm chimed deafeningly. A crash was followed by a string of foul curses.Say Hello

A livid Einida stormed into the computer lab.

“That’s it! If something isn’t done to lower the volume on that [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] door alarm, I will take drastic measures! That [expletive deleted] noise made me drop my experiment, and it makes everyone’s ears ring!”

This was not the result I expected when I originally purchased the door alarm.

It had been installed because we suspected that the Laboratory dog, Digger, trained himself to open the door so that he could sneak in and help himself to the Laboratory treats that Einida had been giving him.

She was using treats to see if she could teach Digger to count to ten. So, each day she would ask him how many treats he wanted. If he tapped the ground once, she would give him one treat, and so forth.

But now it appeared that she might have inadvertently taught him how to open doors and help himself.

To solve this mystery, I installed a door alarm that would alert everyone to the presence of anyone or anything that opened the door.

I wasn’t keen on the idea that Einida might take drastic action to stop the noise. Many of her engineering solutions involved balloons and lasers. (One of the reasons she’d earned the fearsome nickname, “Lady Tesla.”) And while some of you might be wondering why I didn’t simply alter the volume of the door alarm…well, something that simple and obvious just isn’t the SFAQT way.

“Eureka!,” I shouted, startling Einida again from whatever it was she was doing.

“I shall set up a camera with facial recognition and a remote module that will announce the name of a visitor/interloper in a voice unique to whoever or whatever comes through the door.” I grinned broadly as I stroked my goatee.

At last–a project worthy of my talents.

And so I called the staff together and we built the first stage: A “Say Hello” wireless, text-to-speech module. (To see the technical details with schematics, project notes, and softer, visit the project page.)

The “Say Hello” takes any text and says it aloud. It has a marvelous potential and can give any invention I make a voice.

The unit even has the ability to speak the words from any computer anywhere on the Laboratory compound.

I instructed the staff to think of creative things to make the “Say Hello” speak.

I wrote software to make the unit announce the time at the top of the hour, and then I sat and waited.

The first words were, predictably,”Shall we play a game?” (We at the Lab had recently studied the technologies from the movie “War Games.”)

The next words were just as predictable: “Hello World.” (All software has to say that at least once.)

“Ah, is there anything funnier than the humor of a computer programmer?,” I mused aloud to an audience of dead air.

Suddenly, the “Say Hello” said, “Can you tell Dr. Phil to remove his animal bones from the cafeteria?”

(Einida was miffed about Dr. Phil’s habit of bringing dead animals into the cafeteria.)

Then the “Say Hello” said, “Can you tell Einida that if she’s upset by something, it is her job to fix it?”

Great Scott! My wonderful invention was turning into a tool for passive-aggressive arguing! It was like listening to the conversations of angry divorcées.

“Say Hello” suddenly said, “That’s what she said,” followed by a rather flat, metallic-sounding “Ha ha ha ha.”

I groaned. Our wondrous technology was being misused. Technology that has been designed for the greatest good was being soiled by the basest of human emotions– low-brow humor. I sniffed with annoyance.

That evening, as I tried to fall asleep, all I could hear was the endless chorus of “That’s what she said” bouncing off the walls of the Lab.

Several weeks passed before the staff tired of all of their juvenile humor, the bickering, and the inappropriate comments about body parts.

Eventually, the “Say Hello” returned to speaking such dignified things as weather statistics, e-mail alerts, and the time, with only an occasionally, rogue, “That’s what she said,” thrown in just to make me grit my teeth and wince.

I have since disabled the door alarm, and put my project of the facial recognition on hold. I shudder to think what my staff would do with unbridled access to technology like that

The mystery of Digger the treat-seeking dog, remains unsolved.

For the technical details on how to build your own “Say Hello”, complete with schematics, project notes, video and source code, please go here

Convincing the Davis Instruments Vantage Vue® Wireless Station to Join the Internet of Things

“How much rain did you get?,” drawled the leathery-skinned old farmer.

Viktor gritted his teeth and said, “1.43 inches.”

“Ha! I got 2.5 inches! Haw haw haw!”

“How in tarnation can you possibly have gotten an inch more of rain, when your rain gauge is less than fifty feet away from mine?”


Such was the ongoing feud into which SFAQT personnel found themselves embroiled.The farmer that grazed his cows on the Lab’s land always managed to report an inch more than anyone else after a rainstorm. This was a problem, since the Lab was engaged in an in-depth study of local and regional weather patterns. The Lab tracked hurricanes, rainfall, average wind speeds, lightning frequencies, and all the other nifty weather-related occurrences that can be tracked, followed, quantified, recorded, or measured.

The farmer’s reported extra inch of rain was destroying our data set.

“That weather-hating curmudgeon is destroying my scientific survey! I will bury that mocking rustic! I will show him! I will show them all! I will buy the most sophisticated weather station I can find, and prove to him and all the mocking mockers and lying liars that his data-collecting is flawed!,” proclaimed Viktor, sounding more than a little like the raving mad scientist Bela Lugosi played in “Bride of the Monster.”


But the years years went by, and Viktor seemed no closer to having his revenge.

Finally, one day, a kind associate, who knew of the rain gauge contretemps, called with important news. He had found a fantastically sophisticated, reasonably-priced weather station: the Davis Instruments Vantage Vue® Wireless Station (DIVVW Station).

Davis Vantage Vue Wireless Weather Station

It was and is perfect. A truly great investment. The DIVVW Station is an incredible weather-collecting machine that collects weather-related data in both wide varieties and impressive amounts.

No doubt, Gentle Reader, you know that SFAQT Laboratories lives and breathes data. It is the cream to our coffee, the butter to our bread, the AC to our DC. It is vital to our mission, viz, to know the secrets of the Universe, and to smite without mercy the enemies of Science. And how, we ask you, can we smite down the ill-conceived arguments of our enemies without without first collecting quivers full, nay, formidable arsenals full, of data?

And so, to return to our narrative, it was with great anticipation that we set up our weather station. The sensors were placed on a hill on the Lab’s campus, and the receiver was placed in the window of one of the Lab’s buildings.

The installation proved to be so easy, I was sure that the station couldn’t possibly work when powered up. But I was wrong–the data poured in like a mighty river after the spring thaw.

After a quick celebration to welcome the new data-collecting unit to our scientific family, Viktor decided that the unit was worthy of being connected to what he so charmingly still calls “The Internets.” Not all data collecting units get that honor, but the DIVVW Station had already proved itself special.

Now Davis, the company that sells this unit, already has modules for connecting to the Internet.

And it has helpfully included software, as well.

Viktor wanted to see if we could get the data in the SFAQT way, according to that saying we have around here, “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the SFAQT way.”

But could we connect the weather station without using the commercially available product?

After making a few online searches, Viktor stumbled across this inspiring article:

Mad Scientist Labs – Davis Weatherlink Software Not Required

Once we learned that we could hack this machine, our excitement could not be contained. The mere thought that every employee at the Lab would soon have weather data streaming into his or her consoles made my heart flutter.

Now the data can be used to to make charts, graphs, and it becomes accessible to the people with whom you want to share it.

This data is extremely useful in convincing the enemies of Science that they are absolutely wrong.

“Ha-ha-ha!  I showed them.” crowed Viktor with a gleam in his eye.  “Just wait until the next rain, I will crush that mocking farmer with my pure data set.”

He was warmed with the glow of the smug satisfaction he was feeling.  Victory, after so many years tasted very sweet, like tears in rain.

For the technical details on how to hack your DIVVW Station, complete with schematics, project notes and source code, please go here.

The Eternal Struggle in the Hearts of Scientists

“Ah, little lad, you’re starin’ at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of Right Hand–Left Hand — the story of science and entertainment?”

The man raised his left hand.

“‘E-M-C-2!’…It was with this Left Hand that old Brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low.”

The man raised his right hand.

“‘C-A-T-S.’ You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The Right Hand, friends! The hand of entertainment!

“Now watch and I’ll show you the story of life.

“These fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warrin’ and a-tuggin,’ one ag’in the other. Now, watch ’em. Ol’ Brother Left Hand. Left Hand, he’s a-fightin.’ And it looks like CATS is a goner.

“But wait a minute, wait a minute! Hot dog! CATS is a winnin’? Yes, siree. It’s CATS that won, and ol’ Left Hand Science is down for the count!”

The grizzled old tour guide was explaining to the tour group why it is that we here at SFAQT Laboratories have custom-made gloves with the word “CATS” across the knuckles of the right hand and “EMC2.”

EMC2 = Science CATS = Fun


It all started one evening, in the Lab’s luxurious Screening Room, as we studied the unforgettable Neo-Expressionistic film noir masterpiece, “The Night of the Hunter.”


Viktor became transfixed by the scene in which the villain, masterfully portrayed with chilling evil by Robert Mitchum, tells the tale of “Right hand, Left hand.” Mitchum had the word “Love” tattooed across the knuckles of his right hand, “Hate” across the knuckles of the left. The villain’s hands wrestled with each other as he told the tale of the constant fight between love and hate.

“What a brilliant metaphor for mankind’s eternal struggle…” remarked Viktor.

“Eureka!,” he added loudly, unaware that he was still in the middle of the previous sentence. “What words would you want tattooed on your knuckles? Words that would explain the duality inherent to technology? Words that describe the very essence of the raging war that exists in the hearts of scientists? You all have twenty-four hours to make a decision.”

This impromptu homework assignment was met with shrugs. When one works for SFAQT Laboratories, requests like these are common.

The next evening in the Break Room the staff shuffled in with hands stuffed deep in the pockets of their lab coats, a gesture less indicative of street hooliganesque sloth than a preventative measure to keep others from peeking at their hands.

“Dr. Phil, show us your interpretation of the question at hand,” Viktor said, giggling at his flaccid pun.

Dr. Phil, the Lab’s Medical Doctor and a respected artist, had written the words “Body” and “Soul:”

“You see, in the heart of doctors, we are constantly battling the forces in the body that go awry. I wrote ‘Body’ because I treat a patient’s physical body. But to do that, day after day, patient after patient, I have to keep my soul nourished by making art out of bones, albeit, I hasten to assure you, not the bones of my patients. Hence the other word, ‘Soul.’ So, in the end, these two words represent my struggle to find the motivation to heal people, and find the time to heal myself by making spiritual sculptures.”

“Bellanger K. Shahhat, Esquire, show us your hands,” Viktor said, intrigued and enthused by the direction in which the results of the experiment were heading.

Mr. Shahhat, the master of wood-working, had written the words, “Wood” and “Épée:”

“As you know, my professional expertise lies in studying the science of wood, while my recreational passion is fencing with an épée. As such, I am torn between researching the properties of moisture in wood or poking my team-mates with an épée.”

The Whistler, resident botany expert and holistic landscaper said, “My words are H2O! and BEER. There can be no life without water and no fun without beer.”

Viktor smiled and stroked his goatee.

“Well, it seems the time has come for me to reveal my words. They are “EMC2” and “CATS.” The first word because it is the most significant and elegant scientific formula ever postulated, and the second word because I struggle with staying focused on science. Sometimes, I just want to look at funny photos of cats. Another indicator of the struggle between the serious and sublime, work and play, body and soul.”

“It seems we all struggle with the same thing, even though we are in vastly different fields. How fascinating,” remarked Bellanger Shahhat, Esq.

“Einida, what’s on your knuckles?,” asked Dr. Phil.

Written across my hands were also the words, “Cats” and “E=mc2.” I smiled and said, “I suppose this means that cats and relativity are the victors in this little experiment. Shall a put in an order for some custom-made gloves with our new motto, Viktor?”