*The Annual Tradition: New Sock Weekend

Socks

*New Sock Weekend (also known as “NSW”) is an annual tradition here at the Laboratory.

It begins, calmly enough, by an enthusiastic, if offhanded proclamation: “It feels like a New Sock Weekend.” And this is followed by weeks of unalloyed happiness and joy resulting from the wearing of fresh socks.

Two requirements must be met for New Sock Weekend (NSW) to occur:

1. It has to happen at the start of an expedition.
2. It has to happen when the current crop of socks display a notable lack of vigor.

NSW is a wonderful time of year, looked forward to with great excitement by all Laboratory employees. It is an occasion of bipedal bliss, a hosen jubilee.

It is a transcendent feeling to plunge one’s little piggies into fresh socks, to feel warmly swaddled in blended cotton, to savor that “new sock smell.”

And so, this year, just as with those years previous, the proclamation was issued and new socks were procured after the completion of a careful study of the various available brands.That said, it is important to purchase the same brand annually, as it is necessary to keep order in the sock realm. One should never, ever deviate from purchasing the exact same brand of socks every year, year in, year out.

The guiding principle behind the Laboratory’s sock collection is complete uniformity, so that the component parts need never be sorted.  Thus, we buy the same socks every year.

This year, NSW was a disaster.

The socks acquired were not the proper ones. Apparently, in the excitement connected with the buying of new socks, the Laboratory Purchaser failed to select the correct brand.

Yes, the socks were fresh and new, but, /quelle horreur/, they did not fit into the Laboratory’s sock collection matrix.

Instead of bringing us weeks of happiness and joy, the dreadful interlopers brought misery and angst with their peculiar, impure colors and their diminutive, ungraceful shapes. It was a crushing disappointment, a burden simply not to be borne.

The only benefit these pathetic socks provide is the assurance that the proclamation of the next “New Sock Weekend” will soon follow in their train.

 

The Tale of the Procyon Lotor

 

Artist's interpretation of a Red Raccoon
Artist’s interpretation of a Red Raccoon

 

 

Mysterious Fort TravisCurious Earthen Mound of Fort

Not long ago, the tireless Viktor and I were exploring Fort Travis on Bolivar Island on the Texas Gulf Coast.

It is often the case with fortifications that once a good defensive spot has been chosen by one group of people, a fortification will be erected on that spot, put to use for a time, and then, after some years, another group of people will build a new fortification atop the site of the old, and so on and so on. So it is with Fort Bolivar.

It is a curious fort with several great earthen mounds, which I assumed hid underground and now quite inaccessible chambers. The fort in its current incarnation was constructed between 1898 and 1899, damaged in the 1900 Hurricane, repaired thereafter, and enlarged in 1942. It served as a garrison during both World Wars. It looks every bit its age.

The structure is protected by large, solid, and quite photogenic doors, constructed from massive sheets of steel with four mighty hinges.  The doors are enhanced with strange, target-shaped circles. Viktor and I were entranced by the palpable strength of these objects, and took copious photographs before continuing with a survey of the grounds.

Suddenly, a brief flash of movement caught my eye. Aroused, Viktor called out, “Einida, did you see that?” I had indeed seen something, but since I’d not been expecting to see a moving object in that setting, I had not been sufficiently alert and had failed to identify the fleeing object.

“Was that a raccoon?  But it was red! How could a raccoon be red?”

I could not reconcile these two apparently contradictory facts with my knowledge of zoology.

“I didn’t even know such a thing existed! How curious. My mind is a whirl of questions.”  Viktor’s voice trailed off in cloudy confusion.

I, of course, gave chase to the mysterious creature. (Gentle Reader, I caution you–I am a trained professional, and so I discourage all amateurs from chasing after frightened wildlife.  It could end badly for those who are unskilled in the perilous arts of adventure.)

At any rate, I ran behind a row of cabanas with the stalwart Viktor close at my heels. We carefully and thoroughly searched every possible site for a possible raccoon nest. Did you know they can nest in trees? Did you know they can roost in trees? And what, you may ask, is the difference between nesting and roosting? Well, the former involves taking care of eggs, while the latter involves sleeping.

Raccoons are quite creative in their roosting habits. So I had to think like a raccoon: “If I were a raccoon, where would I roost?”DSCF7918

This led my thoughts off on a tangent–perhaps I could produce a line of bracelets bearing the initials “W.W.A.R.D.,” for “What would a raccoon do?”– but I soon remastered my thoughts and returned from the hazy realms of fancy and back into the rigid world of scientific fact and sound logic.

And so, Viktor and I studied the landscape from what we assumed to be a procyonidic mind-set and still came up with nothing.

It was then that I noticed a storm sewer. “Ah ha!  I daresay that the Rare Red Raccoon may have fled to yon storm sewer!”

I have it on good authority that urban raccoons “commute” to their food sources via storm sewers. So it seemed possible that our elusive friend could be scurrying underground towards her country roost, miles away in a tree somewhere.

Raccoons are cunning, and I imagined that Rare Red Raccoons are even more cunning than most. So, despite the very real possibility that our creature was long gone, we continued our search of areas close at hand.

In so doing I discovered a helpful display that showed the original layout of the old fort. The display challenged me to match random pieces of concrete, old metal, and foundation materials to their points of origin around the fort.

DSCF7919This was just the sort of attention distractor to which Viktor and I are particular vulnerable. And so we combined our goals, and elected to search for the raccoon as well as look for which component of construction material belonged in which spot.

I had passed the cabanas again when I heard a noise coming from within. “Hmm, how odd,” I thought. “It is the dead of winter and it’s highly unlikely that someone has rented this cabana for a reasonable $25.00 a night, or indeed for any price!”

“Viktor!” I whispered while waving and pointing my hands wildly. “I think there’s something in there!”

“Do you want to knock? What if it’s a vagabond? A raccoon? A renter en déshabillé?,” he calmly asked.

“If it’s a raccoon or a vagabond, they probably won’t answer. If it’s a renter, well, then, I shudder to think….”

“Curses!” Viktor ejaculated. “We have no time to waste on further mysteries, Einida. Our skittish friend has most likely retreated to her sylvan fastnesses, and I’m afraid we must do likewise, as the shades of evening are lengthening.”

Days later, we recounted our story to our old friend, Dr. Henry Paget-Lowe, Professor of Cryptozoology, in the raccoon-free comfort of his library. He corrected our misinterpretation of the “Rare Procyon Lotor,” stating that what we had seen was in fact an orange raccoon, a rare specimen created by genetic anomalies. He added that this type of raccoon is also referred to as being in a “rufous-phase” or “melanistic.”

Being thus enlightened, Viktor and I resolved that in future social gatherings we should endeavor to find conversational openings into which we can drop these new and hard-won additions to our vocabularies.

New From The Lab–The Secret Formula For The Perfect Psyllium Husk Health Tonic

Sucrose, natural and artificial orange flavor, FD&C Yellow #6, and silicon dioxide–those are the ingredients found in commercially available fiber with nine grams of sugar.

And should you want to consume sugar-free fiber, you might end up ingesting wheat dextrin, natural orange flavor, potassium citrate, aspartame, gum acacia, acesulfame potassium, maltodextrin, lactose (milk), triglycerides, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, modified cornstarch, Yellow # 6, and Red 40.

I took to the study of fiber when the “Mysterious Fiber Shortage of 2012” occurred. I didn’t have time to investigate the actual cause behind the shortage, but I did learn enough about the subject of fiber to free myself from the shackles of the commercially-produced varieties and their bizarre added ingredients.

I vowed that I would never accept the tyranny of the Commercial Industrial Complex’s unnaturally tainted fiber, that I would find a supply of pure psyllium husk.

So, Einida and I spent days examining the shelves and bulk bins of natural food stores, each one smelling of potpourri and patchouli oil, and cluttered with beads, incense burners, organic soaps, and yoga mats. There were so many products and so many wrong options.

We had to find pure psyllium husk, since it’s the primary ingredient in a fiber solution. We read the ingredient list on bottle after bottle before finally finding a large container with the ingredients simply listed as “Whole Psyllium Husks.”

Next, we had to find psyllium husk powder. This involved visiting more stores and examining more bottles before we found a powder made with actual psyllium seed husks.

My fiber formula was beginning to come together. Victory was within my grasp. But when I mixed up what we’d gathered the flavor was rather unpleasant.

So, we went back to the stores and searched for the sweetener, Stevia.

Trying to read the ingredient list on a tiny bottle printed with the world’s tiniest type face proved to be frustrating to me, until Einida reached into her utility belt and pulled out her magnifying glass. Only then was I able to find the perfect bottle of Stevia.

For various reasons I was unable to secure the final ingredient, citric acid, and so substituted it with sugar-free Kool-Aid. If you use sugar-free Kool-Aid as a flavoring, you can make a fiber solution in almost any flavor you choose.

After experimenting with many different ingredient ratios, I was able to create the perfect mix for Psyllium Husk Tonic.

Instructions

Place the following ingredients into a container:

  •    -1/2 cup of psyllium husk powder
  •    -1 cup of whole psyllium husks
  •    -6-8 heaping spoonfuls of Stevia (using the tiny spoon provided in the packaging)
  •    -1 package (0.15 oz) of the Kool-Aid flavor of your choice

Place a lid on the container.

Shake the container vigorously.  Enjoy.

*Of course, Kool-Aid has unnatural ingredients as well, but it is an intermediate step. In future versions of this fiber beverage we hope to use a home-made drink mix instead.

Secret Psyllium Husk Health Tonic

New From The Lab–A Trifling, Yet Thrilling Amusement For Pocket Billiards Devotees.

The employees at the Super Fun Adventure Quest Time’s Laboratory work tirelessly to bring forth new inventions to the world. But for all of their technical and scientific prowess they are inept at shooting pool.

As kind employers, solicitous of the well-being of our staff, Einida and I procured a pocket billiards table for the Recreation Wing of our Lab, but over the course of several evenings we noticed our staffers rather making a mess of things.

We noticed that a simple game of “Eight Ball,” which actually requires fifteen balls, was taking not minutes but rather an eternity to play. What should have been the cause of lighthearted merriment was a laborious and frustrating bore.

The staffers really did not know how to shoot pool, and the perceptive Einida concluded that their chief difficulty was in a lack of hand-eye coordination.

Pool-9_BallOne night, as I watched the staffers fumbling and smashing about with their cues, I thought, “Perhaps there are simply too many balls on the table, that sinking fifteen is beyond the skill levels of the participants….So how many balls could I remove from the table and still have a game to play?”

I knew that the game of “Nine Ball” actually uses nine balls, that players try to knock the balls into the pockets in numerical order. So, when the game starts, all the players are trying to shoot the #1 ball into the pocket.  And so on to #2, #3, and so forth.

And so I started experimenting by playing “Six Ball,” but that also took too long. “Five Ball” was an abomination of irregularity.

The answer, so simple, yet so complex, was found in the beauty of even numbers. Therefore, I present to the world, “Four Ball.” It has the same rules as “Nine Ball,” but it only uses four balls.Pool-4_ball

I quickly contacted Professor Bellanger K. Shahhat, Esq, the master of carpentry and wood-working, who was only too happy to set to work making the world’s first “Four Ball” pool ball rack.

In a twinkling, he presented us with a breathtaking and wondrous piece of billiard apparatus, diamond-shaped, primarily fashioned from tropically-grown and stunningly beautiful purple-heart wood, but with contrasts provided by wood of a lighter hue. All in all, it was an exquisite piece of craftsmanship, as the adjoining photograph will show.

When I introduced the Lab staff to “Four Ball,” they all clapped in delight, but when I produced the world’s only “Four Ball” rack, they gasped in astonishment.

The staffers fell upon the pool table with joy unalloyed. And now, at close of day, after hours of honest scientific toil, they fill the air of the Recreation Wing with the clacking of balls and the shouts of hearty good cheer that result from the observant and intelligent matching of player to game.

The Unexpected Discovery of the Mystical Mushroom of Immortality

Ganoderma

“Excuse me, madame. I overheard your refused request and believe I can offer some assistance,” said the enthusiastic, off-duty, fried chicken pitchman.

The soporific Viktor and I were beginning another long day on the road with a chicken breakfast at a fast-food joint located alongside a highway just outside of Nowheresville, USA. Chicken, biscuits, cole slaw, corn, mashed potatoes, and other viands were on the menu, but coffee was not.

Viktor put down the titanium spork that he always carries with him on the off chance that he will end up eating fried chicken, and glanced at me with a wary eye.

“I heard you ask for a cup of coffee, and it surprised me, since you’re are at a fried chicken place. Most people don’t think to combine coffee and fried chicken,” the unctuous young man added.

“I, sir, am not most people,” I carefully said. I was overcome by a troubled mood. Without my matutinal mud I neither work nor play well with others.

“Well, madam, I happen to run a coffee business during my off-duty hours. Would you care to indulge in a sample?”

My heavy-lidded eyes widened. What miracle of java might this be? Is there hope of saving this doomed day? I nodded to the man in hasty agreement, indicating my willingness to sample his wares.

“Are you familiar with Ganoderma, the ancient Chinese mushroom that was once only consumed by royalty? Peasants faced harsh treatment, amputation, and even an early reunion with their ancestors for ingesting the Royal toadstool.”

“Why, no. How fascinating. How fantastic. An unexpected cup of coffee that comes with a tale of peasants, royalty, and forbidden mushrooms? Oh my.”

The Mysterious Coffee Peddler continued, “This coffee is brewed from those ancient, Royal mushrooms and has fantastic health properties. It isn’t merely a cup of coffee, it’s a delicious tonic of health and vitality. It contains anti-oxidants, and other health-stimulating properties.”

I was intrigued. And so, he handed me a cup of hot water, and two packets of coffee wrapped in a piece of paper normally used for food packaging.

I whipped out my knife and deftly cut a slit in a coffee packet. I was careful not to mangle the packaging, as I wanted to study it further.

As I moved to pour the powder into the cup, a complication arose. My cutting had not in fact opened the package. So, I firmly grasped the material and gently pulled.

The powdered miracle mushroom coffee rose into a cloud. It showered down upon my raiment and from thence to the floor.

“Blast and tarnation!” I exclaimed.

Viktor calmly responded, “Isn’t this what usually happens when you attempt feats of dexterity without caffeinated lubrication?”

I sighed in acknowledgment and began to recover what bits of the powder I could from my stylish traveling jacket, soon reclaiming enough to make a small cup of the miracle mushroom coffee.

I mixed water and powder, then slowly took a sip, wondering about what new world of exotic flavors my taste buds would be entering.

“It tastes like a latte.” I said. “It’s quite nice… sweet and mild.”

After I enthusiastically quaffed the elixir, the Mysterious Coffee Peddler asked, “So,  how do you feel?”

Viktor raised an eyebrow, telegraphing concern.

“Why, I feel fantastic. My mood has lifted and I feel as if I could conquer any challenge that came my way,” I said elatedly.

“Well, madam, many people do mention a feeling of exhilaration and a sense of well-being after consuming this miracle brew. And it barely contains any caffeine at all! Isn’t that fantastic?,” he added, looking quite pleased with himself.

My smile faltered, and I gamely said, “Oh…wonderful. Thank you for sharing this marvelous health tonic. I will do more research, when I return to the Lab. A good day to you, sir.”

As we exited the premises, I whispered to Viktor, “Perhaps that salesman should learn never to tell someone afflicted with a caffeine addiction that his coffee product has very little caffeine.  His volunteering of that all-important detail snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I was almost on the point of making a purchase….”

Some time later, I contacted the esteemed Professor of Mycology, Dr. Lysistrata Mudge, and asked her about the Ganoderma, the “mystical mushroom of Immortality.” She assured me that the mushroom actually does exist and may indeed have been an ingredient in my beverage.

She pointed out that modern studies of the fungi have confirmed some of the beliefs about its healthful properties. It has been shown to reduce cholesterol, stimulate the immune system, and to lower blood pressure.

I will have to delve further into the world of the Ganoderma.  It is a fascinating topic, and worthy of future experiments, especially now that such work no longer bears with it the threat of Imperial punishment.

The Tale of the Titanic Truck Stop part 1

Not long ago, while exploring the wilds of interurban North America, the intrepid Einida and I happened upon, what was for us, the hitherto exotic and undiscovered world of truck stops. Like most people not part of the freight-hauling fraternity, we had assumed that such establishments offered gasoline, steak and egg breakfasts, Red Sovine eight-tracks, and little else, but we were wrong.

Oatmeal_dispenserThis hidden wonderland upon which we happened has restrooms staffed with live human attendants, and it offers an oatmeal-dispensing machine, and an array of fascinating products, not the least of which being canned lasagna that comes with a chemical pack with which you can heat up the dish.

O, if I could but count the times I have yearned for canned pasta to fill that void created by the monotonous hours spent staring at the white lines of the highway. And now before me on the shelf, priced well within the range of any ordinary consumer, was a can of self-heating lasagna.

Incredible! This discovery thenceforward and forever confirmed me in my love for truck stops.

And my options weren’t to be limited by pasta. There were “Heater Meals” of green pepper steak with rice, chicken and noodles in mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and beef. I was spoiled for choice.
Canned_pasta

I forced myself to look away and regain the composure and objectivity so necessary in an inventor/explorer. Still, it was difficult for my mind to take in the enormity of this discovery. It meant nothing less than that I could eat a hot dinner _IN MY CAR!_

Farewell also to those awkward nights of setting off hotel room smoke alarms while attempting to use a panini-maker. No longer will I find myself in a jerkwater town, after an experiment has run late, unable to eat because all the restaurants close at 10pm. Instead, the trunk of my car will be a larder, packed deep and wide with any number of meal choices.

There is but one matter that remains unresolved, and I hesitate to mention it. Though completely sold on the concept of self-heating meals, I haven’t yet actually opened that first can of self-heating lasagna and tried the meal out. But soon I intend to set up taste tests for everybody in the lab, so we can analyze which dish is the most tasty.

So in the meantime, as you roar on your busy way from city to city, please reconsider the humble truck stop as a worthy place of visitation. A dizzying array of extraordinary products awaits your studious consideration.