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.

Targets

 

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
modulator.”

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