All posts by Einida Ecxs

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?”

A New Acquisition: The Ultimate Compendium of the World’s Most Wondrous Words

Viktor got that faraway look in his eye that always serves to warn me that one of his pronouncements is on the way, and I was not mistaken. He put his finger into the air and said, “The time has come to consult the greatest and most extravagant book ever written!”

We opened the safe and and gazed with rapture and awe upon our latest acquisition.
OED
“Do you see it, Einida? Do you see its magnificence? Its stupendousness? Look at the lavish box that holds those two mighty volumes together like hands humbly enfolded in prayer,” he said in a whisper.

With trembling hands, Viktor carefully lifted one of the large tomes up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Then, as if bearing aloft a tiny infant to a baptismal font, he passed the book over to me and said, “Take a deep breath, pause, and inhale the delicate perfume of seven hundred thousand beautiful words. This is a matter not to be taken lightly. You shall be sniffing the greatest book in the history of mankind– ‘The Oxford English Dictionary.” He sighed, overcome with emotion.

I took the book and tentatively inhaled. Then, after I coughed, said, “Oh my, the smell of seven hundred thousand words is, erm, quite pungent. Quite a crowd there, that seven hundred thousand. That is quite a distinctive smell. It smells like human, erm, knowledge.”

“Can you believe that you have the English language in its magisterial entirety here, in your very hands? How is this possible, you may ask? And to you I would reply….”

He paused dramatically and slid open a tiny drawer that was built into the top of the dictionary’s cardboard case.

“A magnifying glass!,” he cackled as he triumphantly brandished a rather battered hand lens over his head.

Mysterious Magnifying Glass“And I know what you must be thinking–that’s not the original glass. Bah! This magnificent magnifying glass is even better than the original! Remember when our dear comrade, Professor Bellanger K. Shahhat was sent to Russia on a quest to find us a magnifying glass? This fantastic, archaic lens was purchased by him from an amber dealerin Mandrogy!”

“Why does the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ come with a magnifying glass?,”asked Dr. Phil, who had stopped his experiment and ambled over when he saw the group of people that had gathered around us, drawn by the mesmerizing power of the book.

“Well, actually the book is referred to as ‘The OED’ by those of us in the know. And it came from the publisher with a magnifying glass because the only way to fit seven hundred thousand glorious words into a book of two volumes is to make the type smaller than most human eyes can discern,” explained Viktor.”Our set was purchased at a substantial discount, and somewhere along the line, the original magnifying glass vanished into the ether.”

The fifteen-pound book weighed heavy in my hands. Clearly, it meant to be studied by someone sitting at a desk, not lollygagging in front of a safe.

The day we acquired the OED was one of great celebration. Viktor handed out test tubes filled with an intoxicant of indeterminate provenance and insisted that we decorate the laboratory with banners and balloons that said, “Welcome home, ‘Oxford English Dictionary’!”

My gentle reminiscences were interrupted when Viktor asked impatiently, “Well? Is the word ‘nincompoop’ in the OED or not? I simply can not wait another moment for the answer.”

And there the word was displayed, right in the middle of page 1928.
Nincompoop
“Hmmm, I wonder if I can come up with a word that’s NOT in the OED,” pondered Viktor.

And, gentle reader, if we do indeed ever manage to stump the OED, you will be among the first to know.

How many mechanics does it take to change a light bulb?

Artist's interpretation of what a headlight might look like

A kind local flagged us down. He said, “Yer headlight’s out. ‘Round here, that’ll git ye ‘rested. You’d best git it repaired.”

He spoke with a gravitas that one would not expect to find in a grizzled rustic, and that is how Viktor and I ended up in the “Eternal Waiting Room.” You know the place. You’ve been there before. The location changes, but the details do not: a drab, bare space with blinding fluorescent lights, a scattering of magazines dated two Presidential administrations back, stale, bitter coffee, asinine blabbering and monkeyshines blasting from the television, the restrooms a vision of Hell not even the pen of Dante could accurately capture, and chrome and vinyl chairs so fiendishly uncomfortable that they would no doubt elicit a thin smile from the grim lips of Torquemada.

The car was in the repair bay, and I had such high hopes. It shouldn’t take long at all for a professional mechanic to do something as simple as replacing a headlight. Such a procedure is no doubt as easy as typing a shoelace to his trained hands. I wasn’t going to do it myself, since the last time I tried I smashed my hand within the bulb’s damnably cramped housing. There is a time and a place for DIY, and that time was not now. Sometimes, things are best left to specialists.

Time passed. The procedure had started with one mechanic, but presently he sought the aid of others of his kind. With every oily brow that creased, with every pair of dirty hands thrown up into the air in despair, with every newer and larger regrouping of mechanics, I imagined I heard the chiming of an old-fashioned cash register, as my time was being wasted and the bill was growing ever larger.

More time passed. Viktor and I were in the middle of an expedition when this automotive interruption took place, and this setback was costing us valuable research time.

I think it was when the football-player-turned-chat-show-host had finished demonstrating his “can’t miss” recipe for jerk chicken on the dusty TV perched on a narrow corner shelf that my patience reached its natural end, and I approached the garage manager: “Sir, if you can’t change the headlight, please return my keys, so I can take my car to the dealership, where they have experts knowledgeable about this process.”

The manager responded, “Well, we did replace/one/ of the headlights, only it was the wrong one. And we’ve had to take out a bunch of parts from the engine, to try to access the space where the headlight is, but it don’t seem to matter. It may take some time to put your car back together.”

I gritted my teeth, pursed my lips, and shot Viktor a sour look that told him we must expect an even longer wait.

And so, since we are scientists, inventors, and explorers, when life gives us lemons, we dive in, and engage in an exhaustive study of the properties of lemons, their nutritional aspects, and how to improve the current methods of their cultivation and usage.A Liemon?

The collection of data is for us second-nature.

Data collected from this experience:

Q) Number of mechanics needed to change a headlight?

A) Zero! Even though five different mechanics attempted this procedure, they all failed.

Q) Number of hours spent watching trained mechanics failing in their attempts to change a light bulb?

A) Two.

Such unpleasantries are often unavoidable on our adventures, but when I was able to distance myself from this fiasco, to observe it all in a
disinterested, scientific manner, it was truly amazing to watch so many professionals befuddled by something so seemingly simple.

A few days after this, I took the car to the dealership. Here, the repair procedure took all of seven minutes, five of which were devoted to the mechanic walking to the workshop to fetch a certain tool.

And those were a precious few minutes, though sadly they did not afford me adequate time to enjoy a cup of exquisitely-brewed coffee, made available by the specially-trained baristas that occupied a corner of the mechanic shop’s waiting room.

Delicious bank money, made from tearsAs a coffee aficionado, I know where to get get all manner of java. Coffee is everywhere now–restaurants, local and chain coffeehouses, convenience stores and gas stations, bookstores, and even hotel lobbies.

But did you know where to find the world’s most expensive coffee? It’s at your local bank. Most banks offer “free” coffee along with a small tray of cookies or mints. But it’s not exactly free, at least not the way I see it. I cannot enjoy bank coffee without thinking that I paid for it somewhere along the line with all those pointless and exorbitant fees the bank sees fit to charge me.

And the drinking of bank coffee is not without its hazards. The bank never provides a lid for the coffee and so, quite often I’ve found myself driving with one hand, while clumsily bringing the open cup to my lips, trying to gulp the beverage down before it sloshes over and scalds my hand or spills over my clothing.

While I was sipping my coffee at the car dealership, getting my headlight replaced, I noticed a pickup truck in an adjoining bay with a bumper-sticker that exhorted, “Freedom Ain’t Free.” And while I realize that the bumper-sticker was a commentary on the matter of national defense, I reflected instead that sometimes “free” services can be used as a dodge, a financial shell game, a diversion of the buyer’s attention from shoddy service.

Caveat emptor.

*Yes, I know that is a picture of a lime, but when life gives you limes instead of lemons… you take photos of limes.

The Super Fun Adventure Quest Time Nonsense Gum Experiment

Packages of flavor sensationsIt all started when I offered the Huntsman a piece of gum. When he asked what flavor the gum was, I said, “Blue.”

Puzzled, he retorted, “What flavor is blue?”

“I suppose it’s some sort of minty, fresh, frosty-tasting flavor.”

“But if you bought the gum, shouldn’t you know the flavor? Shouldn’t you be more clear on the matter?”

I responded triumphantly, “Of course not! I merely selected the gum by the color of the packaging!”

Front of Super Fun Gum(It suddenly occurred to me that my penchant for selecting products based solely on label color might not be the most common method of shopping. Still, it leads to delightfully unexpected results. For example, were I shopping for diet soda, I might just as easily end up with coconut juice, since both beverages have white labels. This gastronomic Russian roulette is an exciting way to liven up the taste buds.)

I studied the gum packaging carefully and declared, “This gum is ‘Polar Ice’-flavored. Here, have a piece, and describe to me the taste of the frozen wastes….”

“Why, it tastes minty-fresh! The inside of my mouth does in fact feel colder….Astonishing!”

This simple interaction ignited a flicker of insight in my brain. What if I set up an experiment where the participants would sample gum without knowing the flavors beforehand? Without the visual clues of the packaging, the enticing descriptions, would they be able to determine the taste?

And so, I collected a variety of gum flavors: mint chocolate chip, orange crème pop, apple pie, root beer float, lemon square, sweet watermelon, polar ice, and winter fresh. Sadly, I was unable to locate the rainbow sherbet flavor, as I was particularly interested in finding out what a rainbow tastes like.

The Back of Super Fun GumNext, I designed the packaging in which to present the gum experiment. It was a joy to make with the Lab’s new Klic-N-Kut machine. (I could have used the online packaging personalization tool offered by Extra Gum, but that project ended disappointingly earlier this year. Alas, I would have so loved to share the results of our gum experiments with you, gentle reader.)

And so, I emptied all the flavors of gum into a pile and shuffled them vigorously. I randomly selected pieces and inserted them into the new package. Then I spent a week offering random strangers and Laboratory employees a chance to sample a piece of gum and participate in an experiment.

While the random strangers were generally open to free gum and the cause of science, Lab employees were suspicious of my motives, asking, “What did you put into this?”and “Did you make the gum yourself?” and “Is this onion-flavored?” and “Does this look infected to you?”

The experiment took an unexpected turn when the package of gum was left unattended and was pillaged during the Lab’s annual “Celebration of the Miraculous Egg.” The sticky-fingered party-goers chewed the gum in a non-observant, non-scientific manner, and the data for those stolen pieces of gum were lost.

The results of this experiment were inconclusive. I shall have to try again, when more flavors are introduced into the world by the gum industry.

A warm welcome to our latest addition….

Mysterious cardboard box“Oh my!,” exclaimed Viktor, clapping his hands with the giddiness and unrestrained delight of a Japanese school girl biting into her first Parisian macaron.

In the entrance to the Laboratory sat our newest arrival: a giant, cardboard box.

Not too many minutes previous to this, the studious peace of the Laboratory had been shattered by an agitating phone call: “If you can meet me in ten minutes, I’ll leave the box. If you can’t, you’ll have to wait until Monday.”

Viktor, elbow-deep in a project, called out, “Einida, the gauntlet has been cast down. Time is of the essence. You must run that errand boy to the ground and see what he has for us. My curiosity will not keep until Monday.”

I made all haste down the road to the entrance gate to our compound, flagged down the package-lugging fiend just as he was putting his delivery truck into gear, and demanded that he hand over his precious cargo.

Back at the Lab, the excitement was palpable. Would this new addition be the answer to our prayers? Would it do everything the glossy brochure promised?

Quickly, we sliced open the box with a knife, unpacked the contents, and assembled them.

Before us stood the latest in craft-cutting technology: the Klic-N-Kut (KNK) computerized cutter.KNK_Maxx_Air

It can cut almost everything imaginable, including paper, vinyl, thin wood, and fabric. Its versatility opened up for Viktor and myself a whole new world of projects, the frontiers and boundaries of which were to be limited only by our frenzied imaginations.

We quickly drew straws to see who would have the honor of being the first to run the machine. I was ecstatic when I won with the shortest straw, and I quickly got to work.

By week’s end, I’d cut hundreds of paper cats, vinyl and stencil pirate skulls, poster board ghosts, and paper models.

Stencil results: happy skull Stencil results: Pirate skull graffiti KNK-cut Skull stencil

 

 

Before the world was overrun by plastics, many toys were made from paper. Paper modeling is very popular in the table-top gaming world, where it can enhance the gaming experience through the use of beautiful, yet inexpensive props.  And now that we have the ultimate paper cutting machine, there is almost nothing that we won’t be able to make.

Scarcely a fortnight had passed before Viktor declared, “Oh, I do love my KNK so. And I cannot imagine how we could have existed so long without it.”

Continue to watch this blog, for in the coming months we will no doubt unveil some of the wonders and delights that we have created with the amazing machine.

The Tale of the Beekeeper and the Huntsman

Suns shield towel
A towel was taped to the windshield to cut the blinding glare of the unseasonably hot January sun. Viktor sat in the shade of the towel and ran data sets on his computer. The experiment was at a critical phase. I chewed my lip nervously as I pondered my dilemma–what to do about the many bees that were trapped in the car trunk.

Earlier in the day, I had noticed one curious bee exploring the open trunk. I was unconcerned, as the trunk offered nothing to interest a bee. It was full of the tools of industry–rubber gloves, wrenches, bolt cutters, an absurdly large pipe wrench four feet in length….

 

In due course, I noticed that my little buzzing friend was no longer alone. Four bees turned into eight bees, and when that number increased yet again, I closed the trunk feeling a mixture of mild panic and triumphant cleverness.

As I retired to the car’s cold, dark interior, I suddenly remembered why the trunk would be such a lure, namely, “The Great Margarita Trunk Disaster of 2012.” That was an incident which ended with bees and about which my barrister advised me not to speak publicly.

For a time I nursed a quiet sense of unease. This eventually gave way to a vague feeling of horror. I realized that the bees would be annoyed by their confinement. Annoyance would turn to anger. But if I freed them, how would they react? Would they attack, swarm, ruin our experiment, or simply fly away? Why, oh, why in college had I been so foolish as to sleep through apiculture class?

Bee_Trapper

There was a time when Viktor and I tried to capture a bee in a soda can. This was to prove a theory that a bee could create auditory hallucinations within a metal can. It was an unsuccessful experiment. The bee was too wily to be thus lured.  Of course, we didn’t have this propitious device that, though it claims to keep insects out of cans, it could also be used to keep bees inside cans.

Close_up

Suddenly, I remembered the wisdom of the Countess de Vita, a former beekeeper, who once told me, “Always think in circles, shapes with soft curves, whenever you find yourself near a bee.”

The Countess de Vita explained to me that bees are very attuned to human thoughts. Circles are calming for bees, apparently.

Bees_and_Circles

“Can the power of thoughts have an effect on bees? What thoughts might upset to them? Straight lines? Jagged circles? Could I make a bee sleepy by thinking in waves?” So many ideas for experiments raced through my head.

But another thought interrupted.”What if the Countess told me a tall tale?” Sadly, I am afflicted by a startling inability to recognize sarcasm, and have fallen victim to tall tales before.

Indeed, just the night before, we had dined with The Huntsman. He had taught us about how to capture a falcon, should the need ever arise.

How to Capture a Falcon:

1. –Place a mouse into a trap made of string. The falcon will swoop down and his claws will become entangled in the trap.

2.–Calmly walk over and pick the falcon up and place a small hood over his head.)

The Huntsman went on to say that falcons never developed any evolutionary strategies to defend themselves against capture, and as such, can easily be overwhelmed and rendered completely docile.

I was amazed by this story until Viktor mentioned that it might be a set-up for a prank. He suggested that The Huntsman might have wanted to see if we were gullible enough to attempt to trap a bird of prey, only to be reduced shortly thereafter to a shredded pile of pain.

The Huntsman does have an odd sense of humor.

“Einida, the pipe wrench in the trunk–I must have it!,” Viktor declared.

The time had come to face my yellow-and-black demons. I was about to discover whether or not the Countess had spoken the truth.

As I yanked upon the lever that opens the trunk, I concentrated on images of circles. I got out of the car, and, taking a wide path and a slow stride, made my very indirect way to the trunk, giving the bees ample time to fly far, far away. I cautiously opened the trunk still further as I muttered, “Soft shapes…circles…curves…,” and my muscles tensed up, readying me to flee the scene….

The bees were gone.
I hastily grabbed at the pipe wrench and dashed back to the safety of the car.

A_Very_Large_Pipewrench

Had the bees returned to the hive for reinforcements? I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and that I would be no good to science with bee stingers embedded in my flesh. I resolved to stay in the car for the remainder of the experiment. While my scientific curiosity is broad and wide, and could one day include research into whether or not human thought patterns affect bees, it ends well north of testing the capacity of bees for violent retribution.

Tales of Soup and Fiber

Fiber_soup2

“Oh, I do so love soup,” Einida exclaimed. “But how difficult it is to find one that is delicious, nutritious, and also filling.”

What was it, I asked myself, that made my Lab Partner such an advocate for soup? Which of its qualities did she most highly prize?–the taste? the fluidity? the texture? the temperature? What was it that so inspired her passion?

I had, years ago, devoted a not-inconsiderable amount of time to the study of soup and its making. It was an engaging subject that required many experiments. It lead to my discovery of “souponification,” that magic alchemical moment at which vegetables and water join together and metamorphose into actual soup.

I once developed an onion soup recipe that was delightful to taste, but it was dreadfully time-consuming to execute. Most onion soups done in the classic style of “Soupe a l’Oignon au Fromage” start with a beef base. I, determined to not be outdone by the French, decided to make an onion soup that was as tasty as the Gallic original, but without that bovine taint. So by taking a standard recipe and carefully modifying it over about ten iterations I finally came up with a recipe that satisfied me:

Viktor’s Vegetable Onion Soup

6 Large onions thinly sliced
6 T butter
1.5 t salt
1.5 t ground mustard
.5 t Thyme

3 T soy sauce
3 T burgundy cooking wine
0.5 t White Pepper
6 cups Vegetable stock (3 cubes of Vegetable bullion)

Stale Baguette
Cheese (provolone, Gruyère, or Swiss)

Cook onions, butter, salt for 40 minutes on medium heat. Stirring frequently.

Add Thyme & Mustard and cook additional 10 minutes

Prepare stock. Using 3 cubes of vegetable bullion.
Lower stock to a simmer. Add Soy, Wine, white pepper, and Onions.

Simmer for 1hr on low heat or until “souponification” happens. Stirring occasionally.

Fill a proper Onion Soup Bowl (must have a handle) to 0.75% full.

Serve soup with stale baguette cut into 1/4” tall medallions floating on top of soup covered in cheese.

Finish the Crust of the cheese with a flame thrower or a few seconds in a broiler.
————

In seeking the key to Einida’s happiness I had no time to indulge in the time-consuming preparation of my “11 Ingredient Vegetable Onion Soup.” Instead, I decided to explore, by means of experimentation, the effects of temperature on feelings of satiety. Could temperature, I wondered, make substances more palatable and induce the mental state of well-being? (I’d noticed that when I ingest liquids heated over a certain temperature, I have experienced long-lasting feelings of comfort.)

And so I hurried to the Biology Lab and started mixing.

I combined chicken-flavored bouillon cubes with psyllium husk formula. I heated the water to a temperature that would melt the bouillon. Then I mixed in the bouillon, and after that slowly stirred in the fiber.

The final stage of the experiment was to taste the oddly-colored soup. I bravely placed my straw into the brew and sipped.

I winced. The psyllium husk formula was orange flavored! As a result, the soup was unexpectedly flavored like a Chinese chicken or duck dish. Not unpleasant, but not quite comforting, and certainly too metropolitan for taste buds seeking simplicity.

Undeterred, I tried again, mixing unflavored psyllium husk fiber with the bouillon. This time I learned the painful lesson that using a straw to consume soup tends to distort one’s sense of the soup’s temperature. I singed my tongue.

“Einithaa! I neeth you to tathe thith enchanthing elixther.”

She, with great hesitation, took a sip. Her eyebrows rose in surprise, and she said, with enthusiasm, “It’s not bad at all. It’s actually much better than I expected. A little thick, perhaps. But with a lovely chicken flavor.”

And so ended my second experiment with fiber soup. The concoction failed to satiate me. I must find the balance between a soup that is too hot to drink, and one that has become a cold, gelatinous sludge. I will seek what in Middle English was called “lukewarme,” which is not, as most would believe, the state somewhere between hot and cold, but rather the state of a substance that was once hot and has since cooled down. It is only a “lukewarme” soup that can be both hot enough to dissolve bouillon and cool enough to drink through a straw.

The Holy Grail of PVC pipe fittings!

PVC03

*While rummaging through the dank bowels of the plumbing section of a major big-box hardware store the other day, my eyes widened as my hand fell upon something amazing. I raised my hand in victory, holding the object up toward the ceiling. I gaped, I gasped, “This is indeed the Holy Grail! This is what we’ve spent all those years waiting for! We’ve finally found it.” A ray of light shone down onto the small, plastic object–a one-half inch three-way Elbow PVC Fitting Connector.

I handed the white plastic item to Einida for inspection.”Oh my,” she exclaimed. “It is as you say. It really is the Holy Grail of PVC pipe fittings.”

So many questions flitted through my mind: “When did they start making these fantastic joints? How could I not have known about this astonishing product earlier?  What finally convinced the pipe fitting manufacturers to give the world the one shape that it’s been so desperately missing?”

Manically, I wheeled around and machine-gunned a nervous and pimply stock boy with more questions: “How many of these do you have in stock? When did you start carrying this product? Where did it come from? Where can we get more?”

The frightened lad was overwhelmed as he became aware of the full extent of his ignorance. His brain shut down and he was rendered mute.

Ah, but never mind him, I thought. He is but collateral damage in this long war which I have been waging.

Holy PVC!

The long wait for this particular plumbing joint is finally over. This discovery will radically change the construction methods of the Laboratory’s PVC-related projects. My hands fidgeted in excitement as I fantasized about all the PVC cubes I could now build.

 

In times past PVC cubes were built with sixteen PVC joints. In order to make a single corner, you had to undergo the laborious and maddening process of cutting up tiny pieces of PVC pipe just to join two joints together.

Now, with my discovery of this new pipe fitting, it will take a mere eight corner joints to do the job. No more fussing with little pieces, no more running out of parts in the middle of a project, and no more complicated, unstable, multi-piece frames.

PVC02

Inventors have long used PVC piping. The variety of joints and pipes in all sorts of shapes and sizes make plumbing PVC similar to such old-time connector toys as “Tinkertoys.” They’re used to build lightweight structures, furniture, stands, and cubes, and there are few limitations as to what you can do with these materials. My discovery of this particular joint greatly expands the possibilities of what can be done in this field.

Sadly, this store had only four joints in stock, so I wasn’t able to buy enough of them to actually build the simple cube of which I had dreamed.  But I am already planning my next PVC hunting expeditions to other hardware stores.

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.