All posts by Viktor Criterion

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.”

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

The Latest Invention: The Disorienting Sequencing Strobe Light of DOOM!3

The walls were closing in on me.

The barely-illuminated objects in the room seemed to spin.

The lights were flashing madly and intensely.

My Disorienting Sequencing Strobe Light of Madness (DSSLoM) was working!

The overhead lights came on. Einida walked in and carefully adjusted the array of buttons on the control panel, stating, “I’ve changed the speed, brightness, and duration of each light…This may prove to be more…disorienting.”

To my great relief, I did not have to suffer through too many more tests, as the perfect setting for variables for maximum distortion was found quickly.

The strobe light requires the perfect combination of speed, duration, and brightness to change an entire room into a weird, animated, flashing nether world.

I once dreamed of a series of sequencing strobe lights, and ever since had longed to build such a set-up. But the technology simply did not exist. I spent years waiting for LEDs to become powerful enough to match the lighting in my dream.

Just think of what one could do with this technology! One could create fascinating effects with low-light photography, or a silent but disturbing burglar alarm. It could be a marvel of entertainment at such annual Lab rumpuses as New Sock Weekend, El Dia de las Muertos, and Guy Fawkes Day.

Strobe Light of DoomAfter I surveyed many available light sources, I found the answer in the new, super-bright LEDs that have recently been appearing on the market. I ordered a handful, wired them up, and added a device to control the speed of the strobing effect. This was my first attempt to recreate my vision, and it provided a simple and effective solution.

This primitive contraption was installed in a sophisticated haunted house environment. It was used in a black room, the walls of which were painted with white circles. Also in the room were performers dressed i n black body-suits, which in turn were painted with white circles.

When the lights were flashing in spinning sequences, the wary haunted house visitors were scared witless–the walls seemed to move in peculiar ways, and eventually oozed and crept towards them. The visitors could not actually distinguish the performers from the walls.

I had discovered this latest generation of the lights by a happy accident: I’d spotted a clip-on desk lamp at the local store, carelessly tucked away on the bottom shelf, almost out of sight. I required the assistance of an employee to test the brightness of the lamp, as I doubted that it would be bright enough to suit my nefarious purpose.

The lamp proved to be fantastically bright, and perfect for my disorientation goals. I promptly and gleefully purchased five.

As soon as I returned to the Lab, I soldered the desk lamps to reels of wire, and built a controller with two buttons–one for the speed of the light flashes, the other for the brightness.

And then the days of testing for “Ultimate Disorientation” began. After many hours of fine-tuning the settings, I was extremely pleased with the results of this invention and even more so to be out of the testing chamber, though it did take time for me to shake the illusion of lights flashing before my eyes.

Caught in a Supermarket Avalanche

It started slowly, as the most horrific incidents in life so often do.

My mind would not accept what my eyes were seeing, but before this cognitive dilemma could be resolved, events snowballed into chaos.

Einida threw her body against the glass freezer door in an heroic attempt to check the violent collapse.

Frozen pizzas were shooting out rapid-fire like so many playing cards from the hand of a veteran croupier.

The four-cheese pizzas tipped forward and knocked the thin crust pepperoni pizzas against the vegetarian pizzas. One column collapsed against the next, and all were momentarily held in check by Einida, the human wedge.

With stealthy step, she slowly backed away from the door to see if the avalanche had stopped. The pizzas were perfectly balanced in a jagged heap. The DiGiornos™ supported the Totinos™ and vice versa…but only barely.

The pizza trap waiting to be sprung.

It occurred to me that we were in over our heads, that we might best leave the matter to store employees who were more experienced in the handling the vicissitudes of food storage and display.

I recalled the occasion when Einida and I openly stared and giggled at a lady in the produce department of that very store who had not completely detached her vegetable bag from its fellows on the metal spindle, with the result that as she wandered about the store, she dragged behind her a line of still-attached vegetable bags, stretched taut, to the amusement and amazement of the other shoppers. She continued for a not-inconsiderable distance before someone pointed out her dilemma.

This amusing scene was playing across the screen of my memory when I was suddenly jolted–by what force I have no idea–back into the present. I called, “Einida, we must disable this trap before some unsuspecting shopper comes along, opens the door, and is buried under an undignified mountain of frozen dough and tomato sauce.”

And so, as she leaned back against the door, I reached in from an adjoining freezer bay. I gingerly moved some of the topmost pizzas from the heap, in an attempt to lessen the pressure of the stacks of pizzas pushing against the door. It was rather like playing a game of Pick-Up Sticks, but with pizzas.

(Again, my mind digressed, as I contemplated the development of a new version of that beloved childhood game….)

The pizzas began to shift.

Einida urged, “Viktor, hurry! I can’t hold the pizzas back much longer!”

Blame for this disaster rests solely upon the shoulders of the grocers who insist on stacking plastic-wrapped pizzas, on their tiny edge. Such a configuration in inherently unstable.

I had apparently triggered the trap while searching for the freshest DiGiorno™ four-cheese pizza.

At any rate, I finally removed the last pizza from this Mountain of Woe, and stacked it with its brothers horizontally, in a thumbing of the nose to the careless grocer, in hopes that he might at least dimly perceive the danger to which he had exposed his customers through his arrogant attempts to defy the basic laws of engineering.

How to locate the freshest frozen pizza:

1. Examine the plastic seal. If the plastic is tight and conforms to the ridges of the face of the pizza, and looks vacuum-packed, it is fresh.

2. Avoid pizzas that have a loose plastic seal.

This seal is loose.  Avoid selecting this sub par pie.
This seal is loose. Avoid selecting this sub par pie.

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

A Chronicle of a Voyage to Point Bolivar

stilton_rendition

“Do help yourself to some more Stilton, my dear Viktor. I think you shall find it creates the most delightful effects.”

My colleague, the esteemed Professor Beckford Ganymede Hornblower, passed the cheese over to me, his eyes twinkling with merriment.

I helped myself.

“Some Oloroso Sherry as well?,” he asked.

How could I refuse?

As the smoky nectar warmed my vitals, I reflected upon how much I have come to enjoy these postprandial meetings in the Professor’s book-lined study, a room suffused with the scent of old paper, Moroccan leather, and Latakia pipe tobacco, a room shrouded in perpetual midnight.

My brain began to fog, and I had the strange sensation that I was stumbling around deep in the waters of the Professor’s aquarium, which bubbled sedately over in the corner.

“Curse it all, Professor!,” I said, as I set my empty glass upon a side table, sprang up from my over-stuffed leather chair, and crossed the room to the heavily-curtained window. “Curse it all, I cannot abide this inactivity! If I go many more days without an adventure, I shall go mad with boredom!”

“Then, my dear Viktor, you must mount an expedition!”

Thereupon I enumerated, in tiresome detail, all of the reasons, economic and otherwise, why the fair Einida and I were currently confined to our home paddock. To punctuate my frustration, I went to the large and rather rare world globe that is serves as such a unifying decorative note to the Professor’s study, and gave it a spin. When I saw the Professor’s eyes bulge out and his mouth droop, I realized I was abusing his great hospitality, so I placed both palms on the globe so as to impede any further movement.

The Professor’s shoulders slumped again, his eyes brightened, and he sank back into his chair. “You must go to sea, young man!”

And now the Professor was on his feet, scurrying about like a preoccupied mouse, stretching and squashing his diminutive frame as he reached for first this book and then that. Confused, I returned to my chair and watched this amazing performance play out.
Pulling a rare folio from a shelf, he turned towards me, absent-mindedly blew dust off the volume, and said, “Was it not just the other day that you were telling me of your interest in ships?”

“Well, yes, but….”

“But nothing, my good fellow! If you’re interested in ships and the sea, there’s no finer place for you to start than the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry.”

DSC_3954_r
And with that he dumped the stack of books upon my (unprepared) lap, and my eyes followed his stubby index finger as it pointed to a photo of the vessel in question.
In what seemed like no time at all I stood, like Admiral Nelson, at the bow of this ferry, wind whipping my garments behind me as I gazed resolutely at the brown boiling sea before me.

The gun metal clouds and strong, incessant winds were no match for the engine of this sturdy vessel as it churned its way across the mouth of Galveston Bay.

The mixture of smoke and spilled fuel and brine worked its olfactory magic upon my fancy, and transformed the dear Einida into the shade of Lady Hamilton.

Amazing to me that I had not heard of this magic carpet ere now!

DSC_3803_r

The Bolivar Ferry was truly a delight. Of the five ferries that serve this port, we found ourselves aboard the “Robert H. Dedman.” And yes, while we did in fact remark upon the inauspicious sound of the name, due to our consecration to the steady and stolid tenets of science, we did not allow ourselves to fall victim to the humbug of superstition.

In any event, our dark thoughts were soon lifted by the sheer size of the Dedman Ferry. It measures 185 feet in length, and can carry five-hundred passengers and seventy vehicles. Our Einida gasped in glee to learn that the vessel can even carry several semi-trailer trucks (“big rigs,” to the hoi polloi) at one crossing. Indeed, I think it was Einida’s lifelong, abiding, and lady-like interest in interstate commerce that steeled my resolve to plight my troth to her all those years ago.

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As I swept the ship under my gaze, I noticed the pilot house on one end, and then, at the opposite end, another. A ferry with two pilot houses? What crystalline logic! What brilliance of design! The pilot is spared the challenge of constantly steering half the day in reverse by the simple expedient of transferring operations to the other pilot house.

A seaman of leathern aspect approached me. Clearly, our enthusiasm for the ferry had attracted his attention. He parted his wind-chapped lips and laconically commented, “Look ye to the aft of this here ferry and of the larger ships, and ye may see the dolphins dancing in their wake.”

I headed post-haste to the stern, but saw nothing. Meanwhile, the intrepid Einida busied herself snapping photos of what seemed to her the ideal lair for an evil genius. “Why,” she explained, “it even has its own submarine!”
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She was right. Envy coursed through my loins, until closer inspection revealed to me a sign for a pleasure ground named “Sea Wolf Park.”

It is an old and sometimes bitter truth, confirmed and consecrated by time, that parks as a rule do not make good lairs.

But yes, the submarine is in fact the genuine article, a World War II vessel, the “USS Cavalla,” by name. And alongside it is a very rare Destroyer Escort, the “USS Stewart.”
My dreams of settling down and opening a quiet, small-town super-villainry practice being temporarily crushed yet again, I spied a large ship off in the distance. I went to the upper deck for a better look.

The upper deck includes a rather spartan, utilitarian lounge, lined with windows, and furnished with hard benches, where, during the eighteen-minute crossing, more delicate passengers can seek respite from the elements. I positioned myself on the outdoor deck beyond the lounge and began to take photos.

One of my great passions is taking photos of ships. Galveston Bay is chock-full of them–real, full-size, ocean-worthy ships, the sort that put the amateur boatman’s dinghies and sailboats to shame. And the nearby Port of Houston is one of the largest and busiest in the world.

I sighed, as I dreamed of building a laboratory on Galveston Bay where I could indulge in my ship photography passion to the fullest, during breaks between experiments of evil intent….

The ship that fueled this fantasy was incredibly vast. It appeared to be a container ship. I looked down to the lower deck and spied my Einida. The wind whipped the hair from before her face and, unbidden, she looked up over her left shoulder, found me immediately, smiled and waved and mouthed her astonishment at the ship’s enormous size.

It took many long seconds–eternities even–for my brain to process that latest intrusion.

It was a horn. A loud horn. And it came from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
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By some strange instinct I looked up at the large ship ahead of us and noticed that it was now veering to its port side off its course and bearing down at fearsome speed upon to the Dedman.

There was a frenzy of activity as hands on both the container ship and the ferry ran back and forth, frantically doing whatever they could to prevent the collision. As soon as the full extent of what was about to happen took a coherent form in my brain I leapt for the ladder and flung myself downwards to the lower deck, to my Einida!

I looked around in panic. I saw no one else. I saw Einida, staring straight ahead at the grey wall rushing ever closer.

I ran, I stretched, I extended my arms, my hands, my fingertips, convinced that I could save my beloved if only I could enfold her in the protection of my arms.

I put out my right hand still further. Einida was cold to the touch. She turned. There was no expression on her face. She looked not at, but beyond me.

All went black, followed by a metallic crash, a reverberating ring, a flash of light, and a convulsive rush of air.

There was a noise, unfamiliar, familiar, a sound, a nasal drawl.

I opened my eyes upon the face of Professor Hornblower, ringed in lamp-light, puzzled, concerned, amused.

I snorted, drew in shallow drafts of air through my nose and mouth, blinked wildly, looked around, tried to clear the fog from my head.

“I say, old man, you knocked over the drinks tray.”

Ears still ringing, I rubbed my eyes, wiped the sweat from my forehead,

“Well, well, Viktor, seems you had quite the siesta. But you will recall I did warn you about the powerful effects of Stilton.”