Category Archives: Experiment

Donkey Blockade: Operation Teensy Vittles

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1

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

 

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

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

donkey_road_block_sign001e

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

The donkeys gazed at her calmly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Einida grabbed the watermelon and they walked toward the Laboratory.

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 They began to trot terrifyingly towards her.

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

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

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

 

Chapter 7

Weeks passed without a single blockade.

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

Then, one day the radio crackled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Indeed.” replied Viktor.

THE END

donkey_road_block_sign001d

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

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 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.

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.