Category Archives: Gear

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.
“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.
“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.

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 Annual Tradition: New Sock Weekend


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This year, NSW was a disaster.

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

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

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

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


The Quest for the must have Hard Hat Adventure Accessory


The ordinary member of the human race takes up an occupation because of economic need, and, if he or she is lucky, because the skills required of the job more or less match those which he or she possesses. There are a few blessed and curious souls, however, who fall in love with the idea or ethos of an occupation first, and pursue that occupation as an outward manifestation and real fulfillment of that idea.

Quite often the aspirant to a specific occupation will adopt the clothing, ornaments, equipment, and other external trappings of his desired occupation before he officially enters the field; thus, a would-be author might affect a tweed jacket and pipe or an aspiring soldier might dress in olive drab, khaki, or camouflage military wear. The soul and body of the aspirant will be surrounded and pervaded by the idea of his goal, by the ethos of his dream occupation, and will thus be goaded into taking actions that will achieve his ends.

It is sometimes, therefore, surprising to the wide-eyed initiate when he discovers that what he thought was merely a glamourous and stylish accessory is in fact of very real and practical value in his chosen field. This is especially true in the field of exploring.
One day, not so very long ago, the redoubtable Viktor and I happened into an Army/Navy surplus store. For us, even a poor military surplus store is a buffet of wonders; an excellent store, such as this one, is a bonanza.

Looking around its generously-stocked shelves I was reminded of that famous exchange when Howard Carter first peered into the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Lord Carnarvon asked, “Can you see anything?” And Carter, mesmerized, replied, “Yes…wonderful things.”

And so as I wandered the narrow aisles that day, I espied high upon a shelf a collection of pith helmets–a veritable United Colors of Benetton array, in stacks of blue, white, camouflage. My fancy took to wing and I began to imagine the various seasons, climates, and locales where one helmet would be preferable to the others. I imagined traveling the world with my pith helmets comfortably encased in a trunk custom-made by Louis Vuitton for that express purpose.

I was sorely tempted to purchase at least the stealth pith helmet (in dusty camouflage tones), but I feared that if I purchased only that one and not all the others that it would create in me a lingering feeling of inadequacy and incompleteness, of sartorial inferiority and indecision. And as it is, my collection of unusual millinery already includes one pith helmet, albeit a rather plain one.

I bravely plowed on.

There were, of course, many more different sorts of head-gear and head-covering for sale, from cowboy hats to biker bandanas to Indiana Jones fedoras. Indeed, in that part of the store, there was not a surface horizontal or vertical that did not bear some sort of hat upon it.

Further on in this wondrous place I discovered a switchblade comb, and a belt pouch for the storage of one’s hand cuffs. And suddenly there, in amongst a rather chaotic assortment of bags, pouches, and ponchos, appeared an object for which Viktor and I had devoted six months of arduous hunting: the Hard Hat Shade!

The clouds parted and a massed choir of cherubim and seraphim floated down to sing their heavenly praises. It was a glorious moment indeed to find such a specialized piece of equipment in this store of fascinating martial flotsam.

For months, the stoic Viktor and I have suffered in the blinding sunlight because the hard hats we must wear for our work and exploration are without brims.

Now when we are exploring or doing an archaeological dig in an Equatorial region we have had our local equipment bearers hold up tarpaulins to shield us from the sun’s punishing rays, but U. S. Customs always give us a devil of a time when we try to bring our bearers back home with us, so we have been forced to look for inanimate sources of protection. And we usually find sun umbrellas to be impractical out in the field because of the frequent winds.

The more practical of you might object, “Why not order such a product online?,” to which I would offer the explanation that adventure gear should be acquired during an adventure. Convenience, we have so often found in our line of work, is not the hand-maiden of discovery.

The Hard Hat Shade has a brim that spans a distance of fifteen inches from edge to edge. It has a handy flap that drapes over the neck in the manner of a French Foreign Legion kepi. (No one should end up looking like a redneck merely because his occupation requires him to spend his adventure time outdoors.)

The overall effect is that of a beekeeper’s hat without the veil. And since the Hard Hat Shade comes in bright white it will go perfectly with any explorer-wear ensemble that you might choose to wear between Easter and Labor Day.

This is a must-have for any serious explorer.