Category Archives: Laboratory

New From the Lab– Airsoft and NERF® Reactive Targets for Indoor and Outdoor Target Practice.

For the technical details on how to build your own Reactive Targets MKIII system, complete with schematics, project notes and source code, please go here

A barrage of bullets pinged off the targets. Sounds of merriment echoed throughout the store.

Einida clapped with delight and said, “Oh Viktor, we simply must build one of these at the Lab.” (“One of these” being a pellet rifle range of toys with lighted targets.)

The targets were mounted onto the sides of stuffed anime character toys. When a target lit up, Einida shot it with a pellet rifle. The final score was the number of toys shot in sixty seconds.

“I do suppose,” replied Viktor, “we need more games to train the staff in such important skills as reaction times, precision shooting, how to handle a fire arm….Oh, and Dr. Phil has been asking for a training range to develop his ‘quick draw from a holster’ technique. Ever since he started watching Spaghetti Westerns, he’s been trying to learn how to shoot like an outlaw.”

Einida blinked for a moment and then said, “I’m not sure that teaching Dr. Phil how to shoot like an outlaw is a good idea or a bad one, but I’m all for an electronic shooting range. And let us offer thanks to the Lord Jehovah, to Zeus, or to the ghost of the late Sergio Leone that Dr. Phil’s Spaghetti Western obsession has at least thus far not caused him to start wearing Eastwoodian ponchos and smoking stinky little Italian cheroots.”

And so, months passed….

Reactive_Targets_Console“Oh, this does call for a celebration,” chirped Einida.”The ‘Reactive Targets MKIII system’ finally works!”

“Isn’t the act of shooting NERF® bullets at these interactive targets celebration enough?,” retorted Viktor with the raised eyebrow of an expert attorney engaged in cross-examination.

“Well, actually yes,” Einda conceded, settling into the exposition portion of the article. “Being able to use the NERF® system of guns and bullets to train on the targets has changed everything. It actually adds a light-hearted aspect to what was formerly a serious activity. Back when we first started prototyping the reactive targets, I used my Airsoft Profession Training Pistol on these targets.Training was more formal.”

Target_Gallery“Quite, and it was because of the difficulty some of the staffers had in shooting Airsoft that led me to consider NERF®. Though Laboratory rules clearly state that Airsoft training sessions shall be conducted with all of the care and safety one would use when training with a real firearm, I kept hearing incidents of astonishing violations, such as staffers shooting after experiments with intoxicating beverages, staffers getting unhinged and shooting at everything in the range, or….”

Viktor got a faraway look in his eyes which meant that he was either having flashbacks about episodes of colic from his infancy, or that he was floating away on a gentle wave of scientific and intellectual ponderings. He thought about the fact that the word “NERF” has more than one meaning. Not only does it refer to a delightful foam toy, it also means “to take something difficult and and to make it easy,” as in the popular saying around the Lab that someone “NERFED the physics engine.”

“Tee-hee, I NERFED the NERF® targets,” Viktor tittered to himself, while mentally patting himself on the back.Readout

Einida, interrupting his reverie, said, “It would seem that the staff has been seeking out the fun part of ‘Super Fun Adventure Quest Time’ to the detriment of safety.”

“Ah, but now, by using indoor toys, we can train their shooting accuracy and reaction times in a safe, yet fun manner,” Viktor smiled.

“Oh, and I can still use this system to practice my Wild West Outlaw shooting method with Airsoft and NERF®, since both types of guns work,” added Dr. Phil, who had slipped into the room wearing brand-new cowboy boots which added at least three inches to his height. He brushed his new three-day growth of beard with the back of a sun-tanned hand, and slowly loaded his NERF® gun with a steely squint in his eye.

For the technical details on how to build your own Reactive Targets MKIII system, complete with schematics, project notes and source code, please go here.

Targets

 

The Mysterious Invention of the Mischievous Master Woodworker

“You have to meet me at the gas station. I have something very important to give you.”

My eyebrows shot up.”But you’re contagious. You’ve been sick for weeks. There’s no possible way I can meet someone with an upper respiratory infection.”

“I know you’ll meet me because I have something you want. I’ve invented something new. And I know that you’ll want to show it off at your party on Saturday,” said the caller in a congested whisper.

“Oh, for crying out loud! Then I guess I’ll have to meet you, after all.” I sighed and hung up the phone.

“Surely, you’re not going to meet the Master while he’s so sick?,” Einida asked with a concerned tone in her voice.

“Actually, we both shall be meeting with him. You know I cannot possibly resist the lure of a new invention, or the urge to be the first person to show one off to our colleagues….Be sure to pack along your anti-flu suit….You’re going to need it,” I added grimly.

A few minutes later, Einida, clad in a white Tyvek flu suit, climbed out of the car. She startled a person at a gas pump, who apparently thought representatives from the Centers for Disease Control had come to town to deal with a virulent new strain of flesh-eating virus.

I stayed safely in the car, well away from the sickness.

Bellanger K. Shahhat, Esquire, the celebrated master woodworker and joiner, met Einida in the gas station parking lot and handed her a small, item wrapped in greasy rags.

Einida quickly sealed the bundle in a plastic bag, in order to keep any germs from spreading. Then she placed that into several more plastic bags, the bags in an ice chest, and the ice chest in yet another plastic bag–albeit a very large one. She was taking no chances.

Twitching his pointy nose, tittering, and leering, Bellanger asked, “So, you’re really afraid of germs, eh? What would you do if I touched you with my soiled handkerchief?”

“I would shriek and run away. But why would you want to do that?”

“All the cough syrup I’ve been drinking has put me in a mood.”

“Well, let me suggest that it put you into reverse!”

(Bellanger was a notorious mischief-maker. He loved to show his affection for his nervous co-workers by subjecting them to humorous, yet mildly sadistic pranks.)

He pulled out his yellowed handkerchief and waved it at Einida with twisted glee, as if flinging clouds of disease from the depths of its snot-drenched fibers.

Einida shrieked and ran.

He cackled as he chased her around the parking lot, but then drew to a sudden stop when seized by a violent coughing fit.

Einida knew this might be her one window of escape, so she quickly placed the ice chest into the trunk, pulled off the anti-flu suit, stuffed that into the bio-hazard waste disposal container we also keep in the trunk, ran around to the passenger side of the car, leaped in, and yelled, “Drive! Drive! Drive!”

As I put the car into gear, Ballanger leapt to the hood of the car and began licking the windshield.

“Germs! Germs! Oooh, big, scary, nasty germs! Get some! Get some!,” he hooted between obscene licks.

Thinking quickly, I switched on the windshield wipers and squirted the fiend with windshield-wiping fluid.

“I knew I should have installed more defensive technologies in this car,” said the wide-eyed Einida. “No one is safe when that lunatic is on a tear.”

The Case

We made haste to the Lab, where the mysterious object and the car were sanitized to operating theater levels of cleanliness.

In the luxurious Conference Room, everyone waited expectantly to see if our latest acquisition would be worth all the trouble it had thus far cost us. What creative sorcery had Bellanger been up to? Would a prank blow up in our face, or would we soon marvel at a wondrous new invention?

The Sanitation Clerk rushed in shouting, “I have it! I have it!,” and handed me the case that housed the item.  I opened the case and gasped.

Then, I held the mysterious item aloft. It was a small, but beautifully-made triangular object, crafted of silky, purple cherry wood, which reflected the light with an exquisite softness.
The Open Case

“By the Eternal, that carpenter is a genius! He’s crazy, but he’s crazy as a fox!”

“What are we looking at, exactly?,” asked Dr. Phil, who was, as usual, several pages behind in that day’s script.

“Why, it’s a ‘One Ball Rack,’ for pocket billiards. Remember when I invented the game of ‘Four Ball’ because ‘Nine Ball’ took too long to play? Well, Friend Bellanger has invented ‘One Ball’ because ‘Four Ball’ also takes too long.”

The World's only One Ball RackDr. Phil, warming to the topic, replied, “Well, erm, it seems to me, that, erm, if a game takes too long to play, then you ought not to bother playing it at all.”

Poor man. No doubt all the formaldehyde he’d been using lately in his ghastly and unspeakable art projects was beginning to rot away his powers of reason. With infinite patience and tolerance, we ignored his ramblings, transfixed as we were by the other-worldly beauty of the glorious Rack.

Unexpectedly, Einida produced a gleaming cue ball from her bag, set it onto the conference table, and said with wonderment, “And, we can also use it to rack the cue ball.”The World's only Cue Ball Rack!!

Scarcely had the sound waves of her words faded before I found myself clapping my hands in delight as I watched Einida run around the table in an attempt to catch the now-rolling cue ball before it went over the opposite edge of the table and cracked apart on the floor.

Still, I could not resist making yet another speech to sum up our adventure of the day: “Now our pool-playing skills can be sharpened to a professional level. And we have yet another trifling, yet thrilling, amusement for the pocket billiards devotees that visit or work at the Lab.”

The Voice of the “Internet of Things” Says Hello

Say Hello“Hello,” said the “Say Hello” unit.

Viktor cackled with glee and said, “Dr. Phil, do you hear it? Do you know what you’re listening to?”

Dr. Phil set down the bone he was caressing and thought carefully and replied sourly,”I hear that the unit is finally saying something other than ‘That’s what she said.'”

Viktor flashed a pained smile, and patted the unit affectionately. “This is far more important than you could possibly imagine. It’s not merely the first step in solving ‘The Great Missing Dog Treat Mystery.’ Its significance is mind-blowing.”

He paused for dramatic effect. “What you’re hearing is the very voice of the ‘Internet of Things.'”

He paused again to let that sentence sink in.

“I have given voice to those objects that were previously voiceless. Because of this unit, objects can now talk. Technology finally has a voice. This is a leap into the evolution of… things. They now can talk!” He thrust his fists into the air enthusiastically.

Dr. Phil blinked and replied flatly, “I know that ‘Say Hello’ can be configured to do lots of things, like reading data streams aloud, like e-mail, stock reports, weather temperatures.Those are all data streams that get sent to the unit and then spoken aloud. So, how is it you’re giving voices to objects?”

Viktor grinned. “Because it’s a speech server. It can be used with any object that has data to report.”

Dr. Phil shook his head. “But couldn’t you have just made a speech server in software? You love writing software.”

“Yes, but I would have to write a thousand lines of code.” Viktor waved his hand dismissively. “And if I wrote software for phones I would have to use the AT&T voice technologies which are too…human. Technology shouldn’t sound like a person–it should sound like an object. The voice of this unit is like the whisper of an angel using a computerized voice
modulator.”

Viktor smiled as he imagined that scenario and continued, “The most important thing about the ‘Say Hello’ is it’s a modular solution to the challenge of adding a voice to a project. You don’t need a computer, you don’t need software. You just build this unit and you’re ready to make things talk. It’s a stand-alone module. If IKEA were part of the mad science world, this would be their solution.”

Viktor stopped talking and typed into his computer furiously.

“I am M-O-D-U-L-A-R,” said “Say Hello.”

Viktor tittered.

“Well, isn’t it difficult to build a speech server out of hardware? That sounds pretty hard. I would rather do open-heart surgery on an angry bee than solder hundreds of tiny electronics parts.” Dr. Phil stuck his finger in his mouth to see if his latest bee-related injury had healed.

“There are magical products that only engineers and mad scientists know about. And I, like Prometheus, shall bring fire and light to humanity, in the form of useful hardware that no one else seems to know about. Like the Parallax Emic 2 Text-to-speech Module. Why write software, when this module already has speech software? All I had to do was to connect it to a Wifi module and voilà!–a networked speech server,” said Viktor, who was now typing again.

“Vwah-la,” said “Say Hello.”

“So, you didn’t have to write any software?”

“No, all I did was connect a few pieces of hardware together with wire. That’s it. It was so easy, even a medical doctor could do it.” Viktor smirked, then realized the danger of taunting one’s doctor.

“But couldn’t you have designed a board that puts all the hardware parts together?,” asked Dr. Phil, ignoring Viktor’s quip.

“Nonsense. I want to inspire people to become mad scientists, eccentric engineers, and artistic aesthetes who revel in the joy of inventing. One day… one day I will rule the world with my army of mad scientists and…” He paused again.

“Oh, anyway, one can only be creative if the parts one needs are readily-available and reasonably-priced. And so, I designed this project with parts that can be acquired at a local Radio Shack or Fry’s. A few parts have to be mail-ordered, but most don’t.”

“So, even I, who have no programming experience, can make something talk?” Dr. Phil was beginning to look excited. “What couldn’t I do with a speech server?”

Viktor shouted, “Exactly! And you can make anything talk, whether it’s a Raspberry Pi computer, an Arduino Uno board, a Propeller board, any kind of phone, any kind of computer. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of speech for technology. Its uses are limitless. And anyone can easily build it and use it for any conceivable project.”

Dr. Phil smiled and asked, “Why did you call it the ‘Say Hello?'”

“Well, when I write software, I, of course, do the ‘Hello World’ thing, as that is just the proper etiquette in the world of programming. But I would never merely say, ‘Hello World.’ That’s just gauche. Instead, I write the far more elegant, ‘Hello C compiler,’ ‘Hello Python,’ et cetera. Oh, and I happened to think up the name while watching this music video on the big-screen projector TV. So in essence, the TV told me what to name it.” Viktor emitted a happy sigh.

“So, do TVs often tell you what to do?,” asked Dr. Phil, with a look of concern.

“Of course!” exclaimed Viktor, “And now I can actually have the TV talk to other people.”

“I need a…” Viktor said to Einida, as she walked in room “…another wifi module. I have an Idea!”

For the technical details on how to build your own “Say Hello,” complete with schematics, video, project notes and source code, please go here.

 

That’s What She Said

The door alarm chimed deafeningly. A crash was followed by a string of foul curses.Say Hello

A livid Einida stormed into the computer lab.

“That’s it! If something isn’t done to lower the volume on that [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] door alarm, I will take drastic measures! That [expletive deleted] noise made me drop my experiment, and it makes everyone’s ears ring!”

This was not the result I expected when I originally purchased the door alarm.

It had been installed because we suspected that the Laboratory dog, Digger, trained himself to open the door so that he could sneak in and help himself to the Laboratory treats that Einida had been giving him.

She was using treats to see if she could teach Digger to count to ten. So, each day she would ask him how many treats he wanted. If he tapped the ground once, she would give him one treat, and so forth.

But now it appeared that she might have inadvertently taught him how to open doors and help himself.

To solve this mystery, I installed a door alarm that would alert everyone to the presence of anyone or anything that opened the door.

I wasn’t keen on the idea that Einida might take drastic action to stop the noise. Many of her engineering solutions involved balloons and lasers. (One of the reasons she’d earned the fearsome nickname, “Lady Tesla.”) And while some of you might be wondering why I didn’t simply alter the volume of the door alarm…well, something that simple and obvious just isn’t the SFAQT way.

“Eureka!,” I shouted, startling Einida again from whatever it was she was doing.

“I shall set up a camera with facial recognition and a remote module that will announce the name of a visitor/interloper in a voice unique to whoever or whatever comes through the door.” I grinned broadly as I stroked my goatee.

At last–a project worthy of my talents.

And so I called the staff together and we built the first stage: A “Say Hello” wireless, text-to-speech module. (To see the technical details with schematics, project notes, and softer, visit the project page.)

The “Say Hello” takes any text and says it aloud. It has a marvelous potential and can give any invention I make a voice.

The unit even has the ability to speak the words from any computer anywhere on the Laboratory compound.

I instructed the staff to think of creative things to make the “Say Hello” speak.

I wrote software to make the unit announce the time at the top of the hour, and then I sat and waited.

The first words were, predictably,”Shall we play a game?” (We at the Lab had recently studied the technologies from the movie “War Games.”)

The next words were just as predictable: “Hello World.” (All software has to say that at least once.)

“Ah, is there anything funnier than the humor of a computer programmer?,” I mused aloud to an audience of dead air.

Suddenly, the “Say Hello” said, “Can you tell Dr. Phil to remove his animal bones from the cafeteria?”

(Einida was miffed about Dr. Phil’s habit of bringing dead animals into the cafeteria.)

Then the “Say Hello” said, “Can you tell Einida that if she’s upset by something, it is her job to fix it?”

Great Scott! My wonderful invention was turning into a tool for passive-aggressive arguing! It was like listening to the conversations of angry divorcées.

“Say Hello” suddenly said, “That’s what she said,” followed by a rather flat, metallic-sounding “Ha ha ha ha.”

I groaned. Our wondrous technology was being misused. Technology that has been designed for the greatest good was being soiled by the basest of human emotions– low-brow humor. I sniffed with annoyance.

That evening, as I tried to fall asleep, all I could hear was the endless chorus of “That’s what she said” bouncing off the walls of the Lab.

Several weeks passed before the staff tired of all of their juvenile humor, the bickering, and the inappropriate comments about body parts.

Eventually, the “Say Hello” returned to speaking such dignified things as weather statistics, e-mail alerts, and the time, with only an occasionally, rogue, “That’s what she said,” thrown in just to make me grit my teeth and wince.

I have since disabled the door alarm, and put my project of the facial recognition on hold. I shudder to think what my staff would do with unbridled access to technology like that

The mystery of Digger the treat-seeking dog, remains unsolved.

For the technical details on how to build your own “Say Hello”, complete with schematics, project notes, video and source code, please go here

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.

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.

Observational Exercise: Tracking the Walnut Treasure

 

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
–William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence.”

 

Observational Exercise: Tracking the Walnut Treasure

A scientist is nothing without the power of observation, because the scientific method is built upon the foundation of performing experiments and then observing the results.

At our lab we place a high value on the humble walnut. It is small, inexpensive, easily stored, and is an ideal tool in our observational training program. A walnut can teach the scientific novice how to observe.

During walnut season, our laboratory employees carefully split walnuts into halves, scoop out the contents, refill the shells with small trinkets, then seal the two halves back up again. Then the modified walnuts are carefully and deliberately hidden outdoors, after which the lab trainees go out and search for them.

The trainees are instructed to study the environment for clues that will reveal the locations of the walnuts. If a trainee finds a walnut, he quickly opens it, and claims the small treasure hidden within.

The treasures include coins, statuettes, fortune cookie scrolls, stamps, such electronic components as capacitors and resistors–really anything that can be fitted into such a small space.

Of course, we do pity the unfortunate squirrel who takes a fake walnut back to her nest and is rewarded with a shiny trinket rather than nourishing food. Mother Nature, we have learned, has little use for bling.

At any rate, we recommend this small, exciting project as a method of teaching observation skills as well as a love for the outdoors.

Sometimes, mysterious faces will appear on the unfilled walnuts.

Sometimes, mysterious faces will appear on the unfilled walnuts.

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