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.

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.

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

Artist's interpretation of what a headlight might look like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The collection of data is for us second-nature.

Data collected from this experience:

Q) Number of mechanics needed to change a headlight?

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

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

A) Two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat emptor.

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

The Super Fun Adventure Quest Time Nonsense Gum Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A warm welcome to our latest addition….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

The Tale of the Beekeeper and the Huntsman

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

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

 

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

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

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

Bee_Trapper

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

Close_up

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

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

Bees_and_Circles

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

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

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

How to Capture a Falcon:

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

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

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

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

The Huntsman does have an odd sense of humor.

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

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

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

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

A_Very_Large_Pipewrench

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

Caught in a Supermarket Avalanche

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pizza trap waiting to be sprung.

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

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

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

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

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

The pizzas began to shift.

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

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

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

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

How to locate the freshest frozen pizza:

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

2. Avoid pizzas that have a loose plastic seal.

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

Tales of Soup and Fiber

Fiber_soup2

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

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

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

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

Viktor’s Vegetable Onion Soup

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

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

Stale Baguette
Cheese (provolone, Gruyère, or Swiss)

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

Add Thyme & Mustard and cook additional 10 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Grail of PVC pipe fittings!

PVC03

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy PVC!

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

 

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

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

PVC02

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

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

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.