silliness


Tomorrow at work we are having a Super Bowl Potluck. Or as I prefer to say, a Superb Owl potluck. Here’s what I’m bringing.

Superb Owl

Superb Owl

It’s snowing today, and we are expecting about a foot. Since I am stuck in the house, and since Cecilia reminded me of an incident from my past, I thought I would share a story. Of course that story reminds me of another, so I will share it as well.

Syruping pot and container

Syruping pot and container


In my mercifully brief stint as a bachelor, I seemed to have a problem in that I would not remember to eat until I was hungry. Not having a microwave, that meant it would take way longer than my stomach wanted for any food to be ready.

I decided that I could speed things up if I made a big lasagna at the beginning of the week and then eat the leftovers every night after that until it was gone. This would surely solve the problem.

I made the lasagna, ate one serving, covered the pan with foil, and popped it in the fridge. It was delicious.

When I got hungry after work the next day, I popped the lasagna out of the fridge and into the oven. Wait 20 minutes, remove, take one serving, and pop it right back in the fridge. I did this every night for about a week.

At the end of the week, you can probably imagine that the lasagna was baked on the pan pretty solidly. I took one look at that and said to myself, “That’s going to have to soak.” I put the pan in the sink, added some dish soap, and filled it with water.

About a week later when I came to my apartment after work, my keen olfactory sense detected an odor. I followed my nose to the sink where the lasagna pan was still soaking, and did the most sensible thing that came to mind. I changed the water.

Another week passed, and again, the nose tipped me off to a slight problem in the kitchen sink. This time, I broke down and took the even more sensible action of actually washing the pan.

The other “bachelor” experience I had while living there involve my freezer. It was not frost free, and it had managed to build up a pretty thick layer of frost. I knew what to do, but didn’t have the tools I was used to using.

My Dad was an electrician and HVAC repairman, and as a result was also an expert at fixing broken refrigerators. I worked with him for a couple of summers when I was in college (and those were some of my best memories from back then – Dad was great, and was certainly the best boss I have ever had the pleasure of working for). Every now and then we would get a call from someone whose freezer had quit working. When we arrived, we found six inches of frost. Freezers don’t work when they get that way.

Dad didn’t mind defrosting someone’s fridge if they were paying him to do it, and it was often better for them to let him rather than do it the way people often did – by using a butter knife to chip the frost off themselves. The problem with that approach is that the thin aluminum walls of the freezer compartment also served as the outer sheath of the tubing through which the Freon would run. One slip of the knife, and the tube is punctured. The Freon escapes, and without that, neither the fridge nor the freezer are going to work. Aluminum is notoriously difficult – almost impossible – to solder, and replacing the freezer compartment cost almost as much as a new fridge.

It’s not that hard to defrost a fridge without a butter knife, but in spite of that, some people often elected to have him do that for them. He would use a hair dryer to speed the process.

Back to my apartment. I knew better than to use a butter knife, but I didn’t have a hair dryer. The engineer in me said, “Anything with a heating element ought to work” so I turned my thoughts to all of the appliances I had which were equipped with a heating element. Aha! The clothes iron! I was a bit worried that it would be a Bad Idea to put the iron in the fridge and have melted ice dripping all over it, so I placed the iron in a roasting pan, covered it with a lid, and turned it on.

While I was waiting for that to work its magic, I called Va. We were engaged, but lived 750 miles apart. I explained the ingenuity of my plan to defrost the fridge, and she asked me, “Why don’t you just use a pot of boiling water?”

Now why didn’t I think of that!

A couple of days ago I read this web comic on the Internet. In the comic (for those of you who opted to not click the link), a kid blows a bubble in the freezing cold Saskatchewan winter, it freezes, falls to the ground and shatters.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I reasoned that freezing would not alter its mass or volume, so it shouldn’t fall to the ground and shatter. But if it were cold enough, it would have to freeze, right? Or maybe the warm air inside it (from the inflation process) would cause it to expand and burst?

Luckily, it was cold enough today to consider some experimentation (it was about 1 degree F outside). I found a two gallon jug of bubbles under the kitchen sink and hauled it out. I bet the kids didn’t even know those were there.

To avoid the hot lung-sourced air, I decided to try waving the wand first. I couldn’t make any bubbles that way. I don’t know if it was because of the cold or not. David wanted to give it a try, and he reasoned that if he inhaled a lot of cold air and blew it out before it warmed up too much, maybe that would work. And it kind of did. He blew several bubbles. Some floated across the yard and into the woods. I didn’t chase after them, but I never saw any fall out of the air and shatter. He got too cold and came back in. Then I went out and gave it a whirl.

On my first attempt, I dipped the wand in the solution, pulled it out, inhaled deeply, and then blew into an ice-coated bubble wand. I dipped it in again and gave it another go. I blew several bubbles, but the wind was blowing, and they all escaped.

Then the wind died. I blew several more. The first one I tried to catch with the wand popped immediately, but I kept trying. Then I caught one. I tried to set the wand down on top of the bubble jug, but as soon as I did, the bubble popped. I tried again, eventually catching another. I set it down, dashed in the house, and grabbed the camera.

Frozen Bubble

Frozen Bubble


By the time I got back outside, the bubble had frozen. I touched it to see if it was like glass. Nothing seemed to happen. It didn’t pop. I touched it again. When I pulled back, I saw that my finger had melted a hole in the side of the bubble.
Holy frozen bubble, Batman!

Holy frozen bubble, Batman!


If you look closely, you can see the hole.

That is, in every sense of the word, a very cool bubble.

Last year my Pathfinder Club worked on the Glass Etching honor. It was a lot easier than I had imagined it would be, and I realized that I could easily make a gift for my geologist brother which I had conceived many years ago – a set of Tectonic Plates. The constraint I had up until last month was that there just wasn’t time. Well, now there is, so I got busy. Here are the results.

The seven major tectonic plates

The seven major tectonic plates

Antarctic Plate

Antarctic Plate

Australian Plate

Australian Plate

South American Plate

South American Plate

African Plate

African Plate

Pacific Plate

Pacific Plate

North American Plate

North American Plate

Eurasian Plate

Eurasian Plate

There are a lot more than seven tectonic plates, but the rest of them are pretty small. Arguably, I could have added the Nazca Plate as well to round his set out to eight, but… I did not do that.

It took me a while to figure out the best way to depict both the plates and the land masses. I finally hit upon the idea of etching the tectonic plates on the back and etching the continents on the front. That seems to work well, and I was really pleased with the result, as it puts the continents on top of the plates. Nice.

As I was making this, my son David asked if this was the most effort I had ever undertaken for the sake of a pun. I couldn’t think of a time. Then he said, “You know, the only thing more nerdy than you spending all this time making these is how excited your brother is going to be to have them.” I think he could be right.

Maybe next year I can complete the set with some tectonic saucers.

I don’t know who did this – but it wasn’t me!

Men's room at my office

Men’s room at my office

A while back, the sink at our office started leaking. Unfortunately, the landlord has not been terribly responsive to repair requests, so nothing happened. Someone wrote a note on a yellow sticky that said “Turn handle slighty to the left to stop dripping” and hung it above the sink, but that only lasted about two days before it got wet.

And since our landlord had done nothing by then, we got a better sign – laminated in plastic to protect the sign on a more long-term basis.

Before

Before

Months passed, and still nothing happened. I began to worry that our plastic-laminated sign might not be long-term enough, so I sprung into action and enlisted the services of a professional.

After

After


Hopefully, the faucet will be fixed before we need to switch to a marble sign.

But they might fade a little.

These colors don't run

Since April Fool’s Day is approaching, I thought I might take the opportunity to regale you with one of the pranks I pulled in college. It is elegant in its simplicity.

It came about when I bought a can of Scotchguard waterproofing spray for my coat. At the time, I wore a surplus army field jacket (and I wish I still had one of those). It came with a hood that could be rolled up and tucked into a compartment which would zip closed. The hood was just a bit of canvas, and the rain would soak right through it. But I heard that Scotchguard was some pretty good stuff and that it would solve this little problem.

I unfurled the hood and sprayed it liberally. I mean, I soaked the hood and good. When it was dry, I decided to test it. I took it to the sink and ran some water over it. The water rolled right off, and the drops that didn’t just beaded up on the fabric. One shake, and it was dry. Wow. Then I filled the hood with water. It easily held a gallon. The dry side of the hood was still dry, and the wet side was confining a gallon of water. I was impressed. I dumped the water out, and gave the hood a good shake, and once again, it was bone dry.

I thought to myself, “This is some pretty amazing stuff! What else can I use it on?” I cast my eyes about the dorm room until they settled on my roommate’s towel. In short order, I unloaded the rest of that can of Scotchguard on his poor, threadbare towel, and then I waited.

I don’t remember how long it took, but when he took a shower, the plan worked about as well as you could imagine. He turned off the shower and grabbed his specially-treated towel. He toweled off, but it had no effect. The towel was still perfectly dry, and he was still soaking wet.

To this day, it is the greatest prank I have ever pulled.

Here’s an email exchange I participated in last night with my brother-in-law, Richard:

Richard:
Why, you whipper-snappers, back in my day if you wanted to
network computers you had to run a cat-5 ethernet or RS232 serial
cable to a terminal device and hook that into a router or
terminal server and hook that into a server running some flavor
of UNIX using X-Windows – unless you wanted to run Windows 3.1 in
which case you had to use [something] like Novell or Lan tastic.

Jim:
You had Cat-5? We never had it so easy! When I was younger we had
to run coax to all our computers – serially! Non of this sissy
star-configuration stuff like we have today.

And then we had to hook them up to an AUI adapter. On a good day we
could get a 10Base-T connection to the server, and that was shared
by the whole company. These were connected via hubs too, which do
not isolate traffic.

And we were GLAD we had that! Before we got the 10Base-T, we had to
carry our files from one computer to another on 5 1/4″ floppy
disks!

Richard:
5 1/4″ floppy disks! You were lucky! We had to use punch cards and store them in a shoebox in the middle of the road!

Jim:
You had punch cards! We had to hand assemble our code and punch it into the machine in hexadecimal. Once we got it debugged we were allowed to burn it into an EPROM, but until then, we had to punch it in every time we wanted to run it.

We would have KILLED to have a box of punch cards we could store in the road.

Richard:
Hexadecimal! You were lucky! We had to convert Roman numerial data using a Mesopotamian binary abacus to translate the code into ASCII (or EBCIDIC for you IBM’ers) and pipe it thru a 300 baud acoustic coupler just to get our ENIAC’s tubes hot enough to keep our coffee warm. Well, it was just muddy water but it was coffee to us!

Jim:
You had a Mesopotamian abacus! Ours was Phoenician, and it wasn’t even binary – it was base-zero! And back then no one had ever heard of ASCII or EBCIDIC – we didn’t even have an alphabet until we invented our own!

Richard:
And you tell that to the young people of today and they won’t believe ya, nope!

I finished the heel and gussets (i.e., ankles) of my second sock tonight. Now it’s just a matter of straight knitting until I get to the toe. I have found myself pegging the geek meter as I knit. I guess it’s mandatory for an engineer. For example, when I was knitting the above-the-ankle part, I was doing some ribbing. Knit two, purl two. So the pattern repeats every four stitches. So I counted them. Starting from zero. In hexadecimal.

Hexadecimal (or hex for short) uses the number 16 as its base instead of 10 (with which most people are comfortable). It’s used in computing because a hex digit translates directly into four binary digits (aka bits). Decimal doesn’t do that. Anyhow, I’ve been using hex for so long that I know the binary representation of each digit pretty much automatically. It is deeply engrained. So all I have to do to know if I need to knit or purl is consider bit 1. If it’s zero, I knit. If it’s one, I purl. But that only works if I start from zero, which is why count from zero.

In other news, I found some strange tracks on our property yesterday. I suspect they may have been made by a mink. They were about the right size and they have five toes. I took several pictures, but the light was quickly failing. I didn’t try to make a cast, because it’s hard to cast tracks in snow (plaster melts them), and I wasn’t sure I had any joint compound. Oh well. Here’s a shot:

Mink tracks?

Mink tracks?


If anyone has an opinion on whether these are mink or not, I’d like to hear it.

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