Wain’s Kalideoscope Cats

Louis Wain was an artist popular for his paintings of cats in the late 1800s and early 1900s. H.G. Wells said that “He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”

Wain began to exhibit the symptoms of schizophrenia around 1910, and was committed to a mental hospital in 1924.

The following pictures of cats are typically interpreted as illustrating the increasing effects of his schizophrenia. Some debate this however, as Wain did not date his paintings, and argue that he was simply experimenting with patterns reflecting his mother’s work designing textiles.

Regardless of explanation, they remain utterly fascinating.

Cat 1

Cat 2

Cat 3

Cat 4

Cat 5

Cat 6

Cat 7

Cat 8

All images copyright the Archives and Museum of Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Like this post? Check out More of Wain’s Kaleideoscope Cats.

The Five Dollar Laser Show

I’ve been on a bit of a laser kick lately. I was searching through YouTube and came across Dr. Altman’s “Amazing Laser Music Can” which I thought was a very impressive effect for very little money. I had a spare Sunday afternoon, and decided to make one for myself. If you’re the impatient type, here’s what the final product produces, not too shabby:

Parts

I started off at the local dollar store, which amazingly enough had everything I needed for about five dollars.

  1. Three laser pointers, $3. This personally boggles my mind – an electronic device, relying on the most advanced theories of physics humans have developed, the absolute cutting edge of research less than 60 years ago, now sells for 99 cents. You don’t need to use precisely three, but you’ll probably want at least one. Or else bitter disappointment awaits, because you need a laser for a laser light show.
  2. A package of ballons, $1.
  3. A small mirror, $1.

I also had a few things around the house.

  1. A can.
  2. Duct tape.
  3. Zip ties.
  4. Clothes pins.
  5. Popsicle sticks.

If you need to buy them don’t worry, you won’t blow your budget. Plus, once you have an excess amount of duct tape and zip ties you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.

Concept

What we’re trying to do is mount a laser so that the beam bounces off a mirror attached to a membrane (aka balloon) stretched across the mouth of the tube. When the membrane vibrates, the path of the laser will be changed in a semi-periodic manner, leading to (hopefully) beautiful patterns that sync up to sound.

Mounting the Lasers

You can do this with one laser, but since the lasers were so cheap I picked up a few. The first thing we need to do is zip tie (or glue, or whatever) one side of the clothes pin to the popsicle stick. This will create a nice little angled place for the laser to mount to.

Then, we need to attach the laser. Another zip tie does well for this, really crank it down to make sure that it isn’t going anywhere. Finally, we need to create some sort of method to ensure the laser remains on for an extended period of time without us having to hold down the little button by hand. Zip ties to the rescue again! Just position it on top of the button, and slowly tighten it until the laser turns on. The zip tie should then be loose enough that you can move it back and forth to turn the laser on and off for as long as you like.

The final product can be seen above. Note that the middle zip tie is loose enough to be moved around as necessary. Make as many of these as you want.

Membrane

Now we need to create the membrane that will vibrate, and that we’ll attach our mirrors to. Remove both ends of the can, by whatever means possible. I suggest finding a can where you can use a can opener (oddly enough) on both ends.

Once you’ve removed both ends of the can, cut the end off a balloon and stretch it over one end of the can. Make sure it’s nice and tight, and then use duct tape around the side of the can to keep it all in place.

The assembled membrane may be seen above.

Assembly

Now to put it all together. The only thing we need to do still is create tiny little mirrors that the lasers will bounce off of. I would suggest breaking a small mirror on your kitchen table, and make sure to get small pieces of glass everywhere. Your girl/boyfriend or significant other will love this, trust me.

Attach the mounted lasers around the edge of the can with duct tape, and turn them on. This helps us to place the mirrors accurately. I used a little roll of duct tape, stuck it to the bottom of the mirror, and then placed the mirror as the laser indicated. Make sure that you stick the mirror on securely, the membrane will vibrate rather vigorously and the mirrors have a tendency to bounce off unless you’ve made sure they’re on.

And that’s it! This little device provides a ridiculous amount of entertainment for five bucks. I’d suggest placing it on your subwoofer vent if you want it to sync up to music (that’s what I did for the video), or singing into it – just try not to wake the neighbours.

If you liked this, check out the Ultimate Home Laser Show.

Fermilab’s Strange Letter – Progress

Note to readers: I have a little more detail (including an explanation for the spelling of “BASSE”) up at Fermilab’s Strange Letter – Interlude.

Well, now we’re getting somewhere with the strange letter Fermilab received. For context, Fermilab (a theoretical physics laboratory) recieved a strange letter in code a year ago that they’ve now released to the public. It can be seen here.

Ternary Paragraph

The first paragraph is made entirely of three different symbols, I, II, and III.

If we let I=1, II=2, and III=0 we have:

020 200 001 112 102
000 201 022 120 012
111 001 102 012 200
000 212 120 210 110
011 000 010 001 110
110 000 202 022 100
201 000 112 120 100
201 012

Note that this transcription assumes that the “I” at the end of line 6 and the “II” at the start of line 7 are in fact a single “III”. Now let’s assume that since there are 27 possible combinations in these ternany units, each corresponds to a letter of the alphabet (26 total) or a space (add 1 for 27). A naive mapping would be:

Combination Mapping 1
000 A
001 B
002 C
010 D
011 E
012 F
020 G
021 H
022 I
100 J
101 K
102 L
110 M
111 N
112 O
120 P
121 Q
122 R
200 S
201 T
202 U
210 V
211 W
212 X
220 Y
221 Z
222 (space)

This gives:

G S B O L
A T I P F
N B L F S
A X P V M
E A D B M
M A U I J
T A O P J
T F

“GSBOLATIPFNBLFSAXPVMEADBMMAUIJTAOPJTF” doesn’t seem too helpful. Perhaps a different map would be more appropriate? Let’s vary the first naive mapping slightly.

Combination Mapping 1 Mapping 2
000 A (space)
001 B A
002 C B
010 D C
011 E D
012 F E
020 G F
021 H G
022 I H
100 J I
101 K J
102 L K
110 M L
111 N M
112 O N
120 P O
121 Q P
122 R Q
200 S R
201 T S
202 U T
210 V U
211 W V
212 X W
220 Y X
221 Z Y
222 (space) Z

This is a very simple mapping, we just set space to be 000 instead of 222. We get a very interesting result:

F R A N K
S H O E
M A K E R
W O U L
D C A L
L T H I
S N O I
S E

“FRANK SHOEMAKER WOULD CALL THIS NOISE”. Frank Shoemaker worked on the main ring of Fermilab. It seems very unlikely to me that this is coincidence.

Binary Paragraph

Now if we look at the last paragraph, it’s clearly different than the first in terms of notation. Only I and II are used.

However, if we assume that “II” is a separator and “I”=1 “I I”=2, and “I I I”=0, we get the following:

012 111 121 110 120
221 012 012 000 112
210 111 002 012 200
000 002 001 201 201
012 000 201 100 220
202 012 012 112

Note that this transcription assumes an error. At the end of line 2 and the beginning of line 3 there is a section “I I I I I I I I” that is assumed to mean 000 when it should read “I I I II I I I II I I I”. If we use Mapping 2 to substitute in a manner like before we get the following:

E M P L O
Y E E N
U M B E R
B A S S
E S I X
T E E N

“EMPLOYEE NUMBER BASSE SIXTEEN” – which clicks with the hexadecimal numbers and corresponding symbols in the middle! Note that the mapping is simply the first “naive” mapping offset by one.

So lets assume the single “word” in the bottom middle of the page is an employee number. If we decode it using the symbols, we get (something)FC. (something) is an undefined symbol, and the only undefined numbers are 1 and A.

So the “employee number in base 16” that “frank shoemaker would call noise” is either 1FC or AFC.

My guess? It’s AFC (employee number 2812), who works on the AFC (Absorber Focus Coil, a component of a “neutrino factory” current being studied at Fermilab) – a coincidence Frank Shoemaker would call noise. The employee number is reasonable and fits with the established pattern at Fermilab, see this Fermilab newsletter (page 5) which states “At 802, with only three digits, Matthews’ employee number reflects the length of his 25-year tenure at the Lab”.

The only thing left is rigorously figuring out the meaning of the hexadecimal section in my opinion. What does everyone else think?

Make Your Own Memory Foam Bed

High quality memory foam beds such as the Tempur line are incredibly comfortable, with a price tag of thousands of dollars to match. The construction of these beds is relatively simple however, evidenced by the number of “clone” beds on the market today. Unfortunately, some of these mass-produced “clones” have cut corners in quality, which can make selection challenging.

This page will tell you the typical components of memory foam beds, with instructions on how you can mimic each of these components with high quality substitutes. The cost savings can be significant.

For instance, I currently sleep on a queen size memory foam bed constructed in this manner. It cost me approximately $500, versus a memory foam mattress with comparable specifications which would have put me back over $1500.

It’s a lot easier than you might think – you need three layers. The major issue is quality control and determining the appropriate products which are the best value for each layer.

main-memory-foam


sub-memoryfoam Memory Foam Layer
This contouring soft upper layer is what gives memory foam mattress their unique “feel”.

sub-foam Base Foam Layer
This layer provides a supportive base which distributes your weight evenly across the bed.

sub-base Platform Layer
A sturdy flat base supports the memory foam mattress and prevents a “hammock” effect.

Homebrew Air Conditioning

headshot

It was the summer of 2005, and a heat wave was sweeping across Ontario. At the time I was working on my engineering degree at the University of Waterloo, and tuition was just a little steep. As such, I lived in a cheap student house with no air conditioning. Fueled by a combination of too many engineering courses, too little money, and an overarching desire to not die of heatstroke before I graduated, I made my own air conditioner.

I put a few pictures of it on the internet, and then things got a little crazy thanks to Slashdot. I was featured on CTV’s Canada AM, had stories in The Kitchener-Waterloo Record and a few other newspapers, and was interviewed by a few radio stations including CBC Radio and NPR.

When you get down to it, it’s a basic heat exchanger, using water as the medium. You’ll probably need to fiddle a bit with the dimensions of the supplies based on your resources and preferences.

I’ve migrated this site a few times – first from the University of Waterloo servers, with their ever-patient admins, and then from a separate micro-site on this blog. This is my personal “blast from the past” that I’ve preserved for the sake of memory – it made for a rather entertaining summer!


Original Air Conditioner Concept

This is the first version of the air conditioner I made. Click on the pictures for more details.

04_fandetail1
Geoff’s Original Homemade Air Conditioner
heatx
Heat Exchanger
Improvements
water
Water Supply
Improvements
technical
Technical Notes

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Final Design

This is the final design I settled on after fiddling for a while.

beauty
The Black Beauty

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Other Designs

These are some homemade air conditioners other people from around the world have made.

pete
Pete’s Homemade Air Conditioner
anon
Anonymous’ Homemade Air Conditioner
spencer
Spencer’s Homemade Air Conditioner

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