July 15, 2003
The Mad Scientists' Club

Back in print!

I believe that I checked these books out of the Berkeley Heights Public Library children's section about 5 times each.

The library had an ink-and-stamp system of keeping track of when books were checked out. Between about 1979 and 1982 I was probably the only one who borrowed them. Their time had passed, I suppose. After college, I checked them out again in 1990 -- I was startled and touched that they were still in the collection. Unfortunately, the stamp jacket had been replaced. The book's personal history no longer extended back to my years.

The book's hijinks were an incredible inspiration for me. In the 5th grade, or so, I even tried to build the candle fire balloon thing. Without instructions and a proper bag, I didn't get very far.

The kids-can-do-it spirit stayed with me through dozens and dozens of impractical childhood summertime projects that I tinkered with:

  • Breeches bouys. I built these from my bedroom window to various trees across the yard. I never tested them with more than a bucket of rocks, or for lowering camping supplies to the car. Some bouys were even complete with remotely operated block and tackle lifting device for the bucket!
  • 15 foot tripods. I built these with heavy split rails for no purpose other than for the bizarre effect of two or three of them out in the field. A few times we'd wrap them with canvas for a teepee-style tent. One great use was a gallows at Halloween, but that's a different, and long, story.
  • Bugging the house. I used the stereo speakers as microphones. Who'd suspect the speakers?
  • Army Corps of Engineers. A decent sized brook in our neighborhood was often plagued by mysterious and poorly built "public works" type projects on particularly hot days. Dams, typically. Sometimes sluices and locks would appear. Each would inevitably lead to environmental disaster and human tragedy on a vast scale downstream. Don't fool with Mother Nature.
  • Mysterious Noises. I ran a well hidden wire from the Apple in my bedroom, through the house, basement, drainage pipe, thick brush, high grass, the gravel pit, a trench, and behind a fence to a small wood. The trees were adjacent to a traditional dog walk, yet clearly visible from my bedroom window. I waterproofed a speaker and wrote some Applesoft code and waited for dusk. The Apple ][ generated short tones at random frequencies with long pauses in between. I was hoping to startle evening dog walkers, but the system never caused much more than momentary puzzlement.
  • CATV high-voltage experiments: And high current too. I knew enough about capacitance, but not quite enough. One try, I'd like to think, had its intended effect. Let's just say that there was evidence to the contrary. I've never bothered with cable hacking since. A few years of free Showtime was plenty bounty for me.

Summertime. And the geeking is easy.

Posted by jk at 10:22 AM

Why do the General For Sale and Tech sections of Craigslist seem to be populated with a whole bunch of people fencing stolen goods? Some of the items for sale just seem like obvious five fingered discounts.

Really? Who, in their right mind would ever buy X only to sell it "new and in the wrapper." Gee. It's small, and high value, of wide interest and you either need it or you don't. Sounds like the perfect thing to swipe at Wallgreens and sell on Craigslist.

Posted by jk at 07:40 AM