Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tic Tac Lego

The building where I work has several "closed areas" where cellphones aren't allowed in. But of course people still bring their cells to work, plus there are visitors, random construction workers, etc and these people need a place to put their phones while they are inside. So they recently installed a cellphone cubby outside the door to the closed area. The cubby isn't just outside the door, it is also directly across from the main stairwell door that leads to it. It has a very prominent placement, is what I'm saying.

The cubby is a 3x3 array of squares. Every single time I pass it I think of tic-tac-toe. Surely I can't be the only one that thinks of this, so I thought it would be funny to put Xs and Os in there for everyone else to enjoy. But how to make them? Eventually my officemate thought of Lego. Of course!

We actually went through a few designs that were rejected because of strength issues or ugliness or size. Finally I hit on a pretty strong design for both pieces that, if I do say so myself, looks very nice.

Don't these look great? They look like very font-like, I think. Or maybe I'm overthinking it. Anyway, they are exactly the same height and width, which is also exactly the right size to fit the cubbies.

Unfortunately, cameras are even less allowed than cellphones, so I can't take a picture in situ. However, I'm posting this a while after putting it up, so here's a sample of coworker reactions:

  • nothing
  • small, confused smile
  • swapping of X for O to change outcome of illustrated game (happened many times)
  • "Niiiiiice" (in a Korean cleaning lady accent)
  • "Are you the LegoMeister? Nicely done."
  • From my boss's boss: something whispered about tic tac toe I guess he was trying to keep my identity secret?
  • I've noticed many games in progress, with one move played by each passer-by. Also, I've heard reports of some people just standing in front of the cubbies to play a whole game.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tornado in a Box

1: Cut a hole in a box
2: Put your.....no

1: Make a large, square(ish), cardboard tube. Mine is about a meter high and maybe .25 m x .25 m at the base. This is actually two boxes taped together. They aren't even the same size--I just blocked the holes with cardboard and duct tape.

2: On each side, make a slit near the right edge. Or the left edge. But the same for all 4 sides. It doesn't matter which you pick, since you can reverse it by flipping the tube end for end.

The exact width and distance from the edge don't matter too much and you can see I wandered all over the place. Hey, cutting cardboard is kind of hard!

3: Boil some water inside. I went to WalMart for a hotplate but the cheapest one was $20. I tried it on the stove, but that's dangerous and it was hard to see. Then I thought of the bottom of the rice steamer.

Position the tornado box under a light to maximize the reflection from the droplets.

We found that when the steamer was going full....steam, there was too much steam in there swirling around (steam steam steam). So if you turn it on and off every few minutes it might work better. Also, we tried using a steam humidifier but we got nothing at all. I think the steam jet might be coming out too fast and hot. (An ultrasonic humidifier probably has better visibility, but since it isn't hot you'd be missing another vital ingredient.)

The payoff at the end: I asked the Numbers, now that they'd seen a tornado being made, when and where would hurricanes be most likely? In the winter at the North Pole or in the summer at the equator. Ooooooooh, I get it! they said.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Every single year I think "I'd like to do something different than the usual triangle eyes and so forth" and every single year I fail to find a pumpkin carving kit. This year, Number Two (6 years old) was pretty excited about the idea of weird designs and we escalated awesome ideas up and up to the point that I knew I had to do something.

I had some jigsaw blades lying around. I cut the end off (diagonally, to leave a sharp point) with a wire cutter. Then I sandwiched it between two sticks of wood to make a handle and wrapped it up with duct tape. It works really well. Surprisingly well, actually. There's only two problems, one of which is fixable.

  1. The saw blade isn't long enough. I was able to cut all the way through the pumpkins in most places, but some spots I had to go back over with a knife. A longer blade shouldn't be too hard, though too much longer and it will have to be thicker, which makes fine cuts harder.
  2. Pumpkin shavings are emitted, which collect on the surface, obscuring (or even erasing) the lines drawn there. That said, none of the three of us had any major problems with it. In my case, I just worked in a consistent pattern so that I wasn't dropping goop on places I'd need to see later.
This year's pumpkins were tests of the method and of how well the pumpkin holds up with so much material removed. Here's the result:

OK, this isn't my personal pumpkin--it's a collaboration between Number Two and I. But it shows we tried.

Pumpkin PI, get it? PI (=PIE)??

You don't get it.