Monday, 24 August 2009

No more knots

The Secret Laboratory is not just about invention - it's about learning too. The Secret Laboratory is happy to share learning.

Did you know that there is a strict definition that distinguishes a knot from a tangle? There are computer programs out there that can analyse random tosses of string (Grannies) and declare whether or not a knot is present. Just for the record, if you can fix both ends of the string, rope, cable, whatever, and still untangle the mess between, no knot was present, howsoever convoluted and difficult to sort out. The famous disappearing knot is not a knot at all.

When it comes to knots, I'm a minimalist. I know about seven knots (reef, sheet bend, fisherman's, double fisherman's, bowline, half hitch, alan) and these are great for most purposes. I know when and where to use them. I don't need or wish to learn the other few hundred variants on the theme. It's not for nothing I was never a Boy Scout, although I did accidentally become a First Biddulph Brownie Guide when I gave my vows to a Snowy Owl I got drunk with in Switzerland 28 years ago. I thought she was joking. Apparently not, as I discovered at breakfast next morning. No way back. Take the vows, do the time...

Am I rambling? Sorry, I intended to discuss my new knotless existence. Knots are weak, they lead to weaknesses in the rope (as illustrated by the break-knot, a knot that allows you to break any rope by the power of subsequently broken fingers alone). You need to leave knots behind and work with the very structure of rope by splicing.

I had always thought of splicing as some kind of ancient maritime excuse for not joining the Scouts (or the Brownies) and avoiding the task of learning hundreds of different kinds of knot. How wrong can one be? Now I will never use a knot where a splice will suffice.

Gaze upon this wonder:

Just an eye-splice on a three strand rope, my first attempt. Isn't it beautiful? These are the people who took me there.

WizzPod results

As promised, WizzPod was taken to the Acoustic Roots music festival at Linton. The trial was abandoned when it was discovered that the ground was too hard even for the stiff beer-line to penetrate.

Instead of plastic beer-line, WizzPod Mk II will be fitted with a metal pipe to facilitate insertion even in the most challenging of subterranean environments.

Watch this space!

Friday, 21 August 2009


Festival season being in full flow here in the Three Counties, my accomplice (Agent S) and I decided to turn the resources of the Secret Laboratory to the solution of an age-old festival problem:

You know how it is. You've had a great day listening to the music and quaffing the real ales and ciders. You've barbecued everything you managed to find in the cool bag and you've jammed until the wee hours around the illicit camp fire. At long last, it's time to hit the tent. Safe in your sleeping bag, it's not long before you hear the nearby sound of some poor soul answering the call of nature. It begins with a drawn-out, mournful Zzzzzzzip sound as a tent is prepared for exit. Scuffling sounds, then muffled thuds as the hapless tenant staggers towards an unforseen nettle patch or worse. You know that before dawn it will be your turn...

Unless, of course, you are the proud owner of a WizzPod, the Secret Laboratory's two-fingered flick in the face of Nature's call!

How does it work? The role of the funnel is obvious and should not require explanation. Suffice it to say that it is gender unspecific and both myself and Agent S anticipate no particular difficulties in use. The tube below the funnel is a section of beer line (that's right, the same kind of line used in pubs to connect the cellar to the serving area - kind of ironic, really). The beer line is stiff enough to be inserted into the ground within the privacy of the porch area of the tent. Holes drilled in the lower half of the beer line provide a soak-away feature well below the level of the pitch.

Above, note the holes drilled in the beer line, the sharp angle of the tip to facilitate insertion into the ground and the plug to prevent blocking of the line during insertion.

Agent S and I will be trialling the WizzPod at the Acoustic Roots festival this weekend - watch this space for results.


Q. Why not call it the PeePod?
A. Loads of products out there called PeePod, not all to do with Pee.

Q. Why don't you take this to Dragon's Den?
A. Can you imagine their faces? Their withering comments? We invented the WizzPod in the interests of privacy and dignity, not National humiliation.

Q. How much can it hold?
A. We used a 12.5cm funnel. Given that volume V of a cone is 1/3 pi r^2 h, we find that our funnel holds about a pint - enough for most festival purposes, given that the soak-away tends to keep up anyway. Note: ground conditions and soil structure can affect performance of the soak-away.

Q. Can you poo in it?
A. No. There's a clue in the name.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Measure Twice, Cut Once...

Measure twice, cut once - great advice from my mate Rob. Great, that is, if you measure correctly on the two occasions in question. If you get it wrong twice then you're into the realm of contingency-driven lateral engineering (or bodging, as it was formerly known).
How is it possible, after months of planning and careful consideration, to cut holes in the wrong location on the smart housing one has selected for one's project? Some people have suggested that ale is to blame. I prefer to think that I am keeping in touch with my feminine side :-)
Anyway, once the holes were cut, it was easier (and less embarrassing) to re-design the innards of the thing to fit the holes rather than to move the holes to fit the innards. After all, who is ever going to challenge me to open it up and reveal the mess that lies within? It works, that's all that matters.
What are we talking about? Why, the Musician's Friend, the Universal Belt-Mounted Signal-Boosting Gadget Thingy. Here it is:
Based on the LM358 chip, this cute little fag-packet-sized device sits between your instrument and whatever lies beyond, be it a PA, a mixing desk or whatever, outputting a strong, clean signal. Just for fun, I built in Phantom Power as well, to satisfy those folks with quirky pickups (that's what the second switch is for).
Cost? Around £15 (plus a lot of swearing during construction).
Another one-off work of genius from the Secret Laboratory!