March 6

The “Commonplace” Book… The true Pensieve.

Okay… it has been a verrrrrrry long time since I have posted.  I could give the usual blather about being so busy, etc – and it would be true, but does anyone really care. No, they don’t.

So onward then.  Today’s topic: The commonplace book and how to make and use one.

The Definition: A Commonplace Book was/is a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

Sounds like the internet, or a note taking feature on your phone.  The difference is that if you drop your commonplace book in the bathtub, you dry it off and move on…not so much with your phone.

The truth is, the commonplace book is a real life thing that collects and stores your memories in a way that actually reflects you and your personality – it is, in a real sense, the pensieve of the Harry Potter Stories.  By reading the commonplace book of a thinking man or woman who may be long dead, you will in fact be transported into their thoughts, time, and ways of thinking. You will be holding in your hands a physical object they in fact once owned, and wrote perhaps things more intimate than anywhere else except within their own minds. If your are sensitive enough, then for the briefest moment you will be them – just like the pensieve of Harry Potter, well… perhaps not quite as magical.

The fact is, when you write with your hand using a pencil or pen on paper… something magical happens that is just not the same as when you “type” it or speak it into a recorder.  When you sketch ideas, while describing the scraps and tidbits of your thoughts, poems, etc. you create something that is more than just a book of notes – you create a part of yourself.

The reason, of course, lies in the way the book is put together – it is not chronological, in fact you may write things on any page at any time. you might stick things in the book like a real scrap book as well (although it is supposed to be portable so you can take it with you, you probably want to put “thin” things in it).  Typically commonplace books use headings and are sectioned, but the fact about them is that they are supposed to represent your own memories.

Susan Wise Bauer (A historian)–in her book The Well-Educated Mind: A guide to the classical education you never had–describes them as “artificial memories,” says this about keeping such a book:

When we sit in front of Plato or Shakespeare or Conrad, “simple reading” isn’t enough. We must learn to fix our minds, to organize our reading so that we are able to retain the skeleton of ideas that pass in front of our eyes….How is this done?  By keeping a journal to organize your thoughts about your reading.  What we write, we remember.  What we summarize in our own words becomes our own.

I could not say that better, so I didn’t. In fact I bold faced stole this from another bloggers article about commonplace books that you can read here.

By the way, when those who practice the magical arts (witches, wiccans, wizards (oh my), sorcerers, etc.) make a commonplace book, it is usually termed a “book of shadows” or perhaps a “grimoire” – albeit a rather unorganized one perhaps…

So here are some pictures of some real commonplace books… then we will discuss ways in which to make our our own.

9_Commonplace_Book_Page_No__1_by_Madelei 1345106783941.cached example_cpb_1

September 21

Building the Steampunk Lightning Detector…

The Steam-punk Lightning Detectors that I sell on Etsy (See my Etsy Store badge on the right) were created using a modified form of the lighting detectors found at the, designed by Charles Wenzel.


The basic circuit is shown above, However I made some changes for the Steam-punk version.

This unit contains about 100 man hours of work to produce the Victorian appearance of age in the stain, the brass, steel, leather, and glass of the detection lamp assembly and wooden base etc.  True working Steam-Punk art is not cheap and there is a good reason – it is hard to build!

But for the real Steam-Punk aficionado looking for a piece that really works, this unit is a must have.  Visit my Etsy store if you are interested. (Special note: This particular unit was sold in just a few weeks after posting, so if you want to order one, just go to the shop and send me a message.  I am currently  as of 03/13/2015 building two more detectors, one under commission, and one that I intend to sell).

Now… onto the build itself.


The parts laying about before assembly…

Aging and staining the wood for the base took nearly 2 weeks of solid work to get the right look I was going for: A cherry stain that looked like it had been around for sometime. Everything else had to be in period materials from leather in the base of the Cobalt Blue Lamp assembly – the blue glass itself, all connectors and art-worked pieces had to be of brass if at all possible or other metals.


The Cobalt Blue Detection Lamp Assembly…

The lamp tube is cut from a blue bottle. That took three tries with my expensive bottles… The base is a solid cast brass candle base.The top and ball are from old door-knobs and Victorian curtain assemblies. Threaded brass rod, springs, leather complete the unit.


The Circuitry before insertion into the base of the Lamp Assembly…

Using “dead-bug” style circuit assembly procedure, (and after verification of the circuit) everything was encased in a wax base to keep parts from moving once assembled into the base. The small black unit is the hidden speaker that is used to announce approaching lightning or, to allow the “Voices of the Aether’s” to speak forth – in other words, if you take this unit to the northern regions when the Aurora Borealis is up, you will hear it’s weird moaning in this speaker.  Or perhaps if you take it to your local cemetery you can hear ghosts there as well… who knows?


The controls Close-up

The switch allows near and far detection. The control knob changes the Q of the coil for allowing more tight tuning of the strikes.


The Final Product…

And the final product is a wonder to behold! Again, about 100 man hours of work here!

Below is a video of the Detector in action…The sound you hear is the rain pounding on my castle laboratory, and my evil cat (“Kitty”*) meowing in the background! And Thunder too…

*Actually, Kitty is not evil, she just likes to lay on whatever it is you are working on. I guess that is fairly typical of a cat.

April 11

Taser Proof Clothing…

Just read a report about the rancher in Nevada whose son was tasered by the Feds (read about it here ) for being on their own land and on land that the state of Nevada has allowed ranchers to use for grazing for years.  The Feds have come “swooping” in to protect some stupid turtle.  Another Fed grab of lands that should belong to the people.

Now, to be sure, I do not think all government personnel are thugs… however the less local they are, the more thuggish they seem to act.  You local cop or even your state police are probably people you know, and are at least people who live where you live.  But in this case we are talking Total Thuggery and Total Unconstitutional action.  Your essential Jack-Booted Federal Agent with a superiority complex.

This, of course, is not the first time Fed thugs have used tasers on innocent people – now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of criminals who need to be tasered.  It would be nice if the Feds would spend their time and resources going after real crooks, for example the Mexican cartels that are crossing our borders – but instead they keep going after the people of this country.  But I digress…

It is time we put a stop to innocent tasing.  To that end lets explore Tasers and Taser-Proof clothing and how to make them both yourself.

This post will look at some interesting projects others have done – I’m not saying one way or another if I have done it. 🙂

The basic principles are simple – just short out the taser by making an electrical pathway that is much more conductive than the human body.  Tasers work on the principle of injecting a high voltage square-wave Alternating Current (AC) into the body by 2 contacts  so as to disrupt the central nervous system.  Shorting those terminals out removes the offending voltage from the body, while also possibly destroying the taser device (if it is cheaply made).

So first we need to know what we are dealing with… what is a Taser?


I said, hand over that doughnut!!!

Here are a few circuit diagrams so you can make one, take one apart, and basically understand what they are doing.

stun-gun-schematic stungun Stun-Gun-3a stun_gun1 dazer stun-gun-schematic-555

And here is an offending bit of description of the following taser device that is shown in block diagram:

An electronic disabling device includes first and second electrodes positionable to establish first and second spaced apart contact points on a target having a high impedance air gap existing between at least one of the electrodes and the target. The power supply generates a first high voltage, short duration output across the first and second electrodes during a first time interval to ionize air within the air gap to thereby reduce the high impedance across the air gap to a lower impedance to enable current flow across the air gap at a lower voltage level. The power supply next generates a second lower voltage, longer duration output across the first and second electrodes during a second time interval to maintain the current flow across the first and second electrodes and between the first and second contact points on the target to enable the current flow through the target to cause involuntary muscle contractions to thereby immobilize the target.

Remember… if you disagree with your government, you are the “target”.


This paper was written about using 40Hz square waves compared to the 19 Hz square waves of the “TASER(®) X26” device…

Conducted energy weapons (CEWs) (including the Advanced TASER(®) X26 model produced by TASER International, Inc.) incapacitate individuals by causing muscle contractions. In this study using anesthetized swine, the potential incapacitating effect of primarily monophasic, 19-Hz voltage imposed by the commercial CEW was compared with the effect of voltages imposed by a laboratory device that created 40-Hz square waves. Forces of muscle contraction were measured with the use of strain gauges. Stimulation with 40-Hz square waves required less pulse energy than stimulation with the commercial CEW to produce similar muscle contraction. The square-pulse stimulation, at the higher repetition rate, caused a more complete tetanus at a lower energy. Use of such a simple shape of waveform may be used to make future nonlethal weapon devices more efficient.

© 2013 American Academy of Forensic Sciences Published 2013. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the U.S.A.

Just from that we know that TASER uses 19 Hz monophasic (single phase) frequency in their devices. They have claimed in the past (as have others) that the specific “shape” of their devices square waves also help in making their devices more “impactful” – however I suspect that all they do is build a circuit (or use a micro controller) to induce a steep pulse at the beginning, ending, or both sides of the standard square wave pattern.  It really does not matter as the prior paper and this next one show that the most efficient pulse is a 40Hz Straight Square wave.

Electronic control devices (including the Advanced TASER(®) X26 model produced by TASER International) incapacitate individuals by causing muscle contractions. To provide information relevant to development of future potential devices, effects of monophasic square waves with different parameters were compared with those of the X26 electronic control device, using two animal models (frogs and swine). Pulse power, electrical pulse charge, pulse duration, and pulse repetition frequency affected muscle contraction. There was no difference in the charge required, between the square waveform and the X26 waveform, to cause approximately the same muscle-contraction response (in terms of the strength-duration curve). Thus, on the basis of these initial studies, the detailed shape of a waveform may not be important in terms of generating electro-muscular incapacitation. More detailed studies, however, may be required to thoroughly test all potential waveforms to be considered for future use in ECDs.

2010 American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Published 2010. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the U.S.A.


So, if you want to create a “taser proof” vest or clothing, you have to essentially short out the taser electrodes in a way that does not allow the power to go into your body.  Remember, your body is essentially a bag of somewhat salty water which makes it a rather crappy conductor, unless there is nothing else better.  Typically you don’t wear conductive clothing so you are essentially going to become a conductor… unless you have prepared.  A simple way to do this is to take your favorite jacket, tear out the lining (carefully and in 1 piece) and install carbon tape.


Tasers are no match for a real conductor!

Here is an instructable for using carbon cloth tape to create the Taser-Proof Jacket...

After doing that, just make sure you are wearing your jacket whenever you get tased.

March 20

Building a precision “Scroll Saw” or Jigsaw…

Back in my day (think 70’s and 80’s) we used to call table “scroll saws” jigsaws.  We called hand held “Jigsaws” Sabre Saws.  Well, I guess some all powerful authority decided that the names must be “switched all around” and now “Scroll saws” are the table variety and Jigsaws are the hand variety, and, well…


Scroll saws are a very nice tool to have in any Mad Scientist laboratory because of all the various things you can do with them outside of creating “scroll-work”… for example if you create printed circuit boards that are not square, but follow some weird shape due to the enclosure, or if you are making lost foam metal molds, or a variety of intricate cuts…. you need a precision scroll saw. sure you could get yourself a CNC water jet or some plasma cutter device and pay thousands, or… a scroll saw does the job much cheaper.

Problem is that a precision scroll saw is expensive.  Let me explain.

There are essentially 5 types of scroll saws out there. The spring tension saw, the parallel arm saw, the C-arm saw, hybrid parallel saw, and the oscillating saw. All of these saws have their pros and cons, and their basic configurations are shown here. If you look carefully you will see that each has issues with the saw blade that effect the precision of the cut.

constant tension

spring tension scroll saw












The spring tension scroll saw is a common one from the 50’s and 60’s but is not seen that much today even though the basic configuration is quite simple.  While the blade stays in the same place during the entire period of motion, the problem is that the tension on the blade changes – being at it’s highest when in the down position, and lowest in the up position.  This means that when the workpiece is pressed against the blade, the tension is in a constant state of weak, then strong.  This means that the blade flexes, and the cut will not be as precise as it could be.  It also means that the blade weakens and breaks much earlier than it normally would if it were under a constant tension.  The overall precision of the cut is compromised.

c arm

C-Arm Scroll Saw…










The C-Arm scroll saw as shown in the above picture has the advantage of keeping the blade tension constant, however as can be seen from the motion that is made, the blade position changes with respect tot eh cutting table and work-piece.  While very thin pieces may not be effected as long as the table cutting position stays constant as in the picture, thicker pieces will have issues with precise accurate cuts.  This becomes even more problematic if angles cuts are being used.  This is because the blade cantors back with the C-Arm as it goes through it’s periodic motion.

paralel arm

Parallel Swing Arm Scroll Saw










The parallel swing arm scroll saw is an improvement on the C-Arm, and also represents the oldest of the powered scroll saws in existence. Originally foot-peddle powered, these older saws had very deep throats upwards was three feet, making the offset that occurs when the saw moves upward or downward from center very minimal.  But as you can see in the picture above, this offset becomes much more noticeable as the arms become shorter as in modern day scroll saws.  Still, this is the mechanics of most inexpensive (under 200 dollars) scroll saws you can buy today.  Again, precision is lost because of the offset.

2 parllel

hybrid parallel arm scroll saw








A variation on the parallel arm scroll saw is the hybrid shown here which uses “rockers” to move a cam like series of mechanisms that moves the bald up and down, but again, because the final rockers that attach to the blade are set on a pivot, the blade will have some front to back loss of precision as it rotates around the center of the rocker pivot. more expensive scroll saws employ this method of blade drive to greatly reduce vibration of the saw, however the precision is still an issue because of the aforementioned rocker rotation.

So in all these cases, we have the design of the saw effecting either the tension of the blade during it’s travel, or the actual position of the blade! What we want is for the blade to stay put and only move up and down – nothing else!

There really is only one way to reliably move a blade up and down under a constant tension, without any loss of precision and that is shown below : The oscillating band driven scroll saw.  These types of saws are the most expensive, but are also the most precise scroll saws that money can buy.


The oscillating band scroll saw – most precise money can buy.










Here is the deal: I needed a scroll saw.  I wanted one that was precise.  I’m a cheapskate. I like a challenge.

I decided to build my own.

I decided to build a precision oscillating scroll saw using a hybrid design that combines the band of the standard oscillating saw as shown above, and the “main rocker” idea of the hybrid swing arm saw.  Below is a simplified drawing of the saw I am building followed by the actual build itself.


Simplified diagram of my oscillating band style scroll saw. blade guide and other minor items not shown.













My version of the saw uses the rocker from the hybrid parallel arm saw, but then connects to the blade via a steel cable under tension as opposed to a continuous belt or band.  Using brass sliding door pulleys and a tension spring (not shown).  My current build progress is shown below.


Collection of junk to start with.













The collection of stuff I had on hand – those aluminum tubes I found in a dumpster next to house construction – by the way: House construction dumpsters are a wealth of great free stuff – but get permission first!  Usually they don’t mind because they have to pay a fee for every pound, and anything you take saves them money!


cleaning up the tubes (they had cement and oxidized tape on them)














cleaned up and cut to length.













By the way, you may have noticed behind the staks of cut tubing that I am building a mini Tesla supply – those door-knob caps are from Russia, bought them about a year after Chernobyl – I wonder where they came from?


assembling the frame














It’s coming together.














The combination of the two sets of struts makes the cantilevered arms of the saw very stiff.














Northern Tool Pillow Blocks – about 9 bucks a piece.














Pillow blocks mounted and shaft inserted.














The section for the rocker arm to be mounted to the shaft. Got to get the welder out!














Here are the brass pulleys for the saw…














Old dryer motor for power…















UPDATE! 03/13/2015 – nope, I still haven’t finished this thing, and I really need to because I really need a good jigsaw! Just too much stuff to do!

March 10

Hidden Gems in Old Technology…

Have you ever wondered about old tech? Let me explain.  Did you know that about the time that the transistor started taking the place of tubes (or “valves” if you are of European persuasion) that electron tube technology had progressed to the point of creating tiny tubes the same size as discrete transistors?


Now that is a tiny tube!

Eventually as transistors became more inexpensive to make, and more capable, the tube faded – but then it got re-invigorate as audiophiles (and Heavy Metal Guitarists) realized that transistors just could not reproduce the warm sounds of the tube in their amplifiers. Hence even today the best and most expensive amplifiers employ tubes.

There have been many technologies like this that have been all but forgotten, left to rot on the ash-heap of history.

But have you ever considered that those technologies may not have given us all they had to give? Is it possible there are anomalies and other design considerations of an old technology that were never considered at the time, and now lie waiting like some missed vein of gold in an abandoned gold mine?

Well… There are those who would try to steer you clear of any such notions – and based on what exactly you are looking into, there may even be those who would attempt to force you to stop looking into these things.

That makes me want to look all the more… and while we are on the topic of electron tubes (or valves) let us go to one of the fathers of the electron tube Philo Taylor Farnsworth. This man developed an amazing array of devices including the very first completely electronic Television and Camera. The funny thing is, most people have never heard of him. Much like Nikola Tesla, while almost single-handed developed an entire new technological arena, he got barely any credit for his inventions.


PT Farnsworth with his fusor in what looks like a cookie jar…

But one of his most interesting, and mysteriously, his most under-appreciated invention was the Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, employing inertial electrostatic confinement. In other words along with television, this man created the first sustainable fusion reaction in a device that many high-school science fair participants have recreated!


High School Science Fair. Not sure how old that high school student is… Then again, maybe Neutrons increase beard growth?



I may at some point try my hand at a Fusor – but even the basic ones need a pretty good vacuum – even my little vacuum pump is nowhere near what is required for one of these! Still, a fusion reaction in my workshop… now that would be something, but I digress.

The point of this post is to think about technologies that are “repressed” not necessarily by big government or big corporations (although I am sure that occurs) but by “history” and neglect.

As I think of new ones I will add to this post. For now, check out this interesting link on the Farnsworth Fusor. (note, the document appears to have been scanned and contains many spelling and format errors, but it is worth the read!)