Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mad Science, Creepy Crawly Edition!

Today, we journey not into the realm of the supernatural or the paranormal, but of the very small.

Earlier this week, I was helping my Dad look for some papers at his house when I came across a set of 60 prepared microscope slides I got as a kid. Because, yes, I was that big of a nerd, even back in 1973. The box of slides is pictured below.

The slide set appeared to be in good shape. My old microscope, though, was nowhere to be found.

Having the slides but no microscope presented something of an annoyance to me. True, I have neither seen nor thought about this set of microscope slides in 40 years, but now that I've found the slides, I feel the urgent and entirely unreasonable urge to view them, because how often do you get a chance to see a perfectly preserved specimen of Rhizobium Radicicola, or Mycrobacterium Ranae, whatever the heck they might be?

Now, at this point I really should have just started trying to find a decent old microscope on eBay, or even a modest new one from Edmunds or Amazon. But why do the reasonable thing when you can dive into your surplus parts pile and spend an hour or two building your own gadget?

Aha, quoth I. I will build my very own scanning electron microscope. It will be huge and imposing. Sparks will fly. Thunder will crash. The lights in four adjoining counties will dim, and I'll finally get to wear my snazzy new safety goggles and my 1930s-style side-buttoning lab coat.

But a quick check of the bank account revealed the lack of 80 million dollars in discretionary funds, so I was forced back into the realm of the merely optical, and with only such parts as I might already have lying around at my disposal. I did wear my side-buttoning lab coat when I finally did start construction, but without the sparks and the strong sudden smell of freshly-minted ozone it's just not the same.

But I did build a microscope, for about $14, and it actually works, and below is the proof!

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the rear leg of the common honey bee, photographed with the new microscope. The bee leg was part of the old Sears prepared slide set. Not too bad for 14 bucks!

Below is the rig itself:

Okay. I'm cheating a bit by using my iPhone as the primary optical device -- put the phone on the rig, placing the phone's lens carefully over the rig's primary lens. All that is contained in the top layer of cheap clear acrylic sheet, which is held up and steady by the bolts. The base is a scrap piece of oak, and I countersunk the bolt heads on the bottom so it would sit flat.

Below the top layer and the phone and the lens is the staging layer. See the wing nut in the photo above? There are two of them, and by spinning them you bring the staging layer up or down. And since you sit the specimen on the staging layer, it moves up or down until it is in focus.

Here it is with the phone removed. The lens is between the two bolts on the top. It is held in place by a steel washer.

There's nothing special about the lens. Okay, it is glass, and not plastic, because plastic lenses are worthless. Seriously. I spit on them. I cast aspersions on them. Bah! Plastic lenses are an abomination and I have no truck with them!

I got a dozen cheap glass lenses from American Science and Surplus for a couple of bucks years ago when I was messing with telescopes. I selected one at random, cleaned it, made sure the raised rounded side faced up, and glued it in place. Why select at random?

Because when you have that many buttons to fasten on your starched white lab coat, you don't have TIME for complex calculations of focal length and diopter! This is MAD SCIENCE! If you don't finish quickly the villagers will reach the castle gates, and we all know how that ends. Honestly, it's a wonder I ever a single monstrous body fully reanimated.

Yes, it's a quick and dirty rig that costs almost nothing, but the results are actually impressive. Below are a few photos I took right after completing the device.

Close-up of dandelion bloom (smaller than my thumb). Look at the stamen and the pistils, and all that lovely pollen. I didn't even notice the two ants aboard when I picked it. By the way, they were released into the wild when I was done.

Even more pollen.

Next up, a penny. Here's the whole penny:

And here's a close-up of Abe:

Salt crystals? You betcha!

Below is a burned-out tail light from my father's Toyota. Note the defective filament!

Below is a close-up of the author's skin. Note to self: Inquire about various lotions and healing balms soon.

Nah, that's not really my skin, that'ts tree bark. Here's me:

I took a fingertip image, and then I thought 'Hey idiot, do you REALLY want to post a hi-res magnified image of your fingerprint on the internet? Is that a good idea? Really?' so this is below the first knuckle.

Here's a common NPN transistor, which I'm sure you've all been dying to see magnified:

And below is rust on an iron band.

Ever wondered what dog food looks like magnified 100X? Well wonder no more...

Yeah, I wasn't exactly thrilled either.

For next week, if you can think of something you'd like to see magnified, email me (franktuttle at franktuttle dot com) or post your request in the comments below! If I can make it fit on the rig, I'll give it a shot.

Mama Hog Revealed?

I've made mention several times in this blog that Mama Hog, a recurring character in my Markhat series, is based on my grandmother on my father's side.

Her real name was Beatrice, but we called her Grammaw Bee. Not 'grandmother' or even 'grandmaw,' because I grew up in rural Mississippi, and thus she was Grammaw Bee.

Mama's Hog's speech patterns and even some of her appearance were inspired by Grammaw Bee. For a while now, I've tried to find a photo of my grandparents, and I finally located one.

It's a tiny 3 by 4 photo, and it's in terrible shape. I scanned it, enlarged it, and did all I could to enhance the focus and remove the worst of the scratches and pits. It's still not very good, but it's all I've got.

On the left is Grammaw Bee; on the right, my grandfather Henry and his ever-present cigar. Also note the presence of the commanding Tuttle nose, which I inherited. Small children often take refuge in its shade.

Picture the lady with her hair all wild. Remove her glasses. Hand her a stir-stick and a black iron pot, boiling in the yard, and that's Mama Hog.

She was a nice lady. She cooked for an army and knew all kinds of natural cures and neither of my grandparents ever knew an idle day, but they were happy, and I suppose that's all that really counts.

Mug and Meralda News - Is the new book done?

Well, is it?

By the time you read this, yes. I'm posting this early so I can settle into what will be the final writing session for the first draft of All the Turns of Light.

Length? A little over 80 thousand words. Do Mug and Meralda ever leave the Laboratory, this time around?

Oh yes. Whereas the first book in the series (All the Paths of Shadow, available from Amazon) was a sort of anti-quest novel in that Meralda never went more than a few blocks from home, this one takes the gang on a long journey across the Great Sea. There are airships and sea monsters and storms and magical menaces. I believe people will like this book even better than the first one!

By the way, there will be two more Mug and Meralda books after All the Paths of Shadow and All the Turns of Light. When all four books are put together on a shelf in the proper order, the titles will form a poem. And no, I'm not telling what the next two titles are.

So, on that note, I will take my leave, and get back to work. 

But I will leave you with a final image, which I discovered when I downloaded the pics from my iphone. It's not a good picture. It's out of focus and it's dark. But that really doesn't matter.

Below are our dogs Max and Fletcher. Fletcher on on the right. He's old and blind and diabetic, but he still takes care of Max. Some would say dogs are incapable of love; I heave asparagus at such people, and then mock them for their silliness, because dogs do indeed love.

Okay, off to finish the book, wish me luck!


  1. Frank, I swear. You are a frickin' genius!

  2. Not me. I'm just cheap. Pretty impressed with the internal optics of my iPhone, though. Honestly didn't think this would work. I figure I'm getting between 75 and 100 magnification! Not enough to see little wigglies in pond water, but with another lens or two added, even that might be possible...hmm...

  3. So, uhm. DID YOU FINISH??????

  4. In reverse order:
    1. Luck!
    2. The dogs are adorable.
    3. Layer of onion please. Because what good is a microscope if you can't see a cell (and thus manipulate the genetic material).
    4. Are you sure you can't substitute the smell of fresh mint toothpaste for "freshly minted ozone?" Because I think that would work.

  5. Hi, very informative blog got good information about microscopic slides. These are a really very useful equipment in medical field.