Simple Laser Oscilloscope

Many, many years ago I was teaching gifted and talented seventh graders. One of the units of study was “Sight and Sound.” We did cool physics-related experiments, including setting up a darkroom in the basement of the gym, building pinhole cameras, and developing our own photos (back before the days of MDS sheets and fears of lawsuits over anything chemical-related)…

Pinhole Automobile

…turning an old piano into a hand bell-like instrument using popsicle sticks, fishing line and violin bow resin, building a walk-in camera obscura, and programming a Bach chorale into four old Tandy 1000 computers. In short, it explored two of my favorite things – photography and music.

One of the things we created was a simple laser oscilloscope. I had seen this at Discovery Place in Charlotte, and wanted to replicated it in my classroom. In the days before cheap laser pointers, I had bought a helium-neon laser for some of our class projects. Using that laser, an old speaker, and a music synthesizer, we were able to construct something that would work.

Fast forward 25 years or so…

Earlier this summer I was playing with our cats, using a toy laser pointer. The cats go crazy chasing the little red dot. It occurred to me that I could recreate my project from long ago with this simple pointer.

Laser Oscilloscope-002 Continue reading “Simple Laser Oscilloscope”

From DC to Home

August 17-18, 2013 Saturday morning we checked out of our hotel and headed out to Reston, Va, to visit our niece, Katie. Glynda and Houston joined us, and we had a great brunch of blueberry pancakes. After our visit, Laura and I were ready to hit the road toward home. We punched in “Home” on … Continue reading From DC to Home

Segway Tour of Washington

Washington DC - Segway Tour

August 16, 2013

We had missed our morning reservation for our Segway tour, but I was able to get it re-booked for an evening tour. Determined not to miss this again, I rousted Houston and Jeannie from the International Spy Museum and herded them toward the Metro. We arrived at City Segway Tours 45 minutes early. I didn’t mind getting there early – it gave me a chance to get off of my aching feet. I had been walking for three days straight, and was ready for a rest.

I wasn’t sure how many would be on this tour. The other tourists began to gather, and it looked like a fairly large group. The time came, and we first viewed a training video that showed us all the ways we could fall off of these things and get hurt. After the video we were divided into smaller groups and introduced to our guide, Christine.

Meeting Christine Continue reading “Segway Tour of Washington”

Museums, Butterflies, and Long Views

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

August 15, 2013

In the last post I forgot to mention dinner. One of Laura’s former students, Scott Moore, is an attorney with the National Science Foundation. Once we got settled into our room we headed west on the Metro to meet Scott at his office at NSF.


We had a fantastic meal at a local wine bistro. I had scallops and Laura had butterfish, whatever that is. It was one of the best meals of the trip, and we’ve had some good ones. Laura and Scott caught up, and Scott told us about his work at NSF.

The next morning we got up fairly early and headed to the top floor of our hotel for breakfast. The hotel restaurant had spectacular views out across the Potomac and north toward the National Cathedral. It wouldn’t be the last long view that we had today. After a good breakfast a nice view of the city we set out. Our plan was to visit some of the Smithsonian museums, and see what we could find.

I had turned on the Field Trip app from Google on my iPhone. As we approached the Rosslyn Metro station it beeped to let me know that this station’s escalator was the second longest in North America. The longest one was somewhere else in DC.

Abandon All Hope Continue reading “Museums, Butterflies, and Long Views”

Monticello and Charlottesville


August 14, 2013

As rainy as it had been the day before, this morning turned out to be spectacular. Our agenda for the day was to drive over to Charlottesville and visit Monticello, then continue on to DC. We picked up Interstate 64 and headed eastward from Staunton.

On a hill next to the interstate, just around the corner from our motel, were three crosses. These were a set of Coffindaffer Crosses, placed by the Rev. Bernard Coffindaffer. My blogger friend Jacob K. recently did a post on the Coffindaffer Crosses on his blog, The Carpetbagger. I had spotted two other sets Monday, but had not stopped to take pictures. The photo below doesn’t show it because it’s backlit, but the crosses have a distinct color scheme – two white with a central gold cross.

Coffindaffer Crosses

The trip from Staunton to Charlottesville went quickly, and we found Monticello easily by following the signs. We managed to get tickets for the next tour, and 10:15 am.

Monticello Tickets Continue reading “Monticello and Charlottesville”

Driving through the Monongahela National Forest

Viriginia Road

August 13, 2013

With the rain last night Laura and I didn’t even attempt to go out and look for any more meteors. Instead, we got a good night’s rest and got up the next morning to head out. We had several options, but decided to play it by ear, depending on the weather. Our general plan was to head northeast first, then cross over to the Monongahela National Forest. Several of those highways were marked with green dots on our AAA road map, indicating scenic roads. We thought we would check them out.

We first detoured into the downtown section of Fayetteville. Signs on the main highway had proclaimed that it was the “coolest downtown.” While a neat place, it looks like it was populated mainly by outfitter stores for whitewater companies, with a few galleries and restaurants thrown in. It was a cool place, with a neat old courthouse, but we didn’t linger.

Just beyond Fayetteville is the bridge. Crossing it this morning was a totally different experience. Everything was fogged in, so there was not the sense of height we had on our first crossing.

There were several places we had been told were can’t-miss locations. However, most of these involved long scenic views. That just wasn’t going to happen this morning. We did cross Summerville Lake, which looked like a fantastic place to kayak. High sandstone cliffs along the banks were capped with the dense greenery of forests. I’d love to come back up here with a boat. Continue reading “Driving through the Monongahela National Forest”

A Trip through the New River Gorge

New River Bridge
New River Bridge

August 12, 2013

Laura had never been to West Virginia. I had only crossed over the border in the mid 1980’s just to say I had been in that state. We really didn’t know much about the state, except that there were coal mines somewhere. A couple of Laura’s colleagues are from West Virginia, and before we left, had told us that there were some places we really needed to check out.

With the meteor expedition having been a bust, we decided to head on up into the mountains and cross over into West Virginia. We drove through a piece of Virgina on the Interstate, roughly repeating our trek from last summer when we headed up for Katie and Aaron’s wedding. However, instead of turning northeast toward Roanoke, we headed south…maybe. On the same road we were headed south on 81, but north on 77. It was a geographical oddity.

Traveling North and South at the Same Time Continue reading “A Trip through the New River Gorge”

Perseids on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a Side Trip to Mayberry

Parkway and New River Gorge-4

August 11, 2013

We hadn’t given the new Mini a proper shake-down road trip. When we got the Audi we took it completely across country, driving from South Carolina to somewhere north of Seattle. We didn’t have the time nor energy for such an adventure this time (Well, at least one of us didn’t :-)) so we decided on something a bit shorter.

It was time for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. We figured the perfect way to christen the car would be to take it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and try to find a bit of dark sky to watch for them. From there we would do some free form road tripping, hoping to wind up in Washington DC by the end of the week.

I had scouted a few potential sites on Google Earth, but there was no way to tell if there would be dark skies. So, shortly after lunch we set off, having somehow managed to pack our gear into the tiny trunk of the Mini. We wanted to make tracks, so we took the Interstate straight on up to Gastonia, then headed off toward Blowing Rock, where we hit the Parkway. We drove with the top back, enjoying the breeze.

There were quite a few clouds, but for the most part it was sunny and the day was spectacular. We pulled off at several overlooks, many of which looked like like they would work for meteor viewing. I didn’t take many photos along the way, though. Continue reading “Perseids on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a Side Trip to Mayberry”