On 19 August 2011, as noted on the mission site of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, "NASA's Mars rover Curiosity fired its laser for the first time on Mars, using the beam from a science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called 'Coronation.' The mission's Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, hit the fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. The energy from the laser excites atoms in the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma. ChemCam catches the light from that spark with a telescope and analyzes it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the target."
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke, "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law)
Early in the schedule for the 2011 Summer Wizarding Event, I put out a call for unusual stuff -- oddments, baubles, and what-have-you items to serve as the contents for the Perfect Postal Packages I was making for our 1st Year Wizarding Students. I had it in mind that I wanted things that were, essentially, old science & engineering tools - like those pictured below.
My father-in-law, Professor Science, provided a number of really wonderful items. Why do I call him Professor Science, you ask? Check this out -- his areas of research study:
Electronic Spectroscopy: Analysis of the vapor spectra of aromatic and heterocyclic compounds. The principal areas of interest are the shapes of vibronic bands and computation of the band contours of asymmetric rotors. The objective is to determine the change in molecular shape in the first excited electronic singlet state.
Infrared and Raman Spectroscopy: Determination of the fundamental vibrational frequencies of aromatic and heterocyclic molecules by measurement of the infrared and Raman Spectroscopy and calculation of the normal coordinates. The objective is to determine the force constants of these molecules and to examine the transferability of these force constants to related molecules.
The recipient of this package was the oldest of our nineteen new wizarding students (who ranged in age from 8-14 years). Like the other older boy, he was a little uncertain about participating in the event. But there was still a tad of want-to-believe in his soul! He wanted to be a wizard.
This wooden box was something I found at our neighborhood rummage sale. It had belonged to an artist who used it to hold brushes and drawing pencils.
The wizardly tools found within were a metal, expanding spectrometer (Professor Science had used this in his grad school work!); a skinny steel tweezers (found at the ever-awesome American Science & Surplus); and a piece of obsidian that my brother Architect (who was one of the two prime movers of this event and who played our Headmaster) had given me the day he invited me to play along. (It was in a box of marvelous junky stuff much of which was included in the "Perfect Packages" -- miniature glass tubes, small locks, a wee carved soapstone elephant, to mention but a very few!)
As with each package, the items were boxed or wrapped or bagged within.
And as with each, a personal letter was enclosed.
Hello S- - -,You're probably wondering what this package is all about! Here's the story. It's a N - - - - - tradition that former students write letters of welcome to the incoming First Years. As former Head Boy, I am going to take the extra step and send you some stuff I know you will need if you take any of Prof. Trolly's classes. (By the way, that' "Professor T------------" to you anytime you are speaking to him or about him with other faculty! We just call him that behind his back!)He is big into Muggle technology, as you will soon find out. He always requires his students to gather together examples of Muggle stuff. I never got around to showing him these items so I figure I'd save you some time up front by sending them on. I'm sure he'll be delighted.Too bad Professor E - - - - - - - (or E-cubed, as we upper levels refer to him) is on sabbatical this year. He teaches a mean Magical Metals class. Tough as all get out but he has a great sense of humor which makes it do-able.Well, that's all I've got to say. If you have a moment with the Headmaster, tell him the former T---- Head Boy says hello. Better tell him my name, though, as there have been a lot of T----- Head Boys during his time there (and he's ancient!).Good luck in your first year work!T------- C-------- V----------, IIIHouse T-----, 2002p.s. That's OBSIDIAN in the green bag. Not Muggle, just volcanic!
I never did find out if this young man passed on the message from this letter writer to the Headmaster. I had a lot of fun "seeding" the improv aspect of the day with my many letters to the new students. (I wrote 125 of them all told, each from a different imagined character!) Each of the actors had a general idea of the day's story but as it was a live action role play event, improv was the name of the game.
Almost a year later, this past Spring, when a few of us got together for a dress-up dinner, I learned that this gift of scientific tools thoroughly delighted this young man and that he thought the tools to be truly wizarding in nature! I am sure Professor Science and Arthur C. Clarke would agree.
The posts describing all the imaginary postal packages can be found grouped here under the tag faux package.