Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Yesterday, as a belated birthday gift, my very good friend bought a “Classic Legos” box for me, a sixty year old man with a doctorate in theoretical chemistry. Oh, goody. Thank you.
Actually, it’s for a project I’m working on. Well, a project that I will be getting back to as soon as I finish this castle. I’m building a working model of a mini select-wavelength spectrophotometer. It’s select wavelength because it’s using colored LED’s (although I am considering making a better one with diffraction grating). I still need to add a switch and an IR emitter and receiver (just to extend the wavelengths I can include), but so far it is working, except that to work well, it needs to be dark. Eventually I can make a case using my 3D printer, but for now, I just need a temporary case to block out ambient light and test the circuit and functionality of the device. So, yes, it will be in the castle because, well, why not?
Maybe it’s because of my background in the experimental sciences (yes, I’m a theoretical chemist, but I’m still a chemist with a great deal of laboratory experience). One of the biggest parts of experimental science is finding creative ways to work around problems. I need an enclosed case for my project, so why not use Legos, a (wonderful and very high quality) toy that allows me to build what I need?
In the sciences, there are usually pre-manufactured devices for just about anything that you could need, but often they are sold at ridiculously high prices. When I worked in industry, we purchased some electronic timers with the brand-name from the supplier on them for $45 each. I found the exact same timer later in a cooking store, but without the logo, for $8. And when I say the exact same timer, I mean even down to the color. So why spend so much money on something just because it comes from a chemical supplier?
I’ve surprised some of my supervisors with my creative thinking. I remember asking a dean if she would mind if I purchased an inflatable sex doll for a forensic class of mine. Yeah, no, she wasn’t having it, despite the fact that I would use it as a “corpse” to train the class on various crime scene techniques. Even though my intention was to use it (and clothe it) for honest and non-sexual purposes, just the thought of it was too much, but that’s how I think. When I needed a model for a corpse, I started thinking about what was available to me, at a reasonable (cheap) price. They ended up spending more money on a mannequin that worked fine, but no better than my sex doll would have.
Working as the director of the forensic lab for a police department, the ability to think outside of the box came in very handy. When putting evidence in the warehouse, certain types of crimes required that the evidence be photographed. This was a rather tedious process, wherein the officer would have to put a square ruler down for scale, get the camera, focus, take a top-down photo, and upload it to the database without ever deleting the photo. Talks were heading in the direction of requiring photos of ALL evidence. We were putting on the finishing touches of the new warehouse and forensic lab, and I started thinking about the cost affiliated with this tedious requirement, and thinking outside of the box, I came up with a much better idea. We had two stations for entering information for items put into the warehouse, so I re-arranged the furniture to make each a “T” style so the two stations were back-to-back on the long end of the T. On the other side, I outlined two areas with marked measuring tape (think masking tape but with metric markings) and mounted a camera above each of these areas. As they were entering the information, they only had to put the evidence inside of this square and click a button. The computer activated the camera, captured an image of the evidence with a scale and automatically stored the image with the entry they were working with. Thinking outside of the box, I dramatically simplified the process.
Yeah, they fired me.
I have an advantage. I don’t particularly care what people think of me. I’ve been criticized and bullied my entire life, so there’s really no reason to worry about if somebody laughs because I want a box of Legos, and because my good friend purchased them for me, now I will think of her every time I use them to create a box that’s, well, outside the box.