Thursday, July 21, 2011

Offbeat Bride Guest Blogger

I am going to shamelessly promote my own Offbeat Bride blog post, which is now up on their website. No, I am  not getting married. I just like weddings. And blogging. The post is about providing gluten-free alternatives to cake at a wedding.

And because no blog post here on What's the Smatter is complete without one, I will now leave you with a gratuitous cute animal photo:

This is Cactus Jack the North American porcupine, just waking from an afternoon nap.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Artistic Animals

One of the best parts of my job at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is training the animals. You might remember the slowest training session ever with Jumbo Jet the tortoise, for instance. This summer, as a fundraiser, our trainers  taught some of the animals to paint and then auctioned off their artwork at Zoobilee (PDZA's swanky black-tie event).

Herald picked up a brush to help out. His trainers (cleverly) wore thin white suits that we usually only wear when working with animals in quarantine; this kept them (relatively) paint-free during the sessions.

Stella the Abyssinian ground hornbill, as a member of a species known for intelligence and curiosity, seemed like an ideal student. However, training animals always presents new and interesting challenges. For one thing, Stella had to be taught which end of the brush to put on the canvas, which is a concept that human pupils probably already understand.

Here is Stella being rewarded for putting the correct end of the brush onto the canvas.

We use operant conditioning to train all of the animals at the zoo--specifically positive reinforcement, which is a fancy term for giving a treat when the animal does something we like. Of course that's a bit of an oversimplification, but that's the foundation for our methods.

And I'll let you in on a secret. Not only does positive reinforcement work on your dog, your cat and even your tortoise, but it works on people too! I will attempt to film and post a few more training sessions before the summer is over.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Recycled Wine Bottle Lamp Part 2

I have to say, I'm pretty proud of our most recent recycled glass and LED project. The first one was a good starting point for Jared and I to mess around with the glass etching and LED wiring.

This time, we aimed higher. We wanted to set LEDs in a wooden base and display the bottle on the base. A green bottle from some cheap red wine, a craft knife, electrical tape and etching cream led to this:

Because I didn't have a professional stencil, I covered the surface of the bottle with black tape where I wanted the design, then I carved out the shape of the tree with a craft knife. This method takes a steady hand and some concentration, but it is surprisingly forgiving because if you make a mistake (since you have to free-hand the design) you can remove the tape and try again.

For the base, we started with a plain wooden post cap from Home Depot, which we got on sale for $6.00. We drilled four holes in the top and covered it in a couple coats of wood stain.

Jared completed the next part, which was to drill a hole in one side for the jack and cord to plug in, and to drill another hole in another side to put in an on/off switch. Once those elements were in place, I helped solder the LEDs underneath the base.

Each LED has two tiny wires coming out of it, one which needs to be connected to the place power is coming from and the other that needs to be grounded. The photo was taken when only the wiring for the LED grounds were in place, so imagine the little wires doubled (to connect them to the power jack) and that would complete the wiring job.

The finished base looked like this from above. The on/off switch is on the opposite side.

Now the wine bottle had to be attached to the base, but glass is notoriously difficult to affix cleanly and solidly. We practiced using a couple of beer bottles and some plywood before discovering that carefully applied superglue held nicely and didn't interfere with the LEDs' glow coming up through the base.

I am certainly going to toot my own horn on this one: I think the lamp looks really good, considering we are amateurs who have limited experience with this sort of thing. Again, you could always use a wine bottle lamp kit to make something similar to recycle your old bottles. Look for bottles that have interesting shapes or colors to vary the style of lamp, too. You can also easily thread a strand of LED lights into a used bottle for a similar, yet simpler-to-achieve effect.