It's a finglonger, obviously
April 14, 2011 6:56 AM   Subscribe

The NIST Digital Archives is an online collection of scientific instruments from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. But even the experts don't always know what it is they've got, and they'd like your help. Any idea what you're supposed to do with Eight Dials Set in a Wooden Frame? How about Metal Instrument in Wood Case?
posted by Horace Rumpole (20 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Sex toys, obviously.
posted by kmz at 7:18 AM on April 14, 2011

Sex tools.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 7:21 AM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Eight Dials Set in a Wooden Frame:

This is an early version of a personality factor adjustment filter for live modification of simulated personalities. Based on Raymond Cattell's 16-factor personality model, research in this field created generative artificial personalities in real time simply by adjusting factors like warmth, vigilance, and social boldness, using the dials on the box. (It's all done with computers now, of course.)

Even though the personalities generated consisted solely of a handful of positive or negative numerical values, (16 factors, so eight dials) human observers routinely ascribed much greater complexity to them, projecting "between the dots," if you will, to fill in the picture with a fully formed human personality that did not, in fact, exist. The rather chilling implication is that actual human personalities are equally projected, suggesting that all psychological experience is imagined.

The best known current application of the technology is the superhero/personality dysfunction known as "Insane Girl," a virally transmitted set of personality factors now believed to infect some 80 percent of the population. The Insane Girl personality manifests under particular stress triggers, resetting the host's personality factors in ways that have not been quantified, though it obviously pretty much pegs the meter on "social boldness." For reasons that also remain unclear, manifestations occur almost entirely in women (there are two claimed cases of Insane Girl possession in men, but both are disputed), resulting in highly dangerous, and often self-destructive, actions to resolve the high-stress situation that triggered the manifestation. Of generally accepted cases, 63 percent of hosts have died while manifesting Insane Girl. Another 14 percent are in prison, and 8 percent are in long-term psychiatric care.

Basically, that box is not something you want to mess with, and the fact that NIST has no idea what it is is quite disturbing.
posted by Naberius at 7:22 AM on April 14, 2011 [15 favorites]

Some of these may be one-offs, custom tools machined by repairmen, machinists or scientists for a purpose specific to their craft, their personal process and their preference.

Any of them would make good writing prompts or images for the SCP Wiki.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 7:34 AM on April 14, 2011

Eight Dials in a Wooden Frame looks like a steampunk decade box.
posted by adipocere at 7:58 AM on April 14, 2011

I don't care what they are, I want them. Give them to me.
posted by aramaic at 8:17 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eight Dials is clearly a prototype of Downfall.
posted by londonmark at 8:35 AM on April 14, 2011

On the one hand, I'm disappointed to discover that cstross has a sock puppet. On the other hand, his next Laundry book, "The Naberius Box", is clearly going to be awesome.
posted by roystgnr at 8:41 AM on April 14, 2011

Press the button, you will receive $200,000, and someone you don't know will die.
posted by gwint at 9:01 AM on April 14, 2011

Eight Dials Set in Wooden Frame is almost certainly a variable current shunt used for measuring the current flowing in a system using a volt-meter. There is another device on their site which has the same purpose and is more easily identifiable.
"Int Ohm" stands for "International Ohm" which was the International unit of resistance before the adoption of SI units, in use between 1893 and 1948.
Manganin is an alloy with non-temperature-variable resistance properties (perfect for a current shunt).

Here is a current version of such a device.
posted by Morbuto at 9:18 AM on April 14, 2011

There's a sequel to Hellraiser somewhere in this site.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:21 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You put your weed in there.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:41 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man that is one horrible image interface. Is there a way to down load full size full res images?
posted by Mitheral at 9:43 AM on April 14, 2011

They just need to take these down to the local Liar's Club to get them identified.
posted by straight at 10:20 AM on April 14, 2011

Metal instrument in wood case looks like a folded up high-end version of this cat carrier.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 10:48 AM on April 14, 2011

It seems to me that they're not trying very hard to identify the items. The "8 Dials" gadget is quite similar to other items in the mystery collection that are identified as resistor boxes. This is sort of like a potentiometer, except you don't want a continuously variable resistance, you want to vary resistance in set increments. So there are a ton of resistors in the box that you hook up in series or parallel, depending on the rigging needed.

But now honestly, is the item Black Case with Set of Geometric Compasses really unidentified? It doesn't seem particularly notable, it's just an old set of standard drafting compasses (although a nice one, with fountain pen nibs).

Ah, but the gem is the Ross Precision Computer. This appears to be a specialized circular slide rule, with a spiral log scale, and holy crap, it has a linear slide rule on the radius. Now I would really love a chance to fiddle with that. The instructions are printed right on the face, but the pics aren't hi rez enough to see it. A little Google Books action reveals a vintage 1920 advertisement, nice!
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:10 PM on April 14, 2011

The instructions are printed right on the face, but the pics aren't hi rez enough to see it.

Is this what you mean, cds?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:17 PM on April 14, 2011

Oh yeah, I just found the magnification button. Ooh that's good. I zoomed in on that ad I cited from Google Books and there are some interesting tech details, but it's still basically baffling unless you could get your hands on this and try a few calculations. I'm sure there was a book of instructions that came with this slide rule.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:21 PM on April 14, 2011

I had to look through every item in their virtual museum. I love scientific gadgets. I think I learned more about science from reading scientific equipment catalogs, than I ever did from my science textbooks.

But oh no, I actually know one of these devices and have seen one in use, the Carl Zeiss Milk Fat Refractometer. I recall around 1980, I was working as a tech in a computer store in the godforsaken rural town of Dubuque, Iowa. I had a client that did milk fat testing for dairy farms in the area, they used refractometers to test thousands of samples each week. Apparently they test each cow's milk fat output, continuously charting it across time. I have no idea what veterinarians and farmers do with this data, but apparently it is vital enough that big bucks were spent on these measurements. I got involved because they were converting away from these old manual refractometers, they bought a fancy, new automated refractometer. The machine sucked up a little sample from each tube on a little conveyor belt, and put out a number on a crude LED or this newfangled thing called an RS-232 serial connector. They asked me to hook it up to a serial printer. I told them a printed list of numbers wouldn't be very useful, why not hook it up to a little microcomputer? I rigged an Apple ][ with a third-party serial card, did a little 6502 assembly code for serial drivers, did a bit of programming and they just loved the little reports they could crank out. But they always had a manual refractometer around, apparently it was used to check this NIST standard for the dairy industry.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:52 PM on April 14, 2011

The "metal instrument in wooden case" is clearly a primitive key-cutter.

(Actually, it is some kind of arc-striker, I think.)
posted by gjc at 2:30 PM on April 15, 2011

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