The Cardboard Box
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So sometime when I was in kindergarten or early elementary school, a large cardboard box appeared in the playroom in the basement, which I decided to use as a toy house. My dad or grandpa or someone helped me cut a "door" into the box, and that was the end of that project - at least as far as they were concerned at the time!

I don't know in exactly what order the various additions to the house were made, but let's just say that I was pretty nerdy even as a child, and I was extremely interested in anything electrical, and also in anything having to do with HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems.

The Second Story

As I grew a bit older and taller, it became progressively harder to fit inside my cardboard house. This problem was solved by cutting a hole out of the top of the house, and affixing a narrower cardboard box (with its bottom cut out) to the top of the existing structure. This created a "second story" to the house, so that I could sit up in it even with my increasing height. (This was done by either my dad or my grandpa; I really can't remember which.)

The Furnace

An extremely old hair dryer had been sitting around at my grandmother's house for a long time, but she never used it anymore. I liked to play with it so much that eventually she just left it at my house in the play room, since she didn't use it anymore anyway. This was no ordinary hair dryer; it had a plastic base, which had a circular air intake vent on it, and a 1.5-foot or so rigid plastic pipe sticking up from it, to which you were supposed to attach the hose that would connect the hair dryer to the actual nozzle for drying your hair. The power switch to the hair dryer was on the end of a short cable coming out of the base; its settings were "Off," "Low," "Medium," and "High."

Naturally, I wanted to hook this hair dryer up as a furnace for my cardboard house. So one day, my dad and I cruised out to the hardware store where we bought two short lengths of flexible plastic tubing and a roll of duct tape. My dad then proceeded to cut out two holes on the side of the house; one near the bottom for the hot-air duct, and one near the top of the second story for the return-air duct. We then placed the hair dryer just next to the house, and used duct tape to connect the air intake and output on the hair dryer to the holes in the house, using the flexible plastic tubing we had purchased. The furnace (hair dryer) controller was brought into the house by way of the return-air duct hole.

With three power settings for recirculating forced-air heat, the cardboard house was kept plenty (actually, all too) warm from then on.

The Central Air Purifier

I was intrigued with just about all electrical appliances as a child, but especially with air purifiers (for whatever reason). Before long, I had a small collection of really old air purifiers (mostly missing their filters) that I had acquired on the cheap at various garage sales in town. These were fun to play with, but wouldn't it be even more fun if I installed one in the cardboard house as a "central air purifier?" Well, of course it would! So, it was off to the hardware store with my dad and I once again, this time, to purchase a protractor. I had no idea what a protractor was at that age, and once I saw it in the store, I still didn't see what it had to do with hooking up an air purifier to my cardboard house. But when we got home, my dad used the protractor and a knife to fashion a crazy rectangular duct with a 90-degree joint in it, out of some spare cardboard boxes that were sitting around in the basement. With this important component manufactured, he proceeded to cut a hole in the back of the house at ground level and inserted the intake end of the air purifier through it. Then, he cut a hole in the second-story portion of the back of the house, and installed the cardboard duct so that one end went into that hole, and the other end ingeniously went over the output vent on the air purifier! The installation was then made permanent by, of course, duct tape.

The Thermostat

The installation of a central air conditioner in our (real) house had necessitated the installation of a new thermostat as well. So the old thermostat ended up in my bin of electronic gadgets. When the thermostat came into my hands, I did not understand enough about electronics to be able to hook it up to anything. However, as time went on, I began to form the impression that the two contacts on the thermostat were probably electrically 'closed' when the thermostat was 'on' (i.e. the ambient temperature was colder than the temperature setting), and open when it was off. Now, I was still a little kid at this point, and I knew a lot better than to mess around with actual 120V wall-powered appliances. But, I rigged things up such that the thermostat could run off of a couple of batteries (2 AAs, I believe) and instead of turning the hair-dryer-come-furnace on and off, it would turn a small 3-volt red light bulb on and off.

I built the circuit after school one day, and it was all ready to go, except that I didn't have any way to actually connect the batteries to the circuit, other than holding the batteries together and holding the wires onto their terminals with my fingers. But, as soon as my dad got home, I started pestering him (probably quite energetically, because I was very excited about this project) about taking me to Radio Shack. Luckily for me, he must not have had too many plans for that evening, because we got in the car and headed out to Radio Shack, where we bought a little plastic battery holder with output leads for probably about $0.49. What a lucky parent, when the kind of things his kid really wants cost $0.49 - too bad they introduced me to the world of computers :).

So when we got home, my dad was probably hungry and ate dinner or something, but I ran right downstairs to hook up and install (with duct tape) my thermostat system. After not too long, I got everything mounted on the inside wall of the cardboard house, and lo and behold, it worked like a charm! When the air in the "house" got colder than the setting on the thermostat, the little red light would come on, alerting me that I needed to turn the "furnace" on. When the hair dryer warmed things up sufficiently, the red light would go out, and I would know to turn the hair dryer off. A truly ridiculous system, but one with which I was truly thrilled.

Cats in the Ductwork

There weren't any other geeky technological improvements made to the house, but sometimes my friends did not quite understand all the features of the house. One time, some of my friends were over playing in the basement, and we were trying to coax the cat (named Socks, but not named after the Clintons' cat) into the house. After a while, she finally came in there and sat down or took a nap or whatever cats do. However, when my friend wanted to exit the cardboard house, she evidently thought that the output duct for the air purifier was actually a shelf in the back of the house. So she picked Socks up and put her on the "shelf". However, the duct being a duct, not a shelf, socks promptly fell down the duct, onto the top of the air purifier. I guess it's a good thing that there was a plastic grate over the fan, or she would have been one unhappy cat! (Not that she liked the situation any as it was.) Anyway, we were able to quickly disconnect the duct from the air purifier so that Socks could escape, which she did. She probably went and hid for a while after that experience.