Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Little Wooden Box

I know that this blog is supposed to be about some crazy feat of engineering, or something incredibly clever that many people see, but only a few notice. I guess I kinda found something related, it might not be engineering, but it definitely made me more curious than anything else I had seen all trip.

In my apartment, in the kitchen, on the wall, there is a little wooden box with 8 squares, with each square covered by glass. It perpetually showed the number "3" in the third square. I didn't notice it until one day it also showed a '5' and a '6' in the 5th and 6th squares respectively. I looked at it for a second, saw a button on the bottom, pushed it, and the numbers reset, but then the "3" fell right back into place. I inspected it a little further and saw a cord attached to the wall behind it followed it down, and the cord went behind the little wooden box. I thought that was the source of the signals, and now I would need to follow the cord. That is at least until I noticed that the cord also came out of the bottom and into a phone hung right beneath the box. I thought to my self, "That's it, whatever that phone is used for".

The realization that the phone and box had something to do with on another was enough for me to carry on with my day. I had just assumed it was some odd answering machine, or maybe it counts the numbers of missed calls (By this point I assumed the "3" was just broken). Cut to a day later, when some friends came over, and once again the "5" was there. I noticed it, asked my roommates if they knew what it was, and when they didn't have a response, I carried on with my night. About an hour later, when somebody who said they were running late finally made it, they rang the bell downstairs for us to ring him in. I have never done this before, and fiddled with the system until I realized that the phone wasn't a land line connected to a network, but instead a means of communicating with the person who just rang the bell.

This realization, and the observation that none of the numbers change really perplexed me. Once everyone had left, I wished them "buenos noches", and went straight to the box. All I saw was a single tiny screw on the right of the box that was no bigger than an aglet (The plastic part of your shoelace). I found a screwdriver and without even caring that it wasn't even technically my apartment, I took out the screw, and opened the little wooden box.

Inside were the numbers 1-8, each with an odd device behind them. When I pushed the same button that reset the numbers, a bar was pushed up, and it set the numbers that were on hinges above a tiny ledge where they would stay unless the odd device was pushed in a little. I then realized that these odd devices were electromagnets, and when a current is sent through them, they retract, and the number falls down. Now I only had to figure out what signals the currents were attached to.

I called in Greg, and showed him what I had found. We both discussed for a minute or so, and then I saw the light bulb go off in his head. He turned around, and before he even finished his 180* I knew what it was too. Our apartment had been scaring us all week because we have these buzzers in each room, and occasionally they would go off. I stayed at the box, and sure enough, Greg went to each room, and pressed each button. These buzzers were room specific, and each room would show a number on the box. One room didn't do anything, which is when we noticed that a set of wires on top were missing, most likely meaning that those wires ran all the way through the apartment.

We were happy that we now know how it worked, but what bothered us now was that we had no idea why it existed in the first place. After a little discussion about the oddities of our place, we finally came to the conclusion that this place had maids or butlers of some sort at some time. These signals were for the other people who lived in the house to signal, and the number was for which room. This would explain why there was a separate entrance, with a separate, smaller, older elevator leading to it.

We were once again happy, and put the box back together. Proud of our accomplishments, we grabbed a beer, and we gave a toast. "To the little wooden box!"

In the entire city of Madrid, with it's vast Metro, amazing architecture, grand reclamation projects, and massive sky rises, a little wooden box is what caught my attention the most. There might be something wrong with me. Also, there might be something wrong with the person who would call the butler while in the bathroom.

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