cascades of minor disasters
Sunday, April 18 2004
The weather for most of the day was conducive to sitting out in the yard in one of the two chaise lounges I bought at Target recently. Whenever I do this, I'm usually joined by the dogs Sally and Eleanor and Clarence the cat. Occasionally Mavis the crotchety old cat makes an appearance and insists on sitting on me no matter what else I happen to have on my lap. As for Maxwell, the newest, most reclusive cat, he wanders outside briefly when the doors are wide open, but he's sure to dart back indoors should anything the slightest bit unusual happens.
In the morning I took the dogs down a recently-discovered logging road to the lower Chamomile. It was my first hike of the year done barefooted, and my feet weren't really prepared for the jagged rocks and sharp sticks. I also noticed that those annoying little little springtime flies, the kind that buzz monotonously in front of your face, were out in force.
In the early evening I took the dogs on a walk along the ridge in the swath of real estate between the road to the uphill neighbor's farmhouse and that logging road that goes to the go-cart track. There were several large stone walls in this area and I couldn't help but be impressed by the large amount of neatly-stacked rock these contained. None of these walls was very high, but one of them was a two-tiered monster whose base tier was a full six feet thick, the sort of masonry one would associate more with castle building than with field demarcation. I can't help but be impressed by such evidence of large-scale manual labor, a sort of linear Egyptian pyramid abandoned in what is now a thrice-logged forest in the foothills of the Catskills.
In the evening I tried to work some more on my FM data broadcasting experiments, which are now benefitting from an op-amp integrated circuit salvaged from a broken monitor. But I quickly found my initiative sapped away by a series of frustrations based upon two things. The first of these is the imprecise voodoo-like quality of non-digital electronics. I've always had a knack for digital electronics, where all you have to know to be successful is logic, pinouts, and how to solder. But with linear electronics you find yourself having to experiment with different values of resistors, capacitors, and coils, hoping that eventually you'll find the recipe for a signal that is free of both distortion and noise.
The second cause for my frustration was the disorganized chaos around Woodchuck, my main computer, the place where I was doing my circuit experimentation. I'd try to plug something into a DC power source and then the wires would catch in a pile of random things and drag them off a ledge and onto the floor. There goes my cell phone! There goes that bottlecap full of tiny screws! What could those screws have possibly come from? At various times in the past, I've made an effort to create organized workstations in my laboratory so that I can easily do things like solder pipe, interact with computer software, play music, experiment with electronics, or work on computer hardware. I've made it easy to get five volt power in two different places, and I can jack into ethernet hubs in three of the four corners of the room. I've even made an effort to install task lighting for critical places. But over the months, chaos and clutter have accumulated at the various workstations, particularly in the vicinity of Woodchuck. Tonight as I looked down at the nest of lint and wires (many of them not connecting anything at all) I just wanted to cry. So I put off my FM radio experimentation and began the process of reorganizing my workspace, hoping to once more have a laboratory where I can do things without causing cascades of minor disasters.
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