January 2012


When we were living in California, Melissa worked for a company that gave all the employees a gift at Christmas (as opposed to giving them a cash bonus).  At some level, that kind of sucked but at least they tried and they usually gave some pretty nice things.  For example, one year we were given a gift certificate for one night in the Fairmont Hotel which was pretty fun.  But one year, we got a gumball machine. Most of the people at her office had the same reaction: “Uh… a gumball machine?”

But I was thrilled; gumball machines are pretty cool and it was fun to have. I must admit that when the other employees tell you how last year they got a sweet bonus check, it tends to disappoint.  Still… gumball machine!

Very quickly I decided that a gumball machine is OK but if I made it into a lamp, it would be both cool and useful.  I had Evan’s room in mind and I set to work immediately.  I’m not sure where that bit of inspiration came from but I’m sure it wasn’t original – I have created many things but they were always inspired by the project of someone else.  It was quickly transformed into a nice lamp and I was suitably proud. 

I poured in the gumballs that came with it (which came in a paper milk carton type thing) and they barely covered the mechanism at the bottom.  It takes a huge amount of gumballs to fill such a machine and after buying all they had at Target, I had it about half full which seemed like enough so I called it done.  These days I would probably call a vending machine business and arrange to buy a barrel full but we had small children in those days and we both worked so many such things went undone.

When you own your own gumball machine, you can set them to not require any coins to get the gum out.  This seems like a good idea if you’re an adult and have even a little self control but Evan was a toddler and self control was not yet developed so I arranged for it to require coins.  In fact, I don’t really remember ever telling or showing him that they were gum at all.  He never knew that they were edible and so never even thought of getting one out.  This worked out perfectly from a parenting point of view.

Until the neighbor kid moved in.

It was a blessing to have some little boys just down the street for Evan to play with but as soon as your children start playing with other kids, they start learning things that you didn’t teach them and you can never control what they learn.  Parents know what I’m talking about:  some of those “colorful metaphors” (as Mr. Spock said in one of the Star Trek movies). But they also taught Evan that the lamp in his room was also a gumball machine and those colorful things inside were very tasty.  The fact that I had never told Evan about this (We may not have even taught him about chewing gum at all at that time) made him look like an idiot to the other kids but I didn’t care since it saved me many hours of getting gum out of the carpets.

They came down the hall one afternoon whereupon Evan said the toddler-speak equivalent of: “Did you know that my lamp is full of gum and all we have to do it turn the knob and get all we want?   All we need is some money.”

This is where I did what parents frequently do – channel The Grinch and I thought up a lie and thought it up quick.  I told him that it was broken – yes it was full of gum but we couldn’t get it out.

Apparently the older kid from down the street had heard that sort of reasoning before.  That or perhaps he was a budding little scientist but apparently, he decided it was worthwhile to put it to the test.  They apparently scavenged Evan’s room and discovered a cache of pennies.  I don’t remember if Evan had a piggy bank or not but they came up with the loot somewhere.  All I do remember is them both coming down the hallway towards me with their cheeks bulging and multicolored drool dripping down their chins.  Evan was really excited; he couldn’t wait to tell me that the machine wasn’t really broken.

Well, it isn’t any mystery that obfuscation is not parenting at all and will eventually fall to an assault by logic.  I don’t know if the kid down the street was especially smart or just didn’t believe anything an adult said but I then had to actually do some real parenting and make some rules about if and when gum could be chewed and as such I still have an animosity towards that kid even though it’s really my fault for not seeing that coming.   I can’t remember his name.  I only remember that his mother had a British accent. 

I guess I had spent all my brain cells on converting the gumball machine into a lamp.

Lens replacement is tomorrow.  I’m excited about it – looking out through my left eye has been like looking through a dense fog for weeks now.  I’m looking forward to getting rid of that little ‘soft focus’ effect.

I guess I just want to know more about how things work.  Clearly I have more detailed questions that the average person who is going in for lens replacement.

I have two simple questions:

1)      How hard is the lens in the average person’s eye?

2)      What does the Tecnis IOL look like?  As in – show me a detailed photo.

It’s a bit tricky to ask the doctor. He is busy and has a very carefully scripted thing he tells all patients and he leaves little time for questions beyond the superficial.  And when your time’s up, man it’s up.  Out you go to see the cashier.

As to the first question, that seems a simple question but Google has proven unhelpful.  There are a few medical journals that have that sort of thing in papers but those are behind paywalls.  I personally have dissected eyeballs but they were not human, they were from long-dead animals, and they had been soaked in formaldehyde for a long time.  Any of those reasons would have accounted for the yellow, rock-hard nature of the lens.  I want to know how squishy mine is right now.  No particular reason; I’m just curious.  I have asked at the doctor’s office (not the doctor because I forgot until he was gone) and nobody really knows; at least with enough certainty to tell me because apparently medical personnel must be certain and their answers must be traceable to a source.

Number 2 has yielded some good info.  The website of the manufacturer has lots of technical gobbledygook which I loved but no actual photographs nor any details as to its manufacture.  Perhaps it’s still under patent or something.  The model they showed me at the doctor’s office was unique (it had a series of rings on a flat surface and so reminded me of a Fresnel lens but the website refers to it being a ‘diffractive lens design’)  and so I wanted to explore the physics of it but again, the doctors and nurses don’t really care about that stuff.  They care about whether it’s the right cure for me and how to get it in there.  Beyond that, they don’t care much.  I might be able to catch a glimpse before the procedure but my eyes are not working too well up close at the moment (hence the surgery) and I’ll be under a bit of anesthesia (more for the calming effect) and may not have the brain power to initiate such high level discussions.  In fact, I doubt it. 

I don’t care about being labeled a flaming nerd – in fact I rejoice in it.  It’s people like me that invented the lens implants to begin with.  But if you’re not in that community, it’s surprisingly hard to find the detailed data you want.

Some frustrations, some successes.  That’s the way things go I guess.

I need to get some projects moving and completed; particularly the old guitar tremolo circuit.  That one has been hanging over my head for a year and has sort of taken on the character of a job.  Not good.  So Saturday, I figured I’d knock out some stuff after Evan left to return to his last semester at the university.

I went to tackle the tremolo.  Aaaannnddd… it didn’t work.  After some tinkering, I got frustrated and walked away.

Then I figured I’d work on my wooden handplane project.  That is going well but I reached a point at which I need to use the blade and its associated hardware to size the opening in the middle.  But I don’t have a blade.  Doh!  I went and ordered a nice iron and cap iron from the guy who wrote the book.

So I figured I’d take my airsoft pistol outside and plink at some cans.  It began to misfire.  Doh! Again!  I went and watched TV with Melissa for the rest of the day.  You can’t fail when watching TV unless you consider watching TV itself to be a failure.

Sunday, I looked at the gun.  It’s pretty cold outside and the act of letting off pressure from the propellant gas lowers the temperature of the magazine even more which seems to be making the seals start to leak.  Perhaps due to stiffening of the O-rings due to low temperature.  Also, the magazine has a teeny little piece of plastic that seems to lock the slide back after the last BB is fired which broke off and was jamming the follower.  According to the almighty interwebs, I’m the only one to ever experience this which is pretty unusual.  I disassembled the magazine to get the fragments out and now it feeds pretty reliably until it gets cold again.  Apparently, cold weather is not that great for airsoft.  Now the slide does not lock when the last round is fired but that is not a big deal.  I think I need to start loading the BBs from the top rather than using the speed loader since the speed loader occasionally lets go of the follower and it snaps to the top with a bit too much force for my liking.  That may what broke it to begin with.

On a side note, I bought this pistol because it is at least 10 times cheaper than a real gun and you can fire it in the back yard without scaring the neighbors or accidentally killing anyone.  Plus, no gun range fees.  But apparently I’m the only person over the age of 14 to have ever bought one since all the video tutorials on youtube are voiced by teenaged boys who can’t drive yet and, in many cases, whose voices have not changed yet.  Oh well.  I’m enjoying plinking in the back yard so no big deal.

Then I went to look at the tremolo.  I looked for parts that may have been in backwards (like the transistor) and then pulled all the alligator clips off the bypass switch and soldered on actual wires throughout to make sure I had a good ground connection.  The presence of lots of hum was making me believe that was a problem.  As soon as I hooked it back up to the battery I knew it was working.  I tinkered with it awhile and was quite happy.  I felt like the king of the world actually.  So I fired off some self congratulatory emails and tweets and decided to call it a day.

Also, Mel and I tried out the Main Street Tavern (which is new) and were pleasantly surprised with it.  It’s always good to find a good new restaurant in town.  I’m always a bit bummed when the kids head back to college and the house gets quiet.  These little successes made the day a bit more pleasant.

I just started building a wooden bodied plane out of David Finck’s book “Making and Mastering Wood Planes.”  An acquaintance of mine let me try his out one day and it worked really well.  I was shocked at how easily it moved across the wood and took off a curly shaving – certainly none of my iron planes will do that. But to build a wood plane, you need a block plane that works well to begin with.  Mine is a Record low-angle that I bought new and which works poorly. I’ve tried doing end grain with it and gotten nowhere.

I had to conclude that it’s just time to tune it up.  I know that should be obvious – it’s everywhere on the net that you have to tune up planes even when they’re new (unless you pay a lot of money for the best ones) but I guess I’m just lazy.   My first task was to flatten the sole.  I drew some marks on the sole with a Sharpie and then started scooting it on a piece of 120 grit sandpaper stuck to a marble floor tile.  I was surprised to find that it was quite out of flat.  There was a hollow right behind the mouth.  Deep down inside, I had sort of thought that flatness was over rated but Mr. Finck says otherwise.  I kept going with finer grits of sandpaper and now the sole is flat and almost shiny. I waxed it up (Boeshield T-9 actually) and called that part done.  I’m actually surprised at the amount of metal dust generated.

I had recently sharpened the iron but figured it was a good time to touch that up so I did.

I then had a go at the wooden plane blank.  THUNK!  Nothing.  I tried this and that, up to and including, gripping differently, tinkering with the depth, pushing harder, pushing harder still until I heard something in my elbow go *POP*, angling the plane, holding my arm against my body and using only my legs, and I don’t know what all.  It never got any easier until I became exhausted.  I finally relaxed my death grip, focused on holding it steady and putting a little weight on the proper end depending on where I was on the work, and just pushing. I was thinking “just one more shaving and then I’ll go to bed.” Then it just started working; not necessarily easy but doable.  I started peeling little shavings off – not end grain but 45 degree grain.  I kept checking for flatness and squareness like Finck suggests and eventually got it right. 

I’m still not sure what happened; I was too tired to do any more and so went inside.  And of course, the plane blank was as it should be so no need to mess with it further but I need to go cut off another angled piece or get a piece with some end grain and try that again.  I need to capture that moment again and commit that to muscle memory.  My arm aches today but I may have stumbled onto “The Technique” at long last.  I didn’t think there was anything more to it than pushing hard.  It would seem that I am wrong.

What surprised me most in all of my hand-tool explorations is how much the little things matter.  I had assumed in the beginning that one simply sharpened an edge and then bashed away with a mallet until done.  Watching Roy Underhill with a drawknife or a morticing chisel would lead you to that conclusion.

Maybe I’ve crossed the threshold.

Both kids had more time off than Mel and I did; which is not surprising.  Erin finally left last Sunday and classes started today (Monday).

Evan on the other hand has another whole week.  But this week was marked by the visitation of The Girlfriend.

Evan hasn’t bothered much with steady girlfriends in recent years.  He preferred to have many friends of both sexes and not be bothered with a relationship.  But I guess this one changed his mind.  He has always played his cards very close to the vest and so I never felt I knew much about her until she came.  It was a mild surprise when he announced that he would go visit her before Christmas and she would visit us after but I was glad of the opportunity to see her for myself.

I’m happy to report that the visit went well.  I don’t think Mel and I are guilty of any huge faux pas; time will tell I guess.  She seems to fit in with us pretty well.  All her family is really into sports so there’s a bit of a disconnect.  I like to watch college football on TV (and occasionally live and in person) but don’t like to actually do any of it.  But I can’t see that being a show stopper.

Yesterday, I went to the refractive surgeon after having been referred there by another ophthalmologist in the same office.  So, the cataract removal process has now commenced.  They did pretty much the same exam all over again which gave me a headache from the dilated pupils and the constant struggle to focus.

I am now scheduled for January 31.  Of course, at no point in the process did my own convenience enter ento the process.  I know the date but the time will not be assigned until the day before.  But on the plus side, I got to choose which lens implants I wanted.  It does not matter much – the difference between them on your life is minimal.  I chose the Fresnel-like implant because it will allow for easier close-in vision and because they look cool: like the lenses seen in lighthouses.  There is a post-op visit the next morning.

Then the other eye will be done on February 7. 

I can recall from the time I had LASIK that a lot of measurements were done on my eyes right before the surgery and up to now, none have been made.  Perhaps they will do that right before the procedure.  Either that or they made some measurements and didn’t tell me.  I think the latter may be true since I looked into several devices in quick succession but was not told what they were or whether any results were saved.  I know a lot about image processing from my job and so I could easily believe that a quick succession of images were saved and analyzed to derive some necessary values. That seems to be the way of things in the American health care system now: run tests but hide the results from the patients to avoid being sued when the patient shows the results to some other doctor.  Not that I’m suspicious or anything.

The doctor and staff are nice enough but obviously are used to dealing with people who meekly walk in and accept whatever the doctor advises and just want to know what the out of pocket expense is going to be.  I guess I’m like that too but I want to know more technical stuff.  Sadly, he did not budget enough time for all my questions but Wikipedia has proven quite useful.  The vast majority of information about this sort of thing is dumbed down into comic book form and the hard core information hidden behind paywalls.  I can have that info if I want to join the society of ophthalmic surgeons or whatever.  This irritates me but I will get the info I want in the end.  I can sneak in a question in between the times when the exam is done but before I walk out the door.  The doctor seems willing enough to share all this; he just seems unused to anybody asking so he only budgets time enough for his schpiel  and perhaps one superficial question from the patient.  I don’t want to ask anything during the procedure because I don’t want anybody to get confused and miss a step. 

One way or another, it’s going to be interesting.

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