Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

How you get to be one

First, don’t.

Now then, having dispensed with the most valuable advice I can give, I will give you my own history.

[insert dreamy music and sniff some glue so that everything’s all swirly like you’re imagining stuff]

A small boy is happily playing in the floor of a small frame house on the outskirts of a large Southern city, with a pile of Lego blocks and a Tinker Toy set and a Lincoln Log set all around him. He builds and stacks and watches TV and wonders where the pictures come from. Obviously, out of those white plastic things on the walls with the slots. Those have lectricity, and the lectricity makes pitchers and lectricity is dangerous so you don’t poke your fingers in there or it’ll bite. Build, play, make truck sounds. You know, it wouldn’t be like poking your finger in there, if you use something else. Hmm. Look around, and spy a stray bobby pin on the floor by the couch, conveniently close to another one of those things with the holes. This is dangerous so the boy holds the bobby pin ever so gently as it is inserted into the slot.

Fast forward one or two years. Another set of building blocks has been received as a gift, as well as a big Erector Set and a goodly-sized bundle of Hot Wheels track. The boy, now somewhat bigger and more wise to the ways of the world, intently works on a towering tower with assorted sturdy blocks of buildings and a whirling motor lifting and spinning as fast as its little D-cells will spin it. Cars zoom around below, and the television provides a soothing background noise of cartoon mayhem. Hmm. Batteries are electric. The house has electricity. But it’s dangerous. The small blue battery case and motor spins a bit slower as the charge goes down. The switch is turned off, and the case is deftly opened with a small, yellow-handled screwdriver. Hmm. Wires go from the battery to the motor. The motor is taken out, the wires are gently held in the boy’s hands as he carefully places the ends into the slots in the wall.

Yet more years swing past, and the boy is now a youth, happily engaged in taking apart old clocks and radios and belt sanders and exploring the level of combustibility of things like gasoline and hair spray. He remembers with a smile the times of his early life as he built and tinkered with his toy blocks, and those episodes with electricity. “Silly little kid,” he thinks to himself. In his hands at the moment is a screwdriver and a telephone—actually, the telephone—for this is still in the days when a house had one phone, and it was large, and black, and heavy and had a rotary dial. All fascinating things to the curious mind, and even more so after all the pieces are arrayed across the kitchen table. Confident in his ability to restore the device before the arrival of his mother and father home from work, the lad absent-mindedly examines the intricate machinery of the telephone, the clicking, whirling, bell-ringingness of it. It uses low voltage power, not high voltage like the wall outlets. He examines the screwdrive—long, thin, with a sturdy wooden handle. An insulator. Nothing should happen if that were poked in a wall socket, because the handle is insulated. Hmm. The young man gingerly approaches an empty wall outlet, gently holding the screwdriver in front of him.

The young man enters adolescence, comforted in the knowledge of how the world’s machinery operates. He loses interest in blocks and clocks, and becomes more interested in REAL machines—cars, and REAL danger—girls. He reads all the books about both, becoming as conversant with points and condensers as he is with the glories of Debra Jo Fondren. We see him now in the garage, rebuilding an old muscle car with his dad. The coil is in place, and he is just about to connect the center wire to the distributor, but just before he does, for some reason he motions for his father to bump the ignition switch, forgetting that he is holding the wire. His father does his bidding, and the near-miraculous properties of copper windings work their alchemy in converting a mere 12 volts of direct current electricity into 30,000 volts.

Throughout school, the young man does well, and with all his experience and love of constructing and building and making things work, he decides that upon his matriculation, he will become…

an engineer.

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