Simply Shocking!

English is such a trippy language. Words can mean so many things. It’s time for my spring push to prepare the pool for eventual use, and I have to shock it. So I went out in my starkers and yelled “Boo!”

Oh well. Didn’t work last year and didn’t work this morning either. Back to the old chemical methods…multiple bags of shock.

People shock us all the time. No need to explain, I’m sure.

Another shock comes when we mistake small packages for being harmless. Last night I found a tiny ant – it was black and didn’t look like a fire ant – crawling on my hand and before I brushed it off, it apparently bit me right between the knuckles of my first and second fingers. It itched for a while and when I woke up, I thought I had slept on the hand…it felt numb like that. Turns out it was swollen and the numbness was my skin being stretched. A less than three millimeter ant injected enough formic acid to cause that much of a reaction? Shocking!

There’s medical shock, impact shock, hair shock (okay, shock of hair), shocks of grain (sheaves stacked for drying) … lots of shocks. But “shock” also has the electrical connotation.

As long as I can remember, I seem to have an … (pardon) … attraction to static electricity. I don’t mean that I like or am obsessed by it. No, more like the other way around. I’m sure those who live in dry climates, or even just dry seasonal climates have experienced that spark getting out of a car. Or, walking across a room and grabbing a door handle only to receive a jarring jolt of reality that electricity is all around us. For whatever reason, my body seems to pick up more than the average person. And when it lets go… Bam!

I always have to be careful when wearing sweaters. After I retired from the Navy, I had to actually stock a day job wardrobe. Little use for anything but casual clothes and a suit or two when Uncle has you wearing his prescribed uniforms. As I retired in November (2003), in the winter of Korea, sweaters were welcome. The shocks…were not.

Chinhae had the oddest weather cycles. Growing up in New England, we often repeated the Mark Twain observation “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Will Rogers said the same thing (later) of Oklahoma. And someone whose name I don’t recall said the same thing about Korea 400 years ago. Having been back in the States for six years, I can attest that here in North Texas, unlike everywhere else I’ve lived, it’s real.

But in Chinhae, we had high (think Houston level) humidity in the summers and negative humidity (think Denver) in the winters. So bad that we had controls on our furnaces to add vapor to the air in the houses. So bad that with the wool carpets we had in housing, I was constantly zapping others… and more often myself. Now, I had enough sweaters to go three weeks without repeating – which is like a five year supply for Texas winters – but the killer days were when I wore the wool sweaters. Double charge! Happens here in Texas without the wool carpets, or even the wool sweaters, so it’s me all the way. Sometimes it gets so bad that I have to ground myself before kissing Andrea! Petting the cats? If I forget… well, they don’t forget for a while! To get out of a car when the electricity is flying, I have to remember to touch something metal before and while setting foot on the ground. Imagine the charge built up that can overcome rubber soled shoes, rubber tires and all the other obstacles we might normally think were insulators. Painful at times. Yep.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, Andrea and I were at Costco and I took over pushing the cart at one point. I kept feeling small sharp pains in my hand but couldn’t find any burrs on the handle. Then I noticed the pattern: the stings only happened when I was touching the metal or when my hand was very close to the metal while still wrapped around the plastic. And only when the cart was rolling. Eureka! Somehow, static was built up through one of the wheels … bad bearings, which is no surprise given it was a shopping cart … conducted through whatever material was caught between the wheel and it’s yoke and released through the unwilling ground … me! It was like the electric fence my grandmother had around her horse yard. A little shy of that shock, but only just so. And more frequent.

Time_Domain_Reflectometer_made_from_common_lab_equipmentBack when I was a nuclear reactor operator on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, I had to do a very special and very infrequently done maintenance testing on the reactor control rods. I was one of only a handful qualified to do the testing and I took it very seriously. It involved using a Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR) to test the cabling to the rod drive motors. The TDR is a really cool piece of equipment that generates a signal that is sent down a connected cable and the trace it receives from the reflection told us if there were any kinks, breaks or other problems. Very sophisticated (before digital, it’s how cable companies knew from the street when people were tapping into cables illegally…extra bumps, extra taps), the procedures involved a complex set of steps… the most important of which was grounding yourself and everything else before connecting the TDR to the next cable. This was because inside the TDR was a tunnel diode that was extremely sensitive to static electricity.

Well, I did several rod tests and then suddenly the TDR stopped working. Which was bad, as we had borrowed it from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). Which was also bad because my one rival on the ship happened to be in charge of our technician shop at the time and was oh so delighted that I had broken it and he got to fix my boo-boo. Which was even more bad because that tunnel diode cost more than $200. In hindsight, the really incongruous part of the incident was that to protect the reactor core basket we had a plastic sheeting we called “faslon” (not sure why, and that’s not the right spelling…I couldn’t find it anywhere on the net) between us and the metal. As with the previous successful tests, I grounded everything properly, but I shifted my weight before connecting the test wires on that last test and apparently generated enough static to blow the diode. And it wouldn’t take a lot as tunnel diodes are low voltage devices and static shocks are of an order several magnitudes more than their tolerance. I got a little cred back when that rival found me a week later to tell me sheepishly, “Man, that diode is extremely sensitive to static…I fried three of them trying to repair the thing!” So there.

I made a Jacob’s Ladder last year out of a neon sign transformer with the intent to add it to our Halloween tableau. Thought better of it until I can build a plexiglass case to go around the spark gap… don’t need to be zapping the neighbor kids…or mine for that matter. I used 14 gauge copper to test and only this morning got around to swapping out the wires with steel from an old coat hanger. The results can be seen in this video… Once I get it inside a tube to shield the air currents, I should be able to widen the gap at the top for bigger sparks.

Simply shocking!

On the big screen…

While Andrea was out on a well-earned retreat with her homeschooling momma friends this weekend, I took the boys to see Jurassic Park in 3D. Still a great movie – great visuals, great soundtrack. And still with the glaring goof in the T-Rex scene with the two SUVs. Door open…door open…door closed and then door open again. I would have thought Spielberg might have fixed that as they had to modify everything frame by frame to make it 3D. As Colin mentioned, the only thing better than the 3D feature would be if it were in IMAX format. I’d love to experience it in IMAX sound. Maybe someday.

And we decided to go ahead and watch The Terminator with our younger sons…R-rateds are on a case-by-case basis and we did fast forward through the one hotel scene. Great visuals, great action, and still campy acting and bad screenplay. Like Peter Jackson, James Cameron can make a pretty movie, but I’ve never counted on any depth from him. I liked Terminator 2 better – still not a good screenplay though the effects are better, but there’s always some fondness for the one that was first.

…and the little screen

We’ve been making our way through Mrs. Brown’s Boys, recently finishing its third series (“season” for those on te wedt side of te Atlantic). Written and acted by Brendan O’Carroll (as the eponymous Mrs. Brown) and with most of his family in the cast, it’s crude, vulgar and wildly hilarious. It’s one of those love it or hate it shows with no gray area and we happen to number among the former.

Last week, we got a second Roku and a cheap BluRay player for our bedroom. Took a bit of extra unplanned work as the TV we have in the master bedroom doesn’t have an HDMI input. I’ve got an HDMI switch now, connecting through an HDMI to DVI adaptor to the television, but to get the sound, I have to manually swap the RCA connectors between the Roku and the BluRay. Not ready to buy a new HDMI ready TV just yet. Still, I can watch my two new favorite shows (Elementary and Sherlock) from either location now. Pity the latter only has six episodes.

The growing reading list

And speaking of Sherlock, I read Daniel Smith’s How to Think Like Sherlock. Gimmicky small collection of logic puzzles and Holmes quizzes and almost no “how to think” at all. Luckily, it didn’t take long.

What took longer than I expected/wanted was Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, and Cass R. Sunstein. The blurb says

For fans of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, a revelatory new look at how we make decisions…

Only having started and stopped Kahneman’s Thinking several times and not yet finishing it, I would consider that a ludicrous comparison. Thaler and Sunstein are not in the same league. Not being a fan of Gladwell however – Blink was drivel – I’d same this was on par with Blink. Subpar, that is. Both. In case I’m not clear. The Nudge concept is rather simple and their illustration of the principles equally simple and yet slogging through it was a chore. Disappointing.

Not disappointing is my accidental discovery of a wonderful resource. When I read Managing as Designing, I kept coming across references to a keynote address – “Design Mindfulness” – that Tom Peters gave at the Forty-Fifth International Design Conference in Aspen. I found that it was available in a collection of the transcripts from the conference titled The New Business of Design, but none of the local libraries had a copy. A librarian friend offered to see if the book was available through inter-library loan … and it was! So far, it is far more readable than Managing as Designing was. I’ve got a few other books on “the list” that I haven’t managed to find, and now may be able to .

With the two Holmes television shows currently grabbing time slices and the recently read Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and How to Think Like Sherlock (the former far better and possessing the more accurate a title), I am going to press on with the complete Holmes.

No shock there, I suppose.

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