Thursday, May 26 2005
For the first time in well over a year, I started the task of cleaning up my laboratory, which had gradually (through the slow aggregation of casually placed items) become an unmitigated disaster. It's merely an expression of tendencies encoded in my genome, but humans are capable of free will, and if mine is good for anything at all it should applicable to making my laboratory a somewhat less miserable place to pass the bulk of my waking life.
Not wanting to bother starting it, I pushed my pickup truck into position beneath the laboratory deck so I could just take crap out and drop it 10 feet into the bed. One of the first things to go was a uselessly proprietary Dell ATX computer chassis, the kind that splits open like a clamshell to reveal its innards. (Such designs make no sense in a world where it's normal to pile your shit on top of your computer, but that's for another day.) When the Dell hit the bed of my truck, it bounced up about two feet, ruptured, and coughed out a large piece of metal shielding. Next time I go to the Hurley dump I can tell one of the guys working there, "Dude, you're gettin' a Dell!" It will be very 2002 of me.
The problem with cleaning any space, particularly one as full of treasure as the laboratory, is that I tend to get distracted by the things I find, particularly when they are from projects that have spent entirely too much time in a state of neglect.
One such project was one to completely replace the dysfunctional mechanism that makes my disco ball rotate. The system depended on a weak 120 volt motor, poorly-aligned pulleys, and an assortment of rubber bands. When they weren't aging prematurely from whatever it is that makes them dry out and crack in the open air, the rubber bands tended to jump off their pulleys and hang around the pulley axles like semi-discarded underwear. It was rare to set up the system and have it work for more than a few days. Since fixing the mirror ball rotation system required having a step ladder handy, it ended up being broken most of the time.
Some months ago I'd bought a more powerful motor a P&T Surplus. It was the size of 12 oz. can of water chestnuts and had originally been manufactured locally at the Ametek Rotron factory near the Hurley-Woodstock frontier. Running across it today in my laboratory, I couldn't keep myself from immediately launching into a mirror ball revival project.
In place of the flimsy pulleys of the old system, I used wheels harvested from transportation systems: a 16 inch bicycle wheel from a scavenged kid's bike and a small front wheel from one of the three wheelchairs out in the garage. I quickly discovered that it's possible to mount a bicycle wheel such that it is only supported on one end of its axis (instead of both ends, as on an actual bicycle). The best way to do this is to actually move the wheel over to one end of the axis (being careful not to lose the ball bearings in the process) and then firmly support several inches of the other end. For my new mechanism, I threaded it through a hole drilled plumb (using a drill press) through a three quarter inch thick piece of wood. I did a similar thing with the wheelchair wheel, which could also easily be supported from just one end of its axle, although I had trouble attaching a functional smaller pulley to the unattached end of the axle. I tried using epoxy to hold an old cap from a two litre vodka bottle, but the epoxy refused to hold onto the rubbery material of the wheelchair wheel. I'm finding that epoxy only adheres to a relatively small range of materials, most of them hard and brittle.
As I worked I listened to the most recent album by Low called The Great Destroyer. (I would have listened to other Low material, but these were the only songs I could find using Gnucleus, my preferred method of obtaining music.) For those who don't know (and I counted myself among you until hearing a few songs on WOXY piqued my interest), Low carved out a niche for themselves by playing as slowly and quietly as possible (though I'm unclear what the latter really means in a world of routine audio normalization). I'm not sure I would have been much of a fan of their older material, but I definitely count myself a fan of this latest album, which is described in all the reviews as considerably peppier (and some say cheerier) than previous releases. The song cited in reviews as the cheeriest of all is "California" which is probably my favorite. Far from cheery, though, its lyrics and old-school-REM-style minor-key jangly guitars paint a perfect picture of one of the creepiest characteristics of growing old and leaving youth in the dust: the things we assumed would last forever just vanish one by one until we're completely isolated in the world of the present. Here's what I mean:
Though it breaks your heart,
We had to sell the farm
Nights were just too long
With all your children gone
Would it keep you strong
If I said it with a song
Back to California where it's warm
Following a few preliminary listens Low can seem like an incredibly clever and profound group of musicians, but after you've had them on repeat for a few hours of disco ball rotation, many of the lyrics start to come across as, well, empty threats. What is a band with such a mellow sound doing singing lyrics like these?:
One more step and I'll slit your neck
You'll get used to it you better just stand back
Your march is over
The great destroyer
She passes through you like a knife
But if I'm mildly irritated with some of the lyrics, in the same way that I get irritated with gum when its flavor disappears too quickly, it hasn't ended up being much of a problem. Unusual for any album, I actually like nearly all of the songs on this one, and I really love four or five of them ("Monkey," "California," "Everybody's Song," "Step," and "Walk into the Sea").
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