Sunday, March 29, 2009


The other day I was giving someone a ride to work and, although I thought I had an idea as to the general area where we were headed, I was confirming my directions with him as we went. At one point, on a farm road going into the orchards, there was a “V” in front of us where our road split into two roads each branching slightly off the original trajectory.

Approaching the “V” at a decent speed I casually asked to confirm that we wanted to go left. To this inquiry my companion quickly replied with a twinge of alarm in his thick Russian accent, “No! Straight!”. With his “No” registering in my brain first, I began breaking and turning onto the other branch at which point he again emphasized with even more alarm “Straight! Straight!”

Thinking about the miscommunication as I proceeded to school, I realized that both of us had said some rather foolish things that seemed quite clear to ourselves. In asking if we should turn left, I had no intentions of steering my car into the fence that was directly to our left and I am quite confident that he wasn’t asking me to drive straight into the boulder marking the middle of the “V” for which we were aimed. Yet in my mind the idea of taking the left branch (as opposed to the right branch) made perfect sense. Likewise with him, as the road we wanted was nearly straight in front of us.

If we can misunderstand each other concerning something that is directly in front of both parties involved, and there are only two real options, how are we supposed to communicate concerning more complicated things?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Travelling Mercies

My plan had been to check my transmission fluid at the first stop for gas but with smoke coming from behind my car and no response at all from my transmission (silly automatic thing that never should have been invented) I had reason to check sooner.

When I coasted into a providentially placed rest area and opened my hood there were smoking puddles of ATF (automatic transmission fluid) on the engine and everything under the hood was drenched. I began contemplating whether it would be wiser to replace the transmission or go shopping for a southern (salt free) vehicle and praying that neither would be necessary.

I quickly located the problem: I’d had a leak fixed last fall and the mechanic who did the work had not done a good job. A hose carrying transmission fluid to the radiator had enough slack that it could wear against the fan. When it wore through, it sprayed its contents all across the inside of the engine compartment and left the transmission without enough fluid to perform.

The wear was in such a place that, within minutes I was able to cut off the damaged part of the hose and clamp it back again with the only side effect being that it was adjusted properly away from the fan (hopefully).

The security guard at the rest area alerted one of the hostesses to my plight and she offered to go get me some ATF if I sent her with some money. I had one quart with me and with two quarts from her the level of ATF came above the bottom of the dipstick. I thanked the security guard and hostess profusely and proceeded to see if I still had a transmission. The transmission worked without any signs of damage and got me a few tentative miles to a car wash where $3 of soap and water on the inside of the engine compartment seemed a wise investment against flames blocking my visibility farther down the highway. I then purchased three more quarts, two of which brought the level above the “add 1 pt.” line. I was finally able to proceed on my way praising the amazing God I serve who saves a college student the cost of a new transmission.

Snapshots of Winter

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Birth of a Condenser

These are pictures I took a while ago and have only now had a chance to upload, perhaps later I can take, and upload some pictures of bead and marble making.

The first step in making a condenser is to make a test tube; this is done by heating the center of a tube and, with a slight amount of pulling to keep uniform wall thickness, allow the tube to close off and then pull it apart to make two test tubes.

Each of these needs to be heated again and have gentle air pressure from within to round off their bottoms

Next, we put a smaller tube up inside and support it with what the instructor says is a poor substitute for asbestos.

After sealing the smaller tube to the bottom of our "test tube" we blow a hole out the end of it and join another small tube on, a second bubble is blown in the wall of what is now becoming the condenser to join a water inlet on. These steps are then repeated on the other end to complete the condenser. Pictured below is the fourth and final bubble blown in preparation for fusing on the water outlet.

The final product could be used in reflux or distillation reactions where water would flow through the horizontal tubes thus cooling, but not mixing with, whatever is in the center tube... however this particular one will never achieve this lofty goal. It has already been discarded in the scrap barrel since I would be lucky to get a B- for it and I'd already made one that was much better.