Things have been exceptionally busy around here, thus no blog post until nearly lunchtime! It’s that darn real-world lab work again, interfering with the important things in life. In this case, I’ve been wrestling with a recalcitrant piece of equipment that’s crucial to gathering data on a project I have going, and it has been giving me every variety of fits (software, hardware, the works). Everything from antiviral software deciding that crucial pieces of the instrumental package were clearly dangerous, and deleting them permanently for my own protection, to good old-fashioned plumbing problems involving large screwdrivers, water on the floor, and plenty of foul language.
But at the moment, everything’s working, and I have a whalloping backlog of samples to check on and finally get things moving around here. After weeks of banging and kicking, having a working instrument feels like suddenly being granted magic powers. My wife has told me of a friend of hers from college who went off to do a physics doctorate in some low-temperature condensed-matter experimental field, and apparently his instrumentation (largely built in house) worked so rarely than when everything did come together he basically went without sleep for as long as possible while it was still possible to collect data. Eventually, of course, something would go berserk and that would be that for a while, but he’d learned to never waste a minute of actual experimental run time.
Fortunately, I don’t seem to be in that shape. Although I am reminded of a line from the old Albert Brooks movie, “Real Life”, where he’s showing off some fancy body-mounted movie cameras, and says something like “These cameras are the only ones of their kind, developed by (Something-Something Technologies) in Switzerland. Only eight were ever built. Only four (pause) ever worked.” So because my machine actually is working, for this Friday I’d be glad to hear of other people’s descents into Instrumentation Hell. In my experience, pretty much any physical scientist has an example to relive – what’s yours?