Dad's Office, and random stuff

I have fond memories of visiting my dad’s office when I was ten or eleven years old. He was a scientist, doing ecological studies for NASA and various universities, and “Going to the lab” with him on Saturday mornings was often the highlight of my week. I’d get to see wonderful, mysterious equipment and play a little with the calculators and other machines that were safe for a seven or eight year old kid.

– a bottle of mercury, a half pint bottle so heavy I could barely hold it

– a research reactor (yes, a nuclear reactor) that I got to see the insides of. Well, not the core, but inside the containment, and you could see the Cherenkov radiation around used the fuel rods in the cooling pond; it’s pretty cool, a beautiful blue glow, and spooky.

– a vacuum chamber large enough to hold a house, used for testing satellites and Apollo components. It had a simply massive door which was accidentally closed during visitor’s day, and trapped a bunch of people for nearly an hour. Fortunately nobody turned on the pumps.

– going out looking for bird nests to count eggs in the fields surrounding the lab, as part of one of Dad’s projects

– a calculator with nixie tubes that played long strings of blinkin’ thinkin’ when i made it do square roots. Very cool, probably what started my interest in computers

– thousands of small fish in a tank (for some research project or another). I stuck my hand in, they nibbled at it and it tickled

– the big gas cylinders that Dad told me to be very careful around (“If one falls over, it can take off through the wall like a rocket.” They do).

Later, long after the computer bug had bit me, another piece of “cool lab fallout” was the HP-65 calculator that Dad occasionally brought home. I spent many hours in the evening mucking around with the thing, trying to figure out how to program it.

My own office today is boring; I took my son to it a few months ago, and he noticed that I had the same giant moon poster on my wall that he has in his bedroom. Otherwise there’s nothing really very cool: No heavy machinery, no chemicals or bottles to worry about, no hot soldering irons or knobs not to touch. But practically speaking, even in the video game industry, writing software is a pretty boring exercise, especially if you’re a very young kid and you think that Thomas the Tank Engine is neat.

He’s discovered Lego recently, and has been making spaceship after spaceship (“This is a fast spaceship that shoots dinosaurs!”). I’m pleasantly surprised that he likes Lego; it was certainly my favorite toy growing up (that, and the Erector sets, which apparently are still made).

We’re on vacation, and I’ll have a report on Disneyland and what his favorite ride was when we get back.

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0 Responses to Dad's Office, and random stuff

  1. John says:

    I remember going to my father’s office at HP as a child and him having all these computers in pieces scattered around. I remember finding a server that had TWO processors inside. Boy was I impressed. I loved the security measures in the building and how he had a key card and armed guards at the desk.

  2. My office doesn’t have anything that would ever interest my son either, except maybe the security measures. The computers aren’t really any different from what we have at home, except one of them has two monitors on it.

    But as for Erector sets (my real reason for commenting): Yes, Erector sets are still being made, although they aren’t quite like the old ones. The classic sets were made by A.C. Gilbert. After Gilbert went bankrupt and closed up shop in 1967, Gabriel Industries acquired the rights to the Erector sets and some of Gilbert’s scientific toys. When I was a kid in the 1980s, I had a couple of Gabriel Erector sets and a Gabriel microscope. The microscope even said Gilbert somewhere on it. Gabriel ownership went through several hands, and by 1988 the whole operation was struggling. For a time, I think Erector was off the market entirely. Eventually the Erector name ended up being owned by the same company that owned Meccano, a European rival. Today’s Erector sets use Meccano parts, rather than the old Gilbert-designed parts. Most people wouldn’t know the difference, but purists notice.

    It’s funny how the story of Erector ends up sounding kind of like the story of Atari.

    It’ll be a few years before my son is old enough for them, but I’ve been buying up Erector sets (new and old) to save for the time when he’s ready. I hope he likes them.

  3. Brandon says:

    Magnetix is a newer toy that is wonderfully fantastic.

  4. Creeva says:

    Was your dad out at Plumbrook?

  5. Oh goodness yes, Cherenkov radiation is pretty. I got to see it at the UVa nuclear reactor research facility before it was mothballed.