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.