Chicago roadtrip

Wow…I think this is the longest time interval between doing stuff and writing about it, ever… anyway, as always, datestamp refers to the date stuff happened, not the date I wrote about it.

In the beginning…

J.R. came along for the ‘there’ trip, and kept me from falling asleep at the wheel with loud music and the nectar of the gods. After many miles we hit Niagara Falls.

(This is the EE’s version of sitting in Santa’s lap)

Hit Kristoff’s pad by the next day (uh-oh, I think we just lost J.R.!) … the TrashAmp, with its stylish heat fins and ghetto-chic avant-garde packaging, seemed to be gaining few fans, except for the 12-volt one blowing over the SMPS.

Onward! To the cabin. Or to All Night Auto (open ’til 6pm) after some unexpected car trouble, a couple short hours after my exhaust system disintegrated (leading me to wonder if I should change insurance agencies). Then to the cabin, for real! Fun in the sun, the lake, the pool, with a whole bunch of my extended family there, of varying levels of sanity. (And Kristoff, of no sanity.) Kristoff who, incidentally, brought an entire bottle of Cap’n Morgan’s Private Stock along for the ride. Um… we each drank half….then went for the pool shortly thereafter. I enthralled (frightened) everyone with my ability to hold my breath underwater for several minutes at a time… my little cousins did the same with their alacrity for actually holding me under that long.*snif* They’ll be such great serial killers someday…

I was a huge hit with the ladies … and the boys. (The fishes and the way-too-submissive frogs just kind of tolerated my presence.)

And somewhere along the line there was an incident involving my brother, the forcible removal of my swim trunks (not by me), and a beer bottle. Here is where I’m glad I don’t have such a great memory…

J.R. already has the first few days of the trip documented here, with many many pictures (including more cute frognosers). She had some lab stuff to do that week, so took a flight out early in the week.

More car stuff

I think I mentioned my car’s [ex]haust system? Yeah…rather than make the 16h return trip to the sound of loud engine noise, I figured I should, you know, actually get that fixed. This took the better part of 2 days, waiting around (a) a zillion hours for these guys to look at it and decide they didn’t have parts, then (b) some more the next day to actually change them. I visited my favorite La Grange foodery, El Famous Burrito Town Taco Taco, where the owner and management have changed 3 times but, luckily, the burritos haven’t, and got into a random conversation with a 40-something computer engineer lady also passing through. We talked for a while, which is exceedingly wierd (strangers don’t just come up and talk to me… I think I give off some kind of “don’t talk to me rays” without realizing it), and then I killed some time at the bookstore. Picked up In the beginning…, perfectly sized for sitting around a muffler shop waiting room.

Priority encoding, and places where logic doesn’t go

You would think the average person would prioritize seeing friends who are only in town a week or 2 out of the year over the friends who live 15 min. away that they can see whenever they want to. You would guess wrong.

I don’t know…maybe I’ve been away for too long, too far out of the loop, too out of touch. For me that would not be too surprising…I’ll be the first to admit I’m not that good at this stuff involving people. Of course, it could also be that some of my old Chicago friends just don’t make a habit of thinking much. I’ll leave the ultimate conclusion as an exercise to the reader.

Sarah Cenia

OK, not her real name, but I think it sounds pretty, and it’s a fitting one for a fellow plant person. (I tend not to use full / real names in the ol’ blog, what with the Intarweb crazies and all.)heh, there are approximately three people on the planet who will get it anyway

So I was kind of in the area, so I made a little run out to Portage, IN to meet this friend of one of my friends, who I sort of very briefly talked to on Livejournal once. (Speaking of Internet crazies, I was so worried about trying not to seem like some kind of possibly-chainsaw-wielding wierdo I did say that No* has "good taste in friends", not "good-tasting friends", right?…, that I completely forgot to worry that she, random LJ stranger, might be some kind of chainsaw-wielding wierdo herself.) But, no chainsaws wielded by anyone, it turns out she is really cool :-) we ended up at this little diner talking horticulture, and everything else under the sun (or technically, not sun, it was well after midnight when we split up to our respective houses). Definitely someone to hang out with again.

Whatever the crisis, whatever the price is, please don’t leave me to my own devices

On the way home from Portage, caught in the 30mph IL nocturnal construction, fielding drunk-calls from E* the night before the new hands-free cellphone law took effect. Nevermind those poor little cell minutes lost to barely-decipherable slurry words and repeated dropping and losing of the phone in the back seat of the designated driver mobile (and the 15-minutes-away people she ditched me for in the background), and nevermind that I was already up, but if I get calls at 1am, I kind of expect them to be….well, not even important, but at least purposeful, and/or coherent. “Hey, I’m having trouble sleeping and wanted to talk” is fine by me (I’m kind of surprised I’ve never gotten one of those from anyone), but “…heyyyy…I’m soooo drunk, teehee…who’s spanking me?…*urp*” is another matter altogether. Meh.

(thermal) Runaway. Everyone conspiring to get themselves killed, or live trying.
A small bullet, a piece of glass And your heart just grows around it.

Sometimes I feel like I have this sense of when Bad Shit is going to happen to someone close to me. Just as some unconscious spread-spectrum of things, a spurious flicker in the eyes, subtle waver in the voice, betray hidden emotion, perhaps some nondescript galaxy of miniscule preconditions gives away the path of things to come.

This week was not one of those times.

For starters, Wed. morning I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing, and aside from being annoyed at being woken up prematurely, all was right with the world. It was Kristoff; his GF’s dad, also his good friend, had passed away suddenly and catastrophically that night, from an aneurism. Or more specifically, from the local brain damage that it incurred on a critical temperature-regulation section, causing him to literally cook to death.

Nobody saw it coming.

We still hung out that weekend, and had a few people over to his house in Coldwater, but it was for obvious reasons a really subdued thing, not the big party originally planned. I had never met him, but sadness kind of has this way of jumping hosts.

On the way home, back to Boston, I eventually got tired of listening to my brother’s industrial playlist on the No*mad and popped in some No Doubt, which toasted my newly-finished TrashAmp almost immediately. (Granted, it’s got a little bass, but through the week it survived VNVNation’s entire catalog on JR’s IPlayOGGsRiver, Technotronic and my Earthquake Simulator CD compilation at midday in no air conditioning.) I would later find the MOSFETs of the power supply melted to their heatsink, but I kind of already knew what had happened, as soon as the bass cut out.

A little thing about MOSFETs, they have a positive temperature coefficient. What this means is the warmer they get, the more their resistance increases, and pumping electricity over a resistance generates heat. So they get hotter, and the resistance increases more, and… you get the idea. Happily, the hotter they get compared to ambient, the more effectively heat is dissipated away, so up to a point, them getting hotter just means they’re easier to cool…but somewhere, there comes a point where this self-limiting factor is overpowered by the temperature coefficient, resulting in thermal runaway and a very quick, catastrophic failure.

Sometime later, Bon Jovi’s “Runaway” came up on the radio, and as he belted out one of those canonical rock ballads I thought of thermal runaway, and of a friend in Boston. Some remembered reference to running away, needing to get away. I didn’t think too much of it. I think about things too much.

And when no hope was left in sight, on that starry, starry night…

Things happen, and other things happen, the load is never known, nor are the ambient conditions. What’s never known is when those things and those conditions will converge in such a way as to nudge you over that edge toward that runaway condition, an irreversibly catastrophic state. With an electronic or mechanical device, you could at least in theory save it by turning it off just in time, if only you knew what was happening.

(and if you think I’m writing about amplifiers and MOSFETs here, well, you can continue to believe that..)

I didn’t even see it coming.

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