I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.

I was placed on diplomatic duty today. We were having a repairman come to fix one of our big pieces of equipment, and the advisor designated me as the coordinator and contact guy for the repair. It was pretty exciting, actually. We’ve had this machine for longer than my advisor’s been here, and it’s since fallen out of service. No one currently in the group knows how to run it, so this was to be my first “training” with it since I’ll be the one in charge of it now. The best part, though, was that it was like the repairman was meeting a long lost friend. Anyone doing research will tell you how each and every machine has its own personality. Some go out of their way to thwart you, some have surprising features tucked in every nook and cranny, and some just need a good kick.

The machine we had was a combined glovebox and evaporator, which more or less heats up a metal until some of gets in the air. Then you stick a future piece of electronics in there and the metal in the air condenses on the chunk and tada! You’ve got a new electrical contact! Part of the setup needs a complicated set of vacuum tubes and valves, which are notoriously individualistic. No two vacuum systems are built the same; usually you build them custom. The stage was set for a full-blown nostalgie session

So the guy, who turned out to be the one who was hired to build it in the first place 15 years ago, came in and was enthralled. He remembered every nut and bolt, how he fit this piece into that piece, how the original test results came out. He was dismayed at how dirty we let it get, but hopeful that he could shine it up. It was a bit touching, really, and he was clearly excited to be coming back next week to finish it.

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