Amp it up!

I grew up a big fan of comic books and the superheroes that filled their pages. Characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, and Batman were among my favorites. Marvel and DC owned the big names but it was actually a much smaller character that stuck with me the most. Action Man was a CG cartoon (although there was also an animated/live action combo by the same name earlier that I never watched) with horrible voices for the supporting cast but the concept was solid.

The main character, an extreme sports star nicknamed Action Man, was uncovering a new ability that used math to analyze his surroundings and come up with a means to accomplish what he was intending. The world would shift into slow motion and the key components involved in the successful steps would highlight a different color. I liked the ability because unlike other superheroes, this seemed within reach. It is one of the pop culture things from my childhood that has the deepest impact and stuck with me the longest.

Right before enabling his power, the main character would shout “Amp It Up!” (better than some of the other 90s nonsensical words used in the show to seem hip). He would then analyze the environment and go to work using his extreme sports skills to pull off the mission. While I can’t slow down time and don’t have strings of math equations come from my head to highlight what objects I should utilize, I follow this way of thinking. I’ll shout (or maybe just think loudly to myself) “Amp it up!” and find a way to pull off what I’m trying to do. Sometimes it would be running down a frisbee after hurdling one object and jumping off another to get enough height. Othertimes, it could be about traffic and tracking all of the different cars in motion and coming out on top and not be behind the person that slows way down before getting into the turn lane.

After years of searching, I finally managed to find a (low-quality) copy of this Action Man. I’ve been able to find the horrible-looking animated/live-action combo show but below is the first episode of Action Man embedded. It has two scenes of the “amp it up” power – one within the first five minutes and another near the 18 minute mark.

The main story of Action Man follows the main character and his support team, all around good guys, as they compete in extreme sports against other athletes, most noticeably Alex’s rival. The rival turns full-blown evil and becomes a pawn for Dr. X. With nanobots injected, he’s able to outcompete Alex. This went on for about 2 seasons, I believe, but I missed out on it after a little while when they moved the show to 3 o’clock in the afternoons and I didn’t get off of the bus from school until 3:38pm.

Regardless of how annoying the voices are and how hyper the terms were, I still take “Amp it up!” and the respective philosophy from the show. I believe it puts a big emphasis on qualities that I respect and try to groom in myself – planning, awareness, coordination, observation, thinking out possibilities, understanding physics, and quick thinking. In other words, “Check it out, dial it in, amp it up!”

The grossest, neatest thing I have ever seen

I have a brief vivid memory from my childhood because I thought I had broken something and was going to be in trouble. Back then, computer mice had a ball in them, before optical and laser options. One day while using the computer, the mouse was really frustrating me because it was slow to respond and not rolling smoothly. I flipped over the mouse, twisted off the cover to the mouse ball and let the ball roll aside. Peering into the opening, I saw a vertical axle and a horizontal axle. Perfectly symmetrical and matching on each axle, there were two foam circles about 1/8″ wide on each axle immediately to the side where the ball would make contact with the axles. I reached in and poked an axle and watched the mouse move to the right. I rolled the horizontal axle the opposite direction and watched the mouse move to the left. I did the same experiment with the vertical axle and came to understand how the analog motion of the mouse could be translated into movement on the computer monitor.

As I experimented and saw that the axles were not the cause of the poor performance of the mouse, I noticed some dust on the axle between the two foam circles. I carefully tried to remove it with a pen, thinking it might be the cause of the problems. It was on there good and it was hard to do anything with a single point to work with – tweezers would have been a better option. Suddenly, the pen slipped and cut one of the foam circles loose.

“Oh no! Now, I broke it.” I fished out the torn foam circle and set it aside. Hoping the mouse would still work, I popped the mouse ball back in, twisted the cover and tested it out. The cursor continued to move, maybe even better than before. “Phew! Maybe I won’t get in trouble after all.” I carefully inspected the torn foam circle and saw it was made of dust, hair, and other gunk.

“Ew! Yuck! Bleh, blech, blech!”

I twisted open the mouse ball compartment and scraped the three remaining foam circles from the axles and into the wastepaper basket. I popped the mouse back in and twisted on the lid. Flipping the mouse over, it was good as new. There was no more lagging and skipping.

ptrap

Fast forward about 15 years and I had another similar experience.

A few months after taking ownership of our house, I was washing my hands in the bathroom attached to the master bedroom and saw the sink was draining quite slowly. It had been doing so for a while but this time the water level had gotten quite high as the water drained so slowly. I went and got some tools and a bucket to take apart the plumbing beneath the sink. Once the water finished draining, I put the bucket under the pipes and twisted off the nut securing them in place. A lot of water spilled over from the P-trap. There was some gunk free floating in the water that spilled over, so I hoped that resolved the issue.

I had the long pipe between the sink drain and the P-trap in my hands. To make sure it wasn’t the problem, I held it up to the light and looked through it like a telescope. I saw there was a circular covering in the middle of the pipe, nearly filling it. There was a small circular hole on one side of it and it looked to have some flex to it to move with the water. To test that it wasn’t the problem, I ran some water through the pipe in the other sink of the double vanity. The water drained out slowly.

“Ah ha!” I had found the source of the problem. A simple straight pipe should have water flowing at the rate of gravity but that definitely wasn’t the case here. Trying to clean, clear, or knock this strange gasket loose, I flipped the pipe upside down and ran some more hot water through the pipe. This time, nothing came out at all. That gasket was completely stopping the flow of water. I dumped the water out into the other sink and tried it again. It was definitely stopping any water from going the opposite direction. I flipped the pipe over and pour water down its normal direction of flow and the water slowly poured through again.

This was very weird. Was it intentional? In the middle of this foot-long pipe there was a gasket that controlled the flow of water in one direction. It was like the semiconductor of water. I was unaware of anything like this, not that I am a plumber or have that much experience, but I had a hard time understanding why there would be a need to stop water from backing up at that point or slowing down the drain flow intentionally. I called my father, who is a very experienced plumber, electrician, welder, mechanic, and what have you, and tried my best to describe what I was seeing. He wasn’t familiar with anything like it either, so I was still left with quite a conundrum.

I don’t remember if I undid the plumbing for the other sink to compare and didn’t find anything in that pipe. I may have just been desperate to get more information about this gasket, so I could prove that such a thing existed. I used a long screwdriver and scraped it out. It ripped on its way out, so I guess I would have to try to find a replacement. When it toppled out of the pipe onto the counter, you could see the gross, glob of a disk that looked like it was made out of rubber or silicone. You could now also tell that it wasn’t manufactured and was just some collection of gunk like old toothpaste, hair, and other matter.

“Ew! Yuck! Bleh, blech, blech!”

It was quite gross, particularly since we had recently moved into the house so it was probably somebody else’s gunk! I scraped all of it out of the pipe and ran water through it. As one would expect from a clear pipe, the water ran quickly through it (in both directions).

I reassembled the pipework and tested the drain for any leaks. The water now drained very quickly and I could see no problems with the sink at all. I did still have a lingering thought that it was missing something and I would one day regret not replacing that weird gasket thing, not that I would be able to find an equivalent in any store. It may very well have been the grossest, neatest thing I have ever seen.

Flashbacks to being alone

During one of the Summers in the college years, I lived with my sister and brother-in-law  in the same town as the university. They went on a multi-week trip to Europe and I stayed behind watching the house and taking classes. I was taking the maximum 3 classes at the University and took 2 additional classes at the local community college. While they were gone, all of my classes seemed to peak at the same time.

I remember all the major projects across classes seemed to come due on Thursdays. I would be up the night before working until 4 am just to wake up at 6am. From there, I had class at the community college from 7-9:50. I would then drive the 15 minute drive to the University in 10 minutes and be in class from 10-11:50. After class got out, I would eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as I walked from class to the Library. I would then work my undergrad tech job from noon-5:00. After work, I would head home and begin working on the next assignments with a break for dinner.

Honestly, I don’t know where the time went while my sister and brother-in-law were gone. It seemed like just a few days passed and they were back. I was so buried in work, I hardly noticed the passage of time. I traded in sleep and fun in order to meet my school responsibilities while working to earn enough for my bills for the upcoming semester.

I am currently in the middle of another solo time as Jeanne is off on a multi-week trip. Fortunately, I have a little less work going on at the moment now that I have finished up graduate classes. Spades also helps regulate the time with daily runs and her own schedule to keep track of. The time is still going by rather quickly (thankfully) but I feel like I’m making the most of the time instead of just blinking and seeing it fly by.

Anne Frank’s Diary in high school

I found a segment from this week’s episode of Robot Chicken “Snarfer Image” a bit familiar.

At 1:18, this particular segment starts. It’s pretty straight forward with a teacher in a classroom.

teacher_duct_tape

Teacher: “To give you a better sense of what being on a slave ship would have been like, everybody get down on the floor so I can duct tape your hands and feet together. Then I’m going to choose five of ya to be the slave masters.”

Video turns black and white with yellow text: This is not a sketch. This actually happened to one of our writers in the fifth grade.

teacher_duct_tape2

Next frame: The teacher’s name was Patricia Anderson.
Next frame: We just want the world to know.

teacher_duct_tape3

In sophomore year high school English, there was a day where the teacher made us find out what it would be like to be a Jew in hiding from the Nazis. This was tied into our reading Anne Frank’s Diary and only the Honors English class did this. All the desks were cleared out of the room and there were five five-foot rectangles of tape on the floor. We were split into groups of five and we had to sit/stand inside our rectangle for the entire class period with six of our classmates acting as Nazis patrolling around the “closets” we were hiding in. If anybody made a noise, the Nazi removed them.

That was the one day of my entire high school career that I had a cold. I ended up coughing after fighting it (chewing on my hands, swallowing drainage, etc.) through 3/4 of the 83 minute class period. I was sent out to the Library to wait for the end of the class period and was assigned a one page paper to write about the experience.

I didn’t put much effort in the assignment since I saw that it was a power play the teacher was trying to use over the class. The previous day, the classroom had gotten a bit loud when we had a little freedom to talk between tasks. I thought it was ridiculous, a waste of time, and insensitive. That teacher had the reputation of being one of the top four worst teachers in the school.

In the paper, I wrote that I had died since I was caught by the Nazi’s and I went to heaven, as I sat in the Library, blew my nose, and ate Starbursts I had left over from lunch. The only mark I received back was “I’m sorry you couldn’t appreciate their suffering.” or something to that effect.

While not as bad as being duct-taped as a fifth grader, it’s certainly up there as one of my most vivid memories from high school.

Cleaning out the car that drives down memory lane

I cleaned out my car this afternoon. Upon doing so, I had a few memories come to mind as I cleaned. I’ve had the car for over six years now, though I did find a compartment for sunglasses that I never knew about before today.

I first started cleaning out a drip line from the cupholder. It was a bit annoying to clean out, and why it lasted so long, is because it drippled down the honeycomb lattice of the speakers. I had to get a toothpick and poke through each hole to get it clean. I cleaned the drip after it happened but didn’t get through the holes. It happened a September night a few years ago when my Dad, Jeanne, and I made a late night trip to Dairy Queen after a hard day of putting on a new roof.

Finally, I found a little black bead (pictured below) under the passenger seat. It comes from a purse of Jeanne’s that exploded one night while I was driving. The handles of the purse were wires with beads around them. At some point, the wire came loose and all the beads flew off. This bead hid in the car all this time.

bead

I threw away the cheap, plastic floormats which were to protect the original floormats. They withstood having 32 ounces of dark soda dumped on them after we left the movie theater one night and the cup didn’t fit that well in the cup holder. I figure, if they survived this long than they can go without the additional floormats. They’ll look better and be less annoying to passengers.

Driving down memory lane.

I received a death threat today

I was in Wal-Mart earlier today. Upon entering the store, I headed to the shampoo aisle. Upon finding my section of shampoo, I began browsing the different offerings. About 8 feet further down the aisle, a mom looked at shampoo on the opposite side as me while her young 2 year old daughter sat in the cart’s basket. As I picked a bottle of shampoo to read the label, the young girl began to talk.

“Mommy, see that man? I’m going to kill him.”

I immediately turned to the young girl in astonishment. The mom’s back was to me. The daughter icily stared back at me.

While still maintaining eye contact with the girl, I made my eyes go wide to silently show some sort of a reaction. “Click, click” went the pen she was holding in her hand.

The mom, not processing things as quickly as I had, half turned to the daughter and said “… What?! Don’t say that. I’ll beat your butt.”

I quickly put the shampoo I had picked up into my cart and made a hasty retreat to Jeanne a few aisles over. I remember now that I intended to smell what the shampoo was like but quickly forgot after the threat to my life. I guess that question will have to wait for tomorrow’s shower before receiving an answer.

(100% true. I could not have made this up.)