Recently I bought some Arduinos, a bunch of sensors, some LED bulbs, a few basic soldering kits and started hacking together some primitive sensor systems. My first soldering kit failed to work at all, probably because I burned out the integrated circuit chip attaching it to the board. I used to do this kind of thing all the time. In the good old days, I could have soldered this kit in my sleep. I began to wonder whether I’d ever get my hack back.
When I was a kid, I was (in)famous in my family for tearing things apart to see how they worked. Most of the time I was even able to put them back together in working condition, often with surplus parts left over. Obviously my designs were more efficient than the originals. At one point after we started locking the doors to the house I got so frustrated with not being able to get in the back door that I tore the lock down, figured out how it worked, fabricated some new pins out of wire and keyed it to match the front door. I was about 12 at the time.
When I got a bit older, my friends and I took up rocketry and pyrotechnics, and I was the guy making all the remote detonators. To keep me occupied, my mom used to scrounge random stuff people tossed out and bring it home. Once she brought home an old cabinet entertainment system with an FM radio and turntable. In a month or so I had it hooked up to about a dozen speakers connected through a switch panel and could listen to music anywhere in my basement suite. This kept up for several years and my wife remembers worrying that I was going to fry my first computer by soldering directly on the motherboard. But my days of hacking and modding stuff faded away when I switched careers and started working in an office, programming all day.
Skip ahead a couple decades and I find myself staring at what is supposed to be a simple soldering kit lying lifeless in my hands and wondering where my hack went. This obviously isn’t like riding a bike. Did I wait too long? Did the electronics world pass me by while I was concentrating on software? Is this my version of a mid-life crisis, trying to relive my misspent youth buzzed on solder flux fumes and making blinky things to stare at? I began to doubt I’d ever wake my inner hacker again. In the midst of my silicon-powered pity party, Michele calls out from the washroom and I head over there to investigate. Something smells vaguely like burnt wires.
“Did you modify the washing machine?” she asks accusingly.
“Ummm… no. But thanks for asking.”
And there it was. Maybe I’m not in touch with my inner hacker but she not only remembers the him, she sees that guy in me today. Once she smelled solder in the house again, the next time there’s a glitch in something electrical my having hacked it is the most probable cause. Better yet, it’s not the possibility that I’d perform surgery on the guts of the washing machine control board that has her bugged. It’s the thought that my “enhancements” screwed it up. That maybe there were some leftover parts that turned out to be necessary after all.
I figured that if she still sees that guy, then he’s still in here somewhere. So I ordered a replacement kit. That was the end of last week. The kit arrived today and I assembled it from memory in about 10 minutes, except I did it right this time and didn’t burn the chip. The result is our really cool Robo-Lantern you can see in the video below and a reminder to me of how much I owe any success I’ve enjoyed in life to my wife. Her unwavering support and faith has inspired and motivated me over the years to think a bit past my reach and rise to meet every challenge. I thought my inner hacker was barely hanging in there on life support and was about ready to pull the plug. She revived the guy without even trying.
Funny thing is, when we met I’d been fired from every job I’d ever held and would be fired from 3 or 4 more. My freelance photography work was lucrative but not steady and about half my paid work was assisting another guy who specialized in portfolio work for scantily clad supermodel wannabes. I spent way to much time getting drunk and playing darts with my ne’er do well buddies. Whatever time I did spend with her, half of that was spent fighting over whether we’d listen to my head-banging heavy metal or her easy-listening classics. I didn’t know anything about Asperger’s at the time but even I knew I was weird, and I had serious doubts about dating any girl that would have me as her boyfriend. Her family hated me and by all rights her dad’s prediction I’d never amount to anything should have come true. But she saw something in me that nobody else did and kept chipping away the rough spots to reveal it. All things considered, of the two of us she’s the better hacker.