Old Dog, etc.

This is going to be a long essay on how being in a rut can play hell with your mental health. I may break it up into several parts– or maybe not.

When most of us nerds get to be a certain age we’re committed to whatever oddball hobby we’re committed to. Maybe we like baseball statistics. Maybe we like plastic model kits. Maybe it’s coins. Whatever. As old coots, we tend to know WAY too much about ONE THING and we bore the shit out of everybody with that (more than slightly) insane degree of intimacy with a small, meaningless corner of the world.

So we get in a rut. All the wiggling and squirming in Bangkok isn’t going to get you out of that rut unless you deliberately do something radical. If you’ve never fished–give it a try. If you haven’t put pen to paper, then put pen to paper. Do something different or be forever doomed to being known as a one-trick old timer.

But you don’t have to go crazy. Model trains pretend to be on a different planet from “model kits” (ewww!) and so I chose to segue on over to that branch of Davidians because it was 1) cheap and 2) easy to do during The Plague.

I’m learning that as far as “life preparation” is concerned, model trains seem much better than plastic kits. Of course, neither one of them is worth much compared to say, playing sports or learning to cook, but on a certain short scale of usefulness that model train creaks past the plastic kit by a nose.

It’s all about the electricity. When you deal with train models, you deal with Mr. Electron and his band of fictional, yet somehow immensely useful, charged particles. You get dunked in the pool of electrical engineering jargon and that might set a young person off on a career that might save them from having to spend their life a) begging for quarters, or b) writing code. If you know how to solder, you can write yourself a nice paycheck, assuming you aren’t a total dork, in which case maybe that coding job might be your best bet.

Right now I’m learning so much it’s difficult to keep up with it for blogging purposes. I haven’t been in this situation in a long time. Even when I went back to school a few years ago to study prosthetics, I never felt “the old thrill” of true learning (which may explain my failure in that arena). There is something about teaching yourself a new skill that is immensely satisfying. It’s one of those peak experiences and it should not become a thing of the past.

So let’s talk about fifty-year-old electronics. Man, it’s hard to wrap your head around how OLD this equipment is. It’s OLD. Star Trek TOS was STILL IN PRODUCTION when these toy trains were made.

…and it burns, burns, burns!

That’s why this stuff is really PRIMITIVE. It’s primeval. Which makes the way it works just that much more impressive.

I said I’d glued my switches, er, “turnouts” together and I was all ready to give up on them, but then I took a good look at them and saw that they CAME APART. In toy train universe, you’re expected to work on your own equipment. So I snapped off the covers and low and behold, they started work after a bit of nudging. Amazing. I think I’ve been trapped in the “don’t give a damn” world of plastic kits for so long I’ve forgotten how it can be, if somebody gives a damn.

Now I have to say something about Germans. As you know, I’m still a bit peeved about German behavior in the last century. But damn, they do make bloody good toy trains. In 1968, at the height of the Cold War, they cared enough to send their very best to the U.S.A. and these products still gleam with precise engineering (for 1968). Of course, you have to work on them. Especially if they have been in use for a while. Remember this phrase: OLD THINGS NEED MAINTENANCE. Old cars. Old people. Old toy trains. ALL need to be given some care and attention.

This need for “caring” is one major lesson to learned by the youngster that you hope to infect with the train bug. Today, most of what passes for entertainment demands only a tiny bit of caring. This “take care of themselves.” But once upon a time, you had to lubricate it regularly if you wanted it to work. No “sealed bearings.”

Forgot to oil it, huh?

Special oil is required for today’s special trains, but I’m feeling that Little Growly needs AT LEAST 3 in 1 oil to keep working. All I know is, If I don’t oil Little Growly, Little Growly stops working. MOST things used to be this way, and learning that many things are STILL this way might give your young Jedi that chance he or she needs to survive in a world full of millennials for whom everything is disposable, and should be.

But some things do need to be disposed of. After fifty years of faithful rotting, they need to be retired. The ability to tell what needs to go and what needs to stay separates the boys from the men.

So, I manned up and dumped the old “transformer” before it morphed into a glistening robot and cleaned my clock.

Enter the “old” ATX power supply.

She’s a wiry little bundle.

This power supply was part of “old faithful”– the PC that I used from 2005 to 2016. I wore out XP and Windows 7 on that thing and when the mother board died I put it in the garage…

…to be used to power TOY TRAINS!

Shunt your jumper, you bollocks!

Here’s a site that does a wonderful job of explaining how this works:

He does insist on using a resistor to do something that isn’t very clear… but this is the only explanation of this process that I could follow. You see, people who do a lot of soldering and make electronic “things” are usually members of my tribe– the Big Galoot branch of the Nerd Nation. I’ve never been a true member of the Galoots because of my lack of soldering skills, but that soon could change.

Anyway, the Galoots tend to be men of few words and so we lack the ability to ‘splain. We can mansplain, sure, but that means you never find out why you need that resistor.

Anyway, I’m now running my little railroad using power from the old computer’s heart, and it seems fitting.

…to be continued.

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