Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Chicks Dig Guys With Skills

Chicks dig guys with skills. Nunchaku skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills…

This aggression must not stand, man. My little son will watch This Old House but passes on an offer to watch his father fix the old house he lives in. There’s a danger there. It’s not simply that the attention span required is too long. Of course a TV production removes dead time. All the preparation is excised, and even most of the work itself. There is a constant patter of a kind I call “refreshingly information-free.” Most of TV and the Intertunnel is made up of this intellectual equivalent of a cow’s cud. You chew it for a while, swallow it, and hurl it up to chew again later. Nothing is accomplished and no benefit is accrued but passing the time.

That is not the danger I referred to. The danger is much more profound. My son was exhibiting in a small way what it manifest in spades in everyone else: It’s not real unless it’s on the TeeVee. My sons have seen less TV than your average Amish kid, but the world’s view on things intrudes even into a somewhat isolated life: You’re no one unless the TV pays attention to you. It’s a dangerous idea.

I’ve been on the television a few times, and on the radio lots of time. I’ve been in the paper a goodly amount over the years. I’ve been all over the Internet like a rash. None of that holds any terrors for me. But it’s not real life. None of it is even a funhouse approximation of real life. It is a closed circuit feed being broadcast to itself. My wife drove to the grocery store yesterday, and when she switched on the radio, there was an advertisement being broadcast for an Unorganized Hancock show. She got a chuckle out of it, but my 12-year old wouldn’t have cared. He is never interested in watching any of his videos after they’re made, and you can’t offer him any praise when a performance is over. He immediately goes back to being a little boy in the real world. He thinks Rhett and Link are like Salk and Pasteur because they’re on YouTube. He’s on YouTube, too, but somehow he doesn’t count because he knows he’s real-real, not YouTube-real. 

I had to find a way to make real life real for my son. I coaxed him to join me while I installed the convenience outlet. I could have forced him, but that would never achieve the desired effect. He would simply learn that working with his father is a travail and be programmed to avoid it at all costs. I must actually do work, however, and can’t turn it into playtime. That’s the danger of things like Sesame Street. Educational shows aren’t. The alphabet doesn’t get up and dance and sing. You have to make it.

I struck upon the idea of making it real using his own stuff. He has Snap Circuits. His aunt and uncle gave them to him for Christmas a few years back, and he loves to make little electronic trifles with them. I told him we would use Snap Circuits to fix the house. He followed me like a puppy.

I explained to him that the electricity in the wires was strong enough to kill me, and that I must be careful. I told him that I did not trust anyone that had installed wiring in the past, so I could not be sure that anything already in place was safe. We must determine it ourselves. We fetched a battery pack with two AAs in it and an indicator light from his Snap Circuit toy.

We went down in the nasty Basement Basement. That’s adjacent to the Regular Basement, which is located above the Car Hole. The Car Hole used to be Frosty Hobo Central, but we fixed it so hobos can’t get in any more and freeze to death so we changed the name.

I explained that I needed to make sure that the wire that was already in place but not being used was the same wire at both ends. I thought it was the same wire, but part of the wire was inaccessible so you couldn’t be sure without testing it yourself. I turned off all the electricity in the house, and let my son hold an electric lantern like a character in one of his video games, which he loved. We hung the battery pack on the black and white wires in the Romex cable on one end, and then went upstairs. I connected the two leads of the Romex wire to the indicator light, and it shone brightly, much to the little boy’s delight. It was a real thing made real in terms he could not only understand, but enjoy.

We were not solving a technical problem. We were actually solving a logic problem. IF all the wires in the house are not electrified because we turned off the main circuit breaker, THEN only the wire that has the battery pack will light the light, OR ELSE dad is electrocuted because he trusted the label in the Service Panel and threw the wrong circuit breaker. That results in my children GOTO: circus.

A few minutes ago I went up stairs and checked what he had learned:

-How many volts in a regular house circuit, son?
-About 110, I think.

-How many amps?

-How many amps in a kitchen circuit?
-20, or 40 for the stove.

-What color wires are in electrical cable?
-Black, white, and a copper one.

-What do the colors mean?
-Black for hot, white for neutral, copper for ground.

-What colors are the screws on a convenience outlet?
-Gold, silver, and green.

-What wire goes where?
-Black on gold, white on silver, copper wire on green.

Go back to Minecraft, son. You’re fine.

5 Responses

  1. Of course he's fine, but that's no surprise. He is your boy, after all. Dads – well, all the good dads I know – are good at turning chores into adventures, when the need arises.

  2. Sipp, you and family are fortunate to have each other. Um, that's clumsy.

    OK, You have been blessed with a good wife and two fine sons. They, in turn, are blessed to have a husband/dad/friend and partner/pal like you.

    The Sippican household vibes: Faith, Love, and Hope.

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