Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dazed and confused (and slightly squiffy)

It has been an odd day in the scheme of things, what with a male student shaving his legs in the lab (allegedly in the name of science) and his female counterpart on an urgent mission to acquire a large tub of Vaseline. Sometimes you're better off not asking...
With the knee pain resulting from working longer hours now somewhat dulled by a combination of pain killers, anti-inflamatories and a rather pleasant 2009 Rioja (an inadvisable mixture perhaps, but fuck it...) I'm now sitting here with a post-hot-bath glow of serenity contemplating my apparent inability to learn new things, and maybe it's thanks to the drugs and alcohol that I'm able to try and assemble my rampaging thoughts into some sort of coherent internal dialogue.
You see, today we took delivery of a brand new CNC milling machine. About thirty grand's worth of up-to-date manufacturing hardware in a workshop normally populated with pre-war vintage cast-offs from places that saw fit to replace it decades earlier.
Compared to the old knackered mill which suffered terribly from worn out bedways and bearings, this new machine is a gleaming testament to the advances made since Noah took up boat building.
It's a modern marvel of precision engineering with computerised control, pneumatic tool changer, and all sorts of up-to-date bells and whistles and it scares the shit out of me.
It's weird. The old manual one was a cantankerous old bastard that needed an experienced hand to ensure that the workpiece wasn't turned from a close-tolerance component to a piece of mangled scrap metal, but in a strange way I'm going to miss it. I knew it, understood its wayward tendencies and was able to tame it to produce decent results.
The new one is a mystical combination of modern engineering, electronic wizardry and black magic. I don't understand it and I have an odd habit of convincing myself that if I don't understand something, I never will. My colleague's explanations of how easy these things are to operate do little to temper my fears, and I know that until it has been commissioned, we've had the training course, and I get my hands on it and have a go, I'll be eyeing it with the sort of suspicion usually reserved for an abandoned package at an airport.
I'm getting worse about this kind of thing the older I get. I can make a smartphone do what I need it to do, but the cordless phone at home is as mystical to me as calculus. If I can't pick up something and just use it intuitively without having to resort to sitting with a manual, going through it step by step to achieve the simplest operation then my first reaction is to give up and run away.
This is a really difficult situation to come to terms with and find a solution to.
Since school I've had no problem at all reading and producing engineering drawings to international standards, but computer-aided-design (CAD) software just doesn't want to happen for me. I'm generally able to pick and poke my way around a new piece of software and eventually make it do what I want. However, I've yet to be able to achieve anything at all with any design software beyond Google Sketchup.
I think I'm beginning to understand my father's aversion to technology. When I have to read my car's owners manual to figure out how to set the clock, I know something's amiss. When I have a pang of regret about ditching my turntable and all my vinyl records years ago, I begin to worry. And when the prospect of learning how to use a new machine tool strikes me with with a similar level of fear to looking down the wrong end of a shotgun, it makes me realise it's time to give myself a damn good shake and stop being such an irrational wimp.