Like my old truck, hoping 2014 runs smoothly

Things generally only work one way. If you reach into a piece of equipment that is working perfectly fine and randomly grab a wire or a piece of something and rip it out, the most likely outcome will be that the equipment will no longer work.

It is certainly true that you can sometimes keep a piece of equipment functioning when one part breaks or stops functioning. Take my truck, for example. Its basic function is to get me to my beehives and back. It does that mostly all right. 

The inability to unlock the passenger-side door from the outside is just a minor irritation. The fact that once I open the passenger-side door, the cab light won’t go off for sometimes up to half an hour is only a problem after dark. So half the time I am fine. It’s actually good that the emergency brake handle is broken because it keeps other people from driving my truck when the brake is on. They don’t know how to get it off. It doesn’t matter anymore that the tape player doesn’t work because no one makes tapes. The radio is just an irritant anyway. Oh, and the brake pedal is a little slippery since the rubber came off. 

I have to admit, though, that all of this is just a harbinger of things to come when the truck stops working entirely. I remember when my last truck finally stopped after two motor replacements and an unknown number of miles (the odometer was broken). I asked Mueller if he thought a new motor might be possible. He paused for a few seconds. Then, in the tone of a very sad physician, he advised me, “Gary, let it go.”

Our bodies and cells are sort of the same way. We can get away with taking some things off or out, and some organ systems can stop functioning at peak levels. We know that we might keep going for a while but that things only work in one way. When that way is changed, it means things will eventually quit working. 

Like a lot of scientists, I had a misspent childhood. Unsupervised a lot of the time, I took a lot of things apart. My room had a lot of radios and clocks, at least one old pump and assorted plastic toys that were more interesting to disassemble than to play with. The problem was that I was seldom able to reassemble any of them. Oh, all right, I don’t ever recall successfully reassembling anything. 

I put together a robot kit on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. (This probably tells you something about my social life and my poor wife.) Anyway, the robot had an infrared sensor and was supposed to avoid obstacles. Mine attacked obstacles, face planted in them and then continued spinning gears trying to shove the wall around.

It’s generally true that things only work one way. If, in assembly, you have pieces left over, something is probably not going to work right. These experiences have sort of left a mark on me. I’m always a little reticent about taking things apart and very careful when building new things. I don’t see that the future is going to disprove the past. Like the law of gravity is going to go away?

Anyway, that is why I’m a little worried about 2014. Things in our lives have seemed to work pretty well for a couple hundred years. Recently, though, we have taken some things out and put some new things in. My experience has been that this just doesn’t always work out too well.

I suppose I could fix my truck and replace all those broken parts. It might be cheaper than buying a whole new truck, especially one with a bunch of things I really don’t need. Or maybe, like my old truck, I should just “let it go.”

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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