Thursday, August 02, 2007

The $10 Chair

I realized recently it was time to stir up the chi in the house again, so I've been moving things around and purging closets. The pile bound for eBay and craigslist is quite impressive. If you ever feel poor, just drag everything out of your closets and estimate what it must have all cost. How could you possibly be poor if you afforded all that stuff you don't even use?

During this shake-down of the abode, I decided I was going to manifest a more comfortable reading chair for my bedroom. My wallet doesn't usually live up to my taste so a lot of the money I make on eBay gets spent in the same place. It's like magic really, turning your pile of old stuff into something new through virtual transactions. I love it. I take my stuff to the post office and it goes away to make someone else happy, then new stuff shows up in my mailbox to make me happy. I think the standard postal uniform should be robes and a pointed hat. Or they could use owls.

Sometimes you get a good story along with your item, like the Mumpy Couch story, or my $10 chair story last night. Those are the pieces you cherish because you can't buy a good story, some furniture just comes with a tale.

I've been looking for this chair for a few weeks now. You have to have lots of patience and ready cash to shop like this because you never know when it's going to pop into existence and you don't want to miss out. I laid out my specs to the Universe like I was placing an order.

I adore the chairs at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble because they're squishy comfortable and funky cool. I'm not sure if it's a factor of down-filled cushions or the number of butts that have contributed to their wear, but I could sit in those chairs for hours (and I have).

I've asked managers at both chains for a manufacturer name, but apparently they're sworn to secrecy even if they did have an answer. Google searches revealed mostly speculation with no true knowledge. My only choice was to go to Starbucks (twist my arm!) and memorize the lines and materials they choose, then compare my mental notes to hundreds of ads online.

I found a perfectly shaped moss green Mitchell Gold chair on eBay starting at $20, but it had several days left and a corner of the cushion chewed open (still fixable though). The chair lived about an hour away so I watched the auction until it went over $75, then I gave up. I was disappointed, but it was for the best because at the time I only had the faith that I could scrape together the cash, not any actual money.

A search on eBay the next day over a wider mileage range revealed a nice Broyhill chair in light green stripes, very nice curves, starting at $9.99 with no bids and only a few hours left. Awesome. I had plans that night, but I left the auction page on the Mac and made Kaytee promise to be home at 9pm to bid on it for me. I pestered her on the phone from Barnes & Noble for the last 10 minutes of the auction:

"Has anyone bid yet?"


"How bout now?"


"Awesome. Check it again."

"No, Mom, nothing."

"Did you refresh the page? Did anyone bid?"


Since I call this my $10 chair, you can already guess that we won the auction for only $9.99 as the sole bidder. This was an awesome deal. I thought the Universe really did me a favor with the price too because when I "placed my order" I said I wanted a chair for $50, knowing I'd go up to $75 for a really great piece, but also knowing I really shouldn't be spending that money at all with the bills I had due. This was a perfect compromise. But the Universe has a sense of humor and once you place an order you can count on getting it.

I paid for the chair right away through PayPal hoping the owner wouldn't back out when they realized their chair went for much less than it should have. The eBay store that was selling the chair on behalf of the owner tacked on another $5 local pick up fee so now my chair cost $15. Still an amazing deal for a brand name chair in a great shape and color.

This chair lived on Long Island, about an hour and a half away. Between bridges and gas it cost me about $25 to get there and back. Everyone else was busy the night I had to pick it up, so I went alone. A three-hour trip with Jason Mraz tunes repeated ad infinitum with no one else in the car to complain is my idea of an awesome drive, so I didn't mind.

The owner's address sounded like a single family home, so I figured no worries. I'm an experienced Mover of Large Things so I was sure I could find a way to get one chair out her door and into the car by myself, and if you look like you're really having trouble, most sellers will help you out a bit.

When I got there tho, the joke was on me because the owner lived in an upstairs condo, the chair was as wide as the entry stairway, and she had back problems so she couldn't help me at all. My brain was doing overtime but I couldn't think of a way to get it down the stairs by myself. It wasn't heavy, just awkward. She suggested several times that I come back with Mark on the weekend, but I wasn't defeated yet. I asked her to give me half and hour and she reluctantly agreed.

I drove a block away to an ATM and got some cash. In case you're reading this and you don't know me, you have to understand how horribly shy I am, and also how stubborn my Irish genes are about asking for help. Put the two together and it's a lot to overcome, but sometimes the need to get something done kicks my inner issues to the corner.

There were bars across the street and I saw a bunch of college-age guys standing outside of one. I was trying to figure out how to approach them without sounding completely lame when two guys and a girl came out of a nearby restaurant. They were discussing where to go next, so before I lost my nerve I jumped in and asked if they wanted to make a fast buck. They looked unsure of how to respond to that, so I quickly described my situation. In classic Long Island accents they agreed to help. They must've both had good, scary Italian mothers that taught them to help a lady in distress... or else they looked at me and saw beer money. My bet is on the beer money.

To the owner's surprise, I knocked on her door again inside of 15 minutes and the two guys and I went upstairs to survey the situation. One guy must've been in college for engineering because he asked if I had a tape measure, which I did (yes, I have everything in my purse, and he looked appropriately shocked). He measured the chair, measured the stairwell, directed the other guy to hoist the chair and tip it diagonally, and down the stairs they went like professional movers. They had the chair in my car in less than five minutes. I paid them $30 and thanked them, and the chair owner, profusely, then got in the car and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I headed home.

So remember I said I was going to spend $50-75 for this $10 chair? Let's add this up: $10 auction price + $5 pick up fee + $25 for gas & tolls + $30 for L.I. Italian Help = $70. And we'll have it cleaned next time they come to clean the carpets, so that will be even a little more.

I'm telling you, the lesson here is Reality may be malleable, but you gotta know what you're asking for because you definitely will get it.

By the way, don't judge me by the wallpaper. It came with the house. I think it's hideous, but it's a lot of work to take it down, so I've just rolled with it for now. I prefer a more southwestern/Mexican look, but that stuff is so hard to find on the bEast coast.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What Walks Down Stairs Alone or In Pairs?

I'm proofing a physics book and the current chapter is talking about quantum theory and in particular, Planck's quantum hypothesis. Please keep in mind that I failed algebra and I generally suck at any math beyond balancing my bank account. I don't often grasp more than the simplest of equations required in physics, but I get the logic of the theories, so I have these ideas and pictures in my head, but no clue how to illustrate them, or prove them mathematically, nor do I usually know if they've already been illustrated and proven. I'm really just babbling to myself. If an engineer or scientist read this, he'd probably be bored to tears. And I'm not saying any of it is true or false. I'm just thinking onto the screen.

First it talks about Planck's constant (h) and how Planck came up with his formula while trying to make the blackbody radiation curve work out in an experiment. Yay for him. Then it says (in short):

To provide a theoretical basis for his formula, Planck assumed that the energy of the oscillations of atoms within molecules cannot have just any value, instead the energy value is a multiple of a minimum value related to the frequency of oscillation by

E = hf

Sounds like greek until you read it really slow three times, but it put a picture in my head of an atom with its little electrons whipping around the nucleus. I got "oscillations" confused with vibrations and how you measure a wave from peak to peak - the wavelength - but that's a good thing because it made me relate a 2D vibration to a 3D oscillation. The atom in my head was 3D, and frequency of a wave is generally shown in 2D, so I was wondering how you would show a wave measurement in 3D and the idea of a stretched out Slinky came to mind. If you look at a Slinky from the side, it could appear flat like the frequency of a wave measurement. But if you then turned the Slinky toward you sideways (like you can in a CAD rendering or 3D animation), then you would see it's actually a big spiral and instead of there being peaks and troughs in a flat wave measurement, it would still have highs and lows but it's a continuous diameter - a spiral instead of a wavy line. Like seeing an added dimension of a 2D wave.

If you're measuring a wave peak to peak (wavelength), then there is always a trough in between indicating a fraction of the measurement, or 1/2. With a spiral, there are highs and lows, but no flat peaks or troughs to indicate a fraction of a measurement because no matter which way you rotate the spiral, there is no definitive top and bottom to each loop, therefore no way to say "this is the halfway point between this peak and the next" (unless you're measuring with an added dimension... keep your panties on, I'll get there).

Since there are no fractions, would that not indicate whole number multiples measuring oscillations? Looking at it that way though, it'd be just a flat circle (like if the Slinky were coiled up tight and you were viewing it from the end). But stretch it out and you're adding a depth dimension - like say, time? - and now you have a distance from peak to peak to measure one complete oscillation, which would still be a whole number since there is no way to define where a peak or a trough is on the spiral.

When I described this to Mark he said he thinks what I'm describing is a good way to illustrate the measurements of string theory. Unfortunately I can't agree or disagree since I have not yet really grasped string theory, but maybe someday I'll get there and go "oh yeah, that is exactly what I was picturing." :)

But back to the book.

The author says Planck's assumption suggests that the energy of any molecular vibration could be only some whole number multiple of the minimum energy hf:

E = nhf, (n=1, 2, 3...; h = Planck's constant; f = frequency)
(Looks like it says "enuhf" LOL)

where n is a quantum number - quantum meaning discreet instead of continuous; discreet meaning in increments. He uses the analogy of quantum being like a box sitting on stairs, as opposed to continuous being a box sitting on a ramp. The ramp is a continuous incline upwards and you could push the box up it smoothly. You could also push the box up the stairs, but only in measured whole steps (increments - not smooth). Just like jumping from the top of one oscillation of a spiral to the next. Except now I'm thinking the spiral is also continuous if you slide around the curve to get from one oscillation to the next instead of jumping from top to top, so does that mean it can be measured both ways? Maybe sliding from one oscillation around to the next is a better illustration of a stairstep. I dunno. Now I'm confusing myself.

Hmm... that definitely makes me think of time though... like we (as humans) live by sliding the long way around the spiral to go from one oscillation to the next, but if you were going to time travel, you would want to find a way to jump between the tops of the oscillations instead of going around the curve. And folding time might be something like compressing the Slinky until all the tops squish together creating a continuous new pathway (a fast track if you will) altogether - maybe a dimension where gravity is reversed because you're now standing on top of (or outside) the curve instead of lying inside the dip. Maybe standing on the top is like the consciousness of One. God is a compressed Slinky. Great. That must mean the Theory of Everything could be illustrated something like this:

Now imagine the stairs are in an M.C. Escher painting and you're really trippin.

I know, I know... this is why I never touched drugs. Who needs to with an imagination like that?

By the way, here's your daily dose of useless trivia: In 1943, Richard James was a naval engineer (figures - who else understands all this math?) trying to develop a meter designed to monitor horsepower on naval battleships. Richard was working with tension springs when one of the springs fell to the ground. He saw how the spring kept moving after it hit the ground and an idea for a toy was born.

"Slinky" is a Swedish word meaning traespiral - sleek or sinuous. (So if you're reading this Mraz, there's one more Swedish word you didn't know you already knew.)

Slinky debuted at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (hey, I come from there!) during the 1945 Christmas season and then at the 1946 American Toy Fair. Richard, nervous at the first demonstration of his toy, convinced a friend to attend and buy the first Slinky. However, this turned out to be unnecessary as 400 were sold during the 90 minute Gimbel demonstration.

Richard James and Betty James founded James Spring & Wire Company (renamed James Industries) with $500 dollars and began production. Today, all Slinkys are made in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania using the original equipment designed and engineered by Richard James. Each one is made from 80 feet of wire and over a quarter billion Slinkys have been sold worldwide.

Thank you to Mary Bellis' page on Slinky for that info. :)

So I guess those last bits are a little out of order and jump around themselves, but what can I say. That's how my brain works. Now I have to go read the rest of the chapter and hope he discusses string theory somewhere so I can see if I was right. Next time I'm tackling particle spin. Come to class prepared.

PS: After reading about springs, which led to Hooke's Law, I've decided there was no "Big Bang" at the beginning of the universe. It was just someone setting a Slinky off down the stairs and we're still going. This is what happens when you've been awake for 48 hours and counting.