Proceed

And here’s the third and final entry, the one that I posted part of a while ago. Only one song for this post, not a full album as usual, but it’s a great song and an amazing music video. I would highly, highly recommend watching along with the song. (I may have posted this before. I haven’t listened to a lot of new music recently, mostly just been listening to The Mollusk by Ween over and over, so I don’t have a wealth of new stuff to share. I’ll be getting back to it soon, though.)

~

When I woke up that day, I knew it was going to be a bad one. It was going to be one of those days where everything goes too fast, where my vision blurs and head swims and the very tip of my head vibrates and I can feel every heartbeat through my whole body.

Of course, it wasn’t that the outside world had suddenly sped up without me. At least, that explanation seemed incredibly far-fetched to me. It was just that my choices the last night, to take a bit too much to get to sleep a bit faster, and then didn’t get quite enough sleep because of those god damn construction vehicles that drive up and down my street, engine volume cranked up to eleven despite going about two miles per hour.

I didn’t quite trust myself to drive. I hated driving at the best of times, far more when I was the least bit mentally inhibited. So I arranged for someone to drive me, which threw a whole other wrench into the mix, since their schedule didn’t fit perfectly with the one I had arranged, so I sent an email to Joe and told him I’d be a bit late. He said that would be fine.

I took a dose of my wake up powder with a cup of tea, a bowl of cereal, and some nicotine. I felt a little revived, although still tired. I got there a few minutes before eleven in the morning, clipped my suspenders back on to the back of my pants – damn it, why did I wear these pants with these suspenders, the clips never hold on just right – and stepped through the front door.

The building I entered, the office building, was small. There were only a dozen or so employees there, so not much space was needed. I found Joe pretty quickly, but before we could start, a woman came up to me and asked me to sign in at the front desk. I didn’t even realize they had a sign in form, I had been here dozens of times and had never noticed it, but that was because my dad worked here.

I signed in, somehow remembered the date even though I generally have no idea what day of the month it is, accidentally wrote my name in under the “Company” form, crossed it out and squeezed a “N/A” in the corner, then finished up and turned back to Joe.

He was a young, redheaded guy I had met before. I had had a meal with him, with my parents, and gave him a beer I had made, a coffee stout, probably three or four years back. I had probably interacted with him, in person, other times than that, but that was the main one I remembered. I didn’t really know the guy, but I had a good feeling about him. He had given me some nice leftover tea a while back.

He was procedural. I knew this the moment that I mentioned I’d ask about his job, and he moved us to the conference room. With the other two shadowings, those questions had just come up naturally, or in spaces between other conversations.

This interview was short. He had things to do, so I tried to keep the questions brief and he kept his answers brief. He had gotten a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, a Master’s in Civil Engineering, and then a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering. At Proceed, he was a senior engineer, working in R&D with vanadium electrolyte. He had been working here for almost five years. He had a long-standing interest in energy in general, and particularly wanted to work with batteries. He discovered his current job through a friend who worked in the field.

“Is there anything else?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so.”

We headed to his cubicle, where he explained he had to have a phone call with a vendor about something. That gave me some information about his current project, and time to look around his cubicle.

“Hi Roberto, this is Joe…”

The phone call consisted of him talking about calcium content in tubing. The projects they worked on demanded high precision, to the parts per billion, and he was checking that there was no calcium in the tubing.

I scribbled at high speed, giving up some readability just to express information quicker. He used a standing desk. He had mentioned that he was training for a run, though I didn’t know if that was related or not. His cubicle held two identical water bottles, one on his standing desk, one on his normal desk.

A jar of Simply Jif next to his office phone. A coffee filter in a bowl. An object I couldn’t recognize, wrapped in masking tape, between one bottle and his stapler. A novel, Hackers by Steven Levy, in the back of his cubicle, news clippings and phone numbers and guides pinned up along the wall. A squat cylinder, about 10” tall by 18” in diameter, labeled “corrosive”, on the wooden floor below his desk. There was a lot to look at.

The vendor said there wasn’t any calcium in the tubing and, while Joe seemed doubtful, he thanked them and hung up, then switched back to his computer, checking email, referencing a graph, and updating a document that held a function, representing a relationship between variables.

We headed out the back door of the office, across a patio, and into a separate building, which held the laboratory. The upper floor was relatively empty, a few desks and computers scattered throughout, with a couple people working at them. Joe went to one computer, which was connected to a large metal box.

“This generates x-rays, which we can send through a material to detect a few specific elements. Silicon, or really aluminum, although that’s a bit harder to detect, through to antimony or lead.”

The computer UI implied that it was running Windows XP, and he said he needed to head back to his desk to grab a USB drive.

“I can’t just email it to this computer or something, because we keep it disconnected from the internet for simplicity and security.”

He left to get the USB drive, and I was left alone. There were others in the room, but I was alone. I didn’t really know what to do or what to observe. But Joe’s natural quickness brought him back pretty quickly. He plugged the USB drive, which reminded me of a “hockey puck” Apple iMac mouse, into the computer, and began referencing results.

Once satisfied, we headed downstairs, where the true laboratory resided. We weren’t there for long, though, since he could only find one pair of safety glasses.

“I think I might have another pair in my cubicle,” he said. “Sometimes I just bring them around with me and forget where I put them.”

We headed back up the stairs. Joe walked up two stairs at a time. Ran up them, really. I have long legs, and go up stairs fast, but he easily outpaced me, though that could just have been a result of my impairment that morning. We, or rather he, rushed through the upper floor and across the patio. I fumbled the door, noticed that I hadn’t closed it fully and went back. He told me it was no problem.

He didn’t find another pair in his cubicle, but he did find one in the bathroom area. He handed that to me and we went back down to the laboratory. We put on the goggles and he showed me around.

“We don’t really need to wear them, right now, it’s more just a precaution since we deal with a lot of corrosive materials here.”

I thought back to the container under his desk.

He showed me around the lab, to different mini-experiments, setups, and equipment scattered throughout. He was working on a vanadium electrolyte battery and showed a small cell and described how it worked.

“The electrolyte flows in through these two spots,” showing two holes in the side of the cell, “and out through here,” showing two others. “This carbon fabric,” picking up a little packet and showing it to me, “conducts the electricity.”

That was my understanding of it, at least, with my moderate knowledge of chemistry and nonexistent knowledge of electricity.

“We’ve found that the purity of the electrolyte is incredibly important, to the parts per billion. You can buy purification systems, but,” he said, bringing me over to another part of the lab, “they’re really expensive, like twenty-thousand dollars. So they had me build one, using twenty-thousand dollars of my time.”

I kind of laughed, but he didn’t.

He showed me some other equipment, a titration system they had built instead of buying a pre-built one – Proceed did a lot of big contracts, but they were a pretty small company and worked with a pretty small budget – and set a jar on a little base, dropped a pill into it, flipped a switch, and the pill started spinning.

“We can use this for mixing solutions.”

I realized it probably wasn’t a pill, but rather an iron bar or something, with a nonreactive coating, with a spinning magnet underneath.

He slipped on a lab coat and moved over to a large fume hood. “Fume Hood #1” was taped to the front, but apparently that hadn’t been its first use – “Busy Bubble Laundromat” was printed on the front alongside that sign. Under the fume hood was a large clamshell box, with a variety of cords coming out through one side, connected to a nearby computer.

“If you could just move out of the splash zone,” he said, “It should be dry, but just to be safe. This stuff isn’t too bad, it’s just corrosive. I’ve worked with stuff, like hydrofluoric acid, like they use in Breaking Bad, that pretty much, if it gets on your skin, it’ll just eat through your bones. It’s mainly used in semiconductor production. But if it can eat through glass, it can eat through bone.”

I moved to the side, fixed my suspenders again, then squatted to write a note while he looked through results. He opened the box and began shifting around hoses. Apparently some leak came up, and he began mopping up electrolyte with paper towels and tossing them in a bag, clipped to a workbench, filled with other blue-green soaked paper towels. He took off his gloves, threw them in the trash, and got a fresh pair.

The box was used for heating, and when I asked what range of temperatures it worked at, I was pleasantly surprised to get an answer in Celsius. “45 degrees,” he said.

He closed the box up again, then switched to the computer to watch the live results on a graph. There was a dip, presumably from releasing heat when he opened the box, and it had slowly worked its way up again, but not quite far enough.

“We want this to get to 30 degrees,” he said. “I’m going to go get some tape, seems like there’s another gaping hole in the box.”

He went up the stairs, and I was left alone again, actually alone this time, but I felt much more at ease. There was a lot of stuff to look at, some of which I recognized and was familiar with.

He rushed back down the stairs with a roll of green tape, tore off a piece, and taped up a section of the box. The line on the graph went up a bit higher, and he seemed relieved.

We headed back upstairs, after taking off our goggles and hanging them on a shelf, and talked with someone I had briefly met before named Chris. He was having lunch and watching something on his phone, but paused it when Joe came up to him.

“So, it looks like we’re going to have to find some replacement for the green and grey tape, they have calcium,” Joe said.

“Yeah, I dunno. It’s just everywhere,” Chris replied.

“I feel like we’re floating in a world of calcium right now. I had thought we could use rubber bands or something, until you told me calcium was used in their manufacturing. I wish we could just, like, tip the entire box over. Just hold it down with gravity.”

“Do you think we could do that?”

“No, but if we rebuild it we should do it that way.”

They paused and thought, and I looked out the window. A woman stood at the back of a truck, shuffling around piles of what looked like bowls of ice cream. Further back in the room, another jar of Jif sat on someone else’s desk.

“What if we use teflon plumber’s tape?” Joe asked.

“Could work.”

“Just use it to tie it on, rather than sticking it on.”

“Yeah, like tying someone to railroad tracks.”

“Right, thanks for putting it in terms I would understand,” Joe said with a smirk.

He headed back to the front building, across the patio, and I followed him.

“Well, seems like I won’t be getting off as early as I wanted to. But anyway, is there anything else? Any other questions?”

“I don’t think so. Thanks for taking time to do it, though.”

We shook hands, and I said hi to my dad as I passed his cubicle.

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