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The Plumbers Shall Inherit the Earth

‘Mr. T’ is fated to deal forever with various plumbing fixtures

I just came back from Harbor Freight Tools after picking up a necessary item — yet another aluminum-clad tool case — and also made a stop at Dick’s Sporting Goods to grab one more slab of closed-cell foam plastic archery target.

An interesting simile has raised its ugly head: I’m seemingly fated to deal forever with various types of plumbing fixtures.

Whatever I do, I have to move a product from Point A to Point B without it leaking all over the place.

This all began with radio and electronics, coaxial cable and its various fittings. The SO-239 connector was a familiar gadget by middle school; and as time went on, the myriad gadgets that bear said connectors worked their way into my world.

From there we moved on to a higher class, a more professional kind of plumbing connector (read: “more expensive, and harder to work with”), meaning Type N and the BNC series military connectors.

When I became a broadcaster I heard a simple bit of wisdom: “A professional consultant is a guy who has enough coax adaptors to hook all of his equipment together.”

When you come down to it, broadcast technicians are nothing more than plumbers who endlessly hook together black boxes, with what amounts to plumbing fittings and black coaxial pipes with numbers that usually begin with RG, in an infinite number of permutations as the situation demands.

My obsession reached its peak with my introduction to the Bird RF Wattmeter. My masterpiece of plumbing came to a head when I assembled the ultimate Bird field kit. Two wattmeters, a lotta power and frequency range plug-ins, a small dummy load and a bunch of plumbing fittings that adapt the wattmeter sampling lines to various kinds of other coaxial pipes …

At one point, I became fascinated as a hobbyist with microwave equipment. The plumbing simile went a step further. Welcome to the “Wonderful World of Waveguide,” hollow pipes that carry energy from place to place.

Every basic microwave textbook mentions the concept of radio waves of such short wavelength that they can be squirted through pipes like water; and it’s common to refer to waveguide systems as “plumbing.” So again, it was time to get out the monkey wrench and have at it.

Having moved on to photography, then to astronomy, guess what? The plumbing fittings have tagged along too! Only this time, instead of pumping little tiny radio waves through pipes, we’re doing it with the photons that make up light.

My “new” Celestron telescope has an unusual thread on its back to mate with the outside world, and it has become necessary to obtain various adaptors that mate the threaded ring to other kinds of plumbing. The adaptor fittings are beginning to pile up here, and another accessory case has become a necessity.

The Celestron threaded ring has to be mated to standard astronomy eyepiece fittings (.965-inch, 1.25-inch and 2-inch standards; I’m “not even gonna go there” with European/Asian metric eyepiece gadgets unless I really have to).

I’ve already had to yell “uncle” with 1.25-inch eyepieces, the most popular American astronomical optical standard.

On both of the above cases, the fitted inserts are fashioned from closed-cell polyurethane foam plastic and cut to size with a bandsaw. Oddly shaped openings are cut with a coping saw. Round eyepiece holes are drilled with a Forstner drill bit of appropriate diameter.

The basic material is shipping foam rescued from the dumpster at work (for thin stuff of maybe 1 inch thickness) or, more typically, foam archery targets approximately 3 inches thick. It cuts cleanly with a Forstner bit; the foam is stiff and offers adequate resistance to be cut safely when you apply the drill press.

Now, I’m beginning to accumulate 2-inch eyepieces, in addition to lens adaptors that go from a photographic T-ring to C-ring (photo lens to either a movie camera or a video camera), T-ring to camera body (in my case, Minolta MD mount or Minolta Alpha mount), and connecting them all to 2- or 1.25-inch astronomical eyepieces and their fittings.

It’s all just more plumbing fixtures. These expensive little buggers need someplace to live … so yet another cheap, Chinese-made aluminum-sheathed case enters my world.

It’s beginning to look like the whole world is being held together by plumbing of one kind or another.

Remember the infamous politician’s explanation of the Internet as being just a bunch of pipes? Yea verily … the plumbers shall indeed inherit the earth!

Tom Adams, “Mr. T,” is staff engineer for Wisconsin Public Broadcasting. Comment on this or any story; write to[email protected].