Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and meet my younger self and give him a swift kick in the shins.
One of the stories that my parents that my parents tell about our childhood was one Christmas, it might have been Christmas of ’74 or ’75. I had an interest in science and that Christmas my parents bought me a ton of science equipment and supplies. They really pulled out all of the stops. Not just a microscope, but a binocular microscope. The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. A starting set of small glass jars and metal tins of chemicals. Litmus strips, test tubes, beaker, and flasks, etc. They went all out to get everything they could for my budding interest. They expected me to be overjoyed, but some time after the ripping open all of these gift wrapped items, they found me moping around. Asking me what was wrong, I replied “Every gift I got was about the same thing.” Yes, I wanted this chemistry equipment, but it wasn’t a singular obsession. They wanted to give me the biggest head start possible in an interest in science, and wasn’t going to spend every afternoon in my brand new chemistry lab. I probably would have been spent some afternoon playing with Hot Wheels cars, playing with Big Jim action figures, playing outside, etc.
Looking back at that event, I’m embarrassed at how ungrateful I was. Not only did my parents spend a fair amount of money on all of this stuff, but they also took the time to find out what some of my real interests were and try to fulfill them.
What is funny about this is I don’t remember that Christmas that way. I don’t remember that conversation with my parents, I just remember getting a lot of neat stuff. I spent many an afternoon and weekend at the spot in the basement set aside for my lab (later to become a combined photographic darkroom and chemistry lab.) I hope besides that disappointed little child at Christmas, my parents also remember the dozen or so trips to Youldens in Westwood to spend my allowance money on additional supplies. They may not have seen the smile at Christmas that they wanted, but that time in my little chemistry lab may have been a major component of the steps that lead me from there to where I am today.
I wish I realized how lucky I was. I may have been the last generation of American kids who were allowed to have home science labs.
I don’t know if Youldens is still on 109 in Westwood, but I doubt the chemical supply section is still there. Chemcraft chemistry sets have long since gone. (On the other hand, my kids have access to things like Scratch and Microworlds, Mindstorms, USB powered microscopes, and other things I probably couldn’t have imagined at the time. So they won’t get away with telling me they were being deprived.)
Not only are kits for children (or even parent supervised children) nearly gone now. But it seems a home chemistry lab itself is now close to being illegal. In Chemist allowed to go home, sans his lab the Worcester Telegram and Gazette reports about a man from Marlboro, a retired chemist, who was barred from his house for three days while they removed and dismantled a chemistry lab. (coverage on Slashdot, Make, etc.) The paper describes the contents as Some of the compounds are potentially explosive, but no more dangerous than typical household cleaning products. This seems even worse than the Kevin McCormick episode. It seems that frostbyte lived a fairly wild life, and unfortunately his death gave the state an opportunity to examine the artifacts of that life pretty closely. (Closing off Congress St for three days crowing that they found some sort of major meth lab, then finally admitting there wasn’t anything more than a small package of pseudofed in the medicine cabinet.)
The events in Marlboro scare me a more than a bit. It implies that without being charged for any crime, the government can forcibly evict me from my house and seize any property they find undesirable (yet aren’t willing to legislate as being illegal.) Marlboroâ€™s code enforcement officer was quoted in the Worcester T&G article as saying This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation. What do they consider a customary home occupation? A flat screen TV with American Idol on?