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We still really didn't understand what we were doing, but then we humans never understand anything absolutely. I mean, I've been working competently with electronics all my adult life, but I've never seen an electron. Thinking about it, I'm not at all sure that I've been dealing with some sort of tiny particle. I'm even less sure that I've been playing with a zillion tiny negative indentations in the space-time continua. But I know how to build a circuit, how to make it do what I originally had in mind, and how to fix it when it breaks.

And that is all that I need to know.

So we were starting to get a feel for how to use this stuff, and of what could be done with it. That is to say, we had a bit of practical experience, but we didn't have a codified theory yet. We didn't have an algebraic formula that worked every time.

Ian was fond of pointing out that the builders of the medieval cathedrals didn't know anything formal about the strength of materials, let alone stress analysis, but they built some vast, beautiful buildings, and most of them didn't fall down.

He loved to point out that the first steam engines were built by men who had never heard of the laws of thermodynamics. Nonetheless, their steam ships made it across the Atlantic on schedule, and their railroad trains ran on time.

And I had to agree that DeForest and Armstrong really didn't know what they were doing, but they got the job done. The world now enjoys radio, television, and the rest.

It was the same thing with our explorations of this new technology. Some of the time, things worked out pretty much as we'd planned, and when it didn't, we often were able to figure out why. Jim and I decided that this was fairly good. We worked well together, and made a good team.

Only, we had this problem with Hasenpfeffer.

You see, Ian is a first rate mechanical engineer and a good machinist, besides. I can usually handle anything electrical or electronic. Further, we each knew enough about the other's field to lend the other a hand when circumstances made that a good idea.

But Hasenpfeffer got his doctorate in Behavioral Psychology, and I guess that's what caused most of the pain.

The man was an absolute genius when it came to working out a complicated business deal, or talking a beautiful woman into his bed, or solving any other sort of person-to-person problem. This wasn't something he learned in college. It was some sort of a talent, or an innate gift.

He could do it on day one of his freshman year, when I saw him take a future homecoming queen to bed, cold sober, on the first day he met her. I swear that they hadn't talked for more than four minutes before they were grinning ear to ear at each other and walking hand in hand to his bedroom.

Yet he was an absolute idiot when it came to anything technical. This, too, had to be innate. Nobody could possibly learn to be that incompetent.

To make it worse, he was always so pitifully eager to help. He wanted to be "in" on things, and he'd follow you around like a puppy dog, wagging his tail and trying to understand it all. And like a puppy, he'd always make a mess of things.

It wasn't that Hasenpfeffer was stupid, or that he was malicious, or even careless. It was just that he had the innate ability and compulsion to stick his finger into whatever was most likely to break. And he was god-awful clumsy besides.

Like the time I asked him to clean off some printed circuit boards with MEK—I'd given up trying to use him as an assembler.

Hasenpfeffer eagerly took the boards out of my lab and into a small enclosed bathroom. When he was about two-thirds done, I guess he felt a little light headed, because he sat down on the toilet seat and tried to light a cigarette.

The Fire Marshall wasn't the least bit reasonable, the boards were a complete loss, and the doctor bills were absurd.

So Hasenpfeffer mostly wandered around feeling useless. He was trying to help. He kept the place clean and did the dishes. He even did the laundry so Ian and I could keep at it fifteen hours a day. And he took care of the books. Not that there was much to that. No income. All out-go.

Yet there was nothing grim about us or what we were doing. Looking back, yeah, we had a good time. There was a constant round of bull sessions, arguments and practical jokes. Mostly, we disagreed on practically everything, often for no other reason than the rollicking fun of a good argument.

I remember one night when Hasenpfeffer was carrying on about the latest cosmological theory that some academician—Hawker, I think he said his name was—had been writing about. Something about how the universe started as something the size of a dime, sixteen billion years ago, had expanded up to the size of the solar system in a few seconds, and had been expanding ever since.

I used our customary method of stating that I wished to engage in a debate on the current subject at hand. I stood, raised my fist, and shouted at the top of my voice, "Bullshit!"

Following protocol, he stared at me, pretending to be aghast, as if he was shocked at my disagreement.

"It's all bullshit. First off, the solar system is many light hours across. You have the leading edge of your universe traveling way faster than the speed of light. Explain that one away!"

"You know, Tom, I met a noted physicist from the university at a party, and I asked him that very question. He told me that it wasn't a matter of going faster than light so much as it was that space was being created behind the leading edge." He noted my dubious look, and continued, "I confess that I didn't fully understand his statement myself, but the man's reputation is that he is one of the finest theoretical . . ."

But I was already rolling up my pant cuffs, signifying that I wished them to remain unsoiled, even though the bullshit being spread around had already ruined my shoes and socks.

"Right." I said, "Then there's this whole 'expanding universe' nonsense. Now, the only proof we have that the whole universe is expanding is the shift in the spectrums of certain apparently small, and therefore supposedly far away, galaxies, into somewhat lower frequencies."

"Of course. The famous Red Shift."

" 'Famous' just means that all the fools have had time to hear about it. Let's look at this red shift. Photons lower their frequency when their energy level is lowered. A blue photon is stronger than a red photon. An X-ray photon is vastly more powerful than a microwave photon. It is true that if an object is traveling away from you, the photons it emits will be relatively less energetic than a photon emitted by a stationary object. In exactly the same way, a rock thrown at you by someone in a departing car will hurt less than one thrown from a stationary one. But is that the only way a photon can lose energy? You don't know? Well, I don't know either! Nobody knows. Nobody knows because nobody has ever observed a photon for anything but a very short time, the longest of which is the time it takes a radar beam to leave the reflector, hit the target, and return. A few milliseconds at the most."

"A few minutes," Ian interjected. "They've bounced radar beams off the moon and some of the planets."

"Call it hours for all I care! What are hours compared to sixteen billion years? What I'm trying to say is that we don't have any idea what happens to a photon over long periods of time. Yet these half-baked 'cosmologists' blithely assume that photons are absolutely unaffected even though they have been winging it through space for billions of years. Personally, I can't imagine anything remaining unaffected after traveling at light speed for ten billion years! Yet all that would have to happen would be for the tiny photons to get just a little bit tired, lose a little bit of energy, and your expanding universe theory is right out the window!"

"But all the theories prove—" Hasenpfeffer started to say.

"Theories don't prove anything! Theories are things we invent to make the world more comprehensible to our inadequate little brains. Facts prove—or disprove—theories, not the other way around. If we don't have the facts, then theories are nothing more than wild ass guesses! We aren't any closer to the truth than if we just said, 'God did it, so He must want it that way.' "

I could see Ian tightening up when I brought God into the argument, which I did fairly often, for an atheist. My theory was that if He didn't want me to do something, He had the wherewithal to stop me. And if He didn't care, or He wasn't around to care, then who was Ian to object?

Ian, of course, had heard all that years before, and decided that just now he didn't feel like plowing up old turds. So he said, "What troubles me about all this cosmology stuff is the way the cosmologists have of speaking so definitively about what happened ten or twenty billion years ago. I mean, shit, there's no way that you can get a bunch of historians to agree on what exactly happened during the Civil War! And that was an event that had millions of observers, and thousands of people recording their observations. I tell you that cosmology is just a silly game that physicists like to play, probably because they don't have anything else to do."

"That seems like an extreme statement," Hasenpfeffer said.

"Extreme, Hell. Those guys with their super expensive toys haven't come up with anything useful and new since they came up with atomic power, long before the beginning of World War II."

"But surely, all of the dozens and hundreds of subatomic particles must count for something, even to one of your sadly restricted intellect."

"For the last part of that, up your ass, Hasenpfeffer! For the first, I said 'useful.' Nobody has ever found a use for a Mu-Meson, an Electron-Neutrino, or a Left-Handed Boson."

"I met a left-handed bos'n's mate, once," I said, but was ignored.

"Furthermore," Ian continued, "I doubt the very existence of the things. Subatomic particles are things that their inventors have painted with the colors of their own minds, and then glued together with their own shit. Data? They don't have no stinking data! Those overpaid academicians sit around and try to 'interpret' tiny, meaningless squiggles on photographic plates the way ancient Roman soothsayers tried to predict the future by interpreting the bumps on the liver of a sacrificed owl. And in both cases, the stupid politicians lap up every irrational word of it, and reward the rip-off artists with gold from the public coffers! If we had spent on biology what we've wasted on all those cyclotrons and accelerators and what not, the world would be a lot better off!"

Hasenpfeffer whispered aside to me, "Oh, my. I do believe the poor boy is going to start in on Taxes again. Try and head him off, won't you?"

I turned to Jim and said quietly, "You feel that way because you have never had to pay any, or found a way around it if you did. You fork out a major chunk of your income very week and see what you think about taxes, and what the bozos spend it all on."

Ian had indeed started in on his often told Speech On Taxes before noticing that he had lost his audience. Eventually, his sermon wound itself down.

"Be that as it may," Hasenpfeffer said in a normal voice, "I wonder if the reason that Ian is such a regular churchgoer is that his is one of those sects where they let lay people get up and speak. I mean, with a less critical audience, he could go on ranting for hours about anything that comes into his curious little mind."

Ian glowered at him, but didn't say anything, so I suppose that much of what Hasenpfeffer said about Ian's church was true. I was curious, but not quite curious enough to take Ian up on one of his frequent offers to take me to church.


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