4 thoughts on “A former friend dies

  1. My best memory of Dr. Apfel was biking up the heartbreak hill to the New Haven Science Park, a dilapidated collection of buildings near the old Winchester Repeating Arms Company building. Yale and New Haven had hoped to collaborate on some high tech research, but not a lot came out of it.

    Dr. Apfel had perfected injecting Freon-12 into a gelatin, and using these little vials as neutron detectors. Impressive, really — he even had a variance from the WTO to continue to use Freon for this special purpose — but my job was a bit more annoying.

    To save money for his prototypes, the Indian guy who was his sub-commander (including me, that made 3 employees total) had found these little LCD modules which displayed the time. I was to cut PCB traces on the back on the units, and tack-solder 30AWG wire-wrap wire to them to allow them to be used as 6-digit, 7-segment displays. It was an incredible amount of work, and he probably could have bought real displays for the amount of time and cash he spent paying me to hack these things up during my off-hours. I ended up being at odds with the Indian guy over something, and walked off the job; Prof. Apfel understood and just let me go without making a big deal of it.

    I don’t list that experience on my resume, but I learned a lot out of it. I learned that if you have a great idea, you don’t let a little thing like having an office or a staff stand in your way. You can find office space in the weirdest places for cheap and do just fine — why spend thousands on Aeron chairs! :) I also learned that if you are a good boss, you don’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, you don’t sweat anything. It will come.

    Of course, that’s all easy to say when you have a tenured faculty position. :)

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