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CAD Under the Influence

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/02/2012

Don’t do CAD work under the influence. Bad bad bad idea. Almost as bad as operating heavy equipment under the influence, except that the risk of life and limb is a lot less with CAD. But the combination can still be nasty.

I’ve had intermittent lower back problems since I was about nineteen. I remember my first real attack. I was camping with my parents and pinched a nerve that immobilized me below the waist. I holed up in the tent and didn’t move for 24 hours. What else was I supposed to do? I saw a doctor when I got back, but for some reason I’ve had very little understanding from the medical community when I describe my back problems. The first doctor’s advice: “You’re young. You’ll get over it.” Mmmm… no. I never did get over it. And they never did anything beyond palpating my lower back. No x-rays, no MRIs, no range of motion tests, none of it. I was a little disappointed. And of course I re-injured it not long after.

That became a pattern: Hurt my back, see a doctor, get blown off by the doctor, hurt my back. I finally convinced a doctor to let me get some physical therapy. The PT took it seriously. They did range of motion tests weekly, checked my progress, gave me exercises to strengthen my core, etc. All of which helped. It was years before I had another attack. But it still came back. Having intermittent back problems is like having a cousin who keeps dabbling in petty crime, but has no idea how not to get caught. “Dude, I’m in deep this time. Deep! I need help. I know you’re there for me, right?” Riiiight. Just as soon as you think you’re free, the cousin shows up again with another sob story.

Yesterday I was doing CAD work on a camera design we’re finalizing. Late in the game I realized we would need to be able to pick the camera up in order to install it, and there was no place we could safely grab it! The biggest grabbable surface is the cryo cooler, which is on a fairly delicate anti-vibration mount. It can support the weight of the cryo cooler, but not the weight of the rest of the camera. I had to design in handles!

I looked at rack mount handles, drawer pulls, and a bunch of other stuff. But then I realized I could change some of the parts slightly and essentially get handles for free. Yay! So I rooted around in the tool bag I keep under my desk to find some test “handles” (aka a screw driver, a flashlight, and a telescoping magnetic rod) to see what diameter I’d need in order to be comfortable. When I straightened up again, my back went out.

It’s not like any of these things were heavy. I’d just moved wrong and put myself in a position where I had no leverage to support my spine. It happens a lot with lower back injuries. It’s not picking up the two ton weight that typically gets you. It’s picking up the pencil you dropped on the floor.

I quickly did some relaxation exercises and took an anti-inflammatory pain killer. It hit quickly, and did a good job of relaxing my back so I wouldn’t pinch other nerves and do further damage. But it meant that for the rest of the day I was doing CAD under the influence.

ANYONE who thinks that over the counter pain killers don’t count as drugs is fooling themselves. Coffee is a strong stimulant. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can make you seriously loopy. By mid-afternoon I’d taken a second pain killer, and my CAD model was starting to show the effects. By the time five o’clock rolled around, I was more than ready to stop before I did any more harm.

When I got in this morning I was appalled. I’ve been really pleased with the design of the camera thus far. It’s functional, it’ll be straightforward to make, and for the most part it’s still pretty. But OHMIGOD! What the @#$% happened yesterday?! I couldn’t believe some of the changes I’d made while I was on those pain killers. It was hideous! It was worse than having an over-sugared four year old with crayons making design changes. I have no idea what I was thinking yesterday, but I knew it couldn’t stay like that.

Thank goodness for backups. And for heating pads.

– Tom


One Response to “CAD Under the Influence”

  1. Yep CAD can really bite you back sometimes, but there are some bits that are better done wilth a glass in hand..I had to snap 609 points into a contour model the other day, I kept putting it off until I was pleasantly numb..then it was painless and the tedium seemed to pass in no time!

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