Recently, National Instruments Headquarters received the following message from a veteran programmer:
“I want to share with you a eulogy I got from a colleague who was heartbroken over the breakage of his 16 year-old LabVIEW coffee mug. I'm hoping you might be able to replace it."
28 Feb 2013
You are what you hold dear. I've held in my hands five days a week, since 1997, a coffee mug with a LabVIEW logo. LabVIEW is a computer programming environment (the product of a Texas software company) designed to control instruments, record and analyze data; it is the hands and eyes of a scientist, if not the mind.
I use it for everything. I learned to use it in Zurich on sabbatical, when I was afraid to collect data on a rickety computer and had the time to retool myself and the lab that I visited, learning a skill I knew would be useful then and later. How convenient to learn and make your first horrible mistakes, writing your first clumsy programs for someone else's experiment! I learned enough to run the experiment and became proficient enough to rewrite my own lab's data acquisition programs when I went back to Long Island. As a Swiss memento, I brought with me a LabVIEW porcelain coffee mug, left by the sales engineer as just another piece of crass commercial swag.
A lot of science depends on coffee, as much as programming, so I made this coffee mug my own, and would have it with me as I went to seminars, meetings, or just in the office, constantly adjusting the caffeine trim required to threaten the secrets of nature with exposure.
It is my responsibility to enforce the eating and drinking ban in the labs, and I do usually set a good example, reducing the slim chances of taking a sip from the wrong beaker by mistake. Like so many portable treasures, it has been repeatedly left behind and rediscovered days or weeks later after abandoned searches.
But this morning, as I rinsed it out and was wiping down the outside with a paper towel, it slipped from my hands. Plenty of time passed, as it accelerated from the height of my waist, past my knees and toward the carpeted floor, for me to think back on all the coffee that has passed through me by way of this mug, wondering and hoping, not too optimistically, that it might just bounce and come to rest, rebuking me for my carelessness. But my long reverie came to an end with a crack and shattering into a few jagged shards and a splash of white porcelain powder across the blue industrial carpet, lightly padding the concrete floor.
(Side note: his new coffee cup is en route.)
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