Last night I did a really stupid thing. I had forgotten an item in my car, and decided to just zip out and grab it. Which meant that I traipsed out into 15F snow wearing a bathrobe and my house-slippers, which are leather-soled moccasins.

I know this: leather+ice=bad. Back in 1997 I got a concussion from slipping on some ice wearing cowboy boots and hitting my head on more ice. It wasn’t a bad concussion but it was part and parcel of my slowly losing my mind. Anyhow, that’s what I did again, last night…

Trotted over to the Honda and suddenly my feet came straight out from under me and I slammed down on the ice ass and hand first. Nothing broke and my head didn’t hit, but it hurt so much I passed out briefly. Then I came too, freezing and sort of stuck to the ice in my bathrobe, glasses nowhere to be seen – I can’t see my glasses if I don’t have my glasses; this is a philosophical problem that I ponder many mornings. [See also: how do I make my first cup of coffee when I haven’t had my coffee yet?] I got to my knees to get a different viewing angle and the pain made my head swim and my vision went tunnel and I was down and out again. Worried about concussion but I don’t think I hit my head. Did I mention it was 15F out and windy and I was basically naked in the snow except what my bathrobe covered? Found the glasses, got up and carefully headed back to the house, about 40 feet. My brain started to go wobbly again so rather than fall and hurt something worse, I dropped down and crawled most of the rest of the way, but I couldn’t get up the porch step so I lay in the snow for a while and caught my breath before standing up, staggering into the kitchen, and taking a short nap with my back against the radiator.

So that was my evening, spent. I’ve had broken bones, concussions, blood-spouting wounds – all the symbols of a life, well, lived, so I was able to take my time as I melted against the radiator, and do a damage assessment. The good news is I don’t think it’s anything more than a sprained left wrist and a deep muscle bruise on my ass and a wrenched lower back. This morning I was able to slowly do the old man shuffle down the stairs to the kitchen and make my coffee, wash down a few ibuprofen, then sit and wait for it to kick in.

I don’t think I will be getting much done, today. Which kind of sucks because I had plans. I’ve been working on learning how to use the metal lathe (really, a life-long project) (hopefully not abbreviated by self same lathe) and I’m making progress sneaking up to a waste oil/diesel fuel burner of my own design, for powering a steel-melting smelter because that is the kind of thing we do, here, when nobody is looking.

Actually, what I am doing right now is a lot of “doggdamit” because typing with a sprained left wrist is like max aggro carpal tunnel syndrome (which I also sometimes have) but I have to do something or I will cease to exist.

No, really. Lately I have been thinking a lot about motivation and meaning and how I find my place in the world, and I realized that I feel like I actually don’t exist unless I am doing something tangible. It doesn’t have to be something important or valuable – I could be playing Rimworld or listening to a podcast – but if I’m not engaged creatively, somehow, I feel like I shred into a mist that blows away in time. I probably sound like I hit my head on the way down, but I swear I’m OK: I just had a little while, lying in the snow, to think, “why do we do these things?”


  1. sonofrojblake says

    It’s distressingly recently that I made the connection between my mental health and whether I’m actively creating something.

    Doomscrolling, watching Star Trek or similar, idling away time on Battlefield V, all these things leave me feeling no better, and usually worse, even though they tempt me into doing them with all the little fucking dopamine hits they offer to keep me coming back.

    Only if I’m actually making something do I find myself happy – even if it’s something stupid and pointless like a chainmail waistcoat made from ringpulls off cans, or a video of “Black Betty” intercut with Matt Berry and Robert Bathurst repeating the word “Bamalam” from “Toast of London”, episode 1. If there’s one bit of advice I think I’d offer anyone to improve their mental health, it would boil down to “make things”.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … I traipsed out into 15F snow wearing a bathrobe and my house-slippers…

    Cue Christine Lavin, What Was I Thinking?

    Doubtless the item in the Honda still awaits, taunting you from across the icy wastes.

    I hope you have a large stash of good hot cocoa, and just enough of an appropriate ethanol to make it better.

  3. bodach says

    Don’t do that!1!
    I come here for the excellent writing and free content and will be extremely disappointed in you if you’re found dead in a snowdrift (especially in moccasins and a bathrobe).

  4. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#2:
    I hope you have a large stash of good hot cocoa, and just enough of an appropriate ethanol to make it better.

    Kahlua goes well in the cocoa.
    Also, fireball in the hot apple cider with cloves in.

    I don’t have marshmallows so I have been tearing a hole in the fireball and hot apple cider and my hands keep itching to grab the bottle of oxycodone from my stash. [I allow myself one or two oxycodone a year for reducing the pain of existence] I’ll probably keep off it tonight but I may have curry and some red wine for dinner.

  5. Jazzlet says

    Marcus, honestly! Glad you got back in ok, hope the bruises/sprain heal swiftly. Maybe consider avoiding alcohol as it slows healing of internal damage like the sprain, because it increases peripheral blood flow.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Kahlua goes well in the cocoa

    I am forever indebted to the chap at the mountain restaurant in Les Arcs who, when I asked him for a hot chocolate, said “Avec rhum?”, in the tone of a man asking if I wanted it in a cup. I “pardon”‘d, and he repeated the question. I nodded, and the experience was a revelation. Dark rum in your cocoa ftmfw.

  7. StonedRanger says

    I feel your pain. I went rockhounding the other day and came home with a hole in my knee (the meat part, not my jeans) and a couple of new bruises. It was sunny and clear and I was wearing hiking boots and gloves. Ive said it before and since its just before my 67th birthday I have to say it again. Getting old aint for pussies. I dont do alcohol so much anymore, but I did manage to smoke 3 or 4 joints. That kept the pain to a minimum.

  8. springa73 says

    Wow, I’m sorry to hear that happened, but glad it wasn’t even worse. Hope everything heals and the pain goes away quickly. My own driveway has about an inch of solid ice on it since the rain drained onto it from a hill behind my house and then quickly froze when the temperature dropped. I don’t feel safe walking on it in anything other than my hiking boots – I don’t feel safe walking there in those either, but I don’t have much choice.

  9. says

    > learning how to use the metal lathe

    Remember to take the key out of the chuck *before* switching it on.
    Last thing you need now is a chuck key to the face. ;-)

    Many moons ago in engineering school I had the dubious pleasure of seeing a chuck key flying by over my shoulder from the student operating the lathe behind me.

  10. crivitz says

    Can definitely relate to getting injured due to a stupid actions leading to thoughts of motivation, meaning and finding one’s place in the world. I wiped out on my bicycle last summer resulting in a fractured pinky, which although a minor injury, has led to reduced ROM on that digit. Well, the injury didn’t change how I was already thinking about motivation, etc. very much, but I think my attitude is similar to yours. These days, I feel that if I just keep busy, I’m doing okay. And it doesn’t have to be “Meaningful” activity, but just doing activities of daily living are creative enough and give enough satisfaction in themselves. Also see reply on your previous post. Anyway, please refrain from running around on icy surfaces in leather-soled shoes. Operation of lathes, presses and forges (and keyboards) is totally okay however.

  11. seachange says

    Stay mindful! Or y’know, if you die make it a bit more entertaining, jeez. Colder than a siberian cocksucker’s kneecaps you were, scrambling along that walk. Okay, there’s a little snerk there.

    I have spent most of my life in coastal California. It did snow like one quarter of an inch in two consecutive years allowing an index-finger-high snowman that took most of the snow on the lawn and lasted one half hour. I didn’t experience snowy winter until visiting my church’s chalet in the Sierra Nevadas one year. Snow is miserable. Cold and wet is miserable. They make it look like fun in christmas movies, but it just isn’t.

    Most of the people in my age group were not from California at all, they all seemed unusually reactive and cranky to me. I thought after that chalet visit: it’s the *having* to live more than two weeks in the snow and the cold.

    Now I’m gonna be totally a guy. You didn’t ask. Imma gonna tell you anyways. Get yourself some winter croakies. Maybe get yourself a home-copy of that forgotten car thing? Making coffee in the morning is to get a machine that does that for you on a timer, or mix up just one cup of instant to act like a human version of a car’s starter?

  12. seachange says

    Oh yeah you’re a Maker, sir. For the laffs, try making your own coffee liqueur. Mostly it’s the time sitting.

    You will never go back to Kahlua again, and will be able to enjoy some pretty awesome Irish Coffee.

  13. Badland says


    I mean you’d no doubt make a beautiful corpse but what’s say you make this your last attempt at euthanasia via accident. Heal well and fast, with lots of peace and booze and rest.

  14. Tethys says

    Oy, Marcus! Falling on frozen ground is pretty much like falling on rock. Its extremely hard, and entirely lacking in any shock absorbing ability. I hope your bruises heal quickly, and would personally advise the use of advil to keep the swelling down, in addition to pain relief.

    The trick to enjoying a cold winter outdoor activity is to dress for it, and stay dry. Snow is only wet at temps above 25 or if it is melting on you. Cold and wet is a recipe for hypothermia and frostbite.

  15. cvoinescu says

    Hey Marcus, try to stay intact a while more.

    rsmith @ #1: I don’t understand why, the moment lathes became electric, the chuck key did not also become the key for the motor supply interlock — a normally-open switch that requires an object the size and shape of a chuck key to be inserted to close the contact. That should have been obvious even before someone thought to add little springs in the key holes to push the key out. I have a simple contact probe for my CNC milling machine: it’s just a plastic cylinder with a metal disk on top, and an alligator clip that goes on the endmill to complete the circuit. The alligator clip is connected to ground, and the metal disk to the probe sense input. The first thing I did when I got that probe was to disconnect the ground of the spindle control relay and wire it to a little metal lug on the control box. The spindle does not turn unless the alligator clip of the probe is safely on that metal lug and away from the tool. And that’s for a tiny alligator clip, not a deadly chuck key.

  16. Sunday Afternoon says

    wearing a bathrobe and my house-slippers

    Are you auditioning to play Arthur Dent in a forthcoming adaptation of Hitchhiker’s or something?

    Heal quickly!

  17. kestrel says

    Holy crap! That sounds bad. Especially the passing out part, and the laying in the snow part.

    You might want to go in and get checked out “just in case”. You may not have hit your head but sounds like you gave it a big ol’ jarring. Heads don’t really like that very much.

    I hope you feel better quickly. And if you insist on going out in the snow in slippers, get some that have crampons.

  18. says

    I’m a bit west of you in Ohio, but I suspect we got similar weather. I’ve reached a certain age where I think I’m going to buy myself a set of Yaktrax, just to avoid what happened to you. You can google them or search on Amazon.

  19. lorn says

    At a machine shop I worked at all the chuck keys, including on the drill press, had springs brazed on them so that when you released them they fell out of the chuck.
    It saved having to duck and prevented a significant amount of wear and tear on the machines given that a heavy chuck key, if it isn’t thrown, can impact the ways and screw up, variously: the chuck, the key, the ways, cause misalignment, strip teeth off the gears, or even crack the head-stock casting. It doesn’t do the poor machine a damn bit of good.

    MR: … ” I feel like I actually don’t exist unless I am doing something tangible. ”

    Sometimes the hardest thing is to accept that the mere fact of your existence is changing things. Sometimes the best, sometimes the only, thing to do is to simply breath. That is tangible enough.

    It is always something of a wonder how the human body can be both exceedingly tough and fragile. My fathers commanding officer got up in the morning and found his daughter dead from a brain aneurysm in the bathroom. She was in high-school and avoiding liquids to make the ideal weight for the cheer leading squad. This cause constipation and when she strained a week spot in an artery in her brain gave way. She was effectively dead in seconds. Her father was beside himself with grief and guilt.

    A sergeant I knew was shot seven times and had to be ordered to lay down on a a stretcher. He won a silver star and is credited with almost single handed saving his unit after it was caught in an ambush. When he takes his shirt off you can see the scars where the bullets passed through but missed vital organs by fractions of an inch.

    My friend here in Florida was attacked. Her head pounded into concrete floor so hard she had to relearn numbers and letters. She was then raped and in an attempt to kill her she was impaled on a broken mop handle. She was six months pregnant at the time. When found, laying in a pool of blood and surrounded by blood splatter the went all the way to the ceiling, everyone assumed she was dead. When she moved she was rushed to the hospital. She died three times before emergency surgery. It took a year but she is near normal. The baby, impaled in the womb, lived and has his own family. She is one of the toughest people I know. The rapist got three life terms plus seventeen years.

    Humans are walking, talking contradictions. We are weak but strong, tough but fragile, capable of terrible things, and the most noble.

    One of those contradictions is the need for, but loathing of, our fellow humans. We want to live alone, out in the woods, but we do better around other people. Too many times I’ve seen couples dreaming of living out in the country. By the time thy have the finances to push it they are pushing 60 and only get settled in at 65. But then doctor visits become a regular thing. So that ten minute drive from their house in the city becomes a 90 minute ordeal. And those emergency services are no longer just down the street. Rural living is a young person’s game. Nobody is getting any younger around here.

    People, like it or not, are social creatures and we do better in groups. Count yourself lucky that you weren’t found after the spring thaw. A desiccated corpse in a bathrobe. Think about it.

    Be careful. At the very least put some heavily cleated mukluks by the door.

  20. says

    At a machine shop I worked at all the chuck keys, including on the drill press, had springs brazed on them so that when you released them they fell out of the chuck.

    One thing that is nice about being a solo shop is the only mistakes I have are my own. On the other hand, the only help/rescue/first aid I have is my own. Tradeoffs tradeoffs.

    I’m studying interior threading to a shoulder, which brings up the old technique of reversing the tool, lead screw, and chuck – and everyone who talks about that technique says repeatedly “don’t do this if your lathe has a threaded chuck” (mine doesn’t) and my blood runs a bit cold at the idea of the chuck coming off the spindle and making a beeline for my face. We always imagine it coming for our face, don’t we? Maybe younger guys imagine it going for their nuts, I don’t remember.

  21. says

    I’ve reached a certain age where I think I’m going to buy myself a set of Yaktrax, just to avoid what happened to you. You can google them or search on Amazon.

    I have a nice pair of tall Muck boots right by the door. They’re just a bit painful to put on and get off, so I thought I could just nip out really quickly in my house moccasins. And my bathrobe would have kept me warm if I hadn’t wound up lying in the snow for an unplanned 15 minutes.

    Really, this situation resolves simply to “don’t be stupid, Marcus.”

  22. lorn says

    Yes, there is something about stuff coming at my face that that tends to get first priority. That and I’m imagining how stupid I’d feel sitting in an ER for sixteen hours waiting to have a heavy chuck-key surgically removed from my eye … I think I’d rather avoid that level of suck.

    As one who has no great love of ERs: miserable places overflowing with sickness, pain, and suffering, made worse by bureaucracy and delay; I’m thinking it might be better to nip that in the bud and avoid that particular issue.

  23. says


    I don’t understand why, the moment lathes became electric, the chuck key did not also become the key for the motor supply interlock

    Basically, safety was not a thing back in the day. Just look at those old machines and the amount of places that can grab/pinch or otherwise hurt you. Some of those machines are properly scary. Also, no power electronics, so the starter switch on a smaller lathe would likely switch mains power directly.

    Marcus Ranum@24

    I’m studying interior threading to a shoulder

    Tricky. You don’t have a tap that’s big enough?

    Does your lathe have a settable feed stop? That and a round undercut at the end of the thread (which is advisable anyway, I’d say) would go a long way to solve the problem.

    Or if your lathe is small enough, take it slow, put a marker or a dial indicator on the ways and stop & reverse when you reach it.

    my blood runs a bit cold at the idea of the chuck coming off the spindle and making a beeline for my face.

    Yep, had that nightmare too. Given the way a chuck normally turns, it would bounce off the ways and toward you. Not sure which part of your anatomy it would hit, but I’m of the opinion that with a chuck flying through the shop there is no good place for it to hit you!

    I’m glad that our CNC mill (24k spindle, moves at scary speeds) has a full enclosure.

    Maybe younger guys imagine it going for their nuts, I don’t remember.

    No, they think they’re immortal & “that would never happen to me”. At least I did.

  24. Jazzlet says

    Maybe get some equivilent boots that aren’t painful to put on and take off? I’ve a pair of boots that lace down the front with a sealed gusset so there’s no way for water to get in except the usual over the top. Make a lot of difference as I’ve a displace bone in one ankle that can really mess up getting into boots. What I also need, and should just get, is a boot remover, the kind you stand on one end and put the ankle or heel of the opposite foot boot in a V in the other end; I’ve used them and they make removing boots simple.

  25. says

    Tricky. You don’t have a tap that’s big enough?

    Yeah, I do. I’m looking at making some pretty small parts, actually. As you know, the whole game is the order of operations, which I am still trying to figure out. Maybe I should post a sketch. In the meantime I have been working on the interface component, which will be a bit of cast refractory that accepts a steel tube that is the housing for the thing I am making, which is (I would say) childishly simple to a real machinist. My plan is to do the threading into/out of undercuts with the machine in reverse; I have a nice little carbide boring bar that is designed to be flipped either way, which carries an acme cutter.

    Does your lathe have a settable feed stop?

    Nope, but it does have a DRO. So there’s that. I’m probably not even going to really need the DRO; I learned a cool trick from watching Joe Piezcynski attack similar problems, where he cuts a groove as a reference mark that he can touch off on to get the correct cross-slide zero for all operations. Then the depth into the work-piece is just a matter of tape and sharpie on the boring bar. I’m actually more comfortable with tape and sharpie than the DRO but the DRO is a good sanity check.

    My lathe is a Grizzly gunsmith lathe. It’s not a little toy desktop thing; it’s 1500lb of pretty serious. I mean, it’s not a great big motor lathe but I don’t expect to ever need anything like that. Technically I don’t “need” any of this. I could do it all with a drill press and taps and dies and/or my ancient Bridgeport which is questionably precise.

  26. says

    Maybe get some equivalent boots that aren’t painful to put on and take off?

    Yeah. The tall Muck boots are great but they make a vacuum when you put them on, and getting them off is a struggle. Muck also makes an ankle-high version that’s kind of like a perfect shoe (the MucksterII). I’ve worn a few out, and it ought to be easy enough to fix that.

    I also have feet that change shape based on my rheumatism/gout so sometimes things that were comfortable suddenly are not.

  27. dangerousbeans says

    damn! i’m glad you’re alive and mending, please try not to freeze to death in that thoroughly uncivilised weather

  28. says

    Marcus Ranum@30:

    Grizzly gunsmith lathe

    Those look like nice machines, certainly for a home shop!

    ancient Bridgeport which is questionably precise.

    Ahh, the clapped out Bridgeport; the staple of US home machining. ;-) Looking online though, older Bridgeports seem to respond well to some TLC. New halfnuts, maybe new gibbs. Unless of course a previous owner completely f*cked up the ways. A well-lubricated (working oil pump) manual mill with cast iron ways should basically last a lifetime. Except for the ways, basically everything that moves is replacable/repairable. No electronics, so little to go wrong. Although I think CNC is pretty nifty, those old manual machines basically built the modern world.

    Some years a ago I found a Youtube channel from a retired shipyard engineer in Spain. He made working miniature engines from raw stock, *completely on his lathe*. Valves, pistons, cranks, conrods, crankcase etc. The whole lot. Truly a master machinist.

  29. says

    “how do I make my first cup of coffee when I haven’t had my coffee yet?”
    – you buy an alarm clock that also makes coffee. This is a solved problem. The glasses thing? Not so much.

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