Friday, November 19, 2010

wherein Edgar turns 20 and begins a mid-life crisis

Meet Edgar.  He's my rubber band ball.  I started making him in 1990, which makes him 20 years old.  (I don't know the actual date I started him.)  I also don't know why he's called Edgar.  It was a joke that started some years ago.  The name outlasted the memory of the actual joke. 

I was near the end of grad school when I started Edgar.  I think I had a lot of rubber bands from veggies, because there were five of us cooking in our little kitchen.  Lots of broccoli.  Also, we had one or two newspapers showing up there, at our run down rental house in Davis, CA.  It was a more rubber-band-centric world back then.  Before those hybrid broccoli band/plastic clips.  And during the time in which people read newspapers.  (Newspapers were daily collections of printed pages, with a variety of reports written largely based on the relevant facts about stories of national or regional interest.  You couldn't click on anything.  And the advertisements didn't dance or talk to you.)

I started with one band wrapped tightly around another, and then wrapped single bands until it was ball-shaped.  The core of the ball is just rubber bands.  Nothing else, except maybe some hair and dirt that the ball picked up by rolling around across the floors of all the places I've lived since then.  Sometimes I wonder what it would smell like to saw Edgar in half.  Would it be all rotten sulfur rubber band smell?  Or would the smells of my Ann Arbor fireplace or my dead cat be released?

After it got to a couple of inches in diameter, I just put the bands around the ball.  That didn't last long though, because I wanted it to grow in diameter, and simply putting the bands circumferentially made it denser and heavier, but not larger in diameter.  So, I worked out a method of creating long linear chains with large closed loops on either end.  Think of a dumbell (other than me).

I made some back-of-the-envelope estimates of the size of Edgar at the end of my life.  I assumed that the rate of adding new bands would be constant, and would be my historical average.  I assumed I'd live to 80.  I did this a few years ago when Edgar was about 11" in diameter and came up with about a 14" diameter.  That seems to be not much growth over the next 30 years, but that's because the volume increase between say, 10" and 14" diameter, is greater than the volume increase between 0" and 10"...

Recently, I measured the diameter, and was surprised to see it had shrunk significantly.  Edgar stands at 9" now.  I haven't worked out why, exactly.  Perhaps at some critical size, the tension forces begin to significantly compact the ball, sort of like a collapsing star.

So, I have a crisis with two dimensions: my sources of bands have dried up at the same time that Edgar is collapsing towards some sort of rubber band black hole.  Readers, can you help?  Collect your spare rubber bands and be a part of this grand project.  Message me, and I'll send you an address, if you care to ship bands to me.

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