Monday, May 03, 2010

My Last Nerve

Have you ever heard of "Prince Rupert's Drops"? You should have because they probably have saved your life or the life of one of your loved ones. Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria lived from 1619-1682 and was generally considered a military man. When he retired from war he was an amateur scientist and most of his "discoveries" were really just stolen from true scientists with his better PR. He brought them to the king FIRST and had them published. So you could say he discovered them but he discovered them on the work bench of a competitor.

One of these "discoveries" was a drop of glass which he demonstrated before King Charles II. They looked like simple drops of glass yet when he took a hammer to them they didn't break. Dramatically, he asked a strong looking WWF soldier to pound on it with a bigger hammer, yet it didn't shatter or even crack. Then to even greater PT Barnum-type fanfare he took a simple tweezers and asked all to stand back as he broke the tail of the glass tear-drop and it exploded into a million pieces.

The discovery was something that we, today, call tempered glass. The principle is to take molten glass and quickly cool it in water. So quickly that the surface hardens while the center is still molten. The cooling glass contracts and caused the interior glass to be pressurized at it cools. That pressurized glass becomes amazingly strong and IF it breaks it will shatter into millions of pieces instead of dangerous shards. This has been perfected into the safety glass we all have in our cars, windows, and doors.

Prince Rupert's Drops had one flaw that today's glass has eliminated. The tail on the tear drop was its weakness. You could pound all day on the stress filled drop but a simple snap of the weak-point would cause the whole drop to explode. Kind of sounds like some people I know.
I went to the cubicle of a coworker a number of years ago and remember a bright red poster that said "I'm working on my last nerve and you're standing on it!" A good friend who was the most gentle man you would ever run into was asked a simple question like "how's it going?" and he blew up at the guy in one of the largest displays of anger and release I have ever seen. Pent up stress can do that, all it takes is a little nip at the tail and an explosion occurs.

What we all need are pressure release valves. Do you have yours? A few of mine are working with plants and my lawn outside, a movie, or simply floating in my pool. What are your pressure releases? What keeps the hot molten glass inside you from building pressure until it explodes at its weakest point? Pressure and stress can build strength and make you a stronger person but eventually that will have to be released. Make sure the release is not shattering.

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