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Working on it


Sorry I haven't posted for a while; work on the house got frantic again, then wibble_puppy and I spent about a month on holiday in the Hebrides.

I want to share the following passage that I found in a book I was reading today.

But the first thing I want to talk about is not tools, or materials, or techniques, but attitudes. The tendency in a modern industrial society is for the division of labor to be so complete that individuals rely on specialists for almost all of their goods and services. We have come so far from the days of pioneer self-sufficiency that we speak of the "do-it-yourself" movement as if it were some sort of curiosity or fad rather than an expression of man's innate desire for independence.

The trouble is that by depending on specialists - be they plumbers, bakers, or tailors - we rob ourselves of the opportunity to probe the limits of our own abilities. A person who never handles tools cannot know what skill might lie hidden in those magnificent hands. As a result, one who has had no experience with using tools and building things may easily come to consider himself or herself incapable of using tools and building things. Such an attitude - unseen and unrecognized - can cripple a potential artisan as surely as the loss of a hand.

I fell into this trap myself, and might never have gotten out of it had I not settled in the Alaskan bush, where self-sufficiency is still a way of life. My crippling self-image was exposed before I'd been in the valley a month. One day I asked a village craftsman if it was possible to fashion a homemade adapter that would reduce a 6-inch stovepipe down to 5 inches. "Of course it's possible," he answered. "The only question is how to do it."

All of a sudden, I realized that I had been on the verge of giving in to the specialists by ordering an adapter from a faraway hardware store. My friend, by contrast, was already looking through his supply of scrap metal in order to decide which of many possible approaches might be the best. Ever since that time, I've operated on the assumption that if other human beings can do a certain thing, then I can at least give it a try.

The book is Wood Stoves: How to Make and Use Them by Ole Wik. There is an OCRed copy available to read online (probably unauthorised, though the book is over thirty years old and long out of print).


very wise.

I am suffering from this in a number of ways. Professionally people only want specialists and not generalists like me. Of course it is hard for non developers (ie normal people) to understand that "Financial IT in Java and perl" isn't already a specialisation.

I like attempting DIY around the house, but am scared off by some things like plumbing. I get the attitude from my Dad who used to do lots of things before realising that as a doctor he could employ someone else to do it cheaper than doing it himself.

Of course it also means I have a cellar full of material which might be useful for a project someday :-)
Oh - and I enjoyed picking up the hobby of making leather whips (even though I am shit at it) - and still want to try the furniture covering technique of decoupage. Just for fun making things with my hands :-)
Yes, I suppose that's a sort of super-specialisation. A bit like a client wanting a plumber who has 5 years' experience in soldering right-angle 15mm bends using a particular brand of solder and a specific model of blowtorch.
I like that. Probing the limits of our own abilities ... enabling the potential artisan. What's not to like?
It reads very like some of the early passages in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I expect you've probably read. If you haven't, then you need to.
I once had a boss who raved about it being wonderful and the best book she'd ever read so I picked up a copy. I enjoyed the description of the road trip across America and the author's relationship with his son, but the philosophising about the meaning of 'quality' quickly got tedious for me.
That's interesting, I found the Quality stuff complex but fascinating. Along with the parallells of repairing a mass dualism of mentality and the repair of his own personal split mentality.
Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.

... although I can count the number of "wealthy men" I know on the fingers of one finger.