Tag Archives: Tools

Outside!

So there I was, waiting for my name to be called. She came out of the small room, reading off several names from a list. Not yet. I looked around the room, nervous people, some chatting some staring blankly off into space. Some studying the backs of their fingernails with feigned interest.

Twenty minutes passed. She came out again, read off another handful of names, then she looked at me, and nodded. It was time.

Sometimes, when I was a kid, I would ride my bike down to the beach to go body surfing. During the summer, the weather was hot, and the water was warm, so I enjoyed it just as much when there weren’t any waves as when there were. Sometimes I just enjoyed floating, letting the slow in and out of the tide move my body about. Every once in a while I would hear somebody say “outside set,” which meant that not the current set of waves, but the next one coming looked to be pretty decent.

Of course, a decent wave to a fourth grader on summer vacation means something completely different than what you may think of as a decent set of waves.

There is an interesting phenomenon regarding wave interference patterns when studying light. There is a famous double slit experiment, where they take a piece of material, and then put two small slits in a certain distance apart. Then they shine some light through on the other side of the slit, and measure the interference pattern on the other side with a special photographic plate. Because light travels in waves (sometimes) when it shows up on the other side, there will be peaks and troughs. The peaks are where the crests of waves coming through slot A line up with the peaks coming through from slot B. The troughs are where the lowest points from A overlap with B. The blank spaces in between are when a peak coming through slot A meets up with a trough from slot B, and they cancel each other out.

You can see this for yourself, by holding up your forefinger and thumb. If you hold you forefinger and thumb as close to your eye as possible, and then look through the space between them at a light source, as you bring your two fingers together, you can see the interference pattern start to form just before your fingers touch. You’ll see a small, but distinct pattern of darker and lighter “lines” between your fingers.

They say that physics is only makes sense because we see it over and over again, on a regular basis. Those that study quantum physics, or particle physics, knows that it follows a set of rules that is completely different than the rules we are used to in the macro world.

Not exactly.

There is the thing called the “correspondence principle,” and basically says that the laws of physics are the same for huge bodies, like planets, people, and trucks, as they are for tiny bodies like neutrons and photons, it’s just that the laws are specific to the condition.

Like the speed limit on the highway is 75 miles per hour, but through the small town is 35 miles per hour. They both still fall under the same speed limit law, but the law specifies different behaviors based on the environment.

But when I bought a boogie board, everything changed. Instead of swimming furiously to get to a wave that would only carry my poor body surfing skills so far, I could paddle out a lot quicker, and ride a lot longer. Simply by adding a simple tool to my pastime, I was able to get much more enjoyment, with much less effort. The only thing that became difficult was getting out through the waves as they were coming in. Before, as only a body surfer, I could simply duck under the wave and wait for it to pass over me. But with my boogie board, it became difficult. Many times I would paddle directly at the oncoming wave, only to get knocked back further than where I originally started.

Before, when I was body surfing, and I looked out at the waves coming in, and I wanted to get to a spot out beyond them, I didn’t give the waves a second thought. I just ducked under the water and let them pass over me.

But with my new toy, that made surfing a lot more fun, sometimes it was a hassle. How what used to be nothing more than some simple waves became a complex issue of timing. I had to wait until the waves were just right before I had a chance to paddle out beyond them, and wait until the new set came in.

Until my friend told me the secret. Get this thing called a leash, and attach one end to the boogie board, and the other end to your wrist. Then you could duck under the waves like before, you just had to sometimes fling your board up in the air before you did so.

Kind of like a tool added to a tool to make the tool more useful. With that added skill, boogie boarding was a breeze. And instead of floating just by myself, I could sometimes even pull myself up, lay on my back and stare up at the blue sky as the waves tossed me about.

When she finally called my name, I was about to fall asleep. I went into the small room, and I was surprised to see that it was just like the big room, only smaller. They had magazines, a couple of tables, and one of those bottled water fountains.

Then I had to wait there for another twenty minutes or so, but that is another story.

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The Mechanic

Once there was this guy that was a well-known mechanic. He was pretty well respected in his community, and people would come to him whenever they needed something fixed. He’d opened his shop many years before, and had slowly gotten a reputation as somebody that could look at pretty much any machine, and within just a few minutes, know exactly what was wrong with it.

He was one of those old school guys who firmly believed in the old adage “measure twice, cut once.” Often he would look at a piece of machinery or equipment, and depending on the size, listen intently to the owner describe the problems they were having, as he turned it over in his hands or walked around it depending on it’s size.

One thing people always found particularly intriguing about this guy was that he seemed to many questions, some that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the piece of equipment or the problems they were having with it.

For example, once this relatively young homeowner brought in a large gas operated lawn mower. The mechanic spent a good twenty minutes asking the homeowner various questions about when and how often he mowed his yard, as well as things like what kind of grass it was, weather it was there when the homeowner moved in or did he plant it himself, and even if he had any plants surrounding the grass, or was it just grass in his yard. The entire time he asked these questions, he examined the lawnmower intently, from several different angles.

Once somebody asked him why he asked so many questions, and he said it helped him to “get a feel” for the particular piece of equipment, that it helped him to “understand its personality.” People didn’t usually complain, because he almost always fixed it within a few minutes, and he usually didn’t charge very much. He wasn’t one of those “five dollars for tapping, and five hundred dollars for knowing where to tap,” kind of repairmen that always seem to figure out a way to convince people to give them a lot more money than they’d expected. This guy was smart, quick, and extremely affordable. He rarely needed to keep a piece of equipment overnight.

Another fascinating thing about this guy was that he had hundreds and hundreds of tools. He was the first to admit that he loved acquiring and using new tools. Some say his income that he generated from fixing things must be nearly completely spent on buying new tools. His workshop was huge, and had tools in every possible place imaginable. What’s even more, because most of the time he got the root of the problem relatively quickly (at least when he finished asking all his seemingly oddball questions) he would use a tool that most people had never seen before? Then with the tool, he would reach in and make a minor adjustment, and the machine would be running smoothly again.

But it wasn’t always that way. When he was younger, much younger, he was under the impression that only a few tools were required to get the job done. Once after he was finished fixing a vintage printing press (in under an hour) that had been inherited by yet another young homeowner, he was asked how he got all of his tools.

He explained that when he was younger, he knew he liked fixing things, but he was very poor. All he could afford was a basic tool kit. His dad would let him play with things in the garage, and before long he knew he had knack for taking things apart and putting them back together again. But whenever he bought tools, he would only buy them in sets. And because sets were so expensive, it took him quite a while to save up enough money.

He was very impressionable, and he would only buy tools that had a specific purpose. Screwdrivers were for driving screws. Hammers were for hammering nails. Saws were for sawing, and so on. In order to fix something, he had to have a tool that was designed to fix that particular problem. As a result, he could only solve problems that other people had already figured out how to solve, and had designed tools specifically for that purpose.

This, of course, limited him in his abilities to solve problems and fix things. Because he could only do things in a way that was already determined by somebody else, there was always somebody that was better than him, with more experience, that could usual get the job done quicker and cheaper. This was always a source of frustration. He didn’t know how those people got to where they were. He supposed it was just the natural course of life. You always learned from others, and then when you were older, others would learn the same things from you. He wasn’t quite sure who and how people came up with new ideas.

Until one day, this fellow brought in a small piece of equipment he’d never seen before. When he asked the fellow who brought it in, he seemed reluctant to explain it’s true purpose. Because the mechanic was so intrigued by the new machine, he kept asking various questions about it, some that were answered, and some that weren’t. After a while, despite not knowing the true purpose of the machine, he got a pretty good idea of what was wrong with it. But it wasn’t a problem that he’d ever seen before, and therefore he didn’t have any tools that were designed for specifically for that problem.

He was puzzled, and then had a thought. Since this was a machine that he’d never seen before, why not use a tool that he’d never used before. He suddenly had a flash of insight, of recognition. Not unlike Edison felt when he finally found a filament that didn’t burn out, or when Einstein imagined himself riding on a beam of light. He had what alcoholics refer to as a “moment of clarity.”

He rushed inside, and got a hole punch and a nail file. The hole punch he’d used only once before, as a gift he’d received. Something about making belts that he was completely uninterested in. The nail file, was a nail file. When he brought the two unrelated tools back into the workshop, the particular customer was immediatley intrigued. While he didn’t know exactly what the mechanic was going to do, he could tell by the look of his face that he did. And only five minutes later, this contraption, whatever it was, was working perfectly. The customer was astounded.

And ever since then, the mechanic refused to be constrained by mainstream logic and accepted methods of doing things. By asking questions, and trusting his instinct, he found that he never failed to fix any piece of equipment presented to him.