Friday, December 24, 2010

the fix

One of the things that a craftsman learns is that as objects grow in complexity, more and more things have the inclination to go haywire. That's why many of us attempt to adhere to the "kiss" principle, "keep it simple, stupid." The principle is simple. You do this to that, and that, that, that, and that result, and as things grow in complexity, it becomes increasingly difficult to anticipate the results. This has been called the "law of unexpected consequences." You learn it in the woodshop when minor adjustments or changes in plans end up having major consequences to the finished piece. As processes become more complex, the consequences of any change within the process become more complex and less easy to predict.

I picked up my daughter at the airport last night and look forward to having her with us for nearly a month. She told me about a class she took in school last semester, in which arising technology was proclaimed as the solution to growing problems. Growing up in Arkansas with a very hands-on education and background in crafts she was disappointed in that approach. It seems that when we have little or no actual experience in the making of real things and the doing of real things, and have had little time as witness to the avalanche of complications and consequences that can result from even minor changes, it is easy to project a rosy scenario built upon hope and fishes. Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886:
It is thus that the trained hand comes at last to foresee as it were that a false proposition is surely destined to be exploded. The habit of rectitude gives it prescience. It invariably discovers, sooner or later, that a false proposition, when embodied in wood or iron, becomes a conspicuous abortion, involving in disgrace both the designer and the maker. A false proposition in the abstract may be rendered very alluring; a false proposition in the concrete is always hideous. One of the chief effects of manual training is, then, the discovery and development of truth; and truth, in its broadest signification is merely another name for justice; and justice is the synonym of morality.

It is in fixing things that you learn the weak points in what others have done. By making things, you learn the relationship between simplicity, complexity and unexpected consequences. In being creative, attempt for very good reasons to simplify rather than make more complex.  Make, fix, create.

The word haywire, used above is a reasonably modern term derived from the wire used to bale hay. Something that is loosely held together can quickly come apart... an apt analogy for technology, where there are always loose ends and unexpected consequences. As things become more and more complex, the complications grow exponentially.

Many things are easier to do than to illustrate, and this morning, I have been making biscuit joints, and attempting to draw them using Google SketchUp. You can see the result in the illustration at left.
As people have less and less experience in making things, more and more needs to be illustrated, as many no longer have their own experience to draw on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Translating and paraphrasing one of my grandmother's favorite sayings, your daughter was raised right. It sounded better in the original Spanish. She gets it.

Mario