Friday, May 27, 2011

On Edge

The other day I had to go to the hardware store, and while I was there I bought a box cutter/utility knife.

It's not the first one of these I've ever purchased, in fact I have two others already. But as I've been moving all week, both of those were lost somewhere in a fortress of cardboard. Even if I could find them, though, I still would have been up for buying a new one.

Because most utility knives are garbage.

This is a tool made to do real work, yet manufacturers use flimsy plastic casings and poor designs that leave the blade loose in its socket. So when I bought my new knife, I wanted to get something better. I went into it willing to spend a bit more to get a quality product. And there it was. Below the rack of cheap $3 products, there was another row of what looked like the real thing-solid metal casings, and a design that seemed like care had gone into it.

And I was right. But I didn't know what I was getting into. This is a real utility knife. Maybe too real. It is easily one of the sharpest things I've ever owned, like a samurai sword you can hook onto your pocket. While opening a box, I went from cutting tape to cutting through the side of the cardboard to cutting through the end of the cardboard without noticing any change.

Conventional southern wisdom says that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, since it's more likely to slip. There's some truth there, but only up to a point. In skilled hands, I'm sure the sharp blade is best, since it will follow those trained motions exactly. But I'm just opening some boxes, here, and doing it with the closest lightsaber equivalent I've encountered in everyday life.*

*Grasp it carefully with your remaining fingers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sisyphean is the word

Every time I empty the lint trap on my dryer, I think "Aren't I just throwing my clothes away very slowly?"

The vacuum cleaner isn't much better. I track in all this dirt, use a machine to clean it up, then clean out the machine so I can take the dirt back outside again. It's as though daily life is the tide, and we're determinedly trying to beat it back with a stick.

"Sooner or later," it seems to say, "That floor is going to be a filthy. You can clean it, but it's gonna be dirty again soon. Oh yeah, go ahead and do the dishes too, I got more dirty ones coming. There's a glass on the other side of the couch that you don't even know about-used to have milk in it too."

But it's oddly comforting. Clutter on a desk tells you that work has been done there, a dish in the sink that food has been eaten. All of them are marks of a thinking mind, one that can cobble together disparate artifacts into a single thread, without needing them arranged just so. A mess tells you that life is nearby, strict order always comes off sterile. 

Does seem inefficient though.*

*Let's start with the bathroom. I'm gonna need a whole bunch of plastic wrap and a couple of pressure washers.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I think most people have a sort of "thesis," a single idea that can be seen in how they approach the world, and which things they enjoy doing.*

I have a friend, for instance, who likes chemistry, has done a lot of cooking, and enjoys extremely difficult platforming games (ones that require jumping with exact timing). His thesis is "precision." Something in him loves to work in very precise ways. 

Another friend keeps his DVD's in like-new condition, has a lot of action figures, and plays those same sort of platforming games, often with the first guy. His thesis, though, is "physicality." He finds something important in the physical nature of objects.

I chose those two examples for a reason: they have that one element in common. Often we assume that people who do the same things are, themselves, similar. In reality, any number of personal theses can draw people to a particular job/hobby/cause. Some people make cakes because they love the taste of things, others because they love the aesthetics, still others because, for whatever reason, using an oven is incredibly fulfilling.

The problem is that most people never know they have a thesis, because they naturally assume that everyone thinks basically the same way that they do.

*My thesis is that I'm always trying to figure out the workings of things, sometimes to the point of oversimplification. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Things that work are boring

I really don't like the iPhone. Never have, probably never will. But I'm not hating, I understand why many people love the device. But I expect I'll be an Android guy for a long time.

Fact is, I like things that are a little bit broken.

Mac interfaces are extremely refined, and I think that's the problem. It's just too clean for me, too polished. It's creepy almost, like using a hospital to check my email.

I'd rather be out on Google's experimental edge-it doesn't always go as smoothly, but I get to watch the product iterate toward refinement. There's something honest about a product that's just kinda there-no implied claim of perfection*, just "here's a handful of incredible ideas, and we'll keep working on it."

Failing that, I'd easily go to the Microsoft philosophy-"pack in the features, let the users figure out how to use them." But then I like learning to use a device. To me the learning process isn't a means to an end, I enjoy the discovery and mastery process.

Hey, my laptop didn't crash the whole time I was writing!

*It's well intentioned, but the practice of wearing nice clothes to church is a mistake, I think.