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Thread: The Philosophy of What We Do

  1. #1

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    The Philosophy of What We Do

    good afternoon.

    i don't know where to start. please bear that and the fact that this is totally out of character for me as you read. i am thankful for your understanding.

    i am beginning this thread in response to a fascinating discussion i have been having with Ken Balch, which is here: you can start the party now

    since i am the fng and not real sure of the rules here, i asked Ken and he suggested starting a new thread here. so this is it. if it blows up in your face, blame Ken.

    among other things that impressed me, Ken wrote:

    "Couldn't agree more. I strongly believe that we all have something to learn from each other and that each individual, from the newest builder to the most experienced, has seen and learned something of value for himself and the rest of us, if only he can identify and communicate it."

    that part about identifying and communicating concepts got me to thinking real seriously about many things, and not those strictly confined to metalworking and/or woodworking. however, for these purposes i will confine at least my end of this discussion to the things we build.

    how does one look inside himself and identify what that 'something of value' is? communication aside for the moment, how do we know?

    if you read the thread referenced above you know that i have been around both the internet and metalworking forums for a long time. i have seen lots of stuff come and go. i have seen various forums wither and die because they became sort of secret clubs for a chosen few and you had to know the super secret handshake and have the even more secret decoder ring to be a part of the inner circle.

    what these people have done is create a place for the free exchange of ideas and knowledge for everyone, at least as far as i can see. now it becomes our task as members to carry on with that concept. when you come down to it, the sticker on your lathe doesn't matter. what *DOES* matter is the parts that come off of it. i have a 'no name' Chinese lathe. it took a lot of work and frustration beyond belief, but it turns true and the controls feel 'silky', if that would be descriptive. i also own a couple of Cincinnati mills and a [very] old Steptoe shaper which might be for sale. my youngest son has an x2 mill he has converted to CNC. he continually bitches about my 'wore out machines with all sorts of backlash', but the parts that come off these machines are always 'good' parts. i also notice that when he wants to cut something very heavy he tends to do it on my machines.

    i digress. i apologize. i am told i do that a lot. please forgive me.

    the thing i am trying to get at is how we can preserve that exchange of ideas and knowledge. manual machining is a dying art. it is sad because in so many ways that is what has made this country great, but those of us who know how to make things and fix things have become a breed apart. i realize that there are still 'job shops' around, but how many are there today in comparison with 10 years ago? 20? 30? 40? is anyone brave enough to admit to remembering 50 years ago?

    my younger son attended a 2 year vocational machinist course when he lived in Indiana. he has said many times that he has learned more about actual hands on machining from me than he did from the school. he has also said that the main emphasis was on CNC work as opposed to actually cutting metal. i guess you can figure out that his comments made me feel pretty good because in my opinion he is a pretty good machinist. he could single point threads when he was 10. so i felt pretty good. but it also scared the hell out of me to think that what is being produced, at least in that 'machinist school' is a bunch of button pushers who know very little about what they are actually doing. in many ways the manual machinist is what has made this country great. in the 1940's people did machine work in their homes. in the 1960's we sent men to the moon with less computing power in total than my cellular telephone has in it. the nuclear bomb came about because a man with an idea could communicate that idea to a man who could make the parts of it.

    i can imagine those of you who bothered to read this far wondering, 'when is this idiot gonna get to the point?' well. this here is your lucky day

    my point is this: How do we, as members of this site, and as keepers of essential knowledge, both identify and communicate that knowledge to others?

    i challenge each and every one of you to do this every chance you get. i challenge you to find that kid who has the spark and teach him what you know and then to find a guy who knows more so he can go on to learn there too.

    i challenge each of us to continually expand our own skill set and knowledge so that we have that much more to pass along.

    i challenge all of us to go about this with good will to all and malice toward none.

    i wish all a pleasant weekend.

    peace.
    normalbill

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    Wow!

    Just found this site, literally my first time clicking around, even more of an fng than you, and I know with these sorts of forums you're supposed to read first, and comment later, but what a wonderful set of questions!

    I'm "even more" of an fng because I'm not even really a builder--I went to school for history and philosophy, and I've worked in auctions and restaurants (who didn't see that coming, with a degree like mine?).

    Your questions are all wonderful ones, ones that I think about all the time. My wife is in education, and we have a couple of tenants studying to become teachers. Sometimes, in their more conspiracy-minded moments, they declare that the public school system is designed to produce workers, cogs in a machine, not thinking, responsible adults. But I work with kids all the time. If school's supposed to make good workers, cogs in a machine, it does a piss-poor job of it. And I've had cooks in my kitchen from culinary school, and they're no better, even if I don't have to teach them how to make a roux. To put it simply, I think the problem is this: in our culture-in our world-the End is ranked higher than the Mean.

    By this I mean that people don't think about where they are, they think about where they're going. Pretty much every kid I see come through my kitchen is going to become a famous moviemaker, or musician, or, rarely, a famous chef (those ones don't work any harder or better than the others, unfortunately). I notice that people always talk about what comes next, about the next thing they're going to buy, about how they need to work out more, or eat less bacon (or gluten, or salt, or cucumbers, or whatever's poison that week). Of course you can't help but think about the future, and it's not a good idea to ignore it, but you can't live there. Gotta live in the present, warts and all. Gotta do your best in the job you're in, with the tools you have. That's all you can really do. But people don't know this any more.

    I'm not sure of forum rules yet, but I'd like to suggest a book that I read recently: Shopclass as soulcraft, by matthew crawford. Beautiful book. Written by a former think-tank guy who gave it all up to be a motorcycle mechanic. To be honest, reading it a few months back I can't say exactly what the man's argument is, but I know that it speaks to your question: in this book, he mounts a fierce--and deep--defense of the manual arts. Please check it out.

    Anyway, I don't really have any answers to your questions, just some thoughts on the matter...

    And I accept each one of your challenges. Whole-heartedly.

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    good evening, Mr. Vermonter.

    thank you for your reply to my delusional ravings. we seem to share some similar observations and opinions.

    i would carry your opinion of the schools a step further and say that they do a piss poor job of everything they attempt. our schools have become holding pens for kids. they sure as hell aren't teaching much. kids are being graduated who are unable to read, write, spell, do simple math, are ignorant of basic geography, have no interest in the running of the country, and are only marginally qualified to operate a cash register at a hamburger joint. you can look around today and see the results of this in our government. the presidency has become a popularity contest and the best way to become popular seems to be promising more free crap to people too ignorant to realize that it has to be paid for somehow.

    one has to look a lot in order to find any kind of trade school. as mentioned above, one of my kids had to go to indiana to find one and he says that there was very little taught while he was there. he has told me several times that he learned more about machining from me than from the school he went to, with the exception of cnc stuff which i don't do.

    and these kids seem to want to walk into an upper level job right out of school even though they are far from academically, emotionally, or mature enough to be prepared for even an entry level job.

    i am old. i won't live a lot longer. this is not a complaint. i don't think i would want to even if i could because i fear both what the world and our country both have come to and will come to in the future. had i known that it would be like this i would have thought a lot more about bringing children into it. as much as i love and enjoy my children, i feel that i have done them a disservice bringing them into such a screwed up world.

    thank you for the book recommendation. i will look for it when i am next at the book store, which will be next week. my doctor is in a different and much larger city that has much better bookstores. i have to see her next week so i will make a day of it.

    my purpose with my original post was to stimulate some thinking and hopefully a meaningful dialog about what we do and why. apparently that didn't happen. one reply in 3 months. consequently, i am also thankful to you for your reply. at least one person has read and considered what i had to say. i have always thought that if one man could be shown a new concept then the world has been changed. perhaps now others will enter and contribute to the discussion. it is a nice thought anyway.

    have a good evening.

    peace.
    normalbill

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    Well, I tell you what, normalbill: you can pass on everything you got to me, I'd be happy to learn.

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    Hi Normabill,
    I am also new to these forums, and I don't really know what made me read your post, but I did enjoy the read, and whole heartedly agree with much of what you wrote. I live in South Africa, and the training of new artisans here is almost non existent, it seems like the new generation is just not interested in any kind of work where there nimble (nimble from x-box and keyboard manipulation), delicate little hands might get dirty, and heaven forbid, they could pick up the odd cut on a sharp edge, and actually bleed a little, horror of horrors! Some years ago, the government in their unquestioned wisdom, decided to do away with the apprenticeship system here, and we are now reaping the results It was very easy to shut the system down, but now that they think just maybe it was a mistake, and that it would be good to get it going again, that is not quite so easy. Some time ago, maybe about 10 years, I remember hearing a frightening statistic, that the average age of an artisan in SA was something like 51, so what is it now? I am 55, and I am very aware of being part of a dying breed.
    Speak to youngsters nowadays, and ask them what they want to do when they leave school, and the answer from 90% is extremely predictable - IT in one form or another. Granted, it is a diverse field with a lot of opportunities, but surely there must come a point where it is over populated, and I can't help but ask myself the inevitable "Yes, but who is going to do the actual work?" What I mean is, who is going to produce goods at the coal face, or will computers take care of everything? Worse still, will all manufactured goods come from the far east? I can't help remembering the words from an economics talk I once heard, where it was stated that there is only one thing that grows an economy, exported goods! Now if we are all wheeler dealers, shuffling papers, buying and selling, banking, IT'ing, we are going to be doing so in an ever shrinking economy, while China becomes the worlds manufacturing powerhouse, and therefore the major world power, a sophisticated and well equipped army runs on money!
    Ok ok, I know I'm rambling now, but reading your post did touched on a few sore points. If you think your education system is bad, you should see ours. One can still get a good education at a private school, but the vast majority of the population don't have that option, and the state schools annually churn out millions of illiterate youngsters who can't add 2 numbers without the help of a calculator. they have zilch chance of employment in the formal sector, and have no skills to do anything on their own. Their only hope of employment is an unskilled labor job in a factory, at minimum wage, and for most, a career in crime is far more attractive, even though it is often a short career. I don't condone crime as a career, but the sad truth is that the state has badly failed them on the education side. Of course, the kids of the politicians responsible for this terrible state of affairs, only attend the best private schools that money can buy.
    Ok, let me stop here before I get onto a political rant, I know I have gone off on a tangent, and not come close to answering the questions you posed, and now I have to go, maybe another time.
    Regards,
    Grant Wernick

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    My age:)

    I'm giving away my age but this reminds me of that 70's best seller "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence"!

    Just found this site, literally my first time clicking around, even more of an fng than you, and I know with these sorts of forums you're supposed to read first, and comment later, but what a wonderful set of questions!

    I'm "even more" of an fng because I'm not even really a builder--I went to school for history and philosophy, and I've worked in auctions and restaurants (who didn't see that coming, with a degree like mine?).

    Your questions are all wonderful ones, ones that I think about all the time. My wife is in education, and we have a couple of tenants studying to become teachers. Sometimes, in their more conspiracy-minded moments, they declare that the public school system is designed to produce workers, cogs in a machine, not thinking, responsible adults. But I work with kids all the time. If school's supposed to make good workers, cogs in a machine, it does a piss-poor job of it. And I've had cooks in my kitchen from culinary school, and they're no better, even if I don't have to teach them how to make a roux. To put it simply, I think the problem is this: in our culture-in our world-the End is ranked higher than the Mean.

    By this I mean that people don't think about where they are, they think about where they're going. Pretty much every kid I see come through my kitchen is going to become a famous moviemaker, or musician, or, rarely, a famous chef (those ones don't work any harder or better than the others, unfortunately). I notice that people always talk about what comes next, about the next thing they're going to buy, about how they need to work out more, or eat less bacon (or gluten, or salt, or cucumbers, or whatever's poison that week). Of course you can't help but think about the future, and it's not a good idea to ignore it, but you can't live there. Gotta live in the present, warts and all. Gotta do your best in the job you're in, with the tools you have. That's all you can really do. But people don't know this any more.

    I'm not sure of forum rules yet, but I'd like to suggest a book that I read recently: Shopclass as soulcraft, by matthew crawford. Beautiful book. Written by a former think-tank guy who gave it all up to be a motorcycle mechanic. To be honest, reading it a few months back I can't say exactly what the man's argument is, but I know that it speaks to your question: in this book, he mounts a fierce--and deep--defense of the manual arts. Please check it out.

    Anyway, I don't really have any answers to your questions, just some thoughts on the matter...

    And I accept each one of your challenges. Whole-heartedly.[/QUOTE]

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    Hi NormalBill,
    I totally understand where you are coming from. I used to work in the Automotive field some years back & was actually taught how to diagnose a car my self (computers on cars were very new). Now my nephew works on cars & he can't figure it out with out a code reader to tell him what's wrong with the car. Problem solving on a car (at least any modern cars) is a dying art as well. I have helped him in some ways to learn how to diagnose a car without one. I also have a feeling he may be asking me for more advise when he starts into the father son project truck (1953 Chevy step side) he picked up.
    I will take up the challenge by the way only because I have taken up the challenge on my own. When I was running my dad's shop awhile back as the head mechanic I would always get asked by my buddies to help them fix their cars (still happens BTW). The secret (at least that I have found that works for me) is to not do it for them, make them do it. I would tell them that when they get the parts to bring it over to my house (as long as I was there) & as long as the car did not stay forever (major work had to be set up in advance) they could use my tools & equipment & my reference manuals (unless I did not have their car in a reference manual) & I would help them diagnose & to the best of my ability instruct them on how to diagnose & repair a problem. Oops, as you can see I tend to ramble a little also (HUGE GRIN). Any who, to shorten it up a little, all I did was try to encourage them to use their own mind to fix the issue & one or two I had to start from scratch (I.E. Teach the theory of the 4 stroke internal combustion engine as well). It also taught me valuable lessons in being able to communicate my skill set to them.
    This is a very well thought out start of a thread. No "idiot" that I ever met would write it in such a way as to get me thinking like you have. I did not even realize I already thought & acted this way until you brought it to the fore front on my mind, So Thank You very much (GRIN). I have a very varied skill set. Automotive you already know, I also weld, woodwork, metalwork (Old School & learning CNC; Want to build my own CNC router (GRIN)), Electrical, Electronics (Just Reflowed the solder on an XPS laptop video card), Plumbing, House repair, oh heck just a jack of all trades, master of as many as I can be. I would also bet that if you really look at what you do in general you will find other things you have already started to learn how to do without even realizing it. For instance, teaching your son how to do single point threads when he was 10. That right there is totally awesome in my book. I wish I had a Dad that would have taught me stuff like that, but then I think about it & I realize my Dad just taught me a starting skill set that was based on his interests & just as varied, so I will just learn it on my own. He is a retired Electrical Engineer. Oops, see here I go rambling on again (GRIN). I am eventually going to make my own woodworking lathe & I was contemplating making it so it could be used for turning metal as well. Any info you would like to pass on would be appreciated & any I have that you may like I would gladly give in return (HUGE GRIN). Have fun in your shop.

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    normalbil,

    You asked an excellent question "my point is this: How do we, as members of this site, and as keepers of essential knowledge, both identify and communicate that knowledge to others?"

    My answer is that I volunteered at a local community college and helped teach introductory engineering. I got a lot of freedom when it came to lessons. Much of the class is hands on and the problems have no answers in the back of the book (what book?). The students build payloads that are attached to weather balloons. They go up as high as 95,000 feet before coming back down for retrieval. The payloads contain sensors of their own choosing, cameras of their own choosing, and a data gathering computer that is made from a circuit board that they etched, drilled, and populated with parts. They must live within a time budget, a money budget, and a weight budget. They are also forbidden to include a sensor unless they first pose a question that can be answered with the data collected from this sensor. At the end of the class, they each give a presentation so they get some public speaking experience.

    One day the volunteer job abruptly vanished. They hired me as an Adjunct Professor. I now enjoy the same great freedoms, fun students, and have a little extra money to pay for my other hobbies.

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    rgsparber,

    Your story is heartwarming and inspirational. I would love to teach/share some of the things I've learned over the years. Most of my experience is as a car fixer/car restorer who is fiercely independent. I really don't like taking my car in to have it fixed, when I should and can do it myself. A bit of that feeling comes from having professional mechanics mess things up on occasion. Heck, I can do that!

    I'd estimate 99% of the homemade tools I've crafted result from needing to remove something from a car. It's fascinating that cars like Porsche require tons of "special" tools. A cottage industry has developed just to support home mechanics who won't spend $300 for a special one-use tool.

    My son and I were discussing this issue and he mentioned the typical problem, which is that auto manufacturers don't engineer fixing their cars when they design them. He had a car that needed a whole host of unrelated engine parts removed just to get at a spark plug. Today, he has a fairly new Jetta which allows him to change the oil filter while standing normally over the engine compartment...and not spilling a drop of oil. This I've got to see!

    Anyway...I appreciate the interest here in passing on the knowledge you have gained...usually the hard way. I always seek opportunities to prevent someone from learning things the hard way. The suggestions are usually very well received.

    Everyone...Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Dave

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    Quote Originally Posted by daveward View Post
    ...auto manufacturers don't engineer fixing their cars when they design them.
    A very common problem and not just with auto manufacturers. I've seen the same on modern motorcycles and aircraft. It's poor engineering, plain and simple. When I built my airplane, I very deliberately planned various installations with service in mind. Since I was going to be the mechanic down the road, it paid to minimize eventual inconvenience from the start.

    These days it's obvious that manufacturers don't even want home mechanics working on their cars. Try lifting the hood on a new Mercedes or the rear deck on a Porsche - you won't see much of the engine, that's for sure. Just the oil and windshield fluid filler caps, most likely. I can't say whether that's built-in job security for factory techs, proof against ham-handed DIY'ers, or both. Probably both.

    Too much design is being done in CAD by young engineers who've never built anything with their own hands. If they can get it to "fit" in the software - and it's buildable - they call it good without a thought of service after the fact. Frustrating for guys like us, that's for sure.

    Ken

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