Friday, September 23, 2011

Design - Danger,Danger

Danger, Will Robinson, danger, warning, warning!!
Is young Will Robinson facing yet another intergalactic threat initiated by the devious Dr. Smith, or perhaps Will is embarking on a study of the rules of design? No matter, the same dire warnings apply.
Any journey fraught with danger must be preceded by a full and complete disclosure of those dangers. Woe be to those who choose not to respect the rules! But woe is waiting in equal measure for those who blindly follow them as well! So how can this be?
The rules of design are nothing new. The Golden Mean, the Fibonacci sequence, and numerous other systems for guiding our creative endeavors have been around for centuries. These many interrelated systems lay down a basic set of guidelines that keep our designs grounded in the reality of balance and proportion. There is a primal truth buried in these ageless ratios and equations.

The rules are based in the intellect, which must quantify everything. But creativity defies quantification. It is driven by two innate components: intuition and inspiration.
Inspiration is the original spark that ignites the creative fires. It is the very thing that makes time stand still for hours while the process is being played out. Inspiration knows no bounds, and in fact, will utterly suffocate if put into a neat little box and told to conform. Intuition is inspiration’s symbiotic cohort. It is keenly sympathetic and like an adoring parent gently guides the new-born inspiration from a base that is deeply instinctual but tempered with experience and knowledge.

For a young child, there are rules they do not fully understand. But the rules must be obeyed and practiced. If a parent has done their job well, that child will someday mature and break free. With the rules understood on a much deeper level, the now young adult, no longer needs to recite them. The young adult is now free to respectfully disagree with the parent and in fact may freely choose to do so. The same learning process is true for the beginning designer.

A quote from Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats (1901-1902) parallels what I am saying here:
"……formulas are dangerous things. They are apt to prove the undoing of a genuine art, however helpful they may be in the beginning to the individual. The formula of an art remains and becomes more and more rigid with time, while the spirit of that art escapes and vanishes forever. It cannot live in text-books, in formulas or in definitions."

Ultimately, inspiration must be the spark that ignites the creative fires, and intuition the guiding force that tames and guides inspiration. Although intuition is an inherent trait, it is molded over time in some ways by our experiences and knowledge base. If the rules are given a serious and rigorous study, they may, in time, become fused into our consciousness and in so doing, become an inseparable component of our intuition.

It is easy to get acceptable results using the rules, but nothing with real fire in its soul. Therein lays the danger. Do not be lulled into complacency. The rules can only take you so far. Learn from them, but do not be bound by them. When the time comes, let them go. Give your inspiration and intuition free rein. That is where you will find your best work.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Product Review

I am sure you have all encountered products that are somewhat less than advertised. Below is my letter of appreciation I sent today to the maker of just such a product. In my original letter all the "shxxxy" text did not have the x's ( you can guess what the x's represent - no ,it was not "shoddy" ) but did have a strike through.
Obviously I have xxx'ed out any reference to the real company and thier products.

I am writing to tell you what a shxxxy lousy product line you have, although given the ill-conceived nature of your tools and accessories, I am quite certain you have heard this before. In fact, you probably get emails and phone calls of this nature on a daily basis. But please bear with me as I am in need of some serious therapy (stress release) after my encounter with your shxxxy half- baked xxxx xxxxx.

I must take part of the blame here myself though for being so gullible. I first owned one of your xxxxxxxx years ago, which I had purchased used. It was not such a great xxxxxxxx, but the hype around it was such that I was convinced that the problem was a matter of simple adjustment, that I (for some unknown reason) was not able to achieve. In an act of desperation (in an effort to make a bad product good) I was sucked into purchasing your xxxxxxxx accessory. The retro-fit to my specific model was poorly thought out (in retrospect I believe it was simply not given any forethought whatsoever!)

Now fast forward to about a year ago. My shxxxy crummy xxxxxxxx was dying a horrible death and I needed to buy a new one on a limited budget. One thing your company does well is advertising and hype. As you most certainly know, good advertising and hype can, and often trumps inferior merchandise – your company is the ultimate testament to this!
So dumb me bought another one of your xxxxxxxx. I must admit the new xxxxxxxx worked better than the dead one and it performed OK with the exception of a few little bothersome details, like the fact that your xxxxxxxx accessory did not work much better on the new xxxxxxxx than they did on the old one – I had incorrectly thought there would be an improvement in this regard since this was not a retro-fit situation.

Now here comes the part where I must admit to incredible gullibility. After my experience with your products I should have known better. Last week I bought your shxxxy stupid xxxxxx accessory. The manual is appalling and the video about the same. I would never consider submitting a manuscript for a book or magazine article (I have done a fair amount of writing) that was this pathetic.
I have wrestled with your shxxxy damn xxxxxxxx accessory for way too many hours trying to set it up properly. It may have been a good idea in the beginning, but was obviously not well thought out (that’s being very kind).

Thanks to you I have found my life’s second calling. In the future, I will do my very best (and go way out of my way) to tell my students and anyone who will listen (as well as any captive audience I come upon) what a shxxxy crappy product line you have.

Darrell Peart

After way too many hours I was able to get the offending accessory to work. A big part of the solution was solved with a trip to the hardware store to replace some small parts that were inappropriate to the intended use and /or cheaply made.
This entire experience was actually a long term plus for me (did not seem that way in the midst of it though). It forced me to really think through what I was doing in minute detail. In the process of ruling out the many variables, I now understand fully how the tool is supposed to work (and a few things I would have changed on it).  But most of all I have a more thorough understanding of the specific process I was attempting to perform.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Woodworker's Bag of Tricks

In woodworking, there is much to be learned from books. But not all knowledge is to be found there. Many “tricks of the trade” never make it to print, but instead, exist as sort of a vernacular knowledge base that is conveyed from person to person “on the job”.
Adding to my “woodworking bag of tricks “has been a lifelong pursuit. I have never reached a point, nor will I ever, where I can say “I know it all”. What I can say is “This is the best way I know at this time, until I discover or learn a better way”
Every new woodworking acquaintance presents an opportunity to trade tricks and mutually advance. Many years ago, I had the very good fortune to work alongside a couple of extremely knowledgeable and skilled woodworkers. There was nothing these two guys could not do, and do exceptionally well – it was enough to give me an inferiority complex. I made a point to glean whatever information I could from them. At first, I was surprised when they were doing the same to me: constantly picking my brain. But after some thought, I realized this is how they got as good as they are. They were open and eager for knowledge at every opportunity. It was not just me adding to my bag of tricks, they were doing the same as well.
It’s the intermingling of woodworkers that keeps tricks circulating and alive. Early in my career I did not realize this on a conscious level, but used it to my advantage nonetheless. When a new employee would come into the shop, I would introduce myself and ask right away “what kind of woodworking have you been doing”? I was not trying to be nosy – I was on fire to learn and the new guy was potential fresh fodder in that regard.
Back then , I would also regularly apply for woodworking jobs, which I had no intention of taking. Typically, the shop in question was known for something that fascinated me and I wanted to learn how they did it. The interview (almost) always included a shop tour in which I would ask a variety of questions, trying not to sound as though I was on an espionage mission (which I was).
Writing and teaching has, not surprisingly, been a great source for adding to my bag of tricks. Although I am supposed to be the one teaching, it often goes the other way as well, with me on the learning end of the equation. This is especially true when I travel to somewhere new.
Earlier this month I made my first trip to the Northeast to teach at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. The northeast has a different woodworking tradition than the west coast, and therein exists a great opportunity for the exchange of ideas.
Upon arrival, Bob Van Dyke, (founder and director of the school) greeted me. I soon realized, (although it was not stated) Bob and I were both on the same mission: to add to our respective bags of tricks. As I unpacked my jigs for the upcoming class, Bob was eager to learn how they worked. When I asked about a router bit for one of my setups, Bob (with a smile) pulls out a bottom bearing flush trim spiral bit – and waits for my response. It took a double take and a few extra nanoseconds for it to hit. For some time I had wanted just such a bit for flush trimming (greatly reduces blowout) when using a router table.
The bit is not an “off the shelf “product, but its individual components are. Bob gives credit for idea to Will Neptune, who regularly teaches at the school. This is vernacular woodworking at its best: ideas that are freely passed from one person to another.

In that spirit, I now pass this trick on to you:

Bit : Onsrud ¾” spiral bit #40-141
Bearings: (2 each) Whiteside B19 ¾” OD , ½’ ID
Bearing Stop Collar: Whiteside LC-1/2

May you freely give and take in the exchange of new ideas - may your bag of tricks forever grow and overflow.