Thursday, December 07, 2006

Economy Of Scale

My son is very smart.

I gave him some chores to do in my workshop. He was only nine or so, so as you can imagine, they didn't involve heavy lifting or spinning blades. He's not really very interested in what I'm doing. He does what he has to do with no enthusiasm for the thing itself; his enthusiasm is saved for the idea of doing what is required and finishing his appointed chores so he can get back to his amusements.

Who is to say whether his attitude is not superior to mine?

He is required to sweep the floor, which he does earnestly. It is gratifying to see him try to do a thorough job at a task so mundane. There is an old saying that when you don't know what to do, sweep the floor. There is reason behind most such hackneyed sayings. The advice battles idleness. All workplaces are improved by cleaning them up. The subtle and beautiful motive in the whole idea, though, is that when you are sweeping the floor, you are free to think while you do it, as it doesn't take concentration to sweep, and it leaves the mind free to consider whatever it is that has brought your progress to a standstill.

The jointer/planer is a machine for producing a finished edge on a board, or on the face of a board that is not too wide. It's a great big cast iron thing. It has two razor sharp knives which rotate on a horizontal spindle. You push the stock through a guard, along a fence, over the cutters. It doesn't abrade the wood, it slices it. It makes a pile of wood shaving which come out a chute on the side and collect in a heap on the floor.

My boy knows without being told to scoop these up with the dustpan and put them in a barrel to be taken outside later and made into mulch. You think you're wealthy? The mulch in my yard is made from tiger maple shavings. Bill Gates probably can't top that.

One day, my boy finished his appointed rounds, and all the vacuums were empty, and the floor was swept. And instead of placing the dustpan back on the shelf where it belonged, he placed it on the floor under the chute on the planer.

I questioned him closely on this matter.
Why is that there?
-When I begin again next time, the dustpan will have already caught the chips.
Why is that desirable?
-It will save a little trouble, but cost none.
What if it's in the way?
-It can't be in the way there. Something goes there, so nothing can be placed there anyway.
I tried to think of another question, and he offered:
-The spot on the shelf where the dustpan used to go is open now. We can put something else there.
What made you think of that?
-I thought of it while I swept the floor.
Go and play.

I wanted to sweep the floor just then, but it didn't need it.


Editor Theorist said...


There are plenty of people - fine, worthwhile people - who wil go through their whole life and never once have that kind of idea of how to improve the functioning and efficiency of the world.

But without a few people like your son - well, we would never even have gotten hand axes and spear throwers...

Really - Sipp - such daily riches as you provide. Well, surely it can't go on?

Don't answer that.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Editor Theorist: It can [nay--must!] go on. And stop calling him Shirley.