The photos in this post, by the way, are completely unrelated to the text except that I took them at the beginning of September, four months ago, and I’m just now posting them. They’re from ElixirConf, in Denver for 2022. This one: leaving Oakland, with Mount Tam just visible in the distance.
I’ve talked about making stuff in the past but something that’s always confounded me is just how long it takes to get anything done. If I had to define a process for ‘how to make anything’, it’d look something like this:
- design the shape of the thing
- figure out the parts you’ll need to make the thing
- buy the parts you can, make what you can’t
- assemble the parts into the thing
Anyone who’s made stuff knows that any one of these steps can take an unlimited amount of time. And step three is actually fractal; any given part can be made up of its own parts. In my bags, usually there’s a complex front piece that has pockets, and organizers in those pockets; the organizers are made of of several pieces of fabric in turn, et cetera.
On the way to the conference hotel, there was a random sandstorm. Didn’t happen again, but probably helped the sunsets.
Anyway, I’m what’s known as a chaos muppet. Think Fozzie the bear versus Bert or Animal versus Kermit. It could be the ADHD, or it could just be me (the fuzzy line between disorder and personality is a different essay). And I’ve always thought I paid some penalties for that, in terms of getting stuff done. Like, if only I was organized, I would be able to just move through the steps in an orderly fashion, and turn out finished products (bags, photos, blog posts, what have you) by rote, no problem.
One of the things I love about youtube is some real geniuses of different trades have channels and produce videos about making stuff. There’s folks like Quinn Dunki machining on home setups not dissimilar to my studio, all the way up to big production shops like Adam Booth. Some are explicitly instructional, like Ron Covell (he of the metalworking books, his channel is Bob Ross for sheet metal I swear), and some are more ‘this is what we’re doing in the shop’ but with enough detail that if you’re conversant you can figure out how to reproduce what they do.
I took a version of this picture every day; this was the best one.
Paul Brodie is one of the latter. Just a really excellent fabricator, who had a business building custom bike frames, was apparently renowned for such, and is now in retirement up in Canada, doing one off custom work on bikes and motorcycles. “Build whole engines from scratch” levels of fabrication. Brodie’s shop is immaculate, organized to a T. He’s the picture of an order muppet, and he has every tool he could want at his disposal. Lathe and mill and all sorts of jigs accumulated over years of making things out of metal; TIG and MIG welders, as well as Oxy/Acetalene torch equipment, and plenty of material in his stock racks. It’s not a huge shop, but plenty of space to do the work he does.
He recently posted a video of making a fender mount for a rare Honda race bike. Well, it was a kit bike that was raced or something, that part doesn’t matter. The fender mount was a single piece of sheet aluminum, bent in a big radius to go around the tire, plus some smaller bits of tubing with little welded bosses to make it meet with the mounting points. At the end of the video, he had a little bit where he was like, “Guess how long it took me to make this?” because it was a client project, he had tracked his hours.
My initial guess was 8 hours. Not only is he in a good shop, but he’s old, and contrary to what you might think, older craftsmen move faster. There’s an economy of movement and lack of going down wrong paths that means they don’t have to like, redo work or stand and think about the order of assembly or anything, it’s just ‘the way it worked last time’ to do any given task. The big reveal, at least to me, was that it took him 19 hours to build this one fender mount. So I guess I should just take it easy on myself. How long will it take? As long as it needs.
Posted on 2023-02-05T09:20:19Z GMT
So this is from the second party of our new year’s. We had a couple friends over earlier in the evening, and those pictures may or may not be on the other camera, but I downloaded these first. The friends party was over and we were supposed to be getting in bed because there was a morning plane to Albuquerque that we were supposed to be on, and the whole week of adventure after that.
Instead, when Sophie texted our neighbor to wish them a happy new year, they said, we’re having a party, come over. So we did. There was a fire outside and karaoke inside, along with a bunch of potluck dishes, and punch that was mostly booze with sugar to cover it up. It was actually really nice to get to hang out, even though we paid for it the next day.
These are in black and white and still a bit motion blurred, in case you’re wondering, because my little pocket camera was at ISO 8000 and shutter speeds were in the 1/4 to 1/2 second range. I’m good at hand-holding but I can’t make the world be still.
Posted on 2023-02-03T00:17:12Z GMT
this wasn’t the last day of the trip, but it was the last day I was out and about; I tested positive for covid on returning to our room that night and so spent the rest of the trip isolating. I went to Boboli Gardens on the recommendation of someone from the Tabs supporters’ discord server, and it was a great place to spend an afternoon. In hindsight, choosing to be outside all day, and not close to anyone (no crowds), was a good call.
I feel like I could narrate the whole experience, but I also feel like it’s mostly here in the photos? Sometimes it’s nice to just let them do the talking.
one thing I will note, a lot of these obelisks had these little turtles at the base, holding them up. No idea what the symbolism is there, although I do remember the ‘turtles all the way down’ anecdote from Stephen Hawking, and of course discworld’s turtles.
And that’s it for the vacation photos, at least for that trip. A bunch of other things have happened since then, don’t worry. The posting will continue.
Posted on 2023-01-31T09:31:03Z GMT
The first day we had to spend in florence, as opposed to just stopping to sleep there before rushing onward to Sardinia, was kind of a slow start. I was alone, because Sophie had caught some kind of bug and stayed in the hotel to rest. 7 days of raving was bound to catch up to us. I felt fine, so I went out walking. Brought her back some breakfast, and then continued on my way.
I wandered around and took bad photos of narrow streets in deep shadow close to our bnb. Got myself some breakfast, coffee and a croissant in a little cafe that was arty and pretentious in a way they never seem to be here any more; local art on the walls, a few benches and simple concrete tables. Very good coffee, like everywhere that served espresso in Italy. I sat in the little cafe and tried to make a plan for the day, a plan which I mostly threw out the window. The second cappuccino finally got my brain into gear and I was off, ready to actually move and groove. See the sights, take some photos.
I started by walking towards the Duomo, ate a really good ham sandwich at a place down the street from the place everyone was in line for, and just generally wandered in that area for a bit. Lot of high end shops, expensive watches and jewelry, fashion houses that have an outpost in Florence, that sort of thing. I was not in a mood to shop, not particularly, but the people watching is always pretty good in these areas.
Did I do anything else of note that day? Wandered, bought groceries, went back to our airbnb, which was right by the main train station. Sophie wasn’t feeling well still, and a test confirmed: it was COVID. There was a couch in our room, so I slept there and tried to isolate. I’d also gotten my bivalve booster a couple weeks before, so thought I might be safe. Turns out I was just a couple days behind her.
The long essay (about how long it takes to build something) is coming. It currently has that problem that a lot of my anecdotes have, in that it doesn’t have a neat ending. My friend Alex used to say, when I’d tell a story like that, that I should end it with ‘then I found five dollars,’ so people a) know it’s over and b) think there was a point to my meandering. The point really is just the meandering, though, and nothing else. Once, I did find $5 in the street, and sent him a picture of it. I think I laughed about that for a whole day.
Posted on 2023-01-27T08:43:27Z GMT