December 10, 2004

what I can do

What a great way to spend the morning - I got someoe to take me on a tour of this site, and he did it thoroughly. We manufacture airplane engines here, and I got to see everything from casting and machining rocesses to powder-spraying, shot-peening, chemical treatments, and engine assembly. Way cool, and all the better because the guy taking me around was enjoying looking at all this stuff. Also, he started out in the machine shop(s) and knows lots of people everywhere, so they were happy to tell me about what they do. Way, way cool.

It made me think of Outfoxed and his entry on tools yesterday. The stuff I saw today ranged from plain hammers and vises to incredibly complex computer-controlled metal cutting devices that use not only metal cutters but sometimes wires or water streams to cut metal, but he'd have enjoyed seeing them. I did, and I enjoyed seeing the complex shapes all those tools and the skilled people who use them produce. Machined metal parts are incredibly and unexpectedly beautiful, partly because of all the work evident in each one but more for their own sake, for the sheen of cut and polished metal and the precision of their curves. The precise fits of the pieces is also beautiful, as well as reassuring for anyone who flies much - all that sutff is in your engine.

That all dovetails into a post I started here yesterday. I'm not so much into vague self-esteem as I am into being proud of what I can do. Outfoxed got me thinking, but also, this has been a favorite quote of mine for years:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. Robert A. Heinlein
The usual meme is to list things you have done or haven't done. I think it might be more interesting to look at what I can do. I'm not much of an expert in anything, but I do have a fairly wide variety of skills, though I hope not to find out whether I can "die gallantly" for a good long time yet. So far, I know I can:
  • Drive a stick shift
  • Fly an airplane
  • Drive a boat
  • Knit
  • Purl
  • Adapt a knitting pattern
  • Change a diaper
  • Balance a checkbook
  • Do a Design of Experiment (DoE)
  • Solve a quadratic equation
  • Cook matzoh ball soup
  • Do a perfect cartwheel
  • Stand on my head
  • Row a racing shell
  • Paddle a canoe or kayak
  • Change a diaper
  • Coil an extension cord properly
  • Cut down a (small) tree with a handsaw
  • Flake a climbing rope
  • Put on a climbing harness and tie a rope on with a figure-8 knot.
  • Belay and rappel properly and safely
  • Change a tire
  • Write a sonnet (not necessarily a great one)
  • In calligraphy (of quality slightly worse than the sonnet)
  • Embroider in cross-stitch
  • Set up a stereo or a computer
  • Do beadwork and wirewrapping
  • Program a computer (Well. Depends. That's really too broad a thing to say. I have programmed everything from graphics to engine thermal models, though.)
  • Break and separate an egg neatly, with no tools
  • Make a good salad dressing
  • Write clearly and grammatically, if often not concisely
  • Teach
  • Speak in public, even in front of a crowd
  • Follow directions or instructions
  • Follow a map or diagram
  • Love
  • Like
  • Enjoy
  • Recognize happiness while I'm experiencing it
  • Recognize that sadness or frustration or anger will pass, while I'm experiencing it
  • Remember pi to seven decimal places
  • Recite hours' worths of poems and song lyrics
  • French-braid my own or others' hair (not cornrows, though)
  • Admit to what I don't know or can't do

For balance, there are quite a lot of things I can't do - some I can't do yet, some I never will be able to do, some I have actually done but only with step-by-step instruction. Of course this list could be nearly infinite so I'll try to keep it to things I want to do or that I could be expected to do or that other people around me can do. I can't:

  • Make pie crust

  • Do a handspring, front or back

  • Reliably saw straight using a handsaw.

  • Fly a complex or high-performance aircraft.

  • Fly an instrument approach (this is definitely a can't do yet).

  • Reliably keep a plant alive.

  • Deal with puke (human ... I'm OK on cat hairballs).

  • Pack a parachute

  • Use a metal lathe

  • Sing well enough that most people want to hear it

  • Parallel park well

  • Throw a baseball or football for any distance

  • Dribble a basketball while moving (except very slowly)

  • Pretend to be stupider than I am (being naturally stupid I can do very well)

  • Train a dog

  • Do almost anything for more than an hour or three at a time

  • Put up my hair in any complex style (Can do a French twist, more or less)

  • Blowdry my hair into style

  • Any but the simplest crochet - can edge a knit piece but that's about it)

  • Write fiction. (Well of course I can - anyone can to some degree - but it's awful.)

  • Erg 1K in under 4:20

  • Bench press more than about half my weight

  • Do more than a couple pull-ups

  • Saddle a horse or ride one much above a walk.

And of course that list could be infinite - I can't drive a tractor or harness a mule. I can't win an Olympic gold medal in rowing, can't climb Everest or scuba dive under the Antarctic ice sheet. Can't fly (without a plane) or read minds or bring the dead back to life. But that's an exercise in silliness so I'll stop there and be happy with the things I can do, and with trying to increase that list. I still think this is a more fun meme than listing only things I have done.

Thankful for: the things I can do and that my life isn't badly limited by those I can't.
Holiday Challenge: 85000 meters left.

Posted by dichroic at December 10, 2004 01:55 PM

Wanna trade? I'll give you healthy plants and flaky crust for rappeling. Always wanted to do it and have too much going on with my coordination, balance, and vision to make it anywhere less than suicidal. Though maybe not for too much longer! ~LA

Posted by: LA at December 10, 2004 03:42 PM
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