Archive for June, 2012

I love TOOLS

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

I am on the train coming back from the “DOC Toronto Cinematography Day”. In the business of telling stories using sound and pictures there are quite a number of tools that are employed.  Some of them are software programs that do tasks like image creation, animation or editing. Even though you don’t use hands in the same complex way that you do building objects, a program like Photoshop is in effect a toolbox. You are building 2D images and your tools are virtual.

On the other hand, the world of cinematography is fairly hands-on. At the event I attended I saw a computerized camera slider in addition to a remote-controlled battery-powered helicopter-looking device that can lift a camera in the air for that dramatic aerial view. The most interesting moment was hearing one speaker describe herself as a tinkerer. It is true that when you go on a shoot there are a number of challenges in the area of mounting and manipulating whether it involves a camera, a microphone or a light fixture. There is a lot of trial and error. Having a good imagination is very helpful.

When I got my first HD camera I found it much smaller than what I was use to. It was hard to hold steady and  it felt unbalanced. I decided to make my own support device as the commercially available units each seemed to have serious drawbacks. It was a challenge to make it but I use it all the time. The even bigger challenge lies in trying to make and sell them commercially.

I would love to hear from people who also love TOOLS. Tell me about your favourite ones. Now if you insist on saying ‘I love Photoshop’ go ahead but tell me about a physical tool as well. The Dremel Oscillating Tool is one of my favourites.

Finding Satisfaction

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

I spent many years as a General Manager in manufacturing various kinds of machines from robots to packaging machines. The manufacture of these machines required people who worked with their hands in machining, fabrication, purchased parts, assembly, and testing. But I was the leader and never got a chance to put a wrench on a nut.

We had some real craftsman – particularly our service technicians who had to have many types of skills to be able to service all models still in operation. I always respected these people as well as the advanced assembly people who could test the machines for the customer. They were always able to troubleshoot very complex problems and save the day for me and the customer.

My job was to manage other people and departments and to keep the board of directors happy and supportive. In my job there were seldom moments of real satisfaction because progressing in our long term plan was achieved by incremental efforts over many years. Most of the solutions and decisions I made directly affected the employees, shareholders, and managers. But I did not go home very often with a feeling of satisfaction like the people who worked with their hands.

Building something with your hands like our shop people did everyday always had the potential for satisfaction. Even if you build a complex sub assembly for the machine, you could step back at the end of the day and say I did that. I did high quality work with my own hands and finished my part of the big machine.

On the other hand my job as the GM meant attending many meetings everyday, solving people problems and disagreements, and finding ways to motivate people. Many of the projects I monitored could take months or even years to complete and many meetings would simply lead to more meetings. As the leader I had to contend with the fact that many people did not like my style, my decisions, or the cut of my jib. So I seldom went home with a feeling of satisfaction, only a feeling of surviving another day.

I often envied the people who worked with their hands and had many chances at feelings of satisfaction. So when I was home in my own space, on my own time my hobbies were working with my hands. I built a wood shop behind my house and have spent endless hours building furniture, doing house maintenance, and repairing anything that broke in the house. These projects always allowed me to go to bed with a feeling of satisfaction. They were projects that required thinking, creativity, experimentation, and developing unique solutions. The process always made me happy

I was also trying to reach my potential as an artist In 1978 I found scratchboard drawing which is an engraving process on a thin board covered with chalk and the final layer was India Ink. By scratching through the India ink and revealing the white chalk I can make elaborate designs and drawings from photo realistic portraits to landscapes. Thirty-four years later I am still doing scratchboard and have not yet reached my potential. I just can’t tell you how much satisfaction these drawings give me and it is all accomplished with my hands and my brain.

Although I was good and rewarded for my corporate job, I must say that it was never a source of personal satisfaction. If you were totally focused on money and money was the equivalent of happiness I imagine that the job could be satisfying. But I found that the higher I rose in the corporation the job became more frustrating, more political, and more pressure. I feel that many people would simply have a lot less stress and lot more feelings of satisfaction by working with their hands. It just depends on what you want out of life.

Where does the battery go?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

In keeping with the thread of an earlier post Social media is EVIL! there is another direction which these documentaries will not take. They are not going to romanticize long lost trades. I mean wagon wheels were very useful at one time but choosing to be a wheelwright is not a practical career choice in this day and age.  On the other hand there are some people (Texas Wagon Works) in the world who still practice a dying or vanished art. It may be for the movies, for historical groups or for individuals who wants to connect with the past. That is a good thing in my opinion as our world is changing so quickly that we can forget that what is new now is always an evolution of something from the past. I will feature stories of vanished trades whenever they reflect an aspect of contemporary reality.

And as for hand tools, who wants to wait for a table surface to be worked on with a plane when you can rip through in no time with a power sander? It’s is a no-brainer, right?    Wrong!!   Hand tools are an important part of the arsenal that many furniture makers draw upon. Norman Pirollo who is a furniture and wood artist says it simply in his blog;

“In the process of designing and creating wood art I also strive to work with hand tools as much as I can. Benefits to this include environmental friendliness, quietness,a dust-free environment, to say nothing of the aerobic exercise gained. The hand tool process is a peaceful one which provides me more opportunity to reflect on the task at hand.”

I would also add from what I have learned, hand tools give you much more control, much less chance of making an irreversible mistake.

So maybe I will talk about hand tools and vanishing trades in my documentaries after all. But I won’t DWELL. And be honest, wouldn’t you like to learn how to make your own suit of armour?

Social media is EVIL!

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Maybe that headline is a little harsh especially since I have been asking people to go to the Working Hands Project Facebook page. But today in the Globe & Mail one of the stories Dating violence on the rise reports on statistics that show social media as one reason behind a rise in aggressive behaviour after a relationship has ended. Recently there was also these two articles; Facebook’s ‘dark side’: study finds link to socially aggressive narcissism and Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?. They both refer to a psychology paper that found Facebook and other social media offered platform for obsessions with self-image and shallow friendships.

In my own life I had a problem once between my daughter and me. It only got cleared up only when I went to see her at work and we talked it out. Emails and text messages seemed to only make it worse. I believe body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and a free back and forth can do wonders in problem solving. I have seen friendships break up because of text messaging. Today when I mentioned that first article to my wife she told me I would be proud. One of our daughters who is having a little problem with her boyfriend just told him they HAD to talk about it face to face.

I vowed to myself that these media projects weren’t going to be about the problems with social media, texting or the internet. There is enough information out there like the documentary Are We Digital Dummies? that bring some of these issues to light. For the Working Hands Project I want to tell compelling stories about hands and my research shows there is plenty of those to tell.