May 07, 2005

Two for the commonplace

I'm forever finding passages in my reading that seem especially fraught with implication. Often (if I'm reading a book I own) I make a telegraphic note in the back endpapers --sometimes just a page number, sometimes a word or two to summarize. Last night I happened to pick up Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values (1974) --can't remember when I last read it, but a note at the back pointed me to this passage:

Time to switch to the psychomotor traps. this is the domain of understanding which is most directly related to what happens to the machine.
Here by far the most frustrating gumption trap is inadequate tools. Nothing's quite so demoralizing as a tool hang-up. Buy good tools as you can afford them and you'll never regret it... Good tools, as a rule, don't wear out, and good secondhand tools are much better than inferior new ones. Study tool catalogs. You can learn a lot from them. (290-291)

There's one psychomotor gumption trap, muscular insensitivity, which accounts for some real damage. It results in part from lack of kinesthesia, a failure to realize that although the externals of a cycle are rugged, inside the engine are delicate precision parts which can be easily damaged by muscular insensitivity. There's what's called "mechanic's feel," which is very obvious to those who know what it is, but hard to describe to those who don't; and when you see someone working on a machine who doesn't have it, you tend to suffer with the machine.
The mechanic's feel comes from a deep inner kinesthetic feeling for the elasticity of materials. Some materials, like ceramics, have very little, so that when you thread a porcelain fitting you're very careful not to apply great pressures. Other materials, like steel, have tremendous elasticity, more than rubber, but in a range in which, unless you're working with large mechanical forces, the elasticity isn't apparent.
With nuts and bolts you're in the range of large mechanical forces and you should understand that within these ranges metals are elastic. When you take up a nut there's a point called "finger-tight" where there's contact but no takeup of elasticity. Then there's "snug," in which the easy surface elasticity is taken up. Then here's a rance called "tight," in which all the elasticity is taken up. The force required to reach these three points is different for each size of nut and bolt, and different for lubricated bolts and for locknuts. The forces are different for steel and cast iron and brass and aluminum and plastics and ceramics. But a person with mechanic's feel knows when someting's tight and stops. A person without it goes right on past and strips the threads or breaks the assembly.
A "mechanic's feel" implies not only an understanding for the elasticity of metal but for its softness... It's important to understand that the metal behind the surfaces can normally take great shock and stress but the surfaces themselves cannot. (291-292)

Another one from last night: I've been reading Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern: world society 1815-1830 in the last minutes before turning out the light, and this one slugged me with significance:

In the years after 1815 no article was more symbolic of middle-class values and wealth than was the pianoforte. It was a sign not merely of respectability but of culture... The rise of the piano had been rapid and its reverberations felt throughout the world of music. Beethoven's early sonatas had been written as much for the harpsichord as for the primitive pianos then available. But it was the piano which made the player's technique "brilliant" --a vogue world of the time. Mozart had been happy to keep his hands close to the keys. But in the new age of musical genius, a touch of theater became obligatory. Clemeti was the first to start raising and flourishing his hands while playing; Dussek, another leading player-composer, took the next step by putting himself sideways, his right profile to the audience, the lid of his grand piano open; Moscheles, who took over as the top pianist in the 1820s, specialized in the whole range of virtuoso techniques and exhibitionism the audiences now demanded.
As the technology advanced... Beethoven set the pace, He forced the manufacturers to provide more sophisticated and powerful instruments by writing music that would have been unplayable a decade before... (129)

Posted by oook at May 7, 2005 06:53 AM