Coping: With Inventive Tool-Making

One of our readers up in Illinois (Tom the Toolmaker) is going to love this little tale.

As I think I mentioned, Elaine and I are “remodeling” the area between the house and the 40-x 40 pole building that houses my palatial office, Panama’s digs, and a whole bunch of shop equipment. 

Part of the process – which we arrive at today – involves the application of ground cloth – better know in some parts of the country as “weed barrier.”

And I hate putting it down.

That’s because it will take a few hundred ground cloth staples, which are nothing more than bent-up #8 steel wire about 6-inches long.  In the past I’ve cursed this aspect of landscaping because it means walking on your tired-old knees to put in staples in a 1,500 square food area,

Not my idea of fun…no sir, not at all.

But here’s the trick I wanted to pass along:  I’ve found that whenever I find myself shying away from a large project, there’s usually a reason for it.  The reason in this case is sore knees.  I used to have gout (celery seed extract, bilberry, blueberry, and black cherry extract have killed that problem) but I’m still incredibly gun-shy about getting down on the knees.

OK, genius:  Solve the problem,” I told myself.

Easily done:  I’ve been telling Peoplenomics™ readers for years that I’d a HUGE fan of structured problem – solving.  Once you get the knack of it, there is no other way to approach most (physical) problems in life.  I believe the best single book out there continues to be And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: TRIZ, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.  It ain’t free – try $40-bucks.

The point is this ground staking problem lived in the physical domain.

Under TRIZ (the theory of inventive problem solving) the “inventor” always begins by inspecting the problem – first up one side and then down the other.

Somewhere in following steps, you envision the ideal solution.

Recognizing that “on my knees” was the key deal point of the problem, the ideal solution would be something that would allow me to put in the ground staples without bending over.

Once this became clear, all that was required was a few minutes of visualization of the forces involved and a trip to the workshop. 

In a matter of 10-minutes, a number of slices on the table saws, including a 30-degree angle cut, so the staple wouldn’t slide out at the top, I had created a dandy stand-up ground staple installer.

It’s just  short hunk of 1X4 that is screwed and glued onto a piece of 2X2 and it holds about the top half of the staple.

To use, I simply put a staple in my installer while standing, lower it to the ground and put down. 

Granted, the staple only goes in about 3/4ths of the way, to I flip the tool around where there’s a slot in the 2X2 that pushes the staple down to within 11/2 inch of the ground cloth.  A firmly planted heel does the finishing touch.

This may not be the biggest breakthrough of the week, indeed, it’s pretty simple.  But being inventive – and our use of tools – is what sets us apart from gorillas.  So inventing a tool for every task is something I always try to remember.

In order to have an above-average output level, you need lots of tools and to understand that everything has a recipe to it.

A Recipe Discovery Moment

Speaking of which, one of these days I really will finish “Victims of Process:  How Unwritten Recipes run Your Life.”  The book is a compendium of my experiences in life using the “recipe approach.”

To show you how it works, Elaine and I were talking about her flying lessons.  She’d backed away from learning to fly the airplane because it is a very complex task and she wasn’t comfortable with many parts of it.

When we got to talking about it last night, she revealed something very interesting.  Both her flight instructor and I had overlooked explaining some of the key “hidden recipes” to flying.

The one she brought out was this (paraphrasing):  “When you do the run-up, you turn the key and say one-two, one-two, then you pause and say one, one.   Why do you do that?”

Well, I explained, there are two complete ignition systems on the airplane.  Either one will run the plane, but we always run on both at the same time.


Yep.  Think of an airplane engine this way:  “It’s built for ultra-high reliability.  This means that although it’s a four-cylinder engine, each cylinder has two sparkplugs.  There are also two magnetos – one for each system”

The counting, I explained, was to ensure that the ignition systems were in the BOTH position because while either one will run the engine fine, there is a small drop in horsepower when you don’t have dual ignition.  The counting out loud ensures the pilot has tested both and has returned the switch to the correct position for take-off and normal operation.

Should one of the plugs become fouled in flight, you can shut off one system or the other, which will oftentimes smooth up the engine while you make it to the nearest airport where you can find a mechanic to find the fouled plug.”

Well, the light went on.

Something that had been one of those great “secret recipes” of flying.  But now that she owns that answer, she’s sneaking back toward lessons.

But the point is that people aren’t often “dumb” about anything.  Rather, it’s just a matter of sharing the right recipe so that they understand what you’re talking about.  In this case, once she heard that there are two ignition systems and the counting ensured I tested system two, then system one, then confirmed I was in BOTH for take-off, she “owned it.”

Flying – and many other pursuits – are what I would call “fully rationalized.”  In other words, there’s a reason for everything we do.

Just like building a good house is fully rationalized and a poorly built home is not.

The difference?  In a poorly built house, door swings will be wrong or awkward, for example.  Or, plumping won’t be installed in a thoughtful manner.

When you’re building an electronic device?  Same thing:  The time to make sure all the wiring and connections are right is when you’re in the layout phase of a printed circuit board.  Now after you have a nearly completed board.  When this happens, you end up installing cuts and jumps which are about as good an indication of incomplete engineering, as you’ll find.

When it comes to interior design, I am not the recipe king:  Elaine’s head, however is perfectly wired for “whole vibe” design.  Me?  No sense of interior design at all.  But hand me the Skil saw, a cutting rig, anything with electronics to it…and I’m that guy.

Recognizing that each partner has different strengths and weaknesses makes for a good relationship…one of the most important “hidden recipes” in life.

The old saying “Women marry men hoping to change them, while men marry women hoping they’ll never change…” doesn’t have to be a hassle.  Provided both parties see the wisdom in the old saying and are able to step back when they don’t have the right recipe.

Speaking of Airplanes:  Hot New GPS

I think I’ve raved about the iFly GPS systems made here in Texas?

Well, as a long-time customer I managed to get one of the first iFly 740 GPS units that they are now shipping.  Click over here and roll down to the Specifications tab and have a look.

I did the burn-in on the 740 last night and OMG what a delight.

Just as an example of state-of-the-art in VFR GPS platforms, the iFly now allows you to overlay weather on top of a sectional or IFR chart.  This used to be a separate screen.

Another is selective WAAS enhancement.  The new unit has built-in WAAS (wide area augmentation service which yields precision as good as 10-feet).  But, since we also have WAAS data interleaved on the ADS-B wireless data stream, the new 740 selects the better of the high precision streams.  It’s almost like having diversity-receiver capability.

imageBut the main reason I upgraded (no, not free) was for the increased screen brightness.  Yes, the old 720 (on the left)is a grand piece of gear and sunlight readable, but in really bright glare, on the yoke, it can be hard enough to make out fine print that you’ll play with the +/- buttons to zoom in an out.

No more.

The iFly 740 (on the right in my un-retouched snapshot from the kitchen counter) is vastly more readable with 1,300 nit brightness.  It’s really impressive.

Since we fly a lot in the sun and have a low-wing airplane, this improvement in visibility under very bright conditions is a real plus.  Either unit displays ADS-B traffic on the sectional, but the new 740 adds a 30-minute onboard battery backup, as well.

The WAAS GPS doesn’t drift around when you’re not moving like the 720 does (in the non-WAAS mode), either.

We don’t waste money on the airplane – and the only reason we can afford it is living in an old trailer in the woods and having no bills.  But like the other recent additions and changes to the plane (not to mention having aggressive maintenance), it’s all about safety and being able to get in and go somewhere if we need or want to.

I’m sure you’ve seen people with cars that are the same way:  Some people maintain their cars so that they can jump in them and drive across the country without giving it a second thought.  Others though, will have half-bald tires, the oil needed changing six months ago, and that slow radiator leak is a problem…

That’s what separates a good car from a bad one, or a classic airplane from a junker. Though not to be confused with the Junkers J-1.

Having Fun With Jade Helm?

imageMy son’s buddy got a new Inmarsat satellite telephone.  Apparently, prices have come down on these things, although $250 a year sim card) and $250-$500 for a used unit on eBay ain’t free.

But he decided to try it out yesterday…and since my son knows that sat-phones are tightly monitored and since Jade Helm is going on (maybe in the ramp up, I figure) it would be interesting to see how alert people are…

My son called to test it, speaking in code, and doing his best imitation of Michael Weston/Burn Notice.  He mentioned grid coordinates and will advise when package delivered and so forth.  I might have mentioned “Hi Bumblehive” or something similar.  I wanted them to know we were just playing.

This could be an interesting experiment, however. Inquiring minds want to know.  So if my column turns up missing, you’ll know I’ve been renditioned for talking to my son on the sat phone. Otherwise, we’ll let you know if we get a visit.  Send someone who’s photogenic, please.

We’d like to know if Total Information Awareness is a two-way street.

And we have a whole bunch of questions about monitoring US PERSONS SPEAKING AMONG THEMSELVES ON CONUS. 

Specific question #1:  Does a sat-phone call transiting the Kármán line up to and back from space-based platforms turn all such calls into “international calls?”  Hmmm?

Or, are all sat phone calls routed Menwith or Alice Springs so foreign nationals can do the dirty work of domestic surveillance…or, is electronic sampling somehow NOT an invasion of privacy?  Can we get an update copy of the keyword list used to trigger monitoring?  Our current list is probably five-years out of date.

Mr. Waverly, open Channel D.  Who’s your Uncle?

Write when you break-even


7 thoughts on “Coping: With Inventive Tool-Making”

  1. George:
    Back when I was an active pilot there was a program called “PinchHitters”. I think it was FAA blessed. If it is still around it might just be the thing for the XYL.
    …STeve – KF5VH

  2. If you’re ground stapling anywhere near where the tractor or other rubber tired vehicles are, I’d sweep the area with a magnet every season or so. Things able to penetrate a tire tend to be attracted to the most expensive one, especially so if it’s hard to change.

  3. George: Visualize a Time-Motion study before you put down 1500 s.f. of weed barrier. Rather than flip your stapler tool around for each staple, do all the 3/4-of-the-way-in actions for an entire row, flip the tool once, then do that entire row’s second step next. You can either stomp them in as a second action on that second pass, or do a third pass to stomp them. Excessive tool handling is a time killer (ribald pun intended)

  4. A tip to pass along on planting seeds that saves the back and knees. Saw this on YouTube I believe. Two 4-foot pieces of 1″ PVC. My son takes one ahead of me and pokes holes in the ground and I follow along and drop the seeds down into the holes and push the dirt over with my foot. Have done this the last couple of years and saves a lot of pain and time.

    • I’ve got a piece of super light cheap 1/2 hot water pvc about 4-foot long and use it when I remember to put a garden in, lol…thee seeds in each drop and off I go…

  5. Weird talking about being “Listened” Too on the sat phone. I was on a call with My sister from the US mainland and I could hear the record beeping the whole time. It was just family business nothing out of the ordinary. But the recording beep was annoying just the same.

  6. George you already know hi much I love ya’ so,please don’t take this the wrong way. About life recipes:

    In the example you used about Elaine’s flying lessons, what you have there is the difference between the “new” (30 years ago) education system and the old education system. The “new” methods are all about memorization with very few whys. In other words, give enough info to pass a test, but withhold as much as possible to limit the possibility of creating thinkers, with an abundance of info floating around their grey matter to correlate with. Elaine’s instructor is a co-conspirator or a product of that system. You and I are about the same age, so care to explain to us and Elaine why you did the same thing to her? You should have known better. Or did you? LOL

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