Friday, December 20, 2013
Nov 14, 2012—Oh Human Puzzler
I went outside for awhile this morning, then came inside because of laziness and the cold. The wind was worse than irritating, a strong north-wester. In spring such a wind would not disturb me, but these sudden cold snaps in fall are harder. They bring a noticeable bracing thump to the pulse. The high arctic sky is amazing blue but the unobstructed sunlight seems cold and far away. It is a puzzling sunlight because it seems to give no warmth. And when there is a wind, as today, though there is work to do outside, I am driven inside with surprising urgency. In this weather salting my attitude with fortitude is as good as to waste it. A person who prides himself in hardiness is displeased to fritter away fortitude on a lost cause. But I come to this season prepared with outside work vaguely finished, as finished as ever it gets, and jobs to do indoors. I amused myself the other day by dis-assembling a computer keyboard. It was old and worthless, it was worthless when it was new, another mistake of mass produced technology; mostly it worked, but for the rest it didn't. People put up with it as if they don't know any better. But now it has been beat up with years of use and collected dust and dirt and some of the keys are gone dead. Curiosity will waste hours; in the glory days of computing when no expense was spared, keyboards were mechanical, and to this day though more than twenty years later, they are valuable to expert typists, and I might be better employed expending my curiosity on something valuable. The keyboard I use most of the time is a twenty years old IBM standard. I use other keyboards, one of which was very expensive, a Happy Hacker. But I wouldn't part with the old IBM ever. There are other ways I might be better employed than staring at keyboards and motherboards on the Internet. But telling myself that something is an ineffective utilization of time and actually persisting in avoiding it is hard work, especially where curiosity is involved. So I am anxious to go inside because I know that I'll soon have that simple-minded task in front of me. (One of the keys has disappeared. I theorize that a cat kicked it off the kitchen table to play with and stashed it somewhere.) I have classic works of literature to study but here also are one-hundred-and-fifty or so small parts to puzzle over. I remember the first Chevy 327 short block I disassembled. Since that day my opinion has been that anybody who has passed through a certain number of years of life without seeing the bottom end of a Ford or Chevy V-8 must not be very bright, must not know anything, in fact. It is right up there with watching a baby being born and milking a dairy goat or cow. A V-8 engine also has a large number of parts, and one must be careful which goes where. There is involved a lot of organizing; but there is a fair amount of puzzling too. You try to do away with as much puzzling as you can through organization, but even the best organizer sometimes gets confused. People love to puzzle but they also love to avoid what should be most puzzled over. But in the end it was not the puzzling over the worthless damned Dell keyboard, which I took apart because it happened to be broken, it was the simple desire to get out of the cold. So a little disgusted with myself because I had a job to do and it was not getting done, I went inside from outside, and the heat hit my face and it seeped under the lids of my eyes and I became almost sleepy. So now it was time for puzzling. I had already puzzled about the cold sunlight, and now I puzzled my way through the keyboard puzzle. There are puzzles and then there are other puzzles. The keyboard was a puzzle; a computer OS is another puzzle; a V-8 engine or a nuclear submarine is a bigger puzzle. Which takes us through puzzles to a point. But what does that mean? My keyboard, which was broken long before I ever thought of dis-assembling it, is a puzzle whose solution tells me hardly anything. What, for instance, does this mean? How is it that this life we slouch through such dim souls so mistakenly seems so inexplicable? Then who is going to explain, and attempt to explain we must, who is going to explain the mysteries? Take error. How is it that two men can take two common facts and the one will make out of it truth, the other while away into error and wonder and get nowhere and both with a conscience equally clear? Oh, human puzzler, who just built that atomic bomb, explain to me the Trinity! Thus in anguish, careless of the blunt north-wester, I returned outside to chop firewood.