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2002-08-30 00:01:23 ]


My pal Stan wrote this bit of a rant on tools around August 29, 2002
and sent it to the bamogram list. I like it.

As some of you whom I've talked to recently well know, I've been
feeling a rant building up inside me for several days now. Perhaps
because this is my most stressful time of year at work... perhaps
because my personal life (if you can call it that) has begun
physically consuming more and more of my free time instead of just
emotionally jerking me around... perhaps just because it's fall, when
a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of mindless violence... or
perhaps it's just because the students are back. What's worse, the
students brought their parents (like they do every year), while my own
mommy is lounging on a beach in Florida. *sigh*

Whatever the reason is, it's got me in the mood to be grumpy. That's
right, you heard me... I'm in the mood to be grumpy and surly and
cross, though I'm not _actually_ surly, grumpy, and cross. Yeah, I
know... I'm as shocked as you. And frankly, it pisses me off a bit.

So I guess I'm not quite 100% naturally grumpy, but I feel like I
should be. I feel like something in my life should be inspiring an
absolute fit of unpleasantry within me, and like a pool of hot lava,
the bile boils within me, just below the surface, a virtual techtonic
time bomb, waiting to erupt.... pressure cooker... the fires of
hell... trash compacter scene in Star Wars... scalding McDonalds
coffee to the crotch... yadda yadda yadda.

...But all mixed-mataphors aside for the moment...

All these little phrases have kept popping up in my mind that would be
just perfect for a rant. I think of them, or hear them or remember
them from long ago, and I think to myself "That's just perfect... I'll
have to remember to work that into the rant I'm building up" [0].

But despite my best intentions and wishes, the rant has not been
forthcoming. The spirit has been there, but the proper stimulus has
been lacking. I've even given some thought to the idea of writing a
rant about not being able to throw a rant even though I want to throw
a rant. I figured I might be able to take the whole rant thing to the
next level... the Meta-Rant! [1] And I still think that's an idea with
merit, but this is not that rant.

There's all the usual topics that everyone bitches about this time of
year... the heat.. the traffic... the students... parking... the
shameful abuse and over-use of the ellipsis... the government... the
decline of TV's popularity since the invention of the book... that
sort of thing. But that stuff's been bitched about plenty already, and
even a rank amateur can work up a good mouth frothing wrath about that

Besides, a rant is not a bitch.

No, the rant I've been building deserves more. Much more. It deserves
something broad and sweeping. It deserves a topic that people don't
always bitch about. It deserves... a good title.

So there's the background scene. That's where I was. That was the
state I was in. Then I walked across the parking lot, and one of those
magical moments happened. Yes, much like the killing of Ferdinand
launched a World War, some little event that most people probably
wouldn't even have noticed managed to call down my wrath.

As many of you know log ago, I used to race bicycles pretty seriously
in my younger, more durable days. I worked in a bike shop for nigh 10
years, and was (and am) a fairly gifted mechanic, if I do say so
myself (and I do). I love the bike. It's graceful, elegant, beautiful,
effecient, and generally the average bike deserves far better than the
dull witted clods who regularly wipe their ass sweat all over them.

So I see this dude, we'll slap the 'incoming freshman' label on him
just to stay up with current events, cruising across the parking lot
on his ludicrously overpriced fully suspended Mountain Bike that I'm
sure his daddy bought him 'for getting back and forth to classes and
stuff'. I paused briefly to watch the bike and admire it's lines and
it's functional beauty. It really was quite a nice sled. The guy was
zipping along at a pretty good clip and...


...he rode straight in to the curb. He didn't slow down. He didn't hop
it. He didn't shift his weight around even a little bit to lessen the
impact. He didn't so much as attempt to hoist his giant pimply ass off
the genuine Italian leather saddle. He didn't take his weight on his
feet. The bike took the hit, 100%.

It was a good quality bike. It was rugged. It was fully suspended. It
was fairly new and in good working order. So the poor bike took it
like a real trooper. Hell, it didn't even buck him off or turn around
and bite him like any self respecting horse would have done. Nope, it
took the hit, kept the rider on, and doggedly went on about it's
business without complaint.

I resisted the urge to tackle the mother fucker and give him a good
cock-punching [2] on the bike's behalf. Instead, I did my little
equivalent to saying a little prayer for the equivalent of a little
soul of the poor little bike. I mourned for the short sad life that
bike is destined to lead. I saw in that moment that the bike would
never see the real off-road adventure (and no Alan, I don't mean 'The
Great Bikini Off-Road Adventure' [3]) it was born to have.

The poor bike will probably spend most of it's useful life with flat
tires, and warped wheels. *sigh* Probably it will meet it's untimely
demise splattered all over the undercarriage of some dump truck... an
accident the rider will probably miraculously and dissapointingly
survive more or less unblemmished. His daddy, the bastard lawyer, will
slap a horrible lawsuit all over the poor dumb sombitch driving the
truck, who will then lose most of his game pieces and off his whole
family (Mrs. Poor Dumb Sombitch and all the little Dumb Sombitches) in
their sleep.

And that's when it hit me, an epiphany. In that glorious instant, I
had a subject, a thesis statement, and a title for my rant. At long
last, my rant had purpose!

		The Uni-ranter's Rantifesto.

Science and technology have provided us with many wonderous things. I
have a telephone that I can carry with me in my pants pocket wherever
I may roam, across the countryside. I have a battery of computers that
allow me to communicate with all of you vagrants and share these
thoughts without me being forced to actually spit venom at anyone in
real life. I have a service on my home phone that screens calls for
me, so I don't have to. When I go to a restaurant, I don't have to
have actual cash with me, because they'll accept this little rectangle
of plastic, which pays them for me. Chris "Professor Poopypants" Dent
has a single item called the Onit which can be inserted rectally,
which does all of these things and much much more [4].

We're living in the future man!! We're building a better tomorrow,
today! We're in the fascinating world of next tuesday!

We've gone to the moon! Our bloody cat's play with lazers! We can
store our dead sports heroes and cartoonits in zip-lok freezer bags
and save 'em for later. We have automatic transmission, and caller ID,
and self cleaning ovens!! We have electronic dartboards, massage
chairs, power windows, keyless entry and motion sensitive light
switches. We have fully suspended mountain bikes, 100 Gig hard-drives
full of naked pictures of Natalie Portman, and 60 cycle hum.

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta!

But are these the things that mean life is good? Is caller ID the
thing, or is it the fact that I can use it to see that it's my
ex-girlfriend calling before I accidentally answer?  Is the self
cleaning oven what makes me happy, or is it the fact that I no longer
have to spend hours of my life every week making sure my cooking
surfaces are clean enough to eat off of (theoretically speaking of

All these things are _tools_.

Tools allow us to do things we want to do. They sometimes allow us to
do other things while they do the things we want done for us. And
sometimes they allow us to not do things by pointing out that those
things might not be such great things to do. They supply us with
mechanical advantage, means to do the things we couldn't do just by
biting and scratching.

Making and using tools is what shows the rest of the world that we
bloody well have thumbs and we're not afraid to use them. Tools are
what separates us monkeys from the rest of the animal kingdom [5]. And
using the right tool for the job is what separates us extra smart
monkeys from the more pedestrian ordinary dumb monkeys.

The really exceptionally smart monkeys use the right tool for the job,
and they use the tools they have in the right way. The dumb ones use
the same twig to dig a termite out of a mound, and to scratch their
butt. Some extra special dumb monkeys forget that they need to hold on
to one end of the stick at all times while in use, or else it might
wind up stuck somewhere terribly unpleasant while they sit there with
an itchy ass and no lunch.

For God's sake, be a smarter monkey!!

There's an old piece of folk wisdom that says "When all you have is a
hammer, everything looks like a nail." Ya get it? If the only tool you
have at your disposal is a hammer, then you're pretty much going to
beat on anything that you try to fix with tools. This is kinda
understandable. I mean, what else ya gonna do?

But we have more than a hammer. We have screwdrivers. We have needle
nosed pliers. We have *snort* monkey wrenches. We have vice grips
(which may well be the exception to prove the rule). We have funny
little long handled half moon shaped thingies with a pin in the end
specifically designed to unscrew the lock nut from the threaded bit on
the back side of the weird cam thing.

And if you have the funny little long handled half moon shaped thingie
with a pin in the end, then you should use it to unscrew the lock nut
from the threaded bit on the back side of the weird cam thing when you
need to do that. You shouldn't use your 24oz ball peen hammer. If you
do, you'll probably only scratch your 24oz ball peen hammer, and most
likely completely and utterly destroy the weird cam thing. And worst
of all, it's pretty likely that the cursed lock nut ain't goin'
anywhere anyway.

And don't use the the funny little long handled half moon shaped
thingie with a pin in the end to drive a nail, or knock down a wall,
or bash in the skull of an informant. The 24oz ball peen hammer works
_so_ much better for that kind of stuff, and the the funny little long
handled half moon shaped thingie with a pin in the end is likely to
break when you try. And when you break it, you won't be able to
unscrew the lock nut from the threaded bit on the back side of the
weird cam thing when you need to. And that would be sad.

You've got to use the right tool for the job. And further, you've got
to have the right job for the tool. Otherwise, you're just spinnin'
your wheels, and you'll end up with someone like me getting very
long-winded about it.

You're probably saying to yourself "Yes, obviously. All that's lovely
nonsense, but what the hell does this have to do with bicycles, rants,
and the meaning of life?!?!" I'll tell you.

Our chubby cheeked freshman on daddy's bicycle got lazy. He had a good
tool at his disposal (the bike) that was easily capable of doing the
job (hauling his slack ass back and forth between the frat house and
the liquor store). But he forgot that the tool is only _mechanical
advantage_ making his efforts more effecient *for that job*. Things
went wrong when he decided that he was going to try to make the tool
(the bike) do a job that it wasn't designed to do (batter a concrete
curb into gravel).

Paint brushes are good tools for painting. You can paint a house with
one. You can paint a picture of a house with one. It's a question of
how you use them. If you try to paint a picture of a house with a
house painting brush, it's... well the resolution isn't going to be so
great. If you try to paint a house with a picture painting brush, then
the person who contracted you to paint the house is gonna yoink you
down off your ladder and kick you right in the junk [6] for wasting so
much time.

Nevermind that you *could* paint a house with a picture paintin'
brush. You could paint the Mona Lisa with a 3" Craftsman wood handled,
horse hair, exterior latex paint applicating brush. The point is the
job exceeds the reasonable limits on proper practical use of the tool.

Our tubby friend on the bike clearly didn't destroy the bike, or he
wouldn't have ridden off into history like he did. He might not have
even damaged it. On the other hand, I know, that from my perspective,
he was very lucky not to have turned his wheels into Pringles [7] and
have me kick him right squa' in the Faculty and Staff [8] for his

But this horse is now dead. You now completely understand the idea of
using the right tool for the job, and using a tool for something its
actually capable of doing, right?

Let us now look to the future.

To be sure, tools can grow, be refined, evolve, be adapted to new and
exciting purposes. When that first caveman's wife wanted him to hang
her new Thomas Kincaid print in the living room, he went outside the
cave, found a likely looking rock, came back in, and used it to smash
the living shit out of his thumb. Then Mrs. Caveman had little Caveman
Jr. hang the print while Mr Caveman went outside to jump up and down
for a whle and invent swearing.

Caveman Jr.'s great great great great grandson one day realized that
what that rock really needed was a handle. So he set about finding a
suitable stick and a proper means of attaching it to the rock. And
thus, the ancient and long forgotten ancesters of the modern 24oz ball
peen hammer were born.

Clearly today's modern 24oz ball peen hammer is vastly surperior to
that first hunk of shale in most every way except maybe for price and
ready availability in the wilds. Oh yeah... you usually don't find
grub worms under a hammer either.

The evolution of the hammer was (and is) a good and practical thing,
and those of us who sometimes need to pound the hell out of things
have a pretty reasonable idea of what a hammer is and isn't capable
of, and what sort of behavior we should expect from one.

Sometimes the usage of a tool can evolve as well. Back when Al Gore
invented the internet, I'm sure he had no intention of allowing me to
one day write this vast tome and distribute it to all of you. But,
believe it or not, this job (sending this message to you) is kind of a
reasonably appropriate use of the tool (the internet), if maybe not a
such a reasonable use of my time.

*whew* I'm spent. I really need some sort of summary here for those of
you who stuck with me all the way to the end. We need closure. Uhhhh,
don't do drugs kids. Thank's for reading all the way to the end.

No, seriously. Technology is fine. Tools are good things. The
evolution of tools and the jobs we use them for is good. Let's just
all try realy hard to keep our heads about us, and remember that all
our tools have operational limits. "Built Ford tough" doesn't
translate to 'fucking indestuctable'. And oh yeah... just because
something is 'possible', doesn't make it a 'good idea'.

yadda yadda yadda


[0] Note that many (though not all) of these ideas have been noted and
cited (where possible) when they appear within the text of this
rant. Note further that this annotation is intended soley for the
purpose of entertainment, and should not be confused with actual
scholarly work in any way.

[1] From a conversation with Matt Allen, Thr, 29 Aug, 2002.

[2] Adrian Hosey as referenced by Jeremy Fischer in
Fri, 22 Feb 2002 09:52:36 -0500 (EST)

[3] http://us.imdb.com/Title?0109933

[4] Chris Dent in
<Pine.LNX.4.30.0108071447400.26948-100000@hot.burningchrome.com> Tue,
7 Aug 2001 15:06:52 -0500 (EST)

[5] Yes, I'm aware that not all primates use tools, and not all tool
users are primates. But for the sake of arguement... shut the hell up.

[6] From a conversation with Wes Gerbig, Wed, 28 Aug, 2002.

[7] http://www.pringles.com/ (warning, flash)

[8] From 'Rusty' at O.N.U., via a conversation with Wes Gerbig, Wed,
28 Aug, 2002

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