Fixing things.

Any bokken will break eventually. Fortunately, this isn’t one I made. Unfortunately, it still snapped on its owner.

An ipe bokken that split about halfway up its length.
An ipe bokken that split about halfway up its length.

Once a bokken has split like this there’s not really much you can do to repair it.

In pieces.
In pieces.

So let’s cut it up into smaller pieces. Depending on where and how bokken break, you can generally get a shoto (short sword) or tanto (knife) out of it. In this case, I’m able to get one whole tanto by cutting below the crack, and then cutting some extra length off the tsuka. The balance isn’t right and the curve is off, but that’s simple enough.

Joining the end grain
Joining the end grain

That leaves us with enough for a too-short tsuka and a blade portion that’s too thin to join directly to the remaining tsuka. You can’t just glue end-grain to end-grain either – the joint is too weak. What to do? A half-lap dovetail joint. Basically, you cut away a portion of the thickness on each piece so they match up, with a dovetail to act as a key so it theoretically wouldn’t pull out.


Half-lap dovetail closeup.
Half-lap dovetail closeup.

I cut a test piece out of a scrap of eucalytus and it should work. I’m not sure if I’m going to the eucalyptus to join the last two pieces of ipe, or just make two tanto.

3 finished tanto
The finished tanto.

In the end, I was able to get all three tanto to work out. Interesting fact: Ipe dust turns red when it gets moist. On one hand, I’m glad that the little bit of dust I accidentally inhaled didn’t give me a massive nosebleed (gross, I know – my apologies). On the other hand, it’s still pretty nasty.

You need to build real, physical objects.

A few years ago, while working at Organic, I was asked to help manage a quarterly creative meeting. Each office would get together and have a few minutes to speak. The New York office, leading that particular meeting was expected to provide the bulk of the content.

One of my presentations was “what if there was no beta?”

As digital designers, we’ve gotten into the habit of saying a site/product is “always in beta.” I think that’s dangerous. Of course, we can always work to improve our products, but we also excuse incomplete content, missing features, and questionable decisions. Even in the print design world, people have gotten careless as digital printing has taken over (but you’ll still loathe having to explain that the business cards you labored over need to be reprinted because someone forgot to double-check the phone number.

None of that compares to building a physical structure, though.

A few years ago, my wife and I undertook a project to gut and refinish the second floor of our home. One half was unfinished, bare attic. The other half was finished, but with wood panelling and olive green carpet. Two years later, we had built up the unfinished half into a new bedroom/office space complete with brand-new electrical and build in networking jacks. The existing half ended up being completely re-wired, re-insulated, and needed a new closet and ceiling framing to boot.

We learned a few things in the process:

  • Sheetrock is heavy.
  • Finishing sheetrock is a terrible, tedious process.
  • Installing an entire room worth of sheetrock, in a single day, by yourself, with the wrong driver, is just asking for crippling tendonitis.
  • Closets are never too big.
  • If you already have the room down to bare studs, just make your changes then and there.
  • Your work can never be too flat, too level, or too square.

The one thing I took away from this was a sense of accomplishment – at the end of the process, I had build something that will last for decades, barring natural disaster or a complete demolition. It could conceivably outlast me! When is the last time you could say that for a website, banner ad, facebook page or app? You might be lucky to get a year out of it.

That led to the subject of my talk: What if there was no beta? How would we design and create if, once we hit the publish button, we couldn’t edit a blog entry when we see a stupid typo? What if we couldn’t fix that one bug that eluded us? What if any change was paid for in actual blood, sweat, and tears? What if, once you committed a code change or laid down a pixel, you couldn’t undo it? From a design perspective at least, it would make it an interesting experience to never be able to delete, move or tweak an existing layer.

Excuse the digression, please. It’s an idle thought.

But really, what if there was no such thing as beta? I bet we’d work much more thoughtfully.

Yes, I was an art major.

Liberal arts majors don’t acquit ourselves particularly well.

Every so often, some politician, commentator or writer in the public eye sees that we don’t have enough STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) majors / workers, and decides that history education, creative writing majors, and women’s studies programs are to blame. If we need more STEM graduates, why throw scholarship money, grants, or any such resources at these programs? Clearly the only thing science programs need are more money (note that you’ll never see the government trying to throw more money at ANY K-12 program, science or otherwise).

The liberal arts majors of the world reflexively respond that the goal of liberal arts is to teach critical thinking skills or that it’s creating the next generation of world-changers or that these skills are applicable to all careers. The world would grind to a halt and fall into a new dark age if this were to happen.

We need to stop this, now.

Liberal arts studies teach you how to think? Go tell that to a scientist. They’ll tell you about the scientific method, which is an actual method for inquiry into our world. If they’re nice, they won’t laugh at you until you’ve left the room. World changers? Anyone can change the world – it’s not restricted to liberal arts. And cross-career skills? No employer gives a damn about your cross-career skills. Every single person who has a bachelor’s degree should have cross-career skills like “being able to write a complete sentence” or “basic research abilities” or “logic.”

Look, I was an art major at a small state college that prides itself on its liberal arts education. I’m not knocking my education. It’s worked out well for myself and many of my friends, and I’ve seen many of my colleagues do amazing things with their liberal arts educations. But I’m not kidding myself that this is only part of an education.