Friday, November 25, 2011

Plumb this

When I was a teenager I was talking to my dad and his brothers about do it yourself home repairs.  I asserted that I was going to work hard, make a ton of money and pay somebody else to fix stuff around my house, none of that Mr. Fixit work for me!  All of my the listeners laughed and told me that they had exactly the same idea when they were young and that things change.  They are all really capable mechanics, builders and machine operators and I know they like getting on a big backhoe or firing up power tools so obviously my life would be different from theirs since I don't especially like doing that sort of thing.

I was eighteen, I had it all figured out.  All these old men don't know anything about me!

Today I noticed my faucet leaking.  It has done this a little bit off and on for the past few months but finally the leak was significant enough I could no longer ignore it.  I don't know much about plumbing except what I learned by holding the flashlight for my dad a lot but I do know the basic rule of fixing stuff that doesn't quite work:  Take it apart, clean it out, put it back together nice and snug and that often fixes the problem.  Having no idea what sort of tools I might need I hauled everything out of the toolbox and proceeded to demolish the tap.

Being that I don't know what the hell I am doing I only got partway through before I couldn't figure out how take it apart any more.  I found a bunch of pieces that were covered in cruddy buildup though so I proceeded to clean them and then reassemble it, managing to screw up the assembly despite only having 6 pieces to work with.  However, the tap now works and doesn't leak.  Huzzah for clueless home repair.  The eighteen year old me is screaming "You fool, go write some code or something!  Pay some chump to fix your tap!"

It got me to thinking about Adam Smith.  I am reading his An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and he has a lot to say about specialization.  Specifically he credits human specialization for nearly every improvement in life from our most primitive days.  In particular he thinks that innovation in manufacture comes from specialization because someone who does a particular thing for a lifetime will figure out the best possible routine for doing that thing and will be in the best position to imagine new technologies to assist them.  Right you are Adam Smith.  Now I know why everybody quotes him, it has to do with being right about things.

Of course I am not being a very good cog in the economy of the world by fixing my own tap.  I should pay somebody to do this and spend more time doing whatever I can earn the most money doing.  Heinlein would like me to fix my tap though,

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

Sorry Heinlein, you just got beat by Adam Smith.  I fixed my damn tap but I refuse to learn how to butcher a hog.  Plan an invasion, now that might be an interesting thing to learn.


  1. Design a building seems like a really tall order to me.

  2. See, I think Lazarus Long's list of things isn't the same list that I'd come up with, but the point about being *able* to do a bunch of fairly basic stuff (he doesn't say you have to be the best at it, just able to do it) is pretty good. At least it lets you know whether or not the guy claiming to fix your tap is doing his job better than you can. Also, while we could hire a chef, or simply eat out, being able to do your own cooking does have its advantages.

  3. You should give Sim Tower a spin, Sthenno!

  4. I could probably butcher a hog better than I could write a sonnet. Design a building? Lots of fun if it's a house.