Thursday, November 10, 2016

Powered by Brains

There has been a push since at least the Industrial Revolution to offload the rote work -- the repetitive, mindless tasks -- onto machinery. The Maker revolution dotes on this, and my personal props work has paralleled; moving to technologies that let me copy and paste details instead of sculpting them individually, using mills and other power tools to achieve desired surfaces instead of hand-smoothing them, etc.

The downside, though, of getting rid of as much of the mindless drudge work as possible, is you don't have mindless drudge work to do when you are tired, sick, it is hot and you just got off a long day's work, you only have an hour before you need to go off and do something else, etc.

I'm looking at a big task list for the Holocron orders right now. Sure, there's some sanding and patching, and some soldering. Those are mindless; I sanded the last one over a couple evenings while watching YouTube.

But before I can even tear into the stack of orders I need to fix a couple remaining issues. I need to do the next round of PCB corrections in Eagle CAD. I need to edit the new solution to the USB jack into the laser SVG's. I need to dial in the sensitivity on the sensor and write a couple of new functions into the software.

None of this is stuff I can do when sleepy or when my head is fuzzy or when I'm distracted. None of them can I do without several consecutive hours to look through the change orders, re-familiarize myself with the parts/functions/software/layers etc., and still have the time to take careful caliper measurements and run tests and otherwise make sure the work is being done accurately. I can't throw any of this at the wall in hopes it will stick. It requires a free day (or at least a free afternoon) with health and no major distractions.

I can't even make up the rest of the stack of version 1.0 PCBs. Because before I can get to the relatively mindless rote of soldering in the discrete components I have to delicately place the surface mount and run a reflow oven cycle. That takes the kind of steady hand that does not come after the fourth cup of coffee and in any case requires a free hour or more for setup and cleanup.

The line continues to move, of course. Code crunching is increasingly moving to automation now. PCB is automated (if you like the results, which I don't). But of course that merely amplifies the problem. Because then the work that needs to be done so the project can progress is the intense concentration of original insight and artistic thought.

And, yeah, you can (and I've been forced to, on more than one theatrical design contract) reach into your bucket of trite old ideas, recycled ideas, and stolen ideas. And the people around you will still coo and aw about how creative you are.

But it isn't as good and it really doesn't feel right. Every single lighting design I've done for theater has involved me spending at least two hours doing nothing but sitting in a chair in the auditorium staring at the set. My average is a week of back-burner, of thinking off and on about the show, making scribbles, re-reading the script, etc., until the idea finally comes.

Fortunately, that kind of necessary percolation does seem to be entirely compatible with being tired, sick, busy, hot, whatever. It just needs the world to spin a few times before the ideas are ready to take full form.

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