Sunday, December 26, 2010

Well-built Precision Stuff Makes Me Happy

From the top position on my list: White Industries 16t Freewheel for the single speed

I am amenable to the concept that stuff, in general, weighs us down. That desire for it, as a subset of desire in general, and attachment to it, is the source of everything from discontent to unhappiness to the diminution of the greater or higher aspects of our being. See more at mara. More stuff will not relieve sadness, depression, acedia, or ennui. As an end in itself it is a dead end. 

Stuff may become, upon even casual analysis, a need that cannot ever be filled. Stuff can easily represent a bottomless black hole of wanting that is never satisfied. Desire for stuff is the heart of unease. Much of advertising can be seen as tools for amplifying and directing this unease to entice us to buy more stuff. The channels of all types on TV (the 3 main ones are play-TV, pay-TV, and pray-TV) which claim to fill this hole in the soul actually aim to deepen it to draw us in farther, and obviously, they are quite successful at it, and continue to find new stars, and new methods for those stars, to entice us more effectively.

I have too much stuff, certainly. I vowed to give away twice as much as I got for Christmas this year. I already gave away a bunch of hardly worn clothing because there's significantly less of me now and it didn't fit. A box of other give-away stuff is in the works. The reasoning behind this two-for-one giveaway is probably half pragmatic, since I have accumulated too much stuff compared to the space we have and need to get rid of some, and half philosophical, since I feel my current tonnage of material goods exceeds a reasonable cargo volume by a considerable amount. One unit in, two units out, seems like a good way to attack this project, until a more reasonable tonnage of cargo is achieved.

The Christmas message I synthesized myself this year is this, though: most of us (including me) are not ready to become Jainist monks and go around naked with no possessions. Although there is much I admire about Jainism, that life is not for me. A house, clothing, the trappings of what we consider a normal existence, all this stuff I have made my peace with owning, within reason, and with perspective. The perspective runs something like, stuff is certainly not the most important aspect of my life, but it is not trivial or without value to me, either. Stuff doesn't matter most, but it does matter. It matters for its utility value, it matters for the fun that I have while using it, and it matters to a certain extent because of the tangible and intangible value I place upon it. The message I synthesized for myself is that this third type of value, the kind of valuation we place on stuff for tangible and intangible purposes, is the kind that should be most closely monitored, controlled, limited, and where the value is unwarranted, zeroed out. Because it is this third type of valuation that is most likely to eat us alive.

In a trivial, yet somewhat intransigent example, that bigger-sized clothing I gave away had no more utility value for me, there was no conceivable way for me to get enjoyment out of it any longer, and it was taking up space and weighing me down like stuff can do. So I zeroed out its perceived value to me and cut it loose. The more I can do that reasonably, the better, I think, but that is a far cry from me saying that I am prepared to adopt some minimalist approach to life and zero out my perceived value of everything except, say, a hundred necessary things. That sounds like a great project if that move works for you, but unless, for example, I can count all the books I own as "one thing", I'm a failure at the own 100 things project before I even start. I own more than 80 Grantas, for example, and none of them are going onto the giveaway pile.

So that's where I'm coming from when I parade a few delicious bicycle-related Christmas items before you. I am more or less committed to a certain level of owning stuff, and have therefore concluded that it is better to own stuff that lasts, that works well and for a long time, and which can, if need be, be repaired or adapted to other uses when the time comes. The White freewheel is certainly in this category of stuff, and I will give further reports of my riding with it once it is installed and used for some time.

Air pumper of a most effective type

This SKS Airbase Pro pump was also a Christmas present. It is made in Germany, and built similarly to a Unimog. It's what was in the "mystery box" I mentioned a few posts ago. It's mostly metal, including the base, and it tall enough that I do not have to bend over to pump or to read the dial, both of which are great for me as a taller person. The head is both sturdy and smooth in operation. And pumping air with it is so easy that I have no excuse for ever going out with tires not at the optimal pressure. Similar to the White Industries freewheel, it appears to be both well-built and designed to be repaired. 

To explain myself more clearly, junk that is cheaply made, falls apart soon after you use it, and is designed to be thrown away rather than repaired, tends to piss me off. Therefore, stuff like these two objects make me happy, in comparison.

This is not a new perspective for me, though. As I was taking pictures of the pump and freewheel, I happened to walk past another Christmas Day project, testing the batteries in the UPS which seem to be at End of Life. They've been doing their job for two or three years, though, so that's pretty good. This isn't about the batteries, or the UPS, though, but about the instrument I used to test them (see below).

Archerkit (Radio Shack) meter 28-4013

The meter I used to check the voltage on the sealed lead acid batteries from the UPS is one I made from a kit with my dad forever ago. We soldered a forest of resistors into it together, and calibrated it using some equipment he had at work. I have other meters around, including $1.99 digital meters that I don't even understand how they can package, ship to the United States, make shelf space for and sell for $1.99 in a store with utilities, rent, and people working in it, but I bought two when they were at that price, even though I knew they would piss me off and go into the garbage can eventually, as all such junk must. Maybe I should give them away before they break. I think the way they can afford to make and sell the digital meters for so little is that they make them in the same locales as everything else like them, and ship them over together too, our present cornucopia of throwaway gadgetry like smart phones and electronic books. Many bicycles and bicycle shaped objects, too, fall into this category. It's not the supply, though, it's the bottomless and insatiable demand, which drives this throwaway cycle of crap. It's a value we may want to consider zeroing out, though, when we consider it carefully, and determine it to be unwarranted. 

How many Gs does a phone need, anyway? 3? 5? How many before I don't have to throw it away every year?

Ride reports on the freewheel, and pump reports, in the future. Get up. Go ride.


  1. Santa was good to you!
    Must have been a good boy this year.
    I never get rid of books.
    The problem with me is I always think I can use something later.
    Much later.
    Sometimes never.

  2. limom, I know what you mean, I hold onto a book for a long time, get rid of it, then realize a few weeks later that I needed it! I hate that. Almost as much as passing up a book that I want.

  3. Hello,

    Believe it or not, but I happened upon an unassembled ArcherKit 28-4013. I own the entire kit in its original box, with the sole exception of the instructions. I am wondering if these testers came with any, or if figuring out the schematics is part of the puzzle? I'm torn between asking you for a picture of the internal circuitry, or if I should figure it out for myself as a challenge. The one possible outcome I do not want to occur is accidentally rendering it inoperative. If you would be so kind as to point me in the proper direction, I would be ever so grateful. From your story above, I gather that we share many of the same principles; we loathe disposable items that rarely last an entire season, let alone many productive years.

    Much obliged,


    1. Clint, just came across this as I was reminiscing with my soon-to-be engineer son tonight, showing him my first-ever kit build. You guessed it: an ArcherKit 28-4013 multimeter. I have all of he original build components (assembled, working and still in nearly-new condition,). There is a schematic included with the build instructions. I’d be happy to copy the entire pamphlet and send it to you as a pdf. Let me know if you want it.

  4. Thanks for the comment Clint, I will reply via email.


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