It’s Just Math

image by Bryan Kennedy
I loved this little piece by Bryan Kennedy titled “It’s just wood.” A concise philosophical statement about the freedoms that come along with knowing how to make things.

The same approach applies in so many different contexts.  Sometimes, it’s just aluminum, just software, or just silicon. It also reminds me of what a physics professor of mine used to say when explaining how simple something was: “It’s just math.”

5 thoughts on “It’s Just Math

  1. Saying it’s just wood is an insult to wood. Wood is a complex product that bugs may love or hate. It may be soft or hard, It could be one color or have grain that people will pay thousands of dollars for a block big enough to make a gun stock. If it’s wet, it may warp as it dries. If it’s dry, it may last thousands of years. Some wood is easy to work and other wood like teak will eat up cutting tools. Man started using wood as some of the first tools and we still prefer wood when other materials could do the job.
    It’s not just wood.

    1. It sounds like you didn’t read the article. (And for the record, you’re saying this to someone that makes wooden robots for a living.)

      1. I did read the article and have worked with wood. I would like to work with it more but lack the space and machines I used in school.
        I have seen wood incorrectly used (wood rot and termites) as well as structural issues. If you understand wood and use it correctly, it will last a life time. Lack of understanding means you will replace it in a few years. If you fully understand something, you may forget how complex and beautiful it is. I find that with programming as well. I have worked with code for 40 years and forget how much I know until I help somebody with their code. I find it easy even though they wrote the code. It’s not just wood for everybody. I have seen people who never picked up a tool in their life. If they attempt to do something with with wood without instruction, they will mess it up.

        1. Given that the picture clearly shows a box made of multi-resistant cedar, it’s not hard to imagine that the author was aware of the differences in wood types when building the planter.

          The statement that the employee made wasn’t about wood as much as it was about the fact that the product in question (a planter box) wasn’t some complex structure that required careful engineering and knowledge to construct; it’s much easier, potentially cheaper (definitely cheaper in opportunity costs of driving around looking for one), and more satisfying to just build one from scratch to fit the space needed.

          Having said that, I would never say something like “it’s just an alternator” or “it’s just an oil change” when working on a modern car, given the myriad ways engineers design engine compartments nowadays, but that statement would have been perfectly true 40-50 years ago.

          It’s similar to Giorgio Moroder’s philosophy about music that led to the revolution in synthesizers and electronic music: “Once you free your mind about harmony and music being ‘correct’, you can do whatever you want; so nobody told me what to do, and there was no preconception about what to do.”

          IMHO, of course.

  2. It’s important to measure very carefully before you saw a length of wood. Of course if you cut it too short, you can glue a piece on to make it longer, but if you cut it too long, you’re just out of luck!

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