A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Grand Master Guru Tim Bray & Charles Proteus Steinmetz
Saturday, April 05, 2008

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is ever an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII

For years I have strived for self-sufficiency. When we first arrived in Vancouver I continued with my custom of tuning our VW Beetle. I even had a fine set of spark plug adjusting blades. But it was in Vancouver where folks said,"Alex you make money as a photographer, repairing you car takes you away from making money and the money you save by tuning it yourself is negligible."

In my very large and heavy camera bag I carry a complete set of jeweler's screwdrivers and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Camera lens and camera body screws tend to loosen up in vibrating airplanes. I avoid a few camera breakdowns with the frequent tightening of little screws.

My problems in my much vaunted self-sufficiency really began when I switched from a Remington Portable No 2 (my grandmother's portable) to a primitive Smith Corona word processor. When I had breakdowns I had to go to Polson's and cajole the repairman to do his job post haste. Suddenly I felt helpless.

Not too long ago I had to scan some transparencies for a client and I had a three hour deadline. Whe I opened my PhotoShop program I was horrified that after a couple of seconds it would close. I found what the expression "corrupted file" meant pronto. This expression now joins "we have issues" and the "computers are down" which signify we are in an area that is beyond our expertise and control. Luckily I also had Paint Shop Pro 8 as a backup and I was able to meet my photo deadline.

I have written here before how as a photographer I have to depend (and I am lucky) on having a support staff. Hungarian Viktor repairs my flash equipment and German Horst Wenzel sees to may cameras. Hungarian Paul Leisz installs programs into my computer, debugs it and every few years takes me to a place on Bridgeport Road where I order up a computer with Paul's suggested components.

Without those three people the latent images of my photography would remain so. Unfortunately my world isn't all that simple considering the intense plumbing problems we have in our house, "You are going to have to rip out that bath tub and that is going to be very..." Suddenly my life got even more stressful and complicated when my blog started deteriorating on Monday. My friend and web designer (he and Chris Botting designed my web page and this blog) Doug Jasinski wrote in an email, "I unleashed this crack that this blog means to you and now I have the responsibility to score you some more by fixing it." Unfortunately Doug Jasinksi and his company Skunkworks are going through a very busy period and my blog perhaps had to wait before it could be looked at. I was desperate.

The blog lost its RSS feed and then I could no longer upload photographs. I found a roundabout method of uploading but it involved no control of placement or size.

In extreme desperation I appealed to the Grand Master Guru Tim Bray. He was in Chicago but promised to look into it. He finally arrived yesterday and sat by my computer. I explained as best as I could. He then opened up one of those boxes in the middle of my monitor and started typing in code stuff that made reading Caesar's Gallic Wars in Latin seem easy. I have never ever seen anybody type such apparent gibberish so quickly. Bray's only complaint was, "Why does your name have to be so long?" The result in the end was that it all became worse. The guru said, "I don't understand Blogger." This was a revealing statement of sorts when you think that many of the elements within Blogger he probably created. Bray went home. Within minutes he called to ask me for my Blogger password. An hour later he called again, "It now works." And work it did. If anything it seemed to have some sort of special web-based lubricant. Everything worked more quickly.

The above makes me think of Charles Proteus Steinmetz (right), the Russian-born American electrical engineer and mathematician who pioneered the concept of alternating current. He and my 10 year-old mother where on the same ocean liner in 1921 when he told her a story. I have heard this story where the person in question was Edison so perhaps it is an aprocryphal one. Suffice to know that the gentle and very short (he suffered from dwarfism and was a hunchback) Steinmetz told my mother that one night he was woken up by a man banging on his door. "We have power problems. We need your help." The man and Steinmetz went to the New York company whence all the electric current that lit the now darkened New York city came from. Steinmetz studied the works and then inserted a fuse he took out of his front pocket. The lights came back on. "I will send you my bill for $1001," he told the relieved man. "Why $1001?" he asked. Steinmetz answered with supreme confidence, "$1 for the fuse and $1000 for knowing were to insert it."

Thinking back on Steinmetz all I can now say to Tim Bray is, "I owe you big, "as my friend Tony Ricci would say.


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