Pluck Badger Ticks: Or, the Black Stick Spudger

Having a full-time job has been a blessing and a curse. The income is swell but my time has been all gobbled up lately. A small part of my shinny new job at iFixit has been doing little bits of writing, a product description here, a customer service e-mail there. I was supposed to do some blogging for iFixit too, but most of the posts I have pitched have been on the shelf for a long while, all except the one about ESD. Eh... maybe my sense of humor just isn't cutting the mustard. So I figured I'd put some of those neglected posts to work here on Idiot Son. Even if it has little to do with my pop, it is engineering related. I hope you like this one and stay tuned for a couple more like it.

apologies to Ogdred Weary and Edward Gorey

Have you got a black stick? Is the drawer of your tool box littered with plastic pen-size things with a hook at one end? Some are odd bendy screw drivers, and others are kin to wood tinker toy rods... familiar? Then you are wise in the ways of electronics tinkering and know what a stick is good for (or you’re a manicurist and I’m way off target). Poking, prying, and pulling where your fingers can’t go, gentle yielding nature where a screwdriver would muck things up, and no conductivity when electric current is waiting to bite; these are the qualities of that good ol’ down home spudger.

To the novice, spudger is nonsense. Seeing it for the first time, spudger looks like a mistake, and the word never loses its quirk. Whimsy aside and facing all those tiny components connected by amber ribbons, even the electronics amateur makes fast friends with the spudger.

Apple calls it a Black Stick, while some spell it Spludger. Where did it come from and what’s in a word? One sort of spud peels bark from a log while the other sort digs weeds like a spade. We may fuss and spuddle about our trivial lives, or cut undersized things with short spuddle knives. These could be the root of the spudger, but with that nonsensical sound I wager someone simply liked having it around.

This special black nylon stick pops up in tool lists for countless guides, and no doubt it makes fiddling finicky electronics easier. There are substitutes - guitar picks, credit cards, whittled ink pens, and wood popsicle sticks - but who doesn’t like a thing with such a clear goal in life? The spudger just cries out, “give me something to pry!”

It’s not clear if the spudger was used in the age of the vacuum tube but a orange stick runs deep in the history of pushing cuticles and cleaning under nails. The manicurists pointy orangewood tool may have migrated right into the singed hands of the electrical engineer. Wood sticks with wedged and pokey ends still hold their own, but for that just right bendyness glass filled black nylon is hard to beat.

So don’t neglect that spudger the next time you pluck ticks off a badger, and thank your splendid asterisks for real words that read like blabber.

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