Taking ownership at the dawn of the consumer age

Second in the series of forgotten blog posts I originally wrote for iFixit, here is the story of mrs, a-go-go's ancestor, a fine example of iFixit's manifesto.

Mary Anne Anderson (Busavage) 1913-2008. Tinkers Daughter
In 1920 Ignas Bucevicius (alternately Ignatz, Ignatius, Busavage, or Butsavich depending on one's distance from Lithuania) jumped head first into the consumer age and bought a Ford Model T with two months pay. Though the anecdote is fogged by three generations playing telephone one detail comes through loud and clear; Ignas was not about to welcome the new age without making that mass produced machine his own, right down to the last bolt. According to the iFixit Self-Repair Manifesto, "If you can't fix it, you don't own it." Ignas knew this instinctively and was driven to parse his new gadget in an old-school teardown.

The story as witnessed by a seven year old Mary Anne Bucevicius (my spouse's grandmother) took place in Rockford, Illinois during a sticky hot summer. Ignas, her father, had left home that morning to buy the long aspired to freedom machine, a Ford Model T. By 1920 due to increasing efficiency in production the Tin Lizzie was selling for $290, about $3,200 in today's bucks, and Ignas was eager to bring a bit of status to his growing family. Mary Anne and her two younger sisters had accompanied their mother, Mariona on errands while Ignas was away. They were eager to return home knowing Ignas would be there waiting with the new Ford. Little did they suspect that the inner workings of the Model T would be laid bare in such detail when they arrived. Ignas, a natural born tinker and engineer employed by the swelling auto industry, had taken it upon himself and his tool kit to know that Model T. In a matter of hours he had disassembled and distributed all the parts of that car in a real-life exploded view. Mariona nearly dropped on the spot. Ignas, realizing the spectacle he presented, quickly got to work reassembling, as much to have the car running again as to keep domestic peace. His nuts and bolts skills came through and the Ts chuff, chuff, chuff, was heard again before sundown.

The Ford Model T, manufactured for nearly twenty years, provided the first internal combustion engine power in rural areas all over North America, and many ingenious folks modified the Model T to suit their own purposes. They served as farm tractors, they powered diverse machines from buck saws to threshers, and their engines spun the propellers of home-built aircraft and motorboats. These Model T chimeras would make contemporary tinkers proud and the people who built them had certainly taken ownership of their Flivvers.

With Mariona recovered from her fever, everyone climbed in the reassembled Model T for a ride. As they bounced down the lumpy roads of Rockford, Ignas knew the source of every groan and rattle in that car. In the following years after miles of bumps, when this or that wore out, he could feel what part needed attention without even looking. He had done more than buy that Model T, after a complete teardown and rebuild, he owned it.


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.