Retrospective #31Paradox, Smartphones and Spontaneity

As an on-again, off-again, part-time student of Eastern philosophy, I have always been intrigued by the role of paradox. Wikipedia defines paradox as: “A paradox is a statement or group of statements that leads to a contradictionor a situation which (if true) defies logic or reason, similar to circular reasoning.” From my observations, Taoism and Buddhism are full of paradox.
“If you could not laugh at it, it would not be the Tao.”
“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
Herein is the paradox that I see relating to the Chinese intern who worked with us during February, March and April of this year. Ji Qiao is a Chinese citizen who attends university in America. The private university he attends charges tuition around $50,000 (US$) per year. That university has an overseas programme in New Zealand. The programme used to be centred in Christchurch, but since the earthquakes it has been centred in Wanganui. Part of the programme engages students in two-days-per-week internships.

Put another way, this Chinese young man’s family pays $50,000 (US) per year to a university in the states for him to work for me in Wanganui for free.
Although this is an unfair characterization, it emphasizes the paradox of the situation.
The next paradox is that although Ji Qiao had never swung a hammer in his life, he was an AWESOME intern. Herein lies the tale of Ji Qiao, his Smartphone, and a pile of wood.
Throughout February and March, Ji Qiao and I worked on various little projects around the property, but he kept reminding me that the one he was looking forward to the most was “paving” – as he called it – the kitchen floor. Finally, following his “spring break” trip to the South Island, the time had come to pave the floor!
What made Ji Qiao such an amazing intern was his genuine enthusiasm and willingness to learn. He used his Smartphone to take notes on new words he learned – plies, bearers, joists – and on one sunny April day, to add up the linear metres of Tasmanian oak I bought on TradeMe (see last week’s Chronicle), and calculate the square metres of coverage we could get out of the random lengths of timber stacked under roofing iron in the yard.
Together, we stacked the oak in groups of lengths within 200 mm of each other. I measured the size of the kitchen while Ji Qiao listed the quantity of boards in each grouping. Then he used his mad maths skills to spin his arith-magic. According to his calculations, we could get 15.2 square metres of coverage from a total of 15.5 square metres of random-length stock. This may not sound impressive on the surface, but what it means is that the total off-cuts would be 300 mm, or 0.02%. That’s low.
The way we were able to achieve such a small amount of ‘waste’ was by matching short and long lengths, and medium and medium lengths, to the near-exact total lengths required for different parts of the floor. The easiest place to visualize this is to look at the photos in last week’s Chronicle. Barring that, I’ll do my best to explain.

The largest section of floor to cover measured 2.9 x 3.4 metres. We laid the boards in pairs that measured nearest to 2.9 metres, and alternated between short-long, medium-medium, and long-short for the best visual effect. This part of the job went quickly once we had a system in place. But after that, we had to change our strategy as the dimensions of the flooring needed changed around the Shacklock 501, the kitchen bench, and a short entryway. Despite the slowdown, we nearly finished the job in one day, much to the surprise of my wife Dani who returned home from work at 5:30 pm not knowing the floor was on the schedule for the day. And she says I’m never spontaneous! 


Peace, Estwing

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