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Tyler Miller

The Dangers Of Advice Without Experience

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This is a bit of an angry rant.  I apologize for that.  If you don't want to read on, here's the gist--if you haven't done it or haven't seen it done first hand, don't be giving advice!  Something I've come to hate are armchair craftsmen and google/wiki scholars.


 


I'll confess I've been guilty of it.  It was even encouraged at a hardware store I worked at.  I didn't know anything about woodworking at 17, but people asked me for advice like I should know.  We were supposed to know.  My bad advice was responsible for more than a few returns.  Thankfully no injuries.


 


But I think I know better now at 30.


 


For the purposes of this post, I'm only going to use metalworking examples.


 


I want to bring up some advice a former member gave here once.  Now, I like this member, he's a good guy.  If he's reading this, I hope he doesn't mind that i'm using him as an example.  I think he would approve.


 


Someone once asked if titanium would survive a cone 6 kiln firing.  It won't.  It will probably burn.  This member didn't believe that since he observed that it didn't melt until much hotter, but I've seen it happen.  Google "LA Titanium fire" if you've got a strong constitution.  Titanium burns before it melts.


 


I was 16 or 17 and was very generously given a titanium bar by someone who wanted to encourage my metalwork.  I tried to forge it.  Didn't really move well and cooled off almost immediately (no thermal mass).  So I cranked up the blower and tried to get it to bright yellow heat.  I pulled out a sparkler that wouldn't stop burning!  I tried to put it out in water and that made it WORSE!  I panicked, plunged the rod into my mother's garden, and ran into the house to hide.  If a metalworker asks, I'll say I've never worked with titanium because I'm too embarrassed by that incident.


 


I know a few smiths who started up not too too long ago--about the same time I got back into the craft.  They had the same typical learning curve of any ambitious young metalworkers.  Learning that cutting corners doesn't make a good knife.  Learning that you've got to use a centre punch if you want your drill bit to sit still.  Learning about basic hammer control and technique.  There's only a handful of ways to swing a hammer so that you don't ruin your arm swinging it for 8-12 hours a day, 5-7 days a week.


 


But at some point they started bypassing that.  One started teaching classes.  This put a knot in my gut.  He knew the stuff in theory, but he didn't have the shop experience or self-evaluative tools to back it up.  Shop practice is a big deal, for metalwork and ceramics.  Things like not grinding aluminum and iron in the same go ('cause that's a recipe for thermite!).  Proper ventilation (no grinders in the basement!).  Proper casting safety (molten metal doesn't behave like water!).  Proper chemical and scrap storage (that's how the LA titanium fire got started).  This stuff doesn't come from books, it comes from knowing your materials and work environment.


 


Here's an example from a different person.  A beginner wanted to learn to forge brass.  That's fine, people do that.  However, forgeable brass is hard to find, and brass has a bad tendency to off-gas zinc vapour.  No good.  I know people who have died from zinc poisoning.  I advised that cold forging bronze would be better--heat the bronze to red heat, cool, and hammer till it gets stiff, then reheat, cool, etc.  I didn't say "cold forging" though, I just thought it was clear from the context.  Someone said "wait, you can't hot forge bronze, he should hot forge brass, it's easy, forges like butter.  Just heat to 600C, to avoid zinc fumes, and hammer away."  


 


This would have been good advice except for one thing--no beginner in the history of ever has a way to determine 600C.  It's the same colour as room temp brass.  And there are no fixed temp electric kilns or pyrometers available at the local hardware store.  Tin bronze, on the other hand, doesn't have the off-gassing problems of zinc in brass, since tin doesn't boil until much much hotter.  It's a very easy thing for a beginner to heat bronze to red heat, quench, and forge.


 


So there's my rant.  I hope you see the point of it.  Books and Google will only get you so far, and then they get you into trouble--or other people into trouble, if you're only using Google and books to give advice.  Don't get other people into trouble, please?


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The ER would be empty if people followed your advice, gotta keep those Dr's working. BTW What's the emotocon for a sarcastic,eybrow twisting,self deluding potter?

I've been at mudslinging for 27 years and every shortcut is the longest, hardest lesson to learn

 

Wyndham

Tyler Miller likes this

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As in anything with the internet, multiple sources, a skeptical questioning mind, and intelligent reflection are important tools to learn more about a subject. As to shortcuts, like in driving, the shortest route for one will not be the shortest for another. I find my own shortcuts every day I throw, from the form of the first piece to the last,  explaining them would not work unless you were there for the whole process.

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I read a survey recently that found people today do not see any difference between an opinion and truth.

So the most common or loudest opinion trumps truth every time.

Not much progress since Galileo.

 

Now, talk to me about people who take every wiki entry as truth and those whose hobby it is to

mess with it to see how long it takes to be corrected.

JBaymore likes this

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As a teacher I soon found that I would never know the answer to all of my students questions, so,

Teach; 

1. Credibility is very closely linked to source

2. Teach them research methodology

3. Point them in a direction which will allow them some initial success.

And 4 Test the water themselves.

Never preach gospel, bust myths.

From reading experiences of  others in this forum, I would say a lot of time has been saved by information  and direction given for furthering this information.

And the medium in which we work will certainly place many theories and advice by others in the trashcan of your studio..

Test it in your workplace and under your conditions.

Not everyone has time to reinvent the wheel, very few have the luxury of doing the laborotory tests of clay properties but we can read  of these and take note as we work. 

The first lesson above is the crucial one.

Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know but can help with the finding of an answer to your question."

ChenowethArts and Tyler Miller like this

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Babs, I agree whole-heartedly.  The issue for me, and the reason for me posting this can be summed up with a slight modification of that final line.

"I don't know but I'd like to help with finding an answer" is worlds apart from "I'll help to find you an answer."  It's the latter that gets me irate.  As it can lead to a situation worse than the blind leading the blind--the blind being led by someone in denial about the severity their own myopia.

 

John, your advice on the matter, as always, is excellent.

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Things like not grinding aluminum and iron in the same go ('cause that's a recipe for thermite!).

You just gave me a great idea for a new product. Aluminum and iron blades. Just scrape a few times on a hard surface, and you've got the closet thing, we'll probably ever have, to an actual lightsaber.

 

Also, I agree with Babs' post. I've learned, there is nothing wrong with telling the students that you don't know something. Now, I will say, that when I offer to look into something, it's not an in depth, technical process, like you mentioned Tyler. Usually, it's just the origin of a term, or something of the like.

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Just a side here, back in the early days I worked for an aircraft factory in NY. It made parts for gunships, and also made ag cats. Titanium is the only metal we  got in that was already primed, as it protected the surface from spark.  We did play with scraps and shavings at times-pyrotechnic!

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Tyler, I think it's necessary that, from time to time, one or the other should bring up that theme (rant) of yours. It is important that people get the advise to only give advise, if one has a knowledge (out of experience!). Questions like: should the wheel turn clockwise or counterclockwise we all here on the forum can answer. But if a question concerns chemical elements, salts, minerals, metals etc., most of us should let the real (again, out of experience or schooling) experts answer those questions.

And, of course, what John said: check the source.

 

Thank you for being so honest in telling us your embarrassing stories. Great way to learn being humble!

 

Evelyne

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On this forum I get some insight into the mysteries of our art by the input of experts and everyone else. it's the discussion of the question asked which takes all of us a few steps along the road to understanding. And so we all learn.

There is a bit about 'Leave it to the experts" philosophy which doesn't sit easily with my way of learning.

Yeh, keep the fingers out of the fan, but put a toe, or foot into the water.

An analogy in the medical field would be of the mother who senses that her baby is not well, goes to the expert who assures her all is well, but it isn't!

We need to keep learning. If the advice or opinion given is not helpful or not correct the moderators of these forums do come in and give great explanations of what is going on.

Nothing like immersing oneself in the river wearing flotation!

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I have been working in clay for 4+ decades but I can honestly say there are many things  I don't know. There are many things I do know.

I taught ceramics at the college level for 25 year and tried to encourage students to develop their own intellectual curiosity, experiment and discover. Ceramics is almost infinite in directions, possibilities , chemical combos, kilns, burners, drafts, pits, etc.etc. The benefit of the forum where there are so many willing to pitch in makes the potential for someone with the experience to have an answer. 

Tyler, your rant is a good one.

Marcia

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I taught Computer animation for the last 15+ years of my career. I told my students that I knew very little about computers, and computer animation, and that we were all learning together. If they found something out that I did not know, to let me know. It wasn't hard to become a "silent" expert. The kids, yeah in the end they knew who could solve most if not all of their problems, but let them run on their own.

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I agree with vetting one's sources and reviewing other's experiences to help one along his/her own path. Yet I want to be the Devil's advocate for a moment.

 

1. The US government paid millions in grants to Universities such as MIT to develop a blue laser. They were not able to do it. The laser was developed by an engineering hobbiest in his garage working on a shoe string budget. He was not constrained by conventional thought within the field.

2. Columbus discovered the "new world" against the advise of the scholars of his time.

3. Soft white bar soap was discovered by mistake when a batch of soap was left in the mixing machine overnight causing it to be whipped up.

4. I have framed a quote from Dan Bennett PhD, University of Chicago:

"How monotonous the sounds of the forest would be if the music came only from the Top Ten birds."

 

There is something to be said for fresh eyes and minds in one's field which have not been limited by conventional constraints. This may be why most great ideas for new inventions are conceived by people before their 30th birthday....they don't know it's not possible.

 

Don't disregard ideas from the untrained too quickly. Their voices add to the music of the forest.

 

Jed

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Not discarding ideas from the "untrained". The point is that it is okay to say I don't know, and if you DON'T know, don't pretend that you do and spout off something someone told you this one time as if you have any experience in the matter. If you don't know, leave the matter to someone who does. Or, at the very least, say "I don't have any experience with this, but could ____ work?" if you feel you have something valuable to contribute.

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I think Jed's provided us with an excellent object lesson as to how word of mouth stories, without critical input, can be a dangerous thing--the very point of my original post.  You see, all three of these anecdotes about the success of the untrained are, in fact, false in their most common form.

 

1.  Blue lasers were invented by a Japanese man, Shuji Nakamura, with a master's degree in electronic engineering, while working for Nichia corporation, an engineering firm.  He was certainly no hobbyist.

 

2.  The stories regarding Columbus are greatly exaggerated.  The usual story goes that the scholars at the time believed the world was flat etc.  The real story is that navigation of ships at the time relied on a spherical earth theory and scholars at the time believed that the journey was simply too far and that supplies wouldn't last the trip.  This was almost true--Columbus greatly underestimated the length of the journey relying on wrong data, and if it weren't for the Americas in the way of his trip to Japan/China Columbus would have died at sea.

 

3. Proctor and Gamble archives show that the discovery of floating soap was the work of the founder's son, a chemist, not an accidental employee mishap.

 

So, you see, things taken at face value are indeed dangerous, especially when given with authority.  Vet your sources and please don't pass on information you haven't verified yourself.

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I understand what you are saying..Yet it is my job and responsibility to vet my sources. One thing that defines the internet is that it is predominantely a collection of opinions with scattered referenced articles.

 

As you suggest, it would be easy to vet people's comments if they gave their level of expertise on the subject at hand.

 

Yet one thing I have enjoyed from this forum is the invitation for ALL to contribute. This tread tends to go contrary to that invitation.

 

I appreciate what Pres said earlier. He told his class that he didn't know much about the course material. Yet by the end of the course, all the students knew to whom to go for advise....him. It is the same here. Most can name the 20-25 experts on this forum. I appeciate when one of these makes comments on my thead.

 

In post garduate courses I had to site ideas and reference content. It was as if I had not earned the right to have an original idea until after I had letters behind my name. Please don't do the same thing to this forum...

 

Jed

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Tyler, your point is well taken. I will limit my comments on this forum to asking questions....posting my progress in my clay endevors,...and praising other's knowledge and successes.

 

Jed

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Jed,

 

I think there's a difference between the oppressive academic environment and asking "wait a minute, is that actually true?" before passing a piece of information along or disclaiming "I haven't actually done anything in X area, but I think Y could be a good idea."  I'm certainly not demanding people post credentials.  Good ideas can come from anywhere or anyone and to discount a good idea based on a lack of credentials is a classical logical fallacy--ad hominem.  But what I'm talking about is intellectual dishonesty.

 

I don't want to limit anyone's voice on this forum.  That wasn't the point of my post.  My point was about misrepresenting oneself and passing along unchecked information.  As I said, good ideas can come from anywhere or anyone, just don't misrepresent yourself or the information you pass along.  Viking potter had a very cool idea about suspending glazed flutes for firing, and it was presented in a great way.  Saying "I've never tried this, but" rather than just "try suspending  your flutes by wire, we do it for car doors," means that the questions of it working are still there, but a new idea is on the table for testing.  Once tested and proven, it could be a wonderful idea, born of a brilliantly creative impulse.

 

So please don't think of this as me trying to stifle voices, that's the last thing I wanted.  I just want people to be honest about their skills, experience, and sources of information.  Does that make sense?

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Yes it does.

For all to know my level: I have one electric kiln and am converting one to a gas fired kiln. I have made my burners using a pattern I used when I built my first forge. I have created 2-3 glazes from scratch. I am stuggling with John's wheel throwing excercises. I struggle to throw a cylinder taller than 16 inches. And most of my clay ideas fail. I have made 10-12 ceramic flutes and am still struggling to perfect them. I have collected and processed raw material and have made my own ball mill. That about sums

Up my experience.

 

Jed

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