Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tools - a Dive into Worldbuilding! hangout summary with VIDEO

Tools was a topic that surprised us with its richness - after all, tools can be for work, for daily life, for eating, and range from the simple all the way to the most technological. Tools can even be designed to make other tools! We thought of blacksmiths, seamstresses, fashionistas, tools for knitting and for jewelry making. Tools for painting and for drawing - there are incredible ranges just in the specialist tools of artists.

We also talked about multi-tools, of which the Swiss army knife is probably the best known. Believe it or not, these have been around since Roman times at least (see one here). Some of them have been quite ornate. Recently I had seen a bracelet-style multi-tool, which was pretty awesome.

We spoke about how important it might be to carry your own tools. World of Warcraft and other video games let you carry oodles of stuff with you without ever showing you lugging it around or letting it interfere with your ability to fight, but this would not be the case in real life! There was a reason why tinkers and tinsmiths often had wagons.

Knife sharpeners are tools. In China you had portable tea-making tools. There are food-making tools of all varieties (Williams Sonoma etc, anyone?). Knives are tools. Ovens are tools.

Questing brings the need for tools into focus. You want the right tool for the right job; you don't want to be chopping firewood with a sword (as Rutger Hauer once pointed out to Matthew Broderick). Are you carrying an axe with you? Why the heck didn't Aragorn have a backpack? Make sure you think this stuff through so your characters aren't depending on a magical bag of holding.

You can make soup in a leather bag by inserting hot rocks. This has also been done in baskets.

Che pointed out that if you are traveling with a group, you might have a chuck wagon dedicated to all the things you need. However, Brian noted that when you are only eating beans and coffee, scurvy might be a problem.

Pliers are very useful tools for all sorts of tasks, like removing cactus spines from prickly pear fruit, or bones from fish.

We talked about tools that have changed society. The wheel is one of these. The horse collar made it possible for horses to pull much more efficiently. Horse shoes were also a huge advancement, as were yokes, and paper. The cotton gin was a very specialized machine but it made a huge difference to the efficiency of cotton production. The radio. The telegraph. We geeked out a bit about pneumatic tube systems used to deliver messages in banks and stores. Apparently, this method was attempted as a way to move train cars, but it didn't work well because of the difficulty of maintaining a seal around the outside of a train car. (Brian suggests you look up Brunel's atmospheric railway.) Cable cars are a pretty nifty tool for getting around, either in San Francisco, where they are trolleys, or in Europe, where they are cars that take you up to the top of tall mountains. Other tools that have made a huge difference in culture are washing machines, vacuums and crock pots, and other tools that made home life more efficient for women who were unable to employ servants.

Sometimes the maintenance of tools can be as time-consuming as the original chore.

Threshing and grinding grain started being done by hand, then by animal, then by water wheels, then by mechanized mills. You will often find such technological progressions occurring in history; think about how they might have happened in your world.

Obsolescence of tools is an interesting issue as well. Some things don't last long because their function stops being useful to people, or because they are supplanted by better tools. Computers become obsolete very quickly. Other tools, however, have staying power. Forks, for example - or an even older tool, the knife.

Some tools are useful only to small pockets of people, such as the minidisc which was really helpful for radio broadcasting but didn't take off for the general population. Vinyl records are still used by small groups of people though they are no longer the going medium for music storage.

Some tools are considered showpieces for conspicuous consumers, like cars, watches, or handbags. Keeping up with the latest technology takes money.

Do you repair things, or replace them?

Is the tool something the average user can understand, or is it understood only by people with elite knowledge? Cars used to be repairable by a user with some training, but cars with internal computers are beyond the capability of average users to repair, and self-driving cars would be even less under the user's control.

I mentioned how in Varin, technological knowledge is being lost, so changing a lightbulb is easy, but if the timing module for the day and night lights goes out, they have to go to the university to find someone who can build another one based on documentation.

Think about how the tools your people use fit into their environment. Is the environment very wet? Then you might need different materials to make your tools. Is your ability to access tools limited, like, say, if you are on a space station? Or do you have a 3D printer? What material does such a printer use, and how much of it have you got?

Thanks to everyone who came for their insights and lively thoughts.

Here's the video:


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