Door Chimes - Philosophical BS

You may be wondering, what philosophical questions could possibly be raised on this topic of old doorbells??

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Some people ask me what exactly my motivation is for posting on this site all that know about how to fix door chimes. Would it perhaps not be wiser-  not to mention more lucrative- to keep it to myself and just tell people they can pay for service if they want the benefit of my knowledge?   Or perhaps I should write a book and maybe make some profit that way?  Yeah, well.  I was reading an article in Wired the other day and came across a description of my exact thoughts on the matter, stated better than I had ever consciously put it together.  To quote  “…I run a blog about cool tools.  I write if for my own delight and for the benefit of friends.  The Web extends my passion to a far wider group for no extra cost or effort.  In this way, my site is part of a vast and growing gift economy, a visible underground of valuable creations – text, music, film, software, tools and service—all given away for free.   This gift economy fuels an abundance of choices.  It spurs the grateful to reciprocate. It permits easy modification and reuse and thus promotes consumers into producers...”   

You know, I’m not solving world hunger here and I keep my desire for peace pretty much to myself, but one little thing I do is to help people I’ve never met to get their doorbells to ring.

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I occasionally get notes from people subtly, or not so, questioning if I am on the wrong moral path.  Mostly it has to do with the issues of restoring antiques versus leaving them alone in the perfection of their original imperfect state and so-called patina of age.  You know, when it comes to an Antiques Roadshow-esque discussion of the original beetle-juice finish on  the only remaining  17th century sideboard made by the Whatever Brothers in colonial Rhode Island, I get it.  I really do.  When it comes to a  faux neo-revival antique mass produced in Cincinnati in 1948, I’m just not with it.  I have this idea that things that are a mere 50 years old and look beat up, that’s not patina, that’s just beat up.

Anyway, there are relatively plenty of these  If any of these are destined to be future high-value antiques where unmolested originality is imperative , let it be ones currently hanging on grandma’s wall, preserved under a protective film of dust, cooking vapors and tobacco tar.  But for now, I’m entirely OK with making a few look sparkly like new. 

I am an industrial designer by training and profession (yes, I do have a day job!).  I think it’s interesting to see things as they were intended, or better yet, as they were originally envisioned to be by the people who designed them… and I can tell you with certainty that the vision is always way more perfect than the realized production item. So why not restore a few to original condition or for that matter a little better than original?  Or maybe take it a bit farther and have some fun, just like the original designer surely did, and pursue ideas that may have been imagined but rejected because of production cost constraints or perceived market demands?

 Look-- I’m as much a purist as anybody, but my view is that anyone who thinks a 50 year old doorbell is sacred, I say that person might be worshipping the wrong things.  Anybody for a NuTone Jefferson in silver leaf with stainless bells?  Give me the commission and let’s do it!

Actually when it comes to faux antiques like a NuTone Jefferson, I think there is a strong case for leaving the clock case in somewhat worn condition.  With a little wear, these look considerably more like legitimate antiques than they did when new.  However I do not have the same view of tired looking tarnished bells.  I think that’s because there is nothing about the bells that makes any pretense of being antique—they are clearly of the 20th century.  My view is that things of such recent vintage do not wear age especially well, and look better if brought back to sparkly originality.  Anyway, it is not like the bells embody any great craftsmanship or precious material that would somehow be diminished by refinishing.  The same spin polish and lacquer finish that they had can be authentically recreated today.  For that matter new bells can be made that for any intent or purpose are identical to the old.

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I have a philosophy that ideas are cheap.  Several years ago I snagged a discarded sanitary napkin vending machine from a demolition project. I put it in my office and made a convincing looking sign to replace the original plaque on it, to read:  Ideas are Cheap. Have One Today!  5cents.  My view is that ideas are the cheapest commodity in any endeavor. You might as well have a hundred a day.  By contrast, the things that are truly precious and rare are vision, wisdom, courage, cooperation, action, forward motion.  I reflect on my years serving as a product planner  for a now defunct cell phone manufacturer. Five years later I have yet to see a single idea hit the market that we hadn’t thought of… but couldn't possible build because of management petrified by fear, lack of vision, and inertia.  The truth is, thinking people in any industry at any given time, armed with available technology all have largely the same ideas.  The differentiator is the courage to act on ideas and the brains not to screw up along the way.  

Over the years I have known a number of people who confided in me their secret idea for the next big thing, whispered in strict confidence.  They might as well have shouted it from rooftops…. because, of course, ideas are cheap and courage is rare.

So perhaps you wonder how this topic of acting on new ideas has anything to do with old doorbells? Aside from considering it all in the context of the historical record of winners and losers among deceased captains of doorbell industry, I whisper to you in strict confidence, watch this space.


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