When I was a child, I loved the book A Big Ball of String. In the first half the protagonist collects bits and pieces of string anywhere he finds them, then ties them end to end and wraps it all up into the titular object. It doesn’t appear that he’s doing this for any purpose, other than that he loves string and believes that possessing large quantities of it opens up unspecified new possibilities. In the second half of the book, the boy gets a cold and is supposed to stay in bed. However, his imagination is as active as ever–he begins to use the ball of string to rig up elaborate mechanisms to do anything that he might want to do while he’s in bed. (It’s unclear how much time he spends out of bed setting everything up.) Towards the end of the story, he has what must be hundreds of different strings attached to himself and everything else within his reach, and the world obeys him with a simple tug of the right one. I don’t recall how the story ends; perhaps it all comes crashing down and he plots version 2.0. Maybe he wraps the string back up into a big ball after he gets better, but anticipates the next opportunity to deploy his web. At the very least I don’t think it ends in unrecoverable disaster; I remember thinking that I wanted to do that whenever I read the book. My balls of string were never large enough, and I was not creative enough, to do anything spectacular with them.
I took a week off of work when Roman was born. Things were busy around here, but in the few moments when Jenny, Elena, and Roman were all asleep (and maybe at other times too), I had the chance to play around with my new toy–a new (to me) desktop computer. I’m still figuring out how to use it in conjunction with all the other computers and screens in the house. Putting it all together makes me feel like a boy with a big ball of string–remote control apps and web interfaces make it seem like I can do anything at all, from changing the TV channel with my iPod to running a math program on one computer and accessing it with another.
My most recent accomplishment along these lines has to do with photography. Jenny and I are selling things on eBay, and want to have good images of our products. I connected my camera and laptop so I could control the camera from the computer and have the images saved directly to the hard drive. I open them over the network and edit on my more powerful new computer before saving them to Jenny’s computer; they never even touch a flash drive. The complicated setup allows for a very quick workflow–even though Jenny laughs at my complicated arrangements, I think she’s impressed by how fast I get things done.