My tools

Recently I’ve been going to bike maintenance workshops. It’s been an interesting and often satisfying experience. There’s the comfort of knowing how to check your own bike for damage, how to mend punctures and how to be a more self-sufficient cyclist. There’s also a sense of satisfaction about doing something that has physical results, something that gets you covered in bike grease and dirt, something that requires you to work with your hands as well as your mind.

There seem to be a few books out discussing the issue of working with one’s hands and the dangers of office work. It’s hard to write about this without romanticising manual work from a smug, clean fingernailed, academic stance, from the privileged stance of this being a choice for me, of this being as unnatural for me as Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid at her hameau.

However, for me at least, there’s also a sense of responsibility; if I use something every day I should be able to understand how some aspects of it work, be able to fix some problems, know when I’m out of my depth. It gives me a better understanding of my tool’s capabilities and limitations. Does it make me a better corpus linguist? In some ways, yes – I built my desktop myself to a specification I designed for corpus linguistics. It’s skewed towards processing power and data storage, and light on the graphics. In other ways, not yet. While a computer is a bit more than a magic box for me, there’s still so much I don’t know about what it can do and how it works. The more sensitive I become to how computers work, what they’re capable of, what they are incapable of, and the implications these have for investigating language use…well, it can only be a good thing, right?

Bit of a ramble I’m afraid, I’ve caught some horrible student lurgy and am feeling a bit fuzzy-headed.