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with odds and ends, and every now and then

He wasted time puttering uncertainly with odds and ends, and every now and then he went to the telephone.

passage in context (down below, this very page), from
E. J. Rath, “The Inventor and the Wasteful Process : The story of a man who tried to eliminate the human equation.” Collier’s 48:11 (December 2, 1911) : 25-26, 45, 46

Harvard copy/scan (via google books) : link
same (via hathitrust) : link
more legible U Illinois Urbana-Champaign copy/scan (via hathitrust) : link

E.J. Rath is the pseudonym of Edith Rathbone Jacobs Brainerd (1885-1922) and her husband Chauncey Corey Brainerd (1874-1922)
see earlier of their putterings, and other information, at 276

full transcription below; paragraphs numbered (for ease of reference and proofing.)
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  1. Properly, this is a purely scientific narrative, and for that reason all foreign subjects must be rigidly excluded. If a Certain Difficulty should arise in the telling, be patient. The greatest care will be exercised to eliminate it. There shall be no intrusions.
  2. THERE was a young Inventor, ambitious and struggling. He did not struggle with poverty, but with a problem. For the Inventor, oddly but truly, had money. He did not earn this money; his father, who had been a wholesale fish dealer, attended to that. When the will had been probated the Inventor possessed as much money as any young man has a right to expect, yet hedged about with careful restrictions, so that no matter how much he might invent he could by no means pauperize himself.
  3. The Inventor did not object to these restrictions, for withal he had a certain measure of sense. His income afforded an office and a workshop and opportunity to pursue his ideas. He was neither a recluse nor a freak. He kept his hair trimmed, his face shaved, his clothes pressed, and his shoes polished. Sometimes he had his nails manicured, for he was quite modern in many ways. He ate at a club and lived in a four-room bachelor apartment. Notwithstanding these facts, however, he invented earnestly. He kept regular business hours and had his establishment on the top floor of a city skyscraper. You entered an office; in the rear was the workshop. The Inventor saw no reason for hiding himself in an attic or a cellar.
  4. His practical mind turned in the direction of inventing devices for the saving of time and labor and money. Few of them, it is true, had he ever been able to sell, but that did not annoy him nor cool his pursuit of new ideas. His father’s wholesale fish estate had certain solid merits. The only thing that exasperated the Inventor was the persistence of the world in adhering to troublesome and old-fashioned methods, when there were better ones to be had at his workshop.
  5. His latest problem was the invention of a phonograph-typewriter. He was not primarily engaged in devising a typewriter, for he thought it likely that any one of a thousand or so machines might answer his purpose. Neither was he confronted with the necessity of inventing a phonograph, for that trouble had been saved him. His task simply was to link together the phonograph and the typewriter in such a manner that when you talked into the former you produced written words through the latter. In short, he was eliminating the human link that now bridges the chasm between the phonographic record and the typewritten word.
  6. A SIMPLE problem, you may think. Try it. The Inventor tried it for nearly a year before he even devised a theory for talking his words into print. Meantime, whenever he wished to write a letter he had to step into the front office and —
  7. (The office contains a Certain Difficulty that we feared at the outset that human link which the Inventor is busy eliminating. Let us pray that he succeeds. Simply and solely as a Girl she may do very well, but she has nothing to do with the matter of inventing things and she is hereby notified to keep herself out of this narrative. Suppose she is nice and neat and conscientious. She is being remorselessly invented out of her job and that renders her of no further interest. She shall stay in the outer office. Whenever the Inventor steps into that office it may as well be understood that he steps out of this story.)
  8. For a year the Inventor had been at work on his problem of transmuting the spoken sound into the written word by a process purely automatic, yet it had not yielded to his alchemy. So he set about to master the rudiments of his materials. First, he absorbed a thorough knowledge of talking machines. The workshop was filled with them. Then he mastered the science of typewriters. After that it was necessary to determine which, of both instruments, were best suited to his purpose. This led to a discovery that none of the existing machines was exactly what he required, so that for several months his attention was diverted from the main problem while he invented a phonograph and typewriter of his own. The workshop was also littered with electrical machines of all kinds — batteries, generators, storage cells, motors, dynamos, resistance coils, and other monuments of ingenuity.
  9. The Inventor worked as regularly as a business man at his desk, for he was naturally methodical. He never sat up until three or four o’clock in the morning, and then dozed with his head on the workbench, as all inventors in romance do. Instead, promptly at six in the evening, and in summer time at five, he would take off his apron, wash his hands, brush his hair, put on his coat, and leave the job of inventing until nine o’clock the following morning. He ate his dinner like an ordinary man and spent his evenings at the club or the theatre. In summer he always took a vacation. Likewise, he granted a vacation to —
  10. (She gets two weeks, with pay, and now and then a day off when he is away on business. This is merely related to prove conclusively that the Inventor is a normal and considerate man.)
  11. THE Inventor’s regular habits of work enabled him to accomplish as much as long and irregular hours might have done, and they also preserved his health, which was aggressive. He possessed good powers of concentration. He never relied upon inspiration. His method of inventing was exceedingly simple. First, he decided what wasteful process of ordinary business life should be abolished. Then he designed a machine to eliminate it. While he invented his mind never wandered, unless —
  12. (Not unless he has correspondence to attend to. Then he is compelled to visit the office, where the Wasteful Process is writing his letters and keeping his books. Does she know what he is about? More than likely. She is by no means stupid; rather the reverse. There is nothing unusual about her. She eats caramels, keeps an apple on her desk and a flower in a glass of water, puts her coat on a hanger in a corner and her hat on top of a filing case, and is in every way an ordinary Wasteful Process. Speed the day of her elimination.)
  13. The Inventor made fine progress with his specially built phonograph and perfected it so that it made beautiful and clear records. Also, he built a typewriter that was a jewel of compactness, strength, and simplicity, and which would turn out the most admirable work in the most perfect alignment. But the link between these two excellent machines was elusive. It is a complicated matter to coordinate the human voice and a piece of paper in such a manner as to produce automatic writing, and it is not necessary to explain in technical terms the precise difficulty.
  14. Suffice it, then, to say that the Inventor attacked the problem from all sides and angles, and even called in some of his scientific friends to ask their opinions. They would study his conception of a mechanical link. Then they would drift into the outer office and study —
  15. (The Wasteful Process.)
  16. Sometimes casual visitors and friends would interrupt the Inventor, but he was always good-natured about it, even though such visits cost him valuable time. Sometimes he would be interrupted by —
  17. (She goes into the workshop at least once a day, sometimes oftener. She is so quiet and quick about it that it has become necessary to keep a constant eye upon the door, else she will be in before we know it. She asks questions, shows letters, delivers messages, or says there is somebody at the telephone. We do not charge that these interruptions of a scientific undertaking are wanton, but they are none the less annoying, and for this reason it makes not the slightest difference whether or not a Wasteful Process has gray eyes and chestnut hair and wears paper cuffs over the sleeves of her shirt-waist.)
  18. The Inventor worked long and conscientiously to es- tablish the link between his phonograph and his typewriter, yet he did not lose sleep or appetite. He never stayed past business hours and always enjoyed himself in the evenings. Yet the day came when it seemed as if he was at an absolute halt. He was both buoyant and dogged in temperament, so he did not despair. Neither did he hesitate to seek advice, despite a popular idea that inventors are suspicious of each other and jealous of their brain children. Whenever he felt he needed help he never failed to consult fellow scientists. In this present situation he wrote many letters to eminent mechanics and engineers, and as his difficulties grew so did his correspondence. He also fell into a habit which cannot be recommended. He did not dictate all his letters in the outside office. Instead —
  19. (He calls her into the workshop and does some of his dictating there. Necessarily, this interrupts inventing and does not hasten the disappearance of a Wasteful Process. She has no business whatever in that workshop. Worse than that, she gets interested in things — between letters. Still worse, he sometimes undertakes to explain those same things. Of course, he merely mistakes what appears to him a certain aptness for mechanics on the part of the Wasteful Process for what is really a childish fancy for toys. She seems to have no dread of the ultimate result of his invention, which clearly shows her to be a creature heedless of the future. Let her keep clear of this business. There! The door is closed after her.)
  20. The Inventor’s first attempt to establish a connecting link failed completely. He smiled. It was worth while having made the attempt, because he discovered the error of the principle. So he set about it in an entirely different manner. He failed again. But that was merely another wrong theory eliminated and placed on the shelf. He regarded his failures as progress. Summer came and he took a vacation. So did —
  21. (The Wasteful Process spent hers at the seashore, where the sun freckled her nose.)
  22. A NEW idea came to the Inventor while on his vacation, and straightway upon his return he began to work it out and perpetuate it in metal. He even allowed himself to grow enthusiastic about that idea. It was so simple. Yet he believed that it would establish the link. First, he constructed what he called a transmitting agent.
  23. (A moment’s patience until she gets out of the workshop. There is something almost sly about her. She runs in at the most unexpected moments, nor does she always wait to knock. He is exasperatingly complaisant; his ideas of office discipline are non-existent. Of course, understanding what the thing is for, it may be natural for her to seek to interrupt and delay the elimination of a Wasteful Process. After all, self-preservation may even be practiced by an Obsolete Article of Office Furniture. That’s what she is — an Obs — Hurrah! We thought that name would be too much for her. It has driven her out of the workshop.)
  24. The Inventor’s transmitting agent was a thing with [26] springs and wires and a resistance coil, hitched up by means of levers and cogwheels to a revolving disk. It was delicate work and trying to the patience. As every part had to be made with infinite accuracy, there was no way of hurrying it. An error of one five-thousandth part of an inch would have been fatal. The Inventor became so absorbed in his transmitter that, for once in his career, he began to neglect his office routine and his correspondence. He showed signs of —
  25. (Now we know it. We have been suspecting it for some time. A Wasteful Process is deliberately trying to edge into this narrative. Just then she pretty nearly succeeded. As if it were necessary to trot in and ask about a letter that could just as well wait! Granted that she’s clever about it — and persistent, it is no excuse for an Inventor to stop and explain what he is trying to do. Does he expect her to keep a secret? Why, she’ll tell it to the first youth who calls at the house.)
  26. Nevertheless, the transmitting agent progressed. Just about this time the Inventor discovered that he would have to devise an entirely separate apparatus for attaching it to the phonograph. That took weeks. First, there was the electrical problem.
  27. (Did you ever see a little hypocrite pretending to be interested in a cam wheel? Thank Heaven, you have been spared the sight. Run away, you Obsolete —)
  28. THE electrical question involved a study of batteries versus dynamos, and after a dynamo had been decided upon it was important to determine whether the current should be alternating or constant. This ended in the construction of a tiny transformer, a “step down” station on the intricate journey, with a resistance coil that had to be wound by hand. Winding that coil was certainly tedious, but the Inventor would have none of the kind that he could buy ready made. Day after day he wound that coil. Day after day —
  29. (She’s helping him at it! Now we are in trouble. What does she know about coils — electrical ones? There goes the telephone bell. Yes, run! And close that door!)
  30. He finished the coil under difficulties which may well be imagined. The next task was to connect the transmitting agent with the typewriter. Of course, it sounds simple, yet he encountered unexpected trouble. It required a whole mathematical calculation before he lifted a tool to the job. However, the Inventor reveled in obstacles; they were a form of dissipation with him. He did outrageous problems in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, drew plans and diagrams, worked at his lathe, made parts, set them up, took them down again, tested this, rejected that, all the while calm and patient and steadfast in his purpose to rid the business world of —
  31. (A Wasteful Process. Yes, you, Girl — and tens of thousands of your sisters along with you. You’ll see pretty soon how long you can keep fluttering into this shop. There are lots of things in that outer office to keep you busy if you have half a mind to attend to them. Don’t for one moment think that you are going to sidle into this story, even by the back way. You’re just a plain notoriety seeker. Well, to be fair, perhaps not a plain one, but — Going, eh? Good!)
  32. Having finally determined upon the proper method of linking his transmitting agent to his typewriter, the Inventor was next confronted with the elementary problem of the whole business — that of making it go. At a time when he should have made the greatest progress he fell into an unaccustomed habit of dawdling. His mind did not apply itself with its wonted directness.
  33. (She’s sick.)
  34. He wasted time puttering uncertainly with odds and ends, and every now and then he went to the telephone. No man can invent and telephone at the same time unless he is inventing expletives. Weeks of harassing inactivity passed, and then suddenly the work in the shop began to take shape again and went on as methodically as before.
  35. ( She’s back. It’s only decent to be glad that she recovered, yet we cannot look with pleasure upon the rejuvenation of a Wasteful Process after weeks of peace and quiet. This experience should teach her that office work is too hard for her. Housework and helping her mother would be infinitely better. Yet — hang it! — she looks well. So now things are as bad as ever. In and [45] out of the shop, morning, noon, and night, like a daft butterfly. Oh, please!)
  36. The Inventor finally completed it, every lever, spring, and wheel. How he did it under such difficulties is a marvel that can never be explained. Then came the test.
  37. It failed! Absolutely, it would not work. The transmitter revolved and made a pleasant whirring sound, but it would not transmit. The phonography operated with the most perfect enunciation. The typewriter ran without a hitch. But the vocalization of the Inventor would not record itself on the paper. Something was wrong with the alchemy The Inventor scratched his head. Hold on now! Have sense. Don’t.
  38. (Just the same he has done it. What a silly idea — that the thing might go in response to the voice of a Wasteful Process when it wouldn’t budge for him. It’s hard to get out of patience with a patient man, but now is the time. She feigns an interest in something that is Greek to her, yet down in her heart she hopes it will never work. Anybody can see that — except the Inventor. There he stands, asking the opinion of the Obsolete. There she stands, nodding her head and poking her fingers into a refractory transmitter, making believe she grasps the trouble. What’s that? Good news! He’s sending her out to buy something — a coil of copper wire and stuff like that. Oh, no; pray don’t hurry back.)
  39. It must be admitted that the Inventor was game. It would not work — and he only smiled. It did not lie in him to abandon hope.
  40. “I’ll take a few days’ vacation,” thought he. “Then I’ll come back and have another try. It can be done — and I’ll do it.”
  41. Animated by this admirable resolve, the Inventor went away for a short rest to a place where he could fish, and go swimming, and wear old clothes, and forget his perplexities — one of them spelled with a [46] capital P, a regular teaser of a Perplexity. He was gone for a week, amusing himself like a sane and healthy young man, and then he was ready for that transmitter. On his way to the workshop —
  42. (This time it is really his fault, because he is under no compulsion to dawdle away minutes in the outer office. His correspondence is not important; his double-entry books are a jest.)
  43. He hung his coat and hat in the workshop closet just as methodically as of old, rolled up his sleeves and turned to have a look at the phonograph-typewriter. There was a brand-new idea in his mind, fresh from the country. Yet, as he inspected his machine, there was no apparent reason why it should not go just as it stood. Certainly it looked practicable and complete.
  44. Idly he sat down and spoke a few casual words into the receiver of the phonograph. The disk in the transmitter revolved with its accustomed whirr. But another sound attracted his ear. This was a soft, regular clicking noise, down at the other end of the bench. The Inventor removed his lips from the mouthpiece and turned his head. The clicking ceased!
  45. HE leaped to his feet, upsetting his chair, and fairly ran to the typewriter. Utterly impossible ! But there it was — written out on the paper — every word he had spoken, just like this : “Mary is a very capable, willing, and useful girl. Mary is a very —”
  46. It was verbatim ! He leaped to the transmitter. Then he rushed back to the phonograph and spoke to it again, twisting his head so that he could watch the typewriter. He could see the keys moving ! Choking a desire to shout, he ran once more to the typewriter. It had done it again ! Every word was faithfully printed : “Mary is certainly a good, industrious, well-bred, young —”
  47. Calming himself as well as possible, he began to examine the transmitter. It seemed to be exactly as he had left it. But wait. Here was something he did not seem to remember. A piece of bent wire, with curious and apparently senseless convolutions. Somebody had been tampering with the machine. Yes; another wire, also with convolutions, twisted in among the levers.
  48. Hairpins!
  49. And that was not all. A piece of white twine was tied around the axle of a cam. Mixed up in the workings of the typewriter were two rubber bands and a wedge of paper. And right in the most delicate part of the whole mechanism a wad of chewing gum!
  50. The Inventor raised a shout.
  51. (He’s calling “Mary!” The Wasteful Process, whose elimination is gloriously accomplished, appears. More than that, she is defiant enough to be laughing.)
  52. “Did you do that?” demanded the Inventor.
  53. (She nods. She acts as if she thought it was funny.)
  54. “Do you know what you’ve done ?” he cried.
  55. (She bestows upon him an utterly wasteful smile.)
  56. “You’ve abolished your job!” said the Inventor in a very solemn voice. He meant every word of it.
  57. (Now, you would naturally expect news of that kind to make even an Obsolete Article of Office Furniture weep. Does she? No!)
  58. The Inventor’s face plainly showed that in his mind there was a desperate resolve. He strode across the workshop and seized —
  59. (It is becoming exceedingly difficult. It was entirely possible and proper to keep her out of the narrative up to this point, and we are rather proud of having done so. But when the Inventor deliberately seizes upon a Wasteful Process, with a determination to hold fast to the very thing that he has worked the best part of two years to abolish, what in the world is there to do?)
  60. THE invention was a wonderful success. The phonograph-typewriter was accomplished. And was the human link — the world-wide Wasteful Process — abandoned ? Not at all . Unfortunately , the invention would not sell . It cost too much . The Inventor found that it was impossible to manufacture it cheaply, and he never reaped a dollar from it. The world is still pleasantly full of Obsolete Articles.
  61. Of course, the money part of it did not matter at all to the Inventor, for he still had the fortune left to him by his wholesale fish-dealing father. He gave up his bachelor apartment and bought a nice place in the country. On the premises, beside a charming cottage, are an automobile, a couple of horses, several cows, lots of chickens, a sunny garden, some children, and —
  62. (We will be adamant to the very end. She shall not get in!)

22 March 2024