Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Merit Pay for Polishing

     I had a strange idea the other day.  Well, perhaps no stranger than my usual ideas.  But what if I was being paid to do something I love, say polish rocks?
     First, consider that polishing a three pound batch of rocks takes time, usually four to six weeks, involving various abrasives, washes between stages, and inspections.  Would the lure of money, cause me to rush the process and end up with an inferior product?  I hope not but look closely at the rocks sold in volume at local tourist shops and you'll see what I'm talking about, hairline scratches and uneven polish.
    Would I then get angry when a batch, just by nature of the rocks that happen to be in the tumbler, took longer than usual?  Often I stop the process after the first step and take out certain rocks to work with them individually, providing a more pleasing shape and removing flaws.  I doubt that I'd bother with any of this if time or money was an issue.  Sometimes the entire process can take eight weeks if done correctly.  But that's a long time to go without a paycheck...
     A paycheck that might be further delayed when a few rocks within a given batch polish more slowly than others.   Money or not, there are only two options at this point.  I could remove the slower ones and set them aside, recycling them into a later batch.  Though this reduces overall output and requires considerable patience, it results in a higher quality of rock.  There is an additional delay,  perhaps two weeks.  The other option would be to continue the process until the slow ones are finally done.  Doing this, however, risks spalding (rock-talk for fractures) in the already finished rocks due to over polishing.
     More time (and money) would be lost when a rock that is several degrees is placed in a batch of much softer stones.  These softer rocks softer rocks can be scratched and chipped through contact.  Sadly, one hard rock can ruin an entire batch.  I would, then, have to start all over again from the beginning.  Thoughtlessly putting miscellaneous rocks into a tumbler can be disastrous, I've learned, especially so if there were people paying you to polish didn't that understand this.
     I check my running batches for problems like this at least every other day.  But what if the people paying me  required that I open the tumbling barrel every hour to test the results?  Such overly monitored and overly evaluated rocks would take an agonizing long time to polish, reducing both production and success rates. 
     Experience has also taught me that some rocks will never polish, either because they are too coarse or too weak.  Polish these dull specimens all you want but they will never be glossy and bright.  Get enough problem rocks and I guarantee frustration, especially if you're collecting is limited to areas where resistant specimens are common.  Earning less just out of the happenstance of where I live and collect?  That doesn't sound fair.
     And imagine the shock of a "master rock polisher" who appears at your door wanting to observe your techniques.  I would have to get out of my recliner and wander around in the garage, making a show of putting oil on the bearings, wiping down the outside of the tumbler, and other tasks that don't really need doing.
     And then what would I do if the master rock inspector told me that I was behind in my quota?  What if the guy working out of his garage down the street was cranking out a more rocks and more often, and there went my bonus pay?  Certainly, hearing this would do little to improve neighborhood relations--and it might eventually result in a "mysterious garage fire".
     I guess I could put a few more rocks in each batch but that usually ends badly.  Anything beyond three fourths full and the rocks are too close to move around and can't bump against the other.  The barrel turns and turns but nothing is happening inside.  Another ill- advised approach to increased production would be to operate many tumblers at once.  So much for having any kind of personal life.  Then there's the additional risk of disasters due to inattention, trying to juggle too many rocks and too many tumblers.
     Would merit payments based on my overall rock output affect my love for this hobby?
     You bet.
     I enjoy the shaping of rocks and bringing them to a brilliant finish.  For me, this is a satisfying experience in itself.  Though not every rock is a success, that's okay.  But if the process was all about numbers, I'm pretty sure I'd hate it in no time.
     Well, just another of my strange ideas, that's all.
     Oh, and by the way, none of this has anything to do with teaching in the 21st century.