Not Eliminating The Middleman

So, we’re at a some friends’ place for barbecue this afternoon, and friends say “We know you don’t watch much TV, but you need to see this…”

“This” turns out to be the pilot of The Middleman a peculiar and unusually intelligent TV series that ran for only 12 episodes in 2008 before being canceled. The protagonist is a tough-minded female art student who gets recruited into a sort of “Men In Black” organization that deals with exotic problems – mad scientists, invading aliens, supernatural threats, that sort of thing. Yeah, I know, yet another spin on Nick Pollotta’s Bureau 13 novels – but this version has a sharp, surrealistic edge and the kind of script where no word in it is filler or wasted.

The writing style of The Middleman kind of got into my head. Here’s how I know this: afterwards, we’re disrobing to go to the hot tub, and I looked at my piles of clothes and stuff and thought this:

“I carry a smartphone, a Swiss-Army knife, and a gun. What kind of problem do you want solved?”

Categorized as Culture


  1. Clearly the problem to be solved was hunger. The gun is to shoot the pig. The smartphone to look up a recipe for bbq sauce. The swiss army knife has the toothpick for after you’re all done.

  2. You have it backwards. The smartphone and gun are backup to the Swiss Army knife.

  3. LS: a better question would be “what’s the Swiss-Army knife *not* useful for” to which the answer would be “very little”. Many is the time that I’ve been able to open a computer case, lever out a reluctant connector or cut through a tie while others are still searching round for a suitable tool. I must admit, though, that I’ve never been called on to remove a stone from a horse’s hoof yet :-)

    Eric, I just hope that your SAK is the real thing – a Victorinox or Wenger?

    1. >Eric, I just hope that your SAK is the real thing – a Victorinox or Wenger?

      Victorinox cybertool.

      UPDATE: For the really precisionist, it’s the Cybertool 34 with sapphire shell. Designed for computer and electronics use.

  4. Everything you need to take apart a PC, server, whatever. It even has the TORX bits HP loves to use in its servers and workstations. I used to have one of those, but it got stolen out of one of my vehicles, along with the stereo head and my old Palm PDA. That’s one of the reasons I never keep mobile electronics in plain view in a vehicle anymore.

    1. >Everything you need to take apart a PC, server, whatever. It even has the TORX bits HP loves to use in its servers and workstations.

      Yes. For those of you who haven’t seen a Cybertool, the TORX bits are part of a set of four double-ended bits that fit in the hex driver; at any given time three of the bits nestle in a plastic rack that folds out of the knife body. Besides actually being useful, the effect is almost too cute for words, though there is some risk of losing the bits if you’re not careful when the rack is folded out. Image here.

      Victorinox clearly intended to build a tool that would be both specialized-useful for people working with PC hardware and an irresistible geek toy. They succeeded – I love mine and will never willingly be without one again.

      Also worth noting that it functions as what I’ve previously called an identity good. When somebody pulls out a Cybertool, you can be pretty sure you’re dealing with a self-identified computer geek. Correspondingly, having one to pull out of your own pocket has signaling value to other computer geeks. It was clever of the Victorinox people to notice this possibility and exploit it.

  5. I’m still a Leatherman guy. Some people go for the Gerber multi-tool, but the original Leatherman PST is still the go-to thing for me. Along with the socket/screwdriver attachment there’s pretty much nothing it can’t fix.

    I keep a spare in the motorcycle tool bag.

  6. Of course, my previous comment was toung-in-cheek, but how do you carry around all that junk? Mine is the smallest model with the toothpick, tweezers, nailfile and scissors. (The scissors gets used more than all the other stuff combined.) I have it on my car key ring.

    1. >Of course, my previous comment was toung-in-cheek, but how do you carry around all that junk?

      In my right hip pocket. The Cybertool takes up less space than the smartphone; there’s plenty of room for both. The gun normally lives in a tactical slide holster.

  7. returning on topic, the Tv series is drawn from a comic book series – whose first issue was originally written as a TV script! The comic book went on far longer than the tv series. I haven’t read it, but it seems to be very creative and experimental … The writer is Javier Grillo-Marxuach, of “Lost” fame.

  8. I tend to think of actually following a TV series as too much like having a job. But when one comes along that seems worth it (like Firefly and Jericho) I will generally buy a boxed set after it concludes.

  9. i keep a leatherman wave on my belt (leather case mounted horizontally). the swiss (some fairly standard camping variety) stays at home, where the only thing missing from the leatherman (corkscrew) is more likely to be needed. (i do keep a swisskey on my keychain tho, since it adds basically no weight or bulk. need to get around to sharpening the blade tho, it can barely cut scotch tape….)

  10. “I carry a smartphone, a Swiss-Army knife, and a gun. What kind of problem do you want solved?”

    I carry all that, with one addition: a small LED flashlight, specifically a Streamlight MicroStream:

    This flashlight is small and light enough to go unnoticed in the pocket, and is surprisingly bright. It gets used more than anything else but the smartphone.

    I got in the habit of carrying a small flashlight all the time in a previous life as an aircraft mechanic/inspector. Your eyes are far and away your most important information-gathering tools. Adding a “lever” for them to your walking-toolkit is well worth doing.

  11. It’s thematically about evolutionary technology … first there came the knife, then the better knife, then there came the gun, then the ccp smith, now there comes the android. Problem solving appliances all marching through time, like the old cave man to cro magnon 5 step.

  12. Make mine the Leatherman Skeletool with optional bit kit. 21 double-headed bits including hex, torx, flat, and Phillips. The tool itself parks one bit in the handle and one more ready to use, though I believe they’re duplicates of two of the bits in the add-on kit. (1/4 & 3/16 flat and #1 & #2 Phillips on-board. Interestingly enough, the Phillips bit is duplicated in the kit, but the kit has a 3/16&5/32 bit and a 1/4&7/32 bit in flat. So I believed wrong.)

    It doesn’t have a file or scissors, but the wire cutter or main blade will do in a pinch for the latter.

  13. I’ve noticed that as I got older, I went a different route when it came to everyday carry items.
    1. I went smaller and more minimalistic with my actually carry gear.
    2. I duplicated useful gear and spread them around places that I frequent.

    For example, I carry a 58mm swiss army knife on my keychain (a version with a pen and tweezers). It’s the only multitool I consistently carry on me, but I also have 4 other, larger 91mm versions floating around nearby: both cars, home office, work office. And truth be told, I have 3 of those 58mm swiss army knives – one for each of my 3 keychains. Car/motorcycle keys are so bulky these days that I leave the other vehicle keys at home when I don’t need them.

  14. This is sort of OT, but seems like a good place to put a warning. I drive a Chrysler PT Cruiser, equipped with the electronic security system that talks to the electronic module in the ignition key while the engine is running. (If there is no reply from the key, the engine shuts down.) I’ve discovered that, if you have too much weight swinging on the car key ring when you go over a big bump, the engine quits on you. If any of you are experiencing this, stop trying to check out the wiring, and lighten your car key ring. A big Swiss-Army knife is too heavy; my small model (described above) is OK.

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