Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ezra the Bookfinder

I received a gift from Ezra yesterday. It arrived in a small padded hand addressed envelope emblazoned with a bright orange FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE. Inside it is wrapped in bubble wrap and then in a taped layer of padding. It is a small old book, the Arlington Edition of Emersons Essays. A complete surprise, an unsolicited present from Ezra the Bookfinder. Every part of this gift's presentation feels intentional and done with care. A business card with just the word "Circles" written on the back marks the place he wishes to share.

Ezra, known to us as Artemus a half life ago, is a dear friend of Margy's from early1970's Cambridge days. A friendship that stands the test of time, one that picks up where it left off with nary a beat. He and his lovely wife visited us recently, more than a decade from his last visit.

I love the look and feel of this book. It's faded dark blue cloth cover is beautifully embossed. The pages are a faded amber and the typeset like an old typewriter. I love its old book smell. There is no copyright date or preface, just a contents page. The back two pages are an advertisement for Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup for Teething Children and a listing of other offerings in the Arlington Wonder Library, available for 20 cents each. This list has many check marks as though an owner long ago was checking them off.

I pour a small glass of whiskey, find my glasses, turn on the small incandescent lamp on my end of the couch, open to the recommended essay, and begin to read.

Alas, it is over my head. Every sentence feels like something important that is just of of reach. "Permanence is but a word of degrees." "Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series." "Every several result is threatened and judged by that which follows." "Our moods do not believe in each other." Try as I might I can not get hold of these words in a way that makes real sense to me. Almost, but not quite.

I imagine Emerson at his desk in 1847 or so and the words flow on to the page like he is describing something that is solid, something that is clear and very real to him. But despite his eloquence and mastery of his craft I can not see what he sees. I feel slow witted.

This has never been a strength, the intellectual, informed critical thinking in the world of ideas.  I have relied on intuition and the physical.  I wonder if the former could be developed, if one could practice this ability. I suppose I could start with Philosophy for Dummies but not sure I'm up to it. 

And so Ezra, someone else, someone like yourself,  might benefit more from this book and the wisdom it holds, but I loved the gift just the same.

Thank you.

Ezra is the "driving force" behind Gertie the Bookmobile that cruises the Eugene, Oregon vicinity. Free Books to the People! Here is a nice article about Ezra and his work.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Landscape Simulation

One of the things I have found most appealing about riding a bike for exercise is the wide ranging but intimate view of the beautiful landscape that is my part of the world. Walking would give the closest view but biking covers more ground and still at a pace that can take in the details. Sometimes I feel like a dog with its head out the car window, soaking up the flow of sensations.

This panoramic photograph is from Ridge Road just a mile or so from the intersection and cluster of homes that is Warriors Mark. It is a visual aid. It does a better job of conveying this scene than I could describe but it is still not the experience. Far from it, in fact.

On this ride I was thinking about an advertisement I had seen for an exercise cycle that simulates actual geographic terrain. The Tour de France training cycle offers a screen view of the race (or any other route for that matter) and varies the resistance and incline or decline of the bike according to topography and your progress along the route. To quote their add, "Get the experience of riding outside without leaving the comfort of your own home." Yeah, right. I scoff at the crude facsimile.

I think this might be a useful training tool. It would certainly be more interesting than just peddling away staring at a wall. Of course it is ludicrous to claim it is just like the Tour de France. But what if it was? What if the sensory input was so complete, so totally immersive that you could not tell the difference? You could no longer tell when the simulation ends and reality begins. I think this day is coming. They are working on it that's for sure. Gaming environments, movie special effects, robotics, artificial intelligence and the coming together of biology/physiology and computer science bring it closer every day.

Some time ago I imagined that I might very well live to see the day when I wouldn't know if the clerk at the counter was a fellow human or a machine. People will fall in love with these machines, a machine that is programmed to respond to your every mood and wish with what you want or think you need. Why would you want to hash it out with someone as demanding and fickle as yourself?

Let's face it, we're control freaks. 24/7 we try to create endless pleasure with no pain. What will happen when we can simulate this? I'm pretty sure something will be missing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Classy Table

This is my latest effort in woodworking, a recently completed coffee table. It was a challenging piece that has been a while in the making and required some techniques I had used little or not at all.  I am pleased with it. It is a nice blend of classic and contemporary styles. It gives a polished upscale impression with the dramatic pattern of inlaid holly in the top and is set upon legs and stretchers that are more organic with their rounded edges and carved shapes.

The inlay pattern for the top was the inspiration for the table. It was soon followed by the idea of mimicking this pattern in the shelf but in reverse, a negative of the top. Each curved piece of the shelf is made using a technique known as bent lamination. Two 1/16" thick  x 1" x 46" pieces are glued together while pressed into a curved form. When removed from the form they retain their curved shape. These 12 shaped pieces were then glued together at contact points, trimmed, and set into a frame. The resulting shelf is light weight, rigid, and quite strong. A perfect place for a "coffee table book".

The top is veneered with shop made 3/32" veneers, bookmatched from the same board. I usually prefer to work in solid wood so this was something new. But veneer was called for because the inlay would not accommodate the seasonal expansion and contraction of solid wood. I considered several veneering methods including a vaccum bag or ironing but chose a makeshift platen with convex cauls and lots of clamps that worked well.

I considered making my own holly stringing but  found someone online who has made a business of making banding and inlay stringing. This was money well spent as it was very uniform and fit precisely in the matched 1/16" router bit groove. Cutting the grooves involved following a carefully positioned template with a small router fitted with a shop made bearing base. This task got my full attention. Any drifting away from the template or slip in movement and hours of labor and costly materials would be lost.

High risk woodworking. A part of the process where you feel like you can not make a mistake. Often what separates craftsman made and machine made is wood selection. An exceptionally beautiful or large board. Boards chosen from the same log so that grain patterns or colors are matched. A couple of small boards from the tree grandfather planted. You can't just go get another piece. Or, as was my case, so much work has been invested to get to that point that a mistake might end the work. There just wouldn't be enough energy to begin again.

The last new wrinkle in making this project was the use of Photoshop to make the drawings. I'm usually pretty old school, making my drawings with pencils, rulers and graph paper. But PS allowed me to make precise curves that could be replicated, stretched, or contracted to fit the needed dimensions. And finally I could take them to the printer to get full scale drawings from which I could make the needed templates and forms.

I hope you like this work.  I try my best to make something beautiful hoping that somehow it makes a difference.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sun Pickles

With an overabundance of cucumbers increasing by the day we seek some new ways to eat them. We make a cucumber salad that we like (sliced cukes, sour cream, diced onion, horseradish, vinegar, dill) but twice a week is enough. How many of those little crustless sandwiches are you going to make? Diced with tomato and felafel in a pita is good. I've never been a big fan of cold soups but I suppose I should give that a try too.

It's one of those things with gardening that when you have a crop of something that is doing great chances are good that the same is true for your neighbors. We can't give these away.

But a week ago our friend recommended this pickle recipe that she makes frequently and enjoys and we are trying it this week. It's not a canning recipe and so is not for long keeping. Our friend suggests refrigeration after a week. Other sources say pickles will keep indefinitely in a heavy brine solution reminiscent of the old wooden barrel of pickles in a deli.

Sun Pickles

6 c. water
3 c. cider vinegar
1/2 c. salt
6-8 cloves garlic
1-2 bay leaf
1 T. pickling spice
1 tsp. hot pepper flakes

Boil water, vinegar, salt - cool. Add other ingredients.

Stuff a 1 gallon lidded jar with as many whole cukes as you can fit.  Pour in brine solution. Place in sun for 1 week.

Ours should be ready in a day.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Plague Upon the Earth

One of the not so nice things about living in the country is the annual proliferation of some kind of bug. It seems to vary year to year. Some years there are crickets everywhere. Or stinkbugs. Or June bugs. We have been spared the ladybug onslaught as some friends and family report. This year it is a small millipede. Larger ones in modest numbers are a regular occurrence but this year a smaller, 1 inch, variety has shown up en masse. Coming out mostly at night by morning they are all over the front door and stoop and lower walls of the house. Ugh.

For context I searched plagues online thinking I would find some biblical references to locust plagues. To my surprise I found this is happening now. Madagascar is currently experiencing a locust invasion that may wipe out 2/3 of the nations crops. Israel too is suffering the worst locust infestation in decades. Video of these plagues make life there look unbearable. It gives perspective to my insignificant annoyance.

On a gloomy note I imagine that from afar this is what earth looks like though we are the plague. Our little blue and green ball with homo sapiens swarming all over the surface, crawling all over each other, consuming all in their path. Sigh.