Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

How I spent my summer

by techno Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 10:13:07 AM EST

"Your room really needs a paint job.  You do the prep work and I'll do the painting."  In my world, such an suggestion from my significant other sounded more like an offer I couldn't refuse.  The room really DID need paint--it hadn't been painted since the 60s, some paint was peeling, and there were minor cracks in the plaster.  And it is a small room measuring 3.3 x 3.9 meters.

How bad could this be?  (famous last words)  My, how projects get out of hand!

Appropriate for the weekend & August approaching! From the diaries ~ whataboutbob


Even before the prep could begin, I had to move out of the room.  This was NOT a minor undertaking.  I do some interesting things in that room including video editing.  There is a fair amount of wiring to run a non-linear video editing set-up and it is all connected to a computer that I use a LOT.  But I didn't have a video project on the schedule so I could move the computer and video equipment to different locations.  This ate up a whole day.

Another two days were required to sort through and move the amazing piles of paper and other junk and furnishings that had accumulated through the years.  By now I was operating out of a tiny room so packed I could barely walk.

And then it turned HOT.  Like 35° with 28° dew points.  I am 57 so I slowed down.  A day to cover and mask the floors.  Three days to fix the plaster cracks in the walls and ceiling.  My SO took four days to finish the painting.

What a fine job she did!  As I began to remove the rosin paper that I had used to cover the floor, it became obvious that new paint made everything else look quite shabby.  The wood floor needs to be refinished but THAT wasn't in the budget.  Besides, I LIKE the character of an old wood floor.  So I decided to clean the floors as best I could with a cleaner and steel wool--by hand!  Then I applied a finish restorer.  Two more days!

Another day went to replacing the 30s-era brown bakelite switches, outlets and plates, HVAC covers, and reinstalling the window hardware.

It took fourteen days, but I now had a very attractive room that looked very much like a blank canvas.  I couldn't just move my piles of junk back into that room.  It was time for a major upgrade in the aesthetics of my life.  And that upgrade would only work if I was VERY ruthless in deciding what of the detritus of my life was worth looking at.  A coat of paint hadn't enlarged the room, after all.

The key element of the upgrade was a decision to change desks.  I had been using an old oak desk I inherited from my father that was huge, beat up, and very ugly.  I had another desk that I had built in 1978 at the end of my "teak period."  This period was triggered when I got a VERY good price on a stack of teak plywood seconds.  

The desk had never been a point of pride.  The asymmetrical top wasn't as comfortable and useful as hoped.  The lower compartment on the left side was essentially wasted space.  I had made it too tall because of some mistaken notions of ergonomics.  And the top was too shallow for a CRT monitor.  So even though I had a sentimental attachment to that desk because I wrote my first book at it, it had essentially been in storage since 1991.

But now, the shallow top was perfect.  It made the desk smaller and I now use an LCD monitor.  That useless cubbyhole on the left was perfectly sized for my mighty Mac.  So I hauled it out of storage, cut 57mm off the legs, sanded it down, and re-oiled the teak.  

This job provided the aesthetic highlight of the project.  I modified and re-oiled the desk outside.  It was overcast when I started but as I oiled the top, the sun came out.  This teak is a generation old and with fresh oil, it just exploded into this incredible golden color.  I would have taken a picture but I was up to my elbows in teak oil.  The new finish looks wonderful which demonstrates, I suppose, that the best way to finish teak is to allow exactly 29 years to lapse between the last two applications of oil.

Now that I was sure I could fit everything necessary back into the room, the task shifted to trying to make it all work together.  I needed a design theme.  Fortunately, it came to me in a hurry.  Because my writing could best be described as the history, economics, politics and cultural philosophies of the producing classes, I decided I would attempt to construct a Producer "trophy room."  The idea would be to surround myself with reminders of how I came to know what I know.

The lamp on the desk was included because it was the first thing I made using a standing power tool.  It is made from black walnut I rescued from my grandfather's barn in the early 60s.  I was in eighth grade.

The chest of drawers was made around the same time as the desk.  Note the same inset pulls--these were difficult enough to produce so that once I had figured out how to do it, I decided to do it again.  It is WAY too big for the room but it is my favorite piece of furniture because the sheet of plywood I used to make it was so beautiful, I looked at it for over two years before I decided what to make out of it.

This chair taught me a very great deal about economics (and much else).  In 1980, I slightly injured my back.  It was so painful, it would trigger muscle spasms which made everything worse.  Since I had a life, I kept on working and would regularly re-injure it.  Lower back pain get old VERY quickly so I tried to fix the problem.  The advice I got made sense--live better.  Walk, sleep and sit so as not to re-injure my back.  

Walking and sleeping was easy.  Sitting properly was MUCH more difficult because at 190cm tall, chairs in my size were virtually non existent.  There are many good reasons why this is so but the root cause is that 190cm represents two standard deviations from the statistical middle of the adult male population in USA.  This means 97.5% of the males and 99.9% of the females were shorter than 190cm.  I was statistically insignificant.

Yet I needed a chair.  So I decided to make one.  And since I really did not know my exact size, I would start by constructing a measuring device to find out.  I would build two different measuring chairs and a prototype before I could build the chair pictured above.

Of course it worked.  The ability to sit properly proved to be the missing link in stopping my chronic back pain.  But it had been VERY difficult to do.  Well over 3500 hours had been invested.  It was VERY unlikely anyone would go to this much time and trouble for a piece furniture.  

Aha!  A perfect business.  2.5% of the male population might not seem like much, but in a population of 300 million, this represents roughly 3.5 million big guys--virtually ALL of them with bad backs.  They would come in, we would take measurements, and build them the most comfortable chair possible.  The technology would scale so every single chair would make money.  What could possibly go wrong??

This is one of the last chairs produced.  

And this is what was on the drawing board when Paul Voelker pulled the plug on the American economy by running the prime rate to 21% in 1981.  Mighty corporations went under during that little fiasco.  If an established company could fail under such circumstances, a grossly undercapitalized start-up like mine didn't have a prayer.  What is especially ironic about this was that Voelker, at 2 meters tall, would have benefited more than most from a chair I could have built him.

What could go wrong?  How was it possible to have a beautiful product that filled real needs not succeed?  How could a person work so hard on a project that performed as expected and still end up muttering to a bankruptcy judge?  It required five years of intense research to answer those questions--and a lot of others.  

Eventually I would write my findings in a book.  And thank goodness, even though I never got one of the very beautiful chairs, the one I got still works.  I can have a stiff lower back from shoveling snow (for example) and sitting in that chair for an hour restores my back to its default settings.

The last item for the trophy room was some wall decoration.  I had a large frame that I had made for my father.  It needed repair so I did it and re-oiled it.  I then found, scanned, Photoshopped, printed and mounted six pictures I had taken of a restoration project that once occupied over three years of my life.

This is what we found.  The Dayton Ave. rowhouse was built on edge of a fine neighborhood in 1904.  By the 1930s, economic pressure was on to divide it into smaller spaces.  During WWII, it had been chopped up into 31 rooms.  By 1960, a nearby freeway project had driven a black community into the neighborhood and by 1968, this building was near the center of the King riots.  The city planning types thought that this building should be leveled to make a parking lot for a K-Mart they hoped to attract.  

This was a well-built structure in a neighborhood with granite curbs.  We thought it might become something more interesting than a parking lot.

This is what the interior looked like.  There was little worth saving.  So we found an architect with a taste for open-plan flooring and worked away a saving this old hulk.

The brick repair.

From the atrium looking back at the bedrooms.

The atrium ceiling.

The completed exterior.

Two of the four front doors.

This building is now part of the most interesting neighborhood in the city.  The decline and rise in value of this property is a VERY interesting economic story.  It demonstrated a very important lesson for me--academic economics leaves out a host of critical economic factors in their calculations--the most obvious is aesthetics.

So welcome to my new digs.  I hope I can still write something wise at that desk.

Display:
I've spent the last several weeks tearing out the original kitchen cabinets (1915 vintage,) fixing them, and re-planting them in the utility room and playing with the electrical system.

The utility room used to be called a pantry until I learned if it was called a pantry I would have to install GFI outlets (at 12 bucks a pop!) and run other special circuits.  To hell with that.  As all linguists know changing the verbal label changes the function.  ;-)

Some muttonhead in the 50s decided a neato-boffo idea would be to put the electric panel at one end of the house and all the major appliances at the other end of the house -- 45' away.  That meant a fine time crawling around in the dirt underneath the house replacing the 1950 style wiring with taped (!) connections with junction boxes and 12/2 or 10/2 for the heavy use circuits.  The same muttonhead taped all the connections in the walls, floors, and ceilings as well and left them lying freely.  (Junction boxes are pure swank, you know.)  On the second floor muttonhead decided if post-and-wire was good enough for gramps it was good enough for him and if you need to make a connection stripping the insulation off the wire and bare wrapping works just fine.  His outlets were the old paper insulated loosely entwined solid 2 wire stuff from the 30s dangling from the ceiling.  The source for the second floor came through 3 sets of "No-Blow" fuses.

All this junk was in use by the previous owners.

So all that garbage has been replaced.  Now when we flick a light switch the house won't burn down.  (Oh, they were from the 20s.  Not no more.)  

[In our next installment we discover the efficacy of using the right glue, proper gluing procedures, and the same size joins as pipe when installing plumbing.  Doing this keeps the fluids and guck on the inside of the pipe which, as we will learn, is The Point of It All.]

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 02:21:40 AM EST
Your project sounds a LOT more adventurous than mine.  One of the things that amuses me about early wiring by do-it-yourselfers is not how primitive it is or how far it strays from code, but that quite often, it works anyway!!!  I am on an historical society and we ran into the same problem.  I actually argued (for about three minutes) that since our non-standard wiring was not a real fire hazard and that the guy who had done it in 1938 was still alive, we should leave it out of respect for his cleverness.  We voted to have a licensed electrician bring everything up to code.  (We had SO much money in those days.)

Here's hoping you have friends who can appreciate your work.  It's no fun to spend a summer re-wiring a house if no one notices.  If not--here's congratulations from me.  Guys like you really do the work of the gods and are usually the very best sort of neighbor one can possibly have.

Even better, someone who can wire his own house is damn unlikely to hold crackpot theories on anything else.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 07:24:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This stuff is humbling.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 07:21:55 AM EST
No it is not.  But thank you for saying so.

A smart guy like you should try this sort of thing--it is a perfect compliment to a life spent at a computer writing about esoteric topics.  It is like a serious workout except you have to think all the time.  And you wind up with real respect for the skilled trades--something that comes in VERY handy when you deal with the people who do the necessary work in your life.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 07:34:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would have said the same about your hanging door, BTW.

It seems to me the key resource that these things require is time in long, uninterrupted chunks, so one can afford to be patient about the work. Maybe I should step off the hamster wheel for a decade or six.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 07:41:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Patience is an over-rated virtue when it comes to making things.  I should know--I have ZERO patience.

Persistence, on the other hand, can NEVER be over-rated.  Nor can the importance of finishing things.  If you never finish anything, you never learn how much work is involved.  So if you decide to try a project, start with something simple--something that you can complete.  I tend to roll my eyes whenever I hear that someone is going to try to rebuild a '65 Jaguar XKE (or something equally difficult) as a first project.

But if you need a way to get away from the craziness of academic life, this is perfect.  And the people you meet are facinating.  I met a guy by chance last Sunday morning who had built three airplanes--a replica of the Wright Flyer, the replica of a 1917 Curtiss Jenny that hangs in the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Pietenpol Air Camper he was showing my friend and I.  This guy is GOOD!  He had machined his own turnbuckles--for goodness sakes!  It was hard not to actually drool on his airplane.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 08:25:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I was working on my roof reinforcement project I found I had to take everything very much more slowly than I usually do because the possibility of a putting a foot through a ceiling (at best) or finding myself trapped under a collapsed roof (at worst) was very real.

My general experience with DIY is that everything takes four times longer than you expect, almost by definition.  There is always at least one unexpected problem ing which distracts from the original idea and has to be solved before progress is possible.

When I was putting up the lighting over the weekend I found that the cable box I'd used wasn't flush with the ceiling. So I had to spend an extra forty minutes or so cutting a hole for it first - and a fairly simple job turned into a less simple one.

This is why I'm not very romantic about DIY. In theory it's good for the soul, but mostly it feels time-wasting distraction to me. Even when the results are good - the lighting makes a huge difference to the studio/gallery - I don't much enjoy it, and I can easily think of other things I'd rather be doing.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 08:47:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would need a virtually infinite amount of time available in order not to crash through the roof in an impatient fit of rage.

So, yes, patience may be overrated and I do need to work on the followthrough, but for me patience (and probably 10 times more time than budgeted) is it.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 10:34:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The trick, you see, is to embrace the fact that everything takes four times longer than expected and there will be surprises along the way.

I used to be annoyed by these realities as well.  Now, I expect them.  And of course, the world being as perverse as it is, once you become mentally prepared for the big distraction, it doesn't show up ;-)

I haven't done this sort of thing for maybe 25 years.  Now that my S.O. knows about my skills, she dreams up new uses for them.  Fortunately, projects seem to go a LOT smoother than I remember.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:21:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is partly that if you're not an expert, every job involves solving new problems for the first time.

I'd guess if you've been doing it for a while it gets to be more a case of 'This is probably going to happen, and then I'm going to solve it this other way.'

If it's all new, it's more of a challenge.

Also - tools. The professionals have the specialised tools, and they know which ones they need. If you're new to the game it's not obvious which tools are required, or even if they exist. (An obvious example being the tap spanner, which turns a horrendous under-the-sink job into something rather easier.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:35:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah yes--specialized tools.

  1.  I don't do plumbing.  Not too proud--just too big to get under sinks, etc.

  2. With the big box building stores, getting great tools is quite inexpensive.  Specialized tools can be rented.  But the BEST way to get the tools you need is to know a bunch of people who have plenty of tools they rarely use.  Tool and skill sharing is how the middle of USA was settled.  I grew up in a town where if your neighbor wasn't home, you just went into his shop and borrowed the tools you needed.  Of course, there were a bunch of social constraints on this behavior, but generally speaking it worked VERY well.


"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 01:03:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You think I'm in academic life?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 08:52:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you are not?

what about your email address?

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:14:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a legacy address I use as a spam filter.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:23:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh!
Sorry!

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:33:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I though by "writing about esoteric subjects" you meant my blogging.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:39:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
almost eveything you write counts

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:43:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:51:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't the mac get awfully hot inside that cupboard?

and aren't you worried about burglars posting pictures of that chair on the net (Well at least me) ;-)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 08:10:46 AM EST
The Mac gets hot!  And yes, I intend to do something about it.  I just haven't figued out what yet.  I leave the doors open when it is working for now and that seems enough.  Of course, I CAN always get serious and build an exhaust fan for the desk itself, but the point was to reduce the noise level in the room--not merely a desire to hide the box.

Good catch!

As for the chair--it isn't worth much to anyone not my size.  Of course, a burgler wouldn't necessarily know that.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 08:36:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I'd need to rifle your computer for the plans then ;-)

as for the cooling problem, can you vent the heat produced into the walls? or out through the floor, build yourself some underfloor heating using some form of exhaust venting?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 08:43:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If I do build a powered exhaust, I want to blow it at my feet.  Lot of winter around here so a footwarmer is always welcome.  I have the idea that I have about as much heat to deal with as a 100w bulb.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 08:49:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
if you open up your mac's case there's probably a power socket for running a case fan to aid in cooling,mount a low speed pc fan at the top of your desk, and run some  trunking down to your feet from the exhaust side of the fan (make it flexible pipe and you can throw the excess heat somewhere else in the summer)

it would of course mean cutting the mounting hole in your desk.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 09:01:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because I have some room in the desk, I would probably mount a power strip inside and plug the fan in there rather than modify the Mac case.  My problem is not how to modify the desk (I have already done some of that) but where to find a fan that is extra quiet and can be wired with a heat sensitive switch.  I'll get to it soon.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:31:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What you need is to get a fanless computer, with a processor that doesn't waste power. Such things do exist.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:36:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but even fanless machines tend to produce enough heat to move them out of sensible operating temperature ranges if left in a small cupboard for too long.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:43:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I presume if it's vented properly that wouldn't be an issue?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:49:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
not usually, as long as you can shift enough air through the venting, (top and bottom to allow cold in as well)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 02:38:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a Mac guy, I have followed the heat management issues that have been so important, they have dictated corporate policy.  The reason that Apple dropped IBM for Intel is that IBM either could or would not come up with a more energy-efficient chip.  The G5s had 11 fans to manage the heat in a dualie,  When Apple switched to Intel, the same case that held the G5 could now hold 16 gigs of physical RAM, and 3 Terabytes of hard disc storage because there are fewer fans and dramatically smaller heat sinks.

My G4 has a pretty noisy fan but it is nothing compared to the late G4s that were called "wind tunnels" by their critics.  Apple actually put a version of my CPU in a laptop.  But I have three hard drives and I assume heat is probably a bad thing for electrical componets (I still remember tubes) so I am being careful.  I'll probably over-engineer something, if the past is a guide.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 04:48:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
coolermaster.com is a good source for ultra quiet fans, the low voltage heat detection thingumies, i'll leave to you

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:42:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 12:45:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the best source of information on the topic is SPCR:

http://www.silentpcreview.com/

And check the forums they're quite friendly:

http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/

To get an efficient PC first thing you'll need an efficient power supply (PSU) and that means building your own PC since no brand name PC uses a really good PSU. By good here means high power efficiency meaning both lower elctrivity bill and less useless heat to evacuate hence more silent PC so every percent count :).

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 04:58:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with this is he's a Mac user, so it tends to be all non standard parts (although perhaps this will change with the new mac hardware)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 04:05:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Actually, in this case, I agree with ThatBritGuy, i.e. DIY always seems to take longer than expected and to lead to unexpected problems, and these are made worse by one's lack of exactly the right tools and the necessary skills/experience. So I've developed a few techniques to get round these problems, e.g.

pass the parcel  

rethink the problem :-)

Montserrat bought and old light with branching arms that she wanted me to put in the kitchen. But, when I examined it more closely, the cover of the wire was broken in one place, but to replace the wire in each arm would be tricky (and tedious - even bloody annoying).

Luckily we had to have an electrician in to repair the oven. I asked him if it was worth messing about with the light, or just buying a safe new one. M obviously wanted to keep it and her charm no doubt helped persuade him to have a serious look at it and then to rewire it (a lot easier for him with his experience) for a very low price.

Then she wanted an antique mirror over the old fireplace. The first hole in the wall was a piece of cake - but then, wouldn't you know it, with the other hole I hit rock-hard stuff (there was a chimney). Perhaps a more powerful hammer drill would have done it.

But then I had a saving inspiration. Why place it in this corner facing another wall? Why not put it in the alcove above the computer, facing the window with a bit of a view reflected in it. To my relief M agreed it was a better idea and the fixing was much easier.

m-mirror-30447

The view in the mirror:

mirror-view-30452

Then she bought a crystal candle-holder and wanted me to reinforce a sloping shelf.

shelf-30451

I had all the stuff to do it - but thought about it and I managed to persuade her that it would be MUCH better on the glass-topped table - luckily she agreed again (not always the case ! :-) ):

crystal-30450

Somebody once said that they always employed lazy people, because they found the most efficient (if properly supervised) ways of doing things ;-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 02:08:53 PM EST
Ah, the infamous, never-ending, "Honey-Do" projects.

The good thing about such tasks is it gives one a good excuse to go out and buy tools.  And she can't complain!

"But I need a ditch digger to unclog the kitchen sink.  There might be a problem in the main plumbing line!"

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 10:56:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, you are the real deal!!

My bother who lives in Florida has an extremely well-equipped shop--air conditioned, dust collection, well lit, surround sound, etc. etc.  As he has carefully explained to his wife over the years, "if you don't buy quality tools, you cannot do quality work."

Of course, one of the reasons he can endulge his tool mania is because he builds a good building so his house costs roughly 10% to heat and cool compared to the neighborhood average.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 03:34:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Somebody once said that they always employed lazy people, because they found the most efficient (if properly supervised) ways of doing things ;-)

Oh oh!  Somebody has discovered my "secret."  Let's just say I am quite efficient.

There is a variation on this.  In the early 1980s, I was researching the methods the Swedes were using to build energy-efficient housing.  NOTHING remotely "hippie" about their methods--it was VERY sophisticated--lots of science and engineering of the first order.  I was commenting on the sophistication and effort to one engineer who I had informed of my Swedish roots.  He said with a twinkle in his eye, "You would be amazed at how much effort a Swedish man will go through to create a dwelling that keeps him warm enough so he can chase his naked partner from room to room--while requiring no trips out of doors and if possible, no expense."

"No," I responded, I  "I probably would not be amazed at all.  In fact, I consider that kind of behavior to be perfectly normal."


"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 03:08:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What a fun read.  How I envy your ability with tools.  I never learned it, very, very nice diary.  I love your chair though I'm on the short side, my back is out right now as I type this and I'd love a scaled down chair.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 02:15:46 AM EST
A scaled down chair was in the works--we even built a few.  Short guys have the same problems as tall guys--at some point, they become statistically insignificant.  I also discovered that a custom-built chair was a MUCH bigger deal for shorter men.  It was really fun to build for them.

If it had not been for Mr. Voelker, this chair would probably be at version 7 by now.  We had already started with a Toyota-style effort of continuous improvement.

As for tools, the trick is to ALWAYS read the manual.  You don't need formal training and while it helps to watch someone skilled, there is NO substitute for knowing what the guys who made the tool think important.  

And don't worry if no one else in the family is good with tools.  My father was a preacher who could be confused by a screwdriver, yet both my brother and I are very graceful around tools and still have all our fingers.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 03:24:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For me, its sort of the opposite, my brothers, hell I'll be honest, my sister and my Mom too, are good with tools, my Dad is a tool maker, and my favorite grandpa was the classic handyman, up to and including, foundry work, machine work.  I just never seemed to have the visual memory for it.  My brother would astound me, sometimes, we would take something apart and get sidetracked and come back to it days, or weeks later and he'd start putting it back together.  I'd say, "how do you know that goes there?" He'd look at me like I was an idiot (I'm the OLDER brother, too) and say "you were there when we took it apart, that's where it was so let's put it back there." in a tone of voice only an adolescent can have who is getting a chance to lord it over his big brother.

For me it was probably a case of getting discouraged rather than not having the right influences.  And I suppose with all these people around who could do the stuff I never really worried too much about it.  It may be one of those things where I WISHED I could do something, but never worked hard enough at acquiring the basic skill set to actually set about the DOING.

The only advantage to beeing shorter than most, is that at some point all the population is or was your size, and they don't make stuff that just flat won't work for you (there are exceptions, if you are short enough I guess).  My friend who was 6'6 and got there early, just didn't fit into some things, especially 40 yrs ago, when that was truly exceptional height.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 08:02:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This was a lot of fun.  

There IS a more serious side to all of this.  Any movement or group that would like to make this old world a better place should have at least SOME of their members with building skills.  It's pretty hard to promise people that you will build a better world if you cannot build a birdhouse.

Of course, not everyone must have construction skills--but it helps if a lot of them do.  EVEN if it is only on the level of arranging the nest for a lover.  If you have read some of the comments, you will see that there is a great deal of really profound insights into the human condition.  Building teaches important lessons.

There are a million examples of why this is important but a recent one will suffice.  The troops who occupied Japan with MacArthur had serious nation-building skills from the officers to enlisted men.  They solved some real problems.  The clowns who went to Iraq could build nothing.  Nothing.  Nation-building skills were just a detail.  The same sort of building illiteracy destroyed New Orleans.

I miss the old guys who could build anything.  They were a true inspiration

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 10:14:13 PM EST
Seems to me that the US and the UK in particular are getting around that problem through immigration.

But a better way would surely be to reinvent vocational training in respect of these skills.

Everyone who leaves school should be proficient - or at least capable - in the basics of household maintenance. Those who show an aptitude - a bit of "gumption" as Pirsig had it - should be identified, developed and not ashamed of taking it on as a vocation, maybe even through reinventing in some way the apprentice/ journeyman/ master structure through a "neo-guild" (but without the barriers).

Great Diary, Techno.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Jul 22nd, 2007 at 05:47:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you ChrisCook

I suppose I SHOULD worry about the quality of vocational training and whether this is an immigration issue.  But the truth is, I get along so well with tradesfolk and almost without exception get quality work for reasonable prices, so I tend not to worry about what that strata is up to.

I DO worry about construction illiteracy among the more "important" members of society.  

For example, Al Gore's movie on climate change spent the first 90% of the film laying out a well-reasoned case for believing that climate change threatens life on earth--and that we have roughly 10 years to get our act together.  Then he ends his movie with a pathetic list of suggested actions to solve these problems.  And his personal "solution" is to get into the business of selling carbon offset Indulgences (shades of Tetzel).

My question is: Would Al Gore have chosen to be SO irrelevant if he actually understood how MUCH of the carbon-fired human infrastructure needed replacement, and how much time, energy, inventiveness, hard work, planning, and money, not to mention frustration, setbacks, rethinking strategies, etc. such projects entail?

I mean, if Al Gore had built so much as a birdhouse in life, there is a good chance he might have realized that replacing the most important strategy for human survival (fire) might require a plan more involved than changing lightbulbs or selling Indulgences.  I was so sickened by the pathetic childishness of "An Inconvenient Truth" that I nearly threw up when leaving the theater.

And Al Gore is the product of an "elite" education and is possibly the most enlightened national politician we have.  The problem is that folks in his social strata are taught that "educated elites" only have to know how to shop.  For them, actually being able to build something is really quite "beneath" them.  So they cannot even comprehend a problem like climate change because they literally have no skills and no relevant experience to draw upon.

Like Lennon sang in "Revolution" "We all want to see your plans."  I understood that line literally--if you cannot produce, read, and construct from actual blueprints, your "revolution" will probably fail. Thanks John.

Just remember, "nation-building" is not just a figure of speech.


"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Sun Jul 22nd, 2007 at 05:21:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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