August 2013

Design Influence - Patterns of Home

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Cover of Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials  of Enduring DesignI've started reading "By Hand & Eye", the new book on furniture design by George Walker and Jim Tolpin, but I've not gotten more than a quarter of the way through it so far. When I finish it, I'll write up my reactions. But for now, my reaction is "Yes, I get it, proportions are important and you don't need a ruler."

I've been thinking about the multi-faceted aspects of design lately, particularly as it pertains to architecture and object creation (i.e. furniture or small woodworking projects.) I've realized more and more in recent months that most of my perspective on what is good design and what isn't is related to a book that I bought and read about 10 years ago. It's called "Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design" and it's terrific. The ideas in that book have completely stuck with me and have deeply influenced many areas of creativity in my life.

So what is this book? "Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design" is by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein and Barbara Winslow, and is a condensed version of a much larger work from the 70s, a gigantic book called "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction". That earlier book, first published in 1977, is over a thousand pages in length and is legendary in the architecture world. I've never read the older book. I've only been exposed to the ideas through this later, more graphical Patterns of Home book. 

Delta Heavy launch today in California with another spy satellite

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Note: Everything here is public information. I'm not a reporter, but a space fan.

2:21pm EST Update - Success, at least up to the point where they black out news coverage. It got through booster separation, main engine cut-off, second stage engine start, and nose cone jettisonning. That's probably 90% to minimal orbit, and about 50% to it's final orbit.

I used to watch shuttle and other launches obsessively, but in recent years the excitement has waned. I and many others have been more excited by the prospects of private companies getting into the space game, but that too has faded in recent years. SpaceX is doing great stuff, but at about one quarter the speed we all expected.  We'll see next month if that continues as they launch their first upgraded Falcon 9 from their new heavy launch pad at Vandenberg  But much of the other private space industry excitement has faded in the last five years. First, Scaled Composites and Virgin Gallactic had their rocket engine explosion in the Mohave desert in July of 2007 that killed three of their most experienced rocket engine guys, which completely shocked the entire private space industry.  As a result of this and other setbacks, there's been a series of slow collapses of many of these private space companies, such as happened with Armadillo Aerospace this past year.

Delta 4 Heavy on the launch pad, 2013-08-28. NROL-65.  Photo Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch AllianceSo what's left to watch for a space enthusiast? Really, it's back to the established players. Later today, the US military will be launching a gigantic satellite (or possibly two) for the National Reconnaissance Office, the government office responsible for providing spy satellites to the CIA and other intelligence agencies of the US government. As usual with these launches, they won't say exactly what they're launching, but based on the launch time and target orbit, which have to be supplied to the public to ensure clearance around the launch pad, experts in the industry probably know what's going up today.  The photo at right was taken by a pad teammember early this morning.

Lucas at Terribly Two

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Lucas at 1 and 1/2. A sweet, gentle and quiet soulMy son's name is Lucas and he is a precocious and cutie-pie of a two year old. My wife and I have been dealing with the challenges of the onset of the terrible twos, as of the last 3 and one half weeks. That's how quick the transition was. From a cute, sweet, and fairly quiet 1 and 1/2 year old, to a terrible two year old occurred exactly three and a half weeks ago, over the course of about 24 hours. By the end of that day, Lucas had become a demanding, obnoxiously independent, seemingly suicidally fearless, screaming, pounding, early to rise and never quietly to bed, ultra possessive, pugnacious, (and did I say demanding?) and demanding mass of toddler nerves.

He's still cute, when he slows down for about 30 seconds each day, those 30 seconds being distributed out in random 2 second increments throughout the very long, LONG day of parenting him.  My wife, who only just took a new job, largely to get a break from being MOMMY! all of the time, has been pulling her hair out trying to keep up with him. We both know that this is just normal two year old behavior, after all we went through this once before with his brother Liam. But when you're living through it, it's like trench warfare. Nothing exists except surviving the next day of impossible demands.

14 Things that Suck about Modern Sports

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I grew up in Northeast Ohio, which explains a lot about my attitude toward sports. Once upon a time, I was a fairly ardent fan of a variety of sports. I, of course, watched Ohio State on TV every Saturday, and the Browns every Sunday. And we had a great, though mostly hopeless local college team in a variety of sports at Mount Union College. I liked to listen to baseball on the radio. I listened to Joe Tate on the radio as the Cavaliers were first horrible in the 70s, and then really good in the 90s, but always destined to finish second in their division behind Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. We, in our small town America, patriotic way, liked to watch the Olympics every four years and listen to Jim McKay talk about obscure sports like the luge and rowing. I took it as a way to see the variety and splendor of the world to watch those rare occasional excerpts from the Americas Cup, or the Tour de France, or the World Cup.

But for me, personally, those days are long gone. I've been more and more pissed off at the sporting world for years, and finally, last year, I swore off following any sport at all. And despite several previous attempts to do so and failing, which my wife perpetually teased me about, she's fairly surprised to see that this time, yes, I'm serious. No more sports. No more following the old team I used to love when they suddenly put together a 10 game winning streak. No more following that fabulous championship run.  I've had enough. For that reason, since I'm a year or more away from paying attention to the particulars in any sport, my specific examples in this article may be a bit older and perhaps not up-to-the-second in timeliness, but the trends are ongoing and I'm absolutely certain that they've only gotten worse in the past year.

So why did I swear off of sports? Part of it was the long, painful experiences of the average sports fan from that part of the country. Our teams seemed to be particularly cursed, or doomed, or fated, or whatever the hell it is that causes them to fail at the most painful time and in the most spectacularly humiliating ways possible.  But my disgust goes beyond that. It's probably partially because of those experiences, but it's not only those. Even if you did not have the misfortune to be a Cleveland Browns fan,  I would think most people would admit that there are some seriously screwed up things about the way sports work now. They present the worst aspects of human nature, writ large on a diamond-vision screen and in 30 second clips on SportsCenter. The worst things about the way human beings treat one another and treat themselves are visible in every sport, on every channel, in every season, every day of the year. 

These are the 14 things that are seriously wrong with the way sports are these days. I'm sure many of these things have been true about sports forever, in one form or another, and certainly true in other human endeavors, but they're just so much bigger and worse in sports in these early years of the 21st century. 

Blue Spruce has learned the Woodcraft Rule

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Blue Spruce Toolworks, One of the Best Custom Tool Creators in the U.S.At around 3pm Pacific time on Thursday, August 15th, Blue Spruce toolworks sent out an email telling its customers of a special summer sale it was holding on remainders and products with minor blemishes. I suspect that very soon after that message went out, Dave Jeske, the very nice owner of Blue Spruce learned the Woodcraft Rule. What is the Woodcraft Rule, you ask?  It has to do with marketing anything to woodworkers.  And to be clear, I have no knowledge that Woodcraft ever stated this rule explicitly, or even hinted that it's their official stance . . . they just epitomize it in stark relief with everything they do. The rule deals with three traits of the woodworking community:

Built doors for the chopsaw station case

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Over the past 3 or 4 days, I've managed to build doors to fit over the openings in the front of the case. These are only intended to keep dust out of the inside of the case. The doors are made up of scraps I had around the shop. The stiles are 3/4" poplar. The rails are 5/8" clear pine. (Yep, I didn't even bother thicknessing them to match.) The panel is just 1/4" baltic birch plywood. 

Case doors, glued up and sanded, waiting for hinges

I've been thinking about religion lately

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I was raised as a Methodist by my very pragmattic but good-natured parents. I went to Sunday school and church and everything, up until about the age of 16.  Then I spent about 30 years NOT thinking much about religion. 

Recently, for some reason, it's been in my mind. I'd say I've always had a rationalist tendency. My coursework as an undergrad, after all, was physics.   But the increasing signs of religious intolerance I've seen in the United States lately has me worried. I worry what all of these evangelicals will do if they ever get too much power in our culture. 

I recently came across a question in an online forum, "Why do many rationalists, humanists, agnostics, and atheists care about religion? Why do they spend time arguing with religious people?" 

My response was a bit strongly worded, surprising even myself. 

Roughing out the door frame rails and stiles

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I started working on the rails and stiles for the door frames to cover the front of the chopsaw station shelves on Tuesday night. I don't usually get much time during the week to woodwork, but I'm taking time during the rainy summer days that are all-to-common this summer in Georgia to get this project finished.  At this point in the project my goal is to get something solid built as quickly as I can using the supplies I had on hand. (This latter point ended up being a missed goal, as I'll explain later.) So I opted for thin rails and stiles with a glued-in 1/4" birch plywood panel for strength, since the frame will be very slight. The good point about this is that it will make the doors lightweight.

Chopsaw Station door frames laid out for fitting

Banding the feet

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This past weekend was productive on several of my woodworking projects. On the jewelry cabinet, I managed to install the last part of the feet detail, namely the banding around the top of each cherry foot.  I had previous installed cherry veneers on the four sides of each leg, up to a height of about 2" from the floor.  While contemplating this foot detail, I had decided last month that I might as well add a little more refinement to the feet by adding a band around the top to better define the ankle. I had previously cut thin strips of cherry and maple to serve as banding. One piece about 20" long, cut down the length should serve to band all four feet. Or at least, I hoped it would.

I didn't document cutting the slots in the legs with photographs. i was too intent on making the recesses accurate without creating any blowout on the legs. This was a tricky operation, since the legs aren't square down near the floor, but are angled inward on two sides. I ended up cutting the top edge of the band recess with the table saw, very carefully spacing it on the crosscut sled. (I taped the boundary between the cherry veneer and the leg maple with blue tape to ensure no blowout on the back edge.)

Fitting the cherry and maple banding to the top of the feet on the armoire legs

Installed shelves

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After I decided to simplify the case, it was just a matter of picking the materials, cutting and fitting them to size. I used some ½" birch ply I had left over from another project to create the shelves.

Shelves added to the case