Monday, January 25, 2010

End Grain Cutting Board

Until two weeks ago, I had no clue that there are different types of cutting boards. The topic just never came up in daily conversation. That all changed a couple of Saturdays ago.

I’ve been thinking about what kind of woodworking project to take on next. Something a little – well, a lot -- less ambitious than the grandfather clock I finished last summer. Something that wouldn’t be more stressful than the day job! So, when one of my fellow woodworkers at the Howard County Woodworking Guild talked during the show and tell part of the program about the end-grain cutting boards he had been making, I was intrigued.

I was too far away to see the actual cutting board and didn’t get to talk to him after the program, so I had to rely on my old friend the Internet to get up to speed. (Funny to think of the Internet as an “old” friend, isn’t it?) I found a site that was most helpful – the Wood Whisperer. Videos #7 part 1 and #7 part 2 explain it all:

Besides telling you how to make one, the Wood Whisperer explained why end grain cutting boards are so much easier on knife edges than flat grain boards. Who would have ever thought that you’d make a project which featured the end grain of wood! On purpose!

Armed with knowledge, the following Saturday I set off to my friendly wood supplier, FreeState Timbers ( to buy some purple heart and rock maple. (I also let him sell me a hunk of Jatobe he had in the scrap pile.) By the next Saturday, I was done. That's the prototype in the picture above.

And, who knows, for once I may even move beyond prototype to make another one! (Pretty likely since I’ve already got the glue-up seasoning in the laundry room.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010


The recent earthquake in Haiti is tragic, to put it mildly. But as America responds, as people give, as our government mobilizes to help, it reminds me of how proud and grateful I can be to be an American. It’s my country at its best – competent and generous.

But my pride in my country is tempered by the ignorance of some like Pat Robertson who say Haiti has been “cursed” by a “pact to the devil.” It’s tempered by the ignorance of some like Rush Limbaugh who encouraged his listeners not to contribute to rescue efforts because they may enhance the President’s political position (ironically, using the disaster to “enhance” his personal fame.)

Maybe there are always lunatics like this in America. Maybe the myth of America as a country that unites in times of trouble is just that – a myth. But somehow, having seen times when the country comes together in times like these, in spite of the lunatic fringe, I can still believe in the myth. I can still be proud of my country at its best.

My hope for the future is more of the best and less of the lunatics.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

For Fun

Marcia's been cleaning out her computer files. Here's something she found from the time we shared one PC.

Written: December 14, 2003

For fun, I sing in a barbershop quartet. I love the harmony and who could beat the camaraderie of four guys getting together to sing, entertain others and forget the worries of their day jobs. That’s what you’d think.

Along with the singing comes interpersonal relations. As a VP of Human Resources, that is my day job. But I think quartet interpersonal dynamics are harder than work.

A quartet is like a marriage except with four people – we’ll really eight if you count the spouses, which you have to. There’s a formula for the geometric increase in paired relationships that gives a glimmer as to the complexity of these dynamics. It’s n*(n-1). So with two people, the number of possible interactions is simply two. With four people the number increases geometrically to 12. And with eight people to 56! But this really understates the problem.

A quartet forming is like the most complex mating ritual you’d ever see on the nature channel. First, someone stands next to you at chorus rehearsals and checks you out. This is not subtle; you know what’s going on. Next a couple of guys approach you and say, “Hey, let’s get together and sing some tomorrow night at my place. No pressure, no obligation, no commitment, let’s just sing a few for fun.” They know it’s an audition and you know it’s an audition. But neither of you let on you know or that you know that they know.

If you get past the non-audition, audition, then the fun really starts as you work out rehearsal times, agree on music to learn, agree on whether or not to compete and how many and what kind of gigs to do. There’s more time spent talking about clothes than any heterosexual male should ever spend on the topic. There are shoes to buy, outfits to match and even makeup and personal lipstick (for the stage, of course). I never thought I’d hear myself say, “Wait a minute, I have to go into the men’s room and touch up my lipstick.” And I now own more shoes than I ever have in my life.

If all this sounds like an episode of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” it feels like it too. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as the famous Seinfeld episode goes. (And even though I’m a committed heterosexual, I really do believe that there’s not anything wrong with that.)

Well as the song goes, “breaking up is hard to do.” Try that with eight egos and 56 potential interactions. Why do quartets break up? Sometimes it the interpersonal stuff, but at the bottom line, like couple in a relationship for the sex, quarteters are in it for the music. If one guy can’t blend, signs out of tune, or sings the wrong notes, eventually, he gets voted off the island.

When this happens, it’s traumatic. The first time it happened in my quartet, the rejectee and, the rejecter spokesman, had an ugly altercation in the parking lot of the church where the chorus rehearses. The result was that a 50-year old man got in his car and laid rubber getting out of the parking lot. In the discussion, it became clear that the spokesman was also casting aspersions on a second quartet member. Wham, more rubber and an instant duet from what had minutes before been a quartet.

The second guy came back, we found a new fourth and sang happily (well not all the time) for two years. Then last week, another vote. Although there was no rubber being laid in any parking lot, it was not a peaceful parting of the way. Much stomach lining was consumed over the last week by quartet members and quartet members’ spouses.

So now we're a trio. But you can’t do four-part harmony with three guys (Lord, I wish you could). So we’re again beginning the ritual mating dance. This time, when we find the right guy, we’ll try to negotiate a prenupt. Meanwhile, for fun, I think I’ll spend more time at my day job. The interpersonal dynamics are a lot easier.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


In the quiet of the holidays, I rediscovered a link to TED. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It’s a forum for wisdom and creativity. I was able to listen to several speakers conveying life’s hard-won wisdom.

From John Wooten, I (re)learned the definition of success, taught to him at his father’s knee sometime in the early 1900’s. Success for him is living your potential. Being the best that you can be, as the Marines say. Life is not a competition with anyone else, but a game of one.

From Dan Pink, I (re)learned that motivation comes from intrinsic not extrinsic rewards. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose trump monetary incentives for all but the simplest mechanical tasks.

From Steve Jobs I (re)learned the role of passion as a muse and the certainty of our demise as a teacher. He also observed the importance of keeping faith that current challenges, opportunities and actions will all make sense someday. Only by looking back can we connect the dots. Steve is truly an over-achiever. Not many people will get the results he did from this timeless wisdom. But that’s not the point. We can all seek to achieve our potential.

I can’t do justice to the wisdom of the speakers and the examples from their lives that breathe life into their words. You’ll have to experience this for yourself. And I’ll have to remember to come back to learn and relearn -- even when times aren’t so quiet.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

History as Fable

What is history but a fable agreed upon? Napoleon Bonaparte

In his story, Ike’s Decision, in the Winter 2010 edition of America Heritage, Michael Korda says that we see the success of the D-Day invasion as “natural and foreordained.” It was not necessarily so.

History’s that way. Once we know the outcome, it’s hard to see how things could have turned out any other way. We think of history as a straight-line progression of unfolding events -- like reading a book.

The truth is history is not a linear projection. Outcomes and events build on each other but with infinite inflection points:

• What if Washington had lost at Yorktown?
• What if Lee had prevailed at Gettysburg?
• What if D-Day had failed?

Each of these potentially probable outcomes, and a plethora of others like them, would have resulted in a different chain of events than the ones we’ve come to know and view with such certainty.

We hold onto certainty as if it were reality, but it’s not. Events, turning points and outcomes are not pre-ordained and, while they may be driven by some person’s or persons’ focus and determination, turn on unexpected, random, circumstances and actions.

Intellectually, we know this. Emotionally we don’t. The question is what random events now happening will our successors see as “natural and foreordained?” How will the fable of our times be told?