Sunday, October 23, 2011

Latest Homework

One thing I've found interesting about art class is that rather than stifling creativity, constraints seem to foster it.  The latest homework limits the composition to eleven shades on the white to black scale.  You are furnished the white and black paint and have to mix the other nine shades yourself.

I chose my favorite oldest daughter's high school picture because it fit the bill of the assignment -- head and shoulders shot and a lot of different light values.  (Maybe some day, I'll do one of my favorite youngest daughter).

The picture below is the project about mid-way through.  To get to this point, you had to outline the different shade values (converting color to black and white) draw a sketch and then draw an enlarged sketch (twice as big) for painting. The numbers on the large drawing are my shorthand for which value of grey, white or black to use.

The assignment this weekend was to paint for five hours.  The art teacher warned us that "you can't fake five hours of painting." Here's where I was after about six hours before breaking for dinner.

Like a horse that smells the barn, getting this close I just couldn't stop.  So after dinner I went back out to the shop (studio now?) and put in a couple of more hours to finish it.  Here it is done at 9:30 PM (an early night for most projects where I'm close to the end and just can't stop).  I'm not sure I captured the original image, but at least it looks like a person!

Here are the two previous homework assignments.

Line, Movement and Space

Shape as an Element: Harmony and Variety

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Catching Up

The tag line at the top of my blog says in part “This is a repository for sporadic, random musings…”

Little did I know just how sporadic and random I would be.  I see I haven’t put anything on my site since July 27th – almost three months.

I think Mark Twain captured it in The Invalid’s Story (1882). In the words of the expressman (per Wikipedia, an expressman refers to anyone who has the duty of packing, managing, and ensuring the delivery of any cargo on board a train), death is “awfully solemn and curious.” 

I found myself feeling awfully solemn and curious recently when I learned of the death of a high school colleague, Mike Thornton.  He was two years behind me in high school and sat next to me in band every day for two years.  He went on to play tuba in the Cincinnati Orchestra, retired two years ago and died last month of a heart attack. Age 59. 

This follows the death of another tuba player colleague, Rich Nahatzi last year. Rich was two years ahead of me at Peabody.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died shortly after.  Age 61. 

I know people die every day.  Always have and always will.  It’s inevitable and unavoidable.  But it sure is awfully solemn and curious.  Peace Michael and Rich.


Looking back at this site, I realize that I just haven’t been motivated to do anything with wood since the rolling pins.  I don’t know why.  What I have done, though, is sign up for an art class.  Art 101.  I think there is some kind a law that says when you hit your 60s you take up art and get ready to move to Florida. 

Where will it lead?  Who knows?  For now, I’m just enjoying learning something different from my day job and developing fundamental skills.  Here my first line design drawing homework.


On the work front, I’m on my third job this year – all with the same company.  With any luck, I’m done with job transitions for a while.  At this stage of life, I no longer have a burning desire to set the world on fire, as I once did, in my day job.  And I wonder what possessed me to be so driven at former times.  (So why am I going into work tomorrow -- a Sunday?)

Maybe this different perspective is influenced by seeing many of my colleagues retire (or worse!).  For too many decades work was my primary priority.  Not anymore.


Finally, I'm pretty amazed by Emily’s and Matt’s chickens.  Most of us are so removed from the sources of our food that we can’t appreciate where it comes from. It’s a lot different going to a grocery store and buying a dozen eggs in a sterile cardboard (well, plastic) container than going out to the coop in the morning and collecting production from the night shift. 

It’s kind of a miracle that we’ve been able to form such a friendly relationship with a bird over the last 10,000 years or so that it gives us our daily bread (well, egg).  Maybe that’s why I chose this theme for my second art homework.


Oh, about that wood-working thing.  Here are some shaving brush handles I turned today for my nephew’s handmade soap business. Hope they work.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I did my part

About the only thing any of us can do in this debt ceiling theater of the absurd is write to our legislators. I don't do this very often if you define not very often as "never."  But I did write this time. Here's what I wrote to my congressman, my senators and the White House.


I know you don’t want this time in our history to go down as the beginning of the demise of America after our short 235-year experiment. It sure feels that we’re heading that way to my eighty-year-old mother, to my friends, to my family and to me.

Please continue to do all you can to resolve this debt ceiling crisis and even more important, address the deficit and debt issues our country is facing. The former is artificial and, as my father used to say to me when I complained about my latest high school sports injury, self-inflicted. The latter cannot be ignored without jeopardizing the future of our country and, not to put too fine a point on it, our planet.

It’s time to be let the positions and posturing (that make us an embarrassment to the world) go. It’s time for rationality, compromise and courage. It’s time solve the long-term problem -- not just put a short-term patch on things.

Let’s move in the direction the debt commission recommends. It's reasonable and it’s the right thing to do. We can’t get it done by Tuesday, but let’s at least move in the right direction.


Elijah Cummings was on the job -- he wrote me right back. ;)  The rest had apparently gone home for the night.

Today with each side coming up short on the debt reduction side, it's almost been comical.  It would be comical if it weren't so darn important. 

Let's hope they can get it right and get it right quickly!   It's a lot eaiser keeping the genie in the bottle than trying to get him back in after the damage is done.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It's Hot

It’s hot.

At work yesterday afternoon, at the request of BGE, our local utility, we were asked to turn off lights, fans and anything that we could to conserve electricity. Walking through the complex, I spied a mini-Fukushima event. Not in the sense that anything was going to melt down, but it was so hot that there were fire hoses trained on the bank of air conditioning units to keep them cool and functioning.

Coming home from work, the outside temperature read 106 degrees in Marcia’s car. I borrowed it so Emily could use my car to drive into DC for her college room-mate’s wedding rehearsal. I don’t drive Marcia’s car much, but last time I drove it I was wondering if the air conditioning system was working. It’s not. (Note to self: need to get that fixed.)

The outside temperature spiked at 107 on the way home and then dropped to a cool 102 once I hit the forested hills of the last few miles of my commute. Thank goodness I was home to working air conditioning. Or so I thought.

I noticed that air was a little warm as I came into the house, but tried to put that out of my mind, as I read the news in The Week and took a fifteen minute nap. I awoke to alarm and a frazzled wife who was convinced that our air conditioning compressors were broken. It was 88 degrees inside the house and the outside units weren’t running.

This was uncomfortable. It was also little concerning because my mother-in-law, who is a tad older than we are and therefore less able to tolerate the heat, was visiting. It wasn’t just her, though, being pampered by air conditioning everywhere we go has probably made us all a little softer and less heat tolerant.

The logical thing to do is to call our power company and see if they had cycled off our outside units as part of the deal we accepted (Peak Rewards) to do that on occasion. It would be the logical thing to do if you could complete the call to find out. Nothing but a rapid busy signal on the line. What about the website? Nothing posted there, either.

Finally I was able to break the code on the power-outage phone line and get through to a human. The human said the outside units would be back on in five minutes. Twenty minutes later I had to call again. The second human said they would be back on within an hour of the “end of the event” which, thanks to being able to log on to our account, we discovered ended 45 minutes earlier. Thirty minutes later I was back on hold waiting to talk to another human when the outside units kicked on.

I know it was hot, but BGE really booted this situation by inadequate planning. I don’t think that anyone who signed up for this program thought that cycling off your compressor would mean that it would be off for eight plus hours on the hottest day the year. And how about planning for adequate phone lines to take the inevitable calls or at least a web-site posting on your homepage? Too much to ask?

But even if BGE did everything perfect, people (looking in the mirror I can see an example) tend to get irritable when they are hot. They don’t always think clearly and can become impatient. There are a few guys walking around in sports coats about forty miles due south of here that illustrate the point.

While I was on hold between the second and third BGE humans, I saw on CNN that Obama and Boehner had come to impasse on the little debt ceiling deal they were working on. I gather that Boehner walked out and wouldn’t return Obama’s phone calls.

While this is probably like every contested negotiation that’s ever gone on or will go on and will only get resolved at the last possible moment, the stakes, being the financial stability of the planet, make this one a little more important than typical. And it looks to me like the parties are way late in the game to be spouting positions. There’s a deal to be had and a deal that will make things better for our country, our successors and the world if only the parties would lose their positions and focus on their (and their constituents’) interests. It would be a shame to lose this opportunity.

So here’s my advice:

1. Fix the air conditioning system in the President’s and the Speaker’s cars
2. Cancel the Peak Rewards program for the White House and the Capitol
3. Lose the sports coats – it’s hot for crying out loud!

May cooler heads prevail!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

River Perspective

When my girls were small, anytime we crossed the Susquehanna River over the I-95 bridge, I’d look at the beautiful vista of the wide river and say “someday, girls, we’re going to canoe down that river.” Last Saturday, Marcia and I finally did that. We’ll, not exactly. We took a guided tour in a 50 year old john boat equipped with two plastic lawn chairs and a 15 hp Evinrude with a retired banker, Jim, as guide.

The part of the river we toured was a couple of miles upstream and downstream of Selinsgrove, PA. Jim has lived on the river all his life (except for a few years in Vietnam, which he didn’t like). His home is on the waterfront and about a half-mile from where he was born and raised. His birth home is occupied by his brother – the latest of four generations. His great-grandfather used to farm one of the many large, rich-soiled islands that dot the river. Jim knew his territory.

One story Jim told was an event his grandmother was fond of recounting about his great-grandfather. She told of time a barge going down the river stopped to inquire about buying food for the crew. The captain of the barge wanted to buy 25 pounds of potatoes. She said her grandfather got quiet as he contemplated the request, but finally shook his head and said, “No, sir. I can’t do it. I’ll not cut a potato in half for anyone.” (When I recounted the story later, I called it a Tall Bunyan – a little spoonerism mixing Paul Bunyan and a tall tale. I kind of like it.)

While we cruised the river (it’s amazing what 15 horse-power can do), we saw numerous blue heron and five bald eagles – four adults and one juvenile -- and Jim told history -- of eel fishing, coal harvesting, colonial times and ancient Native America times. One of the most striking historical facts, though, is that this broad, shallow river has been around for 300 million years. In fact, it’s one of the three oldest rivers of the world and was flowing when North America was part Pangaea. It puts things in perspective.

I need a little perspective right now. As Congress and the President play high-stakes poker betting the country’s (or perhaps the world’s) financial stability, with minute by minute media updates on all the posturing, positing and drama – all resulting in no progress, I had to declare a media holiday. It looked to me like I was watching a train-wreck, could see it coming but could do nothing to stop it.

I don’t where things stand now, we may have already had the train-wreck or may be getting closer to having one as we hit the on-coming 0802, but not watching it all unfold has been helpful. It’s been helpful to separate myself from the illusion that there’s anything I could do about this by worrying it along. I can no more influence the outcome than I stop the flow of the Susquehanna. And whatever unfolds, with the perspective of 300 million years, just how important could it be?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rolling Pins – The Final Installment

I think I mentioned that there’s a point I get into trouble in every woodworking project. The only problem is that point comes multiple times. In the middle of my just-finished winter rolling pin phase, I had to take a couple of weeks off to recover from five minutes of catastrophe.

I was taking a shortcut (always a danger) in drilling the hole in one end of a rolling pin roller. The shortcut was drilling the hole deeper than the drill-bit was designed to drill (by chucking it shallow) and using my spur-chuck (instead cutting a tenon and chucking it) on the headstock end. This meant I couldn't back the drill out to remove excess material and let the bit cool a little -- drilling a little at a time. As a result, the drill bit heated up and bonded to the hole.

Aiming to save both my work and my drill bit, I put the drill chuck, bit, roller-pin assembly in the vice and pulled and twisted with all my strength, weight and leverage. After a few attempts, I was successful. Well, successful in violently freeing the drill chuck, drill bit, roller-pin assembly from the vice. The roller-pin hit me in the chin, knocked off my face shield and nearly cold cocked me. It added my trade-mark signature to each of my wood working projects -- a little of my blood.

The blood was coming from my lip. I had driven my lower lip into my upper front tooth. Luckily, no loose or broken tooth, just a hole inside my lower lip and a nice curved cut matching the contour of the end of the rolling-pin on the outside front of my chin.

When things like this happen, I take it as subtle signal that I should quit for the day (especially if the bleeding won't stop). So after going into the house to assess the damage, stop the bleeding and swelling, I was done woodworking for the day. Well...I should have been done.

Since the hole wasn't all the way through my lip and I didn't think I needed stitches, I figured it wasn't a full stop sign -- just a hint. So, I went back to the shop intent to get the drill bit out and save my work. Mistake.

My next brilliant idea was to put the chuck in the Shopsmith, hold the roller-pin and let the machine unscrew the bit. Do you know how much power those things have even on slow speed! Needless to say, that didn't work. I did succeed in giving my left palm between my thumb and forefinger a good friction burn and added a nice blister there and on my thumb.

All this happening in about five minutes I took as an unequivocal signal to stop. See how perceptive I am.

Anyway, after sleeping on it, I realized I wasn't going to save both my drill bit and my rolling pin. I carefully cut out the bit on my band saw. I was able to salvage an 8" blank that will make a nice candle holder at some point. I probably would have figured this out without the second injury if I had taken notice of the first clue to stop.

In all this, my only advice to anyone entering the world of woodworking is, don't do it like I do!

Here’s the fruit of my labor – the final six of my rolling-pin period.

Oh, and three months worth of sawdust.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rolling Pin -- Installment #2

Here are the latest contributions to my rolling pin period:

The one in the middle is for my mom. She admired the first one I made (and gave to Marcia), so I made this one for her upcoming significant birthday. I won't say which birthday it is, but we're celebrating it on Superbowl Sunday, so let's just say it's Birthday LXXX.

It seems appropriate to mark later birthdays with Roman numerals. They deserve significance as much as Superbowls do. So, let's see, I'll celebrate Birthday LXI this year. Looks a lot more impressive than a measly 61.

Back to the rolling pins, I think it's taking me six to eight hours to make the five parts and assemble these things. That's after the glue-ups and blank cutting. I don't know for sure how long they take because I lose track of time. So, the time they take is not a complaint, just a factoid. I'm in no hurry to complete the remaining six. I'm taking my time and savoring each one.

The little pins in the picture are salvaged from scrap remaining from cutting the last blank. I didn't want to waste such pretty wood. And I can turn these in less than an hour start to finish. No stress making parts match and assembling. Just good turning fun.

Time to sharpen the tools and start another one -- sometime soon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Doing the Right Thing

A small news story today told about a Southwest pilot who held a flight to wait for a grandfather going to see his dying two-year old grandchild. The story moves me.

The grandfather was held up in the security line and was going to miss the flight. His wife called and asked that the flight be held. Somehow this message got to the pilot who left the flight deck and waited by the jetway for the grandfather to arrive. The grandfather arrived running in his sox – he didn’t take time to put on his shoes after the security screening – to be greeted by the pilot. The grandfather was there to say goodbye to his grandchild thanks to the very human decision of the pilot.

Why does this move me?

It’s an example of compassion, of courage to do the right thing, of love for a fellow human in grief. It’s a story of a company culture that allows and celebrates its employees doing the right thing.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen that often in our fast-moving and complicated world. It needs to happen more.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Woodworking Circle of Life

My woodworking projects seem to follow a familiar pattern. The wood cost more than I expect, I get in trouble early and I need to buy more tools. This latest project is no exception. First, the wood.

A little while ago, I set out to make an inexpensive rolling pin or two. I settled on some rock maple, about $4 a board foot, and purpleheart about $6 a board foot. So far, so good. Then, I started looking for a nice dark wood to contrast the rock maple and for the handles. “Boy, that cocobolo sure looks nice, let me load up on that,” I thought. “Let’s see, for the handles I’ll need 8/4 and then a bunch of these short 4/4 boards for the rolling pin.” While the bill was being calculated, I happened to look up at the price board. Cocobolo -- $27.16 @ board foot. Gulp. I’ll probably get nine out of the project, so the world’s most expensive rolling pins will have close to $30 in wood cost each.

Once home, everything proceeded smoothly through the glue-up. Then the trouble. My band saw wasn’t cooperating in cutting through the three-inch blanks. The first one had a nice bow on the side as the blade arced in the cut. Change the blade to a (dull) 5/8” blade. More grief. It kept getting stuck, making the saw trip the circuit breaker. In my past life I would have kept muscling through this – cut a couple of inches, get the blade stuck, go flip the circuit breaker, repeat. (Well, ok, I did do this for a couple of blanks. And, yes, when I couldn’t get one cut off all the way, I resorted to the encouragement of a sledge hammer. So you could say that I'm not totally reformed yet.)

After quitting for the night, to contemplate my problem (well stew on it) I surmised it was my choice of blades – too large and too dull. When things go wrong, it puts me in a dark, black, mood. I feel like an incompetent idiot. I know I am an incompetent idiot when starting something that I’ve never done before, but don’t really feel that way until I get into the trouble phase of the project.

Turns out the blade was the problem. With that fixed, my next blanks came out fine. I took the worse blank (the hammered one) as my prototype and was able to even salvage that one! Here they are.

At the far right, are the ends of the first glue-up, I’ll glue these together to make another blank. Next to that is a glue-up that hasn’t been cut at the 10 degree angle to produce the diagonal pattern. Two blanks will come out of this piece.

Back to the project -- now things were going swimmingly. That is until I got to the part that I needed to chuck the end pins. My chuck minimum is about 2” the pins are 5/8” diameter. Tool time. Log on to Rockler and buy spigot jaws for my chuck. Rockler rocks. I ordered the jaws Sunday. They arrived Thursday – just in time for me to finish my first rolling pin on Friday. Here it is.

So now I’ll happily churn out a few more rolling pins -- feeling a little less idiotic and a little less incompetent. But I’m not convinced, I’ve kicked the cycle. I see more costly wood and mid-course trouble in the future. And, of course, you can never have too many tools!