Friday, March 8, 2013

Dissecting A House

Photo courtesy Flickr

The neighborhood is developing at warp speed. In less than a year, I’ve witnessed salvors at work on two familiar buildings. The good news is that salvage is happening at all. The bad news is that it’s like watching a slow hurricane in action.

I was surprised last July to find that simply removing the Doric porch pillars from an ordinary boxy turn of the twentieth century two-story house left it looking like nothing at all. The only grace in the design had been at the entry, and the salvage crew left much useful, irreplaceable wood behind.

I was flabbergasted to discover yesterday that the splendid “early lumber baron” mansion around the corner is just as lovely shorn of its Corinthian columns, shutters, and other refinements as it was when it was intact. Perhaps even more lovely, since the essential proportions of the structure stand free of cultural reference points.

Salvage crews are taking every usable thing they can remove, including some of the precious original cedar siding, milled from six-hundred year old trees.   A landscaper is salvaging the garden, one corner of which was occupied by a zen monk who lived in a caretaker’s cottage. 

I can put my knowledge of Buddhism on the slip of paper from a fortune cookie, but I recall a formative quote from, I think, the heart sutra, that says something about not wanting to live in a land that distinguishes between the beautiful and the ugly. That’s been helpful, lately.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Garbage Disposal Theory Of Communication

Photo courtesy Flickr

In a moment of blinding realization, I realized that the laptop can be used as a garbage disposal, or perhaps composting area, for nearly all paper messages

Incoming paper to laptop data entry/scanner to shredder.

Sometimes the drawer where I stow mail and receipts is locked, and I simply slide incoming over the lip until it’s open again. There was a fallow period recently when a pile of unsorted messages accumulated. In a situation like this, the clerical meter is in the red zone: paper’s a vital sign, and it’s taken years to realize that in this culture and this economy, paper management ranks fourth after home security, sanitation, and food safety.

Sorting the mail is the first critical switching point in deciding whether to engage with a task. Data entry is the second. Koberg and Bagnall advise to ask oneself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I do, or don’t do, something?” Lately, I find that being willing to risk a couple of hundred dollars worth of hassle saves time and is cost-effective.

I finally learned that pulling out a pile of notes and papers and sorting them is useless. I simply fired up the laptop, disposed of things one at a time, and let the machine do the mechanical organizing. Some statements get scanned and filed, but most just displace the previous one, that I shred.

The working paper file is less than half an inch thick. The permanent paper file is about two inches thick. 

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Most-hated Appliance

Photo courtesy Flickr

That’s “shredder”. I’m glad to have one, even though the need makes me sad. I’ve had three, discarding the first two because inadequate manuals left me thinking they were broken. Fortunately for morale, an MIT faculty guy published a design book that said, “It’s not you, it’s the device.”

In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson mentions Jobs’ growing up in an Eichler-designed house on the peninsula south of San Francisco. Eichler homes were especially user-friendly, and Jobs studied kitchen appliances when he was starting to design computers.

I hope someone tackles the shredder. A slow learner, I chose the models I did because they carried the name of a superb low-tech typewriter company that ruled the twentieth century. A professional typing teacher at a military training school once declared their 1936 portable with elite type the best ever produced. I see keys from this machine worked into pieces of jewelry.

I doubt that I will see bits and pieces of the current shredder model worked into anything soon. Emptying the bin generates five minutes of housework, not a trivial problem, because it’s negative reinforcement for following a security procedure. I have to get on all fours to release the latch, a two-handed procedure, and the machine is so top heavy, I have to use one arm to stabilize it. Do the math.

Pulling the bin out inevitably brings a shower of shreddings with it, and tipping the bin into the city’s requisite plastic bag spills more lively electrostatic shreds onto the floor. In a perfect world, the manufacturer would catch on and sell pricey liner bags at Office Monster. In the meantime, I have taped a zipperlock to the back of the machine. The bag holds twenty gallon kitchen waste liners. I pull one over the bin like a hood, tip the whole works upside down, fidget, and corral the shreddings that way. Most of the shreddings, at least.

It’s way too hard, and even in a domestic situation, has to happen far too often. Isaacson describes Jobs’ insisting that a fast boot up would save lives. Jobs ticked off the sum of several seconds spread over thousands of people. Shredder redesign is an improvement waiting to happen.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Tragic Loss Of Faith

Photo courtesy Flickr

Last week’s network news set another brick in the wall surrounding the good old days. Melamine, the dinette staple of pbj and chicken noodle soup, has been listed with a warning notice about toxins that migrate from the surface into the snack.

There are work-arounds to prevent contamination, but life is confusing enough. My bowls went into solid waste, leaving a collection of dishes that all behave the same.

If I were setting up again, every dish would be freezer to microwave capable, and every cooking pot would be stove-to-table enameled cast iron, to travel from induction to direct flame to electric heat. The collection wouldn’t be cheap, but it would make the most of inexpensive basic ingredients, take up little space, and have decent resale value.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Musical Chair

Photo courtesy Flickr

In a foolish moment, when I was doing nothing but change diapers, I let a good drafting stool go, and have missed it ever since. The thing was just right for me, but the height was fixed, and I grew tired of shifting it from one spot to another.

That was a long time ago, and recently I realized that making do would no longer do. I surfed for a while, checked out a flimsy plastic model at the academic bookstore, and temporized, flinching, at the prices I found online.

What once was the front parlor is now a forest of KD legs that support various pieces of music gear. The legs all look alike, but a dim comprehension grew brighter: three of them support a drum throne, by any other name a piano stool.

The throne is featherweight, folds for storage, and adjusts for height. It slides under the skirt of the dining table and works as a side table, if necessary. I call that good value. Stylish it ain’t, but flat black invisible is preferable to Boeing Surplus.

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More after the jump.