Friday, July 1, 2011

Pride Day

Photo courtesy Flickr

Any summer week-end will be hard put to match last Saturday’s festivities on Capitol Hill. The pride celebration moved back to the neighborhood. We lounged around after a hard day’s yard work and listened to the best music ever from anywhere, bar none, floating in for free through the open window. The streets carried the sounds of truly happy celebration until just before dawn.

When the annual parade was new, we would stand on the sidelines cheering. A few years’ waving the PFLAG banner convinced us that the community had the ball rolling on its own, and we have sat out since then.

For whatever reasons, this year sounds like success. I look forward to the day when no one is interested in legitimately private behavior and issues of personhood supersede those of gender.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

Last week’s post about the fragility of culture was in the back of my mind as I contemplated the library with unenthusiastic eyes. I like a book as much as the next lit major, but quality control has been suffering ever since Gutenberg began marketing cheap knock-offs of proper manuscripts.

In a spirit of wholesome selfishness, I’ve been handing off responsibility for their own inventory to my loved ones, and the library suddenly looked like the newlywed’s monogrammed towels, the ones that said “His” and “Mine”.

Since the “he”, both of them, were out of town, it was easy to concentrate on doing things my way rather than the received version of the fair housekeeping way, and I stacked three-fifths of the library in the hall, just to see what would happen.

I emptied two and a half of the set of three Northern European Big Store bookcases, that’s what happened. Moving the TV emptied them all, and I herded the cases into the hall, too.

The room doubled in size, and I gazed around and worried about the future of civilization. If the net didn’t steer me wrong, psychologist Carl Jung maintained that literacy fosters higher awareness. There’s an old Middle-Eastern saying that, “A merchant takes pride in his purse, the scholar in his books.” I decided to high-grade my collection and let the guys decide what to do with theirs.

The whole exercise was provoked by the release of Pomme’s new tablet computer that showed Al Gore’s second book in action. Having seen only TV clips, I feel comfortable maintaining that the technology is fully as revolutionary as Gutenberg’s. Probably more so.

In evaluating a book collection, I consider how easy it will be to get the material if I change my mind about a discard and how well something will hold up in the storage conditions I can afford. It’s profoundly discouraging to have something deteriorate on my watch. Trade books, as opposed to fine editions, have until recently been printed on inferior paper that turns to smelly acidic flakes in relatively no time at all.

At this point, E-books are still theory for me, but that new tablet computer is in my sights, so I’m willing to release my grip on mediocre volumes that make more sense in another format. Many years ago, desperately winnowing a book collection, I decided to let go of anything that I could get at the library, failing to factor in the library’s own limitations (especially now that libraries themselves turn up in some counties' cross-hairs). Now and then, I am stymied when I realize that a classic has become ephemeral.

Assuming the culture will be able to afford electricity and staff to maintain the digital archive, I’ll lean on the net for reading matter and research. Tech is changing so fast it’s hardly worth printing content anyway. That said, I looked over and will again review my remaining books with an eye to conserving well-designed ones on good paper to serve content that’s worth the trouble. Those criteria have enriched my understanding of scripture as a distillation of wisdom.

Where to store what’s left has been an interesting question. I have a glass-fronted case that has been an elegant spot to keep my most valued volumes. The room is kept dark unless someone is actively using it, so fading is not a problem for the bindings.

Reading the history of European furniture, I learned that in the Middle Ages a household of privilege would own perhaps six manuscripts that would be kept in a small chest, or casket. High-grading the library, I wondered about storing extra volumes in a solid World War Two officer’s foot locker. A quick browse through the Book of the Month Club guide to managing a personal library yielded the unforgettable remark that a book that is stored in a box is lost. I proved the point in days by temporarily stowing a mediocre matched set of nineteenth-century fiction in a small chest and promptly forgetting what was in it.

BoMC says a glass-front case is ideal, but expensive, and that books like air, so one should ventilate a closed case now and then. I will store some overflow in a foot locker, label it with an archival tag zip-tied onto the hasp, and calendar ventilation with a blow-dryer set on cool. The locker will live in conditions I find comfortable myself. A trunk full of books could be a recipe for back injury, but the Teflon magical sliding castors that are on the market now work like subtle versions of the wheel.

That’s as good as it is going to get around here. Books stored on open shelves do best with the shelves kept just full enough to allow for easy removal of a volume. You can secure a shelf of books from pilferage by fabricating hardboard panels slightly smaller than the works on the shelf, linking the panels with a length of invisible fishing leader line, and slipping the boards between the sides of the case and the works on the shelf. Elegant English libraries have rows of upholsterer’s fringe fixed under bookshelves to protect the books on the next shelf down from drifting dust. The fringe automatically dusts a book that is pulled off the shelf.

Books you love live against inside walls to protect them from “foxing”, the growth of small spots of mildew fostered by humidity condensing against a cool exterior wall. If you must store books against an outside wall, set the case away from it by an inch or two and place feet under it, to permit air to circulate.

The great enemy of books is fire. The second threat is water. The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, England’s operating guide for stately homes, has what as far as I know is the last word on managing books. I heard the ultimate challenge in archival storage from the special collections librarian at my alma mater. She quietly maintained that when the school received a donation, it would stay in that condition as long as it was there.

Hearing that, I realized that in spite of my relatively specialized knowledge, I had been cavalier with some treasures, and I have vowed to tighten my game.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

As a novice seamstress, I was surprised to learn that a garment pattern is cut inches larger than the body of the wearer to allow for movement when it’s in use. Clothing that is cut too narrow is "skimpy". It inhibits gestures and wears out sooner than something that is cut for a living being.

Over the last few months, I’ve been casually editing the contents of our storage areas so that we only house things we actually need. The cupboards have been half empty, and I discovered an unintended consequence of that elegance.

My partner made his semi-annual run to the Great Big Discount Box store, and I was able to stow in record time the contents of the many cartons of staples that flooded the pantry. Usually I end up standing on my head to squirrel away, say, a case of tomatoes behind the wheat bin.

More after the jump.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Entertainment Center

Photo courtesy Flickr

I lunched recently in a beautifully furnished high-rise condo, and as I gazed at a side table standing in the middle of the living room, I realized that I’d been living like an animal: the cord for the lamp was secured to the table’s pedestal by dark zip ties that matched the wood. The rest of the cord’s course across the floor to the outlet was secured under a little plastic threshold from an office supply.

Recently I moved the television to the back, or family, parlor of this 1890 house. The family parlor was a combination dining and rec room in its day, and at the moment, I’m using mine as a home office, non-toxic graphics studio, and dining area. Digital media and boring tasks are a marriage made in heaven, so I set up an improvised entertainment center.

Entertainment centers are the ugliest doggoned pieces of furniture I know, room-killers even in the architecture for which they are designed. At least they are expensive. I think I dodged that particular bullet in setting up the TV, though I can take credit only for a series of fortunate guesses and accidental research. I read somewhere that covering bulky furniture, like a sofa, to match the floor expands the visual space in a room.

For setting up the television, I chose a small pedestal table with a round, but broken, top that was already doing duty as a telephone stand. The flat side of the top is next to the wall, saving space, and I draped a heavy cotton bedspread the color of the seagrass matting over the cast-iron table. It's trivial to tuck extra fabric under itself as a soft rolled hem. Weight is an asset in some furnishings, and I felt comfortable setting up a pricey flat-panel monitor on a surface that can easily resist being brushed against in passing.

Moving the TV set-up is a persnickety bother, because technology moves faster than hardware around here, and getting a broadcast signal requires a little black box. The built-in DVD player in the monitor died at my hands a while ago, so it, too, requires a slight larger black box. There’s the antenna, and then the telephone.

That’s a lot of plastic junk to pile onto a truncated thirty-inch circle, but I pulled it off thanks to modular design and gaffer’s tape.
The gear only gets thoroughly dusted when I shift it. It was so bad this time that I set up the air filter and went after components with the photographer’s dusting brush that looks like a shaving brush on steroids. Things stacked decently, and I strapped them together with film industry black gaffer’s tape, a very expensive and versatile product that leaves no residue when it is removed. My trusty hardware store displays it in a locked glass case.

From my sweet spot at the table, the set-up looked surprisingly good, better than any other I have achieved. Seldom-used components are stowed under the table skirt..

A few evenings of staring at the nightly news while catching up on paper work revealed a bobble in the arrangement: cord pollution. The dozen or so electric vines that connect this with that so that I can see a show are hidden behind the skirt, but the umbilical connecting monitor and HD black box was a minor distraction. Two zip ties later (clip the excess and melt the sharp ends with a match) elegance rules.

-30- More after the jump.