Friday, November 18, 2011

The Micro-Desk

Photo courtesy Flickr

I have stumbled across a convenient low-tech pocket organizer that also blocks RFID signals. It’s a simple metal card case furnished with a tiny ballpoint pen from the Great Big Hiking Co-op. The case holds various vital things, folding money, and a little stack of blank notes trimmed from thin paper stock.

It slips easily into a zippered pocket, the loose notes are easy to organize, and I didn’t have to learn how to use it.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sacajawea Gelt

Photo courtesy Flickr

Economist and garden tool vendor Paul Hawken advised budding businesspersons to take an old format and bring the quality back to its original excellence. Now it’s possible to pay $200 for a hamburger.

I don’t plan to do that any time soon, but years ago I found the best commercial burger of my life in a hole in the wall cafe at Mount Baker. It was far outside the distribution patterns of commercial restaurant suppliers, so they were reduced to serving hand-formed patties ground from good meat and fried on a hot plate next to the coffee maker. No doubt many a famished hiker had fallen sobbing on their necks after days on a soggy trail.

Last week I took the local light rail line out to the airport. Anticipating San Francisco prices, I put a twenty into the ticket machine, and was six AM surprised to see a lengthy cascade of yellow coins fall into the ticket tray. Keeping half a wary eye over my shoulder, I fished out a big handful of unfamiliar currency, did a fast count, and got on with the day.

When I organized my side bag that evening, I realized the coins were Sacajawea dollars, that never turn up in ordinary transactions. Every Christmas I buy “hanukkah gelt”, little mesh bags of chocolate money to put into Christmas stockings. This year, I’m a-gonna give the real thing. If little velvet reticules are too much bother to fabricate, I can revive an old practice and tie the coins into an interesting bandanna.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gunpowder, Buttons, and Brass Buckets

Photo courtesy Flickr

The in-house archaeologist rattled off the title when I asked him what tribespeople demanded from the Hudson’s Bay Company back when they used beaver skins instead of credit cards. We were discussing the corporate origins of the various American states.

Gunpowder, I suppose, was the nuke of its day. Buttons are fascinating little pieces of sculpture, and a brass bucket is one heck of a kitchen improvement over weaving a basket out of spruce roots, filling it with water and camas, and setting hot rocks in for a long simmer. The bucket made fast food possible, I suppose.

Old trade patterns have taught me much about what is important in managing the needs of a family. Every store now holds a consumer avalanche, and it’s hard to define the essentials with so many stimuli demanding attention. A little experience in the field, camping or hiking, teaches well and quickly what is important.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cursing Plastic

Photo courtesy Flickr

I ran across novelist Norman Mailer’s rant about plastic a few months ago and am guessing it’s the fountainhead of the old objections to the new material. In the Sixties, to call something plastic was to insult it. Unquestionably, plastic was, is, and probably will be the source of many “disruptive technologies”. That’s a new term for me that I just learned from the biography of Steve Jobs and from his source, Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma”. What producers think of as disruptive technology I view as neat new stuff.

In managing an 1890 house, I have found that dropping back and adopting old ways with new materials is a reliable strategy for keeping this now urban live/work environment decent, safe, sanitary, and efficient. Wireless technology, especially, restores the interior to its original elegance, and miniaturized electronic amenities make the most of this old shell. Consistently, asking Buckminster Fuller's "How much does it weigh?" is the short path to untangling a domestic knot.

The twentieth century interior was Victorian privilege writ small. Rooms had dedicated functions and fixed arrangements. Ornament fed the hungry eye, and the whole arrangement was designed around a conscientious housekeeper. It's much the same now, but lightening up and simplifying systems gives the housekeeper a small to non-existent handicap.

Wireless internet access brings an endless feast. The content is so satisfying it displaces the fossilized tonnage I learned to call a proper room. For my purposes, the eighteenth century models how to live in 2012 far more effectively than later periods.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 14, 2011

In Case the Duchess Comes to Dinner

Gerard Dalmon photo courtesy Flickr

Bruno Munari published Design as Art, one of the pillars of my commercial art education. I was delighted to run across a photo of him in a skate magazine not long ago. He was wearing a Borsalino and hefting a Peacemaker.

Munari tackles tabletop design, and if I knew more about football, I’d be able to word this sentence more vividly. In one deft phrase, he dissolves the pretensions and the legitimate concerns of a conscientious person wondering how to set a proper table. Munari points out a fundamental truism of traffic engineering: design for the ordinary daily load, not for unusual events, such as a duchess coming to dinner.

Simple decent basics are easier than ever to find on the market, and it’s hard to conceive of a more elegant table than one carefully composed with immaculate straightforward inexpensive glass, white linen or even butcher paper, restaurant-style white china, and stainless flatware in a classic shape. Find linen at a fabric store, cut it straight with the grain (pull one thread to guide the scissors), and pull a short fringe for the ends. White’s easy to bleach. Burnish metal with pricey German chrome polish.

Nothing is more beautiful or subtle than a leaf, and leaves laid flat on clean linen are elegant and beguiling. I find that tea lights in low containers are the safest and most effective lighting at the table. My preference is for glass snowballs, but the original forms, I believe, are derived from water frozen into containers and removed from the cold while the center is still liquid.

Put your money where it counts, into food, wine and the time it takes to care for honored guests.

-30- More after the jump.