Friday, December 5, 2014

Learning From The Street

Photo courtesy Flickr user practical owl
I owe someone for this idea, but I don’t know whom and I don’t quite know for what. Pedestrian urban life reveals micro-environments. Certain local music venues, old movie palaces that retain their original vaudeville stages, tolerate the sleeping homeless. There’s justice and balance to the practice, somehow.

Last fall’s one-night stand in grizzly territory left me feeling like a tasty heat-sealed snack in our small nylon tent. Friday I noticed a huge, faded beach umbrella set in the corner of the entry of the Paramount Theater. There appeared to be a couple of people sleeping behind the thing, and it looked like a smart move. Privacy was good, the wind was blocked, and the umbrella was a ready pike to use in case an aggressor came at the sleepers.

More after the jump.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Small-space Wardrobe

Photo courtesy Flickr user MIKI Yoshihito
First Avenue’s Finn boutique has been a happy hunting ground. Over the last few years I’ve wheezed quietly and paid for a few garments that have proved to be excellent value. The stock in this store is cut with pure lines, sewn of first-rate fabric, and is several years ahead of the mass market retail that nibbles at its forms. The simplicity of the styling makes it versatile. One well-travelled clerk advises me about the practicality and global validity of the offerings. I seldom leave town, but shopping with travel in mind pays daily dividends of comfort and convenience.

Last week’s cold snap proved the worth of the woolies. The word “coat” is an archaic term for “dress”. When the wind rips through the neighborhood, I wear a comfortable, closely cut zip-front funnel neck long sleeved garment as a super-sweater. On the street, the same piece layers under a down stadium coat for reliable comfort. The clothes from this boutique are as field-worthy as anything from the Co-op and look good downtown. They save cubic feet in the storage area, and their cost per use and of acquisition is lower than things from a thrift store.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Photo courtesy Flickr user Ed Yourdon
This is earthquake country. One can never predict when it will be necessary to walk two or ten miles. This is also, and obviously, rain country. One can never predict when those two or ten miles might involve skirting wreckage and hoofing through biting wind with wet feet cramped into some kind of style romp.

I shopped for boots recently. Several scouting trips revealed that most of the time a boot is not quite the boot it might be. Many of the models on the market are lightly constructed and far from waterproof. They’re not cheap, either. For the same or less money, a smart pair of truly waterproof Wellie variants or a set of real hiking boots can be counted on to get you from here to there. Tuck a featherweight pair of fashion something or others into your side bag.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Master Of The Shovel

Photo courtesy Flickr user WSDOT
The weather turned bitter cold over the week-end. I suggested to my housemate, Indiana Jones, that for old times’ sake he set up the tent in the front yard, spend the night, and then thaw frozen soil with a steam hose to dig a square hole for our new cedar tree. Archaeologists pay for grad school so they can live like that and do heavy labor for less money than working in a fast food joint.

We also needed a little fill dirt moved from here to there but had surplussed the wheelbarrow years ago, deciding that its Archalounger function (tilted on back struts and handles) did not justify the storage space it would require. A good ten minutes spent discussing the bucket supply yielded a professional tip: shovel dirt onto a tarp and simply drag it where it is wanted. Ice is an asset.

More after the jump.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Any Coffee-maker In A Storm?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Dread Pirate Jeff
A late-quarter visit to the textbook section of the local academic bookstore yielded nutritious browsing. I went in to see what the bindings of scientific field references look like these days. The shelves were nearly empty, but what I found was much as I expected: flexible vinyl-bound palm-sized volumes, easy to thumb one-handed.

The veteran clerk was helpful and no doubt keeping an eye on his $230 offerings. I had a long browse through field science, engineering, and design. A work about green living discussed the environmental implications of consumer decisions. Advocating buying used whenever possible, the author shared his strategy of putting out an internet request when he wants something. The example he offered was a coffee-maker. The lesson he took from the process was that it works, but you have to take what is offered.

I was born to quibble with this approach, although not born to quibble with protecting the environment. A coffee-maker is not a coffee-maker is not a coffee-maker. The language is imprecise, and the many variants of the appliance, both high and low-tech, disprove the author’s strategy. I question the economy of his process, since the cost of acquisition of a cheap appliance is apparently greater than the price of the thing itself.

Design, or choice, is a matter of focus. The low-tech coffee pot or powered coffee-maker as we know it is a product of millennia of cultural and technical evolution. Crete mastered the dripless spout, not a trivial consideration for the laundry worker. The best of the high end pots consider the anatomy of the user’s hand. A good form supports rather than challenges fine motor skills. Originally a luxury item, coffee was brewed in careful ceremony akin to the drinking of tea.

I think it significant that Apple founder Steve Jobs studied high-end kitchen appliances as he experimented with the form of the PC. Jobs emerged from an environment of significant mass domestic privilege, growing up in an Eichler-designed house in the unprecedented prosperity of the Sixties Peninsula. I think it also significant that Jobs’ designer Jonathan Ive, Sir Jonathan now, trained with a silversmith father. Both guys grew up rubbing shoulders with sheet metal work. The culture of intelligent privilege that produced England’s brilliant tradition of silver, and incidentally the audio treasure of the crown jeweler Garrard, also produced the cognitive appliances for which Apple is known.

To my mind, it makes more environmental and economic sense to buy used at a local thrift store and to choose appliances passive or powered that can be recycled. Silver service for every day seems a bit much, but a silver pot won’t break, is a traditional store of bride wealth, and was valued for its anti-bacterial properties, low toxicity, and ability to amplify light. 

Precious metal respects the time and skill of the person who fabricates it. Cooper-Union’s catalogue celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the state of Delaware is an essay on the history of Swedish silver. The Triumph of Simplicity lays out centuries of the best work for the most privileged tables. The volume is a meditation to read.

Grousing about the construction of I-5, Seattle painter Mark Tobey described progress as "the queen of the giants, to whom the intimacy of living is of no importance". Ordinary daily amenities affect quality of life as surely as income.

More after the jump.