Archive for the 'Found' Category

Quality Depends on Good Communication

Well, I had to hire a contractor to do a job that was a bit too big for me, even when I am well. When that was done, he asked if there was anything else he could do. The exterior basement door was sticking because of some settling and the hinge screws getting loose in the wood after 125 years. I showed him the door and figured he would understand what was needed. Clearly, fill the holes with structural filler and adjust the shims. After all, he was a professional.


I had to take a call from work and do a quick fix for them. Less than an hour later, I returned to find he’d smashed off (not unscrewed) the antique cast iron steam-age hinges and put some modern, thinner, plated, light weight hinges in the original mortises! He was about to shave off some of the wrong side of the door when I intercepted him. He left for lunch.

Aarghh! Had he checked with me, I would have explained that the hinges themselves were not the problem. And clearly he has no idea what the market is for genuine steam-age hardware in usable condition to restorers, collectors, and steam punk folks. So rather than just cry about split milk, I thought I’d fume about it here, and share a snapshot of the piece that I was able to pull out of the trash.

The Object at Hand is therefore the remains of this hinge from 1890.

Chemicals are Missing

I happened to look at a tube of sunscreen slash bug repellent sitting on a windowsill in my home, and the absurdity of its claims have promoted it to today’s Object at Hand.


The front proclaims, “Chemical Free!” This baffles me. If the constituents of the contents are found on the periodic table, it has chemicals in it. Outside of brief existences in high energy locations, like the Large Hadron Collider impact zone, everything on Earth is chemicals. Even the dissociated plasma in arc lamps is chemical in nature.

But maybe they consider “chemicals” to be things with known chemistry, as opposed to the generally unknown complex chemistry of plant products. But there on the back is a typical list of somewhat unpronounceable, organic and inorganic, mostly synthesized, molecules. Chemicals.

I am sure we paid for this stuff, so they were not free. I am sure that the tube and everything inside is made of chemicals, so “free” could not mean “absent.”

It also says it is the #1 Natural Choice. As opposed to, a super-natural one? Anything found in the known universe is a part of nature, “natural”. We’ve even discovered natural nuclear reactors, and any chemical that can be synthesized in a lab can be found somewhere in nature. Turns out, space is full of wacky, complex organic molecules. So, on what scale do they order how “natural” a product is?

To complete the absurdity, it has a banner: “Quantum.” That word means, the smallest divisible unit. Generally, something so small that it requires great sophistication to detect the thing or the difference. Is this referring to the smallest tube they sell?

And after all that, the package doesn’t even clearly state what it does, for how long, or how it is supposed to work. A trite triumph of marketing form over functional content.

Looking Back

Rear View Mirror

On reflection, today’s object is an intro to one of my hobbies.

I was slowly walking home from breakfast at the corner when I spied today’s Object at Hand in the street. A plastic rear view mirror from some toy vehicle that had come loose and been run over a time or two.

I was walking slowly because of a lingering disease. Adult onset mono that had been misdiagnosed by a series of doctors who never considered that an old dude like me would come down with such a stereotypical adolescent ailment. Anyway, a couple of months after the symptoms got acute, I could walk to the corner.

As soon as I saw this bit of plastic with its evocative printed decal, I flashed on a lifetime of travels. I began a travel blog back before most people knew the word “blog,” and wrote the code using Notepad. Before the blog, I would send emails to a list of friends with daily reports. Here is My Travel Page.

I didn’t always love travel. As a child, I was always car sick. Back then we didn’t have air conditioning. During my tween and teen years, we didn’t even have rear windows in the car! So it was an ordeal for myself and my parents to go on the few road trips they dared: Once to Orlando (not including Disney, but backstage at Cape Kennedy as Apollo 13 was on the pad) and once up to Michigan to visit a great aunt. Plus an annual jaunt of 8 hours (back in those pre-interstate days) down to the Ozarks. Specifically Bull Shoals Lake just over the Arkansas border. Nope, not Silver Dollar City. I didn’t get to an amusement park until I was in my 30’s.

But once I had a car of my own, we did drive. In our current sedan we have recreationally visited every contiguous state except Rhode Island and Wisconsin. We often travel the lesser roads, state and local highways. It takes longer to get to our nominal destination, but we really get to see America.

Blinded by the Utility of Trash

I hate to waste anything. Granted, this is the battle cry of a problem hoarder. But I am one of those problem people, or fortunate urbanites, who pulls trash from the dumpsters to give some small fraction of potential landfill addition useful life. With so many apartments on the block, there is always someone moving out, discarding perfectly good items that they just don’t want to bother moving or selling.

Today the case in point, the The Object at Hand, is discarded mini-blinds. It doesn’t matter much whether they are pure vinyl, or coated aluminum. Both have their uses. Although the aluminum properly should be recycled, eventually.

Vintage grass shears make mini blinds into labels

Vintage grass shears make mini blinds into labels

As a gardener I find a couple of different uses for these usually dirty, bent, and/or broken window appliances. The cords and support ladders are polyester string, a strong and very weather resistant material; longer lasting than the more popular nylon or polypropylene for exterior use. Thus I extract and roll up the strings to use as needed; like to tie things up tree limbs, loose fence boards, sagging gates, hanging plants, etc.

But the pure gold of the mini blinds is that they make excellent plant labels. Anyone who lives with perennials has two needs for these. First, to mark where things will pop up. It is too easy to forget by springtime where the summer plants will emerge, and end up planting something else on top of it. And secondly to label all the plants that we have to divide each year to give or sell to new homes.

But, you may protest, labels are so cheap! True. My argument is that this is both an act of consumerist defiance, to use discarded material in place of virgin plastic, and a zen gardening exercise. When one tires of digging, weeding, tying, and sweating, here is a project — and excuse — to meditatively sit in the shade and relax.

I start by stacking a few blinds, and cutting points across the string holes. This gives me nice, consistent, short labels from the end pieces.

Cross Cut

In order to have uniform longer labels, I balance the remainders on the edge of the shears, and then cut. This particular set of blinds was perfect for these. Sometimes the center sections are too long for a single pair. Then I make a cross cut at the balance point, and then the balanced across cut.

Balance Cut

The final task is to write the label text. You may note the permanent markers that live in the mug with our now ready to use labels. And some labels from earlier blinds.

Ready To Use LabelsOh, you noticed the black one? For longer lasting labels, use aluminum blinds, and embossed Dymo (or equivalent) labels. I got an excellent vintage labeller at an estate sale, with interchangeable font wheels and carrying case. But you can still get them online. With these bright labels, blinds of any color will do. And when the label color fades away after a few years of sun, you can still see the raised letters, and even somewhat revive them by rubbing with stain.

The pure vinyl labels are fine for a year or two. But then either the ink spalls off (or fades away) , or the label itself breaks. We use vinyl to indicate to or from where things need to be moved, or as labels for outgoing plants.

Here is a simple comparison, one in a to-sell tray, the other in a keeper plot.
Compare Labels

Object of Improbable Geometric Ancestry

One item we regularly enjoy at our favorite buffet in the City of Saint Louis is the dessert Crème brûlée. Until recently, it was served in tiny ceramic bowls. They were not exactly regulation ramekins, but clearly more durable and stackable. But the last time we visited the River City Casino Great Food Exposition, the still-credible delectable was served in disposable (ideally recyclable) aluminum cups.

Crème brûlée
After I finished the contents, I stared into the empty cup and a memory surfaced from decades ago: Back in my college daze, I would meet a friend in one of the student lounges a couple of times a week. Back then smoking was still common, so they had disposable aluminum ash trays on every table. When I got a clean one, I exercised my nervous fingers by reproducing a shape that I’d learned to make in silversmithing classes.

I’d studied directly under Heikki Seppa and under some of his students.HPX One of his masters level exercises was to make what he called an “HPX” or Hyperbolic Paraboloid Extension. One that the master himself made is in the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, shown to the right. It is an object of pure anti-clastic curves, where perpendicular lines on the surface curve away from each other, like a saddle or the McDonnell Planetarium. The opposite kind of surface is called synclastic, like a ball or bowl.

Working with a disc of silver or copper, one hammers and folds it to gradually compress the metal in the center in the hardest possible direction, so that the center thickens and the edges curve over. You end up with a fairly unusual shape of no practical utility at all, but fun to fiddle with.

So I wiped off most of the remaining custard and began to play, encouraging edges around and surfaces to collapse. I was surprised how quickly I got the shape to form, given the 30 years since my last attempt. Anyway, this is how I made today’s Object at Hand, seen below. Feel free to try it yourself, the next time you find yourself with a foil dish, bowl, or cup.
HPX 2013

I incorporated a copper HPX as part of a sculpture that won First Prize in a Science Fiction convention art show way back when. My title is probably what they truly were awarding, “Creature of Improbable Genetic Ancestry Examining Object of Improbable Geometric Ancestry.” Thus the title of this post.

A New Coat for Santa

Many years ago, we received a seasonal cookie jar, a Chinese made porcelain Santa that (if memory serves) was full of something. Each year we would take it out and just use it as part of our holiday ambiance. But then his coat began to fade. Only the red did shed. At first, we ignored the few missing flakes. As years and flakes passed, he was delegated to a background role, and finally hidden away. By then he also had a bad crack halfway around, as well. Obviously a dollar store throwaway item finally ready to become landfill after a dozen years of use.

Yet, I had long thought of repainting his coat. But when I did, either the weather was not suitable for good ventilation, or the season was wrong to inspire me. So he continued to languish, kept but unloved.

But December first, 2012 was a very warm day. Warm enough to open up the house to warm it up a little. So I dug an old roll of masking tape out of the basement, and in dozens of niggling little segments, covered everything but the white-that-should-be-red. I scuffed the red-to-be zone with a 3-M nylon scrubber, and used some more tape to pull of the loose flakes.

Santa Stripped

I found some red spray paint that I got at a yard sale a couple of years back, and had at him. I gave Santa’s coat three coats on top of an old dishwasher box in the garage that had clearly been used as a paint station for ages.

Once the paint was dry, peel off the tape, and let the chubby guy have his cookie.


Bottle In Front Of Me

One of the pleasures of living in an 1890’s house is that one can find interesting things in the walls. I found this between the studs, so I suspect that its been there since they updated the house by adding electricity around 1930 or so.

Ever hear of Sun Drop Cit-Rus Cola? Me either. But according to Wiki, it has had a following in the midwest since it was invented here in St. Louis in 1928. They do have a web site:

This bottle certainly feels different. First, it is an 8 oz bottle made of very heavy glass. It has the side bumpers for bottles to feed from early soda machines and survive many refillings. But these features were probably still around in the 1950’s.

I’ve done an image search, but haven’t found quite a match. Apparently, the label changed regularly, or possibly by bottler. So I’m gonna ask the kind folks at Sun Drop if they can venture a guess about when someone put this in my wall.

When I find such an item, I think of it as a ghost. Here lie the remains of a moment in history. A thirsty electrician running cloth wrapped wires through ceramic tubes and across porcelain knobs between switches made of clay, brass, and Bakelite in order to  to power a few new-fangled Edison lights and perhaps an electric broom. Most of the light fixtures were simply attached to or hung from the existing gas pipes. Sweaty work.

As an object to ponder, I’d much rather have this “Bottle In Front Of Me” than a frontal lobotomy.