Monday, March 28, 2011
I agree with the basic premise of what Adam Cramer saying, namely that there are too few young people today who have either the interest or the aptitute to work "old school", and know the difference between a Phillips and a Standard screwdriver.
However, I don't agree that all young people can be written off with this one sweeping comment.
At one point in the video Cramer says: "Right now I don't see who the next me is. Where's the next me?"
I have news for you, Dude. There is no "next you". You are an original, and that's where it's going to end.
Allow me to illustrate:
This is my son Kevin. He is now 21 years old, and he's learning the equally challenged trade of fine woodworking and furniture making. He has chosen this path because he loves it and he's good at it, and certainly not because of any encouragement on my part.
I am happy to say that this point in his life Kevin is already far more experienced, skilled and talented than I ever was at the same age. On occasion people will say how wonderful it must be to have a son who is "following in my footsteps" so he can "take over" from me.
My reply is always something to the effect that this could never happen, nor would I ever want it to happen. I am me, and Kevin is Kevin. There is no way he could ever be the "next me", because Kevin is not me. Nor would I ever want him try.
Although he shares my interest in furniture making, I believe that the best thing I can do as a father is to help Kevin find out what best manifests for him. Yes, Kevin may end up using the same shop, tools and machines that I have used over the years, but ultimately what he does and what he accomplishes with them will be up to him.
In the meantime I am doing everything I can to help him adapt to an ever shifting market paradigm, in a time when everything seems to be saturated with a glut of cheap crap flooding in from offshore. Cramer is right on the mark when he says that America is de-industrializing.
At what point do people realize that an economy cannot function with everyone either unemployed, or working as civil servants and retail clerks at Wally World?
Sunday, March 27, 2011
In an interview with the Toronto Star I found it very telling that Hargitai was noting the changing retail landscape of downtown Toronto, where the high end Holt's location is now flanked by lower end stores such as Gap and Zara.
Gap is a clothing retailer that offers cheap "fashion" thanks, in part, to their success at employing child slave labour in places like India. Zara, meanwhile, is an industry leader at rapidly knocking off high end fashion with low cost facsimiles.
"It's not what it was." Hargitai is quoted as saying. "Holt's used to stand out. The classy days are gone."
While it may be true that the "classy days" are gone, hopefully the few remaining aficionados of class, and purveyors of class, are merely endangered species.
In the meantime it's sad to say that Hargitai's best job opportunity at this point may be as a greeter at Walmart.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Yes, I am aware that this attests to my age.
The original Star Trek ran for only 3 seasons (1966 to 1969) but lived on in reruns - eventually developing a strong following that included me as a teenager. The show's main cast of characters included Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, "Bones" McCoy, and Scotty the chief engineer. The sinister Klingons were always lurking somewhere in the shadows of deep space. Ubiquitous lines attributed to those early episodes often include: "Beam me up, Scotty", "Phasers on stun", and "Illogical, Captain".
Captain Kirk's chair on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise was a prop that was seen in almost every episode, and there was something about it that I always found fascinating. I remember thinking that some lucky dude must have had the coolest job in the world to be designing and building that thing.
Recently I came across an online article which described this chair as the most expensive piece of "Star Trek: The Original Series" memorabilia ever sold at auction. It realized a final sales price of $304,750 (on a bid of $265,000) as Lot 175 in the historic Profiles In History Bob Justman Star Trek Auction held June 27th, 2002 in Los Angeles, CA.
The Profiles auction catalog description provided some interesting construction insights, exact dimensional information, and what were at-the-time previously unseen photos of its current condition. The significant technical portion of the essay is reproduced below:
175. COMMAND CHAIR AND PLATFORM FROM THE “U.S.S. ENTERPRISE”. The original Captain’s Chair from the bridge of the legendary starship, U.S.S. Enterprise. Constructed at the Desilu Culver Studios in November of 1964, this world-renowned chair was first used by actor Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike in the first pilot, The Cage, and remained the focal point of the bridge throughout the entire series as Captain James T. Kirk’s seat of command.
The original design for the bridge was the responsibility of Art Director Pato Guzman and Set Designer Walter “Matt” Jefferies (after the first pilot, Jefferies became the Art Director throughout the entire series). Although construction of the Enterprise sets was an orchestrated team effort, Special Effects Supervisor Jim Rugg and Matt Jefferies were the two primary people involved in its design and construction.
The outer block-frame of the chair is crafted from plywood and painted battleship grey in color. The wide-spaced armrests contain the controls and switches used by Capt. Kirk to engage various functions of the starship. Set within the frame is the original Naugahyde-covered seat with stained wooden armrests.
The chair is mounted on a wooden pedestal base that features a spring-loaded swivel which centered the chair after the Captain rose from it on either side. The rectangular base of the chair is covered in the original Ozite ® carpet which covered the entire floor of the Enterprise bridge.
The left arm control panel and switches remain as they appeared on the final episode, Turnabout Intruder. [More than once, the special effects crew changed the composition and layout of the control panels to adhere to script requirements.] On the right arm control panel, the owner reinstalled the original five white-button control unit.
Four ceramic, 25-watt light sockets, surrounded with tinfoil to protect the encircling wood from the heat, are mounted in a space beneath the control panel. The base of the chair holds a power cord wired to the sockets which, when powered, would illuminate the colored epoxy resin buttons and switches (one of the epoxy resin “lights” is missing).
The base of the chair is 42 in. wide x 35 in. deep, and stands 9 ¼ in. height. The chair itself is 39 in. wide (from arm to arm), with a 25 ¾ in. tall backrest. The seat of the chair rises 14 in. from the bottom of the base.
The late owner picked up the chair and accompanying set pieces (Lots. 176-183) in 1969 after he received a call from a friend at Paramount Pictures, who alerted him to the fact that the entire Star Trek set was being scrapped and that, if he was interested, he was welcome to get whatever items he wanted before they were thrown away.
A true icon of entertainment history, the Captain’s Chair is visible in literally every single episode of this beloved, legendary series and is, without question, one of the most important discoveries in the history of television memorabilia, and arguably the most recognizable chair in the world.
Monday, March 21, 2011
It was only after the article was published that I realized what it really was. Called "Three of a Kind", the article was one of an ongoing series of abbreviated sound bytes which take 3 similar looking pieces of furniture to compare them - primarily on the basis of price.
One previous article compared a $2560.00 Le Corbusier club chair to a $499.00 POS from Ikea. What was the main point of comparison between the two? Both were chairs covered in blue fabric.
A solid birch 3 legged table by Tom Dixon was ambushed in a similar fashion when compared to repackaged landfill offerings from Ikea and West Elm.
What I find unfair about this kind of homogenized design pseudo-journalism is that it doesn't properly compare apples to apples. For example, my Bow Tie table is a hand made one-of-a-kind piece that is crafted from FSC and NAUF certified woods, non-UF glue and low VOC finish. The top has a hand cut diamond matched inlay pattern, with additional inlays in the collar and plinth made of traditional holistic woods such as Black Walnut and Narra. It's no surprise that this table ended up being the priciest of the three shown.
The cheapest of the tables was a variation of a block stool that is imported by the containerload from some place in Africa. The table at the intermediate price point is a similar looking piece of mass production that is also imported by the containerload, only in this case from a factory run by Gus* Modern in China.
In the grand scheme of things this "Three of a Kind" concept of literary penmanship isn't all that difficult to emulate, as I'll demonstrate here with the following 3 examples of cars.
Please study these images carefully. One is of a finely engineered $2900.00 precision instrument manufactured by Tata Motors of India. At the middle price point we have a Buick Regal by General Motors, which has a base price of $27,000.00. (It's unclear from the photo whether this particular Regal has been manufactured in North America, or at one of the new GM factories recently built in China). Finally we have a Maybach 57S Coupe that has been customized by Xenatec of Germany to the tune of $1,000,000.00.
Can you tell them apart, even though all 3 of these cars share seemingly identical silvery paint finishes?
Thursday, March 17, 2011
What could be more ironic than a Chinese factory owner destroying a $450,000.00 Lamborghini Gallardo because of anger over "poor quality" issues? (The price tag is the amount that Nan claims his company paid for the car).
Apparently this fellow, who runs a wholesale lighting factory in Qingdao, was so upset with the shoddiness of this car that he ordered it destroyed with sledgehammers - in a public spectacle no less.
One can only hope that the Quality Control department in Nan's facility is working to the same high standards on the stuff they're pumping out to the rest of us.
In the meantime I'd suggest to Lamborghini that they authenticate whether the car and all its components are actually authentic. For all anyone knows this thing could be a knock-off.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Today I learned of a 200-year-old love letter being discovered inside the arm of an antique chair that was being upholstered somewhere in England.
The note was written in French, and was tucked in the arm of a chair that had been purchased at a house clearance in France.
Graham Simpson, the owner of Theocus Furniture, said: "I just hope it reached the lady it was intended for all those years ago."
"When I started to work on the arm" said Simpson, "I could see a small note, tightly folded up about the size of a penny."
"When I opened it, to my amazement it was a note written in pencil; in old French."
The chair's owner, Georgina Mucklow-Davis, explained that it came from a house in the village of St Marcel sur Aude. She went on to say that she purchased it "from a lovely French family who've been living there for over 150 years".
She has written to the family asking if they have any idea who might have written the letter.
Intrigued to see what the note said, Simpson posted photographs of it on Facebook and a friend was able to translate it.
The style of language used indicated that it was composed about 200 years ago, at the time of - or shortly after - the French Revolution.
The letter was written from a man to a woman, and had been sent from the town of Mercurol in the Alps.
"It is wonderful to have such a unique little note find its way from the Alps to my shop in Tewkesbury" said Mr. Simpson.
The translated letter reads as follows:
My dear small love, do not be worried, do you seriously believe I would tell anything to these people, who don't understand anything about love?
If someone insists that I say something, it will be anything but the dear love acquired by you, which is the great treasure hidden in my heart.
I didn't tell you to come yesterday because I didn't have the opportunity, but do come every Tuesday around 5:30, and Fridays as well; I count/hope on you tomorrow.
At the moment I write this letter, I can hear my aunt yelling, who else annoys us all day long, today and tomorrow.
My dear, I cover you with kisses and caresses until... I need you in this moment of desire. I love you.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
There are media reports of unusual fish swarms showing up off the coast of Acapulco, Mexico.
Many "experts" are concluding that this has been caused by last week's massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan.
Perhaps that's true.
But we should also consider another perspective. Namely, instead of assuming that these swarms are the result of something that's already happened, perhaps they're a foreshadowing of something yet to come.
Back in 2005 a magazine called "The Walrus" published an article that talked of strange events taking place in the weeks leading up to the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami in south-east Asia. Apparently there were also schools of fish acting very much out of character in the weeks leading up to that event, in addition to large trees falling over for no apparent reason days before the quake happened.
The article is called "Danger Signs" and it was written by Larry Frolick.
Perhaps our human brains should be a little more humble with respect to making assumptions that we have Mother Nature figured out.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
This level was also my father's, and it was hand made by a tool artisan in the legendary village of Eskilstuna, Sweden.
Many years ago my father purchased this moisture meter, which is the model J-88 made by Delmhorst Industries in the USA. It still has its original leather case and synthetic terminal cover. Best of all it also continues to work like a charm, which means that we still use it on a regular basis.
The first person my father ever hired was a brilliant wood finisher by the name of Art Welton, who was trained as a traditional finisher in England. This putty knife was made in England and was Art's favorite tool. He was heartbroken when he snapped off the corner one day while trying to pry the lid off a can.
Art has long since retired and passed away, and I keep this tool in my office alongside a photo of him - in honour of his memory.
I purchased this Mastercraft ratchet and socket set when I was 16 years old. In those days it was still possible for a kid to go under the hood of a car to change spark plugs or adjust the carburator. This set is still of better quality than most of the offshore import tools you see today.
This "antique" is a Sharp FO-200 fax machine, which used state-of-the-art thermal fax paper. It is a vintage 1986 tool, and I remember it being such a leap forward in technology at the time to help us communicate with custom furniture clients in distant places such as New York and Chicago.
Last but not least is the first Motorola cell phone. This thing was literally and figurative a brick, and I first got one of these beasts sometime in the early 1990s. This piece of analog technology could ONLY send and receive telephone calls. Nothing else. I can't recall whether the early versions could even take or retrieve messages. They certainly didn't have the ability for text, email, Internet, games, photos, videos, or fancy rings tones.
Although the cell phone and fax machine are not vintage woodworking tools per se, they were both effective tools that assisted with the business end of woodworking and custom furniture making.
What I find most interesting of all about the above images is that it is the oldest and most manual of tools that are still the most viable and usable today. Except for the moisture meter all of the other electronic tools are now obsolete.
This is definitely a sign of the times. Woodworking and custom furniture making both remain very much a traditional craft that uses tools and processes that are the same as they've been for generations.
On the other hand the traditional method of generating sales by means of word-of-mouth marketing is no longer sufficient in today's world. I believe that even the traditional woodworker must adapt to changing times and technologies when it comes to marketing and communications. At the moment this means embracing the new paradigm of using tools such as social media.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Once again a player has been injured because of this, and this time it was Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
You can't blame Chara for this one.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Yes, this is me. It's photographic proof that I was once young, buff, and had hair.
I am sitting at the end of a custom boardroom table we made for the New York Yankees professional baseball team back in January 1996. The top was a modified elliptical oval measuring 26 feet long by 6 feet wide. It was made of highly figured Crotch Mahogany, which was stained and polished to a high sheen.
This boardroom table was commissioned by Brueton Industries of New York, as a modified version of the Virginian Table designed by J. Wade Beam.
(The table was shipped with a Toronto Blue Jays sticker attached to the underside. I'll never know whether George Steinbrenner saw the humour in that).
In my opinion the real cause of the injury is the poor design of the stanchions as currently used by the NHL.
Here's my suggestion for a redesign of these things:
Thursday, March 10, 2011
For those of you who haven't seen it yet, the video is here:
This incident has triggered a flurry of debate over whether the act was deliberate or accidental, and whether or not Chara should receive additional punishment or suspension.
In my opinion all this focus of attention on Chara and his "history" with Pacioretty is missing the real issue; namely, why are these rigid stanchions placed so close to the ice surface in the first place? It goes without saying that professional hockey is a very fast and aggressive sport that involves players zooming around the ice at high rates of speed. Sooner or later high speed collisions and serious injuries are bound to happen - even without the stanchions.
What astounds me is that these rigid steel poles are positioned right at the very edge of the playing surface, where collisions of this type are all but inevitable. Without question this is a case of extremely poor design on the part of the NHL. How difficult would it be to place an angled glass surface as a transition piece into that corner? Should a player ever collide with that angled surface he'd be deflected back towards the playing surface instead of being slammed to a sudden stop.
This isn't the first time that professional players have suffered because of poor design on the part of the NHL. Back in 1980 a star player by the name of Mark Howe suffered a grotesque injury when he was impaled on the steel center rib on one of these old style NHL nets.
It was because of this injury that the NHL quickly redesigned their nets to the ones we see today. (I guess they figured out that a giant steel sword tip might be dangerous.)
Similar effort should be put into the redesign of the stanchions. I have posted one suggestion for a redesign here.
Changing these things is going to be a lot easier than getting the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup again.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Although the wedding gifts were delivered on time, the Valet Stand has taken a little longer to complete. But now it too is done.
Standing 71" high x 22" wide x 15" deep this Valet Stand is crafted from a combination of Macassar Ebony and satin stainless steel.
The coat hanger rests on a leather padded wedge, and is detachable thanks to an inlaid magnet which helps hold it in place.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Back in the late 1980s we went through a busy stretch where we found our shop completely innundated with a wide variety of custom furniture work. Because of this my desk was overflowing with all sorts of drawings, finish samples and coils of thermal fax paper containing all types of pertinent information. Looking back I am amazed that we found a way to keep this chaos organized.
Although we already had an informal job numbering system in place, it was largely ineffective in a situation where there were 40 or 50 different projects on the go at any one time. (Remember, this was before computerized databases and scheduling software became widely available to small business).
Then, one day in the late 1980s I happened to be in New York to meet with a fellow named Mark Logan, who at the time was the general manager for Dakota Jackson's furniture company. I saw on Mark's desk a bin of numbered folders with each folder containing all the pertinent information for each individual job. Mark's system formed the basis for revising our own job tracking system, and from that day forward we assigned each project with a specific number that was used to identify all drawings, samples, faxes and other correspondence related to that particular job. That same number was also used to track timesheets and the hours it took to do each job.
In subsequent years this system was easily fine tuned with the introduction of computerization, meaning that we could now organize everything into one massive digital database.
Upon completion of each job all samples, drawings, photos, time sheet summaries, color matching formulas and other related information is gathered and sealed in the folder so that it can be stored sequentially in an archives room for future reference. In many cases these archives prove to be an invaluable resource in situations where we have a custom project to make that is similar to something we've already done. In other cases we get asked to make things to match something we've made over 10 years earlier. Having access to these records ends up saving us a great deal of time and effort.
Over the years our archives have grown to the point where we now have over 4 decades worth of records, cutlists, cabinet making notes and vintage drawings stored in one large room. Whenever I am in that room I am reminded of an old shop called Davies and Son, which claims to be the oldest independent tailor in and around Savile Row in London, England.
In the early 19th Century it was said that Davies and Son were the quality tailors who dressed all the crowned heads of Europe. They were also the bespoke tailor for Admiral Lord Nelson, who at the time was the most famous sailor of the age based on his service to the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.
According to legend Davies and Son have managed to keep meticulous records of all their fine tailoring work done over the past 200+ years, and it is said that Admiral Nelson's specific measurements are still on file. Having said that, if Nelson was alive today he would not only be able to custom order a finely tailored suit from the Davies and Son website via his IPad or Blackberry, but he would also be guaranteed a perfect fit.
How cool is that?
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Frankly, I don't see what's so mystifying about this.
There are some people I know who absolutely hate what they do for a living, but they stick with it because the money's too good. Ironically, some of these same people tell me that they plan to retire one day so they can take up custom woodworking as a full time hobby.
If that's true, when the day comes that I chose to retire from my "work" what would be an appropriate hobby for me? Custom woodwork?
As Confucius once said: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."
Having said that, I am at "work" this morning making drawings for a couple of cool new furniture commissions that have come my way recently.
Some tunes are also playing, including "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin.
I'm working on today being another good day.
Friday, March 4, 2011
The Maya also have two other calendars - both shorter in duration. The 260 day count of days is commonly known as the Tzolk'in. The Tzolk'in was combined with a 365-day vague solar year known as the Haab' to form a synchronized cycle lasting for 52 Haab's. This is called the Calendar Round.
Because they are intertwined the Tzolk'in and Haab' cycle together much like a pair of gears, with each day's turn resulting in a different pairing of days. This means that it takes a total of 18,890 unique days (equivalent to roughly 51-3/4 years on our Gregorian calendar) to completely cycle through every possible combination of days in the Calendar Round.
I read somewhere recently that according to this ancient system of time that a person attains the status of elder upon reaching this age of 51-3/4 years. Apparently the process of experiencing each of the 18,890 unique days at least once bestows some kind of experiential wisdom upon a person. Whether this is true or not, I don't know. But I find this idea rather fascinating because in my case this age milestone is due to arrive sometime this evening.
To commemorate the event I am reposting a short parable found recently on Paulo Coelho's blog. It's called "The Blackbird Comes to a Decision".
An old blackbird found a piece of bread and flew off with it. When they saw this, the younger birds pursued him in order to attack.
Confronted by imminent battle, the blackbird dropped the piece of bread into the mouth of a snake, thinking to himself:
‘When you’re old, you see things differently. I lost a meal, it’s true, but I can always find another piece of bread tomorrow.
“However, if I had hung on to it, I would have started a war in the skies; the winner would become the object of envy, the others would gang up on him, hatred would fill the hearts of birds and it could all go on for years.
“That is the wisdom of old age: knowing how to exchange immediate victories for lasting conquests."
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
But let's say you already have great, fresh content on your site — what’s next?
Something new I learned about today is something called QR codes.
Have you heard of QR codes yet? Here's a quick introduction:
QR codes come to us from Japan where they are very common. QR is short for Quick Response (they can be read quickly by a cell phone). They are used to take a piece of information from a transitory media and put it in to your cell phone. You may soon see QR Codes in a magazine advert, on a billboard, a web page or even on someone’s t-shirt. Once it is in your cell phone, it may give you details about that business (allowing users to search for nearby locations), or details about the person wearing the t-shirt, show you a URL which you can click to see a trailer for a movie, or it may give you a coupon which you can use in a local outlet.
The reason why they are more useful than a standard barcode is that they can store (and digitally present) much more data, including url links, geo coordinates, and text. The other key feature of QR Codes is that instead of requiring a chunky hand-held scanner to scan them, many modern cell phones can scan them. The full Wikipedia description is here.
How does a cell phone read the code?
A cell phone needs a QR code reader, like this one from Kaywa. It takes literally 1 minute for someone with an iPhone or Android phone to find and install the reader.
How do you generate a code?
You can easily generate a QR code using a site like Kaywa.com or you can use the Open Source code to generate codes for you if you have a smart developer on hand.
From what I can see we are only just scratching the surface of how QR codes can be used. I can easily imagine these things being used on business cards, to direct dial the contact or directly link to a website. Placement of a QR code beside a product image could also allow the viewer to digitally access a complete product tear sheet and specifications, just with the click of a button. I find this idea to be especially appealing.
Without question, the possibilties are endless!
Although I'm new to the technology of QR codes, I have managed to create the following for my website, blog and email.
If someone has a phone app to read these things, please let me if they work.