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Jack Treveiler: Old Stuff

[The blogger is gone, so the boodlers take over.]

Old Stuff

By: Jack Treveiler

An appreciation for old things is gleaned from experience, beginning as a child. My first experiences with such archaic objects came with the use of my grandfather's reel lawnmower. I never quite mastered it but the feel and smell has stuck with me. Over time, my scheme for old things has developed into a penchant for craftsmanship and of all things, odor. Coupled with the man-thing of hoarding, I've accumulated an eclectic collection of archaic items.

Craftsmanship is different with old stuff. Nameplates are embossed, books are engraved, tools have a patina, paper is different, fonts and language are obsolete, and inks and dyes are more organic. Paints and finishes are glossy and decorative and the chrome is thick and durable. There's a lot of truth to the adage that they don't make things like they used to. Old stuff is heftier and more toward handcrafted, and by jiminey it's 'Merican.

Thus, there are things in the house like two '70's vintage Raleigh bicycles, pinstriped and chromed, one of them a Sting-Ray knockoff. Grandma's Singer and various nameplates from Huffy to some obscure school locker manufacturer in Cleveland, ca. 1920. There are old toy tractors, one with a functional disking attachment; Tonka's, Tinkertoys, biscuit tins, and various kinds of old glass for Heisey to Cambridge and Occupied Japan, as well as an old McCormick teapot, complete with a basket for loose tea. There's our Victorian fish couch, a 100 year-old dining room suite and finally, three '70s vintage vehicles in the driveway.

Finally, our house, which is celebrating its centennial anniversary. All of it built like the proverbial outhouse and way beyond today's stuff with regard to craftsmanship. Individually, each has its own heft, and ah, the smell.

Old metal has this unique, kind of bitter, smell that is most recognizable when first disassembled for rebuilding, or otherwise to breath new life into it. Old furniture has its own sharp, pungent odor of shellac, dust, spices and oils from handling and specific use. The house smells, at times of sanding or cutting during restoration, of pine resin from old growth trees that no longer exist. Finally, each vehicle has its signature odor. The VW's smell of the stuff used to pad the upholstery. The Ford has the smell of a well-used pickup. For that matter, Fords, Chevys, VW's, Volvos, Bimmers, and so on, have their own unique smells. And real chrome that shines with a treatment of DuPont #20, so nicely that you have to make a face into the piece when you're done.

I appreciate the form and function of new technology and the ease with which things may be done with today's stuff. Somehow, though I prefer doing the same things with old stuff, lingering over the feel and smell after the job is done.

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 17, 2006; 6:44 AM ET
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Good morning, friends. KB, I'm running late this morning. Have to get ready for school today. It is an all day junket. It is already hot here. I've been for the walk, and the steam is rising. As to the above kit, I like old houses. I like looking at them. There's a beauty about an old house that just doesn't exist for what they build now.

Read the op-ed piece about Katrina compounded. Can't believe they spent that much money to say nothing.

I'm praying for peace, and expecially for peace in the Middle East. And in Africa for those impacted by violence and famine.
Imagine the impact if we all prayed for peace.

Remember God loves you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | July 17, 2006 7:09 AM | Report abuse

My favorite old thing is a maple breakfront that, according to family tradition, was made by my great-great-great grandfather for his daughter, my great-great grandmother, between 1810 and 1820. It's a large piece and dominates my kitchen. The glass in the top half is wavy, like old glass is, and the glazing is not in good shape. Inside, it has a dusty, musty smell that is unique. It is completely unadorned; American primitive, I think they call the style.

The breakfront is heavy; fortunately, the two pieces - the base cabinet and the upper glass-fronted cabinet - aren't joined so it's possible to move it without killing anyone. It has passed to the daughters in the family. I first remember it in my grandmother's dining room. When my mother inherited it, we had to take putty knives to it, to clean off the accummulated crud.

I have all the old family papers in it, and one of my first projects in retirement will be to go through them and put them in order. I'm looking forward to reading the letter from my grandmother's grandfather, to see what light it sheds on the breakfront. I'm deliberately waiting until I have the time to devote my whole attention to the matter.

When I die, the breakfront will go to my older daughter.

Posted by: slyness | July 17, 2006 7:36 AM | Report abuse

JT - This eloquent kit really brought back some nice memories. My grandfather owned a genuine Victrola. He used to listen to Italian Operas on records a quarter inch thick. The Victrola opened to reveal some wonderfully complicated machinery. To this day I can't hear opera without envisioning the slow and stately motion of metallic gears.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 7:43 AM | Report abuse

*wondering what handle JT Boodles under*

Delightful piece, takes me back to my grandparents' farm in rural Maine -- very scent-intensive spot.

(please pardon the repeat from the previous Boodle) LindaLoo, kbert, bc;

Welcome back!

Off to another week of fun and frolic for me. At least I have this to provide a bit of moral support: (registration required, methinks)


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 7:55 AM | Report abuse

In my early childhood, I visited the grandparents every 2 years or so. the smells are what I remember the most, the motor oil in the garage, cinamin in the pantry, the leather in Grandpa's dresser drawers. Every room and place in the yard had its unique smell.
The last time I was there, the apple tree that I used to climbed had shrunk in half so I could pick the fruit from the upper branches.

Posted by: Pat | July 17, 2006 8:58 AM | Report abuse

It is amazing how a certin aroma can suddenly transport you to another time and place. I get a whiff of old creosote, and I'm immediatly taken back to being 5 years old and standing next to the Pennsylvania RR tracks waving at the engineer in those huge steam engines as they pounded up the hill. Open and old trunk in the attic, and we're back to doing the same thing in my grandfather's old place, looking at things from the previous turn of the century. Cellars are all about paint and grease and turpentine and bits and pieces and aging lumber. My dad nailed the lids of peanut butter jars to a ceiling joist, then filled the jars with nuts and bolts and screwed them in place--instant visual parts storage! Ah, well. Have to go assume my acting chiefly duties.

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of really, really, old technology.
Glad to see the Shuttle home safely.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 9:17 AM | Report abuse

JT, I'm a bit of a hoarder of old stuff myself.

I have parts and service manuals for cars that I haven't owned for more than 20 years, just in case (right?).

To your point though, the sense of smell is closely related to long term memory (both physically and emotionally).

When I smell that distinctive VW interior smell, I think of riding in my uncle's old VW squareback and learning to drive his old Beetle. When I smell that old Chevy pickup smell, I think about riding around for hours in a friend's old truck, listening to the Rolling Stones.

There *is* something to the idea that "they don't make 'em like they used to". Back in the day, items were made so that a given article would be "the only one you'll ever need". The only truck, the only tractor, the only couch, the only hammer, etc.

But in the postwar economic boom, America changed from an agro-industrial culture to a consumerist culture. Planned obsolescence crept in, and soon enough folks were going down to the dealerships every September and October to look at the New Models, and purchasing that new Chevy with the tailfins, the Frost Free Frigidaire, or that Amana Radar Range with the built-in timer.

Now we take for granted that everything we purchase is a ticking time bomb that will explode into depreciation and obsolescence the minute we drive off of the dealer's lot.

Quality control, indeed.

PS. If no one has said it yet, THIS BLOG STINKS!
(Just a joke, Jack. I enjoyed this Kit.)

Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm happy that Discovery and her crew are back safely as well.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 9:36 AM | Report abuse


I'm glad someone around here is acting chiefly.

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Yep, very happy to see Discovery sitting still on the KSC runway.

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Love the fact that you brought up old books... They're my "old thing" I suppose, and there is nothing like the smell or feel of them. Well done!

Oh, and Scottynuke: I grew up in rural Maine amid all those old farmhouses... you're right, they're very sensory places.

Posted by: Living in Dupont | July 17, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse

In 2000, I was in need of a new car. I wanted a Honda Hatchback, the rest I did not really think about. The salesman really really wanted to sell me a car, and didn't listen when I told him about how I'd like air conditioning, and a cd player. He was unstoppable, and we ended up with a car with an automatic transmission and am/fm radio. The following summer on a particularly hot July day, I was on my way to visit relatives in Saskatoon, windows down, and radio at full blast. The scent of freshly mown hay and canola blooming filled the air. I was transported back to haying with dad, and playing in the hayloft as a kid. I love the smell of freshly mown hay.

I've always been kind of thankful for not having air-conditioning in that car. It made me remember that sometimes windows down and hot is a great way to go.

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Living in Dupont, maybe you can assist me. I too love old books, and I have one that is more musty than I can cope with. It does not seem to come from water damage. Its in very good condition. Any suggestions that might help me get rid of the excessive musty odour?

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 9:50 AM | Report abuse

dr, I have some books in the hundred year old range, and I keep them in freezer bags with little bags of silica dessicant (you know, the little guys that come with electronics and say "DO NOT EAT"). That's helped keep the mustiness down. And the silverfish, too.

There may be a good reason to not do this (like some sort of chemical reaction between old paper and silica), but I'm not aware of it. So far, so good for me.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 10:07 AM | Report abuse

dr - I once had to rescue a bunch of old books from the attic of a distant relative. They were in great shape except for that distinctive smell. I got rid of most of it by placing each book in a paper bag, and then putting the paper bags inside of a sealed plastic bin lined with activated aquarium charcoal. (I also tried baking soda, but found it a lot messier.) It took several weeks, but this eventually removed much of the smell.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Wrote a longish post about Frenchman Jacques Carelman's art, Don Norman and his book, the intermarriage between form and function, and it got eaten, and I can't retrieve it.

So, eff you, Hal the Schemer and your bots. Writing with one eye is bad enough, but to have it held for review? Feh, feh, feh. I'm outta here for 24 hours with much more important things to do.

Posted by: Loomis | July 17, 2006 10:10 AM | Report abuse

*very bad pun warning*

So I'm assuming that was LindaLoo's tri-feh-ta for the day?


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Scottynuke - that's gonna leave a mark.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of form and function and art, I found this article by Rick Weiss to be fascinating.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 10:26 AM | Report abuse

RD's I've used RD's plan for destinkifying car interiors. Makes sense for books.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 10:37 AM | Report abuse

ebt- Many of the guys I've talked to when we train-watch say the same thing about creosote. :)

When Mr History and I moved into our current house (late 40s, early 50s era, and ironically where I was living in 1981, although I don't really remember it until, say, '83), we tore out a small room in the basement. Under the ceiling, we found a whole row of metal jar lids-the kind I would associate with baby food nowadays-screwed next the rafters.

We couldn't fathom why anyone would do such a thing until my grandmother clued us youngins in.

Also, while my parents moved us out of the house just before I was in grade school, when I moved back in last year, I instantly recognized the smell. It was home. I'm more comfortable there than I ever was in my much newer townhouse I forsook for this wonderful old house.

Posted by: GyppedOne | July 17, 2006 10:38 AM | Report abuse

As my kids would say, bc, way cool. Thanks for the link. That is fascinating indeed.

Posted by: slyness | July 17, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

C'mon, bc, durnit, you've been back 24 hours: where's that report on your Outer Banks vacation? Think you can just lollygag you're way back into the boodle routine?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I'm JT...keep my MIL in your thoughts; the cancer she has is not treatable. Thanks for all of the kind words. I'll duck in again later.

Posted by: jack | July 17, 2006 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Somewhere in the kit is something that is gonna get me fired.

Posted by: jack | July 17, 2006 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Jack I am so sorry about your MIL, I know how difficult it is, as we are going through it with Mom, my best to you and your family.

Wonderful kit - very appropriate for me now as I go back on weekends to see my parents, they live in what was once my Grandfathers house. It is over a century old and filled with memories, scents and family heirlooms (heirlooms in a sentimental nature not monetary).

My favorite scent is the smell of fallen leaves on a crisp October day, have always wanted to bottle that scent. To me it is very energizing, not liking the heat much perhaps it is because it is such and enjoyable time to be outside.

Posted by: dmd | July 17, 2006 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I shoulda recognized ya, Jack, my apologies. My thoughts are with you and the MIL.

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Snuje--*I love you*.

I beat Chang by six months, at least, at the Louisville Courier-Journal, linking Don Norman to Theresa LePore.


From Ballots to Cockpits, Questions of Design
By KENNETH CHANG (NYT) 1436 words
Published: January 23, 2001

You stick your hand out toward a door, push and bam, you walk into the still-shut door.
A sign taped to the door says, ''Pull.''

The design of the door probably indicated otherwise.

Dr. Donald A. Norman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California at San Diego, has been complaining about misleading doors for more than a decade.

'' 'Doors?' I can hear the reader saying, 'you have trouble with doors?' '' Dr. Norman wrote in his book ''The Design of Everyday Things'' (Doubleday/Currency, 1990 [1988]). ''Yes. I push doors that are meant to be pulled, pull doors that are meant to be pushed and walk into doors that should be slid. Moreover, I see others having the same troubles -- unnecessary troubles. There are psychological principles that can be followed to make these things understandable and usable.''

The study of usability -- cutting down mistakes, especially seemingly stupid ones, through better design [Hal, are you listening???] -- has spread in the past two decades, from airplane cockpits to nuclear power plants to Web sites. Membership in the Usability Professionals' Association, a professional society, now numbers nearly 1,700.

Last November, the field was agitated by the confusion over the ''butterfly ballot'' used in Palm Beach County, Fla. ''Our members really got mad,'' said Elizabeth Rosenzweig, president of the association and a usability manager at the Eastman Kodak Company.

The association released a statement saying that ''simple usability practices could have significantly reduced or possibly eliminated'' the problem.

''The usability professionals are saying this is a battle cry,'' Dr. Norman said. ''This is a good demonstration why there is such a profession.'' Dr. Norman is now president of UNext, a Chicago-based education software developer and a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, a consulting company he formed two years ago with Dr. Jakob Nielsen, a former usability engineer at Sun Microsystems.

But some, mostly statisticians, are dubious of the underlying methodology, which mixes psychology and small-scale studies.

The work of usability experts consists of two phases: first, ensuring that designs take advantage of known psychological cues -- with doors, for example, handles are to be pulled, flat surfaces are to be pushed -- and second, testing whether people use the product as designed.

The design part involves understanding the task. In Palm Beach County, the task was simple: vote for president. For a Bush supporter, Dr. Norman said, ''I know I want to vote for Bush. First name, first hole. I punch it and walk away.'' The first punch hole corresponded to a vote for Mr. Bush, so there was little chance for error. For a Gore supporter, Dr. Norman said, ''I search the list. Second name, second hole. I punch it and walk away.''But though Mr. Gore was listed second in the butterfly ballot, the second punch hole corresponded to a vote for Patrick J. Buchanan, who was listed at the top of a second column to the right of the punch holes.

Even Mr. Buchanan attributed his relatively good showing in Palm Beach County to the design of its ballots.

Strategies for minimizing mistakes need not be high-tech. Levers in old-fashioned booths, for example, cannot be pushed down if one has already selected a candidate, automatically eliminating the double-voting error that disqualified more than 19,000 Palm Beach County ballots.

With most voting machines in Kentucky, a light bulb turns on next to the candidate selected, so that even if the layout of the ballot is confusing, the light will alert people to a mistake and give them the chance to correct it.

''You can design systems that make errors impossible or make it more obvious what's going on,'' Dr. Nielsen said. ''You can provide feedback to tell people what they did.''

Testing a design is also important, because bad design can come from good intentions.

Theresa LePore, the elections supervisor of Palm Beach County and a Democrat, opted for the two-column butterfly format to allow the candidates' names to be printed in larger type. That, she thought, would make the ballot easier for older residents to read.

''It shows in all designs there are trade-offs,'' Dr. Nielsen said. Even a small usability study may have demonstrated the ballot's shortcomings, he said.

''It should have been enough to raise a warning flag before the election.''

But some experts wonder if studies that small can have any statistical significance.

Illustrating the gap between the small usability studies and large medical studies or polls is a study by Canadian psychologists the day after the elections in the United States.

Under the guise of asking about their preferences in the then-upcoming Canadian election, the researchers polled 116 passers-by at an Edmonton mall, half via a conventional ballot, half via a butterfly ballot.

Four people made mistakes with the butterfly ballot, an error rate of more than 7 percent, including three people who made the equivalent of the Gore-Buchanan error.

None of the people using the conventional one-column ballot made a mistake.

By usability standards, 116 people constitutes a very large study. For statisticians accustomed to dealing with large-scale polls and medical studies, which tabulate results from hundreds or thousands of people, however, the conclusions appeared suspect.

''The size of a sample is a serious problem,'' said Dr. David Murray, director of research at the Statistical Assessment Service, a nonprofit research organization in Washington. ''This is pretty thin ice.'' The service named the Sinclair study among its Dubious Data Awards for the year 2000.

Usability experts, however, say usability studies do not require the precision of medical studies, which seek to identify subtle effects, and polls that try to gauge precisely which candidate is winning. To them, the exact extent of the butterfly ballot confusion -- whether 5 percent or 10 percent or 20 percent of the voters had trouble -- would not be important. It would be enough to know that a significant potential problem existed.

''It wasn't the most scientific, it wasn't necessarily the largest,'' Ms. Rosenzweig said. ''For a product kind of test, that would have been totally acceptable, and we would have made changes based on that.''

In some places -- like airplane cockpits -- small mistakes can lead to catastrophes. An Airbus A300 crashed in 1994 in Japan, killing 264 people, in part because the pilot did not realize the autopilot was active. In some airliners, the autopilot controls originally included two identical knobs -- one to adjust direction, the other to adjust speed -- next to each other. The shapes of the knobs have since been changed so that a pilot can now tell them apart by feel.

The crash of a Singapore Airlines jet in October, where the pilot mistakenly turned onto a closed runway at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in Taiwan and slammed into construction equipment on takeoff can also be seen both as a pilot error and a catastrophic design lapse. On one hand, no other pilot had made that mistake. On the other hand, a simple action -- blocking off the runway -- would have made the mistake impossible to make and saved 81 lives.

''If that runway had been properly closed off, that accident would not have happened,'' said Bruce Tognazzini, who headed the human-computer interface group at Apple Computer for years and is now also part of the Nielsen Norman Group. ''Yes, it's a pilot error,'' he said, ''and yes, the pilot will be blamed, but this was a preventable accident.''

Humans are ''an incredibly error-prone species,'' Dr. Nielsen said. ''It's very hard to change human nature. It's really easy to change design, if you bother doing so.''

Photos: Dr. Donald A. Norman, who studies the usability of objects and procedures, in his office with an example of imperfect design. (Steve Kagan for The New York Times)(pg. F1); Theresa LePore, center, the elections supervisor of Palm Beach County, chose a two-column butterfly format for her county's ballot last November, thinking it would be easier for older residents to read. (Vincent Laforet/The New York Times); The one with the handle is marked ''Pull,'' the other with a flat surface ''Push,'' yet for many people, operating doors remains confounding. (Frances Roberts for The New York Times); A sample butterfly ballot used by psychologists at a mall in Canada. (pg. F4)

Posted by: Loomis | July 17, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Snuje? Who's Snuje? If you're Swedish of related to the Lord of Bed and Bath, I'll take you in a D.C. heartbeat! Mmmmm, yeah. Off, to scout drug stores for the pirate eye-patch.

Pat, did I ever tell you that you're my hero?

Posted by: Loomis | July 17, 2006 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Jack, another wonderful old thing you reminded me of is old fountain pens. My maternal grandmother had some that were over a century old. They were elegant things that seemed to demand elegant words. In the 1970s there was a brief fad in my school involving fountain pens with cartridges of ink. Naturally I bought one in an attempt to recapture the sense of sophistication suggested by my grandmother's pens.
Instead I came dangerously close to tattooing my hands.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I would assume Snuje is my long-lost half-cousin once-removed on my mother's sister's nephew's side...


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Lovely kit, Jack (I thought that's who you were) and so sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. Best thoughts.

I like old things as well but find a mixture of old and new is more practical to live with. For instance, a new mower would be vastly preferable to the error-prone model we have now. I still use my mother's cast-iron skillets, mallet and wooden spoons, and have a heavy wooden rolling pin and glasses from before WWII as well. Just well-made, reliable and really hard to break. On the other hand, my mixers are brand new. I really miss the old AT&T phones, which never broke. Now we buy cordless phones at the grocery store, they break within a year, and it is cheaper to buy new ones than get these fixed. We have quite a bit of old furniture mixed in with the bookcases, good solid stuff.

I love old houses too. Ivansdad wouldn't mind moving into one someday, I think, but he would want it to be freshly renovated by someone else. Technically our house is old, I suppose, as it was built in 1950, but I don't think of it that way because I grew up in it.

I love the smell of a good old home shop. Oil, gasoline, sawdust, paint, wood chips all mixed around in the heat.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 17, 2006 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Neat article, bc. If anyone wants a visual of the catastrophic wind-driven oscillations the balls are supposed to prevent here are pics/video of the Tacoma Narrows bridge:

Posted by: GyppedOne | July 17, 2006 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Fountain pens! RD, thank you for reminding me. I love fountain pens and wrote with them exclusively for years. Over several months, the ink will come off. My last one is languishing on my dresser because it needs more ink; now I'll have to fix that. I always wanted to try writing with an inkwell but it seemed REALLY messy. I don't so much mind tattooing my hands, but I draw the line at clothing and furniture.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 17, 2006 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Loomis, thank you for that article, as someone who always pushes when they should pull, I now know the reason I am not a klutz its just poor design.

Hope you eyes mends well Linda.

Here's a funny link I saw this morning, my friends in High School would often speak of the virtues of "mushrooms" or "shrooms" from BC, now apparently there is some science to back up that theory.

Posted by: dmd | July 17, 2006 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Good post Loomis. I'm still laughing at the term 'useability engineer'.

Thanks guys, for the odour clearing info. The charcoal idea sounds good. The thing about buying old books is you have no way of knowing just how they were stored. Its not stamped like a library book would be, and has no name written in it like most of my older collection, so it may very well have been stored in a box in someone basement.

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Fountain pens puts in mind of handwriting itself. Ever since I went "digital", my handwriting has gone to h*ll. I can sometimes barely read what I just wrote. Is this a problem of too much keyboard and not enough penmanship? Or is it just from getting old and the fine motor skills waning?

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Thanks again for the kind words. Good to have you back, LindaLoo. I hope your eye is on the mend. I can't remember if your condition is macular degeneration. If so, my wife mentioned in passing that there is some kind of new treatment for it. Expensive, I'm sure, but worth checking out.

Posted by: jack | July 17, 2006 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Scents and Scentsibilites:

Thanks, jack for a wonderful kit. Methinks we have a great stable of writers here in the boodle. Joel may have to compete for the kit when he comes back. Perhaps he could save himself and some time and permanently contract out two or three kits a week, showcasing our best.

Have stayed offline for three or more days -- doing other things. Trying to stay away from glaring headlines about the Lebanese conflagration. Too terribly heartbreaking.

dr, agree with you emphatically about windows down on hot, dusty summer days (this policy does not extend to Eastern Virginia, where no a/c brings abject misery -- I am in this situation this summer -- find myself wanting to scream at traffic lights, at the lumbering dinosaric SUVs leisurely gaining momentum when the light turns green Losing a liter of fluid on a quick run to the store).

Sagebrush. Artemisia tridentata.(sagebrush is not in the sage genus (Salvia) -- it's an artemisia).

Sagebrush in July, combined with red dust, and hot, dry air. Paradise.

Hay dust, and hay bales -- memories of stacking in a ton of hay (ot two tons) in the back of the barn for winter feed. And playing on the different tiers of bales created as they got used up. The hay-barn was a snug relatively warm place to snack on the horses' candy and grain in the winter.

(The hayloft was too fragile to be used for hay storage -- it was where we went to stow away for an afternoon, play with the pigeons, glance through the copies of Playboy magazine we'd stolen from my father, knowing there was no way our little girl bodies would ever look like those women -- we were partly right about that! :-)).

I have my folks' old dining room hutch. It's about the same age as me -- not very old for a piece of furniture. I can't open it without smelling favorite childhood activities -- setting the table with the good flatware and china for holidays. I don't know why it still has the same smell -- perhaps the way the wood was prepared? Even though it now holds an assortment of cheap flower vases, mounds of papers and photos, and seed collections, it still smells the same as it did 40 plus years ago.

bc -- the Weiss piece was the first one I read this morning -- how wonderful! Can't wait to see the finished work. What a fabulous solution to the problem of energy storage in the prongs.

Jack, tough news about your MIL. Very hard stuff. In my mind, it segues with your kit -- some of the stuff we humans create (and it was of much higher quality a generation or so ago)ages well, holds smells and colors that jangle our memories, that transport us back decades in time. Material artifacts from millenia ago still abound on the Earth. But we creators are not permanent. We create, design, engineer, build, lovingly craft small tools and useful items. The hands that carefully made the Victrola, the voices that sang the operas, all gone. The ache of the human condition.

Posted by: nelson | July 17, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Good kit, jack, and best wishes for the MIL.

That is a great suggestion on removing odors from old books. The oldest thing I personally own is a 1912 military engineering manual that is pretty musty.

My parents recently said that we kids should consider what things we might want when they eventually downsize from their current house. I actually couldn't think of anything on first review. We're not really an "heirloom" family, with our lineage being the products of the great union of the House of Rabble with the Sod Hut of Serf. On second thought, there's probably a bunch of stuff not technically antique that should be kept in the family. I know my mom has, for example, some of those irons where a hot plate was heated separately from the handle. A nice reminder of days gone by and for my daughter, a little There But for the Grace of God Go I.

Fountain pens. To my mind, that falls in the category of "nice in theory". There's a reason all those old accountant types in the movies wear those covers over their shirt arms.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to rebound briefly to the "Summer of 81" kit, since I just skimmed over it to get the drift. For those of us who were already worker bee drones in '81, we take you back to the "Summer of Love". And I prithee beseech thee to get thee to the Shakespeare Theater and see what Michael Kahn did with "Love's Labour Lost". Talk about a flashback!! I'm still laughing since Saturday's matinee!

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I forgot the smell of old-time gasoline stations. My dad owned a Conoco in the town where I grew up (Cliff's Conoco and Truck Stop, right off I-25).

The grease-monkey smell of oil and gas, solvents and anti-freeze, all mingled together. The place had candy vending machines, and crackers. It had two motel rooms in the back for truckers who needed a break from the road. Next door was the Lamplighter Inn, serving the best greasy food in town.

We kids would help Mother roll all the change from the vending machines into coin rolls. I'm still expert on quickly rolling up loose change into neat round stacks in the paper holders.

Posted by: nelson | July 17, 2006 11:52 AM | Report abuse

How long before Achenblog becomes "Old Stuff" ???

Posted by: curious thinker | July 17, 2006 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Mudge asks: "Think you can just lollygag you're way back into the boodle routine?"

Answer: Yes.

If boodling during working hours isn't lollygagging, I don't know what is.

I may deign to regale you with a trip report from the OBX, but do not count on it.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Got 2 minutes:
Jack - Great Kit! Thank you. My 2 cents, I love the ozone and burning dust smell my dad's ancient movie projector gives off. I'm always amused by the old movies of birthday parties where all you see are the flames from the birthday candles. My thoughts for your mother-in-law.

Linda: Welcome back. Hope your eye is healing well.

See yall later.

Posted by: CowTown | July 17, 2006 12:25 PM | Report abuse

curious thinker writes:
How long before Achenblog becomes "Old Stuff" ???

Study: Most News Articles Have Online Half-Life of 36 Hours

By Editor&Publisher Staff

Published: July 10, 2006 1:00 PM ET

NEW YORK A study by a team of statistical physicists in the U.S. and abroad have calculated the rate at which the number of people who read news stories on the web decays with time, and have found that most news becomes dated and unread after approximately a day and a half.

News Online Seems to Have Long Shelf Life
Published: July 17, 2006

A new research paper seeks to answer a riddle for publishers, editors and even readers: when does new news become old news?

Posted by: Loomis | July 17, 2006 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, ain't it som'thin'--we gotta go test a presidential ballot in a *Canadian* mall?

What next? So, if it's Gore-McCain, will we pre-test ballots in British Columbia? Or Clinton-Giuliani, how about the Yukon? Or Edwards-Hagel, the upper Arctic Circle?

Posted by: Loomis | July 17, 2006 12:40 PM | Report abuse

If it's Error-Anybody Else, we can pre-test 'em here!


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, the ballot question is interesting. Things here in elections are fairly simple. When we hold a federal election, all you vote for is one fellow in your riding. That is it. Usually only 3-5 candidates per riding. There is no congressional or senate or other issue voted on at the same time as the federal issue is decided. In essence our voting is much simpler. We have votes provincially, and municipally but they do try to keep it all separate.

Is a book that was published or just an article? Useability surely deserves a whole book. I can think of dozens of things could go into a book about useability.

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 1:12 PM | Report abuse


great find... thanks, answers my question !!

Posted by: curious thinker | July 17, 2006 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Oh, don't get ME started on useability!!! I'd still be posting on the various poorly designed things I own well into the next week.

Just got back from a 20 minute walk (third one today), and boy am I all wet. I think I lost a pound or two already today...

I love the smell of a fresh mown lawn. My brother hates it...says it reminds him of having to mow the lawn growing up...which is funny because nine times out of ten I would do my half and he would complain of allergies and Mom would do that guy cracks me up sometimes...

Posted by: omni | July 17, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

i loved the '81 boodle! i was 10 in '81 so i don't have very many memories of it, tho i do remember waiting in line for star wars in downtown dc... actually, i'm not sure if it was empire strikes back cuz i just checked the release date on star wars and it was 1977 (i woulda been 6...)

as for smells (great kit btw) - i've always liked the smell of garages! weird, i know, but it reminds me of when i was a little, little girl and mom would go to the commissary in alexandria (fort is no longer there) and the groceries would come out to you in milk crates on a conveyor belt while you waited in your car - we had a forest green monte carlo with plastic on the seats and we would listen to elvis costello and james taylor on the radio... ah memories...

now orange peels - i HATE the smell of orange peels but i think i've said that before...

Posted by: mo | July 17, 2006 1:39 PM | Report abuse

omni - For the last few years in college I had a job as an assistant groundskeeper for the city cemetery. The smell of grass still takes me back to those days, as does the sound of a Briggs and Stratton mower.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of smells. I took my children to do some birthday shopping for my wife over the weekend. Both offspring said my car smelled too much like coffee, and banana peels. (Which, of course, it kinda did.) So I let my daughter pick out one of those tree-shaped air fresheners. Now my car no longer smells of coffee and 'naners.
Now it smells like Strawberry Jello.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I like that ugly smell of marigolds. Fresh mown grass, roses, light old book smell, many kinds of wood, used horse saddles, and the eveningtime exhalation of terpenes from trees.

I feel like singing that song about "raindrops and whiskers on kittens" from the Sound of Music all of a sudden.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 17, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

dr, it's a book: Donald Norman "The Psychology of Everyday Things" It's got two thought-provoking Jacques Carelman illustrations--the first, "A Teapot for Maso*****s" which probably tied Hal the Schemer's knickers in knots--where I hope they stayed knotted for a least a week.

Posted by: Loomis | July 17, 2006 1:57 PM | Report abuse

RD, banana bread (maybe not banana peels) and coffee are two great smells.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Maybe somebody already has posted about this: dr, you want a (new) book called "Saving Stuff" by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar. Louisa is a friend of mine and a dandy writer, who lives here in the DC area. Williams is a conservator (of textiles, I think) at the Smithsonian. The way Louisa told it to me, her house had a flooding problem and a lot of stuff got damaged. She sought advice from her friend Don, and an idea was born for a book. You want to know how to save it, that's the place to go. If you have a question outside the realm of the book (which I haven't actually purchased for myself, yet...), I could maybe ask the author.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 17, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

RD, you know you love your children when you consent to a Strawberry Jello smelling car. By all means point this out to your daughter, with suitable martyr noises (all the other dads have coffee and newspaper smells, etc).

It could be worse. The boy left a curdled milk smell in my car. Okay, it was by accident, and it is mostly gone, but in this 105 degree heat it sneaks up. Maybe I'll try that activated charcoal trick.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 17, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

mo, if you were 10 years old in 1981, you'd now be ... 29?

(I may be no mathemetician, but I've been married waaaaay long enough to know how to tell a woman's age.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Saving rejected posts: I have found that I can recover posts that have problems posting or have been rejected by the Wirty Dird filter, by simply using the back button on my browser. The rejection page, or whatever, is a newly-loaded page. You can revert to the last previous page, or earlier pages in your history. I suppose it may depend on your browser whether it saves your entered text information. It works with Safari.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 17, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

SciTim, do you know if that book covers photographic print and digital prints and video? I would like to read about this topic before I have a disaster.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Pn my way to work every morning I go to the drive thru across the street for a coffee. One morning the girl on the cash commented that she just had a wonderful memory of her grandmother when I opened my window and she smelt my perfume.

I have never had the heart to tell her I can't wear perfume due to allergies, and that what she smelt was a combination of the car airfreshener and probably cigarette smoke.

Posted by: dmd | July 17, 2006 2:10 PM | Report abuse

dmd, ha!

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Hey SciTim: Ref: your earlier post about 1981, were you working at APL back then? That sounds like what was going on out there back then.

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 2:22 PM | Report abuse

yeah, rd - that's love - i'd rather the coffee and 'naners than strawberry jello...

yes, 'mudge - 29. that's darn tootin! and i'm turning 29 again this year!

Posted by: mo | July 17, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

jack, great Kit. It took me awhile to figure out it was you - the entire, capitalized name threw me off - but when I saw the bit about your 100-year-old house, I knew it must be our jack, from North Carolina. Thoughts and prayers for your MIL.

Vanilla is my favorite smell - and orange peel (sorry, mo). My husband works with leather (usng a very old technique of nailing it with brass nails), and that's a wonderful smell, along with dyes and finishes.

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 17, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Norman's book apparently was reissued in 2002 as "The Design of Everyday Things." I remember reading it (or, like many books that sit on my shelf, much of it) when it came out in the late 1980's. Definitely fascinating.

Smells: my in-laws live in Atlanta, are fairly elderly and keep an immaculate (though relatively humble) home. Moth ball city. When my son was four or five he said at dinner one night that he wanted to go visit them. Asked him why and he gave the standard kid response, "because I want to." Asked again, "what is it about grandma and grandpas house that you like?" He responds, "I like the way it smells."

Posted by: distant lurker | July 17, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse

ugh - moth balls...

Posted by: mo | July 17, 2006 2:43 PM | Report abuse

>Saving rejected posts

If it's that important and long-winded it's easy enough in any browser to simply save the text on the clipboard and re-paste it later.

Ctrl-A, Ctrl-V on PC, Option on the Mac. Sheesh.

Posted by: Error Flynn | July 17, 2006 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Ooh, two books! Loomis thank you. I think this book has caught my eye, but not my pocketbook. I'd be really good at a job in product testing, because I am a complete failure at a lot of things. It happens when you are allergic to instructions. Its a field of interest, shall we say.

Tim, I have swooned. Give me a piece of cloth or a needle and a thread... Another book I will be sure to look for.

You know one of the things that is very interesting living here in western Canada, is that our local history is only rarely more than 150 years old. Before that time, western Canada was a very quiet place. As SofC, so eloquently puts it, "products of the great union of the House of Rabble with the Sod Hut of Serf" is my lineage (though there is some family gossip about an evil count of something or other), and that same phrase covers the family posessions. I am however the do-er of old stuff in my family. So few of our younger family members still do the handwork, the sewing, quilting, knitting that were so important to families settling here. I am in a way a repository of that part of our family history.

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 2:49 PM | Report abuse

*Paging Mr. yellojkt, paging Mr. yellojkt!*

Speaking of design, I see that someone's done a documentary of artist Syd Mead.

I wonder if they'll every get around to doing a documentary of the possibly more influential Robert McCall?

If you recognize these names without having to Google, welcome to the D0rk Boat. I'm bc, your Perky Cruise Director.

(I learned Perkiness at the Feet of the Master, Curmudgeon; glory be to his infected toenails! (note the reference to Lamasil ads))


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I was sitting here thinking about smells that take me back, and got very lost in thought about the smell of a lit cigarette, starting with the faint sulphur smell from the match.

I have to go sublimate now.

Posted by: LostInThought | July 17, 2006 2:49 PM | Report abuse

dr, the town closest to where I live celebrated its tricentennial a few years back. Which ain't nothin' compared to just about everywhere else in the world.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 2:52 PM | Report abuse

dr, its not much different in S. Ontario, history is around 150 - 200 years. Pretty boring.

Posted by: dmd | July 17, 2006 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Mmmmmm. Freshly baked bread. When I was in law school ages ago, I made all my bread -- threw in all sorts of "ingrediments" from my cupboard -- lots of seeds and nuts and wheat germ. Making bread is very sensual and the kneading thereof helps work all that frustration and aggression out. The aroma is soooo nice and that first slice (especially the heel), still slightly warm and melting the butter we used to eat before cholesterol took its toll. Nothing so yummy on the tummy.

I must say that I really enjoy watching Antiques Road Show. I've got some very nice things in inheritance from my parents and I suppose I should find out, at least for insurance purposes, what their value might be. There is a lamp, made of black Jasperware Wedgewood, which still needs a new shade, which my mother told me they bought maybe in the late 1930s. She said that there were two of them, and they could only afford one. I wonder how much the lamp might have cost then. To me, it's invaluable, as it's one of my earliest memories. And as Mudge knows, I'm almost as old as he is, and that's, well, nigh onto ancient. It be lurking, Mudgie. We're almost there. . . .

I had planned to throw a big 60th b'day party this fall, but have decided to wait for four years and throw a "Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me" party instead. Seems, well, more appropriate somehow.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | July 17, 2006 3:13 PM | Report abuse

38 days, 8 hours, 44 minutes, firsttimeblogger. But who's counting? (Other than the Grim Reaper.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Fresh-baked bread: great fragrance. For me it calls to mind a lo-o-o-ng time ago when my dad would take me to baseball games at Griffith Stadium. We usually had to park a couple of blocks away, and the quick way to the stadium was past the old Southern bakery. If it was an evening game (which is usually was) the bread for the next day would be baking and the smell came wafting out the windows and vents. The Nats, they generally stunk, but the baking bread smell was worth the trip.

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't know for certain if Louisa's book covers photographic conservation or not. SInce photos are the most common thing that most people want to conserve, however, I'd be real surprised if there weren't something specific about photos in the book.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 17, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Donald Norman also wrote a book in 2004 called Emotional Design - my son gave it to me. I've only skimmed it - it looks really interesting. He talks about how attractive things are perceived to work better, how beauty and function are related. And he talks about how old tools - he uses mechanical drawing tools as an example - which may be admired for their workmanship, weren't always so easy to use.

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 17, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse

And I'm just 5 days after you, Mudge. Thanks for paving the way.....

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | July 17, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

With firsttimeblogger, for the Achenrecord, my count is now four outed members of the bar.

bc, I don't know McCall without googling, but based on my familiarity with Mead's ouevre, permission to come aboard, Sir?

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I've felt sensitive to good and bad design issues for years. One of many examples: go to the Start menu in order to shut down ("stop") a Windows computer. I have to admit, "Special" is not great as a place to locate a shutdown command on the old MacOS, but it's better than "Start", and the placement of shut down in the Start menu came 20 years after the Mac first put its shutdown command under "Special," so the experiemnt already had been done.

The first thing that I recall bringing this matter to my attention referenced VCR's as an example. The vast majority of VCR's continue to flash "12:00" forever, unless they are able to set their own time. It's not because people are stupid, it's because VCR's are designed so that they CAN work, but they are not designed so that it is easy to make them do so. I still find various new devices that try to minimize the number of indicator lights they have, so they try to communicate status information by forcing the user to memorize specific flashing combinations. I have devices which have a lit indicator when they are ready to be used, and an unlit indicator under two conditions: when they are working, and when they have no power at all. That's an effective indicator with, for example, a drill; it's not a good idea with something that includes heating elements, which was the specific case that I had in mind.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 17, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse


That would explain the branding episode, then...


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Welcome aboard, SonofCarl.

We'll be starting some throwing games at around noon tomorrow on the Weingarten Deck, which is the upper open deck at the rear.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 4:06 PM | Report abuse

SciTim, the flashing 12:00 is something you get used to it. If you do a lot of taping, the time is important.

I have a microwave in my house, vintage, 2004, that actually forces me to put in the time, a.m./p.m., the day,month, and year before it will become useable. Not a big deal if ones power does not go out an average of 2-3 times per month. Has anyone ever needed to worry about the date, month and year on a microwave? You can't even access the information to find out what the date is, its just utterly useless. As Mudge says, 'Jeezy Peezy'.

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I have yet to find two car radios that set/adjust the time in any remotely comprehensible manner. And heaven forbid you lose (or never had) the owner's manual; the time on the radio on my beloved (grrrrrrrrrrrrrr) old pickup truck is off by about five hours. I've pushed every possible combination of buttons except the emergency brake and the glovebox latch, to no avail. My only remaining strategy is to disconnect the battery for seven hours, and then re-connect it at exactly the right moment.

Jeezy-peezy. (That's like, deja vu...)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 4:19 PM | Report abuse

My main gripe on the topic of functionality is alarm radios that have both the snooze button and the off button on top within inches of each other.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 4:20 PM | Report abuse

re: Landing of Discovery, Old Stuff Technology.

First space shuttle launch - 1981. (say it ain't so.)

Posted by: H | July 17, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

One of the big concerns these days is that technology keeps changing so fast that what you though you conserved might not be accessible when you want it years from now. Consider--if you saved something on a 5 1/4" diskette, do you think you can find a computer that will take that disk today? VHS video tape?? Generally considered only good for about 10 years before degradation begins to set in. How much long are you going to be able to find a VHS machine? Copy you tape onto a CD? OK, but how much longer are CD's/DVD's going to be around before everyone goes to some kind of flash drive? And the jury is still out on how "permanent" a CD disk really is. Some of the very early disks are already self-destructing.

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 4:25 PM | Report abuse

OK, everyone can relax; Oprah has announced she isn't gay.

Talk about a slow news day . . . .

Posted by: distant lurker | July 17, 2006 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I hear you Mudge. At least on our Dodge Caravan, there are two little buttons on the radio console, labeled "H" and "M". All you need is a ball-point pen to push the buttons and set the hours and minutes. Let's all hear it for the KISS method!

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 4:29 PM | Report abuse

SCC: How much longer...

Posted by: ebtnut | July 17, 2006 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I went to a seminar on data-archiving, some years ago. The expected life for burn-it-yourself CD's (back when CD-burners still cost $10K) was about 30 years. The expected life for manufactured CD's was about 100 years.

There are ways to recover your old media. They all require lubrication with the same material -- money. Some data-recovery operations are very cheap. Some are not.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 17, 2006 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Does this mean that box of old 8-tracks tapes on the shelf in the closet is... useless? Santana's "Abraxas"? CSN's first album? "America's Greatest Hits"? The Fifth Dimension, Paul Williams' "We've Only Just Begun" album...? O the horror!

(No, no "Starlight Vocal Band," but thanks for not asking.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Useable technology I'm thankful for: panic hardware. I know, I know, yes, I'm a public safety nut. But's it's nice to know that I can't be locked in a burning theater with no way to out, except over the idiots in front of me. Them I can handle.

But it's interesting to note the way this technology has changed over the years. Remember how the hardware worked in your junior high? There was a bar that had to be pushed in, and the bars could be chained together and the doors thus locked. No longer. The current hardware has a long piece in a housing that must be pushed, but there isn't anything that can be chained.

Useable life safety. What a concept!

Posted by: Slyness | July 17, 2006 4:51 PM | Report abuse

yeah science tim - we work with data recovery a lot here - we always ask "how much is the lost information worth in dollar value cuz it ain't gonna be cheap"

'mudge and firsttimeblogger - are u guys virgos?

weird "world's colliding" moment today - i was in a user's office and saw a thank-you card with a name embossed on the card - it was a Loomis! (don't remember the first name)

Posted by: mo | July 17, 2006 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Mudge: Those 8-tracks would make perfect Death Ray targets (most particularly the Paul Williams 8-tracks.
Just a thought.

Posted by: CowTown | July 17, 2006 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, Mudge, Mudge; that's StarLAND Vocal Band. With the fancy sort-of internal rhyme and all that.

My car radio has H and M buttons, but non-obvious operations are required to enable them to make the time change. The ScienceSpouse has done it; I can't seem to manage without looking at the manual. I prefer to punish poor design by refusing to adapt my behavior to accommodate. That'll show 'em.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 17, 2006 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Yep, mo, Mudge and I appear to be virgos. So now you get to tell the boodleworld what that means.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | July 17, 2006 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry 'Mudge, the Paul Williams catalogue is alive and well on See the must-have greatest hits import below, it's a certifiable steal at only $36.49!

We're talking seven reviews and five stars, baby! (Let's see, that would be his mom, dad, Aunt Ruth . . .) Only four copies are left so act now!

Posted by: distant lurker | July 17, 2006 6:04 PM | Report abuse

CowTown, that site is great - very funny. And where is the unnamed author - in Seattle, of course!

I have a digital sports-type watch that is impossible to set the time on. The instructions are so small that I can barely read them with my newest reading glasses. When I went on vacation to the central time zone, over the time change weekend, I just left it alone. But I got very confused in the Denver airport after falling asleep while my flight was delayed...

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 17, 2006 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Wow, that's almost as good as the fella Dave Barry always links to.

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 6:13 PM | Report abuse

I have only one hammer that I use. I have a very nice Estwing hammer in the garage, and maybe a couple more undistinguished hammers stashed away, but those are for visitors on various give-a-buddy-a-hammer-and-a-beer type jobs. My hammer, my real hammer, was given to me when I was too small to use it. The handle had been badly grafted in place by hammering (!) a pan-head machine screw into the split in the end of the handle where a wedge is supposed to go to fix it into place. My Dad had done that, he thinks maybe it was before I was born. It worked, so I never changed it, although I think I may have later hammered in a wooden wedge. Thirteen years ago, the old handle finally gave out and the head broke off. I bought a new handle and put it in place (properly!) in the head. I wrote the month and year on the butt of the handle: Nov 1993. It's the only hammer I've ever needed. When the ScienceKids grow up, I'll probably give it to one of them, and finally use Mr. Estwing's hammer. Maybe. Maybe I'll convey it/confer it in my will.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 17, 2006 6:15 PM | Report abuse

SciTim, make sure you give your wonderful hammer to one of the ScienceKids in your will, but keep it untainted by also not giving such a base gift as mere money to the recipient. It will be all the more meaningful.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 6:45 PM | Report abuse

bc, regarding the tricentennial of your town. When I think of how young we are up here I always think about one of my kids friend's from grade school. This boy's dad was German, and still spent about half his time working in Germany. He built his own house as he would have in Germany. The walls are built of stone, 8-10 inches thick, and though it looks and functions like a modern house, I bet that house will still be there 300 years from now.

Posted by: dr | July 17, 2006 6:46 PM | Report abuse

nothing of usefulness firstimeblooger - just that i am a virgo as well...

Posted by: mo | July 17, 2006 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Just got home. At work, a bunch of us around the region here were having trouble accessing the boodle immediately after my mention of the StarLAND Vocal Band (thank you, ScienceTim) at 4:39 p.m.; I kept getting the error message "Bad ObjectDriver config: Connection error: User wpniblog_mt has
already more than 'max_user_connections' active connections" while PJ kept getting
"Bad ObjectDriver config: Connection error: Can't connect to local
MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock" (omni, DolphinMike, maybe you guys can translate some of that from the original Klingon into English, but I'm stumped.)

As near as I can tell, I seem to have inadvertently given the WaPo server a fatal tune cootie, without even mentioning the name of the song or getting the group's name exactly right. I HAVE INCREDIBLE POWER AT MY FINGERTIPS!!!!!

(...and I'm so ashamed.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 6:57 PM | Report abuse

anyone here watch christopher lowell? my goodness he's... well... um... flamboyant to be sure!

Posted by: mo | July 17, 2006 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, it was wonky for me too. I thought that when several eventually appeared, Slyness' post was out of order, but now I see that it was 4:51, and the next one 5:48.

I initially attributed the problems with the reference to Paul Williams, but now I think it's pretty clear that They don't want us to know about panic hardware.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 17, 2006 7:10 PM | Report abuse

>Does this mean that box of old 8-tracks tapes on the shelf in the closet is... useless?

Mudge, I direct you to

SCC: previous post, put a Ctrl-C between those two commands to copy the text.

Posted by: Error Flynn | July 17, 2006 7:39 PM | Report abuse

I have one hammer. It was made by Mike:

Seriously though, I have a pair of pliers that my grandfather brought over with him from Sweden. They are the most comfortable pair I have ever held in my hand. The handles are asymmetrical so that your hand holds a convex handle while the other handle has a concave end that fits in your palm beneath your thumb. They don't sell them like that at Sears any more.

My brother has a set of Grandad's chisels. I'll have to see if I can borrow them for a while.....

Posted by: pj | July 17, 2006 7:44 PM | Report abuse

SciTim: Like you, MY hammer is an Estwing, 20 oz, straight claw, leather handle. It used to sing, but has worn to the point where it has ceased to do so. I also have a mongo Estwing waffle head framing hammer. That hit the abyss under the stairs the first time I hit my thumb and forefinger as opposed to the nail.

My wife read the boodle today and promptly revisited an occasion some four years ago when we started to restore the second floor of the house. Me: Why are you throwong all of that stuff away? Wife: Three year rule. Me (having a small hemmorhage): You CAN'T!!! I might need it some day. Wife: Wrong. (pitches my bagged stuff out the window of the tallest tower, literally, since ours is a Queen Anne) Me (huffily): OK, so you want me to throw out the fabric softener thing for the washer too???? (frantically waving it about) Wife: Suit yourself. Do whatever you want with it. Me: Fine. (places fabric softener thing on a mantle). Fast forward to today: aforementioned washer given away at yard sale two weeks ago; never used fabric softener thing, ever; latter still has a place on a shelf upstairs.

Posted by: jack | July 17, 2006 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am a Virgo.

*cue "Twilight Zone" theme*


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 17, 2006 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Well, I wondered about that post! Did I really hit submit? It didn't seem to be there the last time I looked. Anywhoo, sorry I BOOOed.

I don't know the provenance of my hammer. It was one I grew up with. My ex-husband put a new handle on it, a good wooden one, so it's quite usable. It's just the right size and weight for me - small.

Posted by: Slyness | July 17, 2006 8:49 PM | Report abuse

A book that may interest some of you is "The Evolution of Useful Things" by Henry Petroski. I may have mentioned it before since it's one of my favorites. It is about how improved design is derived from dissatisfaction.
It has a whole chapter on forks.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 9:11 PM | Report abuse

My hammer is, well, I think it's made of some manner of metal.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 17, 2006 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Hammers, I see that Mickey Spellane passed away today:

"It was easy," Now, that's a hell of a closing line.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 9:28 PM | Report abuse

My father built the house I mainly grew up in from the age of 6 to late 20s (minus college, the merchant marine, several years in apartments, one failed cohabitation, etc.). He built it mainly on weekends around his main 9-to-5 job in the trucking industry, and after we moved in, many, many evenings. The upshot is, I've been around tools and home construction since I was literally 2 years old. My grandparents, my mother, and my younger brother all used to pack into the car (a Hudson Hornet) early Saturday morning and drive 30 miles "out into the country" from my grandparents' Philly row house to work on our new home.

Somewhere in that early time period, my grandfather gave me a hammer to play with. It was (I learned many years later) a "balpeen" hammer, which means instead of a claw it had a round nose, and is used more for metal work than woodwork. Be that as it may, that balpeen became "my" hammer, and while my father and grandfather did real carpentry, I was given blocks of scrap 2x4 and handful/handsful of nails to play with. By age six, I was one hammerin' fool. I hammered blocks together to make toy ships, and then hammered in nails to make masts, guns hanging out of gun turrets, flagstaffs, whatever. I knew the difference between duplex nails (double-head staging nails, handy for scaffolding), "common" nails (i.e. a 12-penny bright common), finishing nails, roofing nails, horseshoe nails (for hardwood flooring), galvanized nails, spikes, brads, you name it. (I don't think they had coated nails back then like they do now.)

A few years later, a childless couple named Jack and Mildred bought the vacant lot next to us, and they started building their own house, too. (Back then--post WWII --it was still apparently pretty common to build your own house; I can name maybe 10 to 15 families in our township who did the same thing we did.) So at the age of ten, I found myself up on the roof of their house, helping them put on rows of tar paper, and then shingles, with my trusty balpeen.

For some strange reason, I still have that hammer--it just seemed to have followed me around over the years. Someday I'll give it to one of my grandsons.

I also have a crowbar that was my father's, from back in those days. A crowbar is just a crowbar and doesn't have much sentimental value--but on the other hand, I won't ever get rid of it; it'll go to one of the grandkids.

Of course, as a Harry Homeowner type and veteran (if reluctant) Mr. Fixit (to say nothing of being current co-builder of my own vacation house down in virginia), I own my own sets of various kinds of tools, some of which I am quite attached to, and some about which I have no great emotional attachment. But someday I'd like some of the grandkids to have some of them, and say, "Ya know, this originally belonged to Granddad (me), and I'm going to pass it on to my grandson (or granddaughter, should one of them express some interest)."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Spillane died? Aw, man, bc, wasn't that some great final scene? (He's referring to the closing of "I, the Jury.") Spillane was a fairly terrible writer, but he had some pretty interesting sex scenes in his famous Mike Hammer series, and the ending of "I, the Jury" was probably the best thing he'd ever written. It was pretty much trash, too, but good trash, if ya know what I mean. And he was the natural heir to the Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler tough-guy school of private detective fiction, though he could never hold a candle to the masters.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Nothing against storied hammers that have been passed down from one generation to the next, but none of my hammers (and I have several) have any pedigrees or colorful history. Most were bought new by me at Home Depot or Lowes or Carter's. Each has it's own specialty, and they've all performed admirably. In other words, my hammers and I are making history from scratch, one bent nail at a time.

One thing they all have in common, though, are wooden handles. I've tried those titanium alloy handled ones with the fancy ergonomic foam grips and was not impressed. I suppose it's comparable to swinging an aluminum baseball bat vs. a traditional Louisville Slugger. They both get the job done, but they sound and feel completely different.

I do have an old tack hammer I picked up at a flea market for fifty cents -- a no-name mutt with a rusted head and cracked handle. I find it's great for finish work. Just enough heft to drive tiny brads, but not enough to pit the wood (or smash your thumb) if you miss. It still has the cracked handle, too -- but that's why Man invented duct tape.

Posted by: martooni | July 17, 2006 10:13 PM | Report abuse

martooni, I too used to be a fan of wood-handle hammers, until a few years ago at a Habitat for Humanity fundraising auction, when I bought a box of brand-new, never-been-used Stanley hammers with bright yellow fiberglass handles for, like, $10 for the batch. I immediately turned around and sold three of them and kept the other three. My best friend "borrowed" one for a few minutes about three years ago, and I haven't seen it since. The second one is who knows where--and now I hang on to that final Stanley with the eye of a jealous parent. No loansies on that baby, no sir.

I also have two terrific Japanese-style (reverse pull) handsaws made by Baerclaw, that are just amazing. I have named each one "Master Kubuki," and many's the carpentry problem that has been solved by Master Kubuki when no other saw I know of could have done the job, manual or electric. They are only about $20 each at Lowe's, and I heartily recommend them. They come in fine, medium and coarse. Master Kubuki from Bearclaw--you heard it here first.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 17, 2006 10:38 PM | Report abuse

SCC: "Spillane".

Can't believe I botched that after getting the end of "I, the Jury" right.

Good trash, indeed.

My favorite hammer is one I think was my grandfather's, a 13 oz claw hammer with the head forged in Miller's Falls. Wherever that is.


Posted by: bc | July 17, 2006 10:52 PM | Report abuse

A little bit of journalism history being made today (out with the old and in with the new)...

At the Web site of Kurtz's own paper, Peter Baker quoted Bush: "What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shlt, and it's over."

Others stepping in "shlt" on the Web include The New York Times, Newsday, Los Angeles Times, CBS News, Reuters, MSNBC, CNN, the BBC, Financial Times, Forbes, McClatchy's Washington bureau and Bloomberg -- even the Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune (inconCEIVable.).

A search of the New York Times online archives reveals that apparently it has never in its history used "shlt" before.

Posted by: Loomis | July 17, 2006 10:59 PM | Report abuse

RD - Petroski is a good read, eh? I've got three of his books, love 'em.

'mudge - I was ASTOUNDED when I found that my current vehicle (a 2000 Ford Taurus, it was basically a gift from a very good friend) has two buttons marked "H" & "M" (which don't require pens or styli, or anything but a finger!) which update the clock with nothing more complicated than touching. It's just that simple. Amazing!

My favorite old book currently in my possession (collected from the house of one of my great-grandmothers at her urging when she was moving into a nursing facility in her 90's) is "Our Native Land", published in 1888. It's a travelogue sort of thingie, about 250 pages, very obvously a product of its time, printed on nice heavy glossy stock with a fair number of photographs & drawings. The chapter on "Our National Park" (Yellowstone was the only one at that time) is a delight. The chapters on San Francisco's Chinatown and the Indian territory have a refreshingly politically incorrect flavor to the commentary. The pages have started to brown a little, and when I first got it, it was a little musty-smelling. I didn't worry about it much for the first twenty years or so that I owned it, but as I (and it) got older, I realized that I actually get a kick out of owning this object. I've also used the Ziploc bag & desiccant package method, it's worked nicely.

Posted by: Bob S. | July 17, 2006 11:45 PM | Report abuse

playing catch-up here...

Pat: those four big words you referred to were not "dirty". No tricks.

Stampede and Jack: great kits! nice imagery. Bravo.

Question: does no one have Nani's email address? She will return someday, right? Please say yes...

Posted by: ot | July 18, 2006 6:30 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. It's bad enough that my hearing is shot, and that my friends turn some people off, but yesterday I had the nerve to eat a hot dog with onions, and the results were not good. My first day in the class and I smell like hot dog and onions. Whew! I kept apologizing but that didn't help. I'm going back today hopefully with better smelling breath. Not eating hot dogs today. I was so tired when I got in last night, just could not boodle. I've been thinking about all of you, and I've prayed for you this morning. Jack I love the kit, but missed that about your mother-in-law. Is she sick? I hope she is better. I read the kit but didn't see that.

I see we still have war in the Middle East as reflected by the gas prices. I paid so much for a little gas yesterday.

The weather is really hot here, and suppose to get hotter, if that's possible. Please take care in the heat, drink plenty of water, and try to find a cool spot if outdoors. I know, doesn't exist.

Joel, if you're checking in, hope you're having fun with the family.
Nani, we miss you so much, please come back and tell us a story. I need one of your stories, Nani, real bad.

Remember God loves you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | July 18, 2006 7:08 AM | Report abuse

My wife bought a new can opener for our last camping trip and no one could figure out how to use it.

Posted by: Pat | July 18, 2006 7:24 AM | Report abuse

We have one of those can openers, too--I bought it and brought it home and ended up using my Swiss army knife to open the can. My daughter and husband claim that they know how to work it but I've never seen it. I actually figured it out once but now have forgotten the trick and meanwhile we found our old one and we're using that until my husband loses it again. He is very talented at losing things. Typical conversation: Him: "Where's my coffee cup?" Me: "Look in the freezer. Try the front yard. Maybe on the windowsill in the shower?"

Posted by: kbertocci | July 18, 2006 7:44 AM | Report abuse

I thought we were talking about can openers this whole time. Messy can openers to be sure, but... :-)

'Mudge, any comment on the guy buying a Chesapeake Bay island and fencing it off, ending the "tradition" of public access to the island?

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 18, 2006 7:58 AM | Report abuse

NEW KIT! :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 18, 2006 8:02 AM | Report abuse

There's no doubt that with technology so advanced, life has become much easier and free of nooks and crannies but as we say "old is gold", i think your post prooved it. Great work!!

Posted by: Gina Kay | August 1, 2006 5:17 AM | Report abuse

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