Monday, March 30, 2015

National Pencil Day

March 30, 2015

General's Cedar Pointe Pencils
Cedar Pointe Pencils: photo by Cliff Hutson

Each year, March 30th is National Pencil Day. Presumably because on March 30th, 1858, Hyman Lipman, a Philadelphia inventor, patented the first pencil with its own eraser.

The implement we recognize as the wood encased pencil goes back at least as far as 1565, and many of us today use pencils without attached erasers. But, this is a good as day as any to celebrate such a useful implement.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Favorites

Tivoli Audio Model One Radio

Tivoli Audio Model One Radio
Tivoli Audio Model One Radio: photo by Cliff Hutson

One of the first things I did after I started to make some real money as a teenager in the 60s was to buy a decent stereo sound system. The basis of which was a pair of KLH speakers. The K in KLH Audio was for Henry Kloss. While noted for his loudspeakers, he also gave us the Tivoli Audio Model One radio.

The Model One, based on the KLH Model Eight from 1960, was introduced about 2000. I have had mine since 2002. While I can not say that it has seen daily use, it has been close to it. The sound is full and rich. The tuner brings in most stations with little trouble. This radio is decidedly one of the best purchases I have ever made. Remodelista sums up its list entry with, "discreet design, big sound." That says it all.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fun with Words


Sometimes Wordle works for me. Sometimes it don't. This example was generated from a very small sampling of my Plant of the Month articles.

Wordle is a tool for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. It should also work from a RSS feed, but that was not cutting it for me tonight. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. And, it proves out that when one writes about the native plants of California, the name of the state will be very eminent.

You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to your own desktop to use as you wish.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Favorites

Calphalon Tomato & Bagel Knife

Calphalon Tomato & Bagel Knife
Tomato/Bagel Knife: photo by Cliff Hutson
This entry is a cheat. The Remodelista favorite (number 77 in the book) is actually a Wüsthof knife, and I do keep a set of them on my kitchen counter which are used on a daily basis. But, as I started to write this item, it came to me that my favorite kitchen knife, over the last ten years, is this Calphalon® Tomato & Bagel Knife.

While Alton Brown may prefer multi-taskers, I find the focused purpose of this knife to be appealing. And, Alton might approve of it as well - it does do both tomatoes and bagels. What a tool! Throw in an onion, then all I need is lox for a complete meal.

The serrated edge allows the knife to penetrate tomato skin without crushing the flesh. You can, of course, cut tomatoes with any properly sharpened knife, but the serrations are definitely a help. My Calphalon also has a forked tip to aid in lifting the tomato slices after they have been cut.

The serrated blades of bread knives also enable them to cut soft bread without crushing it. I certainly can't do as good as job on a bagel with a straight blade as I can with this one. So, it has to go to the top of my list of favorite knives.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Alan Turing’s Lost Notebook (And Other Million Dollar Notebooks)

There was a really interesting post over at the Pencils Blog today. A handwritten notebook kept by Alan Turning, the British codebreaker and father of computer science, goes up for auction in April.  It should go for about million dollars.

Less Than a Million Dollar Notebooks

I have, off and on over the course of my life, kept a variety of notebooks that could be construed as diaries, journals, logbooks, or simple task lists.  Since I retired, I mostly maintain what is basically just a "To Do" list. Writing down the things I intend to accomplish each day, and ticking them off as I go along, in an inexpensive "reporter's notebook". Having a daily record like this helps me to stay on target and get things done. But, much like David Allen, I find it too awkward to carry around and just keep it at hand in the house.

Moleskien cahier
Moleskine cahier Journal: photo by Cliff Hutson

My go to notebook when I am out and about is a pocket-sized Moleskine cahier journal. It is great for daily use. I always have one in the vests I wear at the botanic garden filled with information about plants, notes on touring, and what have you. There is also one, or one of another size, in all of my camera bags, messenger bags, and the cab of the truck at all times. Moleskine notebooks are functional, but the company's marketing has made them just a little too "precious", to the point of parody. So, I keep looking for alternatives.

What Did I Eat Today?
Food Journal: photo by Cliff Hutson
One of these is a bit of a disappointment. Last month I switched to a medical plan that actually cares about my health. I was asked to complete a questionnaire and was a bit embarrassed when I difficulty answering questions about what, and how much, I was eating on a day-to-day basis. So, I decided that it might behoove me to start logging that information. It just so happened that I had a coupon to use at Princeton Architectural Press which was offering "What Did I Eat Today?, A Food Lover's Journal". Lovely to look at and delightful to hold, it has too many frivolous pages for the likes of me. But, I am off to a good start and once it is completed I will just move on to a regular ruled notebook. One that I am sure no one will ever want to buy at auction.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Artisanal Pencil Sharpening

A New Advocation

"Sharpened Blackwing"
"Sharpened Blackwing": photo by Cliff Hutson

Some books have literally life changed my life. Two would be "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein and "The Last Temptation of Christ" by Nikos Kazantzakis, both of which I read as a teenager. This past weekend, I added "How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants "by David Rees to that list.

Artisanal pencil sharpening is a way of finding beauty and harmony in a world wherein perfection may not be possible. However, I think, we must acknowledge that the striving is worth the effort. Rees writes -  “Putting a point on a pencil—making it functional—is to lead it out of Plato’s cave and into the noonday sun of utility. Of course, life outside a cave runs the risk of imperfection and frustration. But we must learn to live with these risks if we want enough oxygen to survive.”

So, now that I have an introduction to the philosophy, tools, and techniques of pencil sharpening I feel inspired to attempt to master the craft and enter into it on my own. Not only will it allow to improve upon the pencils I use in my life, it may afford me the pleasure of sharing what it means to use a properly sharpened pencil with others. And, if I can make a few bucks in the process, what is the harm in that?

"Wing-Nut Sharpener. Perfect for anyone with a workshop, or a pencil. Or both.”
"Wing-Nut Pencil Sharpener": photo by Cliff Hutson

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Favorites

Fiskars Scissors

Fiskars Softgrip Scissors
Fiskars Softgrip Scissors: photo by Cliff Hutson
Remodelista likes the Original Orange-Handled Scissors made by Fiskars. Ours are the the "Softgrip" variant. Same sharp blade, but a little easier on the hands.

The stainless-steel blades stay sharp longer and cut all the way to the tip. The ergonomically sculpted handle provides unmatched cutting control. The bent-handle design keeps materials flat for precise cuts every time.

And, as always living life on the edge, the handle is a different color as well.

Fiskars Softgrip Scissors
Softgrip: photo by Cliff Hutson

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Coral Bells

Coral Bells
"Coral Bells": photo by Cliff Hutson

Heucheras, also known as Alumroot or Coral Bells, are North American plants characterized by clumps of low dark green round or heart-shaped leaves and slender stems of small urn-shaped flowers, ranging from white to scarlet. A member of the Saxifragaceae – Saxifrage family, the USDA plants data base recognizes 37 species, about a third of which are found in California. Of these, eight are endemic (limited) to the state, e.g., Heuchera pilosissima.

Heucheras are frequently touted as drought-tolerant evergreen perennial plants that like filtered sunlight or shade. But, many California native varieties are adapted to a more rugged life. One citation states that they live in cracks in rocks where they bake in the sun, "and when rains come, they bloom their heads off." Saxifra'ga: is from the Latin saxum, "a rock," and frango, "to break," - referring to the fact that by growing in rock crevices they appear to break rocks. However, others do prefer a more gentle seaside climate and like regular water if planted in a garden.

Linnaeus named the genus for Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677-1747), professor of medicine and Botany at Wittenberg University. It was stated that the name Heuchera should be pronounced following the person's name it commemorates so the proper pronunciation is HOY-ker-uh. But, I pronounce it as HEW-ker-uh as that is the way I first heard it, in my mind anyway.

At the botanic garden where I work, heucheras, most of which appear to be some shade of pink, do well in masses under oak tree canopies.  A noted horticulturist has said. "Full sun through the winter is fine and makes them bloom well, but they need shade during the summer, especially this far inland."

Monday, March 9, 2015

Two Cubes

Architect's Cubes

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) store sells an interesting collection of eight cubes, called  “Architect's Cubes”, designed by John Bennett and Gustavo Bonevardi. Each cube is made of a different material: acrylic, aluminum, bakelite, cork, EVA, granite, maple wood, and silicone. It seems that quite a few people are unfamiliar with bakelite and EVA.


bakelite cube
Bakelite Cube: photo by Cliff Hutson

I have a working knowledge of bakelite. As a teenager in print shop class I used it to make molds for the creation of rubber stamps. It could be molded quickly and easily. The molds were smooth, held their shape and were resistant to heat, scratches, and solvents.

It is also resistant to electricity, and has low conductivity. Therefore, it also had a variety of applications in electric shop such as building primitive transistor radios, and other gadgets.

Bakelite was one of the first plastics made from synthetic components. While still in use today, it has been displaced by newer and cheaper plastics. That, and the fact that most school curriculums have eliminated hands on opportunities for working with materials, probably account for the lack of familiarity.

Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)

EVA Cube
EVA Cube: photo by Cliff Hutson

I was one of those people who had no real clue as to what EVA was before the cubes arrived. Once I held it in my hand, I knew I had dealt with it, or a similar material, before, but still could not say what it was. I am not sure researching and finding out that it is ethylene vinyl acetate was much help either.

Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) Copolymers are conventionally regarded as those copolymers of ethylene and vinyl acetate where the weight percentage of ethylene in the polymer molecule exceeds that of the vinyl acetate.

EVA has a long and successful history of use. Typical applications are cushioning in shoes, flexible hoses, car bumpers, adhesives, sealants, coatings, and flexible packaging.

So, it turns out that the Architect's Cubes are not only lovely to look at and delightful to play with, they also lead to a learning opportunity.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Favorites

U.S. Mailbox

U.S. Mailbox by Cliff Hutson
U.S. Mailbox by Cliff Hutson

I was quite surprised to find a rural mailbox on the Remodelista 100 list. My thinking was that there would be no call for one in their neighborhoods of lovingly restored brownstone flats or trendy lofts. Then it occurred to  me that they probably have one at the weekend house in the Hamptons, the summer cabin in Sun Valley, and the ski chalet in Aspen.

My photograph is not the same as the mailbox the list shows. Theirs is the plain metal one which was so common when I lived up in the Central Valley many years ago. Every farm and ranch had one on a post at the end of their drive, or sometimes at a nearby crossroads. There would usually be a second box on the post for the newspaper, either the "Bee" or the "Daily Democrat".  I always felt that one could predict the outcomes of elections in a given area just by counting those boxes.

The standard for these mailboxes was set in 1915, and has stood the test of time.  When we first moved out here I installed one with a loon painted on the side. We found it amusing to give directions to our place by saying - "Turn right at the Baptist church and keep driving until you see the loon".  Sadly, it had to be replaced after it was backed into the second time, and we went with more economical versions after that.

They have served well, keeping the elements off our mail and magazines, and even holding many of the packages that come our way. The only weakness being that the flag is is a temptation for passing schoolchildren to twist. I would 'recommend one to a friend', assuming they don't live in the confines of an urban environment.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Woolly Blue Curls

Trichostema lanatum

Trichostema lanatum by Cliff Hutson

An old adage says, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. It would seem that a similar comment could be made about the most notable color of some plants, or their scent.

Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum) , a member of the mint family  - Lamiaceae, is a three to four foot evergreen shrub with narrow aromatic leaves, and flowers in frizzy spikes. Endemic to the California Floristic Province, it is found below 3,500 feet in chaparral and coastal scrub from Monterey County to Baja California.

The common name derives from the color of its flowers. Typically seen from May to August, attractive blue flowers grow in dense spikes covered with violet or purple “wool”.  Many see the purple as the predominate color and feel that velvet is a better description of how the plant feels. The genus name comes from the Greek words trichos (‘hair”) and stemon (“stamen”), referring to the long slender stamens. The word lanatum also means covered with hair.

The scent of the plant is also open to debate. My field guides variously describe it as pleasantly aromatic, strongly aromatic, or strongly pungent. I think it smells lemony. Elementary school children on my tours at the botanic garden usually say it reminds them of bubble gum. However, based on an informal survey, about two out of ten garden visitors say it just stinks.  

Indians used the plant to catch fish. They would put the wooly hairs of the inflorescence in a body of water, which then collected in the gills of fish and suffocated them. It had further uses as an astringent and a treatment for sores and ulcers.

Woolly Blue Curls are noted for being difficult to propagate and finicky in cultivation. But, that does not deter local native plant gardeners and many find it flowers intermittently year round, as long as the plant decides to stick around.