Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tossin' the Tannenbaum

We humans do not have a great track record of "Thinking Green."

I am as guilty as anyone. In the years I have spent as an engineer designing stuff, the eventual retirement and disposal of the product was at most an afterthought. I just wanted the widget to look fabulous and perform flawlessly. I seldom cared how my brainchild spent the eventual eternity of its days in the landfill.

Well, folks, let's stop the insanity Since this is the time when so many of our readers start to think about giving the tree the trim, I want to talk about Christmas trees. However, as you go out to pick out that blue spruce or Fraser, Douglas, or Balsam fir this year think ahead to what you will do with it after baby new year has spent the night in your bathroom puking up that last round of vodka shots that seemed at the time to be just the right nightcap.

Let me offer my suggestion for Christmas tree disposal. I have been using this technique for years, and it has never let me down. It takes just a tiny bit of extra work, but I think we can all agree that proper recycling is worth the effort.

To begin, simply tie the dead tree to the top of the your car or truck. That's it. That is the full extent of the physical labor involved in the tree recycling process. However, there are several little steps you'll need to get right. In this recycling system, the failure of any minor step will likely result in the failure of the overall mission.

Selection of the string is key. The tree should be tied to the top of the vehicle with the lightest string one can find. I have some particularly light kite string that has a tensile test rating of about eight ounces (just over two Newtons). Sewing thread can also be used, but I caution against using Nylon or Polyester.... they're just too strong.

With the proper thread/string selected you loosely tie the tree to the top of the car and head out for the open road. At this stage of the recycling process, the efforts switch from physical to more of a mental exercise. It helps to become a "method actor" and fixate on the belief that you are just out for a nice highway drive. Ignore the sounds coming from the top of the car. Ignore the pointing from other motorists who pull alongside you. Get into "The Zone." Set the cruise control for about 60mph and think about how good that coffee is going to taste when you arrive at the targeted Starbucks 12 miles from home.

The next step of the Christmas tree recycling is without a doubt the most important one of the entire process. This is the time when you really have to sell it. Your look of surprise will make or break the success of your recycling activity. When you hear the "WHOOOOOOOSH!!!!!!!!!!!" you have to resist the urge to giggle and, instead, try to look just as shocked and surprised as all of the people around you.

I have been doing this for years, and I have gotten to a point where I can make it through the launch sequence without showing any emotion at all. It took years of training to attain the ability to not crack a smile while watching cars in the rear view mirror swerve and scatter...but I am there. However, you should not expect this type of stoic, fixed focus to duty during your first few attempts. Remember, I am an experienced recycler.

Enjoy the Christmas season and throw yourself into making this year's Christmas tree the best ever. However, plan ahead so that you aren't left with a rotting tree carcass at the foot of the driveway. With a proper recycling plan you can see to it that your Christmas tree is properly returned to nature.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm Cute Too, Frank

During the entire course of the Woodworking in America conference I never engaged steel to wood. I never pushed a plane, stroked a saw, or picked up a chisel.

The only tools I wielded were cameras. On Saturday morning, before I became Roy Underhill's personal photographer and cleaning assistant, I had wanted to get my photo taken with Frank Klausz. So after his class was over, I approached him and asked if he would mind posing with me.

I assumed I needed to get Frank's permission before I went snapping pictures. Ya know... what if he was in the Witness Protection Program, or something? I mean he does live in the same state as The Soprano's.

So I requested a photo, but I was a little shocked at the response I got. Frank said, "Sure, I'll be a nice guy and pose for a picture with you. But why is it that I am always getting my picture taken with guys like you, and I hardly ever to pose with girls like the lady in green over there?"

It just so happened I knew the chick he referred to. So I yelled, "HEY, GAIL!!!!!!!!!!! COME GET YOUR PICTURE TAKEN WITH FRANK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Gail, when you're done mucking it up with your buddy Frank would you mind snapping a picture of Frank and ME?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Wish I Could Hang Out With Roy...

Having missed the entire first day of the Woodworking in America conference as I flew home from France, I arrived in Indianapolis late Friday, picked up Gail, and zoomed down to Berea, Kentucky where we arrived in the wee small hours of the morning on November 15th.

Dripping in the effects of sleep deprivation, I didn't expect to get a lot out of Saturday's classes, but I ended up with a distinctive Skiver experience. Following a standing room only lecture by Frank Klausz, Michael Dunbar, and Roy Underhill on techniques of making mortise and tenon joints, I was supposed to go to a class on Old School Chisel use taught by Adam Cherubini and Roy Underhill. I was, however, a little tired, and I was not in a great hurry to immediately go running across the campus to that class. So I stayed in the lecture hall and watched as Roy Underhill scampered about cleaning up his stuff.

Then it hit me…Roy was supposed to teach that next class of mine. No one would care that I was choosing to arrive late. Roy's tardiness would garner more attention. So I strolled up to the stage and politely asked Roy if he needed some help cleaning up. The first task I was given was to take a photo of Roy and Frank together. (Roy wanted the photo for a souvenir.)

(I snapped this picture with my camera as Roy was attempting to get his fired up.)

With the photography task completed I engaged in a more strenuous line of work, helping Roy move his tools and work benches over against a wall. Then, I helped Roy carry some of his tools for the next class down to his van, and the next thing I know, I am sitting in the passenger seat of Roy Underhill's van as the two of us cruise across campus toward his next class.

There is a chance I dreamed the whole thing given how sleepy I was, but in reality I managed to grab a little one on one time with St. Roy. I would like to tell you that I engaged in all manner of hip/"cool cat" conversation, but the reality is that I jabbered incoherently while helping to point directions to our destination.

A few hours later I again took the opportunity to chat with Roy as I happened to be sitting next to him at dinner.

(Last minute speech editing)

The neatest part of this experience is that on the floor between Roy and me sat his case full of props. Roy was scheduled to deliver the talk during dinner, and he had brought along several items from past episodes of The Woodwright's Shop to use as visual aids. As I looked into the case I saw Barley Twists, impossible dovetails, wooden threads, and bookstands.

As I stared into that case I began to recognize the role that PBS has played in my life. Somewhere in the jumble of my brain I thought of Mr. Fred Rogers, Ernie and Bert, the Keno Twins, and Jeff Smith (the Frugal Gourmet). Yet for me, the clear king among my PBS educators is Roy Underhill. And on a November day in 2008, with the cold Kentucky rain falling in Berea, I had the pleasure of finding out that St. Roy is a normal guy (who is as nice as can be) but is anything but ordinary.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Gales of November on Rocky Top

The Woodworking in America Conference gave me the opportunity to finally meet several of my email/phone friends and acquaintances face to face. I met Glen Huey who had refused to clear his schedule to meet with me when I visited the offices of Popular Woodworking two months ago. (Glen how dare you do real work when I am boondoggling to Cincinnati to score a free lunch????)

I finally met Dave Jeske from Blue Spruce. I reminded him that I gave him a shout out in the April 2008 Out of the Woodwork article in PopWood (hoping he would say that entitled me to a free set of chisels...NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!).

I met fellow Rose-Hulman alumnus Dave McDonnel, whom I had spoken to and exchanged email with but never met.

Kelly from Chattanooga told me how much he likes the blog and specifically mentioned the heart-wrenching saga of the missing chisel. (I am always shocked to see which blog entries register with different folks).

I met Mike Holden who had previously recognized my tribute to Eddy Merckx in my article on Tillers International in the June 2008 issue of Popular Woodworking.

Still the most interesting connection Gail and I made that weekend was with the town of Richmond, Kentucky. On Saturday night I told Gail I wanted to go out and celebrate a day where I had met my idol, Roy Underhill. So after making some calls, Gail determined that Hooters had Guinness on tap. (I practice beer monogamy. If there isn't Guinness…I stick with iced tea or Diet Coke). Arriving at Hooters we had to park 100 yards away, and as we approached the door we saw we couldn't even get inside. We found out that it was a pay per view Ultimate Fight Night, and it seems the locals are heavily into watching a couple of muscly guys in tight little shorts grab onto each other, roll around in the ring, and pummel each other senseless. We punted and went back to the car.

I began driving around Richmond, Kentucky hoping my highly trained nose would pick up on a hint of the scent of Guinness. Suddenly we saw something thoroughly out of place….an Irish pub in downtown Richmond. We parked and went inside. They first collected $4 from each of us to cover the cost of the band. I was hoping for something like these fellas we had been with at the Boxty House in Dublin….no such luck.

The actual band was far closer to:

As Gail and I sat down at the bar, my Guinness and her Strongbow appeared to be the only Irish/British liquids that had flowed in years. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying a Silver Bullet or something with "Drinkability."

However, thoughts about beverages were forgotten when we caught sight of him…a local man whose fashion sense was extremely special. I am not sure why he needed to wear a camouflage trucker cap along with an (HONEST TO GOD) Realtree Camo Button-Down Oxford Dress Shirt….but all of the stealth factor of that fabric was canceled out by the gleam of his silver belt buckle that appeared to be larger than the smallest three New England States. He should have been wearing a weight lifting belt to support his lower back as he carried that Sterling Behemoth around.

Our admiration of Richmond fashion was interrupted, however, when the non-Irish band broke into playing ROCKY TOP, and everyone in the place (with the exception of Gail and me) went into spasms of hooting and yee haw'ing. My jaw dropped, and I sat on my stool dumbfounded. Gail asked why I was reacting so noticeably. I explained that Rocky Top is the college song of the Tennessee Volunteers and that given our location in Kentucky, I would not have expected a favorable reaction. I told Gail that I would have thought playing Rocky Top in Kentucky would be the equivalent of a band firing up the Ohio Buckeye fight song in the middle of a bar in Michigan. However, in Richmond, Kentucky...folks just completely love Rocky Top.

Don't get me wrong, though. People in Michigan do go crazy for at least one song I know of, but it is pretty rare. The only time one sees a Michigan bar react this positively to a song is when a band strikes the opening chords of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


So I am over in France this week. Previously I had been to Normandy, but this is my first trip to Brittany. I have known a few girls named Brittany, and I have known a few dogs who were Brittanies. I have even known of a Brittany named Brittany, but this is my first trip to the region that inspired all of those creatures.

On my flight to Paris I sat two rows behind Jesus Christ. However, now that I think about it I am pretty sure it wasn’t Him. This would-be Messiah was wearing John Lennon glasses, and I am 99% sure that given Jesus’ experience with healing the blind, He would have taken care of His own myopia.

Somewhere over Greenland, my mind wandered off to one of those places, and I happened upon my latest deep thought question: Why is it that Kool and the Gang never made it beyond the Tier 2? It seems they just never could quite make it to the Big Leagues with the likes of the Crips, the Blood, the Latin Kings, etc.

As far as my trying to fit in over here, I have hearkened back to the days in my high school German class. There we each adopted a German name that we used as we spoke in class. So for the entire week over here I am telling everyone my name is Charles Darnay. I cannot help but think I would get more responses if I were working with folks who weren’t engineers. (Most Engineers just don’t ever get around to reading the classics.)

So far, though, I have learned a lot about the French language. I now realize that to say “Thank you” one says merci with a very gentle lilt of the voice. God as my witness I always thought the word was pronounced exactly the same way (with the same tone, inflection, and volume) that Roy Orbison says, MERCY!!!!!!!!!! in the song Pretty Woman.

Well, I suppose this trip is going to drive a further wedge between my yellow Retriever dog (Peyton) and me. This means that since June I have visited the lands of the Irish Setters, the Butler Bulldogs, the University of Indianapolis Greyhounds, the Washington Huskies, and the Brittany Spaniel and still have not made it to his native land of Labrador.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Paris...Ain't That Right Outside Lexington???

When I went searching for the new career position, there was only one thing on the next sixteen months of my calendar…the Woodworking In America Conference in Berea, Kentucky that begins next Friday.

Living in Michigan I knew if I landed a position up there it would be no problem to get off work on Friday the 14th of November because the entire state will be shutting down that weekend for the beginning of firearm deer season.

When I moved from Indiana to Michigan in 1996 I thought I understood passion. I thought we Hoosiers had a passion for basketball. I thought Brazilians had a passion for soccer. I thought John Gacy had a passion for young boys. However, nothing prepared me for the way Michiganders love to sit at deer camp drinking beer and shooting at stuff. Still, that is not what today’s entry is about.

During my first week on the job here in Indianapolis, my Director came to me and told me I would be in Paris next week. It would have been nice if he had meant Paris, Kentucky given its proximity to I-75. A week in Paris, Kentucky would have worked out well to get me headed toward Berea. It can’t be that easy.

Gail and I were scheduled to be at the welcoming reception in Berea next Thursday night, so I called and switched us over to the Friday night reception. It doesn’t matter…when that reception starts on Friday, my jet will just be putting its wheels on the ground in Indianapolis. (And that is assuming no other delays catch me.)

Earlier in the day, when my Woodworking in America schedule says I should be in a class with Roy Underhill and Frank Klausz discussing whether dovetails should be cut pins first or tails first, I will be over the Atlantic, likely listening to some guy named Sal tell me about his son's high school baseball coach who won’t let Sal, Jr. be the future 20+ game winner he is destined to be. In the afternoon, when I am supposed to be listening to Roy Underhill and Adam Cherubini talk about Vintage tools, I will be boarding the flight from Newark to Indianapolis.

Then, when I get home to Indianapolis, Gail will get me at the airport and we’ll scoot down to Berea with my jet lag telling me it’s 5 or 6 hours later than it really is. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning, I will arise in Berea and jump into the Saturday session.

I don’t want to sound whiny, though. Given the offer we put on a new house on Saturday, I have to come back to the words I told my Director when I explained the conflict of this trip with my personal schedule…. “As long as the direct deposit keeps getting made, you’ll ALWAYS know where my loyalties lie.”

On the upside, after my week in France, perhaps the fine folks running the conference will let me do an impromptu lecture on Marquetry or French Polish?

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Got The Shaft

I’ve been called a lot of things, but “Boring” is not one of them.

You may not like my style, but rest assured…I have style. And I like to do things to spice up life. For example, no one on my team knows this yet, but today is going to be Shaft Monday.

What in the world is Shaft Monday, you ask???? (Don’t think about mines or projecting power between the transmission and the differential…instead, think of Isaac Hays singing about Richard Roundtree…)

This afternoon I have to meet with a couple of people to get updates for an upcoming prototype event.

Those brief meetings are going to go like this:

Jeff Skiver(in the role of Program Manager): Who’s the Asian Cat who’s finalizing the software updates?
Mike (the Project Leader): You mean Tom Kim?
Skiver: DAMN RIGHT!!!!!!!

Skiver: What’s our confidence that we will be logistically ready to pull the trigger on 10NOV08?
Jennifer (Operations Lead): At least 98%
Skiver: Can you dig it?!?!?!?

Skiver: And who’s the cat with his finger on the P&L to make sure Management is happy with this thing and let’s us keep our jobs?
The entire team (looking scared and confused): That would be you, Skiver….
Skiver: RIGHT ON!!!!!!!!!!

Meetings really can be fun, especially if you decide to Shaft ‘em Up. Another bonus is when you decide to implement Shaft Monday, your meetings become another talking point for your teammates to use in their discussions with HR. Can you dig it?