ShopTalk Sunday: Handy Do-Dads and “Virtual Making”

I suppose there was a time when four-score and six (86) would have been an acceptable old age for a curious soul to reach.  Not enough now.  Back then?  Books were semi-precious. Knowledge had a useful shelf-life.  Travel was slow.  Telegraphs worked and phone calls were likely to be on a party line.

Between market closing Friday and opening Monday, the broader perspective on Life matters.  Times have changed, no doubt.  Knowledge is not even semi-precious anymore.  Travel is either stopped or stampedes.  Telegraphers like me are history fodder. And why call when a two line text handles it?

Fortunately, Shop Life is Slower

And a lot more certain.

I was struck this week reading Charles Babbage’s 1832 book “On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures  – a  Free Ebook (from” where he claimed:

“1. There exists, perhaps, no single circumstance which distinguishes our country more remarkably from all others, than the vast extent and perfection to which we have carried the contrivance of tools and machines for forming those conveniences of which so large a quantity is consumed by almost every class of the community. The amount of patient thought, of repeated experiment, of happy exertion of genius, by which our manufactures have been created and carried to their present excellence, is scarcely to be imagined. If we look around the rooms we inhabit, or through those storehouses of every convenience, of every luxury that man can desire, which deck the crowded streets of our larger cities, we shall find in the history of each article, of every fabric, a series of failures which have gradually led the way to excellence; and we shall notice, in the art of making even the most insignificant of them, processes calculated to excite our admiration by their simplicity, or to rivet our attention by their unlooked-for results.”

The problem  of human invention is, regrettably, that it’s a lot like Bitcoin mining – or the Fed’s trying to print faster-than-compounding-rate-of-interest – it is a diminishing-returns enterprise.

Because when the father of the “calculating engine” was observing things in 1832, a societal shift from making to manufacturing was underway.  But the BIG breakthroughs:  Electronics for communication, and carriages for transport of all commercial goods, were already commonplace.

All the best “invention shops” in the world can offer now is incremental change.  We have wheels – four of em on most cars .  The big incremental change of the last Depression was of one-horse that ate hay replaced for many than drank gasoline.

Such we call progress.

Surgery Waiting Room

This heady consideration of whether “incremental improvement” is worth the while population explosion, God knows how many wars,  and isn’t compounding complexity as dangerous as gain-of-function research?

About here, Tuesday morning Elaine’s surgeon came out, announced the good outcome, and asked me if I had any questions?  “Well, er…can’t think of anything on my list…”  I sounded the dolt.  The brain was stuck in a sub-routine;  still mulling Babbage’s incrementalism and whether that drove a turn of the century Patent official to claim everything worthwhile had been invented by 1900, or thereabouts.

Charles Duell gets the credit (blame) for that.  But he was more than half a century late to the party:

Another possible origin of this famous statement may actually be found in a report to Congress in 1843 by an earlier Patent Office Commissioner, Henry Ellsworth. In it Ellsworth states, “The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.” This quote was apparently then mispresented and attributed to Duell, who held the same office in 1899.”

No matter who said it, though, there seems no end to “re-invention” and “re-visualizing” a design.  Take this fold-down shelf bracket.

Not terribly expensive.  Don’t mind the ham radio antenna.  Thing is, when you don’t need them, they fold down out of the way.  Nice mod.

I bought an extra set for an overhead awning system for the front of the shop due to be cobbled next week (or the one after).  Idea is that fold-down awning out of R-panel would keep the south shop wall shaded.  Which in turn would lower sweat shop conditions in August to Dickens’ era levels.

Shops and Technology

Years ago, my late uncle John ( a Seattle Fire chief) amazed me at how clean and organized his home shop always looked.  Seldom – if ever –  a piece of paper in sight.

Instead, there were children’s “magic drawing” tablets.  Just a couple of those.  You’d write on a light gray smooth plastic.  Somehow, under that, a black wax substrate would stick to the plastic  and it was readable.  To erase?  Peel the clear/gray sheet up – the black substrate disconnected – and you had a clean slate to start over again.

These were too simple, apparently.  Or – like shop courses in schools – may have been sued out of existence.

Instead – half a dozen or more years ago – out came Boogie Boards and I’ve had a black one in the shop for years.  Little guy (8 inches) but definitely useful.  If for no other reason than reducing fire risk by eliminating paper.

I decided to treat us to a much larger one (15 inch diagonal).  I’ll let you know how the gkcity LCD Writing Tablet, 15 Inch goes next week (assuming it arrives on time).  But for $30 with a $7-off coupon, the risk seemed slight.

Even now, the only papers going out into the shop are the strips of typing paper to set the print head clearances on the 3D printer farm.  With two printers, you can at least claim “industrial homesteader” status.

Which gets me back to a key point Babbage makes:  The cut-off line between “making” and “manufacturing” is when the quantity moves above one.

Following Babbage’s logic, if One is Making a thing, Two or more becomes Manufacturing.  Logically then, Three means Technology is the Making of Too Many.

Some pensive mornings like this, I swear we’re coming back to “making” since
“manufacturing” and “technology” have ruined the art in most everything else.  Even “good” computer code is only “made.”  Code’s got a soul that shouldn’t be whored out to run-time traffickers. But that’s just me.  A “made” man.

Label Printer Needed

Another must-have do-dad is a label printer and a lifetime supply or label stock.  Because while most of the tools are in “logical drawers”  (e.g.  Twisty tools, Squeezy tools, wrenches for wenches, and Sharps are part of the mix), memory of  the contents of cardboard boxes fades with age.

I’ve got that one beat now.

Should mention those “CowPots” *(cow manure pressed biodegradable pots) are working just dandy in the garden. Someone asked for an update.  Thing is while peat pots are cheaper, they have virtually zero nutritional value. So says the local garden show.

Prepper Test Garden

Back in my sailing days, “prepping” consisted of six-weeks of freeze-dried food, 200-gallons of water (and a watermaker) plus a few charts with Sailing Directions to the South Seas.

I still think prepping should be a loaf of fresh bread from the galley and a gunny sack of fresh oysters bought from a dredge working south of Agate Pass.  Between Braindead Island (west of Seattle) and Poulsbo, Washington.

With no native oyster barges on Texas rivers and Elaine’s green thumb laid up (with the rest of her) gardening has survived even my excesses:

The tomato plant (lower left center) is the one LOOB sent me.  He wasn’t sure how it would fare here.  But looks like a beefsteak or Romanesque type.

If Frederick Winslow Taylor Gardened…

He might come to the same conclusions I have.  After tinkering a lot with hydroponics, fact is that there’s less work time (*and a much looser schedule) if you just plant early, mulch like hell to keep the weeds down).  Less than an hour a week – maybe half that not counting watering.

Yes, I co-authored a couple of books on (MyGroPonics) and J.B. Slear did a much better job than me.  Because he went right to simple drip-hydroponics and a single crop (humungous tomatoes).

Someone else (an idiot, as it turns out) tried to do too much.  Since I didn’t have an R.O. filter for the garden to “normalize” our alkaline water (7.9-8.1 usually) I was going through gallons of acid to sour things properly.  Time sink.  Who needs ’em?

You will see the left-middle tomato plant (mid frame) is a darker green.  That plant is another experiment.  Chris Tyreman tipped me (assuming no urinary tract infections or diseases!) that human urine just kicks it for toms.  Judging by the growth and color, I’d have to agree.

Lately, I’ve found myself asking if “peeing on peas” would be good.  But there are limits, even at summer beer consumption levels.  For details, check out Gee Whiz: Human Urine Is Shown to Be an Effective Agricultural Fertilizer – in  Scientific American.

I’m being very careful and with just one experimental plant.  Surely, the agrichemical complex must have squired in laws against such practical knowledge.

Word around the fence line is cabbage and squash have hired a big-name Houston law firm.  Claiming golden showers are illegal without consent.

“Tell em to piss off.  This is Texas,” my consigliere advised.  “Besides, Ure not planning to run for public office, are you?

“Do I have time to visit Moscow before the World War?”

Write when you get rich,

46 thoughts on “ShopTalk Sunday: Handy Do-Dads and “Virtual Making””

  1. I haven’t even read the column yet, but this has been coming for a while, and the “defunding” of police departments is going to mean that in large cities, subdivisions are likely to band together and retain their own protection services. The interesting thing here is that at the same time police are being deprived of budget, the cities are RAISING taxes due to pension obligations and other grifting.

    Sooner or later, residents are going to realize they are paying protection taxes for zero services….

    • Com mon buddy – less for more! It’s the Merican way nowadays.

      All part of rent your life business models. Rent house, rent job, rent police, rent medical – none of the bills end – hence the migration path to recurring revenue is blessed.
      Pioneered by Office 365 and everything Adobe has done since LightBox 6

      • Guys – this era is no different than any other. It’s always been a “rent your life” world since the beginning of time. We “rent” our bodies, don’t we? I think the ‘El Camino’ Clint Eastwood “Get off my lawn” curmudgeonry has taken hold. I personally can’t wait to see what’s comin’ round the bend in about a month to six weeks. Anti-gravity is going to be awesome, if the sun gives us enough time. I’ve often thought that incrementalism is not a bad thing. A little improvement here and a little improvement there and amazingly you have a steam engine, a rocket and men in space. I wish that the gubment would quit stealing improvements like Tesla’s. That’s where the real skulduggery lies. Get rid of them and we’d be just fine. Won’t happen though. Make your own, keep the powder dry and get on with life. Like you say George, the only thing we take with us is the memories. All the rest is distraction.

    • “the “defunding” of police departments is going to mean that in large cities, subdivisions are likely to band together and retain their own protection services.”

      You know O2.. that’s exactly what I think.. poorer neighborhoods want their lives to be safe and secure BLM that have sought to destroy the little securitythey had won’t last..I see neighborhood watch and vigilante safety. I think people are tired of children walking to school and shot just becausethey were in the wrong neighborhood. ..the safest neighborhoods and businesses in larger cities is usually those managed by organized crime. Back in the days of alcapon my father said that the neighborhoods were safe and once a week a truck drove through dropping boxes of food at the doors of families with children. And soup kitchens were funded bythemob so was the daily glass of milk for kids at school and a noon meal..they want you to feel secure and to come to spend your money and have fun at the companies they police..
      Wealthier neighborhoods usually hire their own police forces.

  2. When I was a little one I would spend summers on the farm with my grandoarents. One day Gma sent me to get Gpa from the garden for lunch. I found him peeing right on a hill of corn. When we got back t the house I naturally told Gma what I saw. She lit into into Gpa, Maurice Gates what in heavens name is wrong with you!? Then it was my turn for saying peeing.
    Naturally, peeing in the the corn was the thing to do the rest of that summer.

    • No neighbors with dogs?

      We can thank the dog for all those deep green patches that grow 3x faster than the other grass.

      Corn is just another grass.

  3. George,
    I came upon this rain gutter system last year, and had good success running a small experiment with it. I’m not sure if it would work in your climate, but it sure is a game changer for me. Pretty close to set it and forget it.. Lots of additional content on you tube.

    • Oh Larry what a great guy.. has so many people following him all over the world.
      He did a corn in a bucket with air pruning..
      This isn’t the video that I wanted to show.. he has one in a five gallon bucket that filled the bucket.
      And 12 feet high..
      His sprouting hard shell seeds is almost fool proof.
      And one year headaches tomato plant that neededa ladder to pick the tomatoes

  4. Yo G,

    Converted the ungovernable’s garden over to raised bed – hugelkultur (its a German thing) this year.

    (2) 8 ft x4ftx2 ft beds – garden ties cut to post size, to hang fencing from from old down-in-ground garden.

    Corrugated metal roofing panels for siding/soil retention – 8ft x 2 ft – everything simple.
    Cut 2×4’s and roof panels in half for end pieces.

    Leave one side open (temporarily) – for wheel barrow.. each bed is filled with logs across bottom, layered woody debris on top of logs, cover with mix of mushroom soil (pennsyltucky by product), sand and dirt.

    No more bending over to weed, easy to cover early spring seed with plastic(cold frame), retains moisture, logs and debris contribute nutrients to soil and heat as it breaks down.
    Our yields so far are off the charts compared in-ground crop yields years previous.

    Honey harvest this weekend – a very sticky business, but rewarding none the less. Best part of weekend is pyschonaut adventures – goes with bee work and calming& clearing da brain pan.

    – U know who invented/gave us Sanskrit language ? The Vedic Hymes ?

    What happened to them – where did they go..10,000 years ago?

    Did humanity LEARN anything from the hymns/stories ? – NOPE! not a dam thing, not even close.

    Must calm the clear mind, clearing the mind..fav mantra for this –

    Shaneem Manah

    ..spoken outloud most effective, varied cadence..20 minutes later the mind can be cleared enough to do SRV affirmation..

    “I am a spiritual being.Because I am a spiritual being, I am able to perceive beyond all boundries of time and space. My consciousness is ever present with all that is, with all that ever was, and with all that will ever be. It is in my nature as a human, to be able to perceive, and thus to know. Everywhere, at all times, I seek to learn, and thus to evolve. To further my own growth, and to assist others in their own growth, I direct attention to a chosen point of existence. I observe what is there. I study it carefully. I record what I find”.

    Rock & Roll G – being the change I wanna see.

    • I have a greeting card I have had posted at my mirror since a teenager. alleged to be an ancient Sanskrit poem:
      Look to this day
      for it is life
      the very life of life
      In its brief course lie all
      the realities and truths of existence
      the joy of growth
      the splendor of action
      the glory of power
      For yesterday is but a memory
      And tomorrow is only a vision
      But today well lived
      makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
      and every tomorrow a vision of hope
      Look well, therefore, to this day!

  5. I am 72 years old. I was born and raised in New Orleans. I want to tell Oilman2 that in New Orleans many people with money and position have paid for Private Protection for their neighborhood and still do. My Great Grandfather was a “private night watchman” in an area known as Audubon Place his whole life. He was a very tough man who rode a bicycle and carried only a “Night Stick” for his and their protection. He was a gentle giant to his 7 great-grand children…he would round us all up with our fishing poles and worms, get us on the Street Car and take us to City Park to fish (catch and release). He was an honorable man and the people he protected never worried about their safety. I live in Texas now and feel that my neighbors, like myself, are prepared to defend ourselves if necessary. I guess in today’s world we would need more than a “Night Stick” .

    • “take us to City Park to fish (catch and release)”

      I am totally on track with his way of thinking.. I hate to catch fish but I love to fish.. there isn’t anything better than dangling your feet in the cool water and reading a book watching the bobber..
      the kids on the other hand love catching fish.. LOL we let them all go

  6. Gee, George, I assume you wash your veggies in a Clorox solution after harvesting like you did on the boat? Whatever works! My Dad claimed peeing on cactus kills it, though. Nitrogen or something was his guess. Had to watch it around the front gate where things are more public, though.

    Interesting news blurb came across the wife’s FB stream this morning. Unknown drones are buzzing police helicopters in Tucson, AZ. “Highly modified” drones reaching altitudes of 14,000 feet and speeds of 100 mph in a headwind and a 70 mile range. They’ve appeared to originate 5 miles South of the city but their owners have not been located as yet. News article appears here:

    I’m pretty sure there’s no “Mattel” sticker on the side of these things as no off the shelf toy has these performance characteristics.

      • The article says that the cartels have been using improvised explosives on drones to assassinate their enemies. Things will be going hot before too long and they’re a bit beyond the reach of my 12 gage.

      • “Chinese toy testing?”

        …would be my guess.

        My toy drone is palm-size and under FAA registration limits. It will do about a 6800 ft ceiling and fly about 25kts/hr in a calm sky with a flight time of 31mins max. It is also 5yo tech. There is an entire underground industry which revolves around bigger motors, more-aggressive rotors, and bigger, more-efficient batteries. However, the sustained 100mph thing is probably beyond Johnny Lightning’s capability and his daddy’s workshop’s toolset.

        Have you ever seen a net gun? It is a handheld bazooka which fires a net, designed to catch a wild animal without hurting the beast. ISTM an air or CO2 charged “potato-gun” style net launcher would be the perfect defense against a drone.*

        -Just sayin’…

        *This is not to imply in any way, shape, or form, that I might have already built and tested such a device. It is merely put here so one or another of George’s more militarily-employed readers could toss it to Langley. BTW lightly edge-weighted Kevlar 1″ fish net seems to work best. It comes out spinning, like a giant fly swatter — or so I’ve heard…

  7. “when the father of the “calculating engine” was observing things in 1832, ”

    I know Xu Yueh wasn’t the inventor of the abacus .. it was developed a long time prior..way before 1832..
    An abacus is quite a bit similar to a slide rule. Where you can do very complex equations in seconds..

    The kids and grandkids all learned with an abacus..we keep one around all the time…

    The one I have is the traditional chinese version..

    • The abacus is not a “calculating engine” – rather it is a “calculation aid.” The manipulations of the human at each step is required.
      In a “calculation engine” – an input leads (more or less) directly to an output. From Wikipedia then

      Babbage is considered by some to be “father of the computer”.[2][3][4][5] Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer, the Difference Engine, that eventually led to more complex electronic designs, though all the essential ideas of modern computers are to be found in Babbage’s Analytical Engine.[2][6] His varied work in other fields has led him to be described as “pre-eminent” among the many polymaths of his century.[1]

      Babbage, who died before the complete successful engineering of many of his designs, including his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine, remained a prominent figure in the ideating of computing. Parts of Babbage’s incomplete mechanisms are on display in the Science Museum in London. In 1991, a functioning difference engine was constructed from Babbage’s original plans. Built to tolerances achievable in the 19th century, the success of the finished engine indicated that Babbage’s machine would have worked.
      With more

        • The Problem ‘nat’ is that yes it’s faster, but the endpoint hasn’t changed.
          At which point does “change/incrementalism” transition to insanity and take down the whole herd?

      • “At which point does “change/incrementalism” transition to insanity and take down the whole herd?”

        When arithmetic and mathematics become “racist.”

        Oh, wait…

    • Yup. I have one too. Bought it in Okinawa when I was stationed there. Great tool. My dad taught me how to use a slide rule. He used his to send men to space. It’s sitting on my desk, now. It’s the little things. Huh. Kind of like bees. We raised them when I was a kid. Tranquility.

      • I remember being taught to use one in one of the many schools I went to as a kid. We have a few stashed somewhere. I’ve saved several YT videos to the hard drive that show how to use one. I figure they would be a good source of education to pass along in the time after TSHTF.

      • I still have my slide rule from the Cleveland Institute of Electronics. In 1973 I took a University Physics class and we were told we would need to know how to use a slide rule for problems, and would not be allowed to ‘look up’ trig functions from the book tables. Or…. we could get one of those new HP-35 calculators that did trig functions and scientific calculations. I drove 100 miles and spent $399 in 1973 just to avoid having to become proficient with the slipstick. Complexity… convenience.

      • I am not exactly sure where my slide rule is. I think it’s in my tool chest but not for certain..
        I haven’t used it in a while.. I use to carry it everywhere lol.. the kids abacus though is on the childs play table.. my traditional one on the shelf above the puter..

  8. Hydroponics vs. Dirt: Yup, hydro is a PITA but here in Florida if you want to grow lettuce and tomatoes in the summer, you’d better do it in the AC. Three tomato plants in DWC buckets and four tubs of lettuce in Sterlite or cut-down Home Depot tubs give us more than we can eat. We use a combination of window and LED lights. Everything is aerated. Seems to take about 2 hours a week to refill, replant, adjust water, and harvest. We also have a small “square foot” garden outside during the cooler months, but what with birds, rabbits, bugs, and weather, the hydroponic results are much better per square foot and much more predictable. During the height of covid we were able to do grocery curbside pickups once a month but still have fresh greens every day. Dirt is good but hydro has its place, too.

  9. OSB sheet, 1/2 inch before Covid…$9.98 Cdn. Looked it up this morning and it’s at $76 Cdn, up from $51 a sheet just a month ago.

    • …Which is why I’ve been kinda, sorta, looking for a sawmill.

      Side note: Aircraft Spruce & Specialty sells room-temperature-curing resorcinol glue.

  10. Do you like the hugelkultur methods? I’ve been thinking about converting 1-2 beds to it, this year (and no, I haven’t started growing outdoors. It snowed twice last week), since Ma Nature is not playing nice with my growing season (2nd year in a row for 3rd week May snows…) I figure I’m eventually going to have to go to greenhouses, but for right now I’m looking at elevated cold frame ideas…

    Ah, the Vedics… One thing I tell the kiddie “anarchist crowd” is: “We are the product of 10,000 generations of “best-practice societal evolution” where everything was tried, and everything which failed generally resulted in the death of the person trying it, and often the society from which he came. Only a fool or an idiot would want to cast off these best practices and start over. Are you sure you want to be that fool…?”

    ‘Thing is, a lot of the kiddies are so cocksure and egotistical, they answer: “Yes.”

    • Well, the more I read of ancient history, one barbarian group after another kills off the best and brightest of a generation, and this has gone on for thousands of years. Advancement was stopped by death. One can only wonder where we could have been. It’s getting ready to happen again.

    • “Do you like the hugelkultur methods? ”

      a few years ago now.. we had taken in a hundred year old man.. ( he was one of the survivors of D-Day and one of the rescuing forces of auschwitz.. great guy.. taught Michael Landon how to use his horse drawn farming equipment for the opening segment of little house on the prarie.. loved how it was.. he was there when they were doing the first filming watching them and started to laugh.. michael came over to him and asked him what in the world was so funny.. he said he was using it all wrong.. and landon asked him how he knew that.. because that is the exact same equipment that he used in farming so Michael had him go out and show him how it all worked… the switchboard for the shows when they had a phone.. well those came from my home town and was bought at an auction.. I actually talked over the lines they were hooked up to.. anyway.. back to the story on the hugelkultur methods. I was gardening and he loved to garden and he told me about it.. that was how they grew vegitables during the dirty thirties.. I tried it but only got more weeds than I knew what to do with so I have never gone back to it.. .. he swore by it and said that potatoes grown that way came out clean.. I took care of the three associated with Auschwitz during their end days…. a prisoner of Auschwitz a Nazi guard at Auschwitz and one on the liberating forces that released the prisoners left alive..

  11. Living as I do on the ‘Lava Flow of 1840’ I have lava plate rock with a thin veneer of organic mulch that barely supports a lawn in some areas. Found some rolls of thick but flexible fiberglass sheet 2 ft wide I used to make several 4×8 sized raised beds and filled with commercial ‘garden soil’. Planting Taro, a Hawaiian root tuber that was a staple of the natives. With our volcano emitting SO2 here, we get plenty acid rain, thanks, so no need to ‘liquid fertilize’ the plants.

  12. George, I used to read your column at breakfast and delete it. Now I look at it again around dinnertime. The responses are amazing!!

  13. I still have my P and E slide rule from when I was taking Electronic Math, The only thing I had against it was I had to figure where to put the Decimal points in the problems

    • LOL! I still have one from my second job. I’ve no idea where the one from school went to. The best thing about learning and using a slipstick is that it forces you to think in terms of validity checks and orders of magnitude. It encourages mental work.

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