Wednesday, February 17, 2010


[This weekend I am traveling north to climb a mountain, putting me in mind of piles of crated expedition equipment, the breath of dogs puffing at the train station, the smell of locomotive grease and woodsmoke on a cold day.]

Professor H. M. Wracksen, Univ. of Nordencap, 13th Jul.

Recv'd yr note of June last; original response to same lost in gale with tent and 6 brls walrus fat. No matter. Vry. disappointed to hear comm's response to proposal. Have they no imagination? Strike that. Have they no desire for knowledge? No greed?

Important: Am planning to cont. expedition even tho' without funding. Pls. communicate my resignation as adjunct professor effective imm.

Aynglisard Stremnius Bel, PhD, etc.

Wracksen! Urge calm and beg yr consideration of climatic factors in yr decision. Surely if you returned to warmer latitudes you might forthwith reconsider. Surely you see that to continue now is madness, spite even. Beg yr patience, I will try again with the committee.

A. Stremnius Bel

Two days later. Forgive me Wracksen but we are lost. Hemple seems to have a hold on them, all of them who once thirsted for knowledge and the mystery we suspect in the north, as I know you and I still do. Again, patience. I will find a solution. Do not begin alone.

Wracksen, expl. 57'20

Bel: send dogs, salt, and kerosene.

Wracksen, appx. 58'00

Bel: Send replacment astron. tables; Polaris not visible. Also Book of Days.

A. S. Bel, 26 Sept.

My dear Wracksen, I am coming with supplies and recording equipment. The autumnal gales have started early this year and I fear that which we seek may already be beyond us. Patience, Wracksen! In patience all things. Expect me 58'00 by 24 Oct unless locomotive freezes or swarmed by Kiv bandits. I joke. Perhaps. Send up a flare each midnight to guide---

Bel, 2 Nov

W, if you retrn. to yr. camp and find this I have cont'd. N in hopes of finding you or sign of you. The mystery ... how weak my hand grows, this thrice-Damned cold ... awaits

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Professor Grindewald Q. Splinterbottom

Guten TAG! Wie gehts! Permit me to introduction myself. My name is Professor Grindewald Q. Splinterbottom and I am a professor of the maligned, refined, and misaligned science of woodcraft, called, by the Philistine, wood butchery.

Und I am here to tell you today about how we cut a scarph! Ja! This it is true.

Ein, we must construct a mechanism, a contraption if you will, that holds the aforementioned wood at a specific, necessary angle. Ja? Ja. This we call a scarphing jig.

Then we must attempt a trial of this "scarphing jig" Vat is this? The table saw binds and trips the fuse? Donner und Blitzen!

The second "scarphing jig" turns out to be ineluctably improved, ja? No more smoking wood!


Zvei, we must feed many, many long pieces of the wood into this "scarphing jig." Then we must reverse this "scarphing jig" so we are pulling wood through it. Ja. Pulling. Better.

Oops! You forgot to duck! You have been struck by a piece of wood! This is to be expected, especially when ze end of the long strip is trimmed off, touches the spinning saw blade, and is launched into ze air. You are wearing your goggles, are you not? I prefer welding googles because zey leave the most amusing rings around my ocular sockets afterward. Comedy!

Where was I? Ah, yes. Do not forget to stand to one side of the spinning blade.

Then you trim and trim and trim until the cows are coming home, making each piece of wood (ja?) ready to be scarphed to its mate.

Now zen. When I remember how to work the auto-photogram contraption I will take a picture to show to all of you. Until zen, study hard!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Strips of fir

Spent yesterday evening ripping ten-foot lengths of fragrant fir, as cold blue dusk fell and the wind flung branches across the snow. The lights flickered a few times -- we lost power for two days in this last snowstorm -- so I clomped into the house, showering sawdust and snow, for my trusty small flashlight to loop around my neck under my clothes.

(Under my clothes because things hanging from one's neck are not conducive to retaining one's head when one is working around power tools.)

The power never went out, and I got a nice sore thumb from feeding the wood into the saw, as well as an even-nicer stack of bendy strips of fir I can scarf into stringers. Feel like some math? Come on, it'll be fun:

The Pathfinder plans use the metric system. I was skeptical at first but quickly converted when I realized that fractions would be a thing of the past. Hallelujah! What's 10 13/16 divided by three and don't forget to account for the saw kerf? Good grief.

The stringers are the longitudinal pieces running from bow to stern: one at the top (or sheer) where the edge of the deck is, one at the bottom (or chine) where the side planking meets the flat bottom, and two in between to give a healthy rounded shape to the hull. These are spec'd at 20x45 (millimeters). A 1-by is about 18mm thick, which in this case is close enough.

Trouble is, a 20x45 piece of wood -- about the size of a deck of cards viewed on end -- is not flexible enough to conform to the long and graceful curve that defines the sides of the boat. How do I know this? By breaking a piece that size.

Solution: glue the stringer from two smaller pieces, one above the other. That is: 20 x 22.5 and 20 x 22.5. Still with me?

Inconveniently, the boat is 17 feet long; the stringers -- because they arc out and then back in, need to be more like 18 feet. And it's hard to find lumber longer than 12 feet or so. Solution: attach two ten-foot pieces together and trim to the correct length.

This means that each stringer is made from FOUR 20 x 22.5 mm x 10' pieces. At this point I'm mixing Imperial and metric. Did I mention the metric scale fell off my table saw?

All of this means that now there is much work to make big pieces of wood -- 10-foot 1 x 6s -- into smaller ones: 22.5 mm wide.

Like many of these complications, sorting it out was the hard part, now it's just labor. But MAN it gets boring ripping these pieces.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Attention, Weather Gods

I didn't mean no disrespect!

Repent, repent!







Monday, February 1, 2010

Icelanders, Marcelo, Freedom

Two more books of notes for my ongoing research: Sagas of Icelanders and the effervescent Marcelo in the Real World (Francisco X. Stork). Both of them very different books ... or are they? Each lets us join in characters' struggles with the divine.

Meanwhile, Amazon pitches a hissy and then un-hissies. Whether you think that Amazon delisting MacMillan books as a protest ("Look upon my works, ye mighty...") gives the online superstore a black eye (I do) and whether you believe the infernal e-Book pricing and rights model needs to be taken outside and given a firm talking to (I do) and whether you have expressed frustration that people just e-invent new e-words for new e-products is so much e-baloney (I do!) one thing has become startlingly, perfectly, beautifully clear:

Printed books have more freedom than e-books.

Printed books can be smuggled and read under the covers. They can be disguised inside math textbooks, left in barstools, wrapped in plastic and buried as treasure. Reading them can be an act of transgression. Subversion. They can be burned, yes; but also thrown over walls.

E-books, if I understand electricity and technology correctly, communicate with the store selling them. That's how you get them, after all. You can't give them away, or loan them, or receive them as gifts or graduation presents or heart-in-throat reminders of broken relationships. The store knows what you bought, what you browsed through, and -- potentially -- what you read, and how long it takes you. It can -- theoretically -- remove those books from your device.

Can you image if the manager of your local indie bookstore busted through your door and started taking your books from your shelves? Hold on, just let me get my two-by-four.

Look, I'm not nostalgic or short-sighted enough to close my eyes to e-books. Just because I prefer printed books doesn't mean that other people might not like e-books. After all, the priority is reading, and joining the author in spinning that magic that comes from reading a story.

In some sense, arguing about e-books vs print is like arguing about whether it's better to read while in bed or sitting in a chair. Shouldn't we be worried about sloppy storytelling instead?

At the same time, I very much like the fact that printed books, once released into the world, have so many possibilities that can never accrue to e-books. That is freedom.