Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Escape into Print

I readily admit that I prefer printed books to reading online. Hey, I also build wooden boats from hand, and cook pizza from scratch. I like doing things that way. But because I also pretend to be living in the 21st century, I've been known to spend time online. Such as, um, typing this right now.

This means I try to be objective --agnostic, really, is a better word -- about whether people prefer to read online or in print. I know what I like, which is all I can control anyway. But even so, today's story in the NY Times caught my eye.

Children, a study has found, are more comfortable reading online than anyone had expected. Evidently the scientists didn't consult babysitters, teachers, or anyone who's spent more than a few days with a child.

However, book lovers take heart: most of them would not give up printed books. Hooray!

Because I can't help but feel that when a society prints its last book, it ends its own story. Printed books, like libraries, are vital to democracy. As I noted before: sure, you can burn a stack of printed books; confident moral despots can cry for their banning; and bookstores can fail to carry them.

But they can and always will be snuck under covers; read instead of Algebra; slid into lockers, smuggled across border; printed on basement presses. A printed book holds the fire of revolution. Because -- and this will come as no surprise to anyone who loves to read as much as I do -- stories have power. And printed books ... well, they have magic.

Plus, I have to admit what triggered this entry in the first place: the sudden awareness, as I clicked "close" on one more pop-up ad that appeared as I was trying to read the news online, that maybe web advertising will become so intrusive that people are ANNOYED BACK TO PRINT. Can you imagine reading a news story without animated ads dancing around your peripheral vision, or the screen suddenly going dark so you can see a video for a luxury watch?

I can. It's called the printed paper.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Work work work work work

Each day that my boat does not explode is a good day. Maybe soon, with this warm weather, the epoxy will cure and I can remove the forest of clamps holding on the starboard sheet stringer!

Meanwhile, as the mood-pendulum swoops from despair to euphoria, I'm at the "happy" stage with book revisions. It's rare and delightful to feel anything but gloom about a project (while I don't expect the manuscript to explode like the boat, there are times when it feels trite, melodramatic, and unfocused).

But these days the book seems ... well, good. And though that may be little more than Caffeine Euphoria thanks to the brimming cup of Sumatra I drink from my lucky blue mug, I am crossing my fingers.

And waiting for epoxy to cure.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book surgery

There are some old ships of such value, historical or sentimental; or built with such care and love that their very shape is worth preserving like a museum or a painting. When these vessels decay, as we all must, often there is debate about how to repair them.

To preserve them? To rebuild them? To replace them with chrome and gas-powered motor boats?

If every single piece of wood in an ancient ship is replaced, is it still the same ship? If one piece is replaced? What if it is carefully measured before it sinks, and then rebuilt as an exact replica?

I mention this to illustrate the lengths to which people go to preserve things. Sometimes, I have even heard, an ambitious or stupid builder will obtain a boat and proceed to cut out the middle. The resulting two ends he will then graft onto a different midsection, often shorter or longer or fatter or thinner than the original.

This would be like replacing my chest with someone else's, and is about as easy. But sometimes it works, and the resulting boat is actually an improvement. Success!

This is what I'm doing with my book. Not so much replacing the middle; that would be too easy! But pulling out a big section, expanding parts of it, moving in aspects of other books and other sections of the same book, pulling and tugging at the poor fragile thing like it's a piece of pizza dough.

Which makes my valiant sheer stringer gluing efforts seem easy!

Workspace from this morning: coffee, eyeglasses, and the stack of ideas I call the next draft:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Steve is Oscar Mike!

Oscar Mike = on the move. I know, I know. But it's snuck into my vocabulary and I can't shake it.

Steve Earley, builder of the same Welsford Pathfinder design I'm building, sailed off for his fall cruise! Thanks to technology run by tiny elves, dynamos, and soup cans, or perhaps some other form of engineering, we can track his progress into the watery wild from his SPOT page.

Very cool. And very inspiring as I slowly progress with my own build.

Last night's progress? Ah. Well. I "prepped" the sheer stringers for gluing. This meant walking around talking to myself, planning where to rest the 18-foot bendy strip of wood when it's covered in sticky epoxy, where to store clamps so I can reach them one-handed, clamping sequence, wax paper location (it keeps epoxy from sticking in places it shouldn't be), and so on.

It's all very cerebral, you see.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I Find Your Lack of Explosions Disturbing

I may have mentioned how bending the spring-loaded sheer stringers on the boat puts the whole thing under enormous stress. As in, I have to huff and puff and make squinty faces and squat-lean all my weight against the wood to get it to curve into place. Still seems like it should explode all over the garage. Odd.

Today I was fitting the starboard sheer stringer, and eventually, after swatting mosquitoes and braving antediluvian crickets, claimed victory, the whole thing creaking and taut like a room full of catapults.

Getting the strips to lie flush against the bow was no small challenge, what with the quadruple-helix twist they went through, and the soul-flexing forces I had to apply. But fit they did! Here you see, in center frame, clamped in place, the flush fit of the top layer of the starboard stringer. Oh, just trust me, it's flush:

Also note, three wedges slipped under the rope to tighten it up. Much more effective than any knot.

And now, behold the army of clamps that made it possible. Spring clamps, bar clamps, C-clamps, and today's favorite: scrap rope wrapped three or four times around the wood and secured with a lazy half-hitch. Holds tight, can be installed with one hand (unlike certain bar clamps) and gives as much as I need it to.

Next step: gluing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


"This isn't real," the child whispers, hiding under his covers. "This isn't real," as his closet door creaks open.

"This isn't real," he groans, looking at his test.

"This isn't real," he scoffs, alone, from the corner of the party.

"This isn't real," he says, gritting his teeth in a meeting.

"This isn't real," bursting out of the office and into the spring brightness.

Talons of the hawk. Bite of the fish. The long drop off the side of the trail. The bone-deep cold of your last night. The wrong choice. Lost balance. A careless decision.

This isn't real, we all whisper in the dark at least once in our lives, when the arrogant certainty of day is gone like a dream, and all the demons come roosting home where they belong.