Archive for September, 2016

Robot Syrup

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

During supper tonight, Alice and I watched a TED talk. An earnest Frenchman with a heavy accent was waxing prophetically about the 4th wave of the industrial revolution, where robots will do most of the work for us. Where manufacturing will no longer be centered overseas, necessitating long ocean voyages to get out goods onto Wal-mart’s shelves. Small robot-staffed manufacturing centers will be humming right in our neighborhoods. And we’ll pay for everything with BitCoins, making banks and credit unions obsolete.

It was an interesting talk, but at the end I wondered what will be left for humans to do? Will we need to interact with each other at all?

Which brings me to how I spent my weekend. I did a lot of work on my little sawmill, cutting up some of the cedar logs I’ve stockpiled over the years. I was sawing for 2 projects. One is a bridge I’m building up in the Estivant Pines. There is a creek that crosses the trail near the beginning of the trail system, and during the spring runoff, the water can really rip through there. We have some planks across the wettest part, and they do the job most of the year. For years now, I’ve wanted to replace those planks with something more substantial, and this summer we made a start.

pinesbridgeEarlier this summer, I sawed enough lumber to make a start of the bridge. In this picture is the first 12′ of the main span. There will be a second 12′ span across the creek, and then about 60′ of approaches angling up on both ends. This weekend, I was able to get enough lumber sawed that I think I’ll be able to much of the rest of it roughed in, and have a good idea what I’ll need to finish the project.

raywoodMy second sawing project was 6 boards for my neighbor who wants to build some outside planters at his place. A third peripheral project was to invite a different neighbor over to look at some flitches. When I cut big butt logs with a lot of taper in them, I get these large triangular pieces that aren’t much good for lumber. But when you are a creative talented woodworker, you see potential in such things, and he was tickled pink to get the three flitches.

Which brings me back to our Frenchman’s robot economy. The cedar logs I’ve been sawing were purchased from a local man who logged them on some property in our area. Another fellow he hired hauled them out here and stacked them up for me. I remember his cowboy hat and the fact that he had recently replaced the cab on his logging truck because the old one had rotted away. Several volunteers have helped haul the milled lumber up the bridge site in the Estivant Pines, and helped me build this bridge. We all agreed it was a great way to spend some time in the nature sanctuary, and that each time we crossed that bridge in the future, we’d remember the great time we had building it, bantering back and forth, and how good supper tasted that night.

Tomorrow I’ll meet my neighbor for breakfast and I’ll toss the boards I made for him into his pickup. Next time I visit him, I’ll be sure to admire the handiwork he did in putting the flower boxes together. He’ll smile his thanks at my compliment, and we’ll both always remember our connection with that project.

Robots could have done all this too, I suppose. They could have selected which cedar trees to cut, loaded them on self-driving logging trucks, hauled them to automated mills, which would cut and stack the lumber for drying. When my neighbor submitted the plans for his planters over the internet, robots would build them in minutes, hook straps on them, and attach delivery drones that would place the planters at precise GPS coordinates. If he happened to look out his window during the delivery, he might spot the activity, otherwise he’d notice them the next time he walked out to his car. He and I would not have much of interest to talk about on our next visit, but that is just an artifact of progress.

Oh and I forgot, another neighbor who also joins us for Monday morning breakfast called and asked if I could bring him a quart of maple syrup as he was almost out. When I give it to him at the breakfast table, I’ll ask him if he thinks he’ll mind that his maple syrup of the future will be made by robots.

The World is Made of Dirt

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

culvertWhen we first moved to our place about 40 years ago, our neighbor and county road commission equipment operator, did some work on our road to make it more reliable for us. The road was very low and swampy right in front of our house, and when we convinced him that we were going to try to fix this old place up, he hauled in some dirt from up the hill, and put in a nice shiny metal culvert under the road. In those young days, we felt like we were on top of the world with a new all-season dirt road leading to out ever improving homestead.

About 35 years later in the springtime, I noticed a hole that developed in the road during the snow-melt runoff. I alerted our road crew about it, thinking our shiny culvert might be reaching the end of its useful life, and they dumped some gravel on road, rather than replacing the failing culvert. This happened year after year until 2014. I completely understand, by the way. These guys are responsible for over 200 miles of road, and have almost no budget to work with. The way they keep our roads functional for us 12 months out of the year continues to amaze me.

The spring runoff of 2014 was a bit different. Rather than getting a hole in the road, about 1/3 of the road washed away, to a depth of about 3 feet and for about a car length. You could drive past this cut in the road, but it was at your own peril. The guys came once again with big trucks loaded with gravel and fixed the hole, but this time they realized they had to replace the culvert. I wrote about that project HERE.

The section of the road that washed away when the culvert failed traveled through another long culvert and into our pond, where it clogged up the outlet and basically made a pretty nice looking pond look ugly. For a couple of years I’ve been trying to arrange for someone to come out and clean the road gravel out of the pond. For various reasons, that didn’t happen until a short while ago.

excavatorIt was worth the wait. A young family we’ve gotten to know had access to some aging but capable equipment. A bid for the job was offered and accepted. The excavator arrived on the scene, and with some fits and starts, the dirt digging and moving got done. We also had our pear tree removed since a) it was kind of in the way, and b) it has never really given us decent pears.

Alice and I are very happy with the result. Not only is the road dirt all gone from the pond, but the cattails are too. We have a nice view of the open water of the pond from our front porch now, and we really like it. We’ve decided that we’ll try to landscape that area so we can mow right to the edge, and attempt to keep the cattails under control so we’ll be able to maintain this lovely view.

newviewAfter the project was completed that day and the equipment was hauled away, I took a look at myself. I was pretty dirty. Our equipment operator also stopped back over with his family for a short visit, and I noticed he was pretty dirty too. We’d both been up to our elbows in greasy dump trucks, sloppy mud, and rusty chains all day. But you know what? Neither of us “felt” dirty. We’d earned every spot and smear. At least for me, the world is made of dirt, and I feel as though I’ve accomplished something when I interact with it, and a little bit of it stays with me.