Archive for December, 2018

Podcasts

Monday, December 24th, 2018

When we dropped our son off at college in 1998, I suggested that he spend as much time as possible around exceptional people. College can be a good place to exercise that option. My belief is exceptional people give one a target in life. Alice and I were lucky enough to both work at a university for our professional lives, and we also did our best to surround ourselves with great folks.

Fast forward to about 5 years ago, when the Internet was becoming more and more an important part of my life. A new web page presented itself to me: TED.com

TED talks became a regular feature of my life and remained so for several years. For the first time in my life, I could enjoy the company of exceptional people, and listen to them talk about their fields of expertise without having to move from the computer screen in front of my armchair. I indulged in TED talks, and shared many of my favorites with friends.

The next level of technology that changed my access to great ideas was my discovery of podcasts. As you know, I do write a blog, but I never really caught on to blogs as a way to taste the world of ideas. But podcasts really opened my eyes. Even with the discovery of podcasts, I had to wait for one more technological breakthrough before podcasts started showing their current potential. The breakthrough was a new pickup truck.

My old truck, a 2002 Ford F250 was showing its age, so this summer I decided to bite the bullet and buy myself a new truck. I got the most basic model available with an 8′ box and no crew cab. This was to be a truck, not a car with a little box out back. But even with just the basics, it came with a radio with an unanticipated feature… the radio could pair via Bluetooth ™ to my smartphone. When the truck was new, I went through the pairing procedure as part of the familiarization phase, but didn’t really see any applications that grabbed me.

I was occasionally using my smart phone to listen to music, and one time I got into my truck, started it up, and started going down the road when suddenly the song I’d been listening to came up on the truck’s speakers. And it sounded good! I still owned an iPod in those days, so I paired it with my truck radio and began to use it to listen to some podcasts. It was great. I make weekly trips to town with my truck to run the week’s errands, and found that the miles just flew by when I had something interesting to listen to.

Next I downloaded an app to my smart phone called Pocket Casts ™, and began to use it for listening to podcasts. I also moved my music library over to my phone, and quickly rendered my little iPod obsolete. Now when I get into my truck, it talks to my phone, figures out what I was last listening to, and starts playing it for me. It is seamless, simple, and I hear a lot of good stuff while driving with very little effort on my part.

There are so many podcasts out there that I believe a professional trucker couldn’t listen to them all. I’ve settled on 7 of them. I can’t think of any I’d like to delete, and don’t think I could add any more, since I can barely keep up with the 7 I have. Here they are in no particular order:

Fresh Air, Freakonomics Radio, Big Picture Science, The Ezra Klein Show, This American Life, The Moth, and Waking Up (with Sam Harris). (note that the Waking Up podcast is in the process of changing its name, but if you do a search, you should still be able to find it.)

If you haven’t yet discovered the world of podcasts while driving, I encourage you to look into it. These things have changed my perspective on things, and frees me from the tyranny of finding something interesting on the radio dial. My little phone contains enough material to keep me interested during several cross country trips.

Enough Clamps?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

A friend at work told me a story some years ago. Her husband and another guy were sitting at the table talking about woodworking tools, as guys sometimes do. During a pause, she asked them, “How do you know when you have enough clamps?”

She said both guys stopped and slack jawed, just looked at her. No words came.

That story came to me the other day when I was replacing the fiberglass rope gasket on our Jotul stove. The instructions on the bottle of adhesive were cheerful and clear. “Clean the groove that accepts the new gasked thoroughly. Then add a bead of adhesive to the door groove, insert the rope gasket, and close the door for 2 hours. You may want to put some newspaper in the door so you don’t glue it shut.”

Sounds easy enough. The adhesive had been sitting in the shop for a few years now. I bought the new rope and adhesive some time back, because frankly this job is past due. But I did finally get around to it. I shook the little jar of adhesive, even though the directions said nothing about that. I then attempted to insert a bead in the groove. The adhesive was like water. There was no way I would be able to insert a bead without it running down the glass in the door.

So I measured and cut the correct length of rope, sat it on the hearth, and applied a bead of adhesive to the rope. Then I carefully fed the rope into the channel. Things went fine until the first bend, when the rope fell out. I enlisted Alice’s help, but to no avail. The raw adhesive was not sticky enough to hold the rope in place long enough for me to get the door shut, and we did not have enough hands between us to hold the rope in place. What to do?

As is so often true, clamps were the answer. With the adhesive drying on the hearth, I sprinted out to the shop, grabbed every spring clamp I had, came back inside, reapplied the glue, and then started feeding the rope back into the channel. When I came to a corner, I pinned it down with a clamp. As you can see in the picture, by the time I made it all the way around the door, I’d used up a lot of clamps. If I would have had more, would I have used them? Probably.

After about an hour, the adhesive had dried enough so I could removed the clamps, stick the newspaper in the door, and close it tight so the glue could finish its curing.

Besides spring clamps, I have a good assortment of C-clamps, bar clamps, Jorgensen clamps, pipe clamps, workbench clamps, and a couple of Kant-twist ™ clamps to round out the picture. There are probably others out there I could call on if the need arose. I am frequently grateful for my clamp collection.

So how many is enough? The better questions is how many is too many. What would have to happen for me to have more clamps than I want to keep around. That is a bridge I’ve not yet had to cross, but then again, I’m only 66 years old. I hope I’ve still got a lot of clamping left in me.