Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Coffee table in cherry and ash

During the move we made earlier this year, the movers in their infinite wisdom placed a bed rail leaning almost vertical against the wall. It was no longer nearly vertical when the second mover brushed up against it and sent it crashing through our coffee table's glass table top. And so the pictures begin...

I had an 8/4 board of white ash which I used as leg stock for shaker tables. I ripped 4 legs out, crosscut the 4 aprons for the table, and then ripped them to the correct length. And I did this all by hand. Sigh.
Right now the top is still in halves, because the entire table top is 25 inches wide and my ugly duckling of a bench is only 18 inches wide. The picture above shows one half of the top. I'm planning on flattening the two halves separately, and then carefully glue their edges together to get the entire top. And then probably smooth it on my shop floor or something like that.
I used titebond to for gluing up, but I noticed that it had frozen overnight. Slightly concerned, I thawed it and used it on the top anyway.
Bad idea. I was able to break the joint easily by hand. I reverted back to using hide glue, because the cold doesn't seem to affect it quite the same way.
After re-gluing the top with hot hide glue, I flattened it with a jack plane and then a jointer plane. There was a little bit of sapwood on one edge of the top. I was fine with it because it acted as a slight accent to the long edge of the top (it'd be a completely different story if the sapwood was in the center of the top). However, it was also a live edge at one point that had its bark removed, and was at a 45 degree angle that made it very difficult to get good clamping pressure on it with bar clamps. So I ripped it off.
After that I glued up the two halves with hot hide glue again and then coarsely flattened the bottom to work on the top.
It seems I never fully learn whenever I do this, but I think it's just best to leave stock oversized, glue everything up, and then flatten it. I flattened this panel about 6 times or so instead of just once. Maybe when I get around to building the sideboard...

As I found out the hard way, it doesn't really matter to what extent you finish the vertical edges. For the base of the coffee table, I wiped on about three coats of wiping varnish and let it cure for about a day until the varnish smell dissipated. I had it sitting out in the sunlight to give it a little bit of color, but since it's going in a living room area, it'd develop a darker cherry color over the years.
For the top I wanted to use French polishing with garnet shellac just to see how easily cherry takes a finish and what the look would be. The bodying session was done in about an hour and a half. The next morning the finish had sunk back into the pores a hair, so I filled them back up with shellac again and then began clearing the top of oil and smoothing out the final finish.

It's not exactly my best work for finishing, but I think it's a good start.
What I learned:

  1. Cherry is somewhat brittle. I'm not sure if this is true of all fruitwoods, but I couldn't help but notice the boards I'd selected for the long edges of the top had somehow chipped quite a bit. I didn't want the top to be flush with the base, and I was pretty close to being there with the overall width, so I let the chips stay. I'm not sure planing them out would have done really anything, though. Sure it would have gotten rid of them, but then my dog would probably knock the table over starting the process again.
  2. Frozen PVA glue is useless. If it's frozen, toss it. If your shop is unheated and not insulated, like mine, you're better off taking your glue inside or sticking with hide glue.
  3. Garnet shellac may be better suited for woods that are a little bit darker than cherry. It may be just my eye, but I'm wondering if buttonlac would have been a better choice than garnet. I'm using the Brooklyn Tool and Craft garnet shellac and it just looks very orange. I may have to stain the cherry or tint the shellac for the sideboard.
  4. White ash is extremely tough. I chopped out the mortises using a 1/4" Narex mortising chisel and it was a beast to get down to 3/4" depth.
  5. Using jojoba oil for French polishing isn't a great idea. This time around, it was a real bear to get it all off in the clearing session of French polishing. I think I'll stick with olive oil or mineral oil instead.
  6. Heat your boards up if you're using hot hide glue. I'm using 215 gram strength hide glue from Lee Valley, and I work fast in using it. But as you can see in the pictures, there's a definite glue seem that's there. When I did a dry fit, it was a nice and tight joint, but I think when I started gluing, the glue began gelling too quickly to squeeze out and acted as a spacer for the panels. When I saw it, I was concerned, so I grabbed two long edges and began twisting and pulling, but I wasn't able to break it apart. It's not noticeable in natural light, but the camera's flash was able to reflect it very well.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Milton Friedman in Practice

A recent article on describes alternative ways to pay for college. But the one method that garnered my attention was an individual who used crowdsourcing to generate enough money to pay university tuition. The reason why it was interesting to me is because Milton Friedman, in Free to Choose, actually conjectured that this would be a feasible solution for paying your way through college without loans. His argument was that outside investors would contribute capital with the expectation that you would repay them a certain percentage of your salary for a fixed term. It was (ideally) a win-win situation in that you didn't have to defer purchasing a home or new car due to student loans, and the investors, if they used proper vetting, would have a reasonable rate of return.
I just thought it was really neat to see it in action, though I'm curious as to if this will result in a drop in humanities.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chris Schwarz's Traveling Tool Chest

In the meantime since my last post, I've assembled the tool chest case, installed the top and bottom skirts, and completed the tool tray. The main reason for having the skirts is the way the chest's case is constructed; dovetails can only go together in one direction, and by default, can go apart the same way. By alternating the way the dovetails go on the skirts with the dovetails on the case, it effectively traps the chest case so the sides can't bow out and fail.
Although I'm pretty sure Chris Schwarz looked at several antique examples of tool chests to come up with his design, the most puzzling thing about the chest was the bottom skirt. When I was first reviewing the sketchup model for the chest, a cursory glance at the bottom skirt made me think that it was similar to other bases I'd seen for case pieces with rabbets on the inside and the chest would slide down and be glued and possibly nailed to the bottom. Moldings would follow to cover up the transition from case to skirt. 
Not exactly. The bottom skirt slips down around and lies flush with the bottom battens, but it's simply glued to the case sides. Hmph.
Although I've been able to get away without measuring through the use of dividers, story sticks and what not, pinch rods would've been extremely helpful for getting a tighter fit on the skirts. They're just two pieces of wood with a fastener in the middle to hold them together, allowing you to measure inside cases with them and then transcribe to a piece of wood for cutting. I can't recall how many times I've used a ruler or tape measure only to have a parallax error rear its quarter inch long head on the piece I've cut.
For the bottom skirt, I measured carefully, cut the dovetails carefully, screwed up an entire set of the pins carefully, and then carefully swore as I attempted to wrangle glue and bar clamps on the skirt while manipulating it into place.
For all the difficulty, the only gap on the bottom skirt measures a hair less than 1/32". That's nothing. The wood will probably shift more than that over the changing seasons.
I glued the top skirt flush with the top of the case and omitted the back board of the skirt to allow the lid to pivot down.
I used Tavern Green milk paint on the chest since it's what was on hand, and applied two coats on the front and sides, and a thin wash coat on the back. I thought it looked fine, just a little plain, so I stenciled a scrolling vine sort of pattern on the front and then painted it with acrylic paint and soft camel hair brushes. I think a stiffer brush is in order. The camel hair brushes might be more suitable for water colors on parchment instead of wood. I had a lot of trouble getting crisp lines with the liner brush. It acted more like a mop in that it would refuse to release the paint until I'd press down about halfway to the ferule. Of course, this splayed out the brush hairs and made the line a lot thicker than what I wanted or needed. If I had to do this again, I'd cut out stencils from cardboard or thick paper and tack them down just to get clearly defined borders and lines. Once the acrylic was dry, I applied two coats of butcher block oil (which is really just a thinned varnish) to darken the milk paint and give it a slight sheen.
The only things left are to make, fit, and install the lid, install handles on the side, and possibly make another tool tray.



Painted and varnished

close up

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Call Me Queequeg

I finally finished cutting out the pin boards and tail boards for the tool chest. Because my workbench is a dinky little affair, clamping up anything in my vise over 5 inches wide is just asking for trouble.
I love trouble. I was thinking about getting my middle named changed to Trouble, but the amount of paperwork that was required was too much trouble. Oh, sweet irony!
Frank Klausz wrote an article in Popular Woodworking magazine about the joys of continental frame saws aka bow saws. He stated that for any material thicker than 1/2" he uses a bow saw. Because my tool chest is a bastard child of red oak, eastern white pine, and hard white ash, I knew that using an ordinary dovetail saw would try my patience. About two strokes of the saw for the hard woods, and one stroke for the pine, was all I needed to get down to my baseline. I used a coping saw to clean out the waste and a chisel to clean up.
I was blown away by how fast it was.
Yesterday I assembled the case and today I'll cut plywood and nail on the bottom including the battens, or rot strips, that span the bottom's width.
When the boards weren't assembled, I could easily stack them up leaning against the wall.
But as soon as the dovetails were cut and the fit perfect and square, I assembled the case to lessen the likelihood of the boards warping or doing other sorts of crazy things. Because of limited space, I had to put them in the study right behind the computer. Every time I glance over my shoulder I see this massive wooden box that always makes me thing of Queequeg and his coffin. Like the novel, I'm sure this coffin will turn out to be a lifesaver for my tools and space.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Necessary Tool Chest or the Many Layers of the Onion

This summer has been fairly mild and extremely wet. That's great for me, because I'm used to places that are drought plagued with the mercury regularly getting past 95 degrees before 9 o'clock. What's not great is the amount of standing water I found in the crawlspace of our house. I had about 20 board feet of white ash that was stored there due to lack of space, and as I inspected it, I found a massive infestation of wet rot. I yanked the boards out in a hurry and flooded them with ammonia in the hopes of killing off the mold and spores. After about two weeks, I think these boards are done. On two boards the mold has disappeared with only discoloration remaining, but the rest are starting to fruit again and because the mold or fungus has its own root systems, they're warped horribly in patchy spots.
Grumbling, I went down into the crawlspace again after pulling out the boards only to discover that the wet rot had spread to Lara's books, our lawn chairs, carving blanks, leg blanks, and practically anything that could support its growth. Armed with rags and a large bottle of ammonia, Lara and I cleaned all her books and assorted items of the mold, while I controlled my gag reflex. The aroma of ammonia, common blue mold, and damp books made me feel like I was trapped in the inside of a wedge of brie.
I thought the worst was over. The damaged wood was all tossed, salvageable wood was salvaged, and I was opening the door to the crawlspace regularly to try and air it out. I was working on another table and opened up my plane chest to grab my jointer only to discover that all my planes had rusted. Because the bottom is a groove fitted into the chest, the planes are up about about a half inch from the ground, and I figured they would be alright from any dampness in the ground.
Clearly that was incorrect.
I'd previously attempted to build a tool chest with overpriced, low quality wood from Lowe's. This, compounded with the fact that I didn't know to use bar clamps for edge jointing, resulted in boards that resembled very large serving platters more than anything else. Ultimately I used this wood for drawers and the like.
But this time is different. I've got three panels glued up and will put the fourth one together sometime today. Once everything is assembled, I'll nail the bottom on and start putting my planes and other tools in there. The bottom and top skirt, drawers, and lid will all come later. For right now I just need a safe place to keep my tools before they're expensive lumps of rust. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Joy of Milk Paint

I've been working on a couple of shaker side tables with the hopes of selling them in one of the several galleries dotting the greater Richmond. It's great, because the side table offers a little practice in mortise and tenon joinery, dovetailing, half-blind dovetails, and working with proportions.
I know working with proportions sounds odd, but that's exactly what sets Shaker furniture apart from a generic, genre-defying piece. The most recent table I've completed has the drawer widened and the depth lessened to give it a little bit of airiness, but now that I think about it, it's probably an unconscious reaction to my second table I built that I have informally dubbed "crate on legs."
For the run of tables I'm building, I bought one board of 8/4 white ash stock specifically for making legs. But as soon as I saw the board, I knew there was no way I could use a film finish. The 8/4 board had several knots, waney edges, and a slightly grayish hue to it that obscured the grain. What happened is that I got a board that was cut very close to the heart, or it had an ingrown branch near the center.
My only option is to paint them. Oil-based paint is fine, but there's nothing exciting about it. So I turned my eye to milk paint.
Milk paint, so called because it uses slaked lime to bind to the milk protein casein, is a great water-soluble paint that leaves a thin, matte streaked finish to a piece. It doesn't completely obscure the grain, and the paint texture isn't exactly smooth, but the real clincher is that it mimics the look of painted antique furniture that you've seen, more than likely because those antique pieces were painted with milk paint. The grainy, streaked surface provides enough visual variation to give the piece character, and the tactile feedback from stroking it reminds you that you're touching wood and not plaster.
I've been using milk paint for almost a year and my enjoyment has increased with every use. Milk paint comes in powdered form. I use an 8 oz mason jar and mix equal parts water and powder and shake it as Mike Dunbar described in his thorough article in Fine Woodworking magazine. I sand between coats and stop at three. After it's dried for a few days, I'll rub a paper bag over it to dislodge any caked paint and to smooth out the surface just a little. You're left with a thin paint that will develop a nice patina with wear and time.
The positives:
  1. Texture
  2. Color
  3. Paint coats won't chip easily, they'll wear instead
  4. No Volatile Organic Compounds, unlike oil based paint, so you can paint to your heart's content, even indoors, while retaining most of your brain cells
  5. Looking at Mr. Dunbar's chairs, you can layer different color coats to mimic patina
  6. Cleaning paint brushes only requires dish detergent and warm water
The negatives:
  1. Not exceptionally convenient. If you mix the paint by stirring, you'll need to strain the clumps of undissolved paint from the jar. If you mix by shaking, you need to wait at least an hour for the froth to settle down
  2. The lime in the paint can burn your skin. I've never had this issue, only a mild itchiness, but if you're of the persuasion that flings paint everywhere, I'd wear a face mask so you don't burn your eyes
  3. It doesn't bind well over other types of paint. You'll need to strip or scrape away the old paint to bare wood prior to repainting
  4. Difficult to strip. The only solvent that can strip milk paint is lye which is extremely caustic

You can see what all the hoopla's about, in addition to the colors, here and here. I'm very partial to blues and reds.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Freakonomics falls flat

I finally got around to picking up that fabled book at the library. The one titled Freakonomics that asked such tantalizing questions as "Why does a drug dealer still live at home with his mother?" So I sat down to begin reading it and put it down in favor of finishing another book. When I returned to this book with a fresh mind, I was able to finish it with a feeling of drudgery rather than of being an eye witness to an expose.
The book doesn't tie together each chapter, but it isn't supposed to and we are warned of this. We're also given a snippet from a glowing review of the book at the start of each chapter as if to constantly remind us that the book is great stuff. There's just one problem.
Most of the links tying the juxtapositions together ("How is a schoolteacher like a sumo wrestler," "How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real estate agents") are so spider silk-thin that you could make the assertion about practically any two groups.  Answers: they both have incentives to cheat, and they both closely control information.  How broad is that paint brush?
What is interesting about the book is the information it provides in the chapters, and not necessarily the conclusions. Through the chapters, we learn the issues involving teachers cheating for EOG testing, how the decline of the Ku Klux Klan was precipitated by Superman, reasons for decline of crime, and children's names being a reflection of the socioeconomic status they belong to.
The chapter that I enjoyed the most dealt with crack cocaine dealers. The bulk of the chapter was based on field research conducted by a grad student in the Chicago area who actually embedded himself into a gang to  understand how it operated. And as he found out, it closely mirrored a franchise, where the local gang paid a percentage of revenue to the head gang in order to operate under their name.
The end of the chapter segues into the following chapter dealing with declining crime. The reason for this, the authors conclude, is that people were having more abortions which effectively brought about the reduction in crime since there weren't as many kids in the next generation growing up into criminals. The authors compare different cohorts in different states to show that the crime reduction was correlated with the legalization of abortion. States that legalized early noted a decreased drop, and states that legalized later noted a drop after their legalization.
I remember reading this and thinking that something didn't really jive. Attempting to control for a bunch of different factors in a study is hard enough, and it wasn't stated just how long the study was conducted, nor did it point to any other study supporting their findings. So I read the conclusion with not just a grain but a spoonful of salt.
The Economist published an article on the same issue that arrived at a different conclusion. Conducted by two economists in Boston, they found a flaw in the test conducted with the authors' data and discovered that the effects of abortion on crime were cut in half with the original data and reduced by two thirds when using updated numbers. The economists ultimately decided that they couldn't answer the question of whether abortion reduces crime or not in the scope of their study. A statistician would put it bluntly as a "failure to reject the null hypothesis," which means that you can't prove your alternative hypothesis, which in this case is abortions cause fewer crimes.
Overall the book fell flat for me. The title is misleading; it should read something like, "Pell-Mell Random Factoids." The most exciting thing about the book is the questions asked on the dust cover. The answers, however, are far more routine. I believe the authors are trying to convey some of the principles of economics in an interesting setting, but like I said, the conclusions they reach as to why these things happen isn't really groundbreaking. Nothing exciting, new, or revolutionary is put forth in the book. My recommendation? Pick up Milton Friedman's Free to Choose instead of this book. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Shaker Table

I'm almost done with my second shaker table. Right now I'm tracking the amount of hours it takes to build these things with the hope that I can identify what takes the longest and improve in that area or figure out a different way to do things. But it's also to satisfy the nerdy economist who dwells deep within me (somewhere around my spleen, I believe) to figure out the opportunity cost for making furniture. I've fooled around with the dimensions of the table, shortening the inside to about a 9inch depth and widening the aprons to a hair over 6 inches. I think the 9 inch drawer depth is fine, after all it's a relatively small table, but the 6 inch wide aprons just look...odd. I doubt anyone would really notice, but to me it looks like someone attached a box on the underside of the table top.
Christopher Schwarz put out a new DVD with Lie-Nielsen on making these tables by hand and it runs about 4 hrs. But during the entire 4 hrs he goes into detail about how to cut, trim, and assemble everything. Stuff that would probably get cut out of a 1 hr woodworking video.
Three things that I'm realizing by making these: white ash looks great, works great, is cheap and makes it to numero uno on my list for handtool hardwoods. Bow saws, or continental frame saws, are way better than western style handsaws. Hide glue is finicky and inconvenient since you have to make it a day before gluing, but once it's properly heated and mixed it surpasses yellow PVA due to its high tack (I'm using a 251 gram strength) and ease of clean up. Just wait until the glue begins to gel and you can usually peel it off the wood, including the pores. I'm not sure if this would work on close grained wood, but for open pored, it comes up very easily.
For tomorrow I'll cut the half blind dovetails in the drawer front and nail on the bottom. Pictures to follow.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Flipside of Showrooming

Nancy Thomas, President of the Retail Merchant's Association of Richmond, wrote an editorial in the Times Dispatch in support of the recent bill Marketplace Fairness Act. She outlines the problem with online retailers not having to pay sales tax and is in favor of having an equal tax liability for brick and mortar stores and online retailers. One of the examples of showrooming she uses is a restaurant GM attempting to order bar stools from a restaurant supplier. The GM sat down with the supplier and spent some time going over the different furniture, but decided to order from an online retailer, pointing out the lower online price. The restaurant supplier matched the price, but still had to add on sales tax to the transaction which was a deal breaker. The online retailer got the sale.
Economists would say that this is an example of a free rider problem because the B&M restaurant supplier provides a service, in this case the sales staff, that costs them wages and time, and yet the transaction ultimately occurs with an online retailer that doesn't incur those costs by not providing those services.
Resale price maintenance was intended to combat this because it's an agreement between manufacturers and distributors/retailers that the goods they sell won't be below a certain minimum price. This allows retailers to charge more for goods with the addition of having better service, and discounters would find it very difficult to undercut prices because of the fixed minimum price.
There's only one problem. Resale price maintenance has been illegal since 1911. The argument against it was, obviously, that setting a minimum price prevents competition and therefore should be illegal. Greg Makiw has more to say about it on his blog, and points out that the service is considered a public good and that price resale maintenance is one way of increasing that public good.
I don't know of any previous challenges to the anti-trust ruling, but there's one currently going on right now and it will be interesting to see which way the Supreme Court decides.
And as far as the idea being kicked around in Henrico and Richmond for a meals and prepared food tax? You run into the issue equality versus efficiency. Hopefully they take a close look at the luxury tax enacted by Congress in the early 90's and understand what it is that they want.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Is Showrooming Really so Bad?

For those of you who follow business news, I'm sure you've heard all about showrooming and Best Buy's plan to unveil store kiosks sometime in the future to combat showrooming.  Showrooming is something we've  all probably unintentionally done before, and I'll give you the following scenario:
You're in the market for a new set of speakers and you go to the local electronic goods chain to see what they have. The store's great because you can see side by side comparisons, the sales staff answers your questions, and you can try the speakers out. Then you get down to brass tacks and find out how much it costs. Always the conscientious shopper, you decide to hold off for a few days to see if you can find a better deal elsewhere for a lower cost. If not, then you'll simply come back to the store and purchase the speakers. When you get home you go on the internet and see that not only can you buy the same speakers from Amazon, but you can buy them for 10 percent cheaper than the store's price.
Congratulations, you've entered into the brave new world of showrooming.
Businesses say that this is a bad thing; they're having to pay for the stores, the sales people, and the inventory only to have people come in and test products only to buy them elsewhere. In other words, businesses are bearing the cost of this benefit to consumers. Is this bad? It sure is if you're the brick and mortar store. But it's great if you're the customer! You're effectively saving whatever the price difference is between the online store and the local store. And what if that price difference would be a deal breaker at the brick and mortar store? You're still able to make the purchase because of the online retailer. Economists might say that showrooming increases consumer surplus at the cost of producer surplus and allows more marginal buyers into the market. The layman would say that it allows more people to buy goods at a lower price than what they'd pay.
Some might say that this is unfair, but quite honestly this is no different than any other competition a B&M retailer would face. Prior to online shopping, customers probably did the exact same thing that they're doing now by shopping around for the best price. I think the only difference is just the volume of sales being completed online.
So what could be the outcomes for B&M retailers that are combating showrooming and online retailers?
  1. The B&M retailers launch their own online stores and duke it out with Amazon and their like until one emerges victorious.
  2. B&M retailers lobby congress for some sort of online sales tax. The losers would be the consumers who can't buy goods for cheaper and online retailers.
  3. B&M retailers get better at controlling their costs or more effective management of inventory so that they can offer their goods at competitive prices compared to the online retailers.
  4. B&M retailers effectively go out of business or convert to serving specialty and niche markets with online retailers servicing the majority of consumers. Due to the increased volume of sales and required costs to support it, the online retailer is forced to increase prices.
I'm sure the permutations and different combinations are more numerous than the four I've listed, but one thing is for certain: consumers will be able to determine the outcome by their purchasing preferences and their willingness to pay.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Back to the Drawing Board

Ford Motor Company released a series of ads in India that depicted women celebrities being bound and gagged in the back seat of one of its car models. It still boggles my mind that a company like this can generate these sorts of ideas which are screened and then approved by scads of people.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fun with History

For the last couple of days I've been reading a book by Patrick Dillon detailing the so called Gin Craze that London went through in the early to mid-eighteenth century. It was very interesting in describing how it began from the Dutch development of distilling wine to becoming widespread problem, and then to slowly declining. What was most interesting were the vivid descriptions of the usage of gin and its effects. Most people weren't just getting drunk off of gin; they were drinking it until they would pass out, work only enough to get money to purchase more gin, prostitute themselves until they could purchase gin, and then sell the clothes off their back to acquire even more gin. Parliament passed several different Gin Acts, but the most restrictive one effectively outlawed gin with absolutely no change in gin consumption.
Mr. Dillon doesn't ignore the parallels that England experienced to the USA's 18th Amendment which prohibited alcohol, and then the subsequent drug wars in both countries, but points out the similarities in terms of the actions the governments took and the similar ineffective results.
I never remember history being this exciting. The USA went through a whiskey rebellion in the late 18th century because of a tax imposed on distillers. The only problem is that the government conveniently ignored the fact that they were taxing a bunch of pissed off people, who then physically demonstrated just how pissed off they were. This sounds exciting, doesn't it? And I think most of history is, but the history I remember was extremely different, especially 11th grade US History.

Mr. Merret was our history teacher with a penchant for pleated pants, striped shirts, and garishly colored ties. He would walk in as we would be seated and say, "Awrightnowchirrenletsgitstaaahted." This would always prompt a couple of confused stares and "huh's" to be muttered, so he would take a deep breath and repeat, "Ah saaaaaaid awrightnowletsgitstaaaahtedlearningboutthathistooooory!" Bloody rebellions were summarized down into the simple facts that they had occurred and were put down and that life continued. Occasionally some point would excite Mr. Merret and he would start waving his arms around which would hike up his shirt and display his fleshy white belly. But more often than not, we had to make our own fun in history class. And consequently get into trouble.
"CAMERON! BRADLEY! WHY are y'all taaaaahlkin'? Ithoughtisaidididntwanttohearno taaaaaahlkin'!"
"Oh, we weren't talking Mr. Merret. We were singing."
"...Oh. Ok. Now as I was sayin'....CHAAASTOWN wastheporthathadthemostsugarexportsin-"
"Mr. Merret, where is Chastown? Isn't it in Bolivia?"
"OfCOURSEitsnotinBolivia! This is US HISTORY! It's in So' CarolIIINA!"
"Oh, ok, Charleston."
"Yes! That's exactly what I saaayed! Now if we-CAMERON! BRADLEY! WHY are y'all taaaaahlkin'!"
"We were just discussing the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act, Mr. Merret."
"Yes! And what an act it was!"
"....Oh. Ok. Nooooww second to port Chastown was Nawlins."
"...That's in...Idaho?"
"Well, there's no such thing as a dumb question! Where is it?"
"It's in Looseyanna."
"Oh! Louisiana! Ok, I think I understand now. I'm going to make a hundred on the next test, don't you worry Mr. Merret!"
"[indecipherable mumbling] Awright, now if there aren't any more questions, can we PLEASE continue?!"
"Mr. Merret, why didn't economists step in and point out that a tariff act would effectively raise the current prices of goods in addition to lowering consumer surplus? Why didn't they point this out? Why didn't the Federal Reserve Bank step in sooner for the Great Depression? WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?!"
Mr. Merret would pause, face flushed, and would begin waving his hands, exposing his belly, "AH CAIN'T DEAL WITH ALLTHISNONSENSEYOUCHIRRENAREEXPOSING ME TOOOOO! Y'ALL DRIVE THE POPE TO DRAAANK!"
And it was usually at this point that the bell would ring and we'd all hightail it out of there before detention could be awarded. So although the history was rather dull, the process of learning it was the most exciting.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Dog and His Morals

Morals are most burdensome things. Half the time people carry them all over, never getting a rest from them and never needing the use of their morals. It isn't until they reach their twilight years and begin pondering that they never had much use of their morals and that if they shed them thirty years ago, perhaps they wouldn't be so tired now. The other half of people get their exercise by wrestling and grappling with their morals every chance they can get; usually on the weekends and in dimly lit pubs and seedy bars.
But of all the animals that are the most moral and honest, the dog is top in that he has no morals to speak of. At first it sounds strange and downright backwards to make such a bold statement as this, but make time and hear me out. A dog is not burdened by morals like the rest of us. He knows he has no morals, but doesn't attempt to disguise unlike some of us, and makes no attempt to seek some out.
The dog came into this world naked and figures that that's the way he was meant to be and conducts his day's business au naturale. He isn't burdened like we are, in that we cloak our hides in various get ups and fashions of the day, perhaps to conceal how much hair we've grown in certain areas or poor decisions with ink and needle. But a dog is happy to greet people and old friends naked and revel in that fact, whereas if we just stepped out of the bath, we immediately clothe ourselves or wrap up in several towels before we dare think of seeing company.
A dog isn't burdened with tiresome conversation or events. Often when we see children fidgeting at some event or activity, we also see the mother telling them to be quiet, behave, and act like they're having the times of their lives and be sure to thank the host or hostess when the event is over, even if they'd rather climbed trees or run pell-mell underneath the tables. And often one of us has experienced a run in with an old acquaintance who proceeded to talk our ears off when we wish at the moment that they would hurry up and drop off as that would give us a reason to excuse ourselves and carry on. But a dog is just as likely to fall asleep at these events or during these conversations with no ill will meant, and possibly give a light nip to warn not to bore him so again. He doesn't have to carry out a lie but instead lets the observer know exactly what he wishes and what he thinks of such things.
When we meet strangers, we smile and nod, even without knowing who they are, where they're from, or if they've just escaped out of Sing Sing with the intent of coming across us and doing us in. We're conditioned, despite all logic or reasoning, to be nice to people we don't know a thing about. A dog doesn't have that burden of acting nice, but will run the stranger right out of town or up a tree until he thinks it over and decides that he probably won't do any harm, or that as long as the stranger stays there, he won't bite him. If a stranger gives the dog a bit of food or a pat on the head, the dog realizes that he has a friend for life, since any man that is kind to animals is sure to have a good heart.
A dog isn't burdened by what time of night it is. If he believes that the household is in danger, he has no qualms about raising cain and letting all know that a twig snapped outside of the window, or the wind blew quite vigorously, or that you were snoring too much for his tastes. If we were to attempt acts such as these, we'd be saying "sorry!" a thousand times over, whereas if you point out to the dog that no burglars are outside, he will glance at you and soon fall asleep since you are clearly boring him.
A dog isn't burdened by what some may deem gluttonous behavior. While we clink wineglasses and slowly, methodically masticate our food to a pace that would make a turtle impatient, a dog takes quick note of his growling insides and devours as much food as possible while attempting to make off with yours when your head is turned. It isn't so much that the dog wants your food, but he figures that if you're taking that long on it then you must not be terribly hungry to begin with.
And so, a dog is the most moral animal that I know of. If a man were to attempt all of these acts that I just described, he would be declared insane. But when a dog attempts and succeeds at such things, we beam with pride at his lack of morals, pat him on the head and declare with truth and conviction, "That's a damn good dog!"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Unfairness of Taxes

Suppose that you're a state government and the depression of 2009 severely hurts your state's economy. Prices are fluctuating, debts are rising, and unemployment is ticking upwards. What do you do? You lower the unemployment tax for businesses in the hopes that they will hire on more people since it's a little more affordable. But at the same time you borrow money from the federal government to fund unemployment insurance programs for the people who are out of work.
Fast forward 4 years so that it's the year 2013 and your deferred loan from the federal government is due. How do you continue to fund your unemployment programs with a significant amount of people still out of work?
Now, imagine that you're a state senator and you have to grapple this thorny issue. You don't necessarily want to cause people to pay higher taxes, so you brainstorm and come up with the brilliant idea that you'll be able to fund the unemployment programs by increasing the tax on businesses. Instead of making employees take home less of their paycheck, businesses will now have to foot the bill for the unemployment insurance programs. This should work, right?
Well, it works in a sense in that any tax you raise will be paid. But who you want to pay may not necessarily be paying the majority or even any of the tax you impose upon them.

Economists have a term for this and it's called the tax incidence and it describes how taxes are shared among participants in the market. Since we're talking about employers and employees, we're actually talking about a market where employees sell their skills, talents, and labor to businesses in exchange for wages and salaries. If you were to plot the different amount of people who participate in the labor market against the price of labor, you would see an overall trend where business would hire lots and lots of people if labor were very cheap. And on the other side, you would see more and more employees being available to work when the price of labor increases. This makes sense, because after all, if labor were cheap, businesses could create goods while not having to pay as much money for wages, and if labor were expensive, more people would want to to work and get paid more. But there's a happy medium that's called the equilibrium point and the market price which really just means that every worker would be hired on by businesses at the wages they both agree upon.

But getting back the to the taxes, there's also something economists call elasticity which refers to how much the quantity of a good sold changes in relation to a change in its price. Take gasoline and the price of meals at restaurants as examples. More often than not, when gasoline prices increase, we wind up paying more at the pump, usually because there aren't any other fuel options for your car. We'd call gasoline inelastic because the amount you buy isn't going to change much compared to its price. But what about an elastic good? Say a restaurant increases the price of its meals 25% so that they're $5 more expensive, but the result being that their business drops off by 50%. We'd say this is elastic, because more people are deciding to eat at home due to the higher price.
Talking about gas and meals and the amount you may buy when prices change isn't really an unfamiliar idea; it's something you probably encounter every day. But for a labor market, supply of labor and demand for labor still exhibit these same trends of elasticity.

And this idea of elasticity is actually pretty important for determining economic policy, but it also determines who has to bear the brunt of a tax.
On the whole, demand for labor is relatively elastic, and you've probably encountered this by picking up a newspaper and reading about businesses having poor profits and responding by laying off scores of employees. But the supply of employees in the marketplace is relatively inelastic, and if anything, it usually increases because more and more people enter the workforce each year. The difference between the elasticity of demand and supply means that any change in wage price will result in a large change in the amount of employees a business will want to have.
Unfortunately, an unemployment tax has the same effect as increasing wage prices in the labor market, resulting in unemployment due to decreased demand for workers. The demand actually shifts the amount of the levied tax, and will result in lower paid wages to workers.
But how is this important in determining who pays the tax? The tax affects the less elastic participants in the market, in this case the employees. Even though the businesses are paying all of the tax, they're getting most of that money from the decrease in wages and the decrease in employees that they would normally hire.

So even though businesses are the ones being taxed, you still wind up paying most of it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ignorance Is Bliss

Way back in the day when I was a junior in high school, I was taking AP English/Lit my fall semester. We were just wrapping up The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when a fellow student in my class mentioned a one man play that he was part of that revolved around Huck Finn. He asked if he could perform part of the soliloquy for the class. My teacher agreed. So we all hunkered down and anticipated a good performance.
We were NOT disappointed.
"All my life revolved around the stage, and my dream, nay, my destiny was to see my name on Broadway's marquis under the title of Huckleberry Finn. Auditions were coming up in a month, and I rehearsed every day knowing my good work would be rewarded. I would burst out of the tub, saying, "HI! I'm HUCKLEBERRY FINN!" Whenever I would get home from school, I wouldn't just walk through the door, but I would make an entrance, 'HI! I'm HUCKLEBERRY FINN!' But one day I had a huge break. My parents were having a Broadway producer over for supper that night. This was my big chance. I dressed up in filthy coveralls, painted freckles on my face, and I waited until he came in and yelled at the top of my voice and lungs, 'HI! I'm HUCKLEBERRY FINN!' But I knew that success wasn't built on rote memorization of lines, but also improv and dancing! So I began to do a soft shoe number as the producer looked on with a blank face. I began doing a tarantella, and then whirling like a dervish, screaming, 'I'M HUCKLEBERRY FINN! I'M HUCKLEBERRY FINN!' I collapsed, out of breath, drained of emotion poured into that performance, and the producer looked at me and then at my parents and said, 'Gee, I didn't know your son was special.'"
At this point the student paused and looked around at the captive audience in the classroom. No one was laughing. I remember thinking to myself, "Boy, that punchline stinks!" With no response he continued.

At this point he went around the room and pointed at people, screaming "LAUGH! LAUGH! LAAAAAAUGH!" I was completely enthralled. This was great!
After about 5 more minutes of this, his face went from a puce color to its normal hue, and he ended with his arms wrapped around his chest and stared at the floor, and mumbled to the teacher, "Well, that's about it."
I stood up and applauded along with rest of the class's stuttering clapping. As we shuffled out of the classroom, one of the girls in the class turned to me and whispered, "Oh my god! I can't believe that just happened!" I turned back to her and said, "I know! What an act! That guy is going straight to Broadway!"

It wasn't until much later that I realized he'd figuratively flipped his lid. But during that performance, I was utterly spellbound, utterly ignorant, and utterly happy.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Small Chest of Drawers

I've been working on a small chest of drawers for my brother-in-law's fly fishing gear so that he could have the majority of it in one place. The case is made out of eastern white pine with the sides dovetailed together. The door is a panel and frame construction with the rails and stiles made out of red oak. The panel is eastern white pine with a raised and fielded panel. For the top, I added a small cyma recta molding along the outside edges away from the door. Unfortunately by the time I got everything assembled, painted, scraped, and looking good, my camera quit working so I wasn't able to get pictures of the door being fitted and how it looked over all. C'est la vie. 

Practice joinery with my bow saw before I start cutting tenons.

Square cuts.

Open mortise and tenon practice joint with a 90 degree fit. Unfortunately on the other side there's a nice gap between the rail and the stile.

Ripping one out. 

Square shoulder.

Tenons waiting to be pared to the line with a chisel.

Ready for glue up.

Molding detail.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Beginning

The setting is three weeks after the merger happened. The comptroller and financial analysts and operations analyst are sitting on crates around a fire in a barrel. A tin can with a string through the end of it is within arm's reach for the comptroller. The comptroller is wearing a suit with food stains and holes poked through it, along with a toboggan on top of his head. He appears not to have shaved for several weeks. All the other analysts look similarly shabby.

Comptroller: Alright, dadgummit, let's get this meeting started. Alright, we're here as a follow up to our meeting last week when we settled on securing investors and raising capital for the purpose of starting a limited liability corporation to try and regain some sort of financial stability and to wreak havoc on those sons of guns who dirty dogged us. So, let's just start off with an update of how everyone is doing with their investors and capital. Aaaand I'll start over on my left.
Financial Analyst 1: [sniffs and wipes nose on her sleeve] Whatever. Doesn't matter. Siegel was right. I should've just taken the severance package.
Comptroller: Uh, ok. I'll take that as a negative reply for raising capital. Any investors?
Financial Analyst 1: Any investors? We're in the middle of downtown! All my friends work down here and they shift their eyes away when they see me! But I still yell that it could happen to them too! Nobody wants to touch me! I have the financial plague!
Comptroller: [throws hands in the air] Ok! Ok! Look, dadgummit, I was blindsided by this too, but you know what? Whenever I see one of my associates who has their mouth drop to the floor at my appearance and then asks me if I got run over by a garbage truck, do you think I just give up and quit? NO! I walk over there and give them a big hug until they give me money to get away from them...partially because of the smell, and partially because they feel sorry for me. But I have seen their fear! Their fear is a powerful thing! They know that what happened to us can happen to them! And yet they do not voice it, but deep down they are rooting for us, with the knowledge that if transgressions against us are committed, we still have the solid know-how and tenacity to overcome terminations and absolutely no equity to build another LLC that will wipe that stupid other corporation who railroaded us right off the financial map!
Siegel: [through tin can] Oh my god. Dan. That was beautiful! You need to come over where I am and teach these hobos a thing or two about that sort of eloquence.
Comptroller: Why? What's the matter?
Siegel: Well, you know how I've got a bunch of hobos working as independent contractors for raising cash? Most of them can handle doing the signs up correctly but when they're asked what sort of business we are, most of them just talk about our goals being to get rid of all the aliens that have infiltrated our government and to develop a new psychic mind control program to enslave the aliens living in the Titticaca Galaxy.
Comptroller: Oh, that's really...odd. How has that worked out for you?
Siegel: So far, so good. They've raised lots of donations so far, but I think the donors aren't getting it. I explained to this one guy yesterday in a Geo that right now we're primarily concerned with getting some sort of equity in a heavy industrial manufacturing plant.
Comptroller: Does this story have an end? Sorry, sorry. What did he say?
Siegel: Well, to cut it short, he thought I was an alien and attempted to reverse probe me to authenticate my terrestrial existence.
[There is a pregnant pause on the line and an awkward silence with confused and disgusted looks shared amongst the analysts and comptroller]
Siegel: I didn't let him. I hoofed it out of there. But I need people who can just explain it like you did on what our business goal is. I feel like we'd be raising more cash that way, and possibly finding a potential seller for equity.
Comptroller: Ok, but how much cash have you raised?
Siegel: Well, we've got about $98.57 but it's mostly in pennies and nickels. And they're all kind of sticky.
Comptroller: Ok, well keep doing what you're doing. It's obviously working, I mean, reverse probing aside. Stay out of that line of work.
Siegel: Yes sir. Do you want me to remain dialed in for the remainder?
Comptroller: Yeah, that'd be best. I want you to remain in the loop. Alright, McJames, I know you were tracking down a couple of leads for investors and you had a meeting with one of them, is that correct? [McJames nods his head] Yeah? Ok, so how did that one go?
Financial Analyst 2: I met with Smelton and Barney, LLP and explained that we wanted to leverage some sort of deal for equity in a target company.
Comptroller: Well, really the goal is to either create a company or take over an existing company with its own customer and manufacturing base. Right now we absolutely need the equity for loans and to get our feet on solid ground.
Financial Analyst 2: Well...if we took over a company, how would that be righting a wrong? I mean, wouldn't we just be screwing some poor schmucks over just like how we got screwed over?
Comptroller:....That's not the point. Finish what happened.
Financial Analyst 2: Anyway, they said that it was a bad idea for right now with everyone being nervous about the upcoming fiscal year. No one wants to sell their stock if it's doing relatively well or if they're expecting growth, and no one wants to acquire equity in a failing company, so we're sort of at an impasse for investors. Oh, plus they said the way we handled the merger kinda got us blacklisted among venture capitalists.
Comptroller: [grinding teeth] Dad....Dad...DADGUMMIT!
Siegel: I see junk bonds in the near future.
Comptroller: They're not junk bonds! They are high yield bonds!
Operations Analyst: Can we hurry this along? My shift at Burger King starts in 30 minutes and I'd like to check up on my portfolio before I start.
Comptroller: Yes, yes. Alright, you're next I believe. Siegel, this is our operations analyst, in case you wondering.
Siegel: I know who he is, sir. [whispers] Nimrod.
Comptroller: I heard that. Don't make me shout into this can and blow your eardrums out. Anyway, what do you have for us?
Operations Analyst: I've looked into the potential market and it's going to be obsolete in about 5 to 7 years. Microchips and sensors will be the way to go. Electronics vice mechanical. I think we were acquired through a lack of foresight on their part, or they possibly expected that switch to happen at a much slower pace. It's picked up quite a bit since we were terminated, mostly due to falling prices on electronics and sensors. But microchips, solenoids, sensors and control software...that's where the future is headed. It makes sense, too, after an initial capital investment, you'll be able to control your machinery through software with a minimum of people and a team of mechanics instead of having hundreds of operators at each piece working a PLC.
Comptroller: Hm. Ok. What we bring to the table, is that transmutable to any other industry?
Operations Analyst: Nah, everyone is making the switch, it's not just our industry. I mean, you can track packages not just at distribution centers, but through GPS transceiver units affixed to the packages. It's just a new world forming out there. And heck, I remember when I was lucky to receive a package in under four weeks.
Comptroller: Dang. Who here knows anything about gadgetry and gee-whiz stuff?
Comptroller: I hope he's not getting a reverted probe or whatever it was.
Siegel: Sorry, they get agitated sometimes...Look, we know we're good at creative thinking and coming up with uncommon solutions due to our uncommon minds. Why don't we start manufacturing or producing some sort of helmet or something to drown out alien mind control? I know there's a large market for it in my region, and I think they'd be willing to pay for whatever price we're asking. Plus the hobos could sell them with their contacts and be able to demonstrated its effectiveness at the same time.
Comptroller: [Looks around] That's a thought. I like it. There's only one problem and that is that there are no DADGUM ALIENS.
Operation Analyst: Hold on, we could just market it as a novelty item. I think it could work. We know there's a market there if Siegel's been able to raise that much cash. It could work and I don't think that market's been tapped. We'd have no competitors.
Comptroller: [Sighs] Well...Alright, we'll do it. But I don't want a word of this getting out to anyone, colleagues or otherwise. Dadgummit, we'll be the best manufacturers of the alien helmet probers this side of the galaxy! Ok, meeting adjourned, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedules to stop by my office and joining in the teleconference. That last one was for you, Siegel.
Siegel: I know that [whispers] dummy.
Comptroller: I HEARD THAT!
Siegel: Well, gotta go!
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