Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tiny boxes...

Much of my work on the Froebel book is now complete and in the hands of the publisher, so I am getting ready to start a book about making tiny boxes. Tiny boxes in my mind are not scaled down to a size in which they are useless. I simply use the term to describe a range of size smaller than what box makers normally make. They can be used for any number of things, but because they as so small, they invite close examination, and thus require a higher degree of precision in their making.

As with my other books, Tiny Boxes will offer a variety of boxes using a variety of techniques, ranging from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the more difficult, and from the concrete to the abstract. So, in that I believe that you can discover just as I have that the principles of educational Sloyd can apply to more than just woodworking education.

Yesterday I wrote about the closure of SWEPCO's case at the APSC to build their monstrously destructive, unnecessary power line across the Ozarks. The wide clear cut swath of its right of way, kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations would have divided our community but brought it together instead, in vociferous opposition to it. SWEPCO's Shipe Road to Kings River power line would have been the second leg of a disruptive power transmission system ranging all the way across our state, with no leg of it needed for anything but SWEPCO profits. So our small victory is actually a large defeat for SWEPCO/AEP's quest for hegemony. Not only did we manage to keep it from happening here, we have effectively shut down their plans for stringing extra high voltage power lines all across the state.

The Southwest Power Pool (the regional transmission organization that SWEPCO is a member of) was expelled from most of Arkansas when Entergy left it to join MISO (Mid-Continent Independent Systems Operators). So, building this massive new network of extra high voltage power lines would have been a way for Southwest Power Pool to have leveraged its way back across the state. This SWEPCO fiasco was a disaster for the SPP, as it had to be confronted with its malfeasance, and held accountable for having embarrassed its members.

In granting SWEPCO's withdrawal and the termination of their application, the APSC refused to strike our expert witness testimony, thus allowing it to remain part of the public record so that anyone can go and read about their intended malfeasance. I hope that this document serves as a warning to power companies that they won't always get what they want, and they'd best not misrepresent the facts of a case. The expert testimony by Dr. Hyde Merrill, addressing their malfeasance and misrepresentations begins on page 10 of this document.

In any case, it appears that my own horizons are being cleared for making boxes. Tiny ones.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 27, 2015

case closed...

A router jig to guide cutting of hinge mortises
We are coming upon the second anniversary of AEP/SWEPCO's application to destroy a huge swath of Northwest Arkansas to build an unnecessary 345 kV power line. Its towers, placed 6 to the mile would have dwarfed our tallest oak trees, and the clear cut right of way would have been kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations by the use of toxic herbicides.

If alternate route 91 had been selected and approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, it would have traversed my own 11 acres from one end to the other, with the clear cut dead zone falling just 75 feet from my deck. Maintenance by helicopter of the 150 foot wide right of way would have launched the horrific beasts whirling at eye level across back of our home.

April 3, 2015 has been named by the City of Eureka Springs,  Save the Ozarks Day in celebration of our having stopped the malfeasance put forward by SWEPCO's application filed on April 3, 2013. The whole project came as a complete surprise to all of us in our community, it having been kept in secret planning by SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool for years as they worked out details on various routes.

What became obvious after we saw the nuts and bolts of their plan, was that it had been designed on Google Earth and had completely missed an understanding of the significance of each small hill and hollow that hold such great an importance in our own lives. They planned to shove their plan through, without regard for what it would damage, and whether it was necessary or not.

The most obvious thing that came to the surface of things as we dug into their environmental impact statement and assessment of need was that they were lying to us. They proposed a monumental solution to problem that did not even exist.

We most fortunately came together as a community, hired an attorney, and  expert witnesses (the best in the business) and following nearly two years of battle forced the utility to admit it was not needed. They withdrew their application and just this last week, almost two years from the launch of the debacle, the commission closed the case.

April 3, 2015 will indeed be a day of celebration. In this case, rather than asking for us to gather in celebration, we urge each to disperse. We will breathe in the beauty of that which would have been destroyed. We shall stand in special spots of overlook, and hold to the image of what we see, knowing that those having contributed to Save the Ozarks have held it thus, that it will inspire others to see what stands before our eyes.

Yesterday in the wood shop, I used my new 4 position router table to complete parts for an order of boxes. It worked just as I imagined it would. I also routed the hinge mortises for the doors of my small chapels that will hold samples of various woods as shown in the photo above. In addition, I began inlaying about 50 business card holders, and spent about 4 hours of tractor time to repair our road which had been washed out by tremendous rains.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

size matters...

From an administrative point of view, an effective teacher can manage a classroom of 30-35 children. The New York Public school system will allow 35 children in a class, but some classes have 36 due to the expectation that any given day, at least one student will be absent. Yesterday I was telling a friend about my daughter's teaching in New York, and that she has over 30 students in each of her 6th grade math and seventh grade science classes. My friend has a daughter who teaches in a Montessori school and has 25 students in the primary grades.

The point here is not that a good teacher can manage a large class but that managing a class and teaching a class are two different things. In fact the idea of a "class" as an effective grouping for student learning is erroneous in the first place.

Anyone who has paid attention to the workings of his own mind, and has made some efforts to note its wanderings will admit that the attention necessary to learn in a classroom is fleeting at best. The teacher may call the class to attention and introduce a bit of new material, which will be taken up by individual students at varying levels of comprehension, based not only on the students'  intelligence but also on the students' experience and interests. Not all students will have the same level of interest and attention at the same time. Fortunately some students have the ability to assemble discrete packets of  information into a holistic comprehension of the subject matter as the mind's attention moves in and out of range of materials being presented in a classroom setting. But within a "class," consisting of students with varying levels of intelligence and diverse prior experience, and in which students are burdened with circumstances outside the school that none-the-less have real impact on ability to be present and attentive, the range is too great for even the best teachers to overcome.

Nearly every good teacher in the world will describe the challenges that arise when they have too little time to give individualized attention to each student. And yet, in administrations and in the halls of Congress, nothing is done to reduce class size. The idea in American education seems to be that by crowding students into a room and "teaching" them, they will conform to "standards," but the first standard that should be set would be for teachers to have no more than 20 students in a class.

If you were put in a situation in which you felt you were simply wasting your time, how long would you linger? Children and teachers face that situation each and every day.

Clear Spring School is out this week for Spring Break, so I am attempting to make products to fill an order for Appalachian Spring. The box design at the top of the page is one I worked out in my waking hours of the night. It is a small box in which the wooden hinges is integrated in the lid and back. I am about to sign a contract with Taunton Press for another box book, this one about making tiny boxes. So, in teaching and in other things, size matters.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


This morning, I emptied my sawdust bin where I collect sawdust from various operations in the wood shop. The bin was full to the top, and I emptied 15 32 gallon garbage can loads into the back of the truck to haul to school where it will be used to build the soil for the school garden after thorough composting is complete. We will need to find a source for nitrogen to add and make it useful to the garden.

My first paid article was about using a sawdust pee bucket as a means to make use of wood shop and human by-products at the same time. I was paid $50.00 for that article by Mother Earth News, and I've inquired to see if it was ever published. Since 1982 when I submitted my article, Mother Earth News has published over 35 similar articles, as it seems a thing I discovered on my own has also been discovered by others. Is that not the way the world works? When folks accurately observe and share their observations so that they may be tested by others, we have science.

In New York, we walked among the columns at St. John the Divine, and found the place to be more a monument to the holiness of man, than to an abstract God. The point is not that man is to be worshiped, or that his works should be exalted, but that the works of man should be inspired toward greater things. When folks come together in the name of their beliefs and thereby collectivize great creative works in their communities that enable the growth of craftsmen in character and intellect, far more is accomplished than by worship alone. St. John the Divine, as the only great cathedral in the US, was conceived as an ecumenical center in which the provincial qualities of individualized beliefs might become overshadowed by the greater spirit of man.

The image at left is artist Meredith Bergmann's response to the disaster of 9/11 on display at St. John the Divine.

Today the Arkansas Public Service Commission closed the docket in our case against the gargantuan power line that SWEPCO and the Southwest  Power Pool tried to build through Northwest Arkansas. While we won the case by stopping the thing from being built, we were not granted the rights to payment of legal fees. On the one hand, we stand united in victory, and on the other have regrets that the utility was not required to make amends for their malfeasance.

It feels as though we've come to the end of an era in which a destructive force was attempting to disrupt our community.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"In these days, all young people want to make something"...

Me and the shuttle Enterprise
That my friends, was the opening line from a book once held by the New York Public Library, How to Make Common Things.  Written by John Bower and published in 1895, it is now available free online from Google books. It offers great advice for starting out with a few simple tools.

These days, many kids seem to think that in order to make something you'll need a computer and a 3-D printer, for along the way, we've forgotten to introduce them to simple things... the joy you can make for yourself with scissors and string and then progressing to other simple tools of the various trades. Still, it seems that the hunger to make things is alive and well, and we need to make sure children have the opportunity. We need not start with complicated equipment, and we'd best start now.

This particular book was published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, but you would not know that from the simple tone of the book. There is no preaching tone from it as one might find in Christian books of today, as back then, in 1895, it was understood by nearly all that the values of craftsmanship were moral values by which human society and religious values were made secure. Put saws and hammers in the hands of people of all faiths, put literature and zealotry aside, and you'll find them joyously engaged.

At the American Museum of Natural History, the had a display of video interviews with a few scientists who described how they attempt to reconcile their religious beliefs with what they have come to learn of the real world... Not the biblical world described in a single book, but rather, what the actual circumstances of creation are, that can be discovered by a systematic examination of physical reality. There is another museum in Kentucky where they try to claim that dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same time, and what huge stupidity there is in that.

If you believe in craftsmanship you are free to also believe in science, for the values are not conflicting. If you believe only in sacred books, your understanding of reality and of your place within the world will be necessarily distorted, bringing you to odds with those who've chosen other books to hold sacred and supreme.

But putting all that aside, give me a hammer and some nails, a saw and piece of wood, and your attention for a few minutes, and we'll make a box, and the world will be a better place from it. In making that box, we'll share the common values inherent in craftsmanship, and carry away from it the desire to share with others who we really are.

Yesterday, in addition to walking the high line from one end to the other, we visited the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. Today we head home from New York. The shuttle Enterprise was built as a prototype for atmospheric testing, and was never fitted out fully for space. But it is on display at the Intrepid Museum and standing along side, one marvels that they were ever able to launch such things in space.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 23, 2015

this day in New York...

Inside Cathedral St. John the Divine 
My wife and I are tourists in New York on this day as my daughter teaches 6th grade math and 7th grade science through the week. Other than dinner tonight, we are off parental involvement except for the occasional coaching made possible by Skype, texting, and telephonic communication. The importance of good teachers was made clear as we got off the subway in Lucy's neighborhood yesterday afternoon. Two of her students and a dad were so excited to see her that they called out and grilled her about the package she carried. "Is that for our math class?" one asked. Lucy answered honestly, that it was for her apartment, but could have answered, "Yes, It's full of numbers." That, too, would have been true, for how many numbers would fit in a package, 3 in. x 18 in. x 42 in.? Lots, I dare say.

It was interesting visiting Lucy in her classroom, watching her call 31 students in that class to order, maintaining their participation through a well scripted plan. I know that a class of 30 can be taught. I have questions of how effective it is, and how many are left out of the loop, when just a bit more attention at the right time, might have won them over to a love of math. And once loving math, what might have become of them. I know this because I have become a lover of math, but only after I've learned and discovered on my own how things work. For example, in measuring the area of a triangle, with no right angled intersections, why does the formula: base times height divided by 2 work? Give a kid a pair of scissors and allow him the time to discover the answer on his own. That is a hard thing to do with 31 kids in a class, and much easier with 15.

Over the weekend, wood shop teacher Richard Baseley in Australia also visited IKEA, but in Melbourne, where he managed to leave empty handed. (No meatballs?) His idea was to search through the world of K-D furniture for something that might inspire his kids. The world is so full of stuff these days, that making things is no longer a necessity except to the human spirit. Our human character and intellect arrived in the first place through the exercise of craftsmanship.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

the IKEA boat, parental involvement days 2, 3

Yesterday in New York, we took the IKEA Ferry from Manhattan to the IKEA store in Brooklyn. The ride is free, paid for by the thousands of dollars of stuff carried home in blue bags, and the thousands of Swedish meatballs consumed on premises before customers get back on the boat. The store is so large and busy that not all customers had arrived by boat. Some had rented Uhaul trucks to carry home what they planned to buy.

IKEA offers Scandinavian design at  low cost. Their furniture is knockdown and the kind you throw-a-way at the end of the day. But in a day in which low cost of goods is the primary value and not the growth of intellect and character within communities that arises through craftsmanship, IKEA is a perfect choice for people from all the diverse cultures and ethnic groups within the whole of New York. For a young woman on a teacher's salary and in a tiny apartment, the occasional ferry ride to IKEA, with Mom and Dad to help carry home large packages is an ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Today we assembled a book case and fold down dining table to make Lucy's small apartment living a bit easier and better organized. As others have pointed out, assembling IKEA furniture can give a sense of tactile feedback as though you've actually made it yourself. And all the hard thinking has been removed from the process. Even the instructions are simplified so that you can follow the pictures and assemble without reading a word. So what if it falls apart when you move to a new apartment? It was fun while it lasted, and you can always take the ferry back to IKEA to launch another adventure.

Yesterday we also visited the 9/11 site. Like a trip to the American Natural History Museum, you learn that the world is very large and human history is complex. The tragedy of 9/11 was an international one, launching the US and allies into a conflict that the world will suffer for generations. The answer to it all is not arms, but rather the growth of human dignity and means toward social justice, which leads us toward my next stop.

This afternoon my wife and I also paid a visit to St. John the Divine Cathedral on Amsterdam, and besides the visual delights, including one of George Nakashima's Peace Tables, an acoustic delight was taking place as the great organ and choir were practicing for a performance. The first time we visited St. John the Divine much of the cathedral was closed due to a devastating fire and they were cleaning the inside stone, block by block. Now the full cathedral is open and lovely, though it remains unfinished.

You may have wondered what inspired the small chapels of wood that I'm making in the shop. The photo above from St. John the Divine is of a particular type of cabinet you will find in many large medieval churches and cathedrals in Europe. The people carved within are characters from the great stories of the Christian church. The panels close upon the story, just as the doors of my small cabinet will close upon the choir, which will consist of small turned samples of 25 American hardwoods. What deserves more reverence than the forests that give so much?

Make, fix and create...