Friday, December 25, 2009

An Innovative Ring Solution

A close friend of ours made her husband's wedding band many years ago. She did this when she was working at a high school, using the jewelry-making equipment in the art studio during her off hours. She had a piece of aluminum lathed to the diameter of her husband's finger, and then wrapped bands of wax around the aluminum blank to build up a wax ring. The ring was then cast in gold from the wax pattern she had built up.

Fast forward many years to the present day. Not long ago, her husband lost this ring. I don't think it would offend anyone involved to say that her husband is her property, and that she had every right to put another ring on his hand as a signal to the rest of the ladies in the world that his is taken. She wanted to recreate the original ring, but she couldn't find the equipment to do this. In addition, she didn't have the measurements from the original. She made a drawing of the ring and worked out the likely dimensions of the original. Then she got a piece of jewelers wax and a ring-sizing ream from a jeweler friend. She started making a copy by hand, sawing off a piece of the wax and reaming it out. She didn't have a way to cut the outside diameter of the ring precisely enough, so I offered her the use of my lathe. She brought her accumulated jewelry paraphernalia over to our house, including a framed photo of him in which the ring is quite clearly visible. We measured the ring in the photo with a micrometer, and used a Bic Pen in his pocket for scale. We found a real Bic Pen of the same type, and solved for X to find the width of the real ring. Unfortunately, the estimate we came up with was quite different from what she remembered the true dimensions to be, probably because of lack of precision in the photo (which, parenthetically, we discovered to have been Photoshopped because the ring is on his right hand and his hair is parted on the wrong side, but his colleague's name tag appears to be normal. Sneaky.). So we went with her recollection of the ring's measurements.

We mounted a piece of the jewelers wax in the lathe and bored the inside diameter to match her husband's college ring that is known to fit well. Then we cut the outside diameter of the ring and two grooves, slightly radiusing all of the right-angled edges. I was worried that heat generated by the cutting process would deform the wax, so we held a piece of ice against the workpiece while it was spinning. Between cuts when we were discussing proportions, we hung a bag of icewater over the headstock of the lathe to keep everything cool and dimensionally stable.

The first ring we manufactured just didn't look right. Our friend came to the conclusion that it needed to be thicker--it was too thin (2mm)--and that the proportions of the three bands around the circumference needed to be changed to make the center band wider. She was right. The second iteration was about 3mm thick and the outer bands were reduced by .3mm each. Additionally, we made the outer bands of very slightly smaller diameter than the large central on. These changes made a huge difference in the ring's aesthetics.

The next day, she took the wax pattern to our jeweler friend to have it cast. He told me that:

1) This was a big ring (her husband has very large hands).
2) That we could come and work for him if our day jobs don't work out. I was particularly flattered that his normal wax pattern guy was slightly offended that he (our jeweler friend) had used someone else to make this pattern, until our friend told him what I do for my day job (I am not a jeweler).

Monday, December 14, 2009


Perhaps it's the fact that I spent the two years immediately following the fall of the Iron Curtain just across the Adriatic from the disintegrating Yugoslavia. Or maybe it's that I think one of the greatest and most underrated films of all time is Mr. Wrong (starring Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Pullman; halfway through the movie it magically sheds it romantic-comedy cocoon and emerges as a crazy psycho thriller). What does this have to do with the price of beans, you ask?

My little friend Pops had his first haircut last spring. I gave him a buzzcut in anticipation of a long summer of swimming pools and beach trips. And it worked wonderfully. Fast forward to the middle of a New England winter, and how has the buzz aged? Not so well, thank you. A good buddy who spent the mid 1990s in the Ukraine and I were riffing on just how bad the poor kid's hair looks, and somehow we determined that his coif makes him look like an early-90s Serbian gangster. Either that or Ellen DeGeneres having a bad (good?) hair day. Later that night, I woke up in a cold sweat with the realization that Pops needed a shirt with the Supercuts logo on it--a fitting exclamation point on the walking bad-hair advertisement he has become. I searched in vain for one from their official site, and finally just ordered one from . I am sure I could have found one at some ironic hipster Urban Outfitters type store, but I was able to order from the comfort of my bed from my iPhone. Here are the results:

Straight on:

What you see when he runs away from you:

A face so cute it nearly make you forget about the Balkans and the Russian mob:

The shirt:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I Spy With My Little Eye

On our family trip to Washington DC this year, we spent an afternoon in the International Spy Museum. It is VERY cool. Really, the US government missed a big opportunity by not building a museum like this. I suspect, however, that it would not be as nice if it were publicly funded as part of the Smithsonian.

The photography room is one of the more interesting exhibits in the museum, especially if you are a geek. It contains all sorts of interesting cameras, from shoe cameras to aerial reconnaissance ones. One camera that caught my eye was a little SLR called the Pentax 110. It was the cutest camera I have ever seen. It looks like a 1/2 scale Pentax SLR, complete with interchangeable lenses:

(this photo borrowed from another website)

According to the information in the display case, the KGB issued these cameras to their agents in the '70s and '80s. I sat in front of the display, smitten by this little camera despite its associate with the KGB. It's ironic that the protector of the People's Party turned to the capitalist Japanese for camera technology.

In a testament to the power of modern technology, I pulled out my iPhone and started researching the Pentax 110 on eBay and Wikipedia, all while standing in the Spy Museum. It turns out that these cameras can be had complete with a few lenses

for a very reasonable price: The 110 film is available, but is quite hard to find. I bought one on eBay complete with three lenses, an autowinder (works, but I haven't used it), and a flash (ditto).

These are some photos from my first roll, taken around Boston and at Acadia National Park. The film is a bit grainy, and the colors are oh-so-retro 70s looking:

Rock wall at my work. I have always loved the sweep and height change of this wall. It is a little nugget of beauty I get to admire every day as I walk in to my office

An office building (my office)

A nice little Dutch Colonial (my home)

Friends Tal and Anita on the day of their engagement
(he proposed at sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain)

A strikingly beautiful little kid I am related to

View from the lawn of Jordan Pond House Restaurant in Acadia,
purveyors of yummy popovers and double-billed credit card statements

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Fillet MigDingDong

We have a tradition of going camping in the summer in Vermont with a large group of friends. On one of the mornings we have a wonderful communal breakfast consisting of huge quantities of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and orange juice. In previous years, my good buddy Dave has capped the meal off by making a plate of what he calls "Weapons of Mass Deliciousness," basically dropping a glob of pancake batter into boiling bacon drippings to deep fry it. The resulting deep-fried biscuits are delicious and are, in fact, threat-level-red dangerous to the cardiovascular system.

This year we got to the end of the meal and I had what can only be described as a flash of culinary brilliance. Sitting at my picnic table, I noticed a package of chocolate Ding Dongs

and a plate of cooked bacon. Maybe it was the massive shock in my blood sugar level brought on by chugging straight maple syrup. Maybe it was the fifteen pancakes I had just eaten. Whatever the case, in one magical moment, I noticed that the Ding Dong resembled a fillet mignon in size and shape. Running with the similarity, I began imagining how one could prepare a Ding Dong in the manner of a fillet. Imagination soon became reality as I took a Ding Dong from its package, wrapped bacon around its circumference, and pinned the bacon down with toothpicks. Then I took the Ding Dong/bacon assembly and immersed it in pancake batter. This dripping mess went straight into boiling bacon grease. A few minutes on each side frying the plump morsel to a lightly crunchy golden brown and Voila!

By the time the Ding Dong was in the oil, a crowd of mocking healthy people had gathered to witness this culinary "abomination." Such is the price of genius. The jeers turned to silence as we pulled the Ding Dong from the oil and christened it "Fillet MigDingDong." A few brave souls dared to try it. The verdict? Crazy Delicious.



One side done, almost there:

Contemplating the first cut:


Dave and Dan, declaring victory over bland health food:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stiff Upper Lip Manufacturing

Sometimes I wake up at night thinking about weird things like the causes of the implosion of the British car industry in the 1970s and 80s. I purchased a book entitled Whatever Happened to the British Motorcycle Industry because it seemed like it would document a similar decline in British motorcycles. Little did I know it would turn out to be an object lesson. Note that the book is manufactured in the UK. So here is a silent photo essay on British manufacturing:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Topaz Mountain, Afghanistan, err, Utah

My brother-in-law Adam and I took the older kids/nieces/nephews to Topaz Mountain in Utah to rockhound while the younger kids went to the pool. It was a great time. The geography in this part of the world is beautifully stark. It looks very much like the photos you see of Afghanistan. And in the white FJ80 Land Cruiser, the illusion one has of driving across the Hindu Kush was even more powerful. The Cruiser performed flawlessly. It is really awesome. Like, I want to take it out behind the junior high and make out with it--that kind of awesome. I need to bring more of my eastern friends to this place so that they can witness the vastness and emptiness. Very, very cool.

I highly recommend this as a fun day trip from the SLC metropolitan area. We brought hammers and screwdrivers to pick for topaz, though I would recommend bringing a rock pick if you go. We all came back with a few decent topaz. Here is a list of stuff to bring:

1) Tools (hammer and screwdriver at a minimum)
2) Hat with neck protection
3) Water
4) Food
5) Ziploc bags for the topaz you find

Where we went:

View Topaz Mountain in a larger map

Some photos:

Setting off on the trek, six cousins

About 30 minutes into the voyage

Where we parked to hunt for topaz. We were 100 yards up the hill from this spot.

Afghanistan shot

Another Afghanistan shot

Leaving a geocache. Got to use low range and lock the center differential

Some of the priceless gems I found

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One in a Billion

Photos from last summer. I am behind on these posts.

I have decided that the best way to get to know a foreign city is to bicycle around and sort of fit in with traffic and life. I went on a business trip to Beijing and to this end bought a sweet folding Dahon Curve D3 bicycle at a Dahon store in Beijing. It wasn't a screaming deal--maybe 25% less than it would have cost in the US. It is, however, a fantastic bike. Highly recommended. I was able to get it into the hard-sided Samsonite I brought along with me, but that required a bit of disassembly. Biking around Beijing is still fun. If the Chinese government doesn't get ahead of the car situation there, we won't have too many more years of cycling in Beijing. Here are some photos:

Notice that I brought my Garmin eTrex along with its handlebar mount. I left a breadcrumb trail on my rides so that I could find my way back to the hotel.

The Square:

Dusk on the Square. Pretty odd to think about what this place means to so many people, mostly outside China. One gets no hint at all of this now...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And I Dwelt in a Tent

Not much to say here. Just picked up a Mombasa roof top tent on craigslist. Put it on top of the Cruiser. Now I will win when:

1) We camp with all of our friends.
2) We set up our car for Halloween trunk or treating. Stand back, fishes.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Last year we (well, actually our good friend Jonah) bought a Suburban for our big family trip to the western US. It was cheaper than renting a car for the three weeks we were there. At the end of the trip, we left the 'Burban with my brother to sell it.

This year we are doing the same thing, and my intention this time is to buy a vehicle we will actually want to keep. We have lots of friends who could make use of a family vehicle for trips out West, too. So a few days ago, I found a 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser (know to Cruiser aficionados as the FJ80) online for a good price. The seller sounded like a good guy in my phone conversation with him, and he gave me his mechanic's number to follow up on questions I had. The bottom line is that I bought a vehicle sight unseen with only some photos and conversations to go on. Many generous relatives offered to go and pick it up for me. My sister and niece made the two-hour round trip to pick it up. My sister even floated the money for the purchase (I should probably send her a check, huh?). Awesome! The truck will be waiting for us when we get there.

The Cruiser has 235,000 miles. In my research, I have been surprised to learn that the old Land Cruiser motors have pushrods and are derived from a 1950s Chevrolet design. They are durable motors, if a little underpowered for the task. The FJ80 was a bit of a hybrid, with the "new" style body but with the old engine. My old Porsche 912 was the same thing--motor from the old 356 and body from the new 911.

The body has a little rust, but I will touch it up and frankly am not too worried about it. I will remove the brush guard on the front and try to take off the rubber strips on the sides. The biggest problem was the missing third-row jump seats. Fortunately, I found a guy online parting out a 1991 Land Cruiser nearly identical to mine. It had grey cloth seats and a set of jump seats. A few bucks later, and they are on their way via UPS. They need to be cleaned:

The most important task will be to do something to honor the white Land Cruisers that keep the civilized world in business. What do I mean by that? Turn on the TV and watch. Peacekeeping in Kosovo? White Land Cruisers. UNICEF in Mongolia? White Land Cruisers. UN Food Programme in Africa? White Land Cruisers. CIA and Special Ops in Afghanistan? White Land Cruisers. To really do this truck justice, I am going to find just the right decal to put on both doors. So here I need your help. Below are some photos I have found around the web of white Toyotas with cool door decals. What are your thoughts? What door decals does this truck need?

The plain jane UN Cruiser / 4-Runner / Nissan with black UN letters :

A British Cruiser in Gaza with the Union Jack and Emergency Aid:

A UNICEF Cruiser:

A UNDP Cruiser:

A UN Food Programme Cruiser:

Well, and here are a few that I could make into decals. They are really insider jokes, but they might get a few guffaws from impressed people. See if you can name these references. If you get the Ace Tomato Company one, you will be my best friend:

What are your thoughts?