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: