Thursday, December 31, 2009

Green Plow Coffee Roasting: Pat Schmidt on the Podium

You approach the orchestra prepared to lead them in creating beautiful music. Just before you lift the baton, you remember that the oboe player has a chest cold and won't be able to play the long notes like he usually does. In this hall, you recall, the bright sounds are really projected well so you must hold down the brasses, especially the trumpets. And the tympanist has broken up with her boyfriend, and she's going to be back there whomping out the painful beats of her broken heart. Use the softening gesture toward her, but remember to smile too...

It's those variables and how you respond to them that puts your performance either in the "art" category or the "cookie cutter" list.

So it is with roasting coffee. All this time I had lumped the beans with a turkey: you put it in the oven at 325 degrees, did the math and checked on it after the elapsed time and if it looked done, took it out.

Then I watched Pat roast.

So starting with the coffee, where is it from, what experience have you had with it?
Answers to those questions will drive the two principal variables, roasting temperature and time. The gas-driven flame you can see, the clock you can watch, and the beans must be looked at regularly by sliding out a little handled tube, taking a quick, analytical glance, and thrusting them back into the heated fray.

Roast time is 14 minutes, give or take. Pat packs a clipboard and records the temperature every 30 seconds, glancing at the flame, pulling the tube out and observing carefully and quickly, making adjustments to flame and air, and then it's time to record the temp again. The analogy to conducting an orchestra is physically very apt, which leads to a challenge to Brian Johnson: Film this guy and set it to music!

When the beans are done, based on human judgments of their color and the presence of tiny dots of oil (the cheerful deliverers of that exquisite fresh-roasted flavor), they make a steamy entrance into the cooling tray where chaff is blown off from the popping phase (and yes, it sounds a little like popcorn).

The graph is saved. And while it is not as exquisite as Charles Minard's famous chart it will be valuable to Pat, contributing to the consistency of his roasts, in spite of the oboe player and the tympanist.

If you can buy a bag right then, your hands will be warmed all the way home from Green Plow Coffee Roasters on 6th street in Redmond, Oregon.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Juni, Congenital Hip Dislocation, and Spica Cast

A month short of her first birthday, Juni's parents discovered she had a displaced hip. It happened this way: The sisters were rasslin' and when that ended in loud noises and tears, Joe and Sarah thought perhaps Juni had injured a foot. Off to the Emergency Room for the Right Now X-ray. Good news: Nothing broken. They're on their way out of the hospital, relieved, when the X-ray tech comes up behind them and invites them back in. "I'm seeing something on the X-ray," he said. And there it was. Sarah, whose sister had CHD early on, had noticed the manifestations of this in Juni's crawling, but her concerns and observations had been discounted by the doctor.

The course of action was to relocate the ball of the femur in the socket. And then the spica cast, all under anesthesia. Wikipedia tells us a spica cast is one where there is a smaller cast branching from a larger one; hence, a wrist cast that includes a branch for the thumb would be a spica. There are subspecies of this critter, and what Juni ended up with was a one-and-a-half hip spica. One branch goes to her ankle, and on the other side it stops above the knee.

So that's the medical part. Oh, and three months is the time part, with a remove-and-replace midterm because these li'l ones just grow so fast! The parenting part: Juni was just pulling herself up to walk and this will frustrate her progress! So dad and I are busy designing machines for Juni. Joe came up with a great little table which allows her to sit comfortably--note the legs are splayed out--and do stuff with one year old toys on a tray with a lip so they're less likely to be launched (good in theory). As for our mobility aids? Well we tried, and cleverly at that, but she surprised us all: She developed her own point A to point B techniques, shown here

It's no summer festival for Juni, and it's all new for her sister Lily who is used to a playmate who doesn't tote literal pounds of plaster of paris. And Juni has discovered how, if she gets on her back, she can use sophisticated counterbalancing techniques to get her dorsal side up.

What it is from here: A window on the personality of this wonder-child who is teaching us about perseverance and spirit and acceptance.

Grandma and Grampa are proud of all four in this family.

About five weeks to go at this writing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CinderBlue, Green Plow Coffee Shop, and, like, Beatnik Poetry

He'd sit on a stool and drone on about a subject which would be the subject of several sequential sentences. Monotone was the music, eyeballs occasionally would stray from the crumpled manuscript to fasten on some object in the far distance, ignoring both the "Like, I'm into it, man!" and the mindless, wordless gaze returning to his.

Discussions on the way out would always have the word "existential" in them, and often.

That was the coffeehouse long before Starbucks. Music was usually singles, strumming an acoustic guitar in great earnestness.

Now Redmond Oregon's own Green Plow Coffee Roasters straddles those extremes with a coffeehouse that takes from Starbucks the idea of very good coffee, stirs in sustainable and eco-friendly requirements for their suppliers, and leaves behind the stainless steel and the tacky "I'm into coffee" tschotschkes. Result? Coffee that tastes good to taste and feels good to drink.

But instead of the lost-soul poet loosing his angst like a cocker spaniel doing its early morning pandiculations, Pat and Mandy have music. Like, f'r instance, oh, maybe, like CinderBlue let's say. (Be it noted: the picture of Lee Barker and his long time guitar playin' compatriot Rex Gatton was taken by Timothy Park. The image of the CinderBlue front line (and back) is from Joe Fettig. Thank you both.)

Ok, ok, it's self-serving to say that. They hired us, we did the job: Full house both times, and we didn't do any morose doggerel and we didn't do any whiny folk songs which one is required to sing with one's eyes closed, especially during the chorus.

So having linked these things up--the history of the coffee house in 1.5 paragraphs, the guilty-as-charged confession of the musician in the pictures, how come then the word "like" appeared multiple times in a sentence and that annoying affectation is back, loud and strong? Is it the coffee house that's the carrier of the virus?

Knowing Pat and Mandy, I think not. They're just enjoying providing the place for coffee, community and conversation, and when that list is expanded to include music, it's, like, way cool. The coolest man. So far plowed out, man. I mean, you know, it's like whoa.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Humility, Arrogance and the Barker Bass

Frank Lloyd Wright said there came a time in his life when he had a choice, and he chose "honest arrogance over humility." Most would grant him this, based solely on his architectural work. It was of his time yet beyond it in its timelessness.

In 2003 Linda and I journeyed to Portland, Oregon (125 miles away) and were gifted with delightful accommodations downtown courtesy of our son, Joel. That night we caught the Max light rail out to the Rose Quarter for a Yanni concert. Big room. Lots of people. Big orchestra, big sound.

Yanni prides himself on the internationalness of his musicians, and that would include bassist Hussain Jiffry from Sri Lanka. We had met him months prior, and in fact spent some time that afternoon with him in Portland. Now we were in his musical presence and he was playing a five string fretless Barker Bass.

After the concert, we walked back to the Max stop, delighting in the crisp fall weather. I was quiet; Linda commented on that. "Hummph," I probably responded. She stopped me, got in front of me, grabbed my sleeves at the biceps and shook me firmly: "Don't you get it?" she said, lips firm, "An instrument you made was just played by a world class bass player in front of thousands of people...and that is happening in cities across America and Canada. Don't you get it? You made that bass with your own hands!"

Humility is a thick crust to break.

The Dodge brothers, early 20th century creators of the car later called the Dodge, were a quiet and surly pair. In the apocryphal story a man walks into their dingy garage and asks, "What's so good about this Dodge Brothers automobile?" to which one sibling snapped, "Ask the man who owns one!" And went back to his wrench.

Einstein knew how fragile his work was. "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."

Comments from the web from Ed Goode, whose custom Barker Bass has been chronicled in prior posts to this blog:

"The quality of construction is perfect, but those of us that play Barker Basses have come to expect the highest quality. This bass does not disappoint in any way! Flawless, and I truly mean that in its most literal sense .... not a blemish to be found on her.

" the several hours I have played it at home it lives up to exactly what you'd expect from a Barker. Great sustain, deep lower end and a clear, well-defined tone on the C string."

I can hear the words but sometimes I can't internalize them. Other days, yes. Today.

Dag Hammerskjold: "Never, 'for the sake of peace and quiet,' deny your own experience or convictions."

That is a very nice bass, Mr. Goode. Very nice. My hands to yours; play it in good health.

Friday, October 30, 2009

High Desert Swap Meet, Part 5: The Unusual Things Which Followed Me Home

Of course I spent some money. This is most definitely a Hunt and Gather expedition, and to return home to the cave without something of a trophy nature would be counter-masculine.

The small brass hinged Object of Great Mystery captivated me from the first view, but I put it down and walked on by. And I came back, and back again, like a persistent cell phone salesperson. I finally dredged up the lucre, and now I own the conundrum. What the heck is it? John Grey was proud enough of this design to have his name and--we thank you John--his profession cast into each and every one. But precisely what it did in that craft is beyond me. Your questions and theories are welcome, and there are a few more detail photos available if you desire them via email.

The second purchase had no mystery about it--a prop blade is a prop blade. Come to think of it, there was but one, so you might ponder where the sibling or siblings are. But no matter. Leaning up against a table, it presents a casual but not engaging presence.

Stand it on its hub, however, and it becomes instant art, 42 vertical inches of organic, graceful surfaces poised to slice the negative space, and that is what made this aluminum piece no kin to the brass: I was not leaving that booth without owning the blade.

It is on a table in the living room. The long term plan is for its own pedestal, either tabletop or floor, and therein would be some machinery which will cause it to rotate, slowly and randomly.

Years ago a musician friend here purchased a Paddi Moyer sculpture titled "Rain." It was essentially a bronze of a male Native American's head, but it was solidly in the category of art. He mounted it on a turning table in his living room, and as you rotated it, it would evoke different emotions. That experience taught me that three dimensional art benefits from various points of view.

The motor seems like a fun alternative to the slightly impractical pedestal-in-the-center-of-the-living room scenario.

The semi permanent home of the brass fur designer widget has not been determined at this writing. Perhaps John Grey will read this post and comment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ed Goode's Six String Stellartone Barker Bass Project

We have no English word equivalent to the German "schadenfreude" (taking joy at others' troubles). Likewise we have no word for looking backwards and taking pleasure in what you did to get to where you are.

There are three parts to the joy of this project. First has been the association with Ed, the client, who is a bassist out of New Jersey. You can see some wonderful images of him playing on that site, as well as a detailed chronicle of the progress of this project.

The second look-forward-to-every-day part was the newness of the concept. What if, Linda and I had wondered, someone sent me a bass (guitar) that he or she liked, and I converted it to a Barker--same electronics, same neck, just the upright playing position and all the benefits that offers.

Obviously cosmic forces intersected: Ed's desire to move beyond his 5 string Barker to a 6, along with our interest in giving this process a try. The newness, the headscratching, the 3am insights, the doubling back to make sure that the next forward step was as unencumbered as possible--all these dispense oodles of endorphins from head to hands.

And the third part was getting a glimpse into the world of extended range basses. I know some players: Stew McKinsey and Gregory Bruce Campbell and Edo Castro, for example, and Fred Bolton of McMinnville, Oregon, who makes basses for the likes of these guys.

The thinking here led me into questions relative to, "when does a scooter become a motorcycle" and "when are heavy hors d'oeuvres actually a meal." It would seem that adding a 5th string to the long-accepted four of the bass was ok. Adding overdrive doesn't change the carness of a car.

But adding a sixth required not only a different player approach to the instrument but also new nomenclature. "Six String Bass" approaches the "Fourth Trimester" category. So now we have ERB: Extended Range Bass. Fair enough. And I'm honored to have been let through the gate and onto the range as an ex officio observer. I can't claim a place in the luthier's corral yet, but my boots prove I've been close.

Looking back, I embrace the three joys of the process. Nominations for a word to express that are welcomed!

Monday, October 12, 2009

High Desert Swap Meet Redmond Oregon part 4: Rat Rods and the Pendulum of Style

The beginning of hot rods, 1950: make it faster. The next step: make it original.

If you were in the first group, you spent your time under the hood. In those days, if you were dealing with an inline 6, you could actually stand on the garage floor, butt against the inside of a front fender, and be up close and personal with valves, carburetion and the conducting of high amperage spurts of electrical energy.

Second group? You know sandpaper, you know mallets and dollies, Bondo, primer, more sanding, masking, masked up, and the ultimate joy of wheeling her out into the sun for the first real look. You would see a part on an Oldsmobile and imagine how it could be blended into your Ford, and then go home and by golly do it.

I was a-fringe of all this my high school years, never having the resources for my own vehicle but enjoying riding shotgun with Jan, and Hank, and Ken.

The 90 weight lube and lacquer thinner didn't make it to my bloodstream but I did follow hotroddom through the years as a casual observer.

When they got to jacking up one side of a car at a car show and sliding a mirror under it to show the virginal perfection there, they lost me. It wasn't about go, it wasn't about how it looked to the girls as we cruised by and it ceased to be about clever adaptations of truck parts to car or converting three taillights on one side to sequential performance. Instead it was the manifestation of an obsessive compulsive disorder applied to the connections between shock absorbers and axles and the absolute perversity of chrome run amok.

Enter the Rat Rod. As I have drifted ever closer to the outward marge of the periphery I have not been able to chronicle the pendulum hitting Side Dead Center with a clang and subsequently breeding, on the antipode, the Rat Rod.

Functional, clearly done with a budget, joyously free, untouched by any kind of perfectionism and unequivocally devoted to the absolute independence of the creator, these machines are singing their siren song on a specific frequency. At last: hot rodding accessible to Everyman.

The images show several of them from the Swap Meet of September 2009, Redmond Oregon. I celebrate their existence, their presence, their uniqueness and sometimes, idly, wonder just how much money and how much welding it might take to get on board.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cayford's Barker Bass: Graphtech Ghost, Stellartone Tonestyler Upgrades, Part 1

Some owners of the Barker Bass have described the tone as "more of everything." One argument might be to keep it pure: "No fads or fancy stuff" as one advertiser used to say. The other argument is, why not make it better? To start with something that good and add enhancements might just be an exponential improvement. That was Cayford's line of thought as we pondered the possibility of adding the Graphtech Ghost which is a set of peizo pickups individually contacting each string via saddles in the Graphtech bridge, stock on the Barker B1 four. Why not, then, add the Graphtech Acousticphonic preamp? All it would take is a little room in the electronics bay and a battery case somewhere on board--and that is an easy assignment on a Barker.

This peizo process requires some excavation below the bridge, noted in the photos above. These tiny, individual wires are routed to the electronics cavity and joined on a summing board, thence to the preamp.

The battery requirement is nine volts, but having had a bad experience with a battery failing mid-gig, I always suggest a double case with only one battery wired in so there's a fresh spare on board. Cayford agreed to that. The case goes on the back, out of sight.

Then came that almost-predictable moment: Hand on chin, thoughtful, he said, "Hmmm, as long as we're at it, why not add the Stellartone Tonestyler too?" Great idea. I'm a vocal exponent of this elegant and practical addendum to any passive bass.

This required a fourth knob now--the only external suggestion to an audience viewer that he's not playing a stock Barker B1.

Shop mission is accomplished, and the bass is back to Cayford at this writing for his installation of the electronics. We'll do a followup interview and post it down the line. Whether it's a nuanced improvement or trumpet-fanfared Innovation of the Century remains to be seen. And heard. The delight is in the team effort and the possibility of yet another way the Barker claims its place among unique electric bass instruments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

High Desert Swap Meet Redmond Oregon part 3

Living in the United States between world wars and having a fascination with two and four wheel transportation: Now there's a First Wish that would be followed by a request for the genie to put away the magic bottle! One of the darling little ideas to reach fruition in the mid-teens was the Auto Red Bug. It went through some parent company changes, and existed in two distinct models: One, an electric motor harnessed to wet-cell batteries in the metal box behind, and the other, a small one-lung internal combustion plant that traveled sidesaddle with the wheel it drove--which dangled off the back like a crazy-wheel trailer of the fifties!

When, that lovely September Saturday morning in 2009, I saw this work of art in the images above, I knew what the creator had copied. It was not for sale--the vendor had just bought it himself. While it appears the dimensions are true to the original, the workmanship was clearly an exquisite one-off effort by someone who knew her or his way around a machine shop.

The power plant idea was kin to the fifth wheel noted above, but seemed more like the result of an AHA! moment when the anonymous creator spotted a Honda Trail 90.
That tall stud on the back? It just fits into a HT90 after you remove the front fork and wheel. The controls link up seamlessly, and you're on the road in your snappy little cyclecar, living the good life promised by the end of the War to end all Wars and freed from the waning days of the Edwardian era.

Knickers and Argyles. Gibson Girls. It all seems like simpler times.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

High Desert Swap Meet Redmond Oregon part 2

Non automotive: Plenty to see and experience. Under the heading "implied speed" consider the pedal car and the locomotive, right hand end of the table of toys.

What is it? I can't remember, but the seller had a copy of the patent there. It looks roughly like a juicer, but somewhat more industrial than we're accustomed to.

Jogger moms wouldn't do well with the perambulator. But it worked for us!

And finally, the Zenith media center. And that's the correct color--nearly as yellow as a caution light, but clearly still wood veneer. It was in such good condition that, once plugged in, it would probably get all those old radio shows like One Man's Family, The Green Hornet, Lum and Abner and Mary Backstage, Noble Wife.

Monday, September 14, 2009

High Desert Swap Meet Redmond Oregon part 1

Here's the official subtitle of this annual event in Redmond: Antiques to old car parts, collectible toys to new toys. A car show of classic cars and even some cars for sale.

That's pretty good, actually, but it doesn't come close to covering it all. It's a big deal and a lot of people do a lot of work to make it happen. And when that first Saturday after Labor Day rolls around, I'm ready. Equipment: Shoes that will tolerate dewy grass for the first two hours, head covering, water, snack, backpack, and GO! Gates open at 7! Costs you nothing to get in, and you're in for, if you cover all the ground, and linger over this or that, 6 hours of joyful sampling of stuff for sale, friends to reconnect with, and stories to overhear.

When you hear these, stop and listen:

"My dad had one of's the car I learned to drive..."

"I'm looking for a right front fender for a 37 Packard sedan..."

"Will that fit on a 55 Chevy?"

"What the heck is that?"

Fish stories, hard sell, dickering in the friendliest context imaginable, people puzzling over some strange object (usually not car related) that "I got at an estate sale," all here under the bluest skies and punctuated by squeaky wheels on rusty old Radio Flyer wagons that are being pulled out to the parking lot to be loaded up so the buyer can come back for more stuff.

There will be several posts here about this year's sale. For the first time I took my camera. Later you'll see the split-personality object I bought which is now in the living room, as well as an inscrutable piece of hardware, with moving parts. I'll post some images of some of the cars that were on display--not for sale--and sample the non-automotive stuff.

All that, and I never made it over to the antiques section. We'll cover that next year. Can't wait until Labor Day comes and goes.

Oh, that little Rambler convertible for sale in the picture? Someone shoehorned a serious V-8 under the hood of that little julep. It's the quintessential Saturday Drags, Sunday Drive set of wheels. Surprise!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Small Woodworking Project: Candle Holder After A Chinese Pictogram

The librarian thumb-flipped the book like a magician convincing you the deck was complete. She stopped, riveted by the one-page piece titled "Candelabra from Chinese Ideograms." The sparse, high contrast black and whites of the artist's work are juxtaposed with their inspiration: Chinese characters for umbrella and home. Home was it. "Someday I'd like one of these," she said, holding the Fine Woodworking book a little sideways so he could see it.

So he tackled it, unbeknownst to her. Yes, it is a small project, per the book's subsection, but that might just be referring to real estate on the workbench, or cubic feet of shop space, or board feet of material. It's about 16 inches wide and 7 inches tall.

She was presented it yesterday, in its own storage box. He explained that the lower part, the walnut, was from some lumber given them by friends, an elderly couple, who died this year. The other was material he had been saving, though it seemed too small to be of use.

He blathered, she stared. "Beautiful, just beautiful," she would say, between his stumbling sentences.

Happy birthday, Linda, the love of my life. The words my heart speaks sometime get to my hands first, and that's often how they're best said.