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Archive for the ‘Low Tech’ Category

For most of my life, if I was awake, I had a book in my hand.

Riding the bus, walking to school, in the quad between classes, lounging at home, I’d have a book open, thumb in the crease, my nose buried in its leaves. Novels, anthologies, treatises, memoirs, history, science, poetry.

Anything.

Everything.

I read it.

Then, about a dozen years ago, life went off the rails. Book deals dried up. Friends and family began to die (at least ten during this period). We fostered a young woman, giving her a place to live for a year. Work became a stress factory. The economy tanked, causing the Great Recession. Then along came Trump. And then this pandemic.

In response, my reading habits changed, radically. They became constrained, limited to news articles, political analyses, and works of non-fiction. Instead of a dog-eared book, I carried my tablet with its instant-on, 24×7 access to current events and a front-row seat to our increasingly divided society.

Even so, every now and again, I would return to my fiction books, the stacks of TBR novels that inhabit every room in this house. I tried, repeatedly, to read one of them, hungry for that immersive experience, that miraculous wash of words that would sweep away reality and bathe me in the light of a different sun.

But the miracle never came. I didn’t have the patience, lacked the power to focus., and was unable to drive away the here-and-now with worlds of what-if. Book after book I picked up, opened, began, and abandoned within a few days, the only evidence of my attempt, a bookmark left somewhere in the first thirty pages.

With all this as preamble, one might wonder why, during my recent time off, I decided yet again to pick up a novel and give it a try. I mean, there I was in the last month of the most turbulent election cycle of my sixty-plus years, with a pandemic raging beyond my door, a daily gush of political scandals and turmoil filling the airwaves, and everywhere people shouting and crying and grieving and protesting. Was it hope? Obstinacy? Desperation? Whatever compelled me, it was in this moment, amid this maelstrom of chaos, that I chose to try again, and opened up a 150-year-old book.

And I read it. Cover to cover, in record time.

And then . . . I picked up another book, and read it, too.

And now, here I am, wondering what to read next.

. . .

Do yourself a favor.

Turn off the television. Put down the phone. Leave the tablet in the other room.

Pick up a book. A real book. The one you’ve been meaning to read for so long.

Take a seat near the window, where the natural light will be over your shoulder. Settle in, book in hand.

Open it up. Stick your nose in it. Smell it. Feel the pebbled surface of the printed page, the tension of the spine.

Chapter One.

Read. 

I tell you, it’s like coming home.

k

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A while back, I performed a small experiment with old letter writing techniques. As a result, I learned a great deal about Paper, Ink, Sand, and Pounce, how they interact, and how our layperson’s cinema-informed opinions are (not unsurprisingly) quite wrong.

This week, I dove back down into that deep dark well, and began to obsess about another old letter writing technique: letterlocking.

We’ve all seen it in films set in the early 19th century and before. A letter writer takes their epistle, folds it up and, essentially, makes it into its own envelope. Some of you (like me) may have even tried it yourself, only to end up with an overly thick, bulging, thoroughly recalcitrant bundle that defies closure by any wax seal you attempt to place on it. Even with a larger piece of stationery, I’ve found the process difficult to duplicate on my own.

Until I read this article about letterlocking, which opened up a trove of information.

Letterlocking” is a relatively new word. Coined by Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson conservator at MIT Libraries, it lumps together the many, many different methods letter writers employed to seal their letters, back in the days before envelopes (and especially, gummed envelopes) were a thing.

While studying letters in the Vatican archives, Dambrogio noticed curious patterns of folds, slits, and excisions in the documents and began to catalogue them. Fresh out of graduate school, it was a while before she realized that, not only were these patterns new to her, they were new to everyone. It soon became clear that all of these marks and seals were not just methods of authentication (using a personal seal to emboss wax or the paper itself could authenticate the sender), but also ways of securing the contents, keeping them from prying eyes. 

Some methods are simple. A few folds and a wax seal are all that is needed to keep a casual letter from being perused by an unintended reader.

Other methods are very complex, with intricate folds, tucking one edge into another, or cutting slits in the letter through which paper daggers are drawn and sealed. My favorite (so far) is the method used by Robert Devereux in a letter to Queen Elizabeth I (ca. 1590), where a “tail” cut from (yet left attached to) the letter is sent through a series of punched holes, essentially stitching the letter closed with part of the letter itself. I haven’t tried this method myself—the paper I have available is not as strong (or large) as that used in the 16th century—but I’m going to, and soon.

So, here’s yet another topic I can add to my list of Proofs I Should Have Been A Museum Conservator, as the idea of spending decades studying not the words of old letters, but the way in which they had been folded and sealed, simply thrills me. 

If you want to know more about letterlocking, Dambrogio and team have a website that includes a history of their project, a dictionary of terms, and a collection of videos showing how the various methodsfrom the 1400s to 1960were employed.

I know that I’ll be spending several more hours over there, learning and testing the methods, with plans to use them in my own letters.

k

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My father was an analog man.

Etched Limestone Lithography Block

The grandson of a charcoal burner (yes, that was a thing), the son of a cement truck driver, my father was an artist by passion and a lithographer by trade, back in the day when his trade was not far removed from actual litho-graphy, i.e., etching graphics on hunks of limestone (like the one I still have, pictured, right).

As his life progressed, the world moved from Ford’s Model T to Tesla’s Model 3, from The Great Depression to The Great Recession, from flying across the Atlantic to flying to the Moon and Mars, and from the wireless and talkies to smart phones and streaming video. Yet through it all, he managed to never use a computer, even when his industry embraced the technology of digital scanning, imagery, and on-demand printing. The closest he got to the digital world was a DVD player (which he rarely employed, preferring broadcast television) and his little clamshell phone (which he used only in emergencies, and often not even then). (more…)

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This past year, I’ve reviewed only three books. There are a couple of reasons for that.

The primary reason is that I’ve been reading a lot more news these days. Current events (and my often visceral reaction to them) have been consuming a great deal of my available attention. A secondary reason is that another main chunk of my reading time has been devoted to research—online and offline—for my work-in-progress, and while some of these research works are very good, they’re not titles that most (or any) of you would find interesting.

Through this, however, I felt the lack of fiction, not only as a needed escape from the real world, but also as part of my education and development as a writer.

With this in mind, last month I decided to devote time to fiction (the first of which resulted in this), and I’ve been continuing that trend by reading Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep.

But this isn’t about that; this is about reading. (more…)

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It’s not all video games, here at OMG-Central. I also enjoy old school, across the table, low-tech board games.

If you’re one of those for whom “board games” only evokes images of Monopoly and Parcheesi, let me tell you, these are not your grandma’s board games. They’ve changed a lot, in past decades, and they keep changing, adding new mechanics, new twists on old methods, and sometimes even extending “beyond the box” to include other media and technologies. (more…)

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While I’m working on something more meaty, here’s a bit of fun.

Like most people my age, I learned to type on a manual typewriter, an old Smith-Corona, to be precise. It was heavy — damned heavy — and came in its own nearly-as-heavy hard-sided case. It had a black-and-red ribbon that always got twisted, the keys continually got hooked onto one another, and after typing up an evening’s homework, my forearms ached from the physical exertion of pressing down the keys. That’s no exaggeration; it took some oomph to make those levers thwack with enough force to register through to the carbon copy.

What’s a carbon copy, you ask? Well, it’s a … nope, I don’t have time or space to explain it all. (more…)

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7 1/2

GodfatherLast week, I stood out in the rain.

On purpose.

Last week was a stay-cation, and I spent many hours out in the elements, reclaiming the gardens after a couple of years’ worth of accumulated neglect. It being February — and one of the wettest on record, to boot — more of those “elements” were liquid than usual, and most of those hours were spent in the rain.

Luckily, I had a new hat.

I was born at the sunset of the Hat Era, a time when everyone — men and women alike — wore hats in public. Hats were already passé when I was born, and by the time I was a lad, the only men who wore hats were fishermen, cowboys, and men in uniform. Alas.

I’ve always liked hats. Real hats, that is. Hats with brims that go all the way around. A hat has a purpose — to keep the sun out of your eyes, to keep your head warm, and to keep rain off your head and neck. Caps generally only do one of those things, and not well, either, not when compared to a real hat.

The hats I preferred were those of my movie icons — Bogie, Stewart, Fonda — hats with character, hats with style. No baseball caps for those guys. No urban-cowboy Stetsons. No no no.

The Fedora ruled with those men. Sometimes they wore a Homburg or a wide-brimmed Tyrolean. Or, if they were in a Western, a slouch.

The slouch hat has always been a favorite of mine. A felt hat with a flat, wide brim that slouches down over nape and brow, preferably with a creased crown for ease of tipping to passersby. Aussies tie up one side of theirs. So did the Rough Riders. The slouch has tons of character and is a top-notch performer in all things a hat is supposed to do.

But, as I’ve never considered myself as a guy who looks good in hats, I was a bit self-conscious, standing out in my suburban garden, rain pelting down, fat droplets pattering off the wide brim of my new slouch hat. I mean, it’s a big hat, by modern stylistic standards. It’s felted mix of wool and buffalo hair, black as night, with a slight curl on the back and sides of the 4 ½” brim, and a silver-buckled strip of leather around the crown. My wife assured me though that, contrary to my instincts, the hat suits me, and since she generally doesn’t like me to look the fool any more than I do myself, I trusted her assessment, and wore it most of the week.

A quality felt hat is almost a living thing. New, it never fits well, despite proper measurement. It must be worn to fit properly, and if possible, worn in the rain. You wear it, let it get wet, and then continue to wear it as it dries. The moisture loosens up the felted fibers and when they dry, they shrink up to fit your skull. If you don’t like the brim or the crown, you can steam it over a kettle and reshape it to your liking, which I did to remove the curl on the front.  After four days spending several hours out in the rain, getting the hat wet and letting it dry, it now is a perfect fit to the bony, pearish ovoid that houses my brain.

I still don’t feel like it’s my “style,” but I like it, so I’m going to fake it until it feels right.

k

Typewriter

PS. I was thoroughly puzzled by the relationship between hat sizes and head measurements. A 22-inch skull is a U.S. hat size 7, which is a difference of 15; but a 23 ½ inch skull (like mine) is a U.S. hat size 7 ½, a difference of 16. What gives?

Turns out, the relationship between your head size and your U.S. hat size is, believe it or not, π.

Yup. Just as circumference/π = diameter, so Your Head Measurement (in inches)/π =  U.S. Hat Size.

I just love that.

k

Bogie and Bacall

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