Monday, June 30, 2008

Barrett Firearms & Miller Welders

I was reading the Applied Welding magazine put out by Miller Electric and came across an article about Barrett Firearms. Barrett Firearms manufactures .50 caliber rifles in both semi-auto and single shot types. These are shoulder fired weapons that have an effective range of 2000 yards. Now, I do a little bit of target shooting but I can't imagine hitting anything at 1000 yards plus. The ammo they sell drops off 350 inches at 1000 yds. So all you need to do is aim about 28 - 29 feet high and you should be right on the money. Not to mention, each shot is going to cost you between 4 and 5 bucks each. The world record is 5 shots within a 3 inch circle at 1000 yds, so it can be done. Just not by mere mortals. The article was a plug for Millers new 350 Dynasty DC TIG pulsing welder, which is pretty darned impressive in it's own right, but not as impressive as those guns. Both the weapon and the welder are pretty good examples of what creative R & D can do for you.

.50 caliber guns have been in the news lately because some politicians are seeking to get them banned. I'm not sure what the reasoning is. A guy is not going to spend 3-8 k on a gun that weighs 40 pounds to stick up a Starvin' Marvin. Of course, what civilian needs a 1000 yd sniper rifle, either? With last weeks Supreme Court decision, the .50 cal debate will probably go on the back burner for a while.

The technology of the rifles doesn't seem all that exotic. Accurately machined and fabricated parts assembled with exceptional care. There are probably quite a few people capable of producing a .50 caliber firearm. Maybe not to the same standards as Barrett but certainly workable. That may be the reasoning behind banning them. One of these babies in the wrong hands could certainly wreak havoc with a capitol H.

Regardless of your viewpoint on owning a .50 caliber rifle, the U. S. Industrial Revolution was brought about in large part by the manufacture of guns. The U. S. didn't have a guild system like Europe but quickly established training methods to produce the the skilled people needed to produce both the machine tools and the finished products. It was a very creative era. Now is also a very creative era but it's more in the fields of electronics and medicine. That's why we're seeing inverter power sources with pulsing capabilities in the welding field. Lots of new developments in manufacturing means lots of opportunities for sharp young people. So if Junior is going off to college, he might want to think about the manufacturing field. America's future depends on our manufacturing capabilities.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

William E. Mitchell 1931-2008

Rest in Peace

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I got a chance to check out the Whizzer motorbikes Tuesday. They offer two models - the original and one with a little more horsepower and an electric starter. The original goes for $1595.00 and scoots along at 25 to 30 miles per hour. It's got a drum brake on the front, a band brake on the rear, telescopic forks, lights, mirror, the whole street legal package and it comes in a variety of colors. They're cute little suckers but even after having just cashed my economic stimulus check, I'm thinking 1600 bucks would go a long way toward reviving some of my rolling stock currently languishing in the barn. In fact, I'm thinking the Honda should be ridable by the end of next week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I received an e-mail today from the Indiana Technology Education HQ. The IMSTEA video contest winners are posted. I've mentioned IMSTEA before but I'm more than willing to promote it again. It's a heck of a project and the videos are worth a look. There are three of them and each is only about a minute long.

After posting about the Putney School the other day, I received a comment from the director, Ms. Emily Jones. She suggested the TED website and the speech by Sir Ken Robinson. It's about twenty minutes long but well worth the time. Very interesting as well as humorous. It addresses the issue of creativity and schools. All kinds of interesting things on the TED site. I also received a comment in a previous post from another shop teacher in North Carolina. This guy does some cool stuff. Too bad we're so far apart, I'd like to check out his shop. It would be nice to have access to a CNC mill like he has. We have a pretty good tech department but no machine shop. The website is very well done as well. Maybe I should heed the advice of my department head and work on mine.

After doing this for only a short time, I'm rather taken aback that someone actually reads this drivel and there's actually an exchange of information that can be quite helpful and entertaining. Apparently the internet is not just for pornography after all.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's Just Never Easy

It's stuff like this that makes commuting on a bike tough.

I rode over to school yesterday to do a couple of things on the computer that are impossible at home with my dial up and to get a little exercise. The weather man said rain in the afternoon but didn't say a word about the rain in the morning, thunderstorms or hail. I managed to get wet going over and coming back. Fortunately, I made it home about ten minutes before the hail came down. The top photo shows three of those little darlings with a penny on the plate to give you a size comparison. Rode the bike uptown today and managed to get dive bombed by a redwing blackbird and chased by two big dogs. The lead dog chased me when I was running the other day as well. Today he got a nice little dose of pepper spray. Usually a couple of doses and they leave you alone. I did save about five bucks worth of gas, though.

Surly came down yesterday and gave me a copy of Urban Velo. It's got a lot of fixed gear stuff and a lot of advertisements for bike related stuff that's not exactly mainstream. I haven't been able to see the attraction of a fixed gear bike - the older I get the more coasting seems to appeal to me. I could see having a single speed, especially out here in the flat land or if I lived in a city. It was nice yesterday having a few gears to choose from when I started getting wet. I averaged about 19 miles per hour for about six miles trying to get home before the rain hit. I couldn't have done that with a single speed or a fixie. Old men need to be at least somewhat realistic about what they're capable of handling. Anyway, if you're at all interested in bicycles you might want to check out Urban Velo. Lots of interesting stuff there.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Forestry Tour

Just returned from a forestry tour in southern Indiana. First of all thanks to the folks from Project Learning Tree and the Indiana DNR Division of Forestry. We went to a tree farm, sawmill and hardwood flooring plant. They were all gracious hosts as well. Learned quite a few things. 50,000 people employed in the hardwood industry, which is the 4th largest industry in Indiana. That adds up to 9 billion dollars per year. Indiana was originally 87% forest, went down to 7% and now is about 22%. There are jobs for foresters and if you don't want to go to college for four years, there's a school in Memphis that will teach you how to be a lumber inspector in only 14 weeks. Who knew? I can't remember my counselor in high school ever telling me about jobs in the lumber industry. Of course, it's been so long ago, they may actually have.

A couple of other observations from the road:

I passed a guy with what looked like a donkey equipped with saddlebags . It looked like they were hiking long distance. If I hadn't been pulling the trailer, I'd have gone back and investigated a little bit. Had to be a story there.

Saw an Edsel with a camper mounted on the back. It was for sale. Probably will be. It's on the west side of 231, if your interested.

One of the gentlemen on the tour told me of a place selling Whizzer motorbikes not too far from me. My older brother had one back in the day. It costs about $100.00 to fill up the tank on my pickup. I would imagine about 5 or 6 tankfuls would cover the cost of a Whizzer. Might be a place to swap the incentive check.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Creative Education

The lead story in the current issue of Utne Reader is "The Future of Creativity: In Our Schools, Businesses and our Homes". (For those of you unfamiliar with the Utne Reader, it pulls together articles from the alternative press and brings them out into the mainstream.) The article on creativity presents, once again, the importance to kids of being able to play outside in a self-directed manner. Also, that "America is dividing itself into two distinct behavioral groups: one that passively consumes electronic entertainment, and one that uses technology but also participates in the arts, sports, exercise - and volunteers at three times the rate of the other group. The factor that differentiates these groups is not based on income, geography, or education, but simply on whether people read for pleasure and participation in the arts."

To simplify immensely, it means get the kids out of the house and let them play. On the raining days, take them to the library and let them get a book or two. Expose them to a variety of experiences - music, arts, sports - the more the merrier. Unfortunately, this is not the business model for public education. Especially since the No Child Left Behind law came into effect. Even though we teach art, music and offer sports, they're usually offered as separate subjects. It's a rather complicated concept and beyond the scope of this blog but a good business model is available. What follows I lifted from the Putney School website. It's interesting to note they are followers of John Dewey's progressive education philosophy when Dewey is often looked at as the patron saint of vocational education.

Putney is an independent school. Only a small number of the 1,500-odd
independent schools in the U.S. actually use that independence. Most stick
quite closely to the traditional models of classroom learning, departmental structures, credits for graduation based on time spent in class, a September to June school year, and a curriculum largely geared to information processing and college admissions requirements. Putney is a progressive school, but like all progressive schools we must discover for ourselves in what directions this should take us. Dewey’s charge to create an educational program in the service of a democratic society is just as relevant as ever, but he does not provide us with a roadmap about how to do this in this century.

Putney has great “density of purpose.” We embrace most of the traditionally
progressive goals: that education is about creating good citizens and should be an engine for social betterment, that it should foster personal initiative and adaptability, that it must engage the whole child, not just the academic child. We also have some goals that are particular to Putney. We aim, as Mrs. Hinton said, “to make school life a more real, less sheltered, less self-centered venture,” to make the arts part of everyday life, and to teach stewardship of the land both by the way we live and in a curriculum designed for that purpose.

What is the future of progressive education and what does this mean for
Putney? We believe that everything we do—in class, on the land, in the dorms, individually and collectively—is all a part of the curriculum. That being said,
we are currently much more progressive outside the classroom than within it. Partly because Putney began with a fairly traditional academic structure, and partly because other schools have become more like us in approaches to teaching, our academic program is not as unusual as many assume.

Since Dewey’s time, technology has fundamentally changed both our society
and the imperatives of education. Information is now available at the touch of a button. The teacher need not provide it, but must teach how it can be evaluated, organized, analyzed and presented. Memory is now something you buy at Radio Shack. But working memory, the ability to hold a complex system in your head while analyzing it, is crucial and must be cultivated. Writing well remains a vital skill, but students also must learn how to present information visually in a variety of media. The linear formatting that the printing press imposed on the transmission of thought, and therefore on thought itself, no longer has a monopoly, and technology can illuminate “right brain” thinking as well as left. Today’s students don’t distinguish as adults do between the virtual world and the “real” world—for them these are seamless. They are used to learning new things by trial and error, and they can handle—and handle fast—much more complex sensory input than adults can.

As teachers we can bemoan the fact that lessons which appeal to only one sense are thought boring, or we can learn to take advantage of that. Figuring out how to use technology without becoming lost in it is an enormous challenge. New understandings of the brain and of cognition mean that we can design teaching more carefully. Our interactions with our students are literally changing the structure of their brains and, although many of the tried and true methods have been vindicated by science, many have not. We’ve known intuitively for years that teaching skills is a fundamentally different process from teaching content, but most schools still put skills courses and content courses into the same daily schedule, in the same kinds of spaces, with the same kinds of homework requirements, and often using the same basic teaching methods.

Some of what goes on in Putney’s classrooms is brilliant, but our teachers still have to fit their work into a structure familiar in schools of 1900. We have created a genuinely international community on the hill, with students from 13 nations. Our graduates must be culturally fluent and able to work easily with those different from themselves, or they will be irrelevant to the world in which they will live. We must not only bless the students from abroad with the benefits of a Putney education, but ensure that all Putney students have international experience and the cast of mind to learn from it. That will mean deciding what we can let go of in order to add. All of this possibility is very hard for a school that is steeped in tradition, even if that tradition is progressive.

We will preserve what is great here, those things that make Putney unique. These multi-tasking, virtual world dwellers who come here still talk at breakfast about the beauty of the mist when they brought the cows in. They still create music, rather than just listen to it. They still play outdoors in the twilight after dinner. They still believe in manual labor, they treasure the hard stretching of themselves, and they certainly wish to live adventurously. We owe it to them to think hard about what the ends and the means of their academic
education should be, and to use the independence that Putney School has to take a look at what questions we are asking, what goals we set, and what purposes we serve.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all who are. Hope you have a wonderful day and have a chance to spend some time with your family.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Boxing Gym

We worked on the boxing gym today. The top picture is the rack for the heavy bags and the second one is the speed bag platform. Both items were made in the shop here. I designed the speed bag platform and a couple of my students built it. I made the heavy bag rack myself. I like keeping my hand in, plus it's often easier to just make the stuff up myself rather than taking the time to make prints for the boys. The students also made the ring. I'll send along a couple of pictures of the ring as soon as we get the ropes on.

For those of you reading this who don't really know me, Shop Teacher Bob is also an amateur boxing coach. I've been taking a couple of guys to the Golden Gloves for the last few years and it's been a lot of fun. Amateur boxing is an excellent sport. It gets you in shape, develops both mental and physical toughness and provides another option for young men and women besides the team sports normally found at the high school. I've had a couple of state champions and a couple of duds. With a regular gym, the fighters should be better prepared before going to Indy in the spring. It will be easier to monitor their physical condition and be able to get them a fight or two prior to the big event. At least that's the plan.

We should have the heavy bags hung up and at least one speed bag ready to go next week. I've got to finish the turnbuckles for the ring, make a bracket for the double end bag and make a pull up bar yet. That should take care of most of the fabricating. That's why the world needs welders. Who else is going to do this kind of stuff?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Book Review

I bought An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones & William Wilson the other day for the princely sum of $9.99. The book contains "3,684 things you probably should have learned but didn't". It's almost 700 pages long which violates one of my reading rules - no book longer than 500 pages - but this is more like an encyclopedia with just one volume. Kinda like the Readers Digest condensed version of an encyclopedia. It gives the high points and major players in history, art, music, literature, economics, philosophy, psychology, religion, science, and a chapter on lexicon. And who wouldn't want a chapter on lexicon?

My own education has been sorely lacking in many of these areas. My undergraduate reading was heavy on educational theory and teaching methods, while my personal reading was heavy on technical how-to and motorcycle magazines. Obviously, there are going to be some pretty big gaps that way. I do a daily crossword puzzle and it reinforces the incompleteness of my education pretty much on a daily basis. I don't mind being behind the curve on popular culture but I know it wouldn't hurt me to know a little something about opera. Especially if I didn't have to actually sit through it. I do know that the word opera is actually the plural of opus but I also know that Paul Goldsmith is the only person who won on the beach at Daytona with a motorcycle and a car.

In the chapter on American Studies, the book presents many of the writers of renown including the poets, some of which I've actually heard of. Instead of boring the reader with the actual poetry for which these people are famous, the book gives a short bio and a snippet of their work. So now I know something about Ezra Pound without having to actually read any Ezra Pound. And that's pretty much how the whole book goes down. It certainly won't make you an authority on any subject but will introduce you to a lot of them. It will also send you in the right direction if you want more info on any particular one of them. For ten bucks, I say it's a bargain.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

High Mileage Vehicle

The vehicle pictured is the one we entered in the IMSTEA Super Mileage Challenge this year. We had it on display to get us and one of our major sponsors a little publicity. This was our sixth year of competition and the first time we went backwards as far as our mileage went. The premise is pretty simple. Build a car with a Briggs and Stratton 3-1/2 horsepower engine and see how many miles per gallon you can get while still maintaining a 15 mile per hour average. Every year we've improved our mileage and we've managed the three, ten lap runs needed to be officially scored for the day. Until this year. It started off bad and then got worse. We only managed 169 miles per gallon, down from almost 500 mpg last year. While 500 is good, it is still a long way from being competitive. You need over 1000 to run with the big boys.

Due to the way the rules are configured, we'll be building a new car this upcoming school year. I was going to bow out and hand it over to a couple of the younger teachers in my dept. but that didn't work as planned. The school has changed the schedule around so it looks like I'll have a little time 3 or 4 days a week to work on this thing with the team. That should do the trick. Of course, there's the money question. It takes a few bucks to build one of these things. This year was easy because we used the car from the previous year with only minor alterations. It's also the source of our frustration with the mileage going down, by the way. Next year, we'll be looking for donations, so some of you need to keep an eye out for Cuzzin Ricky, the bag man. The rest of you, if you're in Indiana, stop by your local high school and see if they need any help.

The contest is open to the public and is usually the last Monday in April. It's a great project and everyone involved does a lot of work with no financial reward. It's the kind of project that makes school fun. And believe me, that doesn't happen near often enough.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Camera Conversion

Before I ran out of room, I used to collect old cameras and being a mechanical type of guy, I like to make them serviceable . Many old cameras take obsolete film types so unless your pretty handy or willing to spend considerable money on film, they pretty much gather dust on the shelf.

The Kodak Duaflex (top left) is a cute little twin lens box camera that takes 620 film. 620 is basically the same as 120 only the reel it comes on is a little narrower. You can roll 120 onto 620 reels in total darkness or you can make an arbor like the one in the photo, chuck it up in your lathe and turn the flanges of the 120 reel while the film is on it. Once you've got the tooling squared away, it's a 5 minute job to convert 120 to 620. Lot's of cameras used 620 film by the way.

The big folder used 116 film originally. I converted it to take 120 film by machining up some spacers for the ends of the reels and a mask for the inside of the camera. It now takes 2-1/4" x 3-1/4" negatives. The only tricky part of the whole conversion was moving the red window in the back of the camera to get it to line up with the numbers on the film. It takes really good pictures. The lens is nice and sharp and the ball bearing shutter still works really well even though it's about 90 years old. The bellows have a few light leaks but the hockey tape I put on them seems to do the trick. This camera was pretty beat up on the outside or I wouldn't have messed with it. If you have a really nice old folder, I wouldn't recommend carving it up.

The Kodak Brownie Holiday camera takes 127 film and that film is still available. It's a little pricey but if you want to take pictures, spend the $5.00 and get a roll. The one shown has film in it now and if I get some decent images, maybe I'll print out a couple and scan them in.

The bottom line here is that even though digital imaging is the wave of the future, darkroom photography still can be a lot of fun. If you like to tinker, you can figure out how to use these old cameras and make some nice snapshots. If you want to get in a little deeper, you can pursue some of the alternative methods such as albumen prints and ferrotypes. You don't need to invest a lot of money. Just a little time in research and some basic photo developing equipment and you're in business. The internet is loaded with photographic info and there are books galore about every possible area of photography that might strike your fancy. Lindsay Publishing offers quite a few photography books along with many other subjects that appeal to the tinkerer. The prices are very reasonable and shipping is a bargain as well.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Walt Whitman

Preston's Lilac

In the dooryard fronting an old farmhouse near
the whitewash'd palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall growing with heart-shaped
leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate,with
the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle--and from this bush in
the dooryard,
With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped
leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break

Old Walt can turn a phrase with the best of them but he's not much help when it comes to the proper usage of apostrophes.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Small Farm

I got my new issue of Small Farmer's Journal yesterday and like always, it is chock full of good info for someone looking to farm with horses or have a small "mom and pop" operation. That seems to be the direction I'm heading when I retire. Big garden, fruit trees, bramble fruit, chickens - the whole Green Acres sort of thing. I grew up on a place just about like I've got now. The old drafty farm house, big barn, a couple of outbuildings and lots of grass to mow. When school was out, my brothers and I had chores to do but then we were off and running. We built forts, camped out, went fishing, played baseball and generally did what every kid who lived in the country did. Mom never really worried about us. I guess she figured we'd show up at meal time and we usually did. It truly was a great way to grow up. We never had much money but we never really seemed to notice.

I read the book Last Child in the Woods and the author describes what he calls Nature Deficit Disorder. Kids growing up without any exposure to green except maybe a trip to a park once a year. Most all their entertainment some form of electronics and no use of the imagination. Never being out of the sight of an adult for fear of the bad man lurking in the bushes. In my neighborhood all the parents must have read the story by O'Henry about the guy who kidnapped some little brat and instead of getting the ransom money, he had to pay to get the kid off his hands. Times have changed but the need to get outside and get the stink blown off, as Mom used to say, sure hasn't.

So, if you take the Small Farmer's Journal and what they espouse and mix in some Last Child in the Woods philosophy, you've got a recipe to turn back the clock about fifty years or turn it ahead about fifty depending on your point of view. The small farmer can provide himself and family a reliable source of good food without the enormous transportation costs. It takes a lot of fuel to move that hard, tasteless tomato across the country. Small scale agriculture is right scale agriculture. The Small Farmer's Journal pushes a lot of draft horse farming but much of what they preach is adaptable to operations darn near as small as window box gardening. If you have the children involved, they have the responsibility of chores and the experience of contributing to the common good.

Next time you sit down to eat, think about where your food comes from. Support your local farmer's market this summer. Get the kids out of the house. For the first time in the history of mankind, a shorter lifespan is being forecast for the youngsters due to the lack of exercise and lousy diet. We can change that.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

School's Out!

School's out and not a moment too soon, I might add. Been a pretty good year, student wise but a typical year public education wise. As a guy I used to work with would say: "The incompetent leading the apathetic". That pretty well sums it up. So now it's time to get some work done around the shack and pursue some of my projects.

I'm thinking I need to hit a couple licks on the midget racer for the grandson. As you can see from the photographs, construction is well under way. Making the rest of the sheet metal is going to be the hard part. I built the buck for the nose and started hammering out the first piece. It wasn't going quite as I would have liked, so I got out my Covell video and promptly fell asleep. You wouldn't think a guy could fall asleep while someone is hammering and pounding on a piece of aluminum but once I'm in the big chair and the sun goes down, it's pretty much a lost cause. I did make it through the first couple of minutes when he's laying out the pieces for a similar project. I think I'm trying to bend too large of a piece at one time. I'll hit it a few more times and see what happens. I figure if I post the progress, there might actually be some. I'm looking to finish this thing for either Christmas or for his birthday in February. Now that there are two of the little rascals, when he out grows it he can pass it down to his little brother and I'll keep building bigger projects until he's my size and we can finish my Plymouth project or build something else together. Grandpa's got big plans for the boys.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Desparately Seeking Strunk

After reviewing a couple of my posts, I noticed a couple of punctuation errors. I don’t normally write much in my role as a shop teacher. Most of my writing consists of filling out forms and sending e-mails so I’m a little rusty. I’m also a terrible typist, usually in a hurry and constantly distracted while I’m at work. I really enjoy writing and I would like to improve. How to improve? Practice and get a little professional help.

For help, I dug out my copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White. It’s a compact little book that’s chock full of grammar rules and writing advice that’s been around since 1935. E.B. White updated the book and added the writing advice and in my fourth edition, it was updated once again. E. B. White was a student of William Strunk at Cornell and the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. He was also the father of Joel White, a very well known naval architect and boatbuilder. As a long time subscriber to Wooden Boat magazine, I’m very familiar with that name.

To give you a taste of White’s advice, in Chapter V, An Approach to Style, Rule 6 states:

Do not overwrite
Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and some-times nauseating. If the sickly-sweet word, the overblown phrase are your natural form of expression, as is sometimes the case, you will have to compensate for it with a show of vigor…

When writing with a computer, you must guard against wordiness. The click and flow of a word processor can be seductive, and you may find yourself adding a few unnecessary words or even a whole passage just to experience the pleasure of running your fingers over the keyboard and watching words appear on the screen. It is always a good idea to reread your writing later and ruthlessly delete the excess.

Hopefully, the future will include the needed apostrophes and more judicious editing.