Some comments on The Anarchist’s Design Book

Some comments on The Anarchist’s Design Book:

Which brings me to my final point. Schwarz has been one of my favorite go-to writers for matters of technique for well over a decade. With this book, (and to be honest, this really snuck up on me) he’s also suddenly sitting as one of my favorite designers. These pieces are all based in historical research, and standing on the shoulders of centuries of other makers – but the results are, to my eye, most definitely his. I’ve been looking at iterations of the desk and chair above, both in photos and in person, for months now, and I think they’re some of my favorite designs of recent memory. And they’ve only gotten more appealing to me over time – which, to me, is the key hallmark of really good design.

[If you the read the piece I wrote on ratios it would be very easy to know all my interests intersect. Music, cooking, coding, baking, woodworking, photography, and others have a thread woven through them for me which I endeavor to exploit. The technical similarity makes for a warm welcome. And while ratios bring some rigor to the process, in the end they inform the process of design and composition and can be extracted from designs as well. A tool on the road to making a point that comes and goes like a barn swallow. The Anarchist’s Design Book. That’s aesthetic anarchy. Not the stuff that passes for anarchy in the news these days. You don’t have to build furniture or work with wood to be impacted by Schwarz’s books. It’s as much about eliminating consumerism, stewardship, and the cost of things. The tool chest in the first book in this series was a metaphor as much as a reality.

And if you love beautiful design rendered as tools, go convince Raney to sell you something. You won’t regret it.]

NY State bill that bans the sale of smartphones

Why Apple Defends Encryption:

Now is the time when we get to decide if we have a right to privacy and security, and the limits of our government for the digital age. It won’t happen because of public statements by tech leaders. No, it’s up to us to make our opinions about online privacy and security known to our elected representatives, in order to determine the limits of policing (and protecting) by consent.

In fact, you have an opportunity to weigh in right now. A bill has been introduced in New York State that would ban the sale of smartphones within the state unless they can be decrypted and unlocked by the manufacturer. It’s astonishingly misguided, and for those who want express their disbelief that elected representatives could be so ignorant of technology (and geography), you can set up an account with the New York State Senate, vote against it, and even leave comments.

Then, just sit back and wait for the next ignorant statement or misguided piece of legislation, because these issues aren’t going to be resolved easily, quickly, or definitively.

[I’ve nothing to add here. Go let your feelings be known!]

Ringling Elephants, the price of freedom

Ringling Bros. elephants to get an early retirement says CNN.

Even this makes me uncomfortable… but maybe we know just enough about these animals to keep them relatively content and happy. Maybe.

I can easily recall the excitement as child of going to the zoo and the circus and seeing all the greater than life animals. But it also wasn’t too long before zoo’s and circuses started to be a bit depressing looking at caged animals that aren’t hurt or in some way incapacitated.

Zoos made me think about the current election, because so many folks want a government that tells them bed time stories about being cared for, and rewarded for existing, and protected. Something no government can provide.

Life contains risk. Living is risk. Stop believing that it can be melted away. If it isn’t cutting yourself making breakfast, or limbing a tree, or crashing your bike, or falling down stairs, or terrorists, or thieves, or… the list is truly infinite. It’s also believing in yourself and trying to make your way through the world knowing what is truly important.

If you want to see what minimized risk looks like, go look at a caged tiger pacing its tiny cell. That’s what the price of freedom looks like. And I don’t want anyone to try and provide that level of comfort. Maybe my mother. But that’s it.

Apple Car Thinking

More Apple Car Thoughts: Software Culture | Monday Note:

Just because the software running inside Apple’s personal computing devices is considered high quality doesn’t mean that the culture that produces it is capable of producing the high-reliability, real-time embedded software needed for an electric car.

I am one of the many who believe culture always wins. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, it causes mergers and acquisitions to fail and, above all, it resists virile executive calls to change. Culture evolves slowly, as if having its own independent will, or not at all.
The bottom line is this: For the hypothetical Apple Car project to succeed, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition is a culture change of a kind rarely, if ever, achieved by large organizations.

Perhaps the new software culture could arise in a new, separate group, well protected against the corporate lymphocytes always prone to attack what they see foreign objects. But that would break Apple in two separate cultures, and be the beginning of a dangerous process for a company that, today, strives on having a united functional organization.

[What’s more interesting to me is whether the “high-reliability, real-time embedded software needed for an electric car” can be brought to all of Apple’s products (and back ends)? Might be a greater cultural revolution than what Apple could bring to world of cars.]



The knockoffs can be alluring.  They can look virtually the same, especially in a catalog or on a web site.  A customer of mine called awhile back and said “I have two of your hammers, and they are both broken.”  I immediately said that he should send them to me so that I could repair them and do a quality-control analysis.  When I got them I was relieved to see that they were not made by me.  It turns out that he had purchased Chinese-made versions of my tools from a store that was part of a national chain (you know the one), and, according to my customer, he was told that they were made by Glen-Drake even though my name was not on them.  The similarities were convincing.  The Chinese versions even had the numbers I assigned engraved on the heads.  Maybe the imitators think that those numbers are some kind of a standard for hammers.  Or could it be that they think the numbers might help convince people that the hammers are in fact made by Glen-Drake?

An imitator of one of my tools even used my tool for the front photo on their packaging.  Now that’s just rude.  But here’s the real problem.  Imitators don’t need to be creative.  They don’t need to identify a problem.  They don’t need to design a solution to a problem.  They don’t need to build and test prototypes.  They don’t need to determine and assemble the best materials to deliver a product that will stand the test of time.  All they need to do is send something overseas to be copied, and that’s a callous and insidious form of theft.

If someone walks into my office and steals my wallet, the police will be all over them.  But if they make cheap knockoffs of the tools I make, then I have to hire a lawyer to make them stop, which is about all I can expect.  Then someone else will do it, and I have to go through the whole process again.   Cottage toolmakers can’t afford to pursue the knockoff makers, even if that’s the way we want to spend our lives, and it’s not.  Do the thieves know this?  You bet they do.  Criminal audacity is astounding.

[Some people consider me a “jack of all trades” (as a pejorative) others consider me a “polymath” (might be kindly over reaching). But either way, I am or have been involved in lots of different crafts and fields. And in each one it occurs to me I hear the cry of “cost”. Small stores hear it. Individual makers hear it. I am drawn to beautiful tools that function well and are a delight to behold and so I hear this all the time. No doubt, the cost of fine tools, especially locally made non-production stuff limits the sheer number of tools I can own (field doesn’t matter… guitars, amps, woodworking tools, electronics, bicycles, camping, hiking, photography, and the list goes on and on). But I accept that in that the tools I do own are joyfully made, used, and earn their right to the resources I devote to them.

If we care about the things we do, how we do them, and where they are done… who grows our food, butchers our meat, designs and builds our furniture, cars, houses, tools, etc. than in order to get everything lined up the way we wish, we’re going to most likely have to pay more. I’ve struggled with that choice in the past, but never complained about it. (You’re x is too expensive. Sell it to me for less…) But I don’t struggle with it anymore. I accept that I will have fewer things, but they will be joy inducing or I will not partake. And those things will, by the nature of my choosing, require less care, less fussiness, and be superlative in every way.

Knockoffs are unacceptable. I’ve seen the effect on businesses in which I’ve worked… where the knocking off product is so easy that it is not even railed against by the industry… it’s expected and accepted, if hated. To which I say save up… by the original. Work around it for a while. It’ll only improve your skills. Support the ideas and the folks that originate them. Buy things that are made close to where you live, even as you enjoy the benefits of being a part of a global community. Buy only things that bring you great joy when you see them, use them, and care for them.]

Knowledge beats recipes

petersen strobosoft screen

Bear with me, this will take a bit of doing…

Quoting the Wikipedia:

The size of an interval between two notes may be measured by the ratio of their frequencies. When a musical instrument is tuned using a just intonation tuning system, the size of the main intervals can be expressed by small-integer ratios, such as 1:1 (unison), 2:1 (octave), 3:2 (perfect fifth), 4:3 (perfect fourth), 5:4 (major third), 6:5 (minor third). Intervals with small-integer ratios are often called just intervals, or pure intervals.

Most commonly, however, musical instruments are nowadays tuned using a different tuning system, called 12-tone equal temperament, in which the main intervals are typically perceived as consonant, but none is justly tuned and as consonant as a just interval, except for the unison (1:1) and octave (2:1). As a consequence, the size of most equal-tempered intervals cannot be expressed by small-integer ratios, although it is very close to the size of the corresponding just intervals. For instance, an equal-tempered fifth has a frequency ratio of 27/12:1, approximately equal to 1.498:1, or 2.997:2 (very close to 3:2).

[I quote simply to avoid all my musician friends from correcting me. Tough crowd.]

There are some instruments that can be played in a just intonated fashion (voice, violin) and many that cannot easily do so (piano, guitar.) The tradeoff in using an equal temperament system is that you can easily change keys which enabled all sorts of wondrous music. However the intervals aren’t pure, and before you dismiss the value of that… part of the excitement and wonder of a choir, string quartet, etc. is that they can change keys and yet sing pure intervals (or not) as they wish. Remarkable flexibility.

The wonderful little volume “Ratio” by Michael Ruhlman displays the ratios behind cooking. In the book one can learn that pasta dough is 3:2 ratio of flour and eggs. No wonder we all love pasta—it’s a perfect fifth of a food! Cookies are 3:2:1 (flour, fat, sugar). There’s little surprise that ratios are there to be found once you start digging into ratios and they’re place in the cosmos. And more importantly, they’re far more useful.

If you have grandma’s pasta recipe (I looked up one by Mario Batalli) you get something like this: 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 4 extra-large eggs Now we can argue our way through whether this is represented by the ratio above, and how much it deviates, but my point here is if you memorize the ingredients and all the “use half the flour unless it’s not dough or too sticky stuff” you still will only be able to make that one recipe. But if you understand that the ratio of 3:2 makes a pasta dough then you have different starting point. You have *information* that you can use to create other variations… or explore the boundary between pasta and cookies etc. Same is true of music.

If you know how to hack your way through a song on a guitar and sing along that’s cool. But if you understand the intervals, the chord progressions and the meter, you have the tools that will allow you play 1000s of songs or make up your own.

One more example before I’m done torturing all this to a fare the well.

The lovely volume “By Hand & Eye” discusses ratio, although in this instance as it applies to furniture and proportion. As it says on the site…

…George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin show how much of the world is governed by simple proportions, noting how ratios such as 1:2; 3:5 and 4:5 were ubiquitous in the designs of pre-industrial artisans. And the tool that helps us explore this world, then as now, are dividers.

Something like a step stool is one handspan high by two handspans wide… or the same ratio as an octave, which at this point should be no surprise. And when you begin to pin the ratios together you can find them in the subdivisions of our hands and bodies, in the spiral of a nautilus shell, and in the fractal nature of so many things, where the thing up close repeats the pattern of something of greater distance.

And all of this leads us to the Fibonacci series, which is building block that we seek at eh foundation of so many ratio related conversations (which at least for me is a good enough source from which to crib.)


A piano keyboard makes this somewhat clear…

…scale of C to C above of 13 keys has 8 white keys and 5 black keys, split into groups of 3 and 2. While some might “note” that there are only 12 “notes” in the scale, if you don’t have a root and octave, a start and an end, you have no means of calculating the gradations in between, so this 13th note as the octave is essential to computing the frequencies of the other notes. The word “octave” comes from the Latin word for 8, referring to the eight tones of the complete musical scale, which in the key of C are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.

So look… I’m not telling you that your whole life should be constructed around Fibonacci, The Golden Ratio, etc. (although many things already are…). Or that the art of music, cooking, design, and creating in general might be in how and when you break or bend that cosmic sense of proportion. But it might well be the case.

The real point of all this is that recipes are for students. They are a constraint that you can embrace in order to begin producing results. Follow these drawings and you’ll create a reasonable staircase. This plan and you’ll produce reasonable tasting food. That sheet of music and maybe something Bach like will be heard, or maybe some ‘Stones or Coltrane.

But if you embrace the knowledge behind how how the universe orders itself engrained in all we use to create, you need only apply is a little bit of inspiration about where to bend the lines.

[I will no doubt be beaten about the head by one of the lovely folks who can reproduce, at will, a zillion different recipes and for whom, therefore, life is always easy. Artists always suffer.]

This is why people make stuff…

Whether it’s music or software or chopsticks or whatever… I think the faces of the people in this video says it all. There is a deep connection between creation and human beings. Even when we don’t practice making things for years and years it is never lost. It’s as much a part of who we are as humans as anything I’ve ever come across.

I find it impossible not to enjoy this. I hope you see what I see when you watch it.

And if you care to, read about John Economaki’s experience.