Saturday, February 11, 2012

Accumulation or Collection, Part IV

This blog has been prompted by my retirement from "work" and my retreat home into the midst of all the things I've been collecting for 40+ years. This series on accumulation vs collection has been driven by the unconventional nature of some of my collections. I want to state in advance of today's post that I don't consider myself a hoarder. Read the definition on Wikipedia.

I'm prepared to admit this is an unconventional collection. But any tool lover will know what I am talking about here. In fact wires are tools that carry electrical signals. Wires are what you need to be a miracle-worker - to hook up DVD, TV, computer, home automation, etc. You can't do it with string, rope, or duct tape.

Power wires (also called extension cords) extend electrical current from the wall socket to the electrical device. Many of mine are already in use because we don't have many outlets in the walls of each room. We recently re-wired the feed from the power company and the circuit breaker panels, but not to all our rooms. The photo shows the special cords, with 90-degree turned ends, or flat ends to fit behind a bookcase, etc. I love it when people see these and say "I wish I had one of those!"

Foreign power wires and adaptors for England, France, Germany, etc. fill up one segment of my wires collection. I don't travel as often as I used to, but it's still necessary to have some of these special wires, otherwise your regular wires can't do their duty.

Audio wires carry the sound signals from a source to an amplifier. The pictured wires all have RCA plugs, in single, paired, or multiple channel configurations. I've owned the green wires on the right since 1969, when I left home to go to college. The rest I have accumulated very carefully. They are part of the collection.

The green wires carried the signal to my first set of speakers. (Why yes, I do still have those speakers - when you buy the wood and cloth, then design, build, finish and wire them - you keep them!).

Apple Wires are not always specific to Apple computer equipment, but Apple has wisely stuck with this white-wire branding, and it's easy to tell your Apple cables and adaptors from the rest of the pile collection. These are the items I have left over after hooking up 7 Apple computers and phones at my house.

Network or CAT 5 Cables are almost passe nowadays, what with wireless routers. But I'm willing to bet that most of us are not on the cloud yet, and we all have a few of these around the house or office. I've got several dozen snaking around my basement, even though I use a wireless router, because cables are faster and more reliable when streaming large audio and video files.

USB cables are ubiquitous nowadays. I have all sorts - short ones, long ones, cables for cameras, phones, hard drives, extensions, voltage tappers, PC keyboard to USB, etc. Maybe there are 20 spares, not counting the ones in use.

Firewire cables were used to carry signals to printers and big drives, and are now at the end of their lifecycle. I probably ought to toss them out but some are so beautifully braided and feel so nice - they almost make me want to buy some old drives so I can use them again.

Telephone wires are also approaching the end of their lifecycle in my house, but I have these cables and adaptors from 20 years ago when I first set up my home office with 3 telephone lines. Notice the white Apple phone cords in the center? On the left is a credit-card-sized rewinding phone cable for travelers needing to hook their laptops to a telephone modem.

Test Leads are the good wires. The tool wires. The jumper wires with alligator clips. I've owned and used these particular wires for 40 years. (Yes, my middle names used to be Radio and Shack.) They carry any kind of electrical current or signal from points A to B when you don't have the proper adaptor or you just want a temporary connection. Yes, it is possible to melt them, cut them up in the fan blades of the car, or get shocked using them. I've done all that, and more. I bought the same kind again. So they are my partners and friends. The wires on the left are alternate leads for my Fluke voltmeter and other testers. The main leads are connected to the testers, of course.

I have lots more wires. I've spared you the boredom of all the voltage adaptors, converters, phone chargers, etc. etc. They accumulate - I don't collect them. And I don't mind throwing out one or two.

I'm excluding TV wiring, coaxial, HDMI, optical, etc. Not that I don't have some of those cables, but I don't care about TV very much, and as a result I really don't care much about those signal carriers. Besides, they're all used up on the entertainment center, which has a door behind it so I needn't get on my knees and climb around while messing around with my wires.

Do I have a collection of wires? Heck yes.

PS - I've got to put all my wires away now - but you can go here and read more.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Accumulation or Collection? Part III

My last few posts have asked if a consumable item (tea) could be the focus of a collection. I have concluded that consumables could be the focus of a collection, but not necessarily so. Plenty of consumable items are stockpiled / hoarded by some people, while collected by others. Full definitions of what I mean by each of these words will have to come later.

Today I want to address the concept that a collection can consist of usable, not just observable, items. By observable I  mean enjoyed using all the senses, not just viewing or listening.

What has led me to this? My oriental rugs. We have about 25 woven, knotted and tied fabric items. I say "about 25" because what constitutes a "rug" depends on your definition. For more details, check this Wikipedia article on Persian carpets.

How is our collection usable? They are on the floor, or walls. We walk on them, sit on them, store things within them, and look at them. We curl our toes in them, we stroke them, we brush cat hair off of them. Periodically we take them out on the driveway and vacuum them on both sides. Occasionally we send them off for cleaning. [click any image to enlarge]

It's difficult to convey the totality of the impressions that a house full of rugs can give you - an exotic feel, a sense of luxury, comfort underfoot, a faint smell, a kaleidoscope feeling of color and pattern and shiny / matte reflection and texture ...

As I contemplate the rugs and other weavings, I lament my inability to remember all their names and origins. I can tell you where I bought the rugs, and from whom, and even how much I paid for some of them. But I can no longer articulate the village or style in which they were made, or the meaning of the patterns. I do have the resources - this shelf full of books plus another group of articles and receipts. But there are so many other things to collect, and so little time!

I believe this happens to other collectors too - we simply can't keep track of a collection from 20 years ago with all the details that were so important then. Especially since we have used up brain cells on other, newer, more exciting pursuits. But we can still enjoy and describe this collection aesthetically (if not intellectually) and communally with others.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Accumulation or Collection? Part II

I'm pursuing the distinction between an accumulation of things versus collection with a theme. In my last post, I established 10 guidelines for my collections.
  1. May start by accident but must continue with deliberate intent and specific choice
  2. Need not contain one of everything, especially at the beginning
  3. By definition, does not include everything; collections have limits
  4. Limits are imposed by economics, storage space, taste or other factors
  5. Collected items may have utility but need not be used
  6. Items in the collection must have a tolerably long life span
  7. Changes may occur over time as tastes evolve or the collected items deteriorate or are used up
  8. If someone else uses an item from the collection, the collector bristles
  9. The collected items invite the collector to categorize or arrange / rearrange in different ways
  10. A collection must please the collector and at least one other person
Today I want to consider a consumable collection. I propose that the previously-shown colorful peppers in a bowl ARE NOT a collection. Wines, single-malt whisky and high-class teas MAY BE a collection. Wines and whiskies do not appeal to me as something to collect. Just to drink. But tea is a bit different - long-lived, affordable, enjoyable, classifiable, etc.

Here are some of the teas in our kitchen. [click any image to enlarge] I am leaving out boxes of tea bags and the miscellaneous teas that accumulate as gifts or are brought home from a hotel room. I have not tasted all of these teas, as some are still in vacuum-sealed packages.

Teas invite categorization. There are white teas, green teas, oolong teas, black teas, infusions, etc. Within the categories there are grades of teas, teas from different producers, teas from different regions, teas picked at different times of the year, etc. In considering this I derived another collecting rule:

11. Esoteric language may be needed to describe a collection precisely (pleases other collectors) but common language is best with outsiders.

What do I mean by this?

You can see that I have color-coded my tea containers. An orange band at the bottom enclosing the term 2nd Flush means the tea was picked in the second burst of growth or "flush" which occurs in summer. Generally speaking, first flush teas or springtime teas are greener and more astringent, and third or autumn flush teas are darker and richer and more mature. Tea containers labeled in green text contain green tea.

This simple, clear, color-coded labeling is helpful when answering the question often posed early in the morning by my loving but caffeine-deficient wife "What sort of tea would you like" to which I can reply "anything 2nd flush" or "any green tea" rather than saying "Singbulli Muscatel Delight Second Flush please" and expecting her to sort through these containers.

I'm often asked if I can tell one tea from another. Of course, what sort of collector would I be if I couldn't recognize my items? But that doesn't mean you could dump all the tea in a bowl and expect me to retrieve the leaves separately. Here's a comparison of 3 different teas. My wife's favorite is Tetley; the other two are both 3rd Flush Darjeeling [See A on the map below] teas.

And here's a comparison of two 2nd Flush Darjeeling teas (again with Tetley in the middle). A tea connoisseur would appreciate the large, unbroken leaves, and might suspect the tea on the right to be a green, white or silver tip tea.

Here's a comparison of tea leaves after brewing. It's clear that the leaves differ, the colors vary, and the composition can appear as chunks, chips, stems, leaves or "grounds". 

I've devoted a lot of thought to these teas, built a database to understand my inventory, and blogged about tea. Look here and here or here if you want to read more.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Accumulation or Collection?

What is a collection? vs an accumulation?

In the past few days I've talked about collections of things that are brightly colored - paintings, glassware, etc. And I showed them against our bright white kitchen counter. Here's a bowl full of brightly-colored fruits reminiscent of the group of Nyiri paintings from last week. But is this bowl of edible items a collection?

Most of us probably wouldn't call this a collection, even though the bowl contains a carefully arranged assortment of yellow, orange and red peppers. Where's the green? you'd ask, wondering why I didn't put any green peppers in. Then Why one tomato and one lemon? Why are those in there?

Based on this bowl of peppers, I came up with my own set of 10 rules for collections:

  1. May start by accident but must continue with deliberate intent and specific choice (pre-meditated)
  2. Need not contain one of everything, especially at the beginning (no green; they weren't on sale)
  3. By definition, does not include everything; some things are out (peppers ok, no citrus)
  4. Limits are imposed by economics (price of green peppers), storage (bowl) or other factors
  5. Collected items may have utility but need not be used (watches not worn are still ok)
  6. Items in the collection must have a tolerably long life span (collecting ice cubes wouldn't work)
  7. Changes may occur over time as tastes evolve or the collected items deteriorate (get eaten)
  8. If someone else uses item from the collection, the collector bristles (shouts, removes from reach)
  9. Collected items must invite the collector to arrange and rearrange them (beauty in combination)
  10. A collection must please the collector and at least one other (collections are best shared, admired and envied)
I looked at one set of items in my kitchen. I think it's the beginning of a collection but my wife and other friends disagreed. They say it's an accumulation. Or just utilitarian cookware. What do you say?

These are all cast-iron pans. You can see round 7", round 8", round 9", square 10" and round 12" skillets. A 10" Dutch oven, and a 7-compartment biscuit pan. The makers I can identify include Griswold, Lodge and Wagner Ware. Several are devoid of any maker's marks. All are oiled, seasoned, virtually indestructible, and constantly used (except the biscuit pan).

We got the largest skillet by accident from a relative and we liked cooking in it. I hunted down the rest of the round skillets. I bought the square one just to cook bacon and grilled cheese sandwiches. I purchased the Dutch oven specifically, so I could bake country bread loaves in it. I have no idea why I bought the biscuit pan.

I haven't pursued this collection for awhile. I'm busy with collecting other things. But when I go into antique (or kitchen supply) shops, I look at the cast-iron pans. If I see something I like, I might buy it. Does that constitute "intent"? Is it premeditated? Is this collecting in the first degree?

Are my cast-iron pans a collection? Or an accumulation? You tell me. They're certainly not colorful.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bright Colors, Part III

My second post on bright colors involved putting fruits and vegetables on the white Corian kitchen counter. It made me hungry.

You should not that some things that appeal to me visually are not edible. For example, here's a bottle of Chambord-infused vodka. It's actually filled with colored water now, since the liquor is long gone. [click any image to enlarge]

Not all items have to be photographed on our white Corian counter, otherwise we'd never get dinner ready. So this group of cobalt blue glass is in the living room. I washed and dried most of these pieces in preparation for the photo, because the camera is merciless at exposing lint.

There are a couple of vases, a superb wine bucket I bought at a thrift store about 10 years ago, some candle holders, and a flattened blue wine bottle given to me by my brother Brian.

Note: When I was researching the meaning of "curating" I used the old Webster's Third International Dictionary (unabridged). I have a Second Edition too, somewhere. While flipping through pages looking for Curate, I saw Cobalt Blue. Did you know there is a Cobalt Green? Direct random-access-searching is not always preferable to browsing! [click to enlarge]

But I'm not fixated solely on blue. I've got a few favorite red pieces of glass too. The left one is a paperweight commemorating the development of the Concorde Super-Sonic Transport. The right one looks like a fresnel lens from a lighthouse, but it's "just" a square container. A container that turns to fire when the sun hits it.

I did a multi-part series about glass on my Excelmath blog, entitled It's Not Clear To Me. If you are interested you can read one of them [click here] or if not, just consider the following image:

Which watch to wear?

I have a collection of watches. People often ask me why, because You can only wear one at a time, right? That's not the point. You can only wear one pair of socks at a time and no one worries about how full their sock drawers are, do they? You can only look at a few paintings at a time, but most art lovers have many more than will fit in front of their eyes at once.

This morning before 6 am as I was reaching consciousness, I was thinking about which watch to wear. I don't normally sleep with a watch, although I know plenty of people who do.

Because I have many watches, it can take me a while to make up my mind. Today I chose the Reverso - the watch for the man who can't make up his mind.

For those of you who don't know this watch, it's built by Swiss watchmakers Jaeger-LeCoultre. Various models have been in production for about 75 years. It has one movement that can be turned over, either to expose a bare metal back (originally to protect the crystal while playing polo), a view of the movement, or a second dial.

I have only owned 2 Reversos. The first was called the Grande Date. It has an 8-day power reserve, which is a very long time for a watch to run on one winding. The power reserve is shown at the top left corner of the dial. A small seconds hand appears at the lower right corner. The date is shown in big numerals at the lower left corner, hence the name Grande Date. [click on any image to enlarge it]

You can see the movement through a transparent sapphire glass window on the back. I took these photos almost 5 years ago when I wanted to sell the watch. For symmetry's sake, I grabbed that dusty copper dish full of pennies and took another set of photos a few moments ago. My current JLC Reverso is called the Grande GMT.

The Grande GMT is more complex and expensive than the Grande Date. The front looks similar with small seconds at bottom right, and large date at bottom left. Instead of a power reserve at top left it has a day-night indicator at top right. This is necessary for the traveler, to know if it's day or night "back home."  The Grande GMT has a second dial on the back side of the watch, with 4 functions. 

The large center dial shows time in any time zone you wish. By pressing a button on the side, the hour hand is shifted ahead (top button) or back (bottom button) an hour at a time.

The smaller dial on the left displays the HOME location of the watch and how many hours that location is east or west of GMT (Greenwich, England). The bottom right dial is another day-night indicator for your second location. The power reserve indication is at the top right of this back dial. The hands and the 3, 6, 9 and 12 are luminous so you can check it in the dark in that strange hotel room...

I got both a strap and a bracelet with this watch, but I didn't like either very much. When I saw this custom strap that a friend had ordered (but didn't like) I knew I'd found the right one.

It is black water buffalo with white double-stitching, held closed by the JLC deployant (quick-release) buckle.

I don't know what led me to using this dressy watch as a prop in the garden rather than in an office situation, but I like the contrast and resulting photos. What do you think?

 In case the reversing part isn't clear to you, consider this pair of images. You slide the watch to one side, flip it over, and slide it back.

A few months ago I made this video, put it up on YouTube, and it's been viewed over 4200 times.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bright Colors, Part II

This blog is supposed to be about curating the art in our house. Today it has gotten out of control. I started with a definite theme in mind, but colorful foods have run away with me. As my publisher buddy Mike Bentley says, "There's often a story inside you itching to come out."

We've had a hard time getting our kitchen restored / remodeled / freshened / modernized. After working at it for 2 years, our friends see little success or outward change.

But we have learned a great deal about our house, and ourselves. Our 70-year-old kitchen is middle-of-the-road. It's neither tiny nor large, fancy nor plain. We have no fancy countertops, few electrical outlets and skimpy lighting.

However, the layout is well thought out. The location is excellent, facing south-east so the sun rises on our breakfast table. It's like the wheelhouse of a ship - we have an excellent view outside into the trees. Best of all, the bright white Corian counter serves as a blank canvas to highlight FOOD prepared there.

As a follow-up to my post on Bright Colors, here are some photos taken in our kitchen over the past five years. They were NOT originally intended to be published. The reddish tint in some is due to the dark wallpaper on the ceiling, and the brick fireplace.

Mushrooms are one of my favorite (and probably most expensive) ingredients. These came from several markets, and the front yard. This composition was very carefully arranged - mostly so that we wouldn't die of liver failure afterwards. I didn't eat the yard ones and didn't let them touch the others. 

This bunch of grapes came from the yard next door, and were the very first of the season. We were given these as a gift and told we could have more. Later in the season we jumped over the wall and snagged a few more bunches.

This assortment of food came from one afternoon's scavenging and picking (or picking up) from trees in our neighborhood. It helps that we are in an old part of town with lots of mature trees with branches hanging over the property line, and we have a Mediterranean climate.

Heirloom tomatoes really look good on a white surface. I took this picture because our local market was selling for $2.99 a pound and we couldn't eat more than this amount in a day or two, no matter how creative we were. [see below and click on any image to enlarge]

Jamie Oliver's mothership tomato salad is a big hit. It just takes a variety of fresh ripe tomatoes, a giant handful of basil, some olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Here are some of the fixings, with a watch of mine. Ignore the watch, for the moment. I can't go there today.

Here's a look at that salad. It's ready to be served on the patio for an autumn lunch.

If you drain off the excess juice, chill it and add a healthy splash of vodka, you can make yourself and your friends extremely happy.

Eventually the tomato crop runs out and we have to look for other colorful foods. (How do these watches keep sneaking in?) It appears that we have peppers and apples now.

This picture depicts the apples used to make just one pie in the manner we learned from my sister Kathy. She's a slow foodie from Seattle and has inspired my interest in pie-baking and old-fashioned apples.

This pie to celebrate a notable birthday was made from berries picked in our back canyon. This project contributed a lot of color to the Corian which we thought would be there forever (berry stains) but they came right up with some scrubbing.

I had a lot more photos which I could have added, but this post is getting out of hand. And I am getting extremely hungry. I will finish up with this table full of food, prepared on that white Corian counter.