Friday, February 20, 2009

Today's Findings: The Good, The Odd, And The Ugly

On my lunch break today, I wandered once again into Sal's Treasure Hut, on Route 34, in Derby, and toured his prodigious collection of antiques, collectibles, and outright junk.

I like things that are old. I also like things that are a little odd, or even mildly weird. I like things that are rustic and not too delicate. And I especially like things that are not only decorative, but also readily functional in some capacity. Today, I ended up harvesting some glassware which collectively seems to satisfy most of those requirements.

The Good
This stoneware crock (I am very fond of stoneware, generally) has an attractive blue floral design, a wire handle, and drainage holes bored into the bottom. I'll probably use it as an extra crock for utensils, or maybe even for a small house plant:

The Odd
These two, small, oddly shaped, blue-glass pitchers are examples of the kind of glassware I like to collect for adorning window sills. I have a number of pieces like this: green glass, some reds, yellows, and a lot of blues. They have a nice way of sparkling in the sunlight when filled with water, and are ideal for holding small cuttings.

They make me think about life in early colonial days, when decent home decorations (and just about anything tinted blue) were hard to come by. Small colored glass bottles or containers brought over from Europe must have been viewed as a rare thing to have:

The Ugly
Somehow a tad ugly, somehow very beautiful, this bizarre looking stoneware creamer has a spout that was sharply pinched for precise pouring. But how very strange that so much of the flared top had been pulled in alongside the spout! Was this done intentionally? Who knows? But it's definitely a rare looking piece.

It has a nice, blue, floral pattern and also matches the crock nicely. I'll probably use it for an artificial floral piece, or maybe a small, live plant. But not as a creamer -- I never use old pieces like this for serving, because you never can be sure that they do not contain lead. Rather, I only use modern, purchased stoneware and reproduction pewter for serving and dining:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Friday Fun: Which Austen Heroine are You?

If you need a small diversion today, and want to have some fun, consider heading over to the blog of my friend (and honorary cousin) Juliana Inman, and take her Austen Heroine quiz to find out which of Jane Austen's various heroines you happen to be!

The quiz only takes a few minutes. And if you do so, please make sure to say "hello" to Juliana, and let her know who your Austen heroine alter-ego is!

I took the quiz myself -- yes, that's right. I am secure enough in my masculinity to do this. And it turns out that I am Elinore Dashwood, as is Juliana. She claims that I must have a secret desire to be Emma Thompson -- well, I don't know about that, but I sure never wanted to be married to Kenneth Branagh, I can tell you that much!

Regarding Hawkins House updates, there is quite a bit going on, but little time to write about it. Most likely, I'll be able to get something new posted the first half of next week. In the meantime, have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Disclaimer on Home Building and Renovation

Readers should keep in mind that any accounts of homebuilding, construction, or renovation work presented in this blog are purely anecdotal accounts of events taking place here at the Hawkins house, and are not necessarily endorsements of, nor suggestions for, any particular strategy for construction or do-it-yourself home improvement. You proceed at your own risk if you attempt to replicate any activities described here, as this blog is not intended to be a source of practical or safe information on homebuilding or construction.

(And you're truly out on a limb should you attempt to adopt any of my decorating, cooking, or gardening ideas... :-)

New Readers and Followers: Welcome!

Greetings to all.

Over the past few months, there has been a considerable increase in the number of individuals landing on this blog and reading its postings. I'd like to welcome all of you, and want you to realize that I greatly appreciate your taking time out of your busy day to read my articles.

Furthermore, I encourage all of you to leave comments expressing your impressions and opinions on any articles that capture your interest (even old ones). Also, please feel free to ask questions; as a matter of policy, I make it a point to respond to all posted comments, and I will answer any questions if I am able to. And dissenting comments or criticism are equally welcome, too, as long as they are constructive and well-intentioned.

One of the great things about blogs, as opposed to more traditional mediums, is that communication can be bi-directional. I think it should be, as this enables readers to glean far more information than they would from static articles. And it enables the author to learn a thing or two from his/her readers, and improve content going forward.

So a big welcome to you all! And I hope you continue to enjoy this blog...


Friday, February 13, 2009

Geothermal Heat Pump on a Friday Afternoon

Given the very recent rise in temperatures around here, I thought it would be a good idea to go outside and inspect my geothermal heating system. At the heart of the system is the geothermal heat pump, and a critical component of that heat pump is the core element:

Well, yes, it does look like a patch of old snow, doesn't it? That might very well be the case, but today, it's been re-purposed as a geothermal heat pump, the nature of which is to provide a sustainable source of thermal energy for heating and cooling (in this case, cooling). You can see the delicate core element right in the very center in the photo above.

Next, I firmly, but gently, grasped the core element with my hand, and slowly extracted it from the geothermal pump. It seems like, overall, it's in pretty good condition:

I then brought it inside the house and sat it down at my desk while I continued to blog (about this very same topic, no less). Then removed the end cap and inspected the core's contents. I am happy to report that this experiment in sustainable energy use has gone remarkably well: My goals for adequate refrigeration have been achieved, with negligible (near-zero) impact on the earth's resources.

And now, it's time for a poem:

A Patch of Old Snow

There's a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I've forgotten --
If I ever read it.

-- Robert Frost

Have a great weekend, and Happy Valentines Day to all my sweethearts out there! :-)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Yale Gilder Boathouse in Winter

Yale University's Gilder Boathouse is just a few blocks from my home. I stopped by today while on an errand, and took a few photos. All I can say is: Don't expect to see any crews practicing out on the river this afternoon!

Gilder Boathouse entrance

Yale docks, hove-to in solid ice (who left the coaching launch out on the dock?)

The Derby Dam, just below the boathouse. Did you know that back in the late 1800's, when winters were much colder than they are now, this was a popular destination for ice skating?

(A transliterated version of this article has also been cross-posted on the New Haven Rowing Club's online newsletter, The Catch)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

John Flamsteed and Hawkins Family History

Astronomer John Flamsteed, Fellow of the Royal Society (1646-1719)
In a previous posting, I wrote about the Little Ice Age, and the harsh New England winters that the early Hawkins family endured. What follows here expands somewhat on that same thread, by highlighting a number of interesting chronological intersections between the early days of the Hawkins family in Derby, the life of British Astronomer John Flamsteed, and that period of extreme global cooling known as the Little Ice Age.

I've synthesized all the information below from the contents of two Wikipedia pages on the Maunder Mimimum, and John Flamsteed, respectively, and recorded Hawkins family history. Enjoy!

  • The middle (and coldest) part of the Little Ice Age coincided with the Maunder Minimum, a period of observed minimal sunspot activity, that occurred from 1645 to 1715. Whether or not there is a scientific connection between these two events is currently being debated.

  • The year 1670, the same year that the Hawkins homestead was established in Derby, Connecticut, was the lowest point in the Maunder Minimum. Astronomers recorded no sunspots at all that year.

  • In 1674, while the first Hawkins house was probably under construction, astronomer John Flamsteed, of Derbyshire, England, spent two months at Cambridge and heard Isaac Newton deliver his Lucasian Lectures. Isaac Newton was born, by the way, in 1643, less than one year after the birth of Joseph Hawkins. Newton and Hawkins could be said to have lived fairly parallel lives, going through their most significant life phases roughly at the same time, until Hawkins' untimely death in 1682, at age forty. (Of course, it seems absolutely certain, that neither man had any knowledge of the other.)

  • In March of 1675, two months prior to the founding of Derby, Connecticut, Flamsteed was appointed the first British Astronomer Royal. Derby, Connecticut was named after Derby, Derbyshire, England, by the way, and Flamsteed was a graduate of the Derby School in Derbyshire.

  • In June of 1675, the month following the founding of Derby, Connecticut, the Royal Greenwich Observatory was established, with Flamsteed laying the foundation stone that August.

  • Flamsteed's residence at the Observatory was from July of 1676 until 1684, more or less coinciding with the height of Hawkins family activity in Derby, Connecticut, until Joseph Hawkins' death in 1682.

  • A modern analysis of Flamsteed's observations reveal that the sun's rotation may have actually slowed down during the lowest period of the Maunder Minimum (which, of course, hit its own local minima in 1670).

  • Joseph and Abigail Hawkins, and their children, in addition to enduring some of the harshest New England winters in history, may have frequently observed auroras during their early years together in Derby. All this owing to the sun's activity during the Maunder Minimum. all of this historical concurrency merely coincidental? Or have I stumbled across a few, exposed portions of some profound cosmic thread slowly revealing itself over a very long period of time? I think I'll leave it up to the readers to decide for themselves....

"February," de Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Monday, February 2, 2009

Timbering, Part II -- The Ultimate Cradle for Hewing a Log

Despite the wind and subfreezing temperatures, I continued working outside on my Roubo workbench project this past Saturday. Even though this maple section is large in diameter, I decided to raise it a bit higher to make the hewing process that less tiring. So I raised it and placed four additional 6x6x4 blocks under the existing ones, then tied the upper and lower blocks together with 10" lag screws:

Next, I cut four wedges from a 4x6 post, placed each of a pair of wedges on opposing sides of the upper-most blocks, and similarly fastened them down with lag screws. A bit hard to describe in words, but easy enough to glean from these photographs (the photo on the right, below, shows the opposing wedges; whack one of the support elements with a large sledgehammer in the direction of the log, and the log is then locked between the wedges):

What resulted from this relatively simple effort was a surprisingly stable and adjustable cradle for hewing (stable, that is, with the addition of a cross brace joining two of the pairs of blocks -- not shown in the above photos). A few solid taps from a sledge hammer on opposite ends of each pair of blocks either nudges the wedges up against the log, or away from the log to release it. And even though each pair of joined blocks is a bit heavy, the cradle as a whole should prove fairly easy to transport. So I've created the ultimate cradle for hewing logs! YEAH! (Well, at least for my purposes, anyway). Next step will be laying out scoring lines. Stay tuned, and I'll try to maintain my composure... :-)

Note: Since I initially began construction of this cradle back in the snowy winter, I've written a more comprehensive article describing the final cradle product and how it is used. You can find that article here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Conjunction of the Moon and Venus

There was a spectacular conjunction of the crescent Moon and Venus this past Friday (January 30th) evening. The two hung together like a clock face and pendulum through out much of the early evening, steadily descending the western sky, until the Moon finally set around 9:40PM EST.

I took the above photo from my front porch, around 6PM. Not too bad, I suppose, for a relatively simple digital camera on a small tripod.

This conjunction will occur again on Friday, February 27th, 2009, with an even brighter, and somewhat crescented, Venus.