Monday, January 28, 2013

Overnight Coal Fire Success



And if I had one of these, I could stay warm forever!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Burning Coal in a Franklin Stove

It turns out this little Franklin stove burns coal pretty well.


That’s actually a coal grate that it came with, so I was expecting good results. It’s taken a good deal of experimentation and practice to heat with it, though. It’s kind of a hybrid stove, and not terribly efficient. We’d probably get more heat from a stove that sat out in the middle of the room with a pipe coming in at the back. But then we’d have to have a big stone slab in the middle of our floor, lose a bunch of our living space, and risk burning ourselves on the thing when we walked across the room.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The grate is made to sit up a few inches higher than shown in this picture. That would leave more space for the accumulation of ash underneath and make shoveling out a lot more convenient. We tried it that way a few times. I quickly got the hang of burning wood down to a hot bed of cinders before adding the coal, and then layering it up gradually until we got a slow, sustained burn. It burned most effectively with the doors closed and the dampers open on the bottom, so that the draw of the chimney drew a steady stream of air across the fire.

Problem was, the stove never threw any heat that way. It all went up the chimney. The body of the stove remained cool enough to touch. I’d heard stories of people’s coal fires getting out of control and turning their stoves cherry red. Close the dampers, cut off the air supply, said the experts. Be careful or you could burn your house down.

No concern about that here.

What seems to work for us is leaving the grate in the lower position. Then we can pile the coal a bit higher. If I close the doors for half an hour to get it nicely stoked up, I can open them and fill the house with heat for a couple hours after that. The only thing about leaving the grate down is we have to let it burn out at the end of the night, then pull the grate out the next day to shovel out the ash. Messy, perhaps. But it fits just fine with our heating habits.

I’ve read that combining wood and coal at the same time is a bad idea. It releases sulfuric acid and eats away the steel chimney liners like ours. The Irishman who delivered our firewood said they mixed coal and wood in the old country all the time, though, so I couldn’t resist trying it today. Just a bit. It gave us a nice blast of heat. The temperature at the sofa got up to 65 degrees!

It’ll be something I’ll do in moderation. Like smoking.


This coal is a handy way to go. It’s available at the local hardware store, a 40 lb. bag for $8.50. I can pick up a few bags in my Honda and be set for the week. It’s not like committing to a cord of firewood, a propane fill-up of $400, or, heaven forbid, one of those 275 gallon oil tanks that costs over $1000 to fill completely. And I can dump half a bag in there and let it burn for hours, instead of fiddling with logs every half hour or so. Wood fires are fun when you’re in the mood for them, but let’s face it—that’s not always.

Those big trophy houses with cathedral ceilings that were put up in the 90s (I sheet-rocked a couple of them in my ill-starred role as a drywall man’s assistant) cost $1500 a month to keep warm these days. So I’ve got yet another reason to be grateful for my modest little half-cape. Keeping this place warm with electric heat, when it was our only option, ran about $650 a month. When we rented it out to a woman from South Carolina, who didn’t know any better (even though we told her) and she kept the thermostat at 75, (even though we told her) and didn’t put plastic over the windows to stop the drafts (even though we told her) she paid in excess of $850. Using this stove and a couple cheap space heaters for select rooms has brought our electric bill down to $240. Of course, we have no heat on at night, or when we’re both out of the house. It’s cold in here when we come home. But that’s okay.

We’re New Englanders.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Running In Winter

I went for a run in the 14 degree weather the other day. This is the coldest exercise I’ve ever subjected myself to. The first ten minutes were tough but after that I was quite comfortable. Mostly.

We’ve had an inch of snow on the ground for several days, so it was interesting to see how many of the trails around here had not been trod by man or beast in that time. Most had coyote tracks running along them. Deer tracks would cross the hiking trails but not follow them. I didn’t see any signs of raccoon anywhere, or the wild turkey flocks that have been holding up traffic crossing Cape Cod roads of late.

Most of the hiking trails were free of any sign of human passage at all. I may have run them many times before, but this time I felt like an explorer.

One of these days, when it’s warmer, I’m going to chronicle some of the wonderful vistas I get to take in during my runs around here. Pausing to mess with a camera is a bit of a pain, but with this new budget android phone strapped to my arm for music and GPS, it’s hard to come up with an excuse for not taking some pictures.  On a day like this, though, it means I have to take the gloves off.

Still, I had to stop here and take some pictures. The power lines were breathtaking in the snow, and those cirrus clouds gave the sky an elegant texture below the moon.



Things got a little dicey when I made it down to the canal. This may be over-sharing, but I’ll do it in the name of safe fitness practice. The advice:

When one runs at freezing temperatures in wide open spaces with the wind in one’s face, one must take care to not freeze their bloody c**k off. Put on an extra pair of briefs or two before you leave. (Let’s just say I never thought I’d have an occasion to google “jogging penis frostbite,” but here we are.)

No worries, though. It was nothing a few minutes in front of the fire couldn’t cure.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Embracing Boredom

I like to be bored. I enjoy having the time to savor ordinary tasks. Building a fire. Washing the dishes. Splitting wood or mowing the lawn.

The embrace of boredom has been the great delight of my adulthood. It has also led to my being not as motivated as perhaps I should be, to lead a more interesting life. I probably should have gone back to school. I probably should have pursued a Capital-C Career. But once I managed to secure a house that kept me warm and a job that met the expenses, it became hard for me to want to stretch beyond that. 

Getting up in the morning and being all right with what you have to do. It's a kind of American dream. Not everybody gets to live it and it rarely lasts forever. But what the heck--why run from it?

David Foster Wallace, who wrote one of the world's most aggressively boring novels, said in his unfinished manuscript The Pale King that boredom made anything possible in this day and age. Wallace wrote a lot, because he didn't live long enough to get a smartphone.

This is probably true.

Here's his quote:

The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable.

It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.

On second thought he doesn’t quite have me pegged. I’m not so much immune to boredom as desirous of it.


I love classical music, because there's a lot in there, but you have to be bored to take the time notice it all. And it doesn't impose itself on you. You want to think about something other than the music? Go right ahead. You want to play it while you read a book? It'll be there in the background. Glenn Gould once said something along the lines of he’d spent his career making the best elevator music he could. 

I like minimalist electronic trance type stuff as well. It, too, stays out of your way. There's not as much to listen for in it, so if you do want to focus on it, you have to sort of make up a story in your head to keep it interesting. You think, this has to be the soundtrack to something. And then you script your own little movie. You can project it on the back of your eyelids. I've had wonderful naps this way.

Smoking a pipe probably sounds boring to most folks too. Bent or straight shape? Birdseye or straight grain? English or Aromatic tobacco? And you mean you have to clean that thing, pack and light it, and then puff on it for half an hour?

Yawn. I love it.

This article at is fascinating. In defense of boredom. It refers to the blog of James Ward, I Like Boring Things, which is here. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

Sometimes I feel that the internet is robbing me of my own thoughts, whisking me through life before my time. I slow down with typewriters, which only display the letters I press. They are lousy for research but they are great for this other thing which I just made up, called pre-search. If you sit down at a typewriter and start moving your fingers, you bump up against your own limits and discover the things you really want to know. 

You keep those things in mind when you go out into the world looking for answers, you might be all right.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Frosted Window Panes

Here’s what passes for a view out of our unheated kitchen window these days.


Not to keep harping on this, but it’s bloody cold around here.

Time to give thanks for that little woodstove, for The Wife’s persistence in tracking it down, and her further persistence in getting us to install it. Now if only the thing would gather up some wood and light itself, that would be great.

Meanwhile our refrigerator seems to be confused about the fact that it’s job is suddenly to keep our food warm.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Adventures North and South

A wood-fire, the Sunday paper, coffee, typewriter, and (implied) couch. This is the right way to manage a day off.





Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Running For Fun and Mood Enhancement

RunningSpeaking of drinking, is it me or is the font on this Smith Corona Clipper uneven enough to qualify as drunk? It also shadows each keystroke into the next space, if I don’t get the touch exactly right.

I swear, officer, I know how to drive this thing.  I’ll be fine, honest!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Smith Corona Wobbly Font


The machine for this typecast is here.

Any Ribbon Recommendations?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Smith Corona Clipper is Christmas 2 of 2


Believe it or not, this is the first chance I’ve had to give my other retro Christmas gift a workout. It’s a Smith Corona Clipper. It seems to be a later incarnation of the flat-topped Smith Corona I got last year. It would benefit greatly from a new ribbon, but unfortunately all the ribbons I’ve got are already spoken for by other machines.

This one has seen a lot more use than most of the portables I’ve adopted. The physical wear along the strike-path of the ribbon attests to that. Still, it hasn’t suffered for it. In fact, it seems to be in better shape than many. It’s been serviced—I can see scuff-marks on some of the screw-heads, particularly on the ribbon vibrator.

There’s no obvious flaws. A rare treat! Almost every old machine has something or other wrong with it, like a dead bell, a spongy left margin, or a couple bent typebars. The only grouse I had about this one was a couple of keys that stuck on Christmas morning. Some machine oil and a weeks’ idleness took care of that. (No need to go blaming the “sticky ribbon” again!)


The action has a nice, stiff solidity to it. There’s a weight to the keys that doesn’t slow it down at all. Plus, the keys are those elegant metal-ringed lacquer ones the keychoppers so like to get their hands on. Not this time!

So times are still good around here, and the New Year's Resolution is holding strong. If I found something to complain about, you should berate me for ingratitude.

Although I might let slip that I’d be grateful for an extended break from work. As much as I’ve come to enjoy my job, I’ve been going for nearly a year without a vacation. My own fault. I think I’ll put in for a week in February, even if it just comes down to enjoying the peace and quiet of our own house.

Or would it be better to wait just a wee bit more, and take two weeks off in a row. Then, we could properly go someplace and do our relaxing there. A trip to the UK has been bandied about a few times over the past couple years.

But to do that properly, we’d have to go by ship, and take at least a month…

The Wife points out that I might should have become a schoolteacher. There’s regular vacations throughout the year and summers off besides. Lots of time to travel. Lots of time to write.

I’d have a hard time with the work, though. I’d be too tempted to encourage the students to respectfully question their teachers and find civilized ways of telling administrators to piss off. I certainly couldn’t advise high school students, in good conscience, to put themselves in debt to go to college. “Liberal Arts? Are you crazy? Let me speak to your parents…”

I’d be run off the campus in under a semester.

A girl I went to high school with is driving the school buses now, to support her writing career and her children. There’s unemployment to be had in the summer, and full pay for sitting long hours in the parking lots of sporting events. She writes articles for the local paper from the driver’s seat. And she doesn’t have to get involved in administrative politics. She’s paid just about as well as I am. Even with all these benefits, she says, the bus company can’t keep nearly enough drivers on hand to serve the school’s needs.

I think she might be on to something. Too bad I like my own job so much.


The original typecast was not really worth scanning, on account of the faint ribbon, so you all get a digitized final draft this time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On Belief and the Artificial God

The idea of the Artificial God is something I’ve gotten from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide books and Dirk Gently’s Holisitic Detective Agency, among others. The essay is online, and it’s done as much to shape my spiritual life (such as it is) as anything I’ve ever read.belief1 belief2 belief3

Monday, January 7, 2013

Vonnegut’s Letters, Hard Edged Machines, Hard Edged Ideas




The collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s letters is Here . They’re wonderful, and well selected, and provide a fascinating path from one end of a life to the other.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Trying Optimism in 2013

I’m not one for resolutions generally, but maybe I can present a little more pipe and a little less grumble in 2013.




Thursday, January 3, 2013

Another Vintage Typecast

This one from the 1970s. Left behind by my father.


Periodically I feel the urge to dig through his old journals. Once I typed them all into the computer and made a website out of them. I’m not sure why. I thought maybe I’d be free of a certain burden if I did that. But they’re still there in the closet, and we have moved them from home to home.

Do we study the decline of our ancestors in order to avoid continuing it? If so, why do I spend so much of my own time typing?

I should probably give them away to an aunt.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vintage Typecast on Progress

Here’s a little something tapped out by an ancestor of mine. I suspect it was made by my grandmother when she was studying to be a secretary at the Lasalle Junior College in Newton in the late 30s. She used to brag about how her typing teachers wanted her to cut her long fingernails, but as long as she kept earning perfect scores on her typing tests they let her keep them.


I may have posted this image before, but I can’t find it. The other day the paper fell out of some storage boxes when we were tidying the barn and almost got trod upon, and I’m thinking it might be time to go through those boxes and preserve what’s worth saving.

I don’t have too much else from this era, but I do have a collection of handwritten civil war letters between a field surgeon  and his wife during the civil war which may be worth the project of scanning and sharing. I’ve also got a couple of binders of typewritten stories, journal entries, and poems my father left behind after a particularly bleak winter in Maine. A few of those might be worth putting up, as well. Some of the poetry is lovely.

Anyone else out there in the Typosphere have a collection of vintage documents to go with their machines?