Another Project – Kindle Case

Well, I installed a monitor on my exercise bicycle and then I built a case for my camera. Now, I decided on another stupid project – something I would be better off buying… but anyway.

You see, I lost my Kindle. It was my 2nd generation model – the one I received for Christmas two years ago. I felt awful. I know that a replacement isn’t that expensive anymore but I hate losing gifts – plus I try to take care of my valued possessions and I felt like an idiot. I do carry my Kindle with me literally everywhere (that’s the idea of having one) and will pull it out and read for a few seconds whenever a spare moment comes up (that’s the idea of having one) – so I suppose it was inevitable that I would misplace it eventually.

So after a week or so of terrible withdrawal symptoms, I gave up and waltzed over to the closest Everything Store and bought one of the little Kindle 4 with special offers. It was only 79 bucks and came with a discount and a gift card so it ended up costing less. I keep all my books organized, categorized, and  backed up with a program called Calibre (very highly recommended if you have an ebook reader) so it was a simple task to load all the books onto my new device.  I already have more books on the damn thing than I can probably read in the rest of my life.

The thing is tiny. It is also very light. I had to think a bit about how to carry it. I had spent a bit of money on a genuine Moleskine cover for my old Kindle. It protected the device well and came with a Moleskine Reporter Notebook attached for quick ideas while I was reading. I didn’t want an attached case for the new Kindle, however. The nice thing is its tiny size and feather weight – it makes it easy to hold. But I needed something to protect it while I was carrying it. I played around with some small sleeve-like things and a tiny plastic box that I lined with foam, but none of these fit the bill.

After thinking about it, I decided to make my own. I wanted something to protect it, maybe disguise it, and something that wasn’t much bigger than the Kindle itself.

So I decided to hollow out a book.

The first step was a stop down at the big main Half-Price Bookstore where I walked down the clearance sections with my Kindle measuring it against the books. I wanted a hardback that was only a half-inch or so bigger than the Kindle. I learned a little bit about bookbinding too. A lot of modern hardcovers are bound with the signatures glued directly to the spines. I didn’t want one like that – I wanted a book with the signatures glued to a flexible piece of cloth or paper that was separate from the spine. I wanted one that looked like this – so I could slice the pages out of the book while keeping the spine intact.

Most importantly, I didn’t want to pay more than one dollar.

I found a used copy of Dancing at the Harvest Moon, by K. C. McKinnon that met these requirements. I apologize to Mr. McKinnon and his fans. I apologize to book fanatics everywhere. It feels sacrilegious to carve up a perfectly good book (even a used one for sale for a buck) to make a portable home for an ereader. Sorry. Get over it. I promise to actually read another copy of the book when I get time. There is even a movie, with Jacqueline Bisset – and I promise I’ll watch it if I get the chance.

OK?

On with the slaughter.

Here is the book I chose, and the Kindle. And a razor knife. Oh, the humanity.

The first step is to cut the pages away from the spine and end boards with a razor knife.

Next, I used the knife to divide the pages into three groups, keeping each group glued together as best I could. I helps to cut at the borders of the signatures. The center section is the thickness of the Kindle, with the rest of the pages divided evenly into two groups.

I thinned out some carpenter's glue with water to stick all the pages together.

Next, I soaked each of the three groups of pages in the glue. This was pretty hard - trying to get the glue between all the pages. Then I stacked them up, with plastic between each group so they wouldn't stick together, and weighted them down to dry.

This was the part that didn’t work too well. I thinned the glue too much and it didn’t stick like I wanted it to. Also, anyone that has experience with water-based adhesives will recognize that once the pages are wrapped in plastic and weighted down they will never dry. I had to unwrap them and set them out to dry, which took a long time. I have to think of a better way to do this.

I’m thinking of epoxy resin thinned with alcohol – though that would be a real fire hazard. I’ll work on it.

When you look online, most folks only spread glue on the outside of the pages and then cut down through with a razor knife. I wanted to go a little more serious than that – I wanted to glue the pages together into something like a block of wood and then cut the center section out with a band saw.

I traced the outline of the Kindle on the center section and then cut it out on the bandsaw. One edge is open - the book spine will go there and keep the Kindle from falling out.

Again, here, I didn’t do as good a job as I should. You can see that the paper wrinkled as I was cutting. Plus I was in too much of a hurry and didn’t mark or cut the outline as neatly as I would have liked. It works great, but looks a little ragged. I’ll be more careful next time.

Then I glued the cut out center section to one of the end pieces and then glued both end pieces to the cover boards.

At this point, I spent some time applying extra glue to the sides of the stacks of paper and to the exposed paper. I thought about lining the opening with thin foam, but the paper itself is a pretty good cushion. After I took this picture I peeled away a couple pages until a nice picture of a duck was displayed. I also cut a piece of good quality paper and glued it over the ragged exposed spine – mostly to give it a bit of a neater look and for a bit of reinforcement.

It took a long time to dry. I couldn’t resist messing with it, but any problems could be fixed with a little bit of glue-water mix.

Finished, with the Kindle inside.

Closed, it looks like a perfectly ordinary boring book.

The only thing left is to put a closure onto it. I thought about concealing small magnets in the glued pages, but that’s a bit more complicated that I want to get this time. I need to go to a fabric store and buy some elastic so I can drill a couple holes and install an elastic closure, Moleskine style. I should have done this before I glued the pages to the cover boards, but I didn’t think of it.

I’ll use this for a while, and then, if it works well, I’ll do a second generation – applying what I learned. Hopefully, it will look a bit better and I’ll put in the magnetic closures… that would be cool. Maybe a space for a pen. Maybe a little spot to keep a USB charging cable…

The mind boggles.

Oh, by the way… while I was working on this, I got my old Kindle back. I left it somewhere and the people that found it couldn’t figure out how to get my information off of the Kindle. After about a week they thought of looking in the attached Moleskine Notebook where I had my name, address and phone number. I am very appreciative and thankful they called me and I was able to pick it up. After thinking about it for a while I decided to keep the new, smaller Kindle and let Lee take the old one back to school with him.

The Wasp Factory

“I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me.” – Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory, opening lines.

The Wasp Factory is the first novel by Iain Banks, published in 1984, and the minute I saw the opening sentences I knew I would read the whole book. He had plenty of time to think through the opening, and it is crackerjack. How can you not be irresistibly intrigued by a first person narrator (probably unreliable), “Sacrifice Poles,” an escaped brother (escaped from what?), and a “Factory” (capitalized) that foretells the future.

I had seen mentions of the book here and there – mostly associated with strings of adjectives such as: dark, disturbing, violent, disgusting, hard to read, gruesome, grotesque, unparalleled depravity, monstrous, shocking… and plenty more. Well, so far so good. Then I found it mentioned in a book titled 500 Essential Cult Books. That was enough for me to move it to the front of my to-be-read queue.

Always, when I read a first-person work of fiction, I like to start to work out how reliable the narrator is. In “The Wasp Factory” the protagonist, Frank Cauldhame, is surprisingly honest, reliable, and self-aware. Especially considering he is a sixteen year old serial killer (though he claims his days of killing human beings are over) eunuch, living on an isolated island with his father, trying to deal with life through an endless series of violent, cruel, and depraved rituals – a litany of horrific obsessive compulsive behaviors that, while nasty and disgusting, are the only defense that he has against the hopeless situation that he is trapped in.

As the book goes on Frank’s constructed mythology begins to make internal sense. His series of altars, rites, and symbolic defenses begins to come together as a terrible religion that he has developed in response to a hostile world. For me, one of the surprisingly disturbing sections was a relatively innocent night Frank spends drinking at a pub on the mainland with a friend of his. He drinks way too much and struggles through a horrible night of sickness and vulnerability. It serves as a reminder of how helpless he is once he ventures away from his carefully constructed bulwarks of ritual.

It is a first novel, however, and sometimes you can almost hear Iain Banks thinking, “Let’s see – how can I up the horror a little bit more, what to do next? What taboos can I break now? What will crawl out from under this next rock?” It’s a harrowing ride, but if you are willing to go along with it – there are rewards. Frank is an undeniably unforgettable character and one that you will be glad you met in fiction – because you certainly won’t want to meet him in real life.

Don’t invite him to your family picnic.

The novel picks up momentum, unveiling secret after mystery after shocking revelation. Frank’s brother is on his way home, his father is beginning to seriously unravel, and even the island itself seems about to unleash some final cataclysmic horror as the novel comes to a terrifying climax.

It is at this point that the novel did let me down a little bit. The promised Götterdämmerung never does arrive. Instead there is a “twist” ending – which, although it certainly isn’t expected and does explain more than a few mysteries – for me, it failed to really satisfy the promise of the earlier story. It left me flat – which is a shame, because the rest of the novel was really something – though I’m not sure exactly what.

If nothing else, The Wasp Factory is a unique and polarizing piece of literature. A lot of people have written about the book, with a lot of widely varied opinions. I spent way too much time surfing around looking at WordPress Blogs that discuss The Wasp Factory. Read through some of these – you might learn something.

Blog Reviews of The Wasp Factory

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

(click to enlarge)

An HDR photograph of the Calatrava designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge across the Trinity River near downtown Dallas. I was setting up the tripod when the train came steaming along over the trestle between me and the cable-stay bridge. I had to rush the picture before the train went by and didn’t get the focus right… better luck next time. This is a tone-mapped image taken from a single RAW exposure. Since the train was moving at a pretty good clip, I couldn’t use a three-exposure HDR image – I tried it and there were too many strange effects around the train because it was in different spots in each exposure.

Unsilent Night

I was looking for something to do on a Saturday night – and through the power of this interweb-thingy here I discovered that there were going to be Food Trucks in the Arts District… and then there was going to be something called Unsilent Night.

The idea was to get a group of people all carrying boomboxes – each with one of four MP3 files boomboxing away. These were selections of electronic music – bell sounds and such. This group of people making music would march through downtown Dallas at night with the sounds bouncing off skyscrapers and such.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

But first, I had to get a boombox. I dug around and found a small white soundthrower that used to belong to Candy’s mother. It was portable enough and put out a bit of sound, but I needed batteries – plus, it didn’t play MP3 files.

So off I drove to the local everything store and bought a small pack of blank CDs (no blanks at home, only DVDs). My idea was to burn the 44 minutes MP3 I had downloaded from the Unsilent Night web page onto a CD that would play in the boombox. The thing takes six C batteries. At the store I discovered that they don’t sell six C batteries – only packages of 4, eight, or ten. The pack of ten costs less than the pack of eight – so I have four C cells left over.

At any rate I sat in my car at the DART station and burned the CD, loaded it into the boombox along with six of my ten C batteries… and I was ready to rock and roll. Well, maybe not rock and roll, but at least ring the bells a little.

When I climbed out of the train at the Pearl station I walked into a huge crowd of Santas milling around, working their way to the Arts District. I found out later that this was something called the “Santa Rampage” – a combination flash mob and pub crawl. There were about five hundred people in various versions of Santa Costumes – and I kept running into them all night. It looked like fun.

I manged to get a brisket and grilled cheese sandwich from Ruthies while the Santas were all having a pillow fight up by the Opera House. I’m glad I bought mine early because five hundred hungry Santas make for long lines at a handful of food trucks. I walked around the Arts District looking at Santas until it was time to hoof it over to the Akard DART station to meet up with the other folks for Unsilent Night.

At first I was disappointed because there were only a handful of people standing there with a half handful of boomboxes. The Cowboys were on TV, maybe people stayed home for holiday football. But as seven o’clock neared, a good number of latecomers appeared and we became a healthy little group of close to a hundred people.

We all synchronized our boom boxes, waited for the music to build a little, and then off we went. I have to admit, it was cooler than I had expected. The music was mesmerizing. It’s is interesting how it changes – both as the four different pieces of music cycle through their various peaks, valleys, and changes in instrumentation (the one I had – #1 – was mostly bells, but others sounded like voices, or drums, or other stuff) and the way the music bounced off the buildings and blended with the background noise of the city.

You could vary the sound a lot by moving back and forth in the line of people walking along the sidewalk. Not only were we playing different pieces of music, started at slightly different times (I jostled mine too much and had to start over – it didn’t matter) but everybody had different players. Most used iPhones with hand-held speakers – but some folks were prepared with more hefty weapons. On guy pulled a cart with a computer UPS – this gave him power for not only some serious speakers but flashing lights that he wired himself up with.

We walked down Main Street which was really hopping. I need to visit this area again – it wasn’t as dead as when I worked down there. The restaurants were open late, the bars were filling up, the street was full of cars slowly working their way through. We looped around Neiman Marcus – the Christmas Displays were awesome, past the Joule Hotel then back through some narrow alleys. These were especially cool – the music would bounce around in the enclosed spaces until it was almost deafening.

I really liked it.

We made it back to the Akard DART station after about an hour of walking and then took a break. While we were there, the five hundred Santas – most of which had been drinking quite a bit – showed up and crammed aboard a Green Line Train – off to their next stop. They seemed happy and full of… well, they were full of Christmas Spirit – along with other stuff. The Santa thing looked like fun. I’ll have to check it out next year.

Then we did a second Unsilent Night walk – this time back through the Arts District. This walk was more out in the open and the sound wasn’t as impressive – except when we paused for a while under the canopy next to the Trammel Crow Museum of Asian Art. It was shaped like a giant reflector facing down and we all stood along the stairs with the fountain bubbling in the center – that was magical.

By the way, we did walk past the Wyly Theater and the Transcendence art installation. The ice is now, of course, completely melted, and the remaining stones sit there in the gravel. There are still some white squares of gravel left where the original blocks were. Nobody payed attention – or even noticed that the raked gravel was there – it was very dark.

We walked back to the station and I was getting tired – a lot of walking. The organizer talked of next year and trying to increase the participation (the New York Unsilent Night walk has been going on for decades and has thousands of participants).

I’ll definitely do this again. It was fun to walk through downtown on a holiday evening, looking at the lights, the buildings, and the five hundred drunken Santa Clauses. The music was almost an added bonus – though it is the reason for being there.

Lots of fun. See you next year.

A few Santas check out Three Men and a Taco gourmet food truck.

Ruthie's before the Santas show up.

The organizer of Unsilent Night gave us some instructions before we set out with our boomboxes.

The usual crowd at the Akard Street train station on a Saturday Night

A train full of Santas

Grazing in the River Bottoms

(click to enlarge)

HDR photograph taken in Trammell Crow Park in the river bottoms, Dallas.

This is the spot where, years ago, Lee and I came down to do some sketching in the river bottoms. We walked to the levee in the background of this picture to draw the downtown skyline. Lee was a bit distracted, but I managed to sell my drawing to a local magazine – so all was not lost. It took me a while to get this picture – it’s not the most savory area and a young couple were drinking heavily and stumbling around between the cows and getting in the shot. Since this HDR is a three shot combination – I needed stationary subjects – like the concrete cows.

As I was leaving, I was lugging my camera and tripod back to the parking area when a group of three – an older photographer (walking with a cane), his assistant (carrying a folding reflector and a camera), and a model (wearing a long dress, but wrapped in a large thick shawl – it was cold) walked the other way. They were obviously going to get the last bit of light as the sun set. The man said Hi in a nice conspiratorial way, making me think I was actually also a photographer, instead of simply an idiot with a tripod.

I thought they were going to head to the cow sculptures, but they walked right out into the open area…. I’m not sure what sort of shot they were working on.

I sort of wanted to sit in my car and watch them work – I like watching fashion shoots – but I had things to do… so off I went.

What I learned this week, December 16, 2011 (short film and video edition)

I knew these two brothers, Lance and Dan Hubp, in high school, in Panama


While I’m posting short films… most of y’all have seen this one before – it’s a little film a friend of Nick and Lee did a few years ago. That’s Lee driving, and the kids’ Mustang. Of course the key to the whole thing is the subtle acting ability of the “Gas Station Attendant.”


When you are camping indoors, be careful about the bears.






Yes, of course, this is from Ghost World


I have been a fan of Lana del Rey for a long time. Here’s her new video.

Under a Trinity River Bridge

(click to enlarge)

 
I drove down to this little roadside observation park on the Oak Cliff side of the river to take pictures of the new Calatrava Bridge that is nearing completion. I couldn’t resist a little stroll in the river bottoms and took this 3-shot HDR image of the underside of the Commerce Street Bridge. It is amazing how quickly polite society and organized civilization disappears in places like this. 
 
 

Matilda

I was walking through downtown on my way to take pictures of a giant naked man when I walked across Akard street. Peering down the canyon between edifice walls of glittering glass I spotted an ancient little machine shaking on its set of steel rails. The sign under its cyclops eye of a light said “Matilda.” It was an M-Line trolley car I have not ridden yet. So I detoured and climbed on board right before it took off for its route down McKinney and around uptown.

Matilda was built in 1925 in Melbourne, Australia, for the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board. It operated in Australia for sixty years until it was purchased for use in Dallas. It still ran great and only needed cosmetic modifications (it looks like these were new paint and added air conditioning).

It’s a long car, with an unusual configuration. It is divided up into three sections, with longitudinal red velvet benches on each end, and ordinary wooden seats in the center. It’s a beautiful streetcar with a gorgeous interior. Matilda runs a lot smoother than the older (by only a few years), shorter car, Rosie, I rode a couple of weeks ago.

It was bitter cold outside and very few people were out and about. A couple of commuters were on the car, plus a mother and her five sons. Yes, five boys – the oldest looked about twelve. They were good kids… but… man! Five! The youngest was a toddler and he had that devilish smile. Whenever they looked away from him he would take off running down the aisle.

When we reached the end of the line I was talking to the boys about the turntable under construction (it is almost finished) when one of the boys said, “You know we’re going to have a sister,” and pointed to their mom.

Man… five boys and a girl. I don’t know if I could do that.

The M Line Trolley in Dallas

Dallas M Line Trolley

Car 636, “Petunia” coming back the other way. I’ll have to get down there and ride that one soon.

A&P

One of my favorite short stories of all time is John Updike’s A&P. If I could do anything – I wish I could write like this:

Text of A&P

Go ahead – read it now. It’s not very long – it won’t take up much time.

I read this story in college. For a chemist, I took a lot of literature classes. Most of them were honors level courses – and looking back, I didn’t get much out of them. They were very intellectual and were interested in ferreting out symbolism and deconstructing the text… and now, decades later, I realize they completely missed the point of what we were reading. My fiction writing classes were worse than useless; they set my writing ability back so far I’m only now, in my fifties, beginning to unlearn the false dreck violently stuffed into my young head.

After having exhausted my allotted supply of honors courses, I tacked on an ordinary English class – The Art of the Short Story. Basically, we cranked through a textbook that contained one hundred classic stories and wrote three papers or so a week. Our instructor was intimidated by the classroom setting so we met in a bar, talking about literature while we drank cheap yellow 3.2 beer from schooners, listening to each other’s conversation, and watching rivulets of condensation run down the thick glass.

This was a revelation. There was none of the vicious oneupmanship of the honors classes or the viscous boredom of the scholarship. It was true, lively banter where everyone was able to bring a different point of view along with some fresh ideas.

I’m sure I wrote an essay on A&P, but don’t remember what my angle was. I was working at a gas station over break back then and I remember really liking the paragraph where Updike writes about the sounds an old-fashioned cash register makes. He had it exactly right.

I go through the punches, 4, 9, GROC, TOT — it’s more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to make a lttle song, that you hear words to, in my case “Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)”-the splat being the drawer flying out.

The other day, after all these years, I discovered a short film version of the story. You should be able to watch it at this link – courtesy of SPIKE TV of all things:

A & P

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I stumbled across  this short looking up information on the new Three Stooges Movie. The guy in the short will play Larry in the Stooges movie, and, of course, you remember the actress that plays the girl, Queenie, from Road Trip.

I’m glad that they made this short. I am very glad I saw it. However, like any time a visual representation is made about a piece of literature that was important to you, I’m disappointed at some of the changes they made in the presentation.

The video doesn’t really fit my impression of the story… I think it’s the cutsie music. Or maybe the Ipswich accents.

The short story is edgier than the video suggests.

I didn’t like the scene where he imagines meeting Queenie at the party (though I suppose they had to pad it out somehow). It makes the story more of a romance fantasy, or a poor boy/rich girl story… which it is not. It is a much more fundamental conflict at work here – an elemental question of values.

And worst of all, all though the short has no qualms about presenting the protagonist’s internal dialog in voice over, it leaves out the last, most powerful bit. I’m talking about the last half of the last sentence of the story. The internal dialog that contains the horror of the story. The voice over says his stomach fell, but it doesn’t say why.

The story does.

I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course. There wasn’t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn’t get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he’djust had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.” I still remember reading these words in college and the fear that they struck in me.

A Week and a Day

Saturday – It’s been eight days since I saw the art installation Transcendence downtown. The ice sculptures have been melting all this time.

First Night

Next Day

The Day After That

A couple days after that

I had to see what has happened in the meantime. Would the ice be completely melted? Would the installation still be there?

I drove down and parked down the street. It was still there, the gravel was still raked, and there was a lot of ice left in the two big blocks. The taller block had fallen over and broken in two, but the large horizontal block was not noticeably smaller.

The two human forms were nothing other than small irregular pieces of ice. The stone from one of them was missing. I remembered the story the woman from the Dallas Center for Architecture had told me.

She said that she had heard that one of the stones in the human forms was from the parents of a childhood friend of the artist. This friend had passed away and after the ice is melted and the artwork is closed the stone will be given back to the parents to be placed in their stone garden on their rural home as a memorial. A nice story.

Maybe that one stone is now in a garden on the Oklahoma border. I’d like to think so.

While I was taking pictures I could hear a lot of noise – a metal grinding sound with a series of loud clacks – coming from behind a wall surrounding an unfinished building next door. I realized that some kids were skateboarding over there. After a few minutes a couple boards came flying over the wall and then their owners scampered through a gap in a fence after.

“What is this?” they asked, “Is that ice?”

I explained that it was an art work, that there had been large sculptures of ice that have been melting for a week. They had never heard of a Zen rock garden, so I explained as best as I could. They seemed to think it was cool.

“I’m glad we didn’t walk around in there,” one of them said.

So am I.

The two human form sculptures, what is left of them

A reminder of what one of these looked like at the unveiling

The large upright block fell over - you can see the light-colored gravel it rested on.

What it looked like at the unveiling

A group of women walked by after leaving the Opera House.