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Kids These Days

Lots of ink spilled about kids these days. They’re either imbeciles who will never pay off their student loans, or they’re geniuses making mid six-figures at a FAANG outfit. Never anything in between.

But there’s a great deal of world between sullenly serving coffee and coding AI apps. I dislike the way the term “engineer” and “architect” has been purloined for computer programmers. I always preferred “code monkeys,” but no one ever listens to me. Anyway, the world needs many more practical, real-world engineers than we’ve got. It appears that Johns Hopkins University is producing some:

The challenge before Johns Hopkins University engineering students: Take a leaf blower, but make it quiet. Make it work as powerfully as ever, but do not allow it to emit the ear-piercing caterwaul that has gotten leaf blowers banned in some communities and cursed in many others.

Shocking their sponsors, their advisers, and even themselves a little, the students did it.

This isn’t one of those things that you read about that instantly disappears, either. It’s ready for prime time:

The design wowed Stanley Black & Decker officials, who can’t wait to start manufacturing and selling the new tools.

“It’s not just some cool theoretical thing that will sit on a shelf and never be heard from again—this is ready to be mass manufactured,” said Nate Greene, senior product manager at Stanley Black & Decker, who graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2017 with an engineering degree. “This is a really rare and dramatic level of success.”

The student team expects their solution could be adapted to quiet other similarly loud appliances like vacuums and hairdryers.

Good work kids. You’re sure to all find good-paying jobs when you graduate. And good paying jobs aren’t as good as being a Instagram influencer, of course, but somehow I think you’ll muddle through.

In a Surprise to Exactly Nobody, This Is From Switzerland

So, the Swiss want to repave a busy road. As you might expect, they go about it in a very Swiss way.

I’ve had to supervise the paving of a few short stretches of road, and lots of parking lots, so maybe I can tell you what’s going on in the video.

First, they’re scarifying the road. This is done by a big machine with lots of nasty teeth that can handle grinding away at little rocks suspended in emulsion all day. They’re removing what is called (in the US) the wearing layer of pavement. What’s underneath is sometimes referred to as scratch pavement here. I have no idea what the Swiss call theirs.

All the stuff they grind up will be recycled into more pavement. The grinding wheels on the machine are circular, so it leaves a bit of a curved ramp at the end of the run. A worker uses a handheld abrasive wheel to cut a slot at the same depth as the scratch pavement level, and then a guy with a jackhammer (pneumatic) cuts out the remainder to make a square place to butt the new pavement into the existing stuff.

Then a guy heats the edge of the old pavement with a propane torch, followed by a guy spraying emulsion. Asphalt emulsion is the goo that holds asphalt together, and acts as a kind of glue between old and new. Then they feed in a more substantial joint tape that’s also hit with a torch as it pays out.

Then they do something that’s sort of old-fashioned. They spray a heavy coat of emulsion over the whole surface, and then put what looks like recycled pavement over it. That serves as the sub-base, or scratch pavement. Roads used to be paved that way fairly often in the US. Just watch Cool Hand Luke to see it done by hand.

Then comes the actual pavement machine. It has wings that fold out to accept bituminous asphalt from a series of trucks, ferried by neat little front-end dumpers. That stuff (hot-mix asphalt) comes very hot indeed from the plant, between 300 and 400 degrees F. If you’ve ever seen a paving crew at work, you’ll often see them strap squares of plywood on their boots to keep the soles from melting when you walk on the fresh pavement. In the US, many dump trucks that carry pavement have heating elements in them to keep the temperatures up during delivery. Cold asphalt doesn’t spread or roll very well.

There’s some extra torch and shovel work at the join to the existing pavement. Then rollers roam over the hot pavement to compact and smooth the surface. A worker runs a gas-powered plate compactor over the edges to avoid having the rollers straddle the seam and risk breaking the existing edge.

And of course the most Swissiest thing about this very Swiss thing is that they built an articulating bridge on wheels that regular traffic can travel over unimpeded while the men work in safety underneath, and the bridge creeps down the roadway as the work is completed.

Sometimes, when I look out my car window, I don’t know where I live exactly, anymore. But it sure as hell ain’t Switzerland.

Mindblowing Masonry

I’ve become more interested in building construction techniques in other parts of the world. I have no use for This Old House type things anymore. I know as much as the hosts, so it’s kinda boring. Ignorance intensifies interest in these matters, or at least unfamiliarity does.

My wife and I watch old UK building shows sometimes. They sorta speak English, so it’s not too hard to follow along with what they’re saying.

We never get tired of George Clarke pronouncing 18 as AAAAAideen with his Cumbrian zest. We like all the people he interviews. They have no idea how to do any kind of construction, but they all honestly believe they’ll be out of their rented caravan and into their newly converted pig barn by Christmas. It’s always by Christmas. It’s already Thanksgiving, they don’t own a shovel, and they haven’t got any pounds, or spondulicks, or coof, or dosh, or tenners, or whatever they call the money they don’t have in the UK, but they have the bravery that blissful ignorance brings. That makes it fun.

The UK is a masonry world first, last, and always, completely different than what I’m accustomed to here in the Northeast US. I was always a wood construction sort of person. I’m familiar with masonry construction of all sorts, don’t get me wrong. But they do things very differently across the pond even when they’re building the same sort of thing we have here. A block house in Florida is not like a house in Bristol.

I’ve gotten interested in what goes on south of our border. Talk about masonry people. It’s all bricks and rocks and blocks and mortar and concrete, and a little steel here and there in Mejico. And they don’t get to the top of the masonry walls and start in with wood very often, like they do in the UK. They favor flat roofs, also made from masonry. And they have guys that can still construct masonry vaults. Here’s the description from the video, translated into English for you:

Diego García Villena explains in detail how to make a vault without trusses or shoring and achieve upper enclosures using only bricks, without joists as in the past
I find this fascinating. If you want to better understand what he’s doing, you can press on the gear icon on the video and tinker with the closed captioning setting to autotranslate the audio into English. It’s durn interesting.

They’re touting it as bioclimatica. It’s pretty hot in many parts of Mexico, and heavy masonry construction will absorb a lot of heat when it’s too hot, and release it during the cooler hours. It’s a smart approach. And all your tools will fit in a wheelbarrow when you’re done for the day.

I’m know the history of wood-frame housing in the US pretty well, not just building techniques. I have some idea of its origins, whether they be British or Scandinavian or Swiss or whatever. So I’m looking at this video, and trying to scope out the tradition this fellow is a part of. And all I can come up with is medieval Europe. Spain, Italy, northern Africa, that sort of place. He’s making a groined vault, and that might put its provenance back to the Roman Empire. It kinda blows my mind to think about it.

Men at Work

That’s some real hustle on display, backed up by long experience, I’ll bet. There are at least four men visible on that crew, and they all know what they’re about at all times. I believe that the unofficial word for their jobs is roughneck, but everyone on a rig like that is not all doing the same job. There are derrick hands, and drillers, and floorhands, and motormen, and roustabout jobs on rigs like these. I don’t think any of these guys is technically a roughneck. I think these guys would be called floor hands. Maybe one of them is a derrick hand. One might be a motorman.

Cruising around the intertunnel, I find that the salaries these guys make don’t vary a lot with their different job descriptions.

You can work offshore if you want to bump up your salary some.

The fellows in the video might lose a finger if they’re a little slow getting out of the bight of the chain, but at least they’re not likely to drown in the bargain. It’s a nice, sunny day on the rig in the video, but I imagine their game doesn’t get called on account of rain, or snow.  They’re all smiles, and working super-efficiently, but I’ll bet they grimace and tough it out on plenty of bad weather days, too.

There is only one way to earn the respect of men like this. Pull your weight. That’s it. Don’t show up late, or drunk, or high, or fiddle with a phone, or daydream. Know your role, and stick to it. Don’t clown around, except maybe at lunch. Hustle, especially when it really matters. Prepare for the next thing as soon as the last thing is finished.

No one’s getting rich here, except whoever owns the hole in the ground. It would be vanishingly easy to get hurt, or even killed, if you took your eye off the ball, or the guy next to you did. They are useful people, and worthy of our admiration.

The world pays guys who torture a little Python code into a phone app $350k a year, and these guys 1/7 of that, because the world didn’t ask me beforehand.

How Real Men Play Tetris

I’ve actually performed this same job several times. I have not, however, performed it like that. You have two choices, of course: Tough on the back, or tough on the knees. In the long run, it doesn’t matter which you choose, because when you wear one out, you switch to the other one, and wear that out too.

When The Tractor Cab Looks Like NASA, Find a Good Terranaut

I know I’m supposed to be some kind of impressed with your college degree from Flyover Directional State University, but there must be something wrong with me. I’m not. It’s nothing personal. I don’t have a college degree. Feel free to look down your nose at me, if you can see past your nose ring. Me? I try to take people as I find them.

I guess I should qualify that opening remark a little. I assume there are still future thoracic surgeons floating around out there. People are still graduating with degrees in electrical engineering, industrial engineering, or computer science, aerospace engineering, or something similar. They make things like that tractor in the video and the satellites it’s talking to. But we’ve recently seen exactly how superfluous a PHD at the end of your name is in the soft sciences, never mind a BA. And yet, there’s a pandemic of snootiness from college grads towards guys like you see in the video. Ick. His hands are dirty. He can’t be too bright.

Listen to how intelligent, productive, and articulate this farmer is. He never hesitates, never stumbles, never mumbles. He understands everything going on in that cab, and outside it, too. He is feeding thousands of people with his efforts. He even tracks the decreased yield per acre when the seed placement goes out of tolerance. The video is a 19-minute soliloquy of resourceful, worthwhile activity.

There’s an old joke in Caddyshack, I think, a movie I’ve never seen. A nasty person makes a cutting remark to an average guy, “That’s OK, the world needs ditchdiggers, too.” I’ve heard it spoken many, many times. Each and every time I’ve heard it, my eye twitched, because I’ve worked cheek by jowl with plenty of ditch diggers. Even twenty years ago, they were laying out those ditches using a satellite and lasers. I can assure you that no person I’ve heard repeat that remark would be remotely qualified to be a ditch digger, because they weren’t smart enough to start with, never mind physically and mentally tough enough.

People should have some respect for things they don’t understand. The modern college education makes damn sure you don’t understand damn near everything. The fellow in the video might even have a college degree, who knows? If so, it doesn’t seem to have hurt him any.

Git Er Dun

I don’t know the provenance of this image. If I did, I’d drive to wherever this guy is, and shake his hand. I’d probably want to wash my hands directly after, but by gad this guy needs an attaboy.

If you’re unfamiliar with the gewgaws in the image, I’m here to help. As far as I know, a Vortec engine is from a Chevy of some sort. I’ve never owned a Chevy anything. I supposed I’d drive one if you gave it to me and asked nicely, but for the most part I’ve never been interested. I could just about put up with a split-window ’63. If you have an extra one lying around, feel free to mail it to me. But my affection for that model is only because it was one of the cars that came with my Aurora slot car set.

I don’t know what that pipe is doing on a Chevy. It looks like some form of exhaust gas recirculation or something similar. Well, this dude didn’t have a replacement part, or is just my kinda guy, I don’t know, but he’s used several PVC plastic plumbing fittings and a couple of Fernco fittings to replace the original.

It brings a tear to my eye. A Cuban mechanic would approve of that, and might even try it himself, or would if they had indoor plumbing down there. Do what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got. Words to live by.

Do Stuff. Fix Junk. Make Things

This video is almost an hour long, but it’s well worth your time.

I often point out that woodworking videos on the intertunnel seem fairly strange to me, and occasionally infuriating. Pretty much everyone’s making ugly things in weird ways. There’s a generational divide that enters into it that I more or less understand. Younger fellers are much more interested in auto restorations than house renovations. When I was a kid, the local handy guy would have a table saw, an radial arm saw, and maybe a router in their basement. And lots of baby food jars full of wood screws, of course. Today’s handy feller down the street is much more likely to have a MIG welder and an angle grinder and an engine dolly in his garage. My own son is constantly fixing his elderly car rather than having it fixed, for example. I fix my car because I have to. He likes doing it.

I think the general idea people share about the modern economy is that everything is going to be available and disposable. I doubt it. I think more people should learn how to rely on their own mettle to restore their own metal, and many other things that have been discarded without a second thought. Not just because you might have to, although that’s possible. Because you want to is just as good.

The Difference Between Sailing and Jail

It’s hard to drown in jail.

Yesterday’s trawl brought in an interesting fish. Old friend Charles dropped by and enjoyed our video of the HMS Victory, rendered in animated form. In the comments, he upped the ante. Check out this amazing video of sailing around the horn on a four-masted barque in 1928. It’s narrated by the man who made it. It dwells in a land beyond amazing, really.


Towards the end, the narrator recounts an incident. The captain of the ship saw a sailor swept overboard. He ran to the stern of the ship, grabbed a line, and threw himself into the sea. That sea. As the sailor swept by, he grabbed him by his hair. Then some of the crew pulled them on board, the captain holding the line with one hand, and the guy’s hair in the other. Now get this: he did it twice. And he hushed it up, because he wasn’t supposed to leave the ship for any reason, and didn’t want to get into trouble.

By gahd we’re all nancy boys compared to our grandparents.

Pulp Non-Fiction

Come for the wonderful midcentury logging work ethic. Stay for the far out organ music.

Tag: honest work

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