Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can a colander be cool?

hy not? If you search around hard enough there are lots of simple treasures to be had. When I searched for a new colander, I began by looking at some antique ones. I found a few colanders that were from the 18th and 19th centuries that were stunning - stoneware beauty that would last another couple hundred years for sure. But the shape was wrong for practical use, and I wanted to practically use them. I kept on.

At last I found what I was looking for - a simple colander with the traditional shape and enamel over steel construction.....all with an added "extra" to make it special. The designer was the Homer Laughlin China Company - the same one from the 1880s - but they had licensed their design to a production company in Thailand.

During the 1930s, when the more affluent crowd was snatching up the last of the Fairyland line, the average Joe was buying Homer Laughlin's "Fiestaware" - simple porcelain dishes in nice shapes and a variety of outlandish colors.  It was relatively cheap, fun, and took some of the sting out of what was probably some pretty meager meals.  The company went strong until the late fifties when, due to cheap imports, it moved it's dinnerware operations over to the food service industry and stopped catering to consumers.  Under consolidated management in early 2000, the company took a risk after looking at the new interest from collectors.  They began to license their designs to companies that were interested in the "look" of their china; offsetting risk to the production companies.  It worked, and their revived "Fiesta" line came back.  My colander is from this line; which was limited and is now out of production again.  You can find some really neat pieces of the original Fiestaware on eBay and in antique shops and flea markets.  It's fun and it doesn't cost a fortune.

Beyond the fun colors, the new production had some of the same lines as the originals that everyone knows and loves. On my colander, the detail was added to the scalloped handles, and the chrome finish suits their myriad of colors quite well.  What I wasn't quite prepared for was the physical size of the one I got - large enough to strain pasta for ten.  I believe there are smaller versions out there, and I'll keep an eye out for those.

While trolling aroung and reading about this, I found a video from Homer Laughlin's archives of some original footage of how the pottery was made.  It's really quite cool, despite the horrific music.  When I get my main computer back from the dead, I'll strip out the music entirely or replace it with something more appropriate.  For now, just mute the sound and enjoy.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

China, and a trip to Fairyland

hina (the kind you buy and eat on) is a wonderful thing. When entertaining friends, it lends a certain specialness to the evening and shows your guests that you care about their experience in your home. A lot of people I know dismiss the concept of owning or using china as too "bougie" as if it's some ostentatious or shallow display of materialism. My guy friends have conjured up visions of frilly white plates with pale painted bunny rabbits as their immortal definition of what china is.

Let me put that all to rest right now.

There are hordes of china manufacturers and patterns available, and for sure choosing one of them as your pattern can be daunting.  On the other hand, you chose your tie in a sea of ties, you chose your suit, your car, your home.  Your china is another expression of your personality.  You might even own more than one pattern; you might inherit some from your parents or relatives.

I love mine, but there is one particular pattern that is the most stunning I've ever seen in my life.  I'm not sure you'd serve food on this, but if you did it would be certain to be a decadent meal no matter what you put on it.

The manufacturer is Wedgwood - a company that has been around as long as many of the oldest china companies.  The pattern is "Fairyland Lustre", which unfortunately for our budgets was not so long lived.  It was designed by Daisy Makeig-Jones and was released between 1915 and 1931 to a grateful consumer base who was looking for something to take their minds off the war.  Fanciful, bold, and decorated with birds, insects, fairies, goblins, etc this collection is absolutely breathtaking....as are the prices.  Large bowls sell for around $5000 to 6,000, plates for $1,200 to $3,500, large vases from $5,000 to over $20,000.  I'll be lucky to own a few pieces in my lifetime.

In researching the topic, I learned a few key things.  First, collectors seem to significanly devalue pieces that have defects or repairs or damage.  They're real picky about those three things, and if the item has one of those - no matter how subtle - the price is very significantly diminished.  This makes it so that a few pieces may be attainable for those of us who are not incredibly wealthy.  Second, you need to know how to spot fakes and determine if repairs were made.  One way of determining this is to tap the item (such as a bowl) with your fingernail.  If you don't hear a distinct ring, there's a good chance the item was repaired.  Look for bold and sharp colors; if the color is muted or if something looks a little blurry, you might be looking at a fake.

Are you now as enamoured with this as I am?  It's breathtaking.  If you're like some of my friends, I encourage you to rethink your preconceptions about what china is.  If you look hard enough, you'll find some wonderful things out there.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

A simple concept, a complex mess.

he telephone. It started in the late 1870s with a host of brilliant minds working to conquer a dream: the ability to have a real-time conversation with someone at a great distance. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell established one of the first widely respected patents for just such a device.  His device took the speaker's voice, converted the sound waves to electrical impulses which were sent via copper wire some distance before being reconverted back to sound.

100 years later, the device and its infrastructure had changed little.  More wires, more phones, same concept.

Then the dawn of the intenet age came, and VoIP was born.  It was attempting to take the same concept but send it over internet cables in order to bypass the toll-taking phone providers.  It was sorta cool - it worked and now anyone with internet had a phone.

Step forward to today, and VoIP is all the rage.  But frankly, I'm not certain why.  I had two important business calls last week with a firm that has remote offices everywhere, and people had to dial in.  The most critical person to the conversation was calling in from a VoIP phone.  What should have been a 10 minute conversation turned into 45 minutes of "what?" and "can you repeat that?" and people constantly hanging up and dialing back in.  It was eventually discovered that it was the VoIP line that was messed up; everyone on their mobile or hard lines could be heard quite well.

In the push to upgrade and update and push the proverbial "technology envelope" we may have lost sight of the original goal: The ability to have a real-time conversation with someone at a great distance.  This goal was not achieved last week.  We all would have been better off if it had been 1960, or even 1940.  Time would have been saved; money and resources would have been greatly reduced.

If you think about the clearest phone conversations you've ever had, my guess is that those over copper wire and wired phones were likely the best.  Second would have been copper wire with wireless handsets.  Then cell phones.  And lastly, VoIP.  Unfortunately for us, that was the order in which the technology was released, meaning that we're all headed backwards toward lousier phone conversations.

So if you're ever offered the choice (unfortunately that too is going away) choose copper and wired phones.  Among other things, copper is an element (Cu), it's beautiful, and it allows for magnificent conversation.  With some minor enhancements, you can even use the magnificent old telephones (such as the one pictured above) in your home today.  Newer does not make better.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

There's cameras, then there's cameras. Part 1.

ave you recently invested in the latest digital camera? Hope so, because the one you picked up last year is SO yesterday. Nevermind the fact that you never did figure out all the functions, your friends are sick of your 4GB photos you send them, and all of your shots have that "digital lag" that always seem to miss the "Kodak Moment" by fractions of a second (or more).

But they're cheap, so nobody really thinks twice about going out and getting a new one.  Long term, however, this is an incredible waste of money.  The money you saved by not processing film is gone as soon as you want to print a picture thanks to printer companies who have refined the art of money making on consumer cyclicals.  Yeah, there's a reason why that new awesome printer costs 40 bucks.

So in typical Bouge Boy fashion, let me present you with the alternative, and then a comparison.

Your CameraMy Camera
You bought your camera in 2008, and it was the cat's meow. 10 Megapixel goodness, "Active Child Mode", 4X Wide Angle Zoom (whatever the hell that means), "lens-shift VR technology", "Face Priority", Li-Ion Battery, in-camera red eye fix, etc. You paid $300 for yours new.I bought my camera used in 2008. It was built circa 1940. It has no modes. It has no zoom, unless I want to run forward while looking through the viewfinder. It prioritizes whatever face I point it at. There's no battery. There are no megapixels; it uses film. I paid $25 for mine.
Your lens is a tessar design produced by Nikkor in Japan using the latest in materials and technology.My lens is also a tessar design produced by Schneider-Kreuznach in Germany using higher quality glass that was available pre-EPA laws.
Your camera weighs about 0.28 pounds.My camera weighs about 0.75 pounds
Your camera can hold hundreds of shots before reloading.My camera can hold either 9 or 12 shots without reloading.
You rely on frequent backups to keep your images safe.My negatives are in a book. The book will not crash.
Your battery will last a couple days with heavy use.Thanks to spring technology, my battery will last until I'm personally loaded into a box.
Your camera will likely work for three to five years and be obsolete in 10.My camera has been working reliably for 70 some years and has at least another 70 more left in it.
You find it difficult to take pictures in low light or bright sun.I love taking pictures in low light or bright sun.
At a rate of a new camera every three years purchased at $200 each time, you will spend $1000 in the next 15 years.Did I mention that I paid $25 for mine?
Game over if your camera comes into substantial contact with water.I can soak my camera for three days and be ready to take more pictures.
Your camera fits nicely in your pocket.My camera fits nicely in my hands.
Your camera looks really cool.....todayMy camera is choc-full of joie everyday.

Done with yours yet? Check out eBay for older, manually wound cameras like the Zeiss Ikon or an old Agfa camera or a Yashica. Some of the cameras made by Ensign are a favorite of mine. The one pictured for comparison is a Franka "Rolfix". 6x6cm negative or 6x9cm negative. It's awesome.