Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Machines in my violin case

A small device with several moving parts helps me to hold my violin. It is a shoulder rest, and it attaches to the bottom of the violin near the base to fill the space between my shoulder and chin and keep the violin in place, leaving my left hand free to play notes rather than support the weight of the instrument. The shoulder rest incorporates simple machines to make it an adjustable device, allowing for differences in sizes of violin bodies and human bodies.
“Machines” in the Life Science Library says the Greek engineer Hero of Alexandria, about the time of Christ, listed five basic machines: the lever, wheel and axle, pulley, wedge and inclined plane, and screw, which form the basis of all other machines. “... [T]hese tools are viewed as ‘simple machines’ — detachable extensions of the human body that, in the main, supplement the function of arms,” says “Machines.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Inspiration from pencil and plectrum

Look closely at a wooden pencil, and you can see, running the length from eraser to point, a faint line, with a matching line on the opposite side. If you have presbyopia (that’s not a religious condition), you may need a magnifier. If, like me, you have both presbyopia and myopia, you can remove your glasses and focus on the faint lines. Those lines mark the joints of the two halves of the pencil, which is a wooden cylinder holding a long stick of graphite, and although we apply the term “lead” to the gray or colored material with which we make marks on paper, it is not metal but a relative of carbon.
The graphite pencil dates back at least to the 16th century, the term “lead” a holdover from writing with pieces of the metal. Graphite comes from mines, the first high-quality stuff from a mine in Borrowdale, England. Borrowdale graphite by the 17th century was being widely exported, and security measures had to be taken to prevent pilfering from the mine, workers being required to change from regular clothes to work wear when coming to work and the reverse upon leaving.
When France could obtain no pure Borrowdale graphite in the 1790s due to war with England, French Minister of War Lazare Carnot commissioned Nicolas-Jacques Conté, a 39-year-old engineer and inventor, to develop an alternative to pure graphite. Conté, it is said, did so in a matter of days, and in 1795 he was granted a patent for mixing finely powdered graphite with potter’s clay and water, placing the paste in long, rectangular molds, packing the sticks after drying into charcoal and firing. Pencil leads to this day are still made of graphite and clay.

Whistling gypsies at Burkhardt’s Pub

The Bog Carrot in 1993: John Whitacre, Mark Roliff, and Tom Perkins.
The Bog Carrot at the 2000 Warren Celtic Heritage Fair: John Whitacre, Tom Perkins, and Mark Roliff.
Published March 10, 2011
I put my violin to my chin and thought, “Four hours; that’s a long haul.” It was St. Patrick’s Day, and The Bog Carrot was embarking on its annual musical marathon at Burkhardt’s, a restaurant and brewpub in the Shops of Green south of Akron.
I learned of Burkhardt’s in the early 1990s when craft beers and brewpubs were sprouting all over the country nearly as fast as fast-food joints and drugstores with doors in the corners. Because the Irish and Scottish music I play are intimately associated with small family pubs in their homelands, I thought Burkhardt’s would be a good place to play, and I sent a band flier to owner Tom Burkhardt. Tom responded soon after receiving my mailing, and he offered our band a few experimental gigs with fresh beer as our pay. When he received favorable responses to our playing, he offered us real money to play on St. Patrick’s Day, the first time in 1992.