[Adan] The topic for this post was suggested to me last Friday, but I deemed it too depressing for an otherwise happy Friday.  But now, apparently, I'm thinking it's okay to depress everyone?  Sorry about that!
Jennifer brought this to my attention via a link to this article in the Knoxville News Sentinel.  If you'd like to know more about this truly awful threat to black walnut trees, definitely read the article.  The KNS is not always a shining beacon of well-edited journalism, but this article gets the job done.  I'm informed and scared now.  The article mentions a couple of other such tree plagues that have done enormous damage recently.  It's frightening.  Pretty much any wood whose name you recognize is facing some threat of some sort.

My knee-jerk, head-in-sand reaction is always to think, "We mustn't use any wood that is in any way threatened!"  But I have to remind myself that every time I buy a board of walnut, I cast a vote in favor of fighting this pest.  It seems heartless, but when all the dust (saw and otherwise) settles we will only see significant research being done to protect trees that have commercial value.  This may be through use in wood products, as we do, or as part of a tourist destination, as the hemlocks are in the Smokies, or in some other way.  As long as my purchase doesn't cause someone to cut down the very last canker-resistant tree in existence, then it does more good than harm.

Aside from buying (responsibly harvested) wood, you can help in the manner suggested by this URL: http://www.dontmovefirewood.org/  Although there are lots of ways humans help these pests to move around, moving firewood from an infected region to an uninfected one is a biggie.  So... don't!



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Ian asks, and answers: "What do you make when you got a lathe for Christmas and an Easy Rougher for your birthday?  An Egg, of course!!"
That's pretty much exactly egg-sized... which is hilarious because Ian began this turning exercise with a chunk of oak sized for the fireplace!  He wanted to pick a challenging wood for the Easy Rougher, and what better than white oak from the fire pile?  Then he started turning, and turning... and the chips were flying... and once you get the chips started flying you never wanna stop... and now all that's left is this lovely egg, all smooth and buttered up with some beeswax.
Very nice.
[Adan] Just finished a couple of new magnetic pendants today, and I wanted to show some pictures.  They're looking good.  Check out the packaging and the new swivel hardware!
[Adan] Okay, here's the answer: that's a little piece of ipe, the wood also known as ironwood.  It's the nut from one of our beta model baritone ukuleles, or will be after it sees a little more work.
In this paragraph I intended to write some interesting factoids about ipe, a.k.a. ironwood.  The only trouble is that Wikipedia has just informed me that "ironwood" is an overused name that may or may not describe about twenty different woods: "Ironwood is a common name for a large number of woods that have a reputation for hardness. Usage of the name may (or may not) include the tree that yields this wood."
The image above shows the block from which we made this nut, and the labeling that caused us to believe that "ipe" is "Ironwood."  One of the things I was told upon buying this (quite heavy) block was that "ironwood will sink in water, you know."  So I was eager to mention that in this article... but now I'm filled with doubt.  Science to the rescue: 
Well!  Okay then... Let's make some measurements.  Block dimensions are 17x16x4.7cm = 1278cm^3.  Block mass is 1225g.  Aha!  Density is 0.96g/cm^3, which is why that nut was not interested in being a sinker demonstrator.  It wasn't floating very high... but it sure wasn't sinking.

Time to abandon Wikipedia and seek a more obscure but perhaps more focussed reference: How about the ipe page on the WoodsTheBest site?  Looks good to me.  Here they confirm: density should be in the range of 0.85-0.97, so our block is actually on the high end. 

We chose this wood for two reasons: importantly, of course, its contrasting color, dark to beech's medium-light.  Even more importantly, though, is the tonal effect.  We hoped the higher density would correspond with a more efficient energy transfer, and in fact this seems to be the case.  These little pieces, the nuts and saddles and tailbars, make a ceramic-like clinking noise when you bounce a few around in your hand.  And the proof's in the pudding: the instrument does sound very nice!

This block that we have should, if used efficiently, be able to make a large supply of such attractive and functional instrument components.
[Adan] It seems that Wednesday posts somehow seem to end up on Saturday unless I do them on Tuesday... so here's your Wednesday Whatzit, with a little time to spare:
Clues... hmmmm.  Okay, scale: that's a tiny scrap of wood.  The end section is only ~3/16" x ~5/32"... Oh, who am I kidding, I live in a decimal world: it's 0.185" x 0.145" (...with a hypotenuse thrown in there for good measure.  Feel free to calculate that and submit it with your guess.)  Another clue: it's part of either a product or product prototype that has been discussed here.

Please submit guesses, including object and type of wood, and get in the running for the PRIZE!  Um.  Sorry, still no prize, but anyway, have fun!
[Adan]  This new Flip vidcam is pretty sweet.  I wanted to test it out a little more, see how it could do recording audio.  Soooooo: here's a video of our prototype marimba.
Apologies/Disclaimers/Excuses: we still haven't made nicer beaters, so those are pretty rough-looking.  I was trying to kneel out of the shot, so that made it hard to balance... but I'm not saying I would have played it that much better anyway!  And the audio isn't awesome.  Not terrible, considering the tool, but not awesome.  It sounds a little better than that.  The highest notes really are painfully piercing, so if you picked up a little of that, well, that part was accurately recreated!
All that being said, it's still a lot of fun to play.  I look forward to when we have a chance to come back to it, iterate it one or two more times, and then get it out there on the market.
[Adan] Actually, the content of this post is provided by Jennifer: she's asked me to link to a FastCoDesign blog entry describing this amazing machine:
The article describing it, and especially the video showing it in action, is fantastic.  It's a bit confusing at first: I thought it was recreating patent drawings from patents in a way that showed the evolution of solutions to a given problem.  Instead, it seems to be choosing the patents (and, subsequently, the images) by finding keywords that relate to a story that's been provided in text form.  So it really does earn its name, "The Arbitrary Apparatus," but there are still some conceptual connections between the images in the sequence.  

I think it has a way of putting your mind in a storytelling mode: you see things in a format that leads you to believe you ought to be able to figure out a plot or meaning, and you force yourself to come up with one or both.... though it may be entirely different from the input text.  Brilliant!  This could be an incredibly powerful brainstorming tool, inducing drastically lateral idea generation.
[Adan]  We haven't talked about the ukuleles very much recently, what with all the other stuff we've been playing with, so I wanted to do a quick post mentioning that we do still love them and make them and play them every single day.  My workspace is kind of awesome, in that regard: within arm's reach I have accumulated (in addition to several other instruments), four Akertoys ukes, each a prototype from one of the stages of the design's evolution.  Distracting?  Procrastination bait?  No, not at all!
I'm still delighted that the bent headstock design has worked out so well.  I still love the unbent (alpha model) style too, but figuring out how best to make this bent one took some effort and so it makes me very happy to see it.  And of course, tuning with the geared tuners is also a delight.
[Jennifer]  Hi!  Just a quick note to share some photos from a quick Labor Day camping trip Adan and I took this past weekend.  (Or, more accurately, the Great Let’s-get-the-heck-out-of-Downtown-before-Boomsday Exodus.)
Adan found a great site on the western border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just a few miles outside of Maryville, TN.  
Was that a bear?
My Dad loaned us a camping stove (THANKS, DAD!), and we made an old classic for dinner.  Proximity of the car in the background of this photo underscores the extent to which this was true dump camping.
Dinner delight: vegan kielbasa, green pepper, pineapple, + rice
The site was right along Abrams Creek.  We got to explore a bit and went for a very easy hike.  We saw flowers that are a shade of red that feels like it’s burning a hole in your retina if you stare too long.  
My eyes!!
What did kitty do while we were away?  Pretended her people were coming back soon to play more string game.
Did not miss them at all.
It works... golly, those must be the two most beautiful words in product development.
The candy dispenser is pretty much 100% jam-free now, bless its little heart.  To get there, we had to go to individual holes for each M&M, and heavily chamfer each hole.  The little chocolate lentils will stack two high in the hole, but the chamfers let the top one slide off perfectly.  So.  Ready for a video?
The rapid actuation at the end is intended to demonstrate that, though it works great at slow speed, the long hole pattern results in the first pair of holes going beyond the trough at the extreme end of travel.  As long as it get there slowly, no problem: the M&Ms fall off while passing over the trough, all's well.  If you really yank it, though, they'll parabolize their way clear over the edge of the trough and take off for freedom.  But hey, I figure if someone's really that excited about yanking on this thing, that's probably just the kind of adventure they're looking for.  Once more: all's well.