Thursday, October 28, 2010

What We're Reading Now

Sometimes books come along that, like a wise, sympathetic, and inspiring friend, let you know you are not alone in your beliefs, preferences, or habits.  Open the cover, read a few lines, and suddenly you’re part of a collective rather than being a loner.  Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler’s book Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art has been the most recent of my “good friend” books.* 

More than a year ago, frustrated with the mass audience of facebook, I tried to renew letter-writing relationships with far flung friends and family.  It was slow going, and I began to wonder if a need to send and receive letters was just another strange quirk, like not liking the feel of wood decking on bare feet, or believing there is such a thing as “too sweet.”  However, just as I was waning in my commitment to the post, Good Mail Day appeared to cheer me on and reassure me that a small, dedicated, and sane (or at least not any weirder than anyone else) group of people still communicate through the mail.  

Good Mail Day has kept me writing to friends (new and old) and family, and it’s also inspired me to start making mail art.**  My husband says he’s noticed that I am cheerier and more focused since I decided to keep the computer screen dark at night and turn my attention to pen, paper, scissors, glue, and stamps.  So here's to the authors, my pen pals, and the USPS.   

 Envelopes/postcards (clockwise from upper left) by: Carolee W. of SF, Kevin J. of Lummi Island, Pamela G. of SF (center and lower right), Stephanie B. of NYC, and Bryan K. of Long Beach

*Other fairly recent books on the “good friend” list include The Introvert Advantage: How to Survive in an Extroverted World by Marti Olson Laney and Thomas Moore’s A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do.  

**Mail art is a decades-long tradition comprised of an interesting and egalitarian network of folks sending art through the mail. 

-T. Jones

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Organ Progress

Here's the organ set up on sawhorses in my shop at home, where I construct most of my exhibits for Mindport. The cover is off the keyboard console and in the process of being varnished. On the floor, just to the right of the organ is the blower box, which includes an air pressure regulator. This keeps the pressure to the pipes more or less constant no matter how many keys are pressed. On top of the box is an air filter (the round black thing) to keep dust and debris out of the organ's valves and pipes. That black hose going into the right side of the keyboard console is the main air hose, bringing air from the blower/regulator to the "wind chest" where all the key valves reside. The smaller hoses from the valves are now all connected to the pipes, which I've temporarily tuned up. A couple valves had to be revamped because they leaked, but everything seems to work OK  now, and I've even been hacking out a few tunes with my very inadequate keyboard skills.

Next job is to install set screws on the tuning slides at the top of the pipes so they can be locked in position once they're set to the correct pitch. At the moment, the slides are held in position with tape. Installing the set screws involves drilling holes in the slides, tapping them, and screwing in set screws with locking nuts. This job that will be done concurrently with applying oil finish to the pipes, which all will take a couple days. The final task is to design and construct a table to hold The pipes and the keyboard console. Then the organ will be ready for its public debut.

Kevin Jones

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Waste Stream

In Cairo, Egypt, an under-recognized group called the Zaballeen have been responsible over the last hundred years or more for the city's garbage collection. Not only do they collect from door to door, but they recycle 80 percent of the garbage they process, recapturing materials such a plastic, fiber, and metals to be sold within their own country and exported to Europe.

The lives of this remarkable group are explored in a documentary film by Mai Iskander, called Garbage Dreams. In watching it, I marveled at the creativity and ingenuity of these people, who live under marginal conditions in a slum area of Cairo. They've set up a safe recycling school for their youngsters and even sent a couple of them to study the recycling industry in Wales, where, as it happens, only 27 per cent of the refuse collected is actually recycled. The country is striving to raise the percentage another ten per cent in the future. If so, they'll still be far behind to 80 per cent claimed by the Zaballeen, who manage it with human labor and  extremely primitive equipment.

The down side of the Zaballeen's story is the fact that they're considered to be what might be known as in India as "untouchables." They tend to be shunned and their essential contribution to society has been locally ignored. Consequently, the powers-that-be in Cairo, anxious for the city to be viewed as "world class," have contracted with foreign-based companies to collect the city's refuse. No effort is apparently made by these companies to recycle. Instead, the trash is buried in a desert landfill.

The film set me thinking about the generally low status accorded to those who deal with our trash and our sewage, despite both functions being essential to our comfortable survival. I speculate that this is due to the fact that in a consumption-based culture, we can't afford to notice either where our plenty comes from, or where it goes when we're done with it. To blindly consume without fear of guilt or consequence, we must believe that it magically appears on our store shelves, then just as quickly evaporates into thin air once we've used it up or grown tired of it.

I urge you to see this film. It's reviewed on Netflix, but not currently available there. For readers local to this area, you can find it across the street from Mindport at Film-is-Truth.

Kevin Jones
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