Outdoors, unplugged

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 12.45.36 PM.pngI go out riding in the mornings, before work. I get on the road and trail about 7am. My route takes me along the edge of a golf course where there is a dual-use bike and pedestrian path. People also walk their dogs on it.

I often come up behind people running or walking, and I ring my bell to warn them of my approach. Yes, I have a bell on my handlebars, and I use it all the time. It is made of brass and has a very pleasant ring. And most of the time–nearly all of the time–nothing happens. By which I mean the runners or walkers have no reaction. There is no reaction BECAUSE THEY HAVE EAR BUDS IN THEIR EARS AND THEY CANNOT HEAR ME OR MY BELL. They are listening to music, or NPR, or a podcast I guess. They are not hearing anything from their surroundings. They do not hear the cars going to work, they do not hear the construction workers beginning their days, they do not hear the lawnmowers on the golf course. I get that those noises interfere with their enjoyment. But they also don’t hear the birds chirping their good morning songs, or the wind whistling through the trees. They don’t hear the squish of their feet on the path, or their breath as it enters their lungs.

When I go outdoors to exercise, I want to see and hear as much as I can. I am out there, IN the outdoors, and I want to experience it all. The last thing I want to do is to shut it out, or block it off, by plugging things in my ears and blasting music or listening to someone talking. When I am outside I want all my senses enjoying the outdoors.
It’s also safer to be able to hear your surroundings. When I am riding I can hear cars and trucks, and dogs, and other riders coming up behind me. I use those sounds to stay safe. I also use sounds, like my voice and my bell, to warn others of my presence, in order to keep them safe.

When the people I share my morning exercise outdoors with are plugged in and tuned out, I feel less safe, and worry about frightening these people into doing something stupid by surprising them as I pass them. I just wish they would unplug and enjoy the morning.

 

An Artist

A man who works with his hands is a laborer;
a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman;
but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.

Louis Nizer, Between You and Me, 1948.

My father shared this with me, but I doubt he knew the attribution. Thanks to Google and the internet, now I know who first said it.

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5:19:55

I’ve long been a fan of lap times on the Nurburgring Nordscheife. The fastest lap ever recorded was in 1983 by Stefan Bellof in a Porsche 956C at 6:11. That was in qualifying and stood for 35 years until now. In June, 2018 Porsche took their unleashed LMP1 race car, the Porsche 919 Evo, to the track with team hot shoe Timo Bernhard, and smashed the lap record. They didn’t just go under six minutes, they almost took one entire minute off Bellof’s record. The in-car video is incredible, looking more like a video game than a real driver in a real car on a real track taking real risks…

In-car video

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1160HP, 850kg, Power to weight ratio: 1.366.

New Pikes Peak record – set by VW EV

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Setting out to break the electric vehicle (EV) record at Pikes Peak International Hillclimb of 8:57, Volkswagen brought Romain Dumas (3 time PP winner and Le Mans winner) to pilot the VW I. D. R Pikes Peak vehicle. Not an insane amount of power or torque, but a complete design with massive aero. Despite what Dumas claimed as difficult conditions in the middle section of the course, he not only smashed the EV record, but also set a new sub-8 minute overall record: 7:57! I saw the car in testing, and it surely moves faster than you can imagine, the impression helped by the whir and whine of the electric motors. It’s not silent, (which is good I think), but very different to the sound of any combustion engined car.

the Art of Zen

I defined a simple measure of top performance and called it the Zen Ratio. It is so named as it came out of conversations with Marc Osgood, the owner of the Zen Spin Works Facebook group, after he had created a top he called the 1:1 that spun in minutes its weight in grams. 17g for 17 minutes. A very beautiful top, and an impressive performance.

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We could calculate the ratio of spin time in minutes to top weight in grams for any and every top. The calculation is quite simple: Z = t/m, where Z is Zen ratio, t is time in minutes, and m is mass or weight in grams.
I have done this for all the metal tops in my collection and the graph is shown below.
The highest Zen ratio I have heard about is for a tiny top weighing about 3g that spun for nearly 9 minutes for a Zen ratio of over 3.
As you can see from the graph, the relationship between the Zen ratio and weight is negative, i.e. lighter tops are more likely to have higher Zen ratios.
The obvious challenge is to make a heavy top with a Zen ratio over 1.0. The heaviest top I have with a Zen ratio greater than 1 is a tungsten and titanium top made by John Phillips of JP Momentum. I have heard of a Billetspin Infinity top (weighing about 30g) that spun for over 40 minutes, which is likely the record holder for heaviest top with a Zen ratio over 1.

You can read a little more about the Zen Ratio here.

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The origins of design

In a recent post on my Facebook group Spin In Style, it was claimed that my tops reflected the “many influences of different makers” and that one could “see wooden CDCs and DITs in there.” These are references to well-known top “brands” Chris Dean Customs and Dynamic Inertia Tops.

Every artist and craftsperson is influenced by other artists and the physical world around them, both consciously and subconsciously. Jonathan Jones, and art critic for The Guardian wrote in 2014:

“…any acquaintance with the Old Masters reveals that art has always been an exchange of ideas in which influence is not just omnipresent but proudly accepted. The story of art is largely a story of homages, remakes, rivalrous borrowings, nuanced imitations.”

As I have developed my craft of woodturning, making spin stations and spinning tops, I have reflected upon those things that have influenced me. My research identified strong influences from neo-classical design, in particular architecture. These influences are perfectly embodied in the design of the Staunton Chess set, used in all official tournaments and championships. Designed in 1849 by Nathaniel Cook an architect, these chess pieces have come to represent and embody neo-classical design.

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As described in an article written for the Smithsonian Museum, Nathaniel Cook found influences in classical architectural elements from Roman and Greek civilizations.

Classical Balusters

Just as I have been influenced, knowingly or not, by these classical shapes, so have all artists, and the makers of spinning tops. Even if not acknowledged explicitly people such as Gavin Sexton (DIT), Joshua Dawson, Harold Edwards (Topped Out), Dee and Steve Aiena (Top Dawg), just to name a few, employ elements of classical design and the Staunton Chess pieces in their designs, particularly the stems. Stems are the most obvious part of a top to reflect classical columns and pillars.

A quote often attributed to Pablo Picasso, but originating in 1892 in the Gentleman’s Magazine seems appropriate here. W. H. Davenport Adams wrote of Alfred Lord Tennyson: “…(G)reat poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil.”

It is not theft or plagiarism, intentional or otherwise, to make things that look like things that others make. It is quite natural to imitate, perfect, and build on ideas and designs from the past. All artists stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. To the extent that designs by top makers have influenced me, so too have the designs of ancient Roman and Greek architects and artists influenced me, and influenced those top makers.

Here are some examples of tops made “under the influence of Staunton”.

Gavin Sexton (Dynamic Inertia Tops)
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Harold Edwards (Topped Out)

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Chris Dean (CDC)
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Steve Aiena (Top Dawg Design)
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Joshua Dawson (Joshua Dawson Precision Spinning Tops)
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Cody Mayfield (Upside Down Works)
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