Saturday 30 July 2016

Pieces of string too small to keep

One of our neighbours has a woodshed to hold the fuel for their wood-burning stove. Their name isn't Jones, but we had to keep up with them, so we are building a similar pole-barn on the farrrrm, that may hold wood but may also be used for my gymnastic sofa sitting. One of the design features is that the exterior wall is made of hit-and-miss vertical 6x1 planks [view-from-above cross-section shown in blue] nailed to more substantial 6x2 horizontals [beige]:
This nifty arrangement a) saves on timber b) keeps the rain out c) lets the wind whistle through. The astute among the readership will have noted that, because there are two rows of gappy 6x1s, it doesn't save on timber but parameters b) and c) hold true.
The other eponymous feature is that the main structural uprights are recycled telephone poles.  This nifty arrangement a) recycles b) has no high carbon footprint concrete in the footings c) looks rustic. As the foundations are six 90cm-deep holes in the ground and as the poles are tapered it poses a physically demanding exercise in 3-dimensional geometry to get something with right-angles at each of the eight corners of the box. On our mountainy site, an additional complication is that everything is on a 10% slope.  If the barn is 24 feet [7.3m] long, and it is, then there is a fall in ground 'level' of about 2.4ft = 73cm between the top poles and the bottom. After we had our 4 corner poles up & vertical [on two tapering edges each], we put a borrowed laser level on a yellow bar stool [R in centre] in the middle and marked that height all round on the poles. We were then ready to put in the two middle poles so that they were a) vertical b) in line with their neighbours and c) halfway between them. To get them in line we snapped a length of blue baker-twine between a pair of end posts and pushed and pulled and levered the middle pole into position. When we needed to move the line to centre the other pole, Young Bolivar couldn't undo his knot and so cut the line.  Huge drama from self!

I come from a family that never cut string because it is impossible to restore string to its original length after it is cut. When my mother has a parcel to send, she will find a piece of string of suitable length to tie the thing up. The surplus after the last effective knot will not be cut off; it will rather be used up in non-functional but vaguely decorative half-hitches. Part of the ritual of receiving the parcel is to reverse the process, undoing each knot in turn, and putting the string away in a safe place. Young Bolivar, holding a useless 50cm length of blue string, looked at me like I had two heads; but then he doesn't have the benefit of a drawer full of string and ribbons.

This reminded me of a story about Stephen J Gould [multibloboprev] when he got to be director of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology.  As Director, he got the Director's office and got the previous incumbent's clutter as well. Bureaus and chests of drawers and filing cabinets and display cases. Gould was particularly tickled to find a small drawer marked 'pieces of of string too small to keep'. That's how I remember the story which is probably apocryphal because Googling the phrase yields a large number of parables, many of them explicitly christian in sentiment.

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