Simple exercise. Our image of something as simple as a newspaper is stuck in convention unless we test the hypothesis. I'm using this new ink (for me) produced by Pilot called iroshizuku. I'm drawing these on scraps of Mohawk Superfine. The ink and paper seems to like one another.
Blue news. Materials: blue Canson paper, Xacto knife, Nikon D70
Peddling. Materials: black paper, Xacto knife, Nikon D70
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Invented in China around 200 AD, the wheelbarrow is so simple and so good that time has barely improved its design. It’s a mobile (wheel) tool for carrying (barrow) materials—most typically for construction (think Pyramids) and gardening (Central Park). Its beauty is the fact that it is engineered to distribute the weight of its load between the wheel and the operator so that to enable the transport of heavier loads than could be manually toted. As such, it is defined as a second-class lever. First-class design.
Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. (Shown is the open-billed stork whose bill only closes at the tip. Who knew storks had teeth?) They range in size from the small hammerkop, at about 2 feet tall to the looming marabou at nearly 5 feet. Unlike most birds, they are energy-efficient and fly by soaring on warm air currents—only occasionally flapping their massive wings. In flight, they cut a distinct profile with their S-necks outstretched and their legs dangling behind their bodies. Storks have no syrinx and are mute, giving no typical birdcall. Instead, they communicate by bill-clattering—a noisy racket likened to the sound of distant machine-gun fire. Hardly the image of folklore—dropping newborns down chimneys upon request—which seems somewhat better suited for wheelbarrows.
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The fountain pen has come to be associated with everything classy about writing, drawing and signing documents. Invented in 1827 by Petrache Poenaru, this pen replaced the dipping pen, which made writing a task of frequent interruptions to refill. The fountain pen has an internal reservoir of ink that feeds the pen’s nib by gravity and capillary action. Modern day pens use plastic pre-filled cartridges introduced by Waterman in 1953. The ‘business end’ of a fountain pen is the nib and has remained relatively unchanged over time. Original nibs were gold and platinum for their flexibility and resistance to corrosion. (These are the pricey pens.) Cheaper everyday pens have steel nibs. All nibs have a ‘slit’ and a ‘hole’ that creates the capillary action that carries the ink to the paper. The variation in pressure spreads the nib and creates a variation in line thickness. Everything about this instrument speaks beauty—especially when creating a well-penned letter.
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, best known for their role in pollination. They are responsible for pollinating approximately 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the United States. Bees are all business. During chillier seasons, worker bees can live for nine months. But in the summer, they rarely last longer than six weeks—they literally work themselves to death. They never sleep. A bee’s hive is constructed with honeycombs—the most efficient structures in nature—the walls meet at a precise 120-degree angle, a perfect hexagon. Honeybee’s wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz. They have five eyes, three small ones on top of the head and two big ones in front. They also have hair on these eyes, which might explain the need for five of them! Aside from their significant ecological role, bees produce honey and beeswax. Their honey is so treasured and sweet it made Van Morrison’s 1971 single a timeless hit.
“She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee”
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There are over 3400 species of snakes all over the globe except Antarctica. Snakes are snaky because they don’t have legs, eyelids or external ears. Thus they travel by slithering (undulating), which contributes to their sneaky reputation. It’s not their fault they don’t make footsteps. They are covered with overlapping scales that are usually patterned and colored to resemble their environs lending to their protection from predators. But then there are banded snakes that are stylish and send the message to stay clear—they will kill you. Contrary to their evil rep, snakes symbolize transformation, immortality and rebirth largely because they annually shed their skin. Cool yes, cuddly and cute no.
Invented around 1847, the handheld pencil sharpener has stayed very true to its original design. Also called a ‘prism’ or ‘pocket’ sharpener, it has no moving parts and relies on the operator to rotate the pencil to produce the sharpening action. The block-shaped sharpener consists of a combined point-shaping cone that is aligned to the tapered cylindrical guide hole, into which the pencil is inserted. A blade is mounted so that its sharp edge just clips the edge of the pencil shaving off both wood and graphite. Half the fun of sharpening a pencil is the satisfying shaving that curls out of the top of the sharpener signaling progress. Though the computer has sharply reduced the number of sharpeners (and pencils) around the office, the classic sharpener is still an essential in cosmetic bags worldwide.
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Penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere, especially in Antarctica. Highly adapted for life in the water, their little wings have evolved into flippers that propel them upward of 17 MPH. Penguins swimming look very similar to birds in flight—without the sky part. Their bowling ball figure is slick when sliding belly first on the snow or diving underwater, but makes for an ongoing balancing exercise while on land. Though stylish, their tuxedo-like appearance is primarily designed for protection. While swimming, their white underside is hard to distinguish from the surface reflection for underwater predators—and their black back does the same for overhead. Thus their team motto—look sharp, be safe.
First invented in 1939, a wing corkscrew, (sometimes called a butterfly corkscrew or angel corkscrew), has a couple basic of components—two levers and a pointed metallic helix (or worm). It’s a two-step process. First, twist the worm into the cork, at which time the levers are raised signaling step two. Simply folding down the ‘wings’ draws the cork from the bottle in one smooth motion—as if by magic. The secret is the rack and pinion mechanism connecting the levers to the body transferring the necessary power to pluck the cork. There is a reason this elegant household tool has retained its basic original design—it’s fun and works every time! Having successfully operated this heavy machinery without puncturing your hand or eye always comes with a reward—or two.
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A wingnut is a type of fastener with a threaded hole and two large metal wings, one on each side, so it can be easily tightened and loosened by hand without tools. It is the female counterpart to the male bolt that together form a compression devise by use of their interlocking threads. Wingnut is also an American political term used as a slur referring to a person who holds extreme, and often irrational, political views—thus there are right-wingnuts and left-wingnuts. They appear to have reproductive capabilities.
Zebra are several species of African equids (horse family) united by their distinctive black and white striped coats. They are by far one of the most visually striking animals clad in their graphic, monochromatic wrap. Their stripes come in different patterns, unique to each individual zebra. Several hypotheses have been proposed to account for the evolution of their sexy stripes—usually relating to camouflage. They are very social animals and live in large groups called ‘harems.’ When hanging together, their collective stripes form a dizzying ‘moiré’ to instantly nauseate potential predators. The zebra is the most widely cited choice to represent the letter Z in kids’ animal alphabet books.
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The giraffe is a 16 to 20 ft. tall African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant. When roaming the plains you can’t miss them because of their long neck and legs, their horn-like protuberances (ossicones), and wild spots. They are generally pretty mellow grazing on acacia trees, but don’t get chased by one as with their 15 ft. stride they can run about 35 MPH. Probably one of the strangest and cutest animals alive, they have yet to have kid’s book power like bears and ducks. I’m sorry to report that the most famous giraffe might be the Toys“R”Us mascot Geoffrey. Oh brother. Seems the giraffe would be perfect for say, a surveillance company or cloud computing.
The spring is actually a battery of sort—it stores energy. In classical physics, a spring can be seen as a device that stores potential energy, specifically elastic potential energy, by straining the bonds between the atoms of an elastic material. When compressed or stretched slightly from rest, the force it exerts is approximately proportional to its change in length. Most springs are made of spring steel, however, any material can be used to construct a spring, so long as the material has the required combination of rigidity and elasticity. Probably the most common spring is the coil spring like you find in a ball-point pen or the bouncy part of your car’s suspension. But then there is the tension/extension spring, and the torsion spring, and the flat spring, and the hairspring, and the gas spring, and the leaf spring, and the wave spring, and the Belleville spring, and the cantilever spring—and let’s not forget the most overlooked—rubber band (another genius invention I will cover later.) The Apple Watch does not have a spring but does have a battery.
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The anteater is the most common name for the extant mammal species of the Vermilingua (meaning worm tongue, not the ’70s porn star) commonly know for eating ants and termites. Though they don't see that well, they have an incredible sense of smell (duh.) At almost 6 feet long including tail, their diminutive prey are often heard begging “pick on someone your own size,” just before lift-off. Fact is, the anteater often consumes up to 20 Formicidae nests to meet its daily caloric requirement. It is rumored that their ability to tirelessly suck up things (including dirt) from small places was the muse for the Chicago inventor, Ives McGaffey, who holds the 1868 patent for the ‘whirlwind’—better known today as the vacuum cleaner. (We'll cover that contraption in a future gutter crossing.)
The drill's primary function is making holes—and to any craftsman, that is an essential task in holding things together. The early hand model was a variation on the original egg-beater. Originally patented in 1838, this simple machine performs two revolutionary functions—1) transferring the vertical cranking motion of the crank into a horizontal spinning motion of the bit through the use of a pinion gear, and 2) the ability to create speed and a significantly greater number of rotations of the bit to the rotations of the crank (gear ratio). Call it the definition of boring but it gave birth to the peg board and root canals! Nevertheless, it's another brilliant example of how scrambling a few eggs can lead you down the road of modern industrialization. Holy crap!
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The diminutive jerboa looks as though it were made from left-over spare parts of other animals, but it is nevertheless built for the harsh environments of the Gobi and Sahara deserts. It holds upstanding membership in the Dipodinae, or ‘jumping rodents’ family. They have extraordinary kangaroo-like hind legs (not shown) and have been known to jump up to 7 ft. in height. That could get dicey when you consider they have ears the size of spinnakers. When chased, jerboas can run at up to 16 MPH and jump irrational heights and distances given their 3-inch stature. Needless to say, they’re nearly impossible to catch. Most species of jerboa have excellent hearing (duh) which they use to avoid becoming the prey of nocturnal predators when the bars close.
No one really knows the date of origin of the bar stool—which makes complete sense when you consider it’s most popular function. There was however, a lot of high-fiving the day some genius discovered that four legs were not the requirement for sitting—that manufacturing costs could be reduced by 25% with the invention of the 3-legged stool. (The even cheaper two-legged stool failed at prototyping stage.) Stools were a staple on the American farm as they were used by farmers when they were milking their cows and women while putting on their makeup. In the 1800’s the swivel stool was patented and found its way into the bars under piano players. Using a simple threaded spindle, these modern bar stools had the new function of swiveling and adjusting the height—giving new meaning to 'getting off your high horse' after two martinis.
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Kiwi are flightless birds native to New Zealand and are, in fact, their national symbol. They are by far the smallest living ratite at about the size of a domestic chicken. Kiwi are shy and nocturnal. Since they were shortchanged in the wing department, they are equipped with a lengthy beak and an extraordinary sense of smell. That’s because they are the only birds with nostrils at the end of that extra long beak. Insects and worms beware—kiwi can smell you coming long before you’re visible. Like the Crowned Crane (Gutter #7), kiwi tend to mate for life and can live up to thirty years. They lay the largest egg in relation to their body (about six times the size of a chicken egg.) Tired after delivering one giant egg (some lay two), the female is relieved from duty as the loyal husband takes over the incubation of the jumbo egg. Suppose their propensity for life-long marriage has anything to do with two partners with clipped wings?
According to the US Patent Office, the oil can and its mechanism were patented in 1917. The specific invention was the “lever-operated ejecting mechanism” mounted within their can cap to force oil out under pressure with the squeeze of the trigger. It is essentially a simple pump mechanism that allows the user to squirt oil into exact locations where friction between two surfaces impedes movement. As long as machines have moving parts, the oil can will remain a prime distributor of lubrication. The only machine that never requires oiling is the oil can—when’s the last time you heard a squeaky oil can?
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The crowned crane is the most primitive of the living Gruidae residing primarily in West Africa. They are monogamous birds that form pairs for life. During their mating dance, two cranes hop and jump gracefully with each other, their wings partly spread. Then they open their wings fully, bow to each other, and jump several feet in the air. Proof that manners matter in marriage. Standing at over a meter tall, the large yet elegant grey crowned crane is an icon in the wetlands. Its predominantly grey plumage contrasts sharply with black and white wings, a crest of golden feathers sitting on top of the head, and a bright red gulag pouch hangs from the throat. They present a distinct guttural grunt and a trumpeting call—“u-wang u-wang” (now available as a ring tone on the iPhone 6).
The plunger is a device that performs the crappy job of uncorking stoppages in toilets and sinks. It is speculated to have been invented between 1850 and 1900 when wood and synthetic rubber were becoming common manufacturing materials. The invention of the suction cup during the 1850's supports this theory. The rubber cup is the 'business' end of the plunger and is capable of performing either a pushing or sucking action—depending on which direction you are trying to move stuff (pushing is majority preference.) Perhaps the most fundamental and essential tool for plumbing—it is frequently referred to as a ‘plumber’s friend.’ More glamorous uses of the plunger include its use as a 'mute' by jazz trumpet and trombone players—as well as the occasional lifesaver in the performance of CPR.
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The word duck comes from Old English dūce, a derivative of the verb dūcan “to duck, bend down low as if to get under something, or dive”, because of the way many species in the dabbling duck group feed by upending. All ducks have highly waterproof feathers as a result of an intricate feather structure and a waxy coating that is spread on each feather while preening—they technically don't get wet while in the water. They have brilliantly designed webbed feet that power them through the water by spreading when under force (pulling) and retracting like an umbrella when recoiling for the next paddle. They are, however, a little clumsy to walk in which is why ducks waddle.
In 2002, psychologist Richard Wiseman and colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire, UK, finished a year-long LaughLab experiment, concluding that of all animals, ducks attract the most humor and silliness; he said, “If you’re going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck." The two most famous fictional ducks are Disney’s Donald Duck and Warner Bros.’ Daffy Duck.
Clothespins are manufactured very cheaply by creating two interlocking plastic or wooden prongs, in between which is often wedged a small spring. It was invented by David M. Smith of Springfield, Vermont, in 1853. By a lever action, the two prongs open and shut and apply necessary pressure to grip a dripping pair of 501’s over a clothes line. Smith’s design was improved by Solon E. Moore in 1887 when he added what he called a “coiled fulcrum” made from a single wire, (torsion spring)—the spring that both held the wooden pieces together and forced them to snap shut (brilliantly). During the production of movies, this clothespin is called a “C47”. It is essential on the set since production lights quickly become far too hot to touch or adjust the barn doors—thus a wooden C47 is used as a handle or to attach a color correction gel.
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Dig this. The shovel has the rare distinction as a tool that is in service of both starting life (planting) and finishing it (grave digging). It has been around since the beginning of time when the first scoop of dirt had to be extracted. Only improved by the use of steel in the blade—the shovel's design has been relatively unchanged over time. Next to the hammer, it may be the most essential member on the job site. Think about it—what house, bridge, building, ditch, golf course, park, garden, pipeline, electric grid, flagpole, stadium, or road has come to be without the help of the shovel? The mechanics and performance of the shovel are entirely dependent on its operator.
The octopus is a cephalopod mollusk of the order Octopoda. It is bilaterally symmetric with two eyes and fours pairs of arms, (not eight legs)! They can have as many as 240 suction cups on each arm. The don't look all that bright but they are among the most intelligent and behaviorally flexible of all invertebrates. Octopuses feel a lot—have three hearts. Two branchial pumps pump blood through each of the two gills, while the third is a systemic heart that pumps blood through the body. Most octopuses can eject a thick, blackish ink in a large cloud to aid in escaping from predators. They also have a similar defense mechanism as the lizard—they can lose an arm to stay back and distract would-be predators. With eight to burn, that's a lot of distraction.
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The spigot, (invented in 1845), uses the engineering concept of simple machines. Its primary task is to hold back water flow when turned off, and regulate water flow when turned on. Though a low-tech mechanism, the force needed to hold back water is equal to the pressure of the water multiplied by the area if the opening. A spigot will announce when it is failing to work. The word drip is an onomatopoeia. Lizards are a widespread group of squamate reptiles, with approximately 6,000 species. They typically have feet and external ears, while snakes lack both of these characteristics—and have a bad reputation. Lizards are able to conserve water by excreting salt. Most lizards can shed their tail as a means of escaping from a predator. The remaining tail stays back and acts alive to confuse the predator. Kind of like throwing off an expensive leather jacket when pursued by a stranger.
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The springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) is a medium-sized brown and white antelope-gazelle of southwestern Africa. They can reach speeds of 62 mph and often go into bouts of repeated high leaps upward of 7 feet into the air in a practice known as pronking. The origin of the pliers in Europe goes back to about the second millenium before Christ, that is to a time in which people began to forge iron. The pliers made it possible to grip red-hot iron and hold it when forging on the anvil—usually making pliers. The shape of the forging pliers used then has remained up to the present day with hardly any alteration. As is true to all manual tools, pliers are designed to increase the effectiveness of the human hand.
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The term “flying off the handle” was born from the use of handmade brooms, which had—and still do have—a tendency to lose their heads when they’re used too forcefully. Okie noodling is the practice of wading in murky water and sticking your bare hands into dark holes hoping to attract the bite of a 30 lb. plus catfish—then wrestling it to shore with all your digits in hand.
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Mechanically, scissors are a first-class double-lever with the pivot acting as the fulcrum. Pound for pound, beetles present the most badass image on the planet—tiny armored tanks with antennae! About 40% of all described insect species are beetles (about 400,000 species.)