Story of two Knives

This article contains an acute case of Opinions.

Let’s talk about two chef’s knives that currently reside in our household.

The black one is some cheapo crap that we got as a “bonus” back when Reader’s Digest was a thing and my mother had a subscription.
The blade is coated in Teflon and the handle is from some cheap plastic. The shiny one was moderately expensive. It is made from one piece of stainless steel, although judging by the mass the handle is hollow (I have no clue whatsoever what the manufacturing process was).

I like the cheap one. And I regret buying the expensive one. The cheap one cuts like a lightsaber. The expensive one sticks and twists and does not go through anything with ease, cutting onions or potatoes is a penance.

As far as I can ascertain with callipers, they both have nearly identical secondary bevels – the blade near the edge is circa 0,6-0,7 mm thick and the bevels are somewhere around 1,2-1,5 mm long. That means that the grind angle is for both blades between 11°-15°. They are both sharpened the same way. But they both behave and handle very differently, even when freshly sharpened.

Let’s start with the first thing – weight and point of balance. Both have nearly identical point of balance, near the heel of the blade, right in front of the hand. I personally prefer my kitchen knives balanced at the forefinger, but I do not mind the more forward put point of balance on the black knife, for one simple reason – the knife is very light, it weighs nearly nothing. The steel one is on the other hand heavy, and in combination with the forward put point of balance, it feels more like a chopper than like a knife.  But that is a personal preference thing – I do not like chef’s knives in general that much, and I do not actually need to use them all too often. Maybe they are all supposed to be weighed like that, I have no idea.

The second difference is, however, more objective. The black knife has a massive handle with cross-section more like a rounded rectangle than an oval. And it has a big flat spot on the spine right behind the blade. It looks chunky, but it is in fact very comfortable in the hand, the handle allows for firm grip and great edge alignment. And the flat spot is there for the thumb should you need to apply more pressure. The steel knife handle is very slick, very elegant looking. It is thin towards the blade and its crosssection is at all points nice and oval. But not only does that make edge alignment slightly more difficult, it also does not allow for a very strong grip. When tackling a difficult cabbage, a big chunk of heterogeneous material, the knife tends to slip and twist in the hand (especially when wet) and it is a struggle to keep the blade on track.

The third difference is the real clincher – blade geometry. The black knife has hollow ground primary bevels and the blade is a mere 1 mm thick at the spine. The shiny one has flat grind and is 2,7 mm thick at the spine – nearly three times more.

That kind of thickness is suitable for a heavy-duty camping knife, but in a kitchen it is a noticeable hindrance. When cutting small things, like herbs, carrots or similar, it is not a problem, but when cutting something bigger and/or harder, like a lemon, an onion or a potato, or something stickier like a sausage or hard cheese, the blade thickness makes the cutting more difficult, because it must push the hard material more to the sides.

Each of these problems in itself would not be a big problem but together they make a chef’s knife that is truly awful to use – it is supposed to be a universal knife, but instead it is a knife that is only universally problematic.

I guess the moral of this ramble is – when it comes to knives, cheap does not always mean bad and expensive does not always mean good.

 

Mah Pollard, Mah Coppice

I am sorry for not posting yesterday. I have plenty of various pictures, but I still have a huge backlog of work around the garden as well due to the six weeks that I have spent lounging in my bed drinking tea and whatnot. And I think it will take a few more weeks to get back on track.

These last few days I had to clean up some rubble from house renovations. I used it to repair the gravel-covered area behind my house, waste disposal trucks made some grooves there that needed filling. And as for yesterday, the weather was splendid and these are the fruits of my labor.

Firewood © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Also, I am totally knackered today, but it is hard to take a picture of that.

I was shredding and cutting wood from coppiced and pollarded trees in my garden. I have planted these trees years ago specifically for this purpose. The pollarded trees are willows, some local variety of Salix fragilis that unfortunately does not grow as fast as I would wish to. But I also got a few willows of another species from lowlands in Pilsen, which looks a lot more promising.

Pollarded willow © Charly.

Pollarded willow © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

For the coppice, I bought poplar hybrid Populus nigra x Populus maximowiczii Max 4. It grows well, but it would be better if I had the resources to plow the area first. As it is, it takes for the trees two-three years to really take root and unfortunately, during that time a lot of them die to water voles. Water voles are a huge problem, despite the fact that I do not live anywhere near water. One year they got into my bonsai trees and totally massacred them, destroying even some very valuable ones. And they make setting up of the coppice a real pain in the nether regions.

Coppice © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

That is why as of now I only have only one row of really established trees and one row of two-year-old trees that should hopefully take off this year. The rest of the coppice was planted last year, but this spring we had to renew about 30% of it and unfortunately due to my illness it was not done on time and properly, so it is questionable whether it will work or not.

The wood of this particular poplar tree is not as good firewood as hardwood would be, it is very light, almost like balsa. But what it lacks in density, it really more than makes up in volume. Even so, I am also planting oaks, hazels, and maples in the coppice, they sprout all around the garden anyway and this way I get some use out of them in the future. And this year I bought 200 hornbeam seedlings and planted them around the area near the hedge. That is the south edge, thus the slower-growing hornbeam won’t be overshadowed by the super-fast-growing poplars and willows. Unfortunately, it too is a very tasty water vole snack – one of the bonsai trees that fell victim to their raid was hornbeam and nothing was left of the tree back then except a tiny pencil-like stub and a few splinters. But I already planted hornbeam for hedge a few years ago and it thrives well in this area so I hope the trees in the coppice will grow faster than the voles manage to eat them.

I have several hundred square meters of my garden for the coppice, which means that in a few years I could grow a significant portion of my firewood (I estimate it at about 30%, or 100% every 3 years) on my property. That is one little project that I could do on my own to go from burning fossil fuels to renewables.

Youtube Video: Brexit, Briefly: REVISITED!

There’s three things, pick two. I use it often in engineering, where the corners of the triangle are Cheap, Fast, Good and you can only pick two. Managers always, always want to pick all three, just as well as the UK seems to want to pick now. Have your pie and eat it is the motto of the day.

I cannot even snigger at the stupidity of Britons who voted to leave, since I have no doubt that had Czech Republic had a similar referendum, our results would also be similar. Because despite the objectively measurable fact that we are much better of in the EU than we were outside it, a lot of people yearn for the good old days.

Good old days that never were. If I were to pick only one reason for why EU is a massive political success despite all its flaws it would be this:

There was not a war between members of EU for two generations. Prior to that, the whole EU history was stumbling from one war to another, and the scars from those wars still did not heal.

Jack’s Walk

Happy Birthday to me! ©voyager, all rights reserved

Today is Jack’s 11th Birthday, sort of. Jack is a Leap Year Baby and since there is no February 29 this year we’re celebrating today. So far, Bubba has listened to his parents sing to him off-key, had bacon and eggs for breakfast and then had an exciting romp up at the lake. Plans for later in the day include gifts (a new rubber pig that honks and squeals and a bag of his favourite treats – Greenies,) more singing (Jack loves to sing) and a nice bit of salmon to top his kibble for supper. All in all, I’d say that’s a pretty good day for a not-quite birthday.

Crimes against mankind: fat women existing

Let’s get it out of the way, right at the start: I’m fat. That is a simple statement of fact. I’m not a bit “on the chubby side” or have “womanly curves”. Actually, I find such statements pretty offensive because they imply that being fat would be a horrible thing (it isn’t), but I’m not (I am). Listen, everybody with eyes to see knows I’m fat. this is not a moral statement. This does not tell you much about who I am or what I do. It has absolutely no relationship to my character.

Yet, when you’re fat, especially when you’re a fat woman, your weight is everybody’s business, usually under the guise of being “concerned” about our health.

So, Nike creating a range of sportswear for fat women should be universally lauded because it will encourage us to finally take up that exercise you’ve been bothering us with for the last few decades, right? Right?

Comments on the picture:

You don’t have to be so PC, Nike, this is trying too hard, fat isn’t pretty nor healthy.

Another guy, Aaron,  feels obliged to explain this to us in detail:

Nike have officially just lost my respect and cracked other the PC brigade of having to keep people happy (sic), next you all will be supporting severe obesity where people can’t walk or get out of bed lol health and facts have literally gone for all you snowflakes. So we want people to be happy with their weight, even if it causes cloths (sic) higher blood pressure, diabetes, sever (sic) difficulty in breathing and lazyness (sic), is this what you loneys (sic) all support because if so then you’re supporting a person’s insecurity to try feel proud of themselves but really hate every inch of there (sic) body and emotionally eat themselves fat, and you still support it, anyone who supports this is the reason, and proof that this world is losing touch with keeping healthy.

I don’t know, but it seems like Aaron is a bit, uhm, emotional about a clothing line for women. Especially given that this is sportswear, so it’s actually designed for people who want to, you know, exercise. But Aaron’s (and other guys’ anger is well justified, because if we make clothing that fits fat women (somehow fat men are of little concern even though statistically, there’s more of them), they may actually feel good about themselves (because nothing can cause grumpiness like an ill-fitting bra) and that cannot be permitted. Because as Aaron and every other dude like him knows, we’re categorically miserable. Really. We may seem to live happy and productive lives, have friends, lovers, lots of fun, but as Aaron knows, we’re actually just faking it (you cannot be productive anyway because fat people are lazy, don’t you know?).  The obvious solution for this is that we just stop being fat. Somehow. While please not existing in public, because that really offends dudes like Aaron. No exercise and sports either, because somehow that supports us in being fat. Sorry if that logic escapes you. It’s because you’re a woman, or fat, or both, or neither. Don’t ask me, I don’t make the rules.

Or maybe we just see Aaron for the sad entitled prick that he his, feigning concern for our health while being very upset about a company selling clothing that makes it easier for fat people to actually exercise and do something for their health*.

And  I’m sorry I have to say it, but Aaron, you should have sat still and paid attention in your English class.

*And no, exercise is not about losing weight. Exercise is good for you. Go find something that you enjoy and that makes you feel alive. Forget about your weight.

It’s the season! Making bird food.

One of the secret to great tit pics is to feed them well. You can buy “tit balls”, but for several reasons I prefer to make my own.

The first is that they are relatively expensive, costing around 30 to 50 ct apiece. More importantly, they are usually in a green plastic mesh that can get lost and end up in nature. They’re quick and easy to make, so if you want to try your hand at them, here’s how to.

I use some silicone baking forms for this. the small Gugelhupf forms are the best, since they have a hole in the middle already, but I only have four of them. Standard muffin forms work nicely as well. What you absolutely need is some ring as a centre for the suet to stick to, otherwise they will fall apart after the first pecks. I just use some rattan, but anything goes.

I just fill them halfway with birdseed and then add the ring.

Those that don’t have something to form a hole need something to make that, otherwise hanging them up gets difficult. I use some straws or an ice cream stick.

Birdseed popsicles

Finally I just fill them with suet. Don’t be shy, the birds won’t mind some extra. Now all I have to do is wait for them to get hard again and the next two weeks are covered.

Filled up with important winter calories.

I know there are controversions about whether or not to feed birds in winter, but one undeniable advantage is that we get a lot of organic fertiliser…

Walking in a Winter Wonderland, part 4

ice flowers

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Some flowers, showing off their new “bloom”.

icicles

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Icicles growing in an old Roman quarry.

icicles

©Giliell, all rights reserved

icicles

©Giliell, all rights reserved

 

cobweb

©Giliell, all rights reserved

trees

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Let’s call the “The Lovers”. As you can see, the right side tree didn’t fall onto the other one but started to its left, and then grew all around it.

 

Mornings at the Station

It’s getting dark. Once again, an impressionist shot. But I will say that this darkness is unusual – for one, crappy camera, but also today has been a particularly foggy day, and it’s only getting worse now that evening is upon us.

I’m enjoying the atmosphere of the second shot, though. I’m standing between the two tracks, and something about that light effect and the out-of-focus is very appealing to me.

The usual angle, as it were…
©rq, all rights reserved.

©rq, all rights reserved.

Incidentally, I am currently reading José Saramago’s Blindness (mixed feelings). Today’s weather is a lot like his characters describe their blindness: just a lot of white. Although the fog here is probably less luminescent; going home is going to be interesting. Oh yes, and we lost all our snow.

Speaking of keeping a lid on things, I travel next week to Macedonia again, returning on the 23rd. I have mixed feelings about this trip, but I guess it’s good to be recognized?

Soundtrack to your life: 1

Browsing through some music it struck me how certain songs are just the defining songs for certain times in our lives. You listen to them and they take you a to a place and time, they can evoke a certain mood like nothing else can, so I decided to share some of my “personal soundtrack” with you. Feel free to reply with your soundtrack in the comments.

Growing up and not knowing who you want to be: Innuendo by Queen

This was actually the first CD ever which I got together with the CD player. My English wasn’t quite good enough at that time to quite understand the lyrics, but the music just said enough. Just keep on trying, eh? Later I sat down and translated many of the songs, a much better exercise than anything we ever did in class and to this day some words are automatically said in Freddy’s voice in my head.

It was a time in my teenage years when I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be and what I actually liked.

Freddy died not much later and I was devastated, cut lose again after I thought I had found a place. Queen stayed with me through all these years. Although I like a great variety of music, I became a rock chick back then and have always stayed one at heart.

 

Behind the Iron Curtain part 21 – Ownership of the Means of Production 2

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Last time I visited this theme I mentioned the logic that was presented to us in order to argue that means of production in our socialist country do belong to the people. What was never mentioned, and what took a really long time to me to realize, is the fact that even in capitalism is a lot of people who do indeed own the means of production. I do not mean the corporate overlords, the robber barons of modern era, but people who actually really work.

For example lets say that I either decide that I do not wish to be a corporate drone anymore, or my supervisor finally decides that my expertise is not enough for him to put up with my quirks (like honestly and without beating around the bush telling him when his department designs crap, or being rather cranky when I miss a meal). My backup plan in such a case is to try to make custom knives for sale.

It is possible to make living that way, others have managed it so why not me? However should it come to that, there are three realistic scenarios:
1) I flop and after a time of trying to establish myself on the market I will have no other option than to get employed again.
2) I will get a foothold on the market big enough to live by for reasonable time, perhaps even until retirement.
3) I will get a good foothold on the market to the point that I will not be able to satisfy the demand for Charly made knives on my own, so after a while I might need to employ for example part-time employees to help with some lower-skill jobs whilst I myself would concentrate on the high-skill jobs. Like the Finnish knife-maker about whom I posted a video a few weeks ago.

This example shows the transition between a small-scale producer and a big scale producer. In scenario 2 there is no ambiguity whatsoever – the person who uses the means of production owns them. In the scenario 3 it gets a bit murky – the owner of the means still does work rather a lot, but their employees do not own the means of production at all. And really, would it be fair in such a case for me to give them a portion of my shop in addition to the wages? I do not think it would.

However of course then there is the american dream, where one makes it through the stage 3 to stage 4, where one does only the employing, and not the actual working. I personally would never wish for that, but there are people who do. And then there is the stage 5, where one does not have a hand in making anything ever but simply inherits the company, or buys it wholesale.

Like so many other things in life, this is not black-white, there is actually a nearly continuous spectrum of options.

The problem with the regime was that it dealt with this spectrum by completely ignoring its existence. Any and all ownership of means of production that was not via the proxy of the state was illegal, period. All the little artisans, small shop owners, small farmers etc. who indeed worked their own asses of in addition to perhaps employing a few people were viewed as no different from big factory owners who never lifted a finger to work in their lives. For the regime, there was no difference between Charly making knives in his workshop on his own and Donald Trump cheating his contractors and not paying his employees fair wages. They both were bourgeoise exploiters and both had to be dealt with harshly.

As a result not only the big factories with awful working conditions got confiscated, but also all the little workshops, shops and farms. The whole middle-class was wiped out and made illegal without any nuance.

In the 60s there was an effort to rectify this injustice (along with others), but it was quashed by military intervention from USSR.

As a result, a lot of people rightfully resented the regime, because they were in very real sense of the word robbed by it.

Take a look at the wide side

Ever since getting my camera I’ve been expanding on my lens arsenal. After getting the tele last year, I wanted a wide angle one. With a little bit of unexpected money I finally got myself one and took it out for a stroll. Sadly the day was overcast and the light faded too early, but I like what you can do with it.

Small pond

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

That little pond is probably 3m across. You can also see that at 10mm, I have to decide between a UV filter or a CPL filter because both are too much.

woodland

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Part of my daily walk. The little green building is a water station.

tree crown

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Tree

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

One of the fun things: shooting up trees. The lens makes it look like the trunk is 100m high.

dead tree

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

trees

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The trees are tall and narrow, but the lens adds some more.

dead tree

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I’ve been wanting to take pictures of those cut off and dead vines for ages, but I couldn’t with my other lenses because I couldn’t move away enough. to give you an ides, this pic and the other two were taken by minimally moving the camera.

dead tree

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Dead tree

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

fallen tree

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Another illusion of distance. In reality, the point where You can see the branch is about 2m from where I took the pic.

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Autumn colours

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Tree crowns

©Giliell, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Probably my favourite one. another upshoot.

Hoverfly

It’s another well captured critter from Avalus, who tells us that this hoverfly was enjoying the cucumbers that his mother had planted. I’m enjoying everything about this photo from the beautiful light to the sunshine yellow flower to the rich detail of the hoverfly itself. Thanks for sharing, Avalus.

©Avalus, all rights reserved

 

Behind the Iron Curtain part 20 – Comedy

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Current political climate in USA is truly horrendous, but from afar it seems that comedy thrives on Trump news, and it will thrive until comedians start getting shot for making fun of The Leader.

To my knowledge, comedians were rarely shot in former ČSSR, but they did not have easy life – but some of them managed to thrive. In fact, there was really great tradition of comedy both written and in TV/movies. The problem was more often not that comedians made fun of politics – they knew they are not allowed to do that – but that state censors were overtly sensitive. In previous Slavic Saturday I mentioned the comedy evening short stories for children “A je to!”. What I did not mention is that one of the characters had originally red pullover, and this, in conjunction of the yellow pullover of his colleague was seen as a jab at SSSR – China relations and the show was originally canceled. So the duo had to perform with grey and yellow pullovers until 1989, after which the creators could go back to original design.

But some comedians managed to both get past the censors and get a political message across – appearing to support the regime, or being apolitical, but managing to subtly criticise its unsavoury aspects whilst doing it. Especially towards the end of the socialist era, which is of course also the time from which I have the most memories.

One such group was The Jára Cimrman Theatre. You might know the movie “Kolja”, which unfortunately is probably the only Czech movie some Americans probably know. The main protagonist in that movie is played by Zdeněk Svěrák, and he is one of the founding members of The Jára Cimrman Theatre.

I will not go into depth here, but the ensemble of The Jára Cimrman Theatre has also made a few movies, which were all hugely popular. And regarding politics and critique of the regime, one of the movies – The Uncertain Season – was essentially a “Making of” documentary for the theatre group, but made as a full movie. It documents the struggles of the theatre group they had to endure in order to get their humor past the censors – even humor that was definitively and unequivocally not political. Because some censors did not only see themselves as arbiters of what is politically acceptable, but also what is funny.

The Jára Cimrman Theatre is to this day deeply embedded in Czech culture, and some of their quips became part of our wider oral tradition. To its popularity speaks the fact that the titular, fictional, character Jára Cimrman has won the contest for The Greatest Czech in 2005 and great grumbling ensued when it was announced that only real people are eligible and the honor went to Václav Havel instead.

I will part with you with one Cimrmanian quip that sums up the life of comedians in totalitarian culture pretty well:
“We are not allowed to even imply.”

This got past the censors because it is an answer given by Death to a man who is about to die and asks him about the future. But with the context of the rest of the play, the audience got what it really says.