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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The USPS: now, it's rocket science to mail a letter.

Not so long ago, we Americans had a simple mail system: you paid by the ounce. I have a scale, and I could mail all my own packages. So simple!

Now, though, U.S. mail has made it so complicated, even the employees are puzzled.

There are several new restrictions which penalize non-standard envelopes. One - "Length is the dimension parallel to the address" - is obvious. Another - "your letter must fit through this little slot here" - is obvious if you're standing at the post office counter, but not at home, where you don't have one of those little slots.

A third - "The length divided by height is less than 1.3 or more than 2.5" - is a headache. Yes, I could get out my calculator and figure this out, but it makes me sigh. I should get my ninth-grade friend Menticia to figure it out, she's supposed to be working on fractions and proportions. However, she's still a little stumped by how many 1/4 cups of flour comprise a cup of flour so this one might be a bit much for her.

Then there's this: "Letters that meet one or more of the nonmachinable characteristics below are subject to the nonmachinable surcharge." Again, some of these are obvious ("It has clasps, string, buttons, or similar closure devices" or "It is a square letter").

Others are problematic. "It contains items such as pens that cause the surface to be uneven" How uneven?

Answer: for this, one must drive to the post office and stand in line so a certified postal service employee may inspect the surface.

Even tougher: "It is too rigid – does not bend easily."

That's the one that I have stumped postal employees with on more than one occasion. A cd in a thin cardboard sleeve, for instance. The employee will try twisting and bending your letter to decide if it qualifies as bendable.

I was told "it's a judgment call" recently when I complained mildly about the lengthy discussion that was going on behind the service desk as they handed my marginally-acceptable object back and forth amongst themselves, bending it and rendering their various opinions.

"We're the gatekeepers. If we say it's ok, it's ok."

So yesterday I stood in a long line at the post office - grumbling to myself that in the old days, the time and expense of this trip would have been unnecessary since I have a postage scale.

I also wondered how much longer the lines at our post offices are, now that mailing stuff is a "judgment call."

Did you notice - for a while USPS had a guarantee of how little time you would stand in line, but that didn't work out, so they TOOK THE CLOCKS OFF THE WALLS so you wouldn't see how long you're waiting? It's been a couple years, and the wire is still sticking out of the spot where the clock used to be at my local post office.

I gave the lady my 20 "save the day cards" wrapped in brown paper and waited for her verdict. She looked at my object, bent it, looked at her proper-proportions chart, was silent for a while, and then, with a question mark in her voice, said/asked: "This is a tough one. $4.95, small package?"

I didn't like that answer so I just stood there silently and waited.

She twisted it some more and then said: "$1.56?"

I said "I like that better, OK," and paid. She put postage on it and tossed it in the bin, but she was clearly reluctant, looking back at it with some regret. I was afraid she would fish it out of the bin and reverse her decision so I skedaddled.

Isn't this weird?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

I made both my favorite chocolate cake recipes recently and Ezra liked this one better, deeming it moist, soft, and delicious.

I make it in two 9" round pans, and it produces layers about 1" high. Even though I use non-stick pans, I still start by buttering the pan, putting a circle of waxpaper on the bottom of the pan (it glues itself to the butter nicely), then I butter the wax paper and shake a bit of flour over the bottom of the buttered wax paper. Preheat oven to 350°.
  • 1 cup of salted butter
  • 2 cups sugar (you could use light brown sugar for half)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ts baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 2-1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • A few tablespoons of seedless raspberry jam (unless you like seeds)
Cream butter, salt, and sugar thoroughly till light and fluffy. Beat in cocoa powder and baking soda.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in the vanilla.

Fold in the buttermilk and flour. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, turn it onto a cake rack to cool. Coat it with jam while it's still hot, but let it cool before icing with your favorite cream cheese icing. I used:

  • 8 ounces neufchatel cheese (a low-fat cream cheese substitute)
  • 4 tablespoons of softened salted butter
  • ~3 cups powered (confectioners) sugar

How to make a DIY jig for registering prints (woodcuts) in a bottlejack press

Back when I thought Uncle Shlomo's Pushcart was actually going to get pushed around Carrboro and I was all excited about making blockprints to be sold on it, Bob made me this printing press, improved from some pictures we found on line. He used a bottlejack I bought from Walmart and it works just wonderfully well.

The only problem was, I never could figure out how to register my prints - that is, how to make sure they lined up reliably the same way, so they'd be centered on the paper or card I was printing. Also, eventually I was going to want to do two colors and that makes alignment even more important.

Yesterday I thought up this jig and built it using my favorite materials - scraps (in this case, masonite and cereal boxes) and my wonderful glue gun.
First, I cut a piece of masonite big enough for the largest card I thought I'd want to make plus 2" in each dimension. Then I hot-glued four pieces of scrap wood along the outer edges.

I cut a piece of scrap cardboard the size of the internal dimension, measured my woodblock, and centered it on the cardboard using little scraps of corrugated cardboard hot-glued to the cereal box.

Next I cut a piece of masonite the same size as the cardboard above - that is, cut to the internal dimension of the first box. I glued wooden stops along its outside edges and then cut a piece of cereal box the size of ITS inside dimension.

I centered a piece of the card stock I was going to use, and then made corners out of little pieces of business cards. I hot-glued the corners to the piece of cereal box.

Hint: I used a credit card to fold the corners around, and I left the credit card inside each corner as I glued it down. Otherwise, the glue will ooze through and glue the top bit of card, you don't want that. Then pull the credit card out and repeat.

So here is the upper part of the jig, with a piece of my printing stock slipped into the corners. (Next time I'll make the corners smaller so it's easier to slide the paper in.)

Here you see (1) the lower part, right, with the woodblock inserted into its corrugated cardboard guides; (2) the upper part, left, with the cardstock slipped into its corners. The top assembly slips inside the bottom assembly, that's why it lines up the same every time.

And here the two parts have been slipped together and are ready to stick under the platen. Notice that the block must be taller than the guides on either piece of masonite, or the press will press on the guides instead of the block.

Notice also that the guides on top and bottom assemblies should overlap slightly in order to get the guidance you need for registry! As it turned out, I had to glue a few more strips of corrugated cardboard onto the bottom guides so I could fit the top and bottom together without smudges on the cardstock.

Two unexpected benefits of this jig:
  1. My woodblock was a bit warped but it was easy to tape some extra padding above the cardstock in the area that printed too light;
  2. My hands didn't get inky any more and I could keep the whole area very clean.

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Mark does Illustration Friday: "Worn."


Acrylic on canvas 9" x 12"

This is more an impressionistic response to the topic than a direct illustration.


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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake - Ezra and Katy's birthday cake

In the midst of all the wedding cake tasting last week, I made two cakes myself. I admit, I was feeling competitive, and since my recipes have been chosen to suit my tastes exactly, it's no surprise I preferred them to ALL the boughten cakes.

Here's one of my two favorite chocolate cake recipes.

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

1-3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup butter
1-3/4 cup sugar
1 ts vanilla
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/2 ts baking soda
1 ts salt
2 cups sour cream
3 large eggs, separated
Preheat oven to 350; grease two 8" or 9" round pans. Separate the eggs.

Cream butter, sugar, next four ingredients. Beat in the egg yolks, one by one, until fluffy. Gently mix in sour cream.

Beat egg whites into high, fluffy peaks and fold them alternately into the mix with the flour. Spread in pans and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Frosting (enough to ice the cake above, two layers)

2 ounces (squares) unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk (approximate)
2 ts vanilla

Melt butter and chocolate in microwave in short bursts, stirring in between. Cool and then beat in vanilla and sugar to taste. If you need more icing, add the milk and then 1-1/2 cups more powdered sugar.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

This one's for Ez: Caplin Rous, a pet capybara

From Jeff Vandermeervia BoingBoing. Excerpts from "An Interview with Melanie Typaldos About Her Caplin Rous":
Caplin is at least as smart as a dog, although differently motivated. He won't do anything if there isn't something in it for him. It seems like he recognizes every person he's ever met and reacts differently to them.

In general, he is a very sweet and affectionate animal. He likes to sit on the couch next to me or in my lap while I feed him treats. Since he weighs 100 lbs, I can only have him in my lap for a few minutes before it starts cutting off circulation in my legs.

At night, Caplin likes to sleep under the covers if the weather is cold, or on the floor beside the bed in warmer weather.

In a single word, I would describe him as needy. He always wants to be with me and can "eep" loudly if he knows I am nearby but he can't get to me. He follows me around the house and the yard and expects me to watch him while he swims or grazes. He panics if he doesn't know where I am. When he thinks it's time for me to come home from work, he will go to the gate and wait for me.

When he was a month old I taught him to shake hands by saying "shake" and tapping his paw until he picked it up. It took 15 minutes for him to figure it out. The last trick I taught him was to go in a circle when I signal... To teach this I used one of his favorite foods, a fruit popsicle. Keeping the popsicle just out of reach, I led him in a little circle, rewarding each correct step. After two popsicles, he knew the trick.

Caplin is a very graceful in the water, more like an otter than a dog. He has an above ground swimming pool ... and he zips around underwater, putting his forepaws against his stomach and pushing off with his hind feet. I love to watch him play with his pool toys. He especially loves to swim through hoops.

A tree in a Japanese junkyard lifts a car in the air as it grows.

There'll be more of this when we humans leave the planet.

A management tree, as per Hannah

Hannah and her intended were in town for a whirlwind tour of caterers, venues, and cake-testings. For a while we were careening around town, because I was delirious with amusement, but the crew mutinied and demanded the car keys. After that I was a passenger as we sped from destination to destination.

We toured seven bakeries in search of the perfect cake (the jury is still out). While we were en route, Hannah told me this is how her former employer set up a project, using the acronym VARCI

The "V" has Veto power over the job. The V is not necessarily involved, but can at any point squelch the project, or any of its aspects, for any reason whatever.

As I've seen in web designers' complaints: the CEO looks at the product of 100 hours of work and says, "No, it doesn't have enough sizzle."

The "A" is Accountable for the project. The "A" didn't necessarily do any of the work, and may not even know what's going on, but this is where the buck stops, so it behooves "A" to be sure nothing untoward is happening.

We can all think of many examples of heads rolling in politics because the "A" was not paying attention (or was pretending not to).

The "R" is doing the Research, or maybe it was some other word beginning with R, but at any rate, the Rs (there may be several) are the actual carpenters on the job, banging it together.

The "C" people get to Comment WHEN ASKED (Hannah stressed this point). They may be experts in some aspect of what's going on.

At the end of their hierarchy we find "I," the person or persons who should be kept informed about what's going on.

I thought this list was sadly lacking a member of the team, present in all organizations but particularly in projects like the one we are involved in:

"K" is for kibitzer: the person who has an opinion on everything even when not asked.

For some reason this really amused Hannah, maybe because on most Jewish projects kibitzers may outnumber all the other members of the team put together.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite Jewish jokes, in short:

The Yeshiva has put together a sculling team and they are losing against all the other boats on the river. Consistently, they come in last.

They send one of their oarsmen to go spy on one of the other teams practicing. He comes back and blurts out in great excitement:

"We've been doing it exactly backwards! In their boat, 12 people row and one person shouts!"


Friday, June 26, 2009

New ATM ripoff scheme on its way

Extracts from
Cash machines hacked to spew out card details
by Paul Marks for

"SKULDUGGERY," says Andrew Henwood, "is a very good word to describe what this extremely advanced, cleverly written malware gets up to. We've never seen anything like it."

What he has discovered is a devious piece of criminal coding that has been quietly at work in a clutch of cash machines at banks in Russia and Ukraine. It allows a gang member to walk up to an ATM, insert a "trigger" card, and use the machine's receipt printer to produce a list of all the debit card numbers used that day, including their start and expiry dates - and their PINs.

SpiderLabs ... found a 50-kilobyte piece of malware disguised as a legitimate Windows program called lsass.exe. In a PC, this helps the Microsoft operating system cache session data - so users don't have to re-enter their passwords every time they get a new email, for example.

The hardest bit for the criminals is installing the malware in the first place, as it requires physical access to the machine. That most likely means an inside job within a bank, or using bribes or threats to encourage shop staff to provide access to a standalone ATM in a shop or mall.

One big concern is that it will become network capable - able to spread from machine to machine over the closed networks used by banks.

SpiderLabs expects the technology to spread from eastern Europe to the US and Asia. European countries using chip-and-PIN cards will initially be immune because these ATMs encrypt PINs as they are typed, but it probably won't take hackers long to get around this too.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hannah does Illustration Friday: "Floating."

Hannah hasn't been able to paint for a while, maybe it's because her apartment is too small. But just now we were working on colors for her ketubah and this is what she came up with so I'm posting these color clouds floating in space...


Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Floating."

Another hamsa, this one to test the colors Hannah wants for her ketubah. I did this under her supervision (hee), we talked about it, and then refined the colors in her "abstract." I visualize these luck amulets as floating in space.


Friday, June 19, 2009

This makes me laugh every single time I hear it.


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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Three years of Sunday afternoon paintings by Mark Chandler at Squidoo

I have this big pile of Mark's paintings on a tabouret in my living room and last night it occurred to me, it might be fun to see them all in the same place online. So I started a Mark Chandler's paintings lens at Squidoo. Well done, Mark!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"In your yard I am the Ferengi man, very odd and chunky"

Via Squidoo I found a tired old Youtube phenomenon which is new to me: Buffalaxing, named after Buffalax (possibly a nom-de-youtube). He makes up English lyrics that sort of sound like the Hindi soundtracks of the mysterious Bollywood song-and-dance routines. Here's one:

This is actually how I've learned hard songs in foreign languages, particularly in Greek, which I find almost impenetrable. I make up fake cognates and memorize them instead.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Hmm, things change.

My daughter's future mother-in-law (that's mekhutoneste in Yiddish) showed me a picture of her wedding and so I tried digging up some of mine. I was surprised to see there are only about a dozen snapshots, and my two favorites are double-exposed (there's somebody else's bare leg sideways across my father's face on one of them). I wonder if any good pictures were taken and I never got any of them?

How different things are these days, with 1,000s of nice digital photos. Well, here they are, featuring my home-made wedding dress and home-made cake (which you will notice tilted considerably, and that's quite fashionable these days).

Why was I sitting on the ground? In the last picture: my maid of honor, who sings with me to this very day in our world-music band Mappamundi.

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Unfold."


Acrylic on canvas 9" x 12"


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New favorite: "Your logo makes me barf."

These are some of my favorites from Your Logo Makes Me Barf. The first one is for Hannah, who has always been afraid of clowns. Go visit maybe my favorite post on the blog...

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Craving."

This week I had a craving for a stress-reduction art project. When I feel jittery, drawing or painting things which go over and under (like, for instance, Celtic (or Bulgarian) knots) is very calming. I guess you could call it self-medication.

I combined that with another of my addictions this week: I adore Jewish proverbs, although I find fully 80% mostly incomprehensible, possibly because I'm a convert. This one appeals to me, as does the similar saying: "Can't go over it. Can't go under it. Can't go around it. Gotta go through it." (That's for after this one, the one I illustrated, fails.)

It's based on a Bukharan ornament in a book I bought at the Strand Bookstore for a buck.

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Man plans and God laughs: consequences of China's preference for male babies.

From the Wall Street Journal:
With no eligible women in his village, Zhou Pin, 27 years old, thought he was lucky to find a pretty bride whom he met and married within a week, following the custom in rural China.

Ten days later, Cai Niucuo vanished, leaving behind her clothes and identity papers. She did not, however, leave behind her bride price: 38,000 yuan, or about $5,500, which Mr. Zhou and his family had scrimped and borrowed to put together.

Thanks to its 30-year-old population-planning policy and customary preference for boys, China has one of the largest male-to-female ratios in the world. [A study] estimates there was a surplus of 32 million males under the age of 20 at the time the census was taken. That's roughly the size of Canada's population.

China's cultural preference for boys has resulted in a dearth of marriageable brides... Xin'an Village ... has over 30 men of marriageable age, but no single women. ... in 2002-03 villagers noticed a sharp spike in [brice] prices, which shot up to between 6,000 to 10,000 yuan -- several years' worth of farming income.

Taking the long view: if you start now, you can sit in ten years...

Peter and Becky's website is Together they have mastered the art they call Pooktre, which is the shaping of trees as they grow in predetermined designs. Some are intended for harvest to be high quality indoor furniture and others will remain living art.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Craving."


Acrylic on canvas 9 x 12


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It's a dangerous world: we nearly get scammed by a fake apartment ad on Paris CraigsList

The last time I stayed in Paris for a few weeks, in 2005 - the year I started this blog and made several resolutions, including "learn Yiddish" - I found an apartment near the library where the Yiddish classes were to take place. The lady met me there with croissants and it was just lovely, all went according to plan.

So when Hannah and her fiancee and I needed an apartment this summer (I'm going back to the Medem Bibliotheque, this time to take the advanced Yiddish course, and they're coming to have fun), I naturally went back to Craigs List.

Well, times have changed. When I responded to a man with an apartment very near the library, he wanted me to wire him the money (plus security deposit), and email him my PASSPORT NUMBER! (see his email, below) I wrote him back saying this is not how we do business on the internet. He sent me another odd email.

I was flummoxed so I sent them both to Hannah.

She found this site: Scammers on CraigsList Paris. I fear the author's quest, to identify and "out" scammers, is hopeless, because after all they could choose new names and new free email accounts for each encounter. However, it's good that she's trying!

An allied site gives ideas for being a cautious renter: Inside Paris: avoid apartment rental scams.

Naturally this is happening in other cities. Some of the scammers are - surprise - in Nigeria. And evidently some of the scammers are on the other side, renting apartments with fake money in some way.

I've been really sad about this. There are real people on both sides of the proposed transactions but they are swamped with fakes.

Somebody told me recently that 95% of email traffic is spam.

What a world.

In case you're in the same boat, below are the odd emails I received from "Thomas Lauren" at Otherwise, read no further.
Normally i am supposed to make a fewe back ground check but nevertheless i know you would be a responsible person to have the place.However, I m presently in the United Kingdom on business trip and i would appreciate if you can make the payment Via Western Union Money transfer.Once i recieve the details of the transfer i would require your full name and address to mail out keys Via registered express mail in which i would provide you a DHL tracking number for your references.You should let me know the date you would like to move in and that will be the starting date to your rental.I am a very honest and God Fearing man and i hope to rent my house to the same person.I attend a catholic church and i am one of the elders in the church and i act according to God principles with good authoritative human perspective views of mankind..Kindly get back to me if we should proceed with the next line of information.You should expect the lease in the next email and kindly provide me with the following details for tne preparation of the contract

Your Full Name and Address
Passport Id Number
Date of Birth
Date of moving in and Date of Moving out
Address for the keys to be posted to you
Contact Phone Number
Thanks And God Bless
Goodmorning Jane,
Thanks for your mail and i wonder why you are not willing to give out your information for the preparation of the contract,at least i gave you one of my old tenant information to ask better about me and the apartment to be sure.
I am in London,and since you are not feeling comfortable sending your information to prepare the contract then i will like to let you know that am the right landlord for you,so i will be willing to post the keys of the apartment and the contract,photocopy of the apartment documents, to your address in USA,by Fedex express serive or Dhl service for you to trust and believe me,so think if you get this info,you would be able to futher with me? But before i can do this,i need to be sure if you are also serious about this rent and if you have the money with you atleast the rent and the deposit,so what i will suggest nowyou will go to Money Gram office,to make a of 700euro using any of your trusted friend as the receiver of the payment,meaning you will transfer the 700euro to your friend's name as the receiver of the payment at Money Gram office when you are given the form to fill,and address in North Carolina will be the receiver's address.or better still you can use your name as the sender of the money and the receiver of the money just for me to be sure the payment is for the rent,and as soon as this is done,you will get back to me with the receipt of the payment at Money Gram office to confirm if the payment is valid or not or better still you can write out from the receipt the sender's name and the mtcn number with this 2 information i can confirm the payment..
I think you understand what i mean? I just want to be sure if you have the money ready with you at hand..
Best Regards

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Friday, June 05, 2009

[Hannah]: Factoid of the week, don't read while eating

Told to me by a young med student friend:

There is no such thing as a gene that blocks you from having stinky pee when you eat asparagus. There IS, however, a gene without which you cannot smell the "stink" of asparagus pee.

We were really hooting as we tried to figure out under what conditions scientists achieved this breakthrough.

Playing the guitar while riding a fancy-stepping house. Ah, sigh. "Amor de los dos."



Thursday, June 04, 2009

Two important new ways I have discovered to make my life better.

This is a continuation of a series.

Earlier, I discovered my life was better if I had all the hangers in my closet facing in the same direction. Current implementation: 100%.

New revelation: take the hanger out of the closet when I take the shirt. Then I can hang the empty hanger on the rod over the washing machine and put the shirt back on it when it's been washed. Ah, mystery of the circle of life.

A second previous revelation: don't try to save time by putting on a sweater as you go down the stairs. Current implementation: winter, 85%; summer, 100%.

New revelation: open the bedroom door BEFORE applying hand lotion. I can't believe it took me half a century to figure this out.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I visit another letterpress artisan, at Parklife Press in Carrboro, NC

(Cross-posted at my local NC weddings blog.)

Today, as part of my investigation of local letterpress printers, I visited Travis Friedrich of Parklife Press. He had warned me he was expecting delivery of a new printing press, and wouldn't be able to talk much, but I thought that would be very cool. And so it was!

Here he is about half an hour after I arrived. The lady who sold him the machine had wheedled her friend, a real estate agent (who says: "I can't believe it, housing prices in Virginia are so good right now, and we have so many wonderful listings, and mortgages are so low, why aren't people buying?" - my PSA for her...) into driving this gargantuan artifact down to North Carolina in a rental truck.

The old press, which Betsy was selling because there is not enough work to keep it busy in Fairfax Virginia, weights about 4,000 pounds. Travis is installing it in his shop, which is the garage of his home in Carrboro, NC.

I bet he isn't planning to move anytime soon.

Here is one of the machines he owns, I drooled over it.

Here's his paper-cutter, manufactured in the 19th century and still going strong.

While I waited and watched the huffing and puffing (it was 92 degrees and just past noon, exactly the right conditions for humping a 4,000 pound machine out of a U-Haul), I discovered a box full of used polyresin plates, and Travis said they were just going back to the factory to be recycled so I could have some. I chose this, for example.

As I explained yesterday, these days very few people are actually setting metal (or wood) letters in quoins backwards and running them through a press. Instead, they design on computer and send the files off to be converted into these polyresin plates.

Travis is a super-nice young man. I hope his business will prosper!

This was my last view of him, an hour after I arrived. I hope he managed to get the thing out of the truck eventually.

Go to his website to see prices and better pictures of his perfect, meticulous work, but in the mean time here are some pictures I took while I was there:


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Compositors' Lingo

While I was writing about Horse and Buggy Press and trying to figure out what you call those little pieces of metal, each with an inside-out letter on it, I ran across another wonderful dictionary online: Glossary of Printing Trade Terms, from England. Here are a few of my favorites:

Work easy of performance at adequate rates.

An expression which means that the one who uses it is indicating to another that the one treating of a subject under discussion should go home and teach his grandmother to suck eggs. When a piece of stale news is related the cry goes round, "G.H.!"

On the Coach
In stage-coach travelling times, if one person wished to avoid another during the journey he would seek an inside seat while the other had perforce to travel outside high up on the coach. If two compositors fall out (publicly or privately) they avoid each other. Companions are quick to notice this in Chapel, and the word goes round:' "Bill's got Jasper on the coach".

You Can!
This is a phrase that increases or decreases in effect by inflection as it is pronounced. It means that the speaker presents to his hearers the whole matter under discussion for them to do with as they wish. There was once a compositor who was called "You Can Have It Jones" on account of his deprecatory attitude to the whole universe.

A visit to "Horse and Buggy Press" in Durham NC

Hannah and I have been talking about wedding invitations so I made appointments to see some local owners of real-live wooden and metal type - letterpress, hot-metal-type typesetting - establishments. Remember, when typesetters had to be able to read upside down or backwards as they put the tiny letters onto their rows?

So today I went to see Dave Wofford, owner of "Horse and Buggy Press," self-proclaimed retro grouch.

He's been working out of the Bull City Arts Collaborative in downtown Durham since 2006. (They hold open studios on the Third Friday of every month from 6–9pm if you want to have a look for yourself.)

I wanted to lay my eyes on the old machines: I had a few chances long ago to run thick old-fashioned paper through this sort of press and it seemed very romantic to me. (In real life, though, it involved unromantically getting ink all over myself and, sadly, over some of my expensive paper.)

On his website this motto: "Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground."

It turns out Dave does sometimes set type by hand, but most of the time he designs on the computer like the rest of us. For special jobs he then sends his files away to be made into plates. Dave told me:
"After getting a plate made, I lock up the plate in the bed (just like hand-set type), and from there the process is the same as hand-set letterpress printing.

Each print is pulled one page at a time, one color of ink per pass. It still is hand-cranked letterpress printing, just from a plate instead of individual letters of type. The goal is to combine the best of both the mechanical and digital worlds instead of merely adhering to one or the other."

He's designed this book, Rain Gardening in the South," and it's available at his shop or from Amazon. I wish I'd remembered to ask for a look while I was there.

He told me he's not really into doing so many wedding invitations any more, he'd rather develop his business as book, music packaging, and poster designer.

A short aside: he did this year's Eno Festival poster, and he showed it to me. Sadly, due to our troubled economic times it will be considerably smaller than they used to be. And that means it hardly features any musicians at all -- and the ones who did make the poster are in tiny print. Too bad!

Here's some of the work I saw at his studio (I got the pictures off his website, though). You can't really get the full effect without holding them in your hands.