Refinished Architect’s Table from The General Fireproofing Co.

The Newest Piece Comes Home

It’s been far too long since I’ve done a furniture refurbish project, so it’s extra nice to finally have this fantastic piece move into the family room today.

I’ll probably post something more detailed at a later date with some “before” pictures, but these few “after” photos will have to suffice for now.

History

I acquired this 20 gauge steel, stick leg, architect’s table originally manufactured by The General Fireproofing Co. of Youngstown, Ohio eight or so years back as part of a scrap sale. It was once owned by the National Bureau of Standards and had some markings and scrap paper hiding underneath the drawer which made me think that it was previously owned by a college, university, or similar institution in the Southern California region. It’s been hiding patiently in the garage as a general work table in service to my Little Free Library. I’ll have to dig into some paperwork to find it, but I recall this being circa 1959 from my research. It wasn’t in as bad a condition as some of my past projects. The original linoleum top was almost in good enough condition that I seriously considered keeping it.

Refinishing and Specifications

I started cleaning it up in November 2021 and have finally moved it into the house today with a 1/4″ clear annealed 29 3/4″ x 49 3/4″ polished glass top with 1 1/2″ radius corners.

The table itself is refinished in an electric sort of robin’s egg-color called “Waterfall” (SW 6750, loc #162-C1; DE 5722 RL#267, LRV 68, Munsell: Hue=7.36BG, Value=8.5, Chroma=2.6; BM 2050-50, LRV 55.75). The original linoleum top, which actually wasn’t in horrible condition, was completely stripped off, and I did the same sort of brushed steel process as my last tanker desk. There is a bit of blemish on the table top surface in the form of black flecking with a few small manufacturing blemishes that were left untouched for show before throwing down eight layers of clear coat. I also left a few incredibly minor dings to the body and legs for character instead of doing any bondo work.

It’s still got the original General Fireproofing Co. badging. I’ve also left all the original drawer pulls and metal leg caps, though I’ve cleaned them up quite a bit. It has presently got all the original screws, nuts and bolts as well, though many are rusted and in poor though functional condition. Perhaps I’ll replace those with new fittings in the near future, but I’ll have to hunt down the specs and find something that will stand up a bit better for the next century.

I’ve added some 1/2″ thick heavy felt pads on the feet to prevent scratching on the floor as the table is quite heavy. I’ve also got some temporary cork pads between the tabletop and the glass which I’ll probably replace with some decorative felt sometime soon.

You never know what you’ll find when you strip the tops of these types of pieces, but all-in it came out far better than I expected. It truly is stunning.

What’s next?

Still in the queue for future projects, two stick leg chairs, a panel leg architect’s table, and a 1930’s double pedestal tanker desk all of which I have on hand. I’m also due to reupholster a few chairs. If anyone comes across any, I’m on the look out for a 4×6″ index card filing cabinet, a multi-drawer flat file I can convert into a coffee table, and a credenza. 

Commissions

I’ve done this enough times now, I’m contemplating taking commissions from folks who have ideas for pieces. I’ve seen some of the tanker desks go for between $3,000 and $5,000 on Melrose or at HD Buttercup in Los Angeles, but by comparison, I’ve got a far better finishing process for these with better results than I’ve seen in any of the high end showrooms. With the right price on a scrapped or distressed piece, I think I can significantly beat the high end shops and provide a better look and value.

I suspect that when I refinish my next tanker desk for my office, I might be willing to sell the one I’ve been using for the past 13 years

Replied to a tweet by Stephanie StimacStephanie Stimac (Twitter)
+1 for more research, experimentation, and work on discovery. Many have been collecting ideas, examples, brainstorming here as a start: https://indieweb.org/discovery

#BlogrollsFTW

Replied to a tweet by Maggie Appleton (Twitter)

Mae’r Gymraeg yn fy ngwneud i’n hapus.

You’d probably also really enjoy Japanese onomatopoeia.

Questions as a tool for thought: “Only the questions, ma’am”

The Almighty Question

Asking questions is one of our most important tools for thinking. Questions force us to think. We’re wired to want to give them answers. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was the proximal question that started it down the slippery slope.

Socrates is still rightly famous for his pedagogic method featuring the almighty question. Creating good questions are one of the most valuable parts of the idea behind Cornell notes. Scientific research is all about asking solid questions.

The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.
—Claude Levi-Strauss

Teachers often analogize the period as the proverbial “stop sign” of a sentence, but they’re off base—the majority of periods are barely worth a rolling stop at best. I think it’s far more valuable to treat the question mark as an actual stop sign. It tells me to stop and actively think about what I’ve just read. What might the answer be? Is it answerable? Will the text indicate where to go? Will I be left hanging?

As I read, I always actively look out for the question marks in a text. When annotating, I’ll frequently highlight them in situ or in the margins with a simple “?”. What does the question mean for the current context? What might it mean for other tangential and even non-related contexts?

Questions can be used as rhetorical tools by the author to highlight what is important in their narratives or reasoning. Other times, unanswered questions in pieces are some of the most important and pressing portions of a text. They indicate what we don’t know. They indicate where we might try exploring, researching, and expanding our knowledge and place within the world.

Only the Questions

When evaluating whether or not a book will have value, it can be useful to know what sorts of questions the author is asking. Towards this end, I’ve recently come across a great digital tool called Only the Questions from Clive Thompson. It will parse through large bodies of text and extract out only the questions which were posed.

So feel free to throw in your favorite novel, your current non-fiction read, songs, poetry, speeches, religious texts, philosophy, even comics and see what comes out. Read the questions posed before you start. Once you’re done reading, revisit them to determine which ones were answered. Which ones were left as an “exercise for the reader”? Which ones can you provide the answers to now that you’ve read the text? Which questions were left open and will gnaw at your brain for years to come?

My fascination with questions has been super-charged by having such easy access to so many more of them. How will you use this tool?

Do you know of any other clever tools relating to questions? I’d love to know what they are and how you integrate them into your work.

I just couldn’t wait for a physical copy of The First Astronomers: How Indigenous Elders Read the Stars by Duane Hamacher, Ghillar Michael Anderson, Ron Day, Segar Passi, Alo Tapim, David Bosun and John Barsa (Allen & Unwin, 2022) to arrive in the US, so I immediately downloaded a copy of the e-book version.

@AllenAndUnwin @AboriginalAstro

Watched Look up! There's an emu in the sky | Duane Hamacher at TEDxNorthernSydneyInstitute by Dr. Duane Hamacher from TEDx Talks | YouTube

A trained astrophysicist, Dr Duane Hamacher is a lecturer in the Nura Gili Indigenous Centre at the University of New South Wales. After studying planets orbiting other stars for two years, his interest in the crossroads of science and culture was too great and he decided to complete a PhD in Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University. He researches in how navigating the boundaries between Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science can show how these ways of understanding the natural world are beneficial to both.

For those who appreciated Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and want to delve further into Indigenous science, I’m recommending Duane Hamacher and co-authors’ book The First Astronomers: How Indigenous Elders Read the Stars (Allen & Unwin, 2022). This video seems to be a pretty solid, short primer of what to expect.

I’m personally interested in reading/learning about these areas above and beyond the primary education levels which are presented here.

Watched Synoptic Obsidian Book Club by Dan Allosso from YouTube
Announcing our next Obsidian Book Club, beginning next week, in which we will synoptically read two books: Too Much to Know and The Extended Mind. Everybody is welcome, whether or not you have been in a book club before. It's a really good group and I think these books will spark some very interesting conversations. If you're interested, drop me a line at the email in the video and I'll send you the details.
A new session of Dan Allosso’s synoptic Obsidian-based book club is starting April 2 for five weeks with some fascinating selections:

  • The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain by Annie Murphy Paul 
  • Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age by Ann M. Blair

The last two clubs were incredibly scintillating, so I can’t wait to see what this incarnation holds. Everyone interested in the topics and/or the process is welcome to join us. Details in the video.

In addition to the fun of the two particular texts, those interested in note taking, information management, personal knowledge management, zettelkasten and using tools like Obsidian and Hypothes.is in group settings will appreciate the experience. If you’re an educator interested in using these tools in a classroom-like setting for active reading and academic writing, I think there’s something to be learned in the process of what we’re all doing here.

Obsidian Book Club

Tentative Schedule beginning on Saturday, March 26, 2022 Saturday, April 2, 2022

Week 1
Paul: Introduction and Part 1
Blair: Chapter 1

Week 2
Paul: Part 2
Blair: Chapter 2

Week 3
Paul: Part 3
Blair: Chapter 3

Week 4
Paul: Conclusion
Blair: Chapter 4

Week 5
Paul: Any overflow from before??
Blair: Chapter 5

Contextualizing Cornell Notes in the Note Taking Traditions

Have we lost too much of the contextual value of what Cornell notes were originally designed for by Walter Pauk in the 1950’s? Or are we not taking the idea far enough into the writing realm?

Cornell notes come from a time closer to the traditional space of commonplace books, academic thinking, and note taking that was more prevalent in the early 1900’s and from which also sprang the zettelkasten tradition. I can’t help but be reminded that the 10th edition of Pauk’s book How to Study in College (Wadsworth, 2011, p.394), which helped to popularize the idea of Cornell notes with the first edition in 1962, literally ends the book with the relationship of the word ‘topic’ by way of Greek to the Latin ‘loci communes‘ (commonplaces), though it’s worth bearing in mind that it contains no discussion of the commonplace book or its long tradition in our intellectual history.

One was meant to use Cornell notes to capture broad basic ideas and facts (fleeting notes) and things to follow up on for additional research or work. Then they were meant to be revisited to focus on creating questions that might be used for spaced repetition, a research space that has seen tremendous growth and advancement since the simpler times in which the Cornell note taking method was designed.

Additionally one was meant to revisit their notes to draw out the most salient points and ideas. This is part of the practice of taking the original ideas and writing them out clearly in one’s own words to improve one’s understanding of the material. Within a zettelkasten framing, this secondary review is part of the process of creating future useful literature notes or permanent notes that one might also re-use in their future writing and thinking.

Missing from the Cornell notes practice but more directly centered in the zettelkasten practice is taking one’s notes and directly linking them to other related thoughts in one’s system. This places this method closer to the commonplace book tradition than the zettelkasten tradition.

While a more basic and naïve understanding of Cornell notes in current academic environments still works on many levels, students and active researchers might be better advised to look at their practices in view of broader framings like that of Sönke Ahrens’s book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking.

It also bears noting that one could view the first stage of Cornell notes in light of the practice of keeping a waste book and then later transferring their more permanent and better formed ideas into their commonplace book.

Similarly one might also view full sheets of finished Cornell notes as permanent notes mixed in amidst fleeting notes and held together on pages rather than individual cards. This practice sounds somewhat similar in structure to Sönke Ahrens’s use of Roam Research to compile multiple related ideas in individually linked blocks on a single page holding them together in a pseudo-project page for more immediate and potentially specific future use.