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Rustic Leather Satchel: A how to guide

March 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Recently I developed a desire for a heavy leather satchel or bag to mimic a vintage bag I had seen.  Since I couldn’t find what I wanted in stores I decided to try my hand at making it.  I did a bit of research on where to buy sides of heavy leather (like that of a belt or heavier) and found a store in Toronto that sold such supplies.  Paid them a visit and was a bit overwhelmed that first day; the clerk helping me thought I was a “little bit crazy” to embark on this task without any prior experience in leather work.   I left without buying a thing, but returned the next day with rejuvenated determination to see this project through.  I purchased a couple of simple tools, thread, and a side of 9/10 ounce leather (heavy leather belt style).  Armed with these hand tools, a sharp knife, and a hand drill I set about making a bag.

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Raw leather cut to shape for the main section.

Parts of bag cut and laid out

Parts of bag cut and laid out.

Tools: Awl, needle and thread, and rivets (also buckles and rings)

Tools: Awl, needle and thread, rivets, and buckles.

Sides cut.  Hangers riveted with rings and stitched to sides.

Sides cut. Hangers riveted with rings and stitched.

Bag all stitched. Strap riveted.

Bag all stitched. Strap riveted.

Completed bag.

Completed bag.

The whole process was spread out over three days.  There was quite a lot of time spent stitching the sides of the bag by hand.    Holes were all hand punched with the awl, then stitched twice with a simple needle and heavy wax thread.  This was no simple task given the thick and rigid nature of the leather, and resulted in several broken needles.

The final design differs from the original idea I had in mind, and at the last minute my gut feeling called for a last audible to keep the bag as clean and simple as possible.

A larger bag at 18″x12″x7″ it is quite versatile and carries quite a lot.  The leather has darkened slightly with the wax coating I have applied to preserve the leather, and will no doubt continue to darken as it ages, giving it a wonderful patina.

All in all, this project proved to be most rewarding and useful. I look forward to continuing my leather projects.

If you are interested, contact me for more information.

Inflation of high school marks: A false economy

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

The system of education in Canada has put tremendous pressure on students.  Greater numbers of students flood post secondary institutions in hopes of gaining the requisite qualifications for a job in a particular field.  These post secondary institutions base their acceptance almost entirely on marks (though some also require supplementary essays and letters of reference as well).  The sole focus of senior high school students is marks.  They NEED them to continue their educational journey in hopes of a good career.  The sheer number of applicants to a program means that the minimum averages for a given program become inflated and students need higher and higher averages to even be considered for these coveted spots.

This crucible is exaggerated by the fact that astronomical averages can be bought at private schools, affectionately termed “marks mills”, by students who are known to their day school teachers not to have the skills and abilities to attain them via conventional public schools where teachers feel some moral duty to uphold academic standards.

Ironically, it was the Canadian Universities who fought for Full Disclosure Transcripts of students coming out of high school, which provided them with not only the top 6 marks of the student, but all of their marks from grade 11 and 12 as well as the number of times they have retaken a course to improve their average.  However, these same institutions have continued to accept the marks issued from dubious institutions, further perpetuating this situation.

Moreover, it seems that completion of a post secondary program does not mean what it used to.  Recent grads face staggering unemployment and underemployment.  CBC Doc Zone aired a documentary entitled “Generation Jobless” where they investigated the fact that Canadian post secondary institutions continue to graduate students despite the lack of demand.  This is most apparent in the number of Ontario graduates from Teacher’s College.  Perhaps the colleges and universities simply are not interested in what happens after their program ends, preferring to enrol students, put asses in seats, and laugh all the way to the bank.  The result is a population of young workers deeply in debt, under experienced, over educated, and dissatisfied with their job prospects.

Such a system does students a great disservice.  Marks are not the end goal; skills are the true target.  Marks are theoretically the communication of how developed a students skills are.  However, when students focus only on the marks, and ignore developing their skills and understanding, they have missed the point.  And perhaps they are not the only ones.  What is the purpose of the education system if not to equip our youth with the abilities to succeed in the world?

Given what we know about the prospects of getting a job in today’s current market, it almost seems advisable for a high school student to drop out of school, get a job apprenticing or volunteering in a particular industry when they don’t have any financial burdens, gain valuable hands on experience,  and either work their way up or start their own company?  This way at least they are free from debt, have some money in the bank, and are seemingly no worse off than if they had spent all that time in the education system.

Choice: A Paradigm of Paralysis

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Most of us have been conditioned to believe that choice is a good thing in our lives, and that a wide breadth of choice will lead to greater personal freedom and therefore greater happiness.  To a limited extent this holds true.

Certainly the very core beliefs of Capitalism is that consumers should have the right to choose.  The result of this approach is that it creates a consumer driven democracy in which purchases are the ballots by which votes are cast.  In such a system a great responsibility lies in the hands of the consumers, though this power may be largely unrealized.

Social conscience, therefore, doesn’t rest in the hands of the companies.  This responsibility has also been downloaded onto the consumer–if the consumer didn’t agree, they wouldn’t vote for it.  At least this is what basic economic principles hold to be true.  (One must remember, however, that such theories also presuppose that consumers have “perfect knowledge” of the choices they are making, that is to say they are fully aware of all of the factors involved in their choice.  I dare say that is not the case)

Choice can be debilitating.

Consider chewing gum.  Likely we have all deliberated over the bevy of choices laid out near the cash register.  For discussion let’s say that there are 64 different flavours to choose from. Consider what choice you would make?  To make a truly informed decision, you would have to have tasted all 64 flavours.  Assuming you could distinctly recall what each one of those flavours was, you would now be in a position to decide.  It is likely, however, that you haven’t tried all the flavours and so can’t possibly know what you want.  So you guess.  After you have made your choice do you reconsider?  Do you wonder if there was another flavour which might have been even better?  How many other choices are made and then tinged by regret at the possibility that a different choice would have been more satisfying.

Consider the possibility that there were only three flavours of gum:  Blue, Green, and Red.  The choice would be much simpler and the likelihood of dissatisfaction would be drastically reduced, unless you’re like me and always choose blue despite the fact that green is a more pleasing mint flavour.

Chewing gum is a relatively simple task with only one variable: flavour.  Other decisions about more valuable purchases are much more complex with multiple variables and greater consequences for poor decisions.  It is overwhelming to try to make an informed decision about something like a camera and a computer if you are not already an expert in that area and fully understand all of the applications required for your use of the device.

Recently I bought a winter sleeping bag.  It took me nearly a month to reach a conclusion about the bag for me, and there were only three variables to consider: price, weight, temperature rating.  Agonizing over the decision consumed me.  How many hours did I spend pouring over websites and reviews?

This type of preoccupation with choices really inhibits our ability to act decisively.  It impairs our ability to move forward.  It is a modern mental paralysis.

 

The importance of books and the complete experience

January 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Being a purist in many ways, I have resisted the convenience of e-readers and tablets as the medium I prefer to consume books.  Certainly toting around Ken Follett’s latest tome Winter of the World around has its downsides–falling asleep being crushed beneath a massive hard cover is not a pleasurable experience.  However, reading an a book and the whole tactile experience that goes along with it is something not matched in screen form.

While reading a recent post on Mindful Stew, I was reminded of a The Globe and Mail article I read which recounted Margaret Atwood having defended the internet and social media as “a great driver of literacy” as it caused people to read and thereby stimulate their brain in a variety of ways.  The point of the article, however, was that the brain of screen readers develops in a vastly different way; the neurological networks of an “expert reader” are vastly different and more developed than those of an over stimulated screen reader.  The article went on to say that the kind of reading done in a hyper linked, hyper stimulating environment fosters a brain that is unable to focus in a deep and meaningful way, something that they termed “Twitter brain”, causing the mind to work in an infantilized mode.

Likewise, a recent article in The Toronto Star points out that old fashioned text books are more effective at conveying information than e-books.  It points out that the physical cues that trigger links to memories and information simply aren’t the same in the e-reader, and thus the pathway to those memories is less likely to be located.  Also the ability to fan through pages of a textbook to find the information you’re looking for is no longer possible.  Now one must laboriously scroll to find their spot.

There are lots of students who would gladly not lug their back breaking Science and Math textbooks home at the end of the day, but it seems that replacing books with virtual copies has its drawbacks too.

Certainly a book has never run out of batteries in the middle of a canoe trip, and for that I will gladly haul them over many portages on my back.

Food System

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

For those of you who have not seen the documentary on the industrial food system FOOD INC, see it.  It does not try to shock the audience into an emotional response against meat. In fact, it is not anti-meat at all.  It does however shed some light on an industry that does not want light shed upon it.

This clip from the film is a wonderful overview of some of the issues and the ideas.  The farmer being interviewed, from Polyface Farms, is Joel Salatin.  I think he challenges the red neck stereotypes to which we might be prone, and certainly proves himself a very intelligent, well spoken expert in his craft.

Notable highlight from the Video:
-” A culture that just views a pig as a pile of protoplasmic, inanimate structure to be manipulated by whatever creative design the human can foist on that critter will probably view individuals within its community, and other cultures within the community of nations, with the same type of disdain, and disrespect, and controlling type mentality”  (Joel Salatin)

Pay particular note to the events at 3:15 of the video. (Point to follow)

Q: How did you react to the slaughtering of the chickens?

Having shown this to many, and witnessed hundreds of reactions, it seems that we tend to be horrified by the act of slitting the chicken’s throat.  Yes, it is a brutal act.  How many of us are more than willing to order wings at a restaurant, but don’t want to be shown the consequences of such a decision?  How disconnected have we become from the effects of our food eating habits?

Honest advertising

December 19, 2012 1 comment

Lots of ads these days use all kind of methods to deliver a kind of propaganda.  What if there was an ad that was entirely truthful about the effects of that product?  Would we be in a position to accept it?

Perhaps the alien aspect of the commercial is a bit of a stretch, but is this scene not being played out in coffee shops around the world?

Einstein come true

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Albert Einstein.  Undisputed visionary.

“I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”

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