Flat Plane Character Carving

Flat plane carving is a style of figire carving that uses large flat planes to create features.  Tool marks are left in the carving and there is no smoothing or rounding.  The idea is to create the figure using very deliberate cuts.  The resulting figures are typically caricatures with exaggerated features.

Gene Messer, the carver whose YouTube videos I keep linking to, is a flat plane carver, and he has quite a few character carving videos online.  He also has a couple of picture tutorials on the Woodcarving Illustrated message board.  I decided to give it a shot.  First with this bust:


That figure is about 4 inches tall and about 1-3/4 inches square.  The tutorial video used a different sized block, and included legs and feet.  I probably should have waited until I had a block of wood the right size, but I’m pretty happy with the way this one turned out.  Even if I did make plenty of mistakes.

My latest figure is from one of Gene’s picture tutorials.  The wood blank is 3-1/2″ tall and 1″ square.  I think I did much better with this little guy.


Granted, I still have a lot to learn.  But I’m surprised at how relatively few cuts it takes to make a recognizable character.  And there is a lot of room for improvisation here.  I can see where just concentrating on these little guys could keep me very busy.

Web video: Searching for standards

Web video is all the rage these days, with seemingly everybody getting into the action.  The 900 pound gorilla, of course, is YouTube.  Estimates of YouTube’s size vary from 100 million to 250 million videos.   My suspicion is that it’s towards the top end of that range.  But even 100 million videos is more than all the other providers combined.

Yes, there are video sites other than YouTube.  And, no, they’re not all porn sites, although there certainly is a healthy number of those.  Other video sites include Vimeo, CNN, ESPN, LiveLeak, Fox News, Hulu, MTV, Newsweek, YouKu, and at least two dozen more that I’m too lazy to list.  All the major networks have video sites.  Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and even Google have videos.  Yes, Google video competes with YouTube.  Video is big.

Sorry.  You’ll have to locate the porn sites yourself if you’re so inclined.

That’s a Good Thing.  Except …  Except that every site has its own video player.  In order to play a video on the Web, you have to download the player and then stream the video through it.  It reminds me of the early days of video stores, when you had to rent a movie and a VCR.  Will that be VHS or Beta?.

Users don’t see this as a problem.  Yet.  Considering that many users see YouTube as the only place for video on the web, that’s no surprise.  But Web developers who want to embed videos from many different sources notice this problem in a big way.  Every player requires different embed code.  Every player looks different, with controls in different places and sometimes garish branding so that you know, without any doubt, where that video came from.  Some players have a JavaScript API that lets the embedding page control it, and others don’t.

The result is a horrible mishmash of wonky controls and hacked Web pages trying to get embedded video to work well.  Developers have to choose between excluding a particular video source, or including it with the understanding that those videos will look and work differently, and possibly cause their pages to crash, hang, or otherwise misbehave.  We don’t have just two formats to worry about, but 30 or more.  And for each one we have to know the magic incantation for obtaining the player, displaying it in a Web page, making it play a video and, if we’re lucky, controlling playback with a common set of user controls.  It’s maddening.

As it stands now, playing a video in a Web page is a heavyweight operation.  Web video is exploding, and this problem will only get worse unless the major players get together and standardize on a single video player.  Or at least a standard for embedded video player behavior and a standard API so that developers can concentrate on delivering the content that video providers want us to deliver.

And therein lies the problem.  It’s almost a certainty that YouTube will thumb its nose at the crowd and go its own way.  If we were extremely lucky YouTube would make their player available to the community, but that’s highly unlikely.  The better and more likely (although still not very likely) option is that the second tier of providers get together and create a standard.  Then, at least, developers would only have to worry about two players:  YouTube and everybody else.

I honestly don’t know what to expect here.  If my experience with MP3 music files on the Web is any indication, I probably shouldn’t hope for too much.  Although it’s true that the vast majority (well over 90%, based on six months’ crawling for different formats) of audio on the Web is MP3, there’s no standard player for streaming, and no standard API for controlling the disparate players.  And don’t even get me started on the pain of playing naked MP3 files.  Video will be much bigger than Web audio ever was.  I shudder at the thought of trying to handle 300 different providers rather than just the few dozen we have now.

Windows Explorer Wonkiness

In Windows Explorer, double-clicking on a folder name in the list pane opens that folder so you can view its files.  This is nothing new.  Over the years I have become accustomed to double-clicking and having that folder’s files appear in the list pane.  Life is good.

Well, life was good.  For reasons unknown, many of my servers now are opening a new window whenever I double-click on a folder.  This is exceedingly odd.  I have not changed any settings, and nobody else here logs in to those servers except to check on status.  Even so, I can’t imagine that they would modify Explorer’s behavior.

When it comes to that, I don’t see a setting anywhere that says whether it should open a new window or open in the same window.  The View settings in Tools->Folder Options doesn’t have a setting for this.  Oddly, if I right-click and then select “Explore” (the default), it opens in the same window, which is what it’s supposed to do when I double-click.  Selecting “Open” opens a new window.

Later:  I just installed the latest Windows Server 2008 Service Pack on one of the servers in question.  Problem gone.  Weird.

Even later: Reader Roy Harvey notes that the setting is on the General tab of Tools -> Folder Options, labeled “Open each folder in the same window.”  On my servers that still exhibit the problem, that radio button is checked.  There’s a bug in Explorer somewhere that’s fixed by installing the latest service pack.

Facebook photo problem

So after five days working with Facebook, I’m mostly impressed.  I have a few minor nits with the user interface, but it may be that they want the UI to be somewhat mysterious.  I think they want you to explore, and if things are just a little bit wonky, you’ll be more apt to wander around blindly and stumble into things that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

The other day I was seriously impressed with the ease of building and maintaining a photo album.  But today I’m having the weirdest problem adding a picture to an existing album.  This picture won’t upload:


I realize that it’s not the greatest thing ever carved, but somehow I don’t think that’s the reason Facebook is rejecting it.  Their Java-based file uploader happily reports, “File upload successful!”  But the picture never appears in my album.  The “simple file uploader” fails with this message:

File bamboo.jpg: This error occurred because either the photo was a size we don’t support or there was a problem with the image file.

Granted, the size is a little bit odd (192 x 582), but there are other odd-sized files in that album.  I’ve tried resizing the picture, changing it to a .png file, renaming it, etc.  All to no avail.  Facebook simply will not accept this photo.

On a related note, Facebook is not working well with my new Firefox 3.0.11 update.  I’ve had one hang, one unexplained disappearance (Firefox just exited), and some pretty bizarre behavior.  I wonder what’s going on.

Update 2009/06/29

I played with it a bit more, resizing the image, saving it with different photo editor programs, and even changing the color as one commenter suggested in order to get past a possibly over-Freudian image filter.  Nothing worked.  I finally ended up using the entire picture that includes some background (wires and other junk on my desk) in addition to the carving.  That worked.  I don’t know why.


I resisted the whole social networking thing for a long time, mostly due to preconceived notions.  In the past, I was a member of many different social networks:  bulletin boards, Compuserve forums, etc.  The explosion of users that came with the rapid Internet expansion lowered barriers to entry and reduced the value of those forums.  The signal to noise ratio became so low as to make them useless.

Anyway, seeing as how we’re building social features into our product, it seems like I should get acquainted.  Since the other guys at the office are members of Facebook, as are a number of my friends, I figured I’d sign up.

So what do I think, after just a few days?  Facebook is definitely a Good Thing.  I enjoy being able to post quick updates to let people know what I’m up to, and I like seeing what’s happening in their worlds, too.  And, I’ve connected with a few people who I hadn’t heard from in 25 years or more.  I can see where Facebook or something like it could become an essential tool for keeping up with friends and family.



I was getting tired of the bears and little trinkets, so I thought I’d learn how to carve something else.  Since I liked that 5-Minute Bear tutorial so much, I figured I’d take a crack at the 5-Minute Wizard:

The blank is a piece of basswood, six inches long and one inch square. I thought they’d make nice tree ornaments, but six inches is pretty big. I think four inches would make a better ornament.

The day after I carved the third wizard there, I picked up a branch in the yard and carved this:


The wood is from one of the Red-Tipped Photinia bushes that are at the south side of the pool.  It carved fairly nicely when it was green.  I’ve put some up to dry.  Guess I’ll find out next year how well it carves once it’s seasoned.

I had hoped to follow along with Allen Goodman’s Shelf Elf video series, but didn’t have a basswood block of appropriate size.  I did, however, have a somewhat smaller piece and an idea.  Thus was born the shelf wizard:


The picture is a bit blurry, I know.  The wizard is designed to sit on a shelf, with his beard hanging over.  The piece is a little less than three inches from tip of beard to top of head.

More Carvings

I have been carving quite a bit, actually, but haven’t taken the time to post anything here.  I carved quite a few of those little bears while I was in Phoenix, and a few other things, as well.  Here are a few of my miscellaneous doodles.  You can click on any of the pictures below to see the full size image.

letteropenerI carved this letter opener from a piece of mesquite that I picked up in Phoenix.  After sanding, I put a line of super glue on the edge and sanded it again.  It works really well.  The blade is about 2-1/2 inches long.

letteropener1This, too, is a letter opener.  It’s 8 inches long, with the handle and blade being of equal size.  The wood is called Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia Sissoo), again from the Phoenix area.  After sanding, I gave it a light coat of mineral oil to bring out the grain.  I like the way it looks, but it doesn’t open letters very well.

oakThe … whatever it is, above, started out as a branch from an oak tree here that didn’t survive last year’s drought.  I had intended to carve one of my little bears, but the wood is so hard that I became frustrated.  It’s kind of cute, but mostly a very good reminder of just how hard it is to carve oak.  The piece is 3 inches tall and about 1.25 inches in diameter.

swirlThis little doodle is another piece of Indian Rosewood.  I started just whittling a relief that curved around to capture each knot on the branch.  Somewhere along the line I got the idea to try making a corkscrew.  Nothing more than a curiousity, really.

I carved all of the above pieces with my Buck pocket knife.  There’s nothing real special about the knife other than it’s quite a bit sharper now than when I bought it.

I know these pieces aren’t exactly high art, but working on them did keep me amused and occupied during a particularly difficult period.

Wrap Rage

We’ve all experienced it, the anger and frustration that ensues when we try to open one of those clamshell packages that contain whatever new geegaw we picked up.  You can’t open it with your bare hands.  Normal office scissors are ineffective.  If you’re lucky you can puncture that plastic armor with your pocketknife, and if you’re lucky you won’t cut yourself with the blade or with the packaging itself.

The term for these feelings is wrap rage.  Consumer Reports officially recognized the phenomenon in 2006 when it created the Oyster Awards for products that are particularly hard to open.

It’s so comforting to know that I’m not alone.  A YouTube search for “wrap rage” results in almost 100 hits, including local television news stories, product demonstrations, and parodies of all sorts.  It’s the product demonstrations that amuse me more than anything else.  Some resourceful entrepreneurs who experienced wrap rage themselves decided to make a buck.  There are dozens of different devices designed to simplify the process of opening the clamshells.  Millions of units have been sold.

Amusingly, some of those devices are themselves distributed in clamshell packages, resulting in something of a chicken-and-egg problem.

The reason for this type of packaging is apparently theft deterrence.  If things are that hard to open, it’s unlikely that a thief will be able to remove small items from oversized packages and slip them into a purse or pocket.  I suppose it works, but at what cost?  Large retailers like Target and Wal-Mart are willing to annoy and inconvenience their customers with these packages rather than come up with a less intrusive way to deter shoplifting.

I have to admit that I’m surprised by the almost complete lack of outcry by the environmental movement regarding these packages.  Small items, especially, are often surrounded by many times their weight in protective plastic–plastic that more often than not ends up in landfills because even dedicated recyclers often don’t know whether the clamshell packaging is recyclable.  Environmentalist groups boycotted Big Macs back when they came in Styrofoam containers.  But clamshell packages?  I hear crickets.

I’m also surprised that, as much as people complain about these packages (and I don’t know anybody who extols their virtues), there hasn’t been a huge revolt by consumers.  Why aren’t there more people (or more vocal people) agitating for the abolition of this unfriendly, environmentally harmful, and dangerous to open packaging?  Again with the crickets.

After fighting one time too many with opening an armor plastic package to get at something that I found wasn’t worth all the effort, I will now make a concerted effort to avoid those packages whenever possible.  I’m done risking life and limb to open things.  If retailers want to sell me stuff, they’ll have to make it convenient for me to buy and to open.



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