Commuting by Bicycle

A play in 3 acts

A year or so ago, Kent Petersen asked a question on his blog: Why do you commute by bike? I thought about this, but realized that it wasn't that simple. Why I commute now is not the same as how I started commuting, or why I didn't stop.

It's getting to be bike commuting season for non-crazy cyclists. Maybe this will be inspiring to someone?

Act One: The Beginning

I think it was in the summer of 2005, when I decided I'd take Martine out for a bike ride in her trailer. I wasn't cycling very much then, but I felt like I should get in better shape so I could be more active with Martine.

In those days we still had a garage. I opened the door, but my bike was gone: it was stolen. Bummer! We had another bike, but the only trailer attachment I had was on the stolen bike. That ruined the afternoon's plans, and I had to file an insurance claim. (For future reference: before you file an insurance claim, find out what your deductable is, or you may do a lot of work for nothing.)

I really didn't like the other bike I had. I wanted a new one. But I didn't ride enough to justify buying a new one. So I decided that to prove I would use a bike enough to make it worth buying one, I'd start riding my bike to work.

So, one weekend shortly after that I rode a test route to work and back. It was horrible in almost every way possible. I rode both ways at once without a break; it was about 14 hilly miles. I chose a bad route, basically the opposite direction from how I go now. Riding across the Swinburne bridge and up the hill, I ended up dry heaving in the Sestili Nursery parking lot from too much effort. I then went onto Boulevard of the Allies, and rode up the hill where the cars speed by very quickly, in 2 lanes with no shoulders.

But, I did it. I learned that I needed to choose a better route, but more importantly, I learned that I could do it.

Riding to and from work was a easier than riding both ways at once, especially when I found better routes, but it was still very challenging. It seemed like every time I rode, it was easier than the last time. This part of the practice/performance curve is the perfect environment for a Jack of All Trades: small investments in time reap large improvements in performance. It's really fun to get better quickly, but you eventually hit a ceiling, where improvement becomes increasingly difficult.

In the mean time, I researched the kind of bike I wanted to buy. I settled on a touring bike as being the right match for my needs: cargo capacity, sturdy enough to ride on potholes, but optimized for riding on the road and for comfort. I researched the new models I might be interested in, as well as some well-regarded older touring bikes.

Eventually, a 1985 Trek 620 came up on craigslist for $50, and I drove to Ohio in the Insight to snatch it up. It had some original parts, but was also a bit frankensteined for commuting use. I butchered it up a bit more, and started riding it instead of my other bike.

I loved it! I liked riding it, and I liked working on it. I didn't really want a new bike anymore, after that... but more old ones might not be so bad. The good thing about getting old bikes was that it allowed me to try a lot of things, before deciding what I liked best.

It turns out this wasn't the best bike for me. It wasn't really the right fit or geometry, and it was overall quite ugly. I traded the frame and fork for another Trek which I still ride; and some of the other components are still in use on my various bikes. Considering the use I've gotten out of its parts, that original Trek was probably one of the most effective $50 I've ever spent on bikes.

Act Two: Making Lemonade

I kept on biking to work, but not every day. I didn't ride in the rain. Or really, I didn't ride when I thought it was going to rain, which turned out to be a lot more often than when it was actually raining. I stopped riding when the forecast was "too cold," which might have meant in the 40's.

At one point, I ran into Daniel on the way home from work. He also works in South Side and lives in the east end. I didn't know he rode to work. I had a lot of questions, since he seemed a lot more experienced with this whole "bike to work" thing. "Do you ride when it's cold? Do you ride when it's wet?" Those things seemed reserved for crazy people. He rode more in the cold than the wet. He was also a lot faster than I was. He was trying to have a conversation with me, while I could only huff and puff in response, if I wanted to keep up. It was quite inspiring.

Around 2006, some pivotal events started shaping my bicycle commuting. They shut down some lanes on the Birmingham Bridge to refurbish it. Then, they started work on the bike/pedestrian span of the Hot Metal Bridge, which required obstructing traffic on the car span. pair Networks, where I work, is situated directly between these two links from South Side to the north side of the river. When one of them was closed, traffic was really screwed up. When both closed, it was pure hell.

By this point, riding to work took a bit of effort, it was harder than driving; but it was really not a challenge anymore. The construction made it so painful to drive that I drove less and less, and rode more and more. Riding became easier and easier, and driving became harder and harder.

I also started to get crazy. I started riding even though it might rain, because usually it didn't. I bought rain clothes so I wouldn't get wet even if it did rain. It turns out that if you're prepared for the weather, it's really not that difficult or uncomfortable to ride in. I got a headlight to ride after daylight savings time, and fenders to keep myself dry. Little by little, I replaced all those parts we all tore off our bikes when we were kids because they weren't cool.

Act Three: Deciding Not To Decide

In February of 2007, Marla got in a car accident, and the Honda Insight was totalled. She broke her back, and we didn't have or need two cars for a while. When it came time to figure out the "car" situation, we weighed our options. At that point, just living with 1 car didn't seem like a viable option.

We bought another Honda, a used Civic. I enjoyed it even more than the Hyundai we still have. But the traffic was still horrible. I rarely drove to work at this point. I realized I didn't need to drive to work anymore, and then I decided I wasn't going to drive to work anymore.

Deciding not to drive gets its own act, because it made a big impact on my riding, and on my frame of mind. By deciding not to drive, I made one decision to ride, instead of making a new decision every morning. Those small decisions waste time and energy thinking about things that are unimportant.

After I decided not to decide, riding became easier. It's easy to drive to work, if that's "just what you do." You don't think about the alternatives, you just do it and get to work. It's routine. No problem. The transition between two different routines causes strife: which way do you want to do it today? Once I decided on a new routine and settled into it, things became easy again.

Then, Marla and I started paying attention to how often we used both cars at the same time, and how often we "needed" both cars at the same time. It turned out that even without making an effort to change our behavior, we almost never used two cars. When we did use two cars, it was almost always an unnecessary impulse trip. When we sold the Honda in February 2008, we had put less than a thousand miles on it. We became a single car family, instead of just a single driver family.

We've had one car for a bit over a year now, and I have no regrets other than "we should've done it sooner," or "we never should've bought the Civic." I don't enjoy driving, Marla does almost all the driving even when I'm there.

The cost savings of having only one car is huge. Just the price of auto insurance for a year would buy me a more expensive bike than I've ever bought all in one piece (but don't ask me to add up the price of all those parts). We've had other benefits, like not being tempted to go on impulse shopping trips. I suppose it could be considered inconvenient sometimes, but at this point I'm back to being used to having only one car, so it's just "normal."


I don't expect everyone, or really anyone, to do what I've done. It's not my intent to scare people away from commuting by bicycle because they don't want to do it all the time. The most important point I should make is that I'm sure I never would have commuted by bike if it wasn't fun.

Don't feel the need to take every opportunity to ride instead of driving. Instead, remember that any time you can ride a bike instead of driving is a chance to have fun, improve your health, do less damage to the environment, and spend less money.

"Deciding not to decide" doesn't mean "deciding not to drive." It means setting clear, measurable criteria, and sticking to them. My rule was "I don't drive to work." Someone else might decide "I'll ride instead of driving if I'm going less than 2 miles and it's not raining." Even this small commitment can provide the benefits of "deciding not to decide," if you stick with it and allow it to become routine.

Have a good ride!

Drying Parts

Dad suggested I could use my forced-air heat (as limited as it is these days) to dry my chair parts faster. I did this a bit already with some stool legs, but I had figured these parts would be sitting around long enough to be dry by the time I'm done with the stool portion of the chair.

Tonight I turned a preliminary set of back posts (I'll see if I like the shape or not). Now I have all the turnings and spindles done for one chair, but the spindles are still much wetter than I expected. When I brought the parts upstairs to put them by a heating vent, I remembered another reason I didn't do this yet: there's no place upstairs the parts would be safe from kids using them as play swords, and probably hurting each other.

So, I set up a hanging support in front of the vent in the basement (and opened it, for the first time in years). It isn't enclosed, so it probably won't overheat things, but it'll be a lot more dry there. I also found a use for a few of those old botched leg turnings I had lying around...


Blingtastic Fenders

I put two pairs of the Velo-Orange fenders in my shopping cart, and realized that they are probably too wide to fit properly in the brakes on my green bike. Unfortunately the VO fenders don't come narrower than 45mm, and I know my brakes hit the 45mm SKS fenders.

So I looked into new brakes. Maybe some nice centerpulls would work? Velo-Orange has some. Or I could look for a pair of Mafac Racers on ebay.

Luckily, I realized I was being silly. Instead of buying new fenders and new brakes, I ordered the more expensive Honjo fenders in the proper size, instead. These have a polished and hammered finish, which produces an effect similar to a disco ball. They're very pretty, and fit well with the overall look I'm going for with this bike. They're also very long, especially in the front. No mudflap will be required, but I'll have to be careful hopping curbs.

Bending Sticks

I had some free time today, so I decided to bend the rods for the rodback chair.

I built the steam box a week or so ago. The bottom board is a 11" wide pine board, and the upper portions are made from dimensional 2"x6" lumber. It's heavy, but it works. There are 3 dowels set into the box, to raise the parts to be bent above the bottom of the box.

I closed the box as Brian Cunfer did: using open-celled foam (like chair seat foam). Where the box sits over the pot, there's a 4-5" hole. I used 3/4" or 1" foam at the seam with the pot to make sure it's sealed fairly well. In each end of the box I used a chunk of 1 1/2" thick foam to seal the ends, while still letting steam pressure out. The wood joints are sealed either with gorilla glue or silicone.

I made two bending forms from 2"x6" lumber screwed onto plywood. One side has the shape of the rod, and there are blocks to wedge the rod against and hold it into place. The parts should dry on the form, so in order to have a spare "just in case," I made two forms so I could bend two parts at once.

The rodback sticks are about 20" long. I shaved one from ash a week or so ago. The other I made today, out of the odd greenish/yellowish open grained wood I haven't managed to identify well yet.

I steamed them for 45 minutes in the steam box. The pan started about half full of water, and didn't come close to running out. After that, you have to work quickly: bring the stick to the bending form, bend it into place, and pound wedges in to hold it onto the form.

The ash felt quite stiff when I bent it; basically what you'd expect a green stick from a tree to feel like when you bend it. It didn't crack, so the initial bend was a success. But, I wouldn't be surprised if it sprung back at least a bit after it has dried.

When I bent the other stick, it felt the way I remember from the previous times I bent parts. The stick resists bending pressure, but then releases. I want to describe it as a "chalky" feeling, though I'm not sure why. I'm more confident this stick will stay bent.

Neither of the bends were immediate failures, but we'll see if they stay bent in a week when I take them out. I think it's likely they will both work.

While I'm waiting for the spindles and rods for the chair to dry, I'll build the lower half of the chair: basically, everything I've already done for stools, but with a place to install the top. I'll drill the holes for the top before I carve it, but the upper portion isn't assembled until after the entire stool is complete.


It Comes in Pints?

Dee got my "It Comes in Pints?" reference, so I thought I'd post a picture of my "It Comes in Pints?" mugs.

For those of you not familiar with this quote, it's one of my favorite lines from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. After entering a human Inn for the first time ever, Merry, Pippin, and Frodo sit down for a few beers.
Pippin: "What's that!?"
Merry: "This, my friend, is a pint."
Pippin: "It comes in pints? I'm getting one!"
My sister Sarah is a potter, so a few years back I asked for an "It comes in pints" mug, inspired by the ones they used in the movie. The mugs above are what she came up with (the pint mug is shown for size comparison). They fit a pint with room for head (which is generally hefty on my home brews).

Thanks, Sarah!


Defendered 2: Electric Boogaloo

"Yep... That went well."

Same deal, different wheel.

I got another stick stuck while riding home from work through the park, this time in my front wheel. Now I have a pair of broken fenders. I'm going to go order another pair or maybe two, after I'm finished here.

The quick release worked well. The fender stay bent and the fender broke in one place (instead of two), but the quick release released, and it didn't even really stop me, let alone send me over the handlebars. Apparently I forgot to knock on wood after saying I didn't want to test the quick release fender stays.

After breaking the rear fender, I realized I need a rear fender, because I need something to keep my leather saddle dry. I transplanted the wider rear fender from my blue bike, cringing the whole time at the mismatched pair, I'm sorry to say. It fit well enough, but it's completely unsatisfying.

I'm going to get a pair of the Velo-Orange aluminum fenders. Solid aluminum fenders are longer, lighter, and stronger than the "alumiplast" laminated fenders I have. They won't crumple the way these do, when a stick gets stuck. As an added benefit, the VO fenders are long enough in the front that I can do without a mudflap, and I might even be able to learn Yehuda's trick.

In the mean time, I hope it doesn't rain. Wait, isn't it supposed to rain tomorrow? sigh...


A Slight Change of Plans

In the last few days, I figured out how my angle calculation tool was incorrect, and fixed it. Now it's correct, just not very convenient to use. The reference axes are a bit "here and there" so you really need a sense of what makes sense, in order to extract the right answer.

I then went over all of my previous calculations, and made corrections to the seat plan.

Luckily, the amount of error in an angle calculation was directly related to how far away from perpendicular the hole is. Because of this, the errors on my spindle angles were so small that they almost all rounded off in the same direction as before. The exception was with the outside posts, which had to shift their sight angle by half a degree.

Today, I used my new plan to drill test holes for the back spindles in a scrap of dimensional lumber, to see if the back matched my expectations. It was basically a complete success: I have nothing to change with these angles. The tops of the spindles form a good curve (when viewed from above), and they're evenly spaced. As shown here, I built up the test back with some spindles I've already shaved, along with some sections of 1/2" pipe. The pipe is a lot straighter, and allows better measurements. (I picked this tip up on Peter Galbert's blog as well, unsurprisingly.)

This gave me better information than I had about the shape of the seat back. The top of the end posts here are close to where the horizontal rod will end up. It's wider in relation to its height than I expected. Obviously, my spindles are too long; I'll need to trim them down on both ends and/or make some new ones. I think it'll look fine when it's finished, but it will be a significantly smaller chair than the bow back I made previously. This is good, since that's what I was aiming for.

Back to the plans: My original leg lines were a complete mess. I couldn't even figure out the values I used to I calculate them, let alone the error introduced by the tool. Always show your work! They were reasonable angles, and would have made an adequate chair, but they wouldn't have matched my original intent. From a design perspective, I don't know whether my plans or the old angles would result in a better chair, but I'm going to try my original plans and work from there.

I've already shaved some spindles, and they need to dry a lot before I can use them. I'm not using a kiln right now, so I really need let them sit around for a while: hurry up and wait. Next I need to make the top rod, bend it, and let it dry as well.

This requires a steam box, so I started building one. It is small, 30" long, becuase I plan to use it in the kitchen. We'll see how well it ends up working in the next week or so. I also need to accurately measure the location for the rod, so I can figure out how long to make it and build a bending form.


Change and Technology

I learned at a fairly early age that I "fear change." I had a lot of stress entering new schools or changing jobs, for example.

Eventually I also learned that I'm "risk averse," especially with respect to finances.

But some of my other characteristics do not seem to fit these labels. While I don't generally consider myself an "early adopter", I am very comfortatble with technology, gadgets, and the change that is propelling our increasingly "digital lifestyle." This doesn't seem consistent with my "fear of change."

I recently found the name for a pattern which is consistent with all of my self-observations. I hate to admit it, but just like almost everyone else in the world, I have a fear of the unknown. The difference is, the things which are unknown to me are different than what is unknown to many other people.

Although I'm very comfortable with the predictable nature of computers, I am very uncomfortable with social interaction with other people. I don't know how other people will react in a social situation, and when people start behaving aberrantly I don't know how to to debug them. The fact that I call it "debugging" is probably another indicator of where I'm coming from. Some of the strongest negative memories I have are related to social fauxes pas I've made in the past. The unknowns I'm afraid of almost always have to do with people and social situations. The fact that I fear failure in a social situation means I must care about this; I'm just not very good at it.

On the other hand, I know that many other people are afraid of the unknowns related with technological change. I know this, because businesses are throwing millions of dollars trying to stifle certain forms of technological innovation, and lawmakers are trying to pass laws against certain previously unanticipated uses of technology, even when the constituents I'm most familiar with and most sympathetic with disagree with these policies. From my perspective, there must be a very great fear of the unknown or fear of change driving these dangerous trends.

I don't remember exactly who made this observation, but it stuck with me: Generally, when businesses imagine potential uses of technological innovations, they tend to frame things in a way which benefits the business, but doesn't harm or significantly change their current business model. They imagine the current industry leaders will be able to take advantage of the benefits of new technology without significantly changing or impacting their current business practices.

The biggest current example of this is the electronic distribution of content (of any form), versus the incumbent physical object distribution industries: The Internet vs. Everyone Else. Making a copy of electronic content is essentially free, and that copy can be made at almost any remote location just as easily as where the original resides. On the other hand, books, magazines, photographs, movies, and even audio CDs have huge costs associated with them, both in making the copy, but also in moving, storing, promoting, and selling the physical objects themselves.

The incumbent content distribution industries saw the Internet from a long way away, but they imagined a world where they would benefit from the reduced costs of making copies for free, while still acting as a distribution oligopoly. Step 3: Profit!

The reality is somewhat different: reducing the cost of a copy to zero lowers the barrier of entry so far that it's a risk to incumbent businesses. Many middleman companies have become irrelevant, because content creators and the end users of content can now connect directly and bypass them completely. In my mind, this is a good thing, and we should embrace it. Unfortunately, the industries which no longer need to exist are bleeding money in an effort to resist change, instead of finding a successful place in the new world which is to come.

In recent months I've read some very good articles describing the changes which are currently going on, and some of them have positive suggestions for how incumbent industries might change to survive in the new reality.

Clay Shirky recently wrote an excellent article about how the newspaper industry has been dealing with technological change (or not dealing with it, as the case may be) in the last few decades. One quote (about the syndicated newspaper column, specifically) which really stuck with me, from the early 90's, rings as true today as it was then, but unfortunately no one was listening: "When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem."

Ian Rogers gave a talk to the Record Industry basically about how they need to get over it, and either change (with suggestions on how to do this) or die. Seth Godin gave a similar talk about the future of the music industry, to a bunch of music industry execs a year ago. They both seem to agree that the music industry is not failing, but the recording industry is; and, that this should not matter at all to the primary parties involved: the artists, and their fans.

I understand the Internet and the change it has brought, so I do not fear it. What I do fear is the reaction other people (or industries) are having to that change. It may be a painful change, but in the long run I think it'll be better for all people and the welfare of the planet itself, when we can all access the content we want to access, without the waste associated with the creation, distribution, and disposal of physical objects.



The days are getting longer, so I got out the summer bike. Today was chilly, but a good day for a ride anyway. Daniel and I took an interesting route home, and rode through the park.

We parted ways, and I stayed in the park for a while longer. Going up the last hill towards the old Center for Creative Play, I heard a "Crunch!" and skidded to a stop. It felt like my chain broke or got caught in my spokes or something.

Nope! My rear wheel kicked up a stick, which got caught in my fender. I didn't even see the stick before I stopped to check it out. The fender basically exploded; there are pieces still sitting on the trail.

So, now I have a bunch of spare fender mounting hardware, but I need a new fender. Unfortunately they only come in pairs. A week or so ago, my blue bike's front fender cracked off where the mudflap attaches. So I sort of need a new fender there as well. Unfortunately they're different sizes, and the mismatched pair probably won't really fit on either bike very well.

In case you're wondering: the front fender has quick-release attachments for the fender stays, which should let the fender detach before my front wheel locks up and send me head over heels. I'm not very anxious to test that theory, though.


Making Plans

"I love it when a plan comes together."

On Monday, I drew up some plans for my next project: a rod back chair.

Some woodworkers look at windsor chairs, and think they're hard to build. Building windsor chairs isn't difficult, but it is different from other "normal" woodworking. Non-woodworkers don't necessarily think Windsor chairs look hard or easy to build; they have nothing to compare it to. I think the different way of working which windsor chairmaking requires fits well with my longing to extract order from chaos, and my generally intuitive way of solving problems.

The way windsor chair plans are laid out and used is also different from joined furniture plans. The plans tend to be very compressed. A rule of thumb in Information Theory says that "information (as opposed to pure data) is any difference which makes a difference." By that measure, windsor chair plans are nearly pure information: they record only the aspects of a chair which are important, and only those which differ from other chairs. Anything not included in the plans is either not a critical dimension, or it's derived from a partially finished chair in the same way it's done for similar chairs.

In most woodworking, the order of the day is "square corners and flat surfaces." The first step in a project is producing boards with all surfaces perfectly flat, and all corners exactly 90 degrees. Throughout construction, these flat surfaces and right angles act as references for various measurements. If you've done your job, most of these reference surfaces are interchangeable. Many finished projects retain these square angles in the finished construction.

On the other hand, a windsor chair has only one flat surface: the bottom of the seat. You usually can't even see it, which is probably why it's left flat. Most of the parts are never transformed into a flat board: they're split out of logs and turned directly into legs, stretchers, spindles, posts, rods, or bows.

Since the seat is the only flat board used in a chair, it is the only natural reference surface. Because of this, windsor chair plans are centered around the seat. A seat pattern defines the outline of the seat, and the location and angle of every stick which protrudes from it.

Usually, none of the drilling angles for the legs and stretchers are included in a plan, or they are included only as a sanity check. When building a chair, you derive the required drilling angles and stretcher lengths from the partially finished chair instead of using predetermined dimensions, so your chair will fit together even if the legs aren't installed perfectly.

This is another difference between windsor chair building and "other woodworking." In most woodworking projects, you (ideally) construct a number of identical interchangeable parts whose dimensions are all fully specified, and then you assemble them. If you mess up a part, make a new one. You almost never take measurements from a half-finished project and build a part which fits. That would be like hand carving the missing piece from a jigsaw puzzle after it's almost finished.

So, how do you make a chair plan? I don't know. I mean... I don't know how other people do it, and no one ever taught me how, so I figured it out. I may have gotten it wrong.

I started with measured drawings, which I cut and pasted together to show the chair I wanted to make. I know what a finished plan should look like. Making the plan is just translating the drawings into a usable plan. The problem with measured drawings is that many of the measurements are irrelevant, and the rest are not measured in the way a chair maker uses them. To create a plan from a drawing, I had to convert the measurements on the drawing into the measurements used to build the chair.

The biggest conversion task is angles. Measured drawings generally show 3 views: top, front, and side. You can easily measure the rake and splay angles of the legs and spindles from the front and side views of the chair, but these are not the angles used when drilling holes for a chair. Instead, you use an incident angle, which is the angle at which the drill bit enters the seat, and a sight line which tells you which direction to point the drill (the bit is always perpendicular to the sight line).

Apparently Drew Langsner has charts in the back of one of his books, which convert rake and splay angles into incident angles and sight lines. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that book; it's out of print and expensive. But I do have a bachelor's degree in math/computer science, which was even more expensive. So, in lieu of a set of tables, I wrote a script.

Unfortunately, now that I'm "done" with my plan and I'm sitting down to write about it, I see that my script is not giving entirely consistent results. Doh! I'll have to go revisit that before I post a link or build the chair.

I ran into another complication with the drawings I'm working from. This chair has its seat at a 3.5 degree angle in relation to the floor, but the drawings depict everything with the horizon set to the floor, and not to the seat. There was no way to measure the "front" angles properly with relation to the seat. So my script had to take that angle into account as well.

The result of these labors is the plan shown above. As you can see, it only depicts one half of the seat; the other half is a mirror image. I follow Brian Cunfer's practice of using half-patterns, to avoid screwing up half of a pattern and building asymmetrical chairs.

With only a seat plan, there are clearly some undefined aspects of the chair, but only some of them are determined in advance. I'll have to calculate the length of the legs to achieve the proper seat height, but the shape of the turnings isn't very important from a structural standpoint as long as the leg is thick enough at the joints. The stretcher lengths and angles are measured from the position of the legs in the chair. The post lengths are chosen from a design perspective, and the spindles are made long enough to fit the bent rod. The rod itself needs to have the proper length and curve to meet the spindles and bows properly, but if I've calculated the spindle angles correctly they'll match the measured bow from my drawings.

There's a saying that "In carpentry, you work to the nearest 1/16th of an inch. In woodworking, you work to the nearest 1/64th of an inch. In boatmaking, you work to the nearest boat." In other words, it's more important to keep water out of the boat, than it is to get the measurements correct. Stated another way, this applies to windsor chairmaking as well: It's more important for your parts to fit together properly, than for the measurements to be correct.

A Painted Perch

Last weekend, I finished the perch.

I painted it with one coat of Real Milk Paint's new Butternut Squash color, followed by 3 coats of Mustard. I also used their anti-foam agent, and it made a big difference in reducing foam and generally making the paint easier to apply.

I think with milk paint, once it looks almost good enough, it's time to stop: "better is the enemy of good." Whenever I add "just one more thin coat in the spots that need it" I end up worse off, and have to smooth things out more than I'd prefer. Maybe it just doesn't work to apply the paint when it's too watered down.

After the paint, I applied 2 coats of Minwax wipe-on poly, as usual. In the picture above you can see what a big difference it makes to the color. I'm quite happy with the final color. The dark parts of the first image are more representative of the color than the washed out second image. I think the Squash undercoat made it darker overall, but luckily the yellow covered it enough, because they didn't seem to go well together.

Marla's initial reaction to the seating position wasn't very favorable. It's quite a bit higher than the other stools she has been sitting on, and it pitched her forward more than she'd prefer. I sat on it, and found myself sliding down the seat too much; maybe the poly wasn't the best finish for this?

I trimmed the rear legs off by about an inch, but we're not sure yet whether this will be the final position. Hopefully we'll stop trimming before we reach the stretchers. I think to a certain extent, her desk ought to be raised up a bit, because we previously had it adjusted for a lower seating position. Luckily it is very adjustable, if we're willing to clear it off.

This was a really fun stool to build. Everything went well, and I didn't make any major mistakes, but it was also different from the other chairs and stools I've made.



"It comes in litres? I'm getting one!"

Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh opened today, for dinner. They're still laying brick sidewalks and pouring concrete outside, but they've started pouring beer inside. It's located in Southside Works, about 2 blocks from my work.

For the last few days, they've been training. Those with a special invitation could go eat free food while tormenting the waitresses-in-training with special orders, though you still had to pay for beer.

Well, Daniel works in Southside Works proper, instead of just next to it, so they all got invitations at his company. He went for lunch on Friday, and they invited our family for lunch on Saturday.

It was a nice day, so I rode down with Martine on the trail-a-bike, and Marla and Ezra drove out to join us (I still need to work on that). We met Kristan, and then waited for Daniel and Levi to arrive via bus from their St. Patrick's Day festivities. They let us in before Daniel arrived to facilitate things. It turns out the "Invitation" was really nothing more than instructions to ignore the huge "We aren't open, we're in training" sign.

The food is provided in huge portions and would be expensive if we were paying for it. They have a veritable plethora of meat products whose construction you wouldn't want to observe, as well as a larger than expected selection of "not German, strictly speaking" food, including vegetarian options. It tasted fine, but my dish was easy: Caesar salad with blackened salmon. Marla had Alfredo and enjoyed it. I tasted the Tilapia, which was also just fine. I guess I'm not a very good food critic, but my tastes lean more towards non-european ethnic foods.

The building itself is as just as you'd expect: it's the nicest looking giant faux German beer hall in town. It has huge ceilings, and the "long bench" table seating. They don't seem to use the "meet your neighbors" dining style as it would be done in Germany, but we had a fairly large party in a fairly empty hall, so it didn't really matter.

Finally, the beer! Well, it's German beer, Hofbräu beer. It's now brewed on premises, but they got a bit of a head start; I think they had Penn Brewery contract brewing before they opened. They had the Hefeweizen, Lager, and Dunkel when we were there, but in general they're also supposed to have a Light and one seasonal beer. Dan and I had a liter of the Hefeweizen, and the wives ordered a sampler. I think I prefer the Hefeweizen out of the choices they had there, with the lager taking a surprise 2nd place. It's not Belgian, but they give you a whole liter to make up for the lower alcohol content. It's also only a bit over $7 for 1l, which is less than some 20-35cl servings of Belgian beer on tap at Sharp Edge.

Now that I've gone once, I won't be disappointed to follow my original plan, which was to not go at all for a few months, while I let everyone else try out the New Popular Restaurant. Though, they have around 500 seats inside, and they're supposed to have several hundred more outdoors (though those aren't done yet), so I don't expect they'll be really crowded until Oktoberfest.


Whole Lotta Wood

Last night I turned the large, excellent maple (I think?) log section I had into leg blanks. I wanted to get the leg blanks turned early so they can dry a bit and stabilize before I turn final legs out of them. I have 6 leg blanks and maybe 2-3 back posts, 24" long with no knots or runout at all. It's definitely the best log I've found so far for turning legs and stretchers.

So tonight, I went back and got some more: two and a half 5' long sections of log (some split), about 10-12" diameter. You can see those pieces in the rear left of this image. I should be able to get two more chairs worth of legs out of those, while avoiding the knots.

On the right in the rear there's a standing cherry log which is unfortunately rotten, and a pile of split cherry in front of it. In front of that is a stack of ash and possibly elm, about 3' long. The ash is very straight, but the elm is a bit wavy and has some knots.

I have enough wood. Maybe. Wood for shaving spindles and bows is scarce, but I'd expect that. If only I could find an oak log as straight and clear as that maple, but accessible enough to retrieve...

Now I need to assess the pile I have sitting in the basement, and determine which pieces would be better off burned than turned. I'm going to guess "most of them" is the best answer.

The bags in front are all full of shavings, and the boxes are larger scraps. Unfortunately I must've cut a log with some mold growing in it, because the wet green shavings in my barrel started to mold severely and quickly. I hope the shavings are at least useful to burn, if they aren't useful for chicken bedding.

Now I have wood, so I'll need a plan. This one won't be as easy as the stools, but at least I have some good practice "legging up". Unless I find or buy some good bow stock, I can't build one of the chairs I've already built. I don't want another sack back arm chair anyway, and the bow back side chair needs an even longer bow. It would require a piece of perfectly clear, perfectly straight oak (or similar) about 5' long.

On the other hand, if I can't get any spindles out of the logs I have, I'll have to buy wood anyway, so I may as well buy a bow, too.

Leaving bows out of the equation, there are several chairs which would not require such demanding wood: a comb back, a fan back, or a rod back.

But why do I need yet another different side chair? Oh, I know! The kitchen! We could have two separate sets of matching chairs, right? Half finished sets that I might never complete!

Brilliant! Now I just need some plans for the chair itself.

The rod back is a later Windsor form, from around 1800 or so. It's less formal, and the design is heavily influenced by asian furniture. It uses the "bamboo" style turnings that I prefer, and it's a smaller chair than the bow back, so it would make a nice kitchen chair. Overall, I really like the look of these chairs.

The main downside is, seats in these later "degenerate" windsor forms typically aren't saddled as deeply, which sacrifices most of the Windsor form's famous comfort. I may decide to just saddle it more deeply anyway.

There is a measured drawing of a fairly nice looking rod back chair in John Kassay's windsor chair book, which has enough detail that I think I can make a plan for it. I'm not very happy with the splay of the legs, but I'm not sure whether I really want to start experimenting with the plans for a chair I've never built.

Whether or not I build a chair with a long bow, I'll need to start a few new processes and set up some more equipment. Mainly, I'll need to build a steam box, get a propane cylinder, and build bending forms for whatever bent parts I need on the chair I'm building.

So my next step ought to be to determine what size spindle I'll need for a rod back, and try shaving one out of the wood I have. If that's a no-go, I'll have to buy wood, so I may just get a bow as well and make another bow back.

In the end, we may never have any matching set of chairs. But if we do have enough chairs to sit in, and they're all hand made by me, then I'll still like them a lot better than the ones we use now, even if they don't happen to match.


A Perch

A woodworking update: I've completed a Perch using the plans Peter Galbert posted on his blog. I haven't painted it yet, because I'm not sure I want another red stool.

Two of the legs and both stretchers were turned from the first batch of logs I found in the park. They started out looking like the firewood sitting on the floor in this image, and ended up looking like the leg on the lathe.

I turned this leg too soon after bringing the log in from the 20F weather outside: the wood was still frozen. I couldn't get any clean cuts on it, so for the other two legs I just turned them round and let them warm up and dry a bit before finishing them. Although I planned to clean up the first leg later, it ended up way too warped to even consider this.

The third leg, this one's replacement, I turned from some Hackberry dad left down here at Christmas time. When I first turned all the legs, I thought this might also be a hackberry log, but now I think it's more likely Elm. I know these are not ideal leg woods, but they'll be strong enough, and the details on bobbin legs are minimal and not easy to screw up, even with wood that doesn't hold detail well.

More news on the Free Wood front: near Martine's school, 3 or 4 trees toppled down on top of each other in the woods. One of them split and splintered on its way down. Someone was almost hit by another one, when they fell. I waited until they cut them into smaller pieces, and today we went and collected some. I have some long, straight, clear sections of I think Maple which will make some nice legs. I may have to bring a wedge and mallet and go back for more, this is really nice wood. I also got another cherry log because it was there, and some more of this open-grained greenish yellow colored wood I'm having such a hard time identifying properly.

In this picture, you can see my increasing collection of spindles, under my bench. These are all from the logs I've collected, and hopefully they'll eventually turn into legs, stretchers, or wooden boxes.

It's quite fun to rough out spindles from the log, but it feels like a big waste to create so much waste wood in the form of chips. But then I remember the city's wood crew trucks, which chip all of the logs as soon as they clean them up. Even if only a tiny fraction of the wood I collect ends up being used in a project, it's still better than leaving it on the ground and letting it rot. The rest will go to my in-laws' where they'll use it for chicken bedding, or burning for maple syrup.

There are some really depressingly nice, huge, straight, 2' diameter, 6' long logs in the park that I just can't think of any good way to retrieve. It pains me to see them sitting there, ready to start rotting at any moment. I could probably get back bows out of those logs, if I could get them out of the park.

Peter Galbert does a few things differently than I've done on previous chairs and stools, so I learned a bit on this Perch. First, he drills his holes from the top down. Since they're angled, the hole enters and leaves the seat at a different place: you need to know whether to drill from the top down or bottom up, in order to get your legs in the right place.

When I drilled from the bottom up on previous stools, I didn't have problems with tearout: I just carved it away when I carved the seat. But this time, I left unsightly scars on the bottom, unfortunately. Let this be a lesson to me! I need to use a backing board or a better bit (see below).

Peter also leaves more of his seat uncarved than I am used to, before assembly. This was a very fun seat to carve, but I didn't really enjoy the new, improved clamping challenges posed by finishing the seat after assembly. The shape of this seat is quite nice, and the lines flow well and make sense, once you actually do it. Again, Peter's videos helped a lot in remembering the carving steps, and they'll help for my next shield-shaped seat as well, I'm sure.

One detail worth noting on this image is the blood on the front leg: I cut myself while fondling one of my tools. It wasn't even the cutting edge. But it wasn't as bad as my previous cut, from sharpening my drawkife. Drawknives look dangerous and imposing, but most of the time you aren't near the cutting edge. Except when you're sharpening them.

Speaking of better bits, I bought another 5/8" spur point bit. What an amazing difference! My old bit took forever to cut, dulled itself cutting through even relatively soft wood, and burnished the holes. It was one of the highly rated bits from Highland Woodworking, and it sucked straight out of the box. I replaced it with a no-name bit I got locally at Rockler, and what a huge difference it made! I've only used it on the Perch's undercarriage so far, but it's already far better than the other bit ever was.

This time, I think I finally cut my wedges thin enough. I can never seem to sink them deeply enough into the legs.

In this picture you can see the bins of childrens' clothes and other "stuff" that will be sold at the annual Pittsburgh Mothers' Center Kids' Stuff Sale. But it may be more interesting to note the angle of the seat: yes, it really does pitch you forward as much as it looks like it will; but this is a good thing.

The future is looking bright, with respect to me keeping enough momentum to complete an actual chair before slipping into a different hobby for a while. I guess I'll have to start doing some drawing to figure out exactly what it is I want to make.

And now, finally, the image you've been waiting for: the finished perch. Marla's initial sit upon it sounded promising, so we'll see how that goes.

Seat carving is an area where I seem to be improving. I look at the chairs I made in classes, and they're downright rough and lumpy compared to my more recent stools. This pine is a real pain with tearout, especially where the curves leave high and low spots on the grain. But this time, I managed to scrape the seat enough to move straight to 220 grit, so that's good.

I used the superglue to stop some checks in the bottom of the seat: hopefully this will prevent them from getting much worse over time, but we'll see. The grey chair in the background isn't a "real" windsor, it's a factory chair I got at a yard sale for $2.

That's it for now, it's late. Damn Daylight Stealing Time, I never can get used to the time change.


The New Television

Television sucks.

Well, not entirely: most television sucks.

But to paraphrase Sturgeon's law: of course 90% of television is crap; 90% of everything is crap.

Despite my general opinions, not all television shows are horrible, even though most of them are. But even if you find a show which is a good match for your preferences, television as a medium has some severe problems:
  1. excessive advertisements
  2. time restrictions of the broadcast model: you watch when they broadcast it
  3. poor broadcast quality of analog TV
  4. requirement for a cable subscription to watch certain shows
  5. serialization: new episodes are only available once per week
For many people, Tivo and other DVR's solve the first two problems adequately: they allow for both time shifting, and skipping ads. But they don't solve problems with either broadcast quality or cable subscriptions. Tivo is not the new television.

I enjoy digital broadcast TV slightly more than analog, but in reality I think it's irrelevant. Like Blu-Ray, it's too little, too late, and possibly even solving the wrong problem. Digital TV solves problem #3, but basically nothing else; this only mattered for people who didn't already have digital cable anyway. Digital broadcast is also not the new television.

For a long time, our solution to all of these problems has been Netflix. We borrowed the TV series we wanted to watch, after they had already hit DVD. We watched episodes when we wanted, and as many as we wanted, without commercials. But then, we ran out of episodes we wanted to watch on DVD. In terms of content and delivery, DVD's are roughly equivalent to the 1980's technology of VHS tapes of TV shows; they are definitely not the new television.

For watching an ongoing series, our next obvious step was the Internet. Individual channels, including cable channels such as the Sci-Fi channel, put their broadcast shows on the Internet a day or a week after their broadcast date. Web sites such as Hulu aggregate various shows and stream all of them from a central location. This allowed us to watch episodes whenever we wanted, long before they became available on DVD, while avoiding most (but not all) of the commercials. But this is just a new distribution channel for shows which are produced in long-entrenched Hollywood tradition. The Internet is a necessary afterthought, but not the primary distribution mechansim. This is very close to the new television, but not quite.

The new television isn't television at all: you don't need television, to create a good video production. Broadcast and cable television are expensive broadcast media. They pay for content to be created, but they don't create content. Often, they stifle others' creative efforts in the name of the bottom line, because national network broadcast is a very expensive part of allowing a show to succeed.

As a broadcast medium, the Internet is enough by itself: television is not required. The Internet is a much cheaper broadcast channel, and its cost is proportional to its audience. The proportional cost to broadcast, combined with inexpensive Internet marketing, can allow shows to succeed even if they have a small audience. Allowing a show to cater to a smaller audience allows it to follow its creative vision more closely, instead of trying to appeal to a "least common denominator" audience.

In some ways, Youtube is the new television: it certainly replaces "America's Funniest Home Videos" without any problem. But it is, by all accounts, quite amateur and unpredictable in its production qualities.

There are other Internet-only productions, which have met with various degrees of success. These are the New Television.

Video podcasts have already had success as Internet-only video talk shows, but this is not what I think of when I consider high quality television shows. I think of fictional drama or comedy, well written and well produced. I will admit that currently, the best Internet productions are aimed at an audience which is geekier than average. But geeks are early adopters. Other less geeky shows will follow in the footsteps of the geek, and take the limelight they desire (but that the geeks do not).

If you want to witness the future of television, I have a few recommendations:
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a musical produced by Joss Whedon, who became famous for the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. It was produced with a low budget during the Hollywood writer's strike, and released directly to the Internet.
  • The Guild is an ongoing serial show based on the trials and tribulations of a guild of online video gamers. The show just finished its second season, and the episodes range anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes in length. This points out another problem with Old Television: "43 minutes plus 17 minutes of commercials" is an extremely limiting format. There's no reason, from the perspective of a show's creator, why every episode must have the same length with commercials in the same location. That restriction is imposed by the broadcaster, not the content creator.
  • Escape from City-17 is an online short (hopefully, a series) inspired by the video game Half-Life. It is notable for having an extremely small budget, while using video effects which surpass anything available on network television 10-20 years ago.
Eventually, calling shows like these "Internet TV" will seem as quaint and anachronistic as using an icon of a floppy disk for the "save" function, or using an icon of an envelope to signify "e-mail." In the end, The New Television isn't television at all, and that is what makes it new.

Beer Batch #24: Lager? I don't even know her!

Brewing in our house in the winter is problematic. Ale yeast usually wants temperatures above 65F, and lager yeast wants to ferment at under 55F. Our limited climate control generally varies the house temperature between 65F in the day, and 60F at night, and even the basement gets above 55 regularly.

So, I found White Labs San Francisco Lager Yeast. This is a lager yeast that ferments best from 58F to 65F. My theory is, this is the Anchor Steam yeast; Anchor Steam beer is theoretically a lager brewed at Ale temperatures. I have no evidence for this, but Anchor is from San Francisco, and their Steam Beer is a well known and resepected brew.

"Lager?" is a fairly generic beer, and just happens to use this yeast so it would ferment well in my house. For this batch, I wasn't trying to create a specific style, I basically just used ingredients I had on hand.

Lager? I dont even know her!

Brew Date: Feb 8, 2009

Ingredients for a 5 gallon batch:
  • 1lb Munton Crystal Malt, 60L
  • 1oz Millenium hops, pellets 15AA
  • 6lb LD Carlson Breiss DME, Pilsen Light
  • 1oz New Zealand organic Hallertau hops, 8.6AA
  • 1tsp Irish Moss (for clarity)
  • White Labs WLP810 San Francisco Lager Yeast
  1. Steep crystal malt in 2.5-3 gal H2O for 30 minutes, approximately 160F
  2. Add Malt Extract
  3. Boil for 60 minutes total
    • Millenium hops boil for 60 minutes
    • Hallertau hops boil for 15 minutes
    • Irish moss boil for 15 minutes
  4. Chill wort, aiming for to 65-75F final temperature for 5 gallons
  5. Pitch yeast starter
Original Gravity: 1.056
  • I started the yeast on Feb 3rd, using more DME than I expected, G=1.090 in the starter!
  • The yeast worked really well, both in the starter and in the primary fermenter.
  • Pitched yeast with the wort at about 65F; lower than I had hoped.
  • Fermentation was obviously active by 2am that day
  • Once again, Marla had to replace the airlock with a blowoff tube while I was at work, to avoid a huge mess.
  • February 15: rack to secondary fermenter; Gravity = 1.026
  • March 2: Gravity = 1.020
  • March 5: Keg it. Gravity = 1.019
So far, this beer basically tastes fine; it's not extraordinary or different than much of anything, but it's pleasantly drinkable. And, it fits with my general tastes: not too hoppy, with a bit of sweetness. My apparent attenuation (percent of sugar which was fermented; different yeasts act differently in this regard) is slightly less than expected for this yeast, so it might ferment a bit more in the keg and change over time. The bitterness is a bit odd, I've never used Millenium before.

Overall, I'm happy with this beer.

A note about the name: Marla introduced me to the "I don't even know her!" line of jokes. Daniel's variation seems to be "I just met her!" I was more familiar with the "yermom" line of dubious humor in college. "Lager? Yermom doesn't even know her!"


Elitism vs. Progress

I had been thinking lately about the divisiveness I see in the attitude held by some "cool" bicyclists about cars. I don't like the "us vs. them" (bicyclists vs. cars) mentatlity some cyclists tend to have.

Today, I read a piece by Paul Spinrad which describes my thoughts much more succinctly than I could hope to:
In politics, I think there are two competing motivations for voters to support a cause publicly. One is to influence the majority to agree, to make changes that you believe in, and the other is to distinguish your opinions as superior to most other peoples'. These two motivations generally cause people to act in similar ways, but I've found some "tells" that reveal the underlying elitist motivation.
Under a democracy, the elitist motivation is self-defeating: If your true aim is to distinguish yourself from the masses, you really don't want your side to win-- your aim is better served when more people vote the other way, and then you can be disgusted with most peoples' stupidity and wash your hands of responsibility.
Paul goes on to use this example to criticize anti-religious atheists for their counterproductive, divisive tactics. I think this principle applies much more widely, especially anywhere elitism and the "cool factor" can be found. In order for a movement to be worth joining, it must be worth it for that movement to succeed; anything else is fashion and a waste of time.

Bringing this back to bicycling and bicycle commuting: Some people fear their pastime might become popular or trendy, and believe this will somehow lower its value. I don't commute by bicycle because I'm cool, or better than other people. I do it because I enjoy it. I want more people to enjoy it.


Walnut Stool: Finished

The walnut stool is finished! I'm very happy with how it turned out.

Using naturally finished woods is in Windsor chairs generally not done, for a few reasons: strength, and aesthetics. I think on a simple stool with fairly plain turnings and without spindles, the grain doesn't make the piece too busy. This stool is entirely walnut, except for the seat wedges, which I made from Cherry for a bit of contrast. There was quite a bit of variety in color in the different pieces of walnut, so I tried to arrange them with similar pieces nearer to each other. Even the seat isn't a large expanse of "just brown." It has stripes of color ranging from orange and pink, to grey.

Again, I used Minwax wipe-on poly finish. For the legs and stretchers, I applied the finish on the lathe, which protects the legs from damage a bit during construction. In areas where the wood is rubbed, it'll stay polished even if the finish wears off. Everywhere else, the wipe-on finish is just shiny enough.

I'm happy to say that my "catalog of mistakes" helped a lot. I didn't break any parts, or have to remake anything, and did everything in a better order. I built a test joint to make sure I made the stretcher tenons the proper size for the holes. Now my future challenge will be improving my ability to cut the tenons the correct size, and smoothly.

I'll include a few pictures I took of the process, but most of the time I don't feel like stopping to take pictures. Unfortunately Marla is usually asleep when I work, so I can't enlist her help much either. Most of this stool was constructed between 11pm and 1am on any particular weekday.

Here's the setup used for reaming leg holes. The tapered reamer is in a leghole, and I'm checking the angles with a bevel and a square. My reamer doesn't have a very long body section parallel to the axis of rotation, so I adjust my bevel angle by half the taper angle, and line up with the tapered part of the tool instead. To use the square, you move your head sideways so the square and sight line are in line. Then you check the top of the the reamer in relation to the square/sight line, and adjust it accordingly.

This kind of reamer cuts slowly, but allows for a surprising amount of adjustment (I found out, on the previous stool). That means it also allows for a surprising amount of screw-up if you do it wrong, so it's good that it cuts slowly.

By the way, I am really happy with these squeeze-activated clamps. They hold well, don't mar surfaces, and are much easier to use than pipe clamps. They also have slightly more reach than pipe clamps, which comes in handy.

Here, I have glued up the undercarriage and glued it into the seat. This part of the process is a bit of a race against glue drying, so it's hard to stop and take pictures. The standard construction order is to construct the H shaped stretchers first, aligned in one plane. Then add one leg, and make sure the stretchers are aligned properly. Add a second leg, and test with the seat. Then, add the last two legs, always making sure they're aligned correctly. Finally, apply glue to the leg tapers and mortises, hammer them into the seat, and apply wedges (also glued). I happened to let the undercarriage dry between those steps.

If you think my bench looks messy in this picture, you should see it when I'm not in the middle of a project. It turns out that for building chairs, you really don't need much actual working space on the bench. But having convenient tool storage would be a much better solution than just shoving stuff down the bench until things fall off the other end.

Here's a closeup of the seat. You can see some of the interesting coloration here, but it's better in person of course. I cut the walnut seat out of one thick piece, in a "book matched" arrangement. Unfortunately, the grain doesn't match anymore since the seat is carved out, and book matching makes is a bit more difficult to carve the seat where the two planks meet. This was harder to carve than a pine seat; I don't think I'll be doing another hardwood seat.

I managed to mangle only one small section when trimming the legs, where I dug out too much wood near one leg. I'm also very happy with how well the scraper cuts across the end grain of the legs. With all the wood the same hardness, it doesn't just cut the seat and skip across the leg. After scraping, I lightly sanded with 400 grit paper, and it was ready for finish. I probably didn't need to go down to 400, but it did smooth out a bit of the raised grain after scraping. The seat still has a slightly wavy texture across the surface from the compass plane cuts, but it's hard to notice.

I generally don't sand the edges of the seat, I prefer to leave the facets from the spokeshave. Unfortunately, the end grain ends up slightly rough in some places. This isn't too much of a problem under paint, but I did use some fine sandpaper to knock off the rough spots between coats of finish on this stool.

I'm very happy with how this stool turned out, and I might even still have enough momentum to build a perch. At that point I'll be getting close to stool overload, though. If Marla loves the perch more than the stool, and I like it enough to work in front of a computer with it, I might make another one, but otherwise I'll attempt to move on to another Actual Chair.

Bad news, Good news: Penn Brewery

The bad news: last fall, Penn Brewery on the North Side had their rent raised, and declined to renew their lease. They've already contracted their brewing out to Lion brewery in Wilkes-Barre, and the restaurant's last day open was Friday.

The good news: the owner and the landlord came to an 11th hour agreement on Friday, which renews the brewery's rent for 5 years. Hopefully the restaurant employees haven't all quit yet.