The mortise lock from our bathroom door

Mortise locks

My dad and my stepmother, Alice, are coming to stay for Thanksgiving, which is, incidentally, my favorite holiday. MT & I have hosted it every year since we were first together. It’s the 5th Thanksgiving we’ve hosted in the house, and the 11th overall. It’s also my favorite weekend of the year. We don’t go in for the mad shopping. We generally just do whatever we want to the house, or just relax, or just see friends. That Friday – Sunday is magic.

Prior to Thanksgiving day itself, we are models of action, efficiency, and planning. Well, MT is a model of action, efficiency and planning. I’m anything but efficient. The discussions start in September: how many people (a number which always seems to equal 16), what will we serve, when do we start setting up the table, what did we do last year? I invariably state that we shouldn’t bother preparing salad, because who wants to eat salad on Thanksgiving? It takes up valuable stomach and table space. MT puts in orders with Paulina Market (turducken, turkey breast) and First Slice (butternut squash lasagna, balsamic pear pie, key lime pie). Negotiations with family/guests reveal who will bring what, and we figure out what we’ll actually be preparing.

And lists are made. And remade. Repeatedly. I try to remember if we saved a master list from last year, and then MT produces her small journal of past Thanksgivings and I say, “oh, yeah.” As of today, the list looks like this:

Pre-Thanksgiving punch list

As you can see, this isn’t the shopping list. It’s more of a pre-Thanksgiving punch list.

  • Brushing the dog is an ongoing pursuit this time of year, as she sheds her summer coat.
  • The shadow boxes were decoupaged by MT, and it was my task to hang them in the powder room.
  • There are 3 wooden radiator covers that need to have old insulation removed and new foil-backed insulation installed.
  • I’ve been meaning to add some blocking between a couple joists in the basement.
  • The storm window in the bathroom needs to be swapped with the screen.
  • I’d love to caulk around the tub.
  • I also hung a vintage thermometer (sadly lacking its glass tube) in the powder room.
  • And the Adirondack chairs and the fire pit need to be stored for winter.

But let’s talk about those mortise springs. An earlier version of this list had the following item:

  • bath lock

This is the master bath upstairs we’re talking about. Right next to our bedroom. Most of the time, when it’s just us, the lock isn’t used. If the door is closed, that’s really all you need to know. But when we have guests, the lock is pressed into service. Our house was built in 1917, though I keep finding evidence that it must have been started in 1916. In either case, that door has been in almost daily use for close to a hundred years. MT asked if I could take a look at it before my dad and Alice came to stay.

Here’s the thing. We know our house, just like you know yours. We know all the sounds it makes, and we know how to keep those sounds from being made. This house is amazingly solid, but after so many years, almost every door has developed a unique quirk or three. In this case, when you close the bathroom door, it needs a little extra push before the latch engages. It’s very slight. My diagnosis is that the stop molding needs to be adjusted by a fraction of an inch, so that the top corner of the door doesn’t press against it so tightly. And I still hope to do that, but I know what’s involved and can imagine it spiraling beyond its scope. (Our gut-renovation of the kitchen a few years ago began when the 1970s wall oven stopped working 2 weeks before our first Thanksgiving in the house and we decided to replace it with a standard oven/range which involved some minor demolition of the cabinets on that wall and boom a few weeks later we’re tearing out the stairs to the basement and moving the powder room and digging up the basement floor to repair the sewer and 9 months later we have a new kitchen.)

That’s why I decided to just remove the mortise lock from the door, open it up, and lubricate it. The photo at the top shows it on my workbench, right after I opened it up. These old locks are beautiful examples of simple engineering. They’re like very rough clock mechanisms. The lock is upside down in the photo, so the bolt/lock is at top, and the latch is below it. If you look closely, you might see that there appear to be two latch springs. That’s because the spring broke at some point, and the shorter bit got jumbled up in there. The latch still worked, but it didn’t push out all the way because the spring was shorter.

This is an easy fix, you say: just replace the spring. Sure, go ahead and search for “mortise lock springs” or something similar. Maybe you’ll have more luck than I did, but these things just aren’t sold any more. I found all kinds of instructions for fixing these locks, but replacement springs themselves are hard to find.

Because it’s easier than traversing 2 stories and a basement, I traveled through the house in my mind, looking for springs, yes, but also checking all the doors. I figured there must be one we don’t use much and I could swap springs or entire locks with it. Trouble is, we actually use most of the doors in our house. But then I found a good source: the door to what we call “Frank’s Office” in the basement. The jamb is barely a jamb and the latch doesn’t even begin to catch (originally, this door was probably located on the long-lost wall that separated the kitchen and the breakfast room; the original jamb is also long-lost). The knob felt nice and springy when I turned it.

The door to "Franks's Office"

The door to “Franks’s Office”

As it turns out, the mortise locks on these doors are different sizes, so a direct swap wasn’t possible. So I opened it up:

Mortise lock from "Frank's Office" door. I've already temporarily inserted the broken spring from the bathroom door. And note what's probably the patent year in the lower left: 3-7-11. That's before the Titanic sank.

Mortise lock from “Frank’s Office” door. I’ve already temporarily inserted the broken spring from the bathroom door. And note what’s probably the patent year in the lower left: 3-7-11. That’s before the Titanic sank.

The spring in this lock was a narrower diameter, but it works in the bathroom lock. For now, anyway. I added a few drops of machine oil from the bottle that sits near the boiler, put it back together, and slid it back into the bathroom door. It’s so quiet now. Perhaps this means we won’t be awakened when a guest is trying to get out of the bathroom at 3:30am.

Oh, so you’re wondering about “Frank’s Office” door. I’m watching two different Ebay auctions that are selling 8-12 complete antique mortise locks. They shouldn’t be too expensive, and even if the brands don’t match, the springs just might.

Perhaps I’ll have a project for Thanksgiving weekend.


How to remember all those lines

Barry Edelstein's Thinking Shakespeare

Here are some things that work for me when learning the text of a play. Some of them are painfully obvious, but I keep forgetting them anyway. If you find them useful, fantastic:
  1. Always have the script around.
  2. Stay off Facebook. Instead of checking FB/email/news, check the script. (It’s probably more interesting, anyway.)
  3. Use the Paper Trick from Barry Edelstein’s Thinking Shakespeare: cover your script with a sheet of paper, speak your first line, then reveal it and confirm accuracy. Repeat with each and every line.
  4. This is hand-in-glove with the Paper Trick: when I consistently struggle with a line, it’s usually because I don’t yet entirely know WHY I’m saying it. So, figuring out WHY is crucial… Are you replying to someone? Did you just have a brilliant idea? Is there an ACTION that you’re using with the line? What are you trying to DO to the other person, etc. Again, basic obvious acting stuff. But combine these questions with the Paper Trick and don’t reveal the next line until you’ve answered them for yourself. Always ask: WHY am I choosing THESE particular words, at THIS particular time, with these particular people?
  5. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Just make certain you’re repeating the right words.
  6. Review with a friend: ideally while doing something else like driving (be careful) or folding laundry (be really careful)… disrupting your brain forces you to think differently and react spontaneously to unusual stimuli… like that bicycle.
  7. Slow down. There’s a common phrase in music schools: “The fastest way to learn something is to learn it slowly.” It’s also the SUREST way to learn something.
  8. Go backward. I love this one: start at the end of a scene or monologue and work each beat in reverse. I don’t mean reversing the words, just the thoughts. The killer feature of this trick is that it tends to answer questions like WHY you’re saying something! The other advantage is that the end of a scene/monologue doesn’t get short shrift.

Home Row

IBM Selectric golf ball

IBM Selectric golf ball

My mom was an extremely fast touch-typist. I don’t know what her WPM was, but she could also turn her head to the side and read the copy while typing. I’ve never been able to do that for more than a few words. She also never looked at the keyboard because the F and J keys told her everything she needed to know.

When I was 8, we moved to Anchorage, where my dad began teaching music theory and composition at the University of Alaska Anchorage. To supplement that income, my mom worked in the registrar’s office for Anchorage Community College. The University and the College shared a campus, but they were actually different schools. ACC was more of a technical/vocational school, while UAA was more about theory and research.

My dad’s office, in Building K, had a heavy steel door and walls of painted concrete block. And after a short time, it was filled with stacks of books and papers. Everywhere. My dad is a stacker, like me, so it’s good that he doesn’t share workspace with others.

My mom’s office was little more than a triple-wide motor home on the other side of campus. A temporary structure for use while the schools built more concrete block buildings, I don’t think it ever had a name (Z? M? MM?). It had wood panel siding, painted dark red, and a ramp of plywood running up to the front door. Inside, the uneven carpeted flooring supported a small army of workers, filing papers, looking up grades, and typing. Always typing.

A blue IBM Correcting Selectric II was my mom’s model of choice. Actually, there was no choice, since everyone had a blue IBM Correcting Selectric II. She loved that typewriter. It was fast, accurate, and solid as a rock. Everything else about her office was rickety and temporary, but those blue Selectrics at every desk were solid and modern. Here’s a photo from fishbonedeco:

IBM Correcting Selectric II

IBM Correcting Selectric II

I spent a lot of time on campus after school or during the summers. I loved going because I usually hung out in my dad’s office, which also featured a blue IBM Correcting Selectric II. I don’t think my dad used it very much, but that was before the music department had a secretary, so the faculty had to occasionally do their own typing.

I loved that machine. When you turned it on, it hummed impatiently, waiting for you to get to work. I mean real work, like pressing-as-many-keys-at-once-to-see-if-you-can-jam-the-works work. IBM designers probably had children, though, because they’d built a machine that was impossible to jam. Which meant that, ultimately, I had to actually type.

We had another blue typewriter at home, but it was cheap, with a cheap plastic shell, and cheap little arms that swung wildly toward the paper, each letter striking with a different amount of force, and at a slightly different angle than its colleagues. It was easy to jam.

At work, the IBMs had a solid metal shell and a round element, covered with letters and numbers, that spun around efficiently and accurately. I remember staring at that thing while pressing a key as slowly and gently as possible, trying to figure out how it worked. But you couldn’t slow it down to really see what was going on. At some point it just fired off a shot and that was it. Bang, there’s your letter.

Oh, you didn’t want that letter? No problem. I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

The correction key (an extra key at the bottom right of the keyboard) backspaced the carriage by one space and also put the machine in a mode wherein the next character typed would use the correction tape instead of the normal ribbon, and furthermore would not advance the carriage. The typist would press (and release) the correction key and then re-type the erroneous character, either lifting it off of the page or (if using a fabric ribbon) covering it with white-out powder, then type the correct character. Any number of mistakes could be corrected this way, but the process was entirely manual, as the machine had no memory of the typed characters.

To an 8-year-old in 1978, that’s magic. Hell, to a 41-year-old it’s still pretty magical. Just the idea is magical. Even better, if you looked closely at the paper, you could still see the impression of the erased character.

Selectric correcting tape

Selectric correcting tape

My mom’s office eventually moved into a real concrete block building, carving out space from the cafeteria. Her Selectric went with her, of course, and it went with her again when she moved to the financial aid office at the opposite end of Building K from my dad. And it even went with her several years after that when the schools merged and she moved across campus into the sparkling new administration building. It was around that time that my dad, towing his Selectric, also moved across campus into the sparkling new arts building. Right next door.

Of course, everyone in my mom’s office got a computer with a green flickering display, or was it orange? She liked the “pooter” well enough, and it could do things like access the university database up in Fairbanks, but the pixels it sent over to the office printer came out slow, ugly, and faint. And it needed special paper with a strip of holes on either side.

As a teenager, I’d visit her office and she’d let me play with the Selectric she now rarely used. It still put down nice clean letters. On real paper. I’d sometimes flip up the plastic tab that held the element in place, and pull it out to get a closer look. It amazed me that all the necessary letters and numbers were on this one little ball. Years later, I learned that they sold replacement elements with different typefaces and alphabets.

I typed up some forgotten stories on my parents’ two Selectrics. Sometimes, I’d type a story at home on the cheap typewriter, and then take it to work to type it up permanently. I also typed homework on those machines. I think at one point we even brought a Selectric home, where it absolutely did not belong. That was weird.

I now type on an Apple Aluminum Keyboard, which I love because it’s solid metal. And even though I still look at the keyboard too often when typing, the F and J keys in the home row have raised bits that constantly remind me of the raised bits on those same keys on my mom and dad’s Selectrics. 25 years ago. At work.

Triggered by this at GOOD

Also see Mr. Martin’s Typewriter Museum

And definitely check out the IBM100

Joseph Paul Jernigan (January 31, 1954 – August 5, 1993) was a Texas murderer who was executed by lethal injection at 12:31 a.m.

Joseph Paul Jernigan (January 31, 1954 – August 5, 1993) was a Texas murderer who was executed by lethal injection at 12:31 a.m.

“Jernigan spent 12 years in prison before his final plea for clemency was denied. His cadaver was sectioned and photographed for the Visible Human Project at the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center.”

Be sure to read the full story.

{ via Macworld }


Wired has a small sampling of the more than 18,500 close up images that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken over the last five years using its HiRise camera.

Dust Devil Tattoo from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

“These twisty trails were traced by dust devils, spinning columns of rising air that pick up loose red dust grains and reveal darker, heavier sand beneath. Dust devils have been blamed for unexpectedly cleaning off the Mars rovers’ solar panels.”

Isn’t it amazing that we have spacecraft on another planet?