Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Report

I’m currently reading a delightful book by Am Stewart called “The Drunken Botanist”, all about the wonderful, wildly diverse ways in which plants and humans together have created alcoholic beverages. The Amazon listing gives a good description:

I highly recommend going for the hardcover edition, not only for the illustrations but also because it’s a gem of the bookbinder’s art. I have two other of Amy Stewart’s books – “Wicked Bugs” and “Wicked Plants” – that are equally good, in presentation and content.

Not only is “The Drunken Botanist” fascinating and illuminating – I never knew that…! – it’s also often funny. Here’s just one bit:

“The science of fermentation is wonderfully simple. Yeast eat sugar. They leave behind two waste products, ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. If we were being honest, we would admit that what a liquor store sells is, chemically speaking, little more than the litter boxes of millions of domesticated yeast organisms, wrapped up in pretty bottles with fancy price tags.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It All Comes Down To This

So, this is what untold millions, nay, billions of dollars and lifetimes of intense scientific and technical endeavors went into creating: A Facebook page devoted entirely to pictures of sleeping cats.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Obsolete? I Think Not

On a blog I frequent the topic of obsolete jobs arose, in the context of coal mining dying despite what anybody says about reviving it. One person observed:


The problem with this example is that welders can still get work. Their skills are still in some demand.

The problem is that many traditional livelihoods being pined after (e.g., coal miner) are more comparable to blacksmithing, and many mourned enterprises are better compared to livery stables.



To which I replied:


Actually, I'd say that blacksmithing has more of a future, in its own niche, than coal mining. Between economically extractable resource exhaustion, automation, and declining demand, coal is going down. The need for farriers to shoe working, sport and pleasure horses, however, continues.

Stats are hard to come by since the US Dept. of Agriculture stopped tracking the number of horses and mules nationwide (around 26,000,000 in 1915) but there's still an estimated 9.3 million of them out there today, with about 3.9 million used for pleasure riding. Others race, compete in other equestrian sports, herd cattle, carry police and other public service personnel, pull tourist buggies, and yes, even serve instead of tractors in farming and logging. (Also -- like my own horse -- serve as large expensive useless pets, often retired from work, but still decorating their paddock.) And most of them need to be shod about every six weeks. Even horses that go barefoot usually need to have their hooves trimmed on a regular basis, another service that farriers provide.

So, yes, there's plenty of work still out there for those who (after a suitable apprenticeship) want to be their own boss and set their own schedule with a steady stream of work from repeat customers. And who are willing to drive multiple miles per day to bring their forge truck, with its multitude of blank shoe stock sizes, multitude of tools, hundreds of nails, portable anvil, portable furnace, and other accoutrements they must invest in up front to their clients' scattered farms and stables and backyards, with more or less convenient areas to work in, at all times of year, in all kinds of weather, getting up close and personal with the often dirt and manure bedecked, powerful legs and sharp-edged hooves of large animals whose attitude toward shoeing ranges from "I'll just doze off here" through "Do I hafta?" through "OMG what was that I must JUMP!" to "Touch my foot and I will kill you", for clients who pay (a) right then, cash, (b) by mailing a check in a day or two, (c) when they think of it, (d) screw you, there's always another farrier. And there's a lot of heavy lifting.

So, yes, there's work to be had, now and into the foreseeable future, for those willing to go through all that. Oh, and be skillful enough, with farriery itself and the handling of their four- and two-footed clientele, to build and retain their business.

At least until their bodies give out.

Addendum: I posted this on Facebook and a friend replied thus:


Gretchen Frevele: Don't forget, beyond the demanding skills required at the forge itself, farrier work means you spend a very significant part of your life bent over. Not the most comfortable position. So yes, that last line is very significant. I have a mini horse. 32" tall at the withers. Absolutely NOT ergonomic to work on.

(My 6'4" vet showed me how to keep him trimmed while he was laid out flat, snoozing off his meds after said vet had just gelded him. It takes two people--one to pet his neck somewhat forcefully to keep him laying down--but that's really the easiest way to work on his feet. If he's up, he's somewhere between "Do I hafta?" and "Oh Hail Naw!")

But in the larger sense, it's a very skilled job. Not something you can pick up in a couple of weeks. And while I don't want to imply that coal mining is JUST digging in the dirt with a shovel, many of the lost jobs are not being replaced with jobs that their people are set up to take on. Either they don't have the money to get the training for them, or perhaps they don't have the right personality. (If you're the sort who "needs" to be moving around, a desk job at a call center is likely to be highly stressful, as one example.) Too often when that "door closes" there is little or no support to help people find the "windows opening" nearby, if such "windows" exist at all. Or it's likely to be perhaps a little more literal. The door represented the size of the paycheck earned, and so did the window. Sure, for the same amount of labor, roughly, one could break one's back mining coal or being a hotel room maid, but which job pays more? (Before you jump at that comparison, my mother worked at several hotels when I was younger. It may not be filthy, but it's real work. And it pays beans.)