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In the beginning, there was the word(s).

So I've started another enormous research project. Previously on the Enormous Research Project show our ridiculous narrator had buried himself up to his ears in the history of ceremonial magic with a side order of Sumerian history. This time around it's ancient Egypt.

Honestly, I'm finding ancient Egypt to be considerably more difficult to get a useful handle on. There is way, way more material available for one thing. But more importantly, the quality of that material has had a couple of centuries to get really crappy. Egyptology got its start in the depths of unexamined colonialism and it's still colored by that.

I find myself wondering though if the cultural corpus isn't a factor.

Ancient Egypt is all about myth and religion and magic and Kings Doing King Stuff (usually either kicking people or screwing them and sometimes both at once). It attracts Romanticism like a neodymium magnet confuses clowns. So the writing on ancient Egypt can get a bit... Puffed.

Mesopotamia, on the other hand, has it's central cultural myths and religion -- they're important and fascinating -- but the great bulk of what remains of their written words amounts to tax records. "Ashurnasirpal Jr had, in this year of Ninhursg's Glorious Afterbirth, four calves, three goats and enough lentils to feed all the lizards of Babylon."

There's definitely romanticizing about the Gilgamesh cycle and all the gods, but for the most part it's easy to separate the genuinely scholarly interest in Mesopotamia from the agglomerating forces of decorator crab personal theology and suppressed goth lustmord.

I'm finding it a lot more difficult to see that line with Egyptology.

The things we (I) do for money

So. A funny thing can happen when you (I) come up with unhinged ideas and you (I) have lots of interesting friends. That bizarro story I started about Hitler prostitutes in a gonzo future?

Some animator friends pitched it to Adult Swim.

Long story short, I'm paying them to not use my name on it. The title's been changed to something like Hooker Hitlers and obviously Shem's Fuckable Dictators has been renamed. Beau's hands will be covered by black bars. Mostly though, I don't want to know.


Samsung NF310

This is the Samsung NF310-A01. It's a largely unremarkable netbook. There are two features that attracted me. An 11" 1366x768 screen and a solid 6 hours of battery life. Otherwise it's one more Atom-based netbook extruded out of the PCB-extruding anus of the great electronic shitting behemoth.

Oh, and Fry's had it for $150 less than the standard price. Otherwise I was going to use some manner of Asus EEEEEEEEeeeeEEeeeeEeee PC.

My Bezel!

I got a little ahead of myself and leathered up the bezel last night, and without taking any pictures. But here it is while I'm preparing to clean up the edges a little. There are gonna be LOTS of opportunities to photograph the leatherizing process later.


Eww. Those edges need work. They do look better than they did initially though. At first, the leather had a really bright-white edge where it'd been cut. Nothing a sharpie can't fix!


And there's the bezel back in place. It currently looks pretty gross with the fake-metal-plastic of the laptop. That will get fixed soonish, though. Next up, I tear the whole thing apart for deeper surgery!

NF310 Guts

Here are its guts. Let the festival of warranty voiding begin!

I've already replaced the ram and the hard drive. The ram is maxed at a whopping 2 gigs (thanks to Microsoft's earlier licensing restrictions on Windows XP -- IE, you can have it for free PLEASEDON'TUSELINUX if you hobble the hardware REALLY A LOT).

The Hard Drive has become a Kingston SSDNowV+ 64 gb. I had to void its warranty too. The housing was for a regular 9mm deep laptop hard drive. However, the NF310 uses the slimmer 7mm size. So I had to remove half the case to the SSD.

Also? SSD = Nice!

NF310 Power Button

This is the power button. The larger metal bit is the actual button, the tiny white speck next to it is the blue LED and the tinier black speck next to that is one is a variety of barnacle common to modern electronics. Or maybe a resistor. Probably a barnacle though.

Power Button 1

The power button. I've already done a good deal of violence to it last night, sans-documentary evidence -- I got impatient -- but it needed some more love today. Here you can see where I managed to snap off the connecting arm. I assumed it wasn't vital, but it turned out to be. So I superglued a tiny piece of leather to it then used a tiny snapped peg as 'solder' and stuck the thing back together with a soldering iron. Also, I dremeled a hole through it so the labradorite can seat in.

The Dremeling

I'm not sure I could make anything without a dremel.


The hole is now bigger. It is a well known fact that this utterance was, in fact, what she said.

Power Button 2

Labradorite glued into the power button. I just used Elmer's glue. It'll be interesting to see if that fails horribly.

Power Button 4

The button is mounted. Here you can get a sense of the scale of that LED. Originally, I harbored the hilarious idea that I'd replace all the LEDs with different colored ones. Oh, I'm so funny.

Power Off

And there's the new power button in place. It sticks up about 1mm higher than I'd really like it to, but my options were A) Sticks up B) work the power button more and probably break it worse. I chose the option that left me with a functional power button. I do like the ability to turn my laptop on.

Power On

Ooooh. Ahhhh! Eehh. That looks really uninspiring in that faux-aluminum case. It's a good thing I'm going to change it. On the other hand, check out the fit of the gemstone to the power button hole. The measurement of the gem (as per the website I ordered it from) and my caliper measurement of the power button were exactly right. It fits within 0.05mm of the original power button. Pretty neat for an object made utterly independently, huh?

The next step is to leatherize the lid. I'm feeling a bit crappy today though, so I don't think that's going to happen. Plus, I've got multiple other projects in the works and they need love too.

Further experiments with copper.


We stopped by the Indian market after lunch today and I picked up a giant quantity of Kala Namak. The above sample of copper patina is a direct result.

Working with it to patinate copper is interesting. I can actually get interesting results just with hot water and the black salt. It works better if the copper is slightly submerged in white vinegar, then I put lots of powdered black salt (I now also have gigantic salt crystals, which do interesting things in their own right), let it sit for about 30 seconds then rinse everything with very hot water. As soon as the water dries vivid purples and reds spread out over the surface. It's awesome to watch.

Somewhat less awesome to smell.

Copper and leather and vinegar, OH MY!

Copper and Leather.jpg

So. I've spent the afternoon destroying the lovely shine of perfect copper. I taught myself a few things! But first, an explication of the picture.

What you see above are three types of leather (left-to-right: pigskin, recovered upholstery and embossed cowhide). Below that are four squares of copper. They're each different thicknesses, but that's not so important. The main visual difference is in how they were patinated. The two on the right were variations of using a spray bottle of 1.5 parts vinegar, 1 part ammonia (which I noticed far too late had added surficants as well as color and lemon scent --WTF? LEMON SCENT!?) and .5parts sea salt. I can get a really deep green patina on them. In fact it looks almost exactly like Czech absinthe! Double fact, the cheapest rotgut absinthe produced in the late 1800's, the stuff that got it banned, was colored using cupric oxide. But I wiped that patina off. It would need to be sealed to maintain the color, and I didn't really care for it as a contrast to any of the leather I've got.

The leftmost piece of copper was prepared in a process too convoluted to describe. It involved sphagnum moss and coffee grounds. It's not bad, but it's a helluva lot of work and I'm not convinced it's particularly repeatable.

That leaves the second from the left. The process for it was extremely easily controlled, straight forward and not particularly toxic or time consuming.

I put the copper in a dish with a bit of vinegar, just enough to submerge the copper. Then I sprinkled Kala Namak on it. I found that by trying random salts from our spice rack. It's in a big sampler of fancy salts and labled 'Eurasian Black Salt'. I'm guessing the magic patina effect comes from the iron sulfide and hydrogen sulfide it contains. Means it smells like egg farts when added to the vinegar, but holy crap is the patina lovely.

To get it to that deep color I added the Kala Namak a couple of times and kind of swished it around. I also experimented with spritzing it few times with my acid/ammonia/salt cocktail. I don't think that really did much, though. The reaction of the Kala Namak to the vinegar was almost instantaneous and it happened before anything else was added. You can watch the discoloration grow over the surface.

It's neat!

A brief aside.

The next phase of my laptop project is here. Copper. I'm going to clad the entire keyboard deck and palmrest area with the stuff. But I don't want it to look like a new penny. The idea of this thing is aesthetic wear, but copper takes a long time to build up its patina naturally.

So I've been looking around for recipes to really take the shine off. The simplest I've found, and the one listed in our directory of jeweler's finishes, is vinegar, ammonia and salt. There's a goodly number of variations there however. Some versions call for hot water, some no water at all. I've even seen suggestion that you throw some potting soil in. In my initial experiments, I got the best results when I used really fancy volcanic salt.

However, there's one suggestion I didn't try. Urine.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not squeamish about art materials. I draw the line at lant. It's just that if I went all Andres Serrano on my laptop I'd feel the need to use a very particular background image. It might get me into trouble.

There will be pictures later.

Of the copper.

Random fact-like thing: Jim Steinman, power-ballad maestro, writer of Paradise by the Dashboard Light and Total Eclipse of the Heart among legions of others, produced This Corrosion.

El Cojones!


I got the labradorite I ordered today. I'll be using the one on the left, as it's both more translucent and shallower. Otherwise, both are cut pretty much perfectly to fit the existing hole for the power button the laptop.

I'll need to experiment to find a way of making sure the stone is lit by the LED (which is sadly not only a surface mount, but is also about 0.5mm long).

With it in hand, I can say that labradorite is a really fascinating mineral. The effect -- labradorescence -- is pretty unique. That blue glow isn't reflected from my monitor. Any white lightsource causes it. It doesn't strongly depend on angle of incidence to the viewer. Moving the lightsource causes more shift of the color than moving your perspective around.

The stone itself is highly variable, with lots of inclusion and veining, but the color is predominately clear to honey-yellow. So when that blue/blueish-green glow pops out it really stands out.

The idea of trying to recreate this effect in a 3d program makes my brain cry. 

In the beginning...

Leather Laptop Test 1

The very beginning of my quest to create a durable, attractive laptop.

The goal of the project is to create a laptop (starting with a cheap, commodity netbook) that is passably rugged and attractive use-wear. Most modern laptops have finishes and materials that look junky as they accumulate real-world experience. I want a laptop that looks *better* the more I use it.

This is a test. Using an old MSI Wind that'd been put out to pasture, I sanded down the top of the lid and bonded dyed pigskin leather. The purpose of the test was A) to see how well the plastic takes the glue and leather and B) to get a sense of best practice on application.

What I learned

Apply the leather in stages, like peeling it off in reverse. Attempting to bond the full sheet of leather all in one go makes lining things up difficult. I didn't think the rounded edges would be a problem and they weren't. However, the cut edges look pretty ugly. I'll need to find a way of hiding them. Maybe copper edging?

What's next

Next Monday the test sheets of copper foil should arrive. I ordered a sample of 5, 8, 10 and 16 mil so I can practice with different thicknesses and find the one best suited to my task.

The small sheets will not only let me test for conforming the metal to the plastic laptop, but also with different patinas.

Further down the road

Sometime in the next couple weeks I should receive a couple of faceted labradorite gems. The idea is that one of them will replace the power button. Currently it's lit with a blue LED (what isn't, these days?). I wanted a beautiful stone that the light would interact with.

Once I begin construction on the actual piece I'll extensively document the process.


Originally uploaded by Zak Jarvis

I've murdered my beard.

This happened in part because, well, one does not wish to taste the lovely barbecue sauce five hours later.

To achieve this meat-thread sartorial splendor I made use of the usual beardo-trimminator, but also the straight razor for significant neck shaving.

For a first major outing with the straight razor, it was awfully nice to not end up with dangling strips of flesh. Really, the goal was beardlessness (relatively speaking), not the winning entry in a Xipe Totec-acolyte contest.

Also, we got a new blender. In the process of this I saw to my horror that at some point toasters became gendered items. WHO THE HELL IS MAKING ALL THIS MAN-TOAST? Do they really need a brushed metal beast that hulks on the counter, bivouacking legions of hot to unleash on soft, yielding bread?

Yeah. I know the answer. 
Back when they were new, I read and really enjoyed Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine trilogy.

If you don't know they're short epistolary novels. They tell a kind of Jungian post-modern love story in the form of cards and letters. The letters are in envelopes glued to the pages of the book and you have to open them up and take out the pages. The postcards and letters are lavishly illustrated since the central figures are both artists. Gimmicky, yes, but I'm fine with the notion that presentation can be a vital part of any given piece of art.

The current round of house-cleaning turned up a lone copy of The Morning Star, which is the third book of the second trilogy. I was pretty sure I had a slipcover version of that which I'd never opened. This seemed like a good excuse to re-read the first three and then read the second batch.

Griffin & Sabine, Sabine's Notebook and The Golden Mean stand up pretty well. They're a kind of theater, really. The calligraphy, the misspellings and poor typing and even the fading of letters as the nib dries out all contribute to the narrative. As art, they remain an impressive achievement. As story they're not bad.

They were, however, extremely popular in their time. So despite the fact that they end on the best and most concluding note that their story allows, some years later Bantock wrote and illustrated three more books.

As a feat of publishing, the second trilogy exceeds the first in every way. The paper stock is better, the offset printing more precise, the included letters are more elaborate and include cuttings and cards. The first time I opened a letter and had another piece of paper fall out it really did add to the experience just a little bit.

Unfortunately that was pretty much the only thing that did.

Where Griffin & Sabine are an exploration of Jungian shadow, the second trilogy is an attempt at Jungian light and reconciliation. It wants to answer most of the questions.

And the art is much less integrated into the narrative.

I was not impressed.

On an entirely unrelated note. The other day Warren Ellis pointed to this delightful album. Field Recordings from the Edge of Hell. Come on. You know you want an 8 hour long ambient doom album!

No, really. It's 8 hours long.