Monthly Archives: August 2013

Matthias Wandel – Beyond woodworking

The Internet has been kind to the woodworking craft. The Wood Whisperer and other sites offer excellent instruction and active communities of the like-minded.

The site is ostensibly about working with wood. There are a range of projects for those looking for something to make with tutorials and plans also available. But, much more than that, it is a glimpse into the incredibly sharp mind of Matthias Wandel the site’s sole contributor.

Looking through his many excellent videos, we see that Wandel has been working with machinery since his youth. He has an uncanny ability to assimilate information and become “at one” with it. In parallel, he comes up with nice problems that he wants to solve often for no obvious purpose than they interest him. He then puts the two together, creates tools as he needs them, films his inventions, and makes smartly edited videos available. Many sites claim to update on a schedule, Wandel delivers all of this weekly. The obvious question is how does such a young man have such time available? The best guess is that he applied these innate abilities early in life, got himself well set up, and now does what he likes.

Here are some links to get started on this addictive site and its associated Youtube channel. These are random selections. There isn’t a weak offering in the bunch.

Youtube Channel:

No Man’s Land – A pleasant drawing room comedy

Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” prepares for Broadway at the Berkeley Rep. It features Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame as Hirst and Ian McKellen as Spooner. McKellen is himself a popular film actor. The production is critic-proof and will be a hot ticket elsewhere as it has been in Berkeley. Although reviews don’t and won’t matter, they have been rapturous. When it gets to New York, in repertory with “Waiting for Godot,” there won’t be a dry seat in the house.

This is a slightly different animal than either of two recent LA productions – The Lost Studio’s American-accented take with Tom Bower and Mitchell Ryan and the 2009 Odyssey version with Lawrence Pressman and Alan Mandell. All have strong tv and film credits and some boast long connections to Pinter. None are household names. Stewart and McKellen’s plummy voices sell the action, such as there is in Pinter, very well. The dissipation in the first act and the one-upmanship in the second are exemplary. When the lead characters actually interact, the performance soars. It’s prosaic in the monologues and bogs down when Foster and/or Briggs show up.

The program notes make much of Pinterian pauses and theatrical negative space. The downside of two marquee names is that an eager audience took in every twitch and tic as a subtle comedic reference and filled in every bit of that negative space with see-we-get-it laughter. Sitcom tapings would kill for this reaction. Pinter isn’t unfunny but if Director Sean Mathias intended menace, it got washed out by the chuckling and the two flat supporting performances.

Follow these links to the Gielgud/Richardson version.

Deja vu – RED at International City Theatre, Long Beach

John Logan’s ruminations on art, the universe, and everything appears in a handsome but perplexing limited run at International City Theatre in Long Beach. The production is up to the company’s usual high standards – well-designed, colorful, and nicely lit. Tony Abatemarco and Patrick Stafford are solid as Mark Rothko and his assistant Ken, declaiming, strutting, storming, pronouncing, and even painting as part of “…captur[ing] the dynamic relationship between an artist and his creations.” The pull quote is from The New York Times and the play has won six Tony Awards. The production will be a good introduction of ICT to those who don’t normally range that far south for theatre.
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Strangely soothing… the rhythm of baking

Check out King Arthur Flour’s six part series ‘Techniques for the Professional Baker’. Even non-to-amateur bakers can enjoy the dough wrangling, shaping, and baking. The underappreciated difference between the home kitchen and the production environment is expertly presented with reserve and understatement.

The King Arthur company’s web presence is very well done. The firm and its design team, assuming they went outside, must have hit it off very well.

Beyond Brancusi at the Norton Simon

Art doesn’t have to be representational or easy on the eyes. Exhibitions should push and pull a viewer in unexercised directions. But some sop to integrity and coherence isn’t too much to ask.

‘Beyond Brancusi: The Space of Sculpture’ at the Norton Simon until January 2014 fails on both counts. There’s one actual Brancusi. It’s on the first floor on a high pedestal to force the reverential gaze. The skylight bathes it in a soft glow.

‘Beyond’ is where the rest of the 18 pieces sit. In the basement, next to the exquisite South Asian sculptures, in three sparse galleries of progressive bewilderment. Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi are well-known but the specific pieces don’t convey why. Look up Barbara Hepworth and you see some beautiful work. None of them are here. We’re invited to walk, albeit lightly, on a 12×12 matrix of aluminum tile. The breathy descriptions claim that 2x4s hanging from a rope, sliced felt, and assorted plastics (re)define the Space of Sculpture. The grand invention seems to be putting gaps negative space in solid objects.

It’s all very earnest, full of curatorial verve, and a crashing disappointment. You go in expecting the best sculptural minds of the past century, you’re out in five minutes feeling duped, soured to be unable to enjoy the rest of the museum’s collection.

LAX planespotting from and on a different level – SpeedbirdHD

The small and very active community of aircraft photographers and videographers is putting up some superb material on the usual outlets. Close to home, many shoot from El Segundo’s Clutter Park where they can get nice views of LAX’s south runway operations although with some interference from low buildings.

Then, there is Youtube’s SpeedbirdHD. He says little about himself other than that he is an aviation enthusiast in Los Angeles. There must be more to it than that. He has unique access to LAX operations, almost assuredly through a job on the premises. His videos of the heavy metal flying in and out are in a league of their own. Speedbird and his HD camera get tarmac footage of regional jets, superjumbos, and even the occasional miltary lifter from every runway. His edits usually include relevant air-traffic control conversations in the background. Top class stuff.

Here’s his channel. His 2012 highlight reel is a good place to start.

Seeds … still mysterious after all these years

We plant, roast, toast, grind, squeeze, and guzzle them in all sorts of different ways. But, when and how did seeds evolve? The first search result on anything like this is usually a well-written Wikipedia article. Not in this case. The Seed Biology Place of Prof. Gerhard Leubner is the place to go for the skinny on this and just about anything else seed-related. Current knowledge shows that the seed came about in the Devonian era with many details still under active study.

Seed Biology Place is comprehensive but does not always format well for reading in a browser. Prof. Leubner and colleagues have written a nice review article which contains much of the same information in the journal New Phytologist v. 186: 817-831 (2010)

With Earth’s resources under severe pressure from an exploding population, some forward-looking people have begun planning for catastrophe. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault aims to ensure the genetic diversity of future crops by keeping a large sample of seeds in cold storage. Fascinating project and a beautiful example thinking 10,000 years ahead. That’s vision.

60 Minutes reported on it:



“The main difference, we are told, between the amateur and the professional golfer is the fact that the latter is always aiming at the pin, while the former has in his mind a vague picture of getting somewhere reasonably near it.”— P.G. Wodehouse

It applies elsewhere.  Yuja Wang makes it look easy.  She can fill every corner of Disney Hall with the toughest the repertoire has to offer and not break a sweat where others show the strain.   Here is Ms. Wang at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland and the much loved Mendelssohn 1st Concerto.  Great performance (not a surprise) and some topnotch camerawork showing how her shoulders, arms, wrist, and fingers get to where they need to be with no tension or excess motion.   It’s hard for a piano student to glean much technique from virtuosi.  But sometimes it happens.  Emulated that action and away went stress and shoulder stiffness that normally comes with piano practice. Still years and maybe the next life away from that kind of pyrotechnics but it applies to the duffer’s Schubert and Brahms as well.  Is it ever nice to finally understand and feel what excellent teachers have been saying for the past eight years.

Real-time LAX air traffic tool – a must-have for South Bay residents

Instrumentation makers Bruel and Kjaer are working with many airports to measure and display sound levels in the neighborhoods they adjoin.   B&K’s Webtrak tool for LAX is available at

See flights coming in and out of the greater Los Angeles area in real time.  See sound levels in Playa del Rey, Hawthorne, El Segundo, and Inglewood.  There’s also a replay feature.  Use Historical Mode to pick a day and time and see what happened; speed it up if you like.  If you’d like to complain about a particular flight, select the icon of the suspected flight, get its number, and click a link to file a report.

The Beach Cities are usually  quiet despite LAX but there are many nights where the engine roar is powerful despite  distance and intervening structures.  So, what can cause this?  Thermal inversion layers in the atmosphere are known to refract sound waves due to the index of refraction difference at the boundary.   Acoustical engineer  Mike O’Connor offers a nice summary of the physics, analogous to optical refraction, at

He concludes
“It is not only noise from vehicular traffic on distant segments of roadways that is boosted in strength by temperature inversions. Emissions from distant trains and commercial aircraft (during takeoffs) are also amplified. The reader who has never before taken note of this phenomenon might now try to see if it’s ‘real’. Just listen to the background noises from distant trains, distant aircraft (just during takeoff runs) and vehicles on distant roadway segments, preferably after dark or shortly before or after dawn, and note the atmospheric conditions. Disregard windy conditions, but take note of the loudness of such noises under all other atmospheric conditions. It should become apparent that the noise levels from distant sources are clearly higher on some days than on others, even though the observations were made at approximately the same time each day. With some effort it should also be apparent that the calm and clear conditions that are said here to give rise to temperature inversions are in effect when the distant sources seem loudest.”

Henry Robinson offers a more detailed treatment at with an interesting observation about amphitheatre design.

“On a day when convection near the ground causes the temperature to decrease rapidly with height, sound heard on the ground from a departing aircraft will be muffled because the sound rays, and energy, will be forcing the sound upward. Indeed, balloonists often can hear conversations of people on the ground but be unable to make themselves heard by the same people on the ground. The Greeks constructed their theaters, as in Figure 3, so everyone could see, but, in doing so, they also used the natural curvature of sound to enable everyone to hear as well in afternoon plays.

Takeoff during well mixed conditions is relatively quiet at the ground but takeoff through an inversion concentrates the sound under the aircraft.  Observe sound abatement procedures while taking off in an inversion situation.”

So, is that the mechanism at work on noisy Redondo Beach nights?  This is  worth some observation and checking against weather data.

Independent Shakespeare Co.’s 2013 Griffith Park Summer Festival

Another strong, well-attended season in Griffith Park for the small company that started it’s life in LA ten years ago as a rental at the Odyssey.   ‘Macbeth’ is especially good – honed to a fine edge over several months at ISC’s Atwater Village studio and steeped in blood by evening’s end.  The young actors get better and more resonant every year and the strong core company ricochets unamplified off the walls of the Old Zoo  overcoming picnics, coyotes, and just about any other distraction.

Anything except three addled hikers who got lost and infected with poison-oak in an urban recreation area, requiring three helicopters to appear just as Luis Galindo’s Macbeth burst out for the climactic scene.  Blade noise and spotlights of one kind held up blade noise and spotlights of another kind for forty minutes to conduct an airlift.  Of people lost a knife flick away from a thousand theatregoers.  The show did go on and finish well despite the circumstances – the sound and fury speech concluding just as the last copter disappeared.

One more chopper and it could have been Stockhausen.

Macbeth and As You Like It run in repertory through 1 September.  Details and schedules at