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Monday, May 29, 2006

Sociopathic Lagomorphs

"Look at me, Sam, I'm episodic!"
"An episodic, sociopathic lagomorph. The mind boggles!"

I have been a PC adventure gamer for many years, ever since that first white house in text-entry Zork. Out of hundreds of bizarre games where I had to figure out how to use the suction cups on the fireplace to make the monkey drop the knife so I could get the sandwich out of the couch, Sam & Max Hit the Road probably still stands as the most fun and surreal. (My other favorite adventure games include The Longest Journey, Dark Fall, the Gabriel Knight games, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, the Laura Bow games, Broken Sword, and others... most of which qualify as Pleistocene by today's video game standards, largely because they didn't depend on elaborate 3D-modeled depictions of shotgun-blast brain-removal to hold one's attention) Being an admittedly "Olde School" gamer, imagine my surprise and joy when I happened across the new Sam & Max game site and learned that the dangerous duo is coming back! Sweet mother of hairless lap dogs in a bucket of angry crawfish!

Anyone interested in Sam & Max should check out the new trailer for the upcoming game series - It will definitely bring back happy memories. I'll even restrain my urge to bitch about the changed voices, I'm so pleased. The reason this post is in Pipe Pic, however, was something I noticed in the game trailer. In the opening scenes, if one looks closely just before Sam & Max battle for the ringing telephone, there is a wall picture of interest! I would never have taken Max to be a pipe smoker. One would think he would be a dealer's nightmare, given the rate he must chew through stems...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Idea Gestation

When we moved here, part of our purchase package was a large stock of handcut horn stems. These stems were made by a French family in the Jura who have apparently done stems for generations for various factories in St. Claude. Sadly, they are no more, and as far as I know, the only horn stems available today are those that pipemakers make themselves. I have a huge stock of these things in a wide variety of shapes, but with very limited utility for reasons of design. Nearly all of them have much thicker, much rounder bits than I like. I have made best use of some of the wider ones on a few Ligne Bretagnes through the years, but there are a good many stems which I simply can't do anything with. The ones in the photo are good examples - I don't like their kinked, "bent in one spot only" look, they can't be drilled out to my specs while bent, they are too labor-intensive to straighten, drill, and then re-bend (on a Ligne Bretagne budget), so basically, they sit around collecting dust and their (significant) portion of the packaged business stock price is pretty much a write-off.

At least, until the other day! I picked up one of the bent stems, admiring the beautiful material (I think this is the most attractive stem material by far, and many of these stems are just gorgeous examples of horn) and it suddenly hit me - It could be a tamper! Add a turned briar tamping end and the pieces would make attractive, very practical tampers with an unusual story behind them and a bit of 1930's Gentlemen Hunters Club ambiance. I made these two in the photo and contacted Larry at P&P for his thoughts on selling them. Very probably, at least a few of them will be shipping over in this next box, to see what people think of them in the store. I do not plan to sell them direct myself - direct sales of low cost items by internet are nearly always more trouble than they are worth - but if they are popular I'm sure Larry will have a consistent stock of them.

I love the two sitting here on my desk. The bent stems make a perfect tamping grip. The question becomes, will others like them or think it's a dumb idea? It appeals to me because it's a way of turning a little piece of history (These stems are probably around fifty years old each) that would otherwise just be discarded, into something that can be preserved and used. The only other real option for many of them is to be cut up into decor rings. I'll be curious to see what people think when the first examples arrive at P&P for fondling. No prices are set yet, beyond the general idea that they will not be cheap, but neither will they be priced among the $200 artisan tampers.

[I should probably go ahead and comment here regarding the stems or I know I'll get a hundred email inquiries and ideas about selling them. In a nutshell, no, it would not be worth the labor to sell them. If someone appeared with a serious offer to buy the entire lot, with a few reference photos, then I'd sell them in a minute, but the more likely result of trying to sell them would be inquiries from a hundred different amateur pipemakers who each wanted to buy just five or six, "to see what they're like to work with", only willing to pay a few dollars each but demanding exacting photographs of every stem complete with measurements and details. The classic case where, after photographing and measuring and posting web pictures, one has a day's labor sunk into something that will cost more in email answering & handling labor time than it will ever be worth, when more profitable work could be getting done. Thus, to all the folks who will write me to ask if they can just buy one or two, the answer is Thanks, but no thanks - I just don't have the time to be mailing little boxes of stems to addresses all over the place.]

Another little preview in today's photo is the bamboo-shanked Talbert Briar sitting in the background. It was a pleasant surprise - a beautiful, flawless piece of briar that finished as a stunning smooth. It, among other goodies, is soon to be shipping to Pipe & Pint for sale from their shop. Anyone interested should contact Larry at Pipe & Pint (336-218-8610), but there's no need to hurry since I don't expect it to reach the US for a month. USD price will probably be in the $680-$700 range after conversion. Expect more and more of my work to be appearing at Pipe & Pint. My frustrations with the reliability of international shipping via the French PO have reached the boiling level, and there should be a tidy bit of good news here in the not-too-distant future regarding shipping. That's about all for the moment, thanks for reading!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Tabac Sign

I wanted to post this nice shot of a Tabac sign from our local Medieval Fair here on this blog also, fo those who don't read our "American Pipemaker in Brittany" blog and would otherwise miss the recent posts of pics from the fair. Sadly, the store under this wonderful sign is mostly a magazine and gift shop, with a rack of cigarettes behind the counter and a few packets of Clan. Yech. That's about it for the moment, though I hope to shortly post a nice shot of two new pipes soon-to-be finished - one Morta "Lionfish" pipe done for a special request, and a very nice bamboo-shanked Talbert that will probably be migrating over to the inventory of Pipe & Pint.

Oh, and one other thing - Do any of you techie readers know of any freeware utility which can batch-modify multiple JPGs to smaller dimensions? I have roughly six folders filled with photos taken during Emily's parents' visit, but each photo is 1600x1200, and quite a bear for them to download on their 56K modem connection. With 200+ photos, individual resizing and compressing is out of the question. I do most of my photo work in Paintshop Pro, which can do batch format conversion but not batch resizing, so if anyone can point me to a freeware utility that can handle this task, thanks in advance!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Urban Dead meets Adventuring Pipester

This is about as trivial as anything can be, but... those visiting readers who have been enjoying Urban Dead may want to have a look at this thread on game customizing. Responding to the endless whining about game-balance-destroying weapons like machineguns and whatnot, one fellow has written a simple script to allow players to rename the existing weapons. Immediately, Vincent Z was able to transform himself into a better-realized version of the gentleman adventurer, with a more entertainingly themed pile of kit. I look forward to my first chance to do 5 HP of damage to a zombie with "a puff of pipe smoke". Of course, each tobacco tin only contains 6 pipe-fulls. Now if I could just rename Police Stations to Tobacconists, the theme would be complete.

Should anyone happen to bump into TreverT, Pipier, or Snuffleuff on their journeys through Malton, please say hi! Though, be careful around Snuffleuff, he bites...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Not Dead (Yet)

Sheesh. One could be forgiven for wondering if I've vanished off the map, but not so - We've simply been scrambling like mad to get back into a working panic after the departure of Emily's parents. I say "panic" because, as seems to be the eternal refrain since we moved to France, this long semi-vacation has left us in dire financial straits and it looks like the 2006 financial crisis is going to carry on happily for at least the next two months or more. This means working every day, seven days a week, from waking to midnight, which is why the blog posts have fallen off lately. It's rough - I can't even bring myself to look back on some of our old vacation photos from the US now, since I haven't had a real vacation since we moved here four years ago (Parent visits are a delight and a joy, but I can't honestly describe them as "vacations" since there is so much worry and stress involved). But, we grit our teeth and struggle on..

(Though I must confess to a certain psychotic frustration with people who hear that we're forced to work round the clock and write to chide us "not to work so much, and remember to take some time off". Hearing this coming from people who have salaries, paid vacations, and savings accounts tends to come off rather badly, I must say, though I am proud of myself not to have actually bitten a large chunk of flesh out of anyone who said this yet. I can't help but just be stupefied at the thinking this seems to indicate - What, they think we don't want to take time off? Interestingly, it's nearly always Europeans who say this - my fellow Americans seem to share an innate understanding of the occasional need for overwork and just nod in grim support. An odd cultural difference, that.)

I've plunged back into working on several special requests since we waved goodbye to the in-laws, though the work is slow since we have a lot of distractions (It is tax time here). The photo above shows a few pieces recently finished for various requests, some of which may end up on the website. Also, Emily took this dramatic photo of one of the mortas:

Visible in the first photo is the stummel of a fat bulldog - a larger, Talbert Briar version of the departed Ligne Bretagne bulldogs almost, though it is actually modelled after a Tao in response to a customer's request. This one will almost certainly be going onto the website for sale, since he wants a smooth and it will be a sandblast. This is the problem with smooth pipe requests - it's up to the briar and since I don't use fills or tweaks to hide flaws, and sandblast everything that has flaws, smooth Talberts are rare beasts. I have no idea how many stummels I might go through trying to find a smooth bulldog, though there is a practical limit; namely, however many I can make before I get tired of doing the same shape and just move on to something different.

In other news, after my amusing meandering in the last blog post about what pipes appeal and which don't, every single one of the pipes in question sold, and the only pipe we still have in stock here is a single Signature Grade Morta. Even the Spoon found a home! And I thought business would be dead with the Chicago show happening.

That's about all the time I can spare for the moment. Back to the grind!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Deciphering the Market

I managed to snatch a nice group photo of a lot of the pipes that we have in stock here at the moment - This pic gathers together every pipe on hand except for a few Ligne Bretagnes. The only LB I managed to fit in is the nice smooth Canadian, over on the left. It does make for an interesting bit of size scale comparison between the Classic grade mortas and the larger Signature grade. For those who aren't on our email list, I've posted four new mortas today - one Signature grade sandblast, and three smooth Classics... or rather, two Classics and a Spoon.

My topic idea today was spun off some comments I wrote in the email notice, namely that it can sometimes be quite a challenge predicting what buyers will like! And, it can also be a mystery. I do a lot of original designs - I guess I am known for it. I enjoy, and value, genuine creativity more than just making variations of popular shapes that are guaranteed to sell. I want to stress, however, that this is not another of those, "I am such a radical outcast, too good for the establishment, too talented for the plebians to recognize, I'll never deign to lower myself to produce for the masses"-types of precocious rants that usually come from wannabe "artistes" that are just trying to succour their own egos over their inability to connect with success. I do believe there is such a thing as art that is so exotic that it can't ever hope for mainstream success... but is still excellent art... as well as art that is just innately lousy, and that's why it never connects.

But how to tell the difference between the two!!

And perhaps more importantly, how to consciously balance the need to make what people want with the drive to just "play", and make what we-the-pipemakers want to make. For instance, my pipe The Mariner - This was something done totally for myself. I worked on it in my spare time, I never expected it to sell or even to be popular, but I kept at it because it was a personal project - a little tribute to an early inspirational figure for me and also just a fun piece. I did not expect it to sell and it has thus far met my expectations, though it has only been available for a month.

(I should digress here to mention that I consider myself deliriously lucky to be able to make work that usually sells quickly. For whatever reason, good fortune, kind watching spirits, or whatever, my pipes have consistently sold fast for eight straight years now. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for this! But, it produces the amusing flip side which is that, whenever a pipe sits unsold for a few weeks.... and consider that many high grades have shelf life measured in months or sometimes years... it sometimes spurs me to fret, and wonder what I've done horribly wrong with a particular piece)

In any event, the Mariner is quite pretty to me but I never expected anyone else to like it. I am a bit surprised, however, that I still have the best shape example of my Moebius Bolus design in stock - That is one that I'd expected people to snap up like crazy. When a pipemaker finds himself looking at a hot seller that didn't sell hot, he asks himself questions like:

Do people just hate the shape? I like it very much, myself, and will be pleased to keep it and smoke it if it never moves, but it does give great pause to the idea of making more.

Is it a matter of timing? Everyone is at Chicago, or saving for Chicago. Pipe sales are dead for the weeks beforehand.

Is it perceived as too expensive? (I must admit to wondering, if the pipe had a Halloween Pipe stamping on it, it likely would have sold instantly for twice the price....) Given the labor intensive process of making a Moebius shape, they will never be cheaper than Signature grades, so if they can't sell for the prices they need to command, they just won't be made.

Am I just worrying needlessly? Maybe I should just relax and realize that it will likely sell, just on a more "normal" timetable.

I don't say this strictly for myself, but rather to express what most pipemakers go through as they try to figure out exactly what the market wants from them. The flip advice is normally, "Don't try to figure out the market, just make what you like and if it is good, then the market will come to you." This, while bearing a lot of truth, is unfortunately a bit simplistic, because as working artisans we do need to eat. Also, in my personal opinion, making only "play work", ie, fun goofing-around, is ultimately overly self-indulgent - if a creator of any type isn't willing to consider and try and please the desires of his audience, he is essentially engaging in ego masturbation - It isn't all about the maker, it's a compact between maker and buyer that makes the difference between what is defined as quality work and what is just wasted effort.

This brings me to the title today - How does one decipher what one's individual market wants? And, now that I've typed far more than I intended, that will have to be continued on another day....

Friday, May 05, 2006

Czech Pipemaking

I'll be quick today due to us still entertaining the parents here. We had a visit from a friendly fellow named Martin recently who forwarded me a list of interesting links to Czech pipemakers who were unknown to me. Needless to say, I was enthused to see the ones in today's photo! They are by Ryszard Kulpinski. The other names he alerted me to are Karel Krska (Him, I had heard of), Jan Kloucek, and Pavel Hap. As always, it was fun seeing pipes that I'd never heard of, and I usually find it interesting to see pipes that have developed apart from the usual English/French/Danish pipe world. In particular, I really liked this rusticated pipe - the style of rustication is just incredible, in my opinion!
The only other small bit of news is the appearance of a pipe-related back story in Urban Dead - check out the Feral Undead Wiki and scroll to the bottom for "Back Stories", and look for Reginald VonBraun. Definitely worth a chuckle for anyone who has dealt with some pipe shop owners before...