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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cool Pipes and White Screens

I got a marvelous surprise in the mail the other day - New pipes! For ME, I mean! This is unusual. Visitors here are typically underwhelmed by my small collection, not realising that I had to sell off most of my higher grades to help finance our move to France. But, over the past couple years this has improved thanks to a few excellent gifts from friends. Last week's mail, however, had the biggest surprise so far - two new pipes, a Caminetto and a Joao Reis. For the first time in my life, I have a pipe by a designated "hot young carver", which is great fun. It's the calabash in the lower right corner.

The Caminetto is a bit of a mystery, apparently - Aside from its Cthulhoid tentacles out front (Yes, yes, I know, it's supposed to be a representation of the Caminetto moustache logo.... but I prefer to think tentacles), it sports some unusual stamping that apparently has experts in the US stumped. Needless to say, it's a keeper!



The third pipe in the pic is my very own Ligne Bretagne FdP Pipe #1, which I decided to keep for myself. It got passed over several times in favor of sexier versions of the shape - Unfortunately, it suffered from two troubles. I'd had requests for smooth versions, so I cut this block to make a beautiful smooth, crosscut with wide bird's-eye displays, and it looked like it would be a great smooth right up to the final sanding, when it simply had too many dot pits for my tastes and ended up as a blast. But, half of making a striking blast is in shaping the block to accentuate the blast, and crosscuts like this just don't look as dramatic. Secondarily, it has extremely tight, detailed, very intricate grain and the effect was lost in all the photos of it, spurring buyers to go for the more craggy versions. Rather than have it continue being a poor step-child, I kept it. I don't think I will risk trying to shape for smooths anymore, though - I can't risk being stuck with unsold pipes so I'll just have to let the smooths (if any) emerge by accident rather than design.

In passing, these three also present an amusing comparison in break-in - a bare-wood Italian briar, a silicate-carbonized "Danish-esque", and my own pre-carb mix on Algerian briar. Very different flavors and experiences! I'm not about to say which I find best, though... ;)

The White Screen of Death
Last week I lost touch with the internet for a day. I went to bed and it was working and connected, I got up the next morning and it was still connected but all websites were unreachable - All Firefox would give me was the white screen time-out message. Same for email, FTP, etc. This happens on occasion with Wanadoo, and usually fixes itself inside an hour, so I just left it for a bit. The day passed, however, with no change, and finally it was time to call tech help.

Note to Americans - Technical help is different here. The next time you're complaining about how long you've been sitting on hold on the help line, chew on this fact - Wanadoo (and indeed, all the French ISPs I've checked out) does not provide a toll-free tech help number... in fact, they charge the customer 34 cents a minute to call for help, and THEN put you on hold for ten minutes pushing random buttons trying to find a real person.

Gragh, I say, gragh..

Then, of course, we had to wade through the usual BS that I'd already tried - reboot, power cycle the modem, etc. There is a rule that tech help must always assume you barely know how to turn your monitor on, and we eventually had to get quite demanding before we found someone capable of deciphering my tracert results, which rather explicitly revealed that their friendly suggestions to re-install Windows weren't going to do any good when everything I sent through one of their relays was being lost, and it was their problem. A half hour later, it was magically fixed and I could access the net again, but I never got any apologies, explanations, or even a "Has this fixed your problem?" email. I did, however, get a "How was your experience with Wanadoo's Customer Service?" automated email some days later. I wish they'd sent me a prepaid reply envelope instead - I'd be tempted to mail them back a brick wrapped in US listings of 1-800 numbers.