News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
Talbert Pipes Website - Kentucky Fried Popcorn - My Web Comic.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Talbert Christmas Carol

`Twas the night before Christmas, all snug in the house.
I left the cooking to Emily... Heh, what a louse!
I sat down to clean pipes with a feeling of dread,
unnerved by the sounds of strange footsteps o'erhead.
Two evenings with family, the gauntlet was thrown.
Would I have stayed in France, had I only known?
"Nah", I thought, "I'm better off here."
"Surrounded by casks of good winter beer!"
Christmas is fun, Christmas is shiny,
Christmas is even for those who are whiny.
Those who spend this time bitching and moaning.
can be easily replaced, with the help of good cloning.
This season is made for wishes and dreaming.
Just try to tune out the relatives' screaming.
So we'll have our big dinners, and we'll dance and we'll sing,
even if Santa doesn't bring us a thing!
Because at the end of the day, the thing that has meaning
is the warm family feeling....  and getting out of the cleaning!
So Merry Christmas to all!  We hope for the best,
and please don't get charged with resisting arrest.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Lurking Fear

Biz news flash!  For those of you who are not on our mailing list, you might be interested to know that I've posted four unsmoked Talbert Briars for sale to the "final beta" version of the new website - You can see the pipes for sale here.  You can also get an advance look at the style of the new site, as well as the new online payment system.

I realize the photo to the left may seem a bit incongruous coupled with this post title, but maybe I can explain.  We've been hit here in NC with an unprecedented pre-Christmas snow this weekend (Really, I can't remember the last time it snowed in December here, but I'm guessing it was back in my childhood).  As I type this, the roads are frozen over with sleet and slush, and likely to be that way through tomorrow as well.  Seeing snow at this time of year is an absolutely joyous event for us, since we only saw snow perhaps two or three times in seven years of living in Brittany - There, winter mostly meant eternal darkness, overcast skies, and rain for weeks at a time.  We spent the day out walking our new neighborhood and taking photos, some of which I posted to my Facebook profile for those who may be curious. 

So, with this sort of scenery surrounding us today, what's the issue?  Well, we talked a good bit as we walked.  Emily has been increasingly uneasy for the past week and after some discussion, we both nailed down the origin of the feeling - It's the seasonal return of France-induced paranoia that any time anything seems to be going well, something truly horrendous is waiting just around the corner.... and this went double during the holiday season. 

Our first winter there was the coldest on European record and our heat went out for days, leaving us living and working in a 21 degree house.  Later years brought plumbing system backups, massive money-losing projects, and the regular December tax bill, which for us was generally a 1000+ euro surprise just in time for Christmas shopping season.  Seven years of life in a country that was actively trying to kill us in every possible way seems to have left us both with a deep suspicion that any time things seem to be going right, this just means something much worse is waiting around the corner. 

It's going to take a while before we relax.

The good thing is that like those mythological beasties of yore, naming the lurking fear helps to banish it.  Looking back on 2009, it's a bit humbling to see just how much has gone right this year, despite the fact that we've literally lost everything we ever had in savings and equity.  Synchronicity seems to be on our side again - When we need help, there are friends to help, when we needed a vehicle, an ideal one popped up, when we needed workshop stock and equipment, lots of US pipemaker friends helped out with loans and donations.  We are, in short, incredibly lucky people despite the problems we've had this year.  We watched "It's a Wonderful Life" the other night and were struck by just how close to home it was.  Cynics might dismiss the film as overly sentimental or saccharine, but once you've lived through a similar experience, it changes your outlook forever. 

Merry Christmas, from the backyard of "Atelier Talbert"!

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Trial run with two new Talberts

Hello everyone, and Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Bonne FĂȘtes, and a general happy holidays to you, regardless of what you celebrate!  This is a notice for everyone who might be interested - I've got a few unsmoked Talbert Briars now posted.  These are not *new* pipes, per se, but are from a small stash of unsmoked Talberts that have been hoarded here in the states for a few years, which I'm now dispersing to new homes.  I've brought them back here and given them all a look-over, with new polishing and cleaning to bring them back to shine, and each is effectively a brand new Talbert from 3 years ago.

I'll get to the links in a second, but first I wanted to thank all the good folks who have helped us out this year, during the ongoing crisis of our return to the states, whether by donation of tools, stock, time, or just good wishes.  Now I have to call on your help again, because we desperately need every last penny we can bring in this holiday season.  If either of these new pipes tickles your fancy at all, please don't hesitate to buy!  We're in the final crunch, and just need enough to live on until the new site is open and business is rolling again.

I actually have three unsmoked Talberts here, but I'm thinking of doing a restain on the third and so I haven't photographed it yet (It's an XL plateau-topped freehand).  Look for it to be added to the site within a few days, too.

This is also a little test of our new online payment system, so if you buy, you'll be helping to make sure everything works properly before the setup gets stress-tested by the initial wave of shoppers when the new site opens fully.  Also, it's a general look & feel test - These pipes are posted using the new catalog item format of the redesigned website, and include easy currency conversion as well.  I hope you will like the look AND the convenience!  And without further ado, here are the links to the two new pipes posted:


Also, if you're looking for stocking stuffers for the pipe collector in your family, I've put a few new items in our Cafe Press clothing and misc shop also, like this snazzy cap showcasing our newly redesigned Talbert Pipes logo:

You can shop the full store here:

It's still a mix of new and old logos, but I will be updating it as time permits, and at least the shirts have the new logo now.
Thanks very much for your time, and I hope everyone has a terrific holiday season!

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Finishing up

What a long, strange.... and often horrifying... trip it has been.  I write this today having just completed the setup of the last workshop lathe that we need for pipemaking, making this our semi-official "Workshop Finished" day.  There are still things lacking (workstation lighting being the main one, as I can't see what I'm doing on several machines and have to carry a flashlight with me!), and I am certain that we will rearrange and modify the setup once we have used it for a while, but for now, we have access to a fully functioning workshop again.  I'd like to take the opportunity to once again thank all the great people who have helped us out with this project - We arrived here with nothing, thanks to our final screw-over by the Herbignac mairie, and our ability to start working again is entirely down to a lot of help, donations, and generosity on the part of pipe friends all across the USA and Canada.  To mark the occasion, here is a new "Workshop assembly" comic strip showing the last steps of getting the metal lathe working, and then a two page tour of the new workshop.  Hope you enjoy! 

(Oh, and for the curious - Don't look for new pipes on the site tomorrow.  With this done, I have five days of email to catch up, a lot of business archiving to do, a starting inventory to finish, a pair of special pipes to make, a house to decorate for the holidays, and a NC driver's license to obtain before I start making pipes for the site.... and THEN that will take a while in itself, since I want to have something nice in stock in every category before we put the new site online with all new stuff.  I don't know how long all this will take, but rest assured we'll be working as hard as we can right through December to get things going again.)


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Monday, November 30, 2009

A Tale of Three Browsers

So, I have just finished my month(s) long work writing our new Talbert Pipes website from the ground up.  It won't go live until the workshop is running and we actually have some stock to put on it, but at least that's one big chunk of hassle done with.  There will be a few new features, like the centralized main page that groups my latest blog headlines, site news, and Twitter feed all together, and also (finally) a basic online payment and shopping cart system so people will no longer have to email me to buy stuff. 

In the process of building this site, I have come to fully understand why web developers hate Internet Explorer, especially the older versions.  I've done my best to make the site work in all the main browsers that my site specs tell me come visiting (According to the web stats, half my site visitors use Firefox while the next big chunk is IE 7+, then a mixture of Opera, IE 6, and Safari).  However, the experience has brought me face to face with what developers rant about, namely IE's lack of standards compliance, meaning that I can use a certain set of internationally standardized CSS tags and they will work for ALL other standards-compliant browsers, but not IE.  IE requires its own customized tags, dating from the days when Microsoft thought they were going to control the web the way they had dominated the desktop, and believed the best way to do this was to force the entire web to bend over to accommodate THEIR specialized requirements instead of simply making their stuff properly standards-compliant.  Ugh. 

I've done the best I could, given my limited knowledge of site coding, to create a site that works equally in the major browsers.  It's a bit of a different experience, though...  Firefox and Safari and other browsers built off the same code definitely get the best appearance due to their use of text effects and background transparencies.  The IE version is a bit hobbled, though from what I hear, the next IE should fix some of these issues.... Then again, I've been hearing that since Windows 3.0.  Opera does fine except for the curious quirk of not displaying the sidebar transparent background at all - Still, it works, and at this point the pressure really demands that I turn my energies to getting stuff on the site and money coming in rather than spend more time fiddling with Opera-specific settings.  Here's a little comparative preview of the new site's redesigned Gallery, with the view from each browser - Firefox and Safari first:

To contrast, here is the IE version:

And here is the Opera view, with most effects in place but no sidebar background.  It isn't really needed, it's just a bit odd:

For the Gallery, that little sidebar extra will contain a Wayback Machine link for each year, allowing gallery visitors to not only look at my favorite pipes from a given year's production, but also to visit the Wayback Machine's cached internet archive of what our website looked like at that time. 
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

1840's Village

Yesterday we took our first day off in a very long time, and rode with my parents to see the 1840's Village in Hickory, NC.  It was a full-scale recreation of a settler town, complete with blacksmith, shoemaker, saddle-maker, woodwright, etc, with all crafts and tools on display and in use.  This hand-cranked drill press to the left is a great example of a classic tool still working nearly 170 years later - Say that about anything we use today!  I have posted a gallery of pics from this trip to both our Facebook and Flickr accounts, for those who might be interested in a look at the lifestyles of early Americans, as well as a glimpse of the NC highlands in autumn.  If there was anything we missed consistently and bitterly in Brittany, it was the NC autumn season - Brittany just does not look like this in fall!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Drill Refurbishing

A note to those who may be interested - Pipe & Pint has purchased a couple of large estate collections of my pipes and other brands, including some very unique high grades that are unsmoked and essentially new pipes. Watch this space for the next week or so, because I will be photographing some standout examples of these pipes and posting them here for sale.

In other news, the workshop work continues!  Our drill is now alive.  ALIVE, I say!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Blog Redesign

Mark off another goal accomplished - While waiting for some custom pulleys to be made to get our lathes going, I'm spending the next several days working full-time on revamping our blog and website.  This blog is the first example.  It has been woefully amateurish looking for some time now, because I created the layout a couple of years ago on an old square-aspect monitor, which didn't show the background very much.  On modern widescreens, the repeating pipe motif was incredibly annoying, but for the past year I simply haven't had the time to do anything about it.  Now it is finally an all-new look!  Once again, I did all the coding and graphics myself, with lots of consultation and advice from Emily.

My main goal was to be simple, without fancy special effects or anything, but to convey a more polished and professional look.  I would like to have simple animated buttons up top, but I don't know how to do that sort of coding in javascript so that's out for the moment.

One new feature is the pipe sketch at the top of the sidebar, left.  That's an actual design sketch I did while tending our table at the Richmond pipe show, and it's going to become a pipe one of these days.  I set up that little drawing area to be easily modified, and periodically I intend to change the pipe sketches out, for a varying peek at some of the ideas I have.

The only current problem I know of with the new layout is that older versions of Internet Explorer (6 and earlier) do not properly display transparent graphics, so the sidebar top will look bizarre.  I've researched for a solution to this problem only to find that there isn't one, or at least not one that's within my technical capabilities with CSS code (The prime solution seems to be to write an exclusion designed to recognize one's browser and swap out a flat JPG for the transparent PNG, but this is more complex than I know how to do, alas...).  Thankfully, users of older IE versions are a pretty small slice of the net these days, so hopefully it won't be a major problem.  Please leave a comment if you have any other problems viewing the site, and be sure to include your browser version and OS, thanks!

Next up, the main website....
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Monday, October 05, 2009

CORPS 2009

Just got back from the 2009 CORPS pipe show in Richmond, Virginia. It is still as enjoyable as ever.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Making Sanding Pads

Here's a quick little pictorial showing how my padded sanding discs and fitted together. Anyone with some threaded rod and a wood lathe could turn something similar, with work.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Building a Buffing and Sanding Workbench

This time around I've got four motors to somehow turn into usable buffing and sanding tools, AND work out a way that two people can get to them at once, AND make sure each one has adjustable dust collection that can be shifted around to best match a variety of sizes of sanding discs and wheels.

Click each page for bigger pics!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Building a Buffing Station

We've just finished assembling a buffing workstation for the new workshop. Like everything else here, it's a bit cobbled together due to our total lack of funds, but need breeds ingenuity, as they say, and I believe this creation will do a fine job for us. There are still two additions I'd like to make - wire covers over the vac intakes (to prevent stems from being sucked down the pipes if dropped), and a folding clear plexi shield mounted on the front, to prevent compound from ever flying up into the eyes. But, even as it is now, it's already a good bit more user-friendly than it originally was in Herbignac, and I look forward to playing with it.

As with previous illustrated strips like this, click the images for greatly enlarged versions.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Talbert Calabash available

No, it isn't one from the new workshop, it's one from a few years ago, but I thought I would post the link here in case any of my regular collectors were interested. I have no affiliation with this sale, nor can I speak for the current condition of the pipe or anything like that - I just saw it was available and remember it as being an extremely nice piece. It is also a very good deal for the asking price, and a great pipe for anyone who likes really huge bowls.

Talbert Calabash

Monday, August 03, 2009


My French friend Guillaume has also gotten hold of Comic Life, and produced his first epic bande dessinée. I sense the next Asterix in the making....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Memories of Brittany

Since I've been on a roll with the comic-style posts, here is a little cross-post from our "Life in America" blog, just to show a somewhat different look and feel. I've been trying to find some way to sum up our seven years in Brittany, and here's a start.

It's already like a dream. This is my first attempt to put our experience into a combination of words and images. Click it for the full-size version.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Talbert Workshop 3.0

We live! Or, at least our workshop chairs do. To the left is the first published pic of our new workshop-under-construction in North Carolina. It's an odd experience, building one all over again from the ground up. On the one hand, it's great to finally be able to lay out my own working space from the very start, instead of trying to retrofit a garage or someone else's shop into something I can function in. On the other hand, thanks to our last horrendous French disaster, we're still penniless and financially crippled - Most of the tools and hardware are borrowed or donated by friends and family to help us out.

Those of sharp eye may have also noticed that the former "American Pipemaker in Brittany" blog has revived and changed titles... and even is starting to have posts again! I thought hard about just deleting it and rolling its commentary into this blog, but in the end I felt it was better to keep the two separate. That way, this blog can remain pipe-focused and those who come here to read about pipes and pipecrafting won't have to suffer my rambles about pork rinds and Hammer horror films, which I can turn loose in "Life in America".

The new workshop is coming together. It's a slow process, which is about to get slower and pickier - The basics are now in place (work benches, machines, etc) and now it's time to get the motors and belts and hardware needed to get all this running and producing pipes and pens again. That will be the tricky part - Motors are expensive, and we need a bunch, so I guess I'll be combing Craigslist and yard sales for any bargains I can find. Still to-do are getting adapters made to allow the shafts to accept our wooden sanding spindles and buffers, and getting the compressor wired to 220 volts so we can sandblast again.

Overall, the new workshop is excellent. It's a drastic turnaround from the Herbignac shop, which was very much a gothic castle laboratory full of dust and cobwebs and foul things lurking in every corner. Our new place is open, airy, bright, and downright cheerful to be in, not least because it has a nice back window view of the back deck and enclosed green backyard.

Yes, green....... No more townhouse views of traffic! I look forward to this as much as anything else. After seven years of parking lot, pavement, roads, tourists, window watchers, teens on scooters, and all the annoyances of trying to do a day's work in the Herbignac workshop, being here is a positive revelation in relaxation. I was beginning to fear that I would never actually enjoy being in the workshop again, a subject I'll talk about in more detail in a future post.

For now, at least, we are here, work is happening, and this blog is alive once more - I'll be charting the evolution of the shop as the project progresses. Thanks very much for your patience in waiting through this long fallow period, and let's hope for happier days ahead!

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Friday, June 26, 2009

In the meanwhile...

My office, with a few boxes of paperbacks to unpack.

I have yet to find either the time or the inspiration for a proper
blog post. Time is the bigger issue, though subject matter is a
challenge too, as re-integration into a native culture is a topic for
either a couple of very cursory paragraphs or forty pages of post. In
the meanwhile, most of my regular status updates have been going to my Facebook profile, which is easier to fire off quick one-liners too,
and doesn't require much of the "sitting down and thinking about it"
that blog posting does. In view of this, I've added a link on the
left to my Facebook profile, should anyone want to connect with my
profile page there and follow along with the shenanigans.

The (very) short of it - The house stuff is unpacked so we have
kitchen utensils now. We've been working on the workshop for the past
couple of days, and today I am building a pair of work benches out of
a sawn-up old door and some lumber. All current focus is on getting
our pile of borrowed tools functioning and getting back to work. More
to come...

(Oh, and this post was sent by mobile, which accounts for the odd formatting)
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