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Time is Money

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(This post was originally published on September 20th, 2011. I had no idea what kind of response I'd get from the _floss community since it was sort of off-brand, but this comment from loripop not only made my 2011, it made my entire 6-year, 2000+ posts flossing career: "This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read on the internet." Loripop, whoever and wherever you are, thank you, thank you, thank you. And thanks to all the other wonderful commenters over the years on this post and so many others. You guys are something else! Keep it alive...)

My grandfather Mervin was an inventor. He invented hairclips. This month, he would have turned 110. To make money as a lad, he got a job sweeping up hair in a beauty parlor. Soon he noticed a need for clips. Clips that held the hair in place while the barber cut, clips that put waves in the hair, and doohickeys that crimped and flattened. He had patents on all these. Some were profitable, like the Jiffy, the Teeny, and others weren’t. But I guess the successful ones more than made up for the duds because he did pretty well for himself.

In the 1940s, his factory was at 173-177 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Later he moved it to Orlando, Florida, though, when the workers tried to organize. In my family, we never liked unions much.

Fifty years later when I was living in SoHo, I wandered over to Chinatown to see what had happened to 173-177 Lafayette Street. I thought maybe the residue of the Mervin Wave Clip Company sign would be visible on the side of the building. The building was still there, but there was no sign of his sign. Everything was in Chinese. Mandarin or Cantonese, who knew?

At the street level of the old factory was a discount store. I went in to poke around and tried to strike up a conversation with the man who worked there. The place was overflowing with merchandise dressed in colorful wrappers that made everything look like candy.

“My grandfather used to work in this building,” I said to the clerk who might have been the owner judging by the confidant pose he struck.

He nodded.

“This was back in the forties,” I said.

Again he nodded, and then smiled a little.

“Those were different times I guess,” I said.

“Time?” he managed. “Time is money.”

I bought a bag of candy and headed home. The candy turned out to be some kind of dehydrated noodle though.

After my grandfather moved the business to Orlando, he met a progressive doctor who only ate food grown in his garden: fruits, nuts, vegetables. Way, way, way ahead of his time, the doctor told my grandfather You are what you eat.

Over time, my grandfather heeded the man’s advice and became a vegetarian. As kids, my brother and I would visit him in Florida and he’d eat a tureen full of salad for dinner while we had chicken, steak, fish, the works. He never tried to get us to give up meat, but we wanted bigger salads than normal for dinner because his looked so good. There were sunflower seeds in there, chickpeas, flax seeds and something he had flown in especially from Washington state called dulse, which is a very salty, dry seaweed that he said was full of B vitamins.

He also ate garlic cloves whole and liked to smear it on a piece of toast instead of butter or jam. When it came to apples, he ate the whole thing, including the core and the seeds. He’d say, “If a little seed like this has enough energy in it to produce an apple tree, can you imagine how good it is for you?”

I’d say, “Yeah, but they taste pretty lousy.”

He’d say, “So?”

There’s not much you can say to So. And anyway, it was pointless to argue with a man who peeled and bit into Bermuda onions the way the rest of us eat bananas.

My grandfather also loved mangos. He owned a tree on somebody’s property near I-95 and would drive over there to pick them when they were in season. But he couldn’t eat them fast enough, so every year he’d pack up liquor boxes with mangos wrapped in newspaper and ship them up to us in New Jersey. If we happened to be visiting him when they were in season, he’d send us home on the plane with a box, as well.

The box was always taped close and wrapped with heavy rope he had found on the beach during his morning walks—something washed up from the sea. The rope made it easy to pick the box off the baggage carousel and kept the mangos safe inside.

But in his late 80s he couldn’t take those long walks on the beach anymore because a melanoma had metastasized to his liver. So the rope collection began to diminish. The last time I visited him in Florida, before he died, he was 91 and still insisted on packing a box of mangos for me to take back north.

I watched him carefully wrap each mango in newspaper and seal the box. Then he painstakingly looped the rope around the box and asked me to assist in making a square knot. When he was done, he looked at me with a sunken face and said, “Well, that’s the end of the rope.”

And sadly, it really was. A month or so later, he was dead.

These days, I see people buying his wave clips off eBay and wonder what on earth they plan to do with them—if maybe the eBayers are just weird hairclip collectors or something. I also wonder who’s collecting all that rope on the beach now that my grandfather isn’t and wish I’d pay more attention when he was alive because I can’t seem to make a square knot without him.

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Creating a Water-Powered Hammer Using Stone Age Tools
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iStock // vuk8691

A "Monjolo" is a water-powered hammer made from a log and some sticks. It relies on flowing water from a stream to do its work.

In the video below, the anonymous laborer who goes by Primitive Technology on YouTube creates his own Monjolo from scratch. It's effectively a hollowed-out log placed in the path of a stream, supported by a structure of skinny beams. As the log fills up with water, it rises, then the water drains out the back and it comes crashing down again. When it crashes down, that's an opportunity for a hammer head on the end to do something useful—like crushing charcoal or grain.

The creator of Primitive Technology writes:

This is the first machine I’ve built using primitive technology that produces work without human effort. Falling water replaces human calories to perform a repetitive task. A permanent set up usually has a shed protecting the hammer and materials from the weather while the trough end sits outside under the spout. This type of hammer is used to pulverise grain into flour and I thought I might use one to mill dry cassava chips into flour when the garden matures. ...

Like all the Primitive Technology videos, this is done entirely without spoken or written language, and it's DIY paradise. Tune in for a look into what one man alone in the bush can create:

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This Just In
Typewriter Sold at Flea Market Turns Out to Be Rare World War II Enigma Machine

An antique typewriter sold at a Romanian flea market for $114 turned out to be a rare piece of wartime history: a German Wehrmacht Enigma I machine worth tens of thousands of dollars, Reuters reports.

To the uninitiated, the rare electromechanical cipher machine—which was first developed in Germany in the 1920s, and was used to encode and decode Nazi military messages during World War II—resembles a writing machine. But when a cryptography professor spotted it, he knew the device’s true worth. He purchased the relic and later put it up for auction at the Bucharest auction house Artmark.

Artmark employee Vlad Georgescu told CNN that the machine was made in Germany in 1941. It was in near-perfect condition thanks to its owner, who cleaned and repaired it, and “took great care of it,” Georgescu said.

The Enigma I’s starting price was $10,300. On Tuesday, July 11, an online bidder purchased it for more than $51,000. "These machines are very rare, especially entirely functional ones," Georgescu said. Historians, however, say that Romania may still be home to more unidentified Engima I machines, as the country was once allied with Nazi Germany before joining forces with the Allies in 1944.

During World War II, Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park, Britain's central codebreaking site, built a giant computer called the Bombe to calculate solutions that solved the Enigma’s supposedly unbreakable code. Some military historians believe that their efforts shortened the war by at least two years.

[h/t BBC News]

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