Rolling the moss off…

We at MANVIL have had a firm belief in the use of flashcards to educate people about tools. We’re not talking about flashcards simply for education’s sake, but for ESL and for re-habilitation’s sake as well.

When (ABC anchorman) Bob Woodruff’s armored transport was hit by an IED, he suffered Aphasia, the inability to find words. Part of his rehabilitation involved the use of flashcards to reorganize images and their corresponding names in his brain. His friends simply drew images on paper and he used them as flashcards. He said that the simple flashcards aided him in his recovery.

Alas, times have changed, and now that almost every iPhone 3 or better has been handed down to a kid, or a derelict relative or neighbor, it seems that it is finally time for MANVIL to move towards creating an app. Where, oh where, to begin.

In a town like Portland, with a slew of great coders, a silicon forest full of entrepreneurs and an enviable (if distracting) sea of creatives, where does one go to get some inside scoop on production of an app?

We chose to dip our toes in Portland Startup Weekend.

After giving a brief “elevator” presentation of what we wanted the MANVIL App to be, we came to realize that the competition at PDXSW was fierce, and extremely talented! Not to mention full of some of the best and the brightest in the Portland’s cyber society. (So the quest for the great MANVIL App continues) That said, the encouragement, guidance and support provided by the introductions we made at PDXSW have been awesome.

The team we chose to join, whose pitch we felt strongly about,  was a small squad putting together a site for easing the rental applications process.  OHANA would be the kind of site one visits before the next apartment search. Once you’ve filled out the forms and paid your application fee, your vital security information is filled out, your references are checked, and if you are of a suitable standing in the OHANA lists, chances are you won’t have any trouble getting your apartment from a reputable landlord. OHANA as a team had a sound idea, a thorough costs/benefit analysis, and some fine tuned graphics if I do say so myself.

Sadly, a panel of judges deemed several other teams to have more viable startup outlooks… And our hat is off to Local Plate, Foot in the Door, and the winner BugShark (Their graphics weren’t nearly as fun.)

We’ll continue to push this process forward, and eventually the MANVIL App will come to fruition.

If anybody out there has a great idea that could/should/may have commercial viability we suggest you check out Portland Startup Weekend for its next Portland visit. It was a a blast of highly charged fresh air.

Will it sell in Topeka?

Beyond graphics services MANVIL makes flashcards. We take them seriously and believe in their value for education as well as for Traumatic Brain Injury rehabilitation. They also would be excellent gifts for those who believe their family members have no clue which part is the working end of a screw-driver, but we won’t go into that right now.

We placed the MANVIL Flashcards Series 1.01 on the market in ’08, and they were well received for what a small business can create, but there has to be more to it.

Sticking to what we thought was a good design is an option, but constant improvement needs to be considered. And our clients gave us some suggestions that we couldn’t ignore.

Clients stated that they wanted to be able to “see” the product better, so we chose to increase the contrast without completely re-defining the image.

We also chose to change the font in order to make the definitions less busy. We swapped out the older looking serif font and went with something a little more eye-friendly.

We like the changes altogether and believe the current design to be more eye catching while retaining the use-ability of the cards. The product packaging, which also will be changed if we are able to increase interest, will retain the same ‘old school’ look and feel.

So what did we learn here? Pay attention to your customers. Listen to what those customers have to say about the product. Although the firm may have great ideas for design, they need to sell those ideas to more than just themselves if they want to keep the doors open.

PS: Considering good ideas and design, it should be noted that the Phillips Screwdriver was actually invented by John P. Thompson and patented by Henry F. Phillips of Portland, Oregon. The Phillips patented screw and screw-driver were relatively unheard of before the patent date in 1934. The tool’s subsequent use by the assembly lines of Cheverolet and Cadillac made them an industry standard.


The client passed, but it gave us an idea…

A while ago one of our prospective clients dropped an idea in our lap and we ran with it. The client was interested in making flash cards for the entire 2012 line-up of a certain European motorcycle company.

As time passed, the client’s excitement for the idea waned, but the ball was rolling at MANVIL and we liked the possibilities. The plans for the cards had them made on coaster type material.

We liked it in concept, but the idea of motorcycle riders using bike themed coasters to nestle their beers in probably didn’t pass muster with the legal department. And although we can’t fault legal for finding issue with drinking and riding, (They should not mix, ever.) ee are a little bummed that the plan was nixed.

We think the cards look pretty damned nice, and we also like the idea of knowing your motorcycle types. As time permits, these might become MANVIL Cards Version R62 for our two wheel riding friends.

Let us know if you can suggest any motorcycles that deserve to be a part of the Motorcycle Icon series. We’ll look into the production possibilities.


The beginning of MANVIL cards Series Sw. 625

If there were a reason for MANVIL to be around at all it has everything to do with flashcards.

Initially we saw them as a means to educate kids and perhaps rehabilitate traumatic brain injury sufferers. We haven’t changed the goal, we’ve just continued producing the designs like we had the money to get the flashcard company off the ground, which we don’t, but that’s not important right now.

What is important is that our NEXT series of cards will be Series Sw. 625: Musical Instruments Flashcards.

Why would somebody need these? We’d venture to guess that in some venues, if a roadie were to hand the lead guitarist a Les Paul Custom as opposed to a Flying V or vice-versa, said roady would spend the rest of the evening wandering the streets back to their home, jobless.

Fight unemployment for America’s future Road Travelling Band Support Teams: Let your kid know the difference between a Gibson and another Gibson, or an oboe and a kazoo, or maybe  snare drum and a washboard.

You wouldn’t want to be the one who asks your kid to go get the cowbell only to have them return with the triangle. (And what the hell are you doing with a triangle anyway? Who are you, Martin Short?)

Anyway, that’s why we’re moving forward in Series Sw. 625: Musical Instrument Flashcards.

Those of you out there who are curious about the naming of this product can take the time and listen to the only redeaming track from Def Leppard’s Euro/butt-rock extravaganza High N’ Dry. Enjoy!

The secret may well be Swanson….

MANVIL doesn’t relate to a lot of characters on TV.

Sure, we’d like to be as suave and intelligent as Don Draper, but without the karmic repercussions, the ‘untidy’ history and the need to keep looking over out shoulder at our sordid lie of a life.

It might be great to be as fun-loving, wily and witty as Jack Donaghy, but without the burden of the old boys network, the cut-throat business mind-set, and the need of a tuxedo after six. (Maybe we’re farmers, after all?)

There is, however, one man on the small screen that we can relate to. A man to whom work is work, and play is… well… finer work still.

Parks and Recreation is a show about a small mid-western town and its bureaucracy. It’s a funny show en toto, with colloquial humor and well scripted jibes, but we watch it for one character: Ron Swanson. A talented woodworker, with a penchant for the red meats in life and avoiding the absurdity of stepping in the way of a bureaucracy run amok, Swanson’s woodwork is his own mental Valhalla.

And why wouldn’t it be, if he could use this: The Swanson Speed Square. Appropriate enough for the man of the same name, it’s a tool that makes forming wood a past-time still OK for the office.

Nick Offerman, who plays Swanson on Parks and Rec, evidently spends a lot of time doing wood work. His efforts are somewhat renowned, (Offerman Woodshop) and that allows MANVIL to like Swanson/Offerman even more. (Even though they’re in California)




Project 4.0 Heavy: The Caterpillar D6N Waste Handler

We’ve been building the platform for the MANVIL Flash Cards for a number of years wondering whether to switch out to apps or not. No matter, the answer will come to us at some point. For now, we’ll stick to our guns and lay the damn things out.

We’re not fans of some “hello kitty” lifestyle where everything is a rounded, soft and a pretty facsimile of reality. We like the stuff raw, real and relative. A machine should look like a machine, a car should look like the car it represents, and tools should look like the things you’ll end up working with if you ever decide to leave the confines of the den and get off your ass to really work with your hands. 

This little item here is the first card of MANVIL Project 4.0 Heavy. The big stuff. The stuff kids ogle at with mouths agape. These machines are the big hitters that take rough land and turn it into pristine sub-divisions, or the tireless drones that take piles of discarded rubble and turn them into landfill. This specific unit was borne to push man-made waste wherever it is deemed best usable.

The waste handler is specifically designed with super-duty cooling systems and special protection for moving parts to ensure that the machine’s life in the landfill is long and unencumbered by mechanical failure. We at MANVIL don’t know when the decision was made to create a landfill specific bulldozer, but we are amazed that it has it own subspecies.

We’ll keep putting together the forty card set, and we’ll throw back a cold one or two when they are all done. You may see one or two more of these down the road… we like ’em!


Ask a silly question….

There is a person I think we all know. He or she is the one with the most toys in our cadre of friends, neighbors and/or countrymen. This person, usually on the cutting edge of the tool game,  is the one we can be sure to turn to as we look to for a ‘real-time’ review of something. 

“The new electronic gizmo? Oh, **** knows it well, but he went with the other brand because it interfaces better, has a longer battery life and looks better.”
“The new Bosch/Craftsman/Makita/DeWalt/Milwaukee/whoever tool for ripping out floors under cabinets? ****** knows the one, and she knows how it compares to the competition. She bought brand X months ago and loves it.”
“You should ask ***** or **** about the new Abu Garcia steel head reels, they swear by them.”
These folks have a willingness to explore things that otherwise would be a bit out of the common realm of curiosity. They’re just a little more refined in their purchases. They’ll stretch the boundaries of sensibility to be the lead resource in their lifework/hobby’s field. If we ever have questions. They’re more than happy to help, and for that we should be eminently grateful. They researched all the cool stuff so we could follow them and look good.  They have the knowledge and skill set to find exactly the right tool for the puzzle at hand. 
Occasionally, though, there are other near perfect fits that aren’t quite in the game book but are still completely viable. 
My friend Tad and his bride Leslie held their reception party at a golf course. I’ll take this time to add that it is a very pretty golf course that my buddy Tony and I had never spent any time on and we were interested in seeing it all. As part of the deal Tad and Leslie had with the club, the golfers finished up around three PM and were supposed to have cleared out before five just as the reception was coming into full swing. Suffice it to say that there were some stragglers coming in late, and apparently the golf cart staff was very protective of all of their carts. As the last duffers left the course I watched the cart guys grab all the keys from the carts and lock them in an overnight safe before they ran past the reception to their cars.
A bit chagrined at the turn of events with the cart staff, my buddy Tony and I sat down in the first EZ-Go we came across. With beers in hand we began to discuss golf cart production concepts to wrap our heads around the situation. We figured that if a company makes golf carts, it would be almost impossible for that company to also manufacture the golf cart wheels and tires, unless it was a huge company. These carts weren’t made by a huge manufacturer like GE, I think they were Hungarian EZ-Go knock-offs. In that line of production thought, the golf cart manufacturer would also have to sublet the manufacturing of ignition locks to another company. If the ignition lock were sublet, then chances are, they’d make only one style of key. Between the two of us, we had ten ignition keys and ten more house keys. (Tony was a bit of a car farmer at the time, and I was driving company trucks for work.) We tried them all and none worked.
 (Deductive reasoning – 0 / golf carts – 1.)
 It looked like it would take the perfect tool for the job, and as fate would have it, I already had the perfect tool. I didn’t have to turn to any of my good friends who’s tools I have used and enjoyed over the years for the production of MANVIL‘s cards
I took the tiny Swiss Army knife my dad gave me, and jammed the finger nail file in the ignition and jiggled. We were off in a flash. By the end of the night Tony, Tad, Leslie, a batch of other guests and I left the reception to safari on the open veldt of the Eastmoreland Country Club as fast as five carts could get us around.* 
Final score: deductive reasoning – 5+ / carts – 1.
*not the real name

Heavy duty dining… kinda

The last time I was strolling through the aisle at REI I was taken by how small things have gotten in the camping department. Compact LED flashlights now weigh less than the D-cell batteries that we used to carry for over-nighters. The new sleeping bags that keep folks warm in lower temperatures stuff compactly to smaller volumes than my old socks could, and the camp stoves are about as cool and small as one could every ask for. Curiously enough, the freeze dried food hasn’t gotten any lighter, and I’m not sure it has begun to taste any better either. I’d imagine that the same saying applies to camping today as it always did, the best tasting food is the stuff in the pot at the end of the days hike. (That adage has subsequently been refined in my book to describe the best beer: It’s the first cold one at hand after mowing the lawn.) 

Trail camping, as opposed to car camping or tailgating, suggests that the lower the weight of any tool, the better. If you’ve actually hiked anywhere to camp overnight, this is pretty obvious.Trundling up or down a trail can be arduous and unpleasant, especially if you’re carrying a heavy load. The new stoves with their variable fuel sources are light, compact, powerful and eminently store-able. A stove’s ability these days is measured similarly to an oven, and for camping, that’s awesome. Soon enough, we’ll be hiking around with self-heating pots and canteens that will keep water hot or cold depending on our whims. As far as the MANVIL tool of the week goes, it may be an old school tool, but this dinosaur from Coleman is still being produced today. So I think it is still pretty valid as a tool you should know.
Before there were light and compact aerosol fuel tank stoves this 12 pound monolith was where large meals were cooked. Of course you could wander around, collect dry firewood, make a sooty mess of your pots, food and campsite, and potentially set the forest ablaze, but we had one of these so we used it. Sure some poor sucker would have to get stuck carrying the hulking mass in their pack, (That guy was usually me) but nobody wants to blow all that energy hiking just to eat cold PB&Js for dinner. With an extra white gas fuel tank, or two, this stove could heat up water for coffee or a dehydrated meal bags, cook a meal, and be broken down and jammed back into a pack in under an hour. For about five days of cooking you could get by on a gallon and a half of fuel, and that’s pretty good when you’re hiking on trafficked routes where the firewood and kindling is at a minimum.
With all the big green stove’s setbacks, (girth, weight and fuel consumption) I should take some time out hand a bit of praise to it. I’ve been white-water rafting with one, and damn near drowned it as well as myself, but it sprung back to life after a bath and some time alone. My buddy and I ate a great meal of rib eyes and onions on it not an hour after it was completely submerged. With the proper seals and planning, we didn’t even lose any fuel either.
As far as tailgating or car camping, the big green box holds another advantage over smaller stoves, it’s got this big flat bottom. The kind of bottom that finds a place to sit and hunkers down. To date, I have yet to see a camp table that is actually level. I don’t mean this as an insult to the parks division, every small stove I’ve seen has that as its’ downfall. No large bowl of hot water will stay put on one if there is a slight tilt. No pan full of bacon will remain upright if the compact stove has even a minor list. No dutch oven will remain balanced on a mini if the stove top isn’t solid and level. At least none that I’ve seen, and for this reason alone there will always be a place in my garage for an old school green camp stove, but there are other reasons.
I’ve watched the warm summer sun come up over Mount Hood while making breakfast on a big green camp stove. I have watched the sun go down brilliantly in that same place as somebody cooked me dinner on that stove. My folks used their green camping stove to make dinner when they were remodeling their kitchen as a younger couple. My favorite fishing memories all include that drab hunk of tin, and although I have no remembrances of me with a fish, I still love the idea of going fishing. 
Finally, I recall that every time I ended up carrying the stove when I was hiking with friends, nobody ever started a meal without me. I’m not sure that same could be said today. I’m still a pretty pokey hiker compared to everybody else, but today, they’d all be carrying their own stoves. Maybe the burden wasn’t quite as big a detriment as I used to think.

Beginner’s luck…

It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It could also be said that the belly flop off a high dive begins the same way, and that’s why today’s tool is the pipe cutter. 

When I was a little snot, and indeed we all were at some point, one of the bathrooms in my family’s house began to lose hot water pressure. Upon investigation, my father deemed that the issue was a small, but terminal (for the pipe anyway) patch of corrosion around the joints in the pipes from the hot water heater. The entire line would need to be replaced soon due to the corrosion.
Now, there may be folks who would call a plumber to take care of this sort of thing, and for some that might be well advised. We weren’t that family though. My folks were the kind to buy a house, turn it into a home, and then move on when the time came.  If my father really needed the help, which he rarely did, he had the option of turning to my mom or my older siblings. This time however, my sibs had moved on to their own houses so he turned to me, the youngest.
On the next available Saturday, with ample time to work after declining his weekly 2 PM tennis game, my father enlisted my help. After breakfast dad began assessing the situation to me and going over the tools involved. (Sort of a precursor to the MANVIL cards) The first forty minutes of the project included learning the requirements to complete the task, and a quick lesson on soldering and pipe cutting. With the wheels set in motion, and the water system turned off, he handed me a tape measure. Grabbing a small notebook and a pencil, he prepared to ask me for dimensions. 
As we both looked into the dark, dirt covered crawlspace underneath the house that held the workings of the plumbing from the hot water heater to separate parts of the house, I paused. My father had once been hospitalized by an enormous centipede bite, so we were both kind of cautious about diving into the dark.  My dad looked at the dark passage, looked at me, and nodded. “You should be good, centipedes like warm places, it’s kinda cold a barren in there.” Just then, my mom chimed in that there was a call for my father. With a quick shrug and a roll of his eyes he wandered upstairs to get the call. “I’ll be right back” he said.
I decided not to wait. I crawled through the basement access door under the house with a flashlight, the measuring tape on my belt and a small notebook stuffed into the pocket of my old “Hang Ten” tee. Wriggling on my back over the dirt, between the cold dark dirt and the 60 year old redwood floor joists I was able to shimmy out to the rotting ell joint that turned the pipes up into the bathroom. The place was confined, and a bit chilly for Hawaiian standards, but not too bad to get a round in. 
As my eyes adjusted to the unusual combination of refracted sunlight and flashlight glow I began measuring the length of the pipes. I marked lengths and measured, made notes and slowly crabbed my way back to the light of the basement. When I got back through the access door to the crawlspace I dusted myself off a bit, grabbed the pipe-cutters and crawled back in to get the old pipes out. 
With little real effort, but a lot of awkward maneuvering in tight spaces, I was able to get the old steel pipes separated and ready for removal. They were badly rusted at the joints, and in fact the ell that had elbowed the pipe up into the bathroom failed completely when I applied pressure to it. We had evidently chosen the right weekend to do the job. The pipes and their pieces were corralled and eventually dragged to the basement. As I cut the pipes down to be thrown away for scrap my father returned from his phone call. It had been work related, and he wasn’t excited about the intrusion on his spare time. (It should be noted that ‘mobile phones‘ at the time were only owned by the government, hotel magnates and the cartels)
“You’re done measuring?” he asked, with some concern in his eyes.
“Yeah, I think so.” I replied, not sure what I possibly could have missed. I offered up my notes in order for him to verify that I’d covered my bases. 
He studied my numbers for a bit, scratching his chin and furrowing his brow in attention. His focused eyes arose with a kind of bemusement.”Well, alright. Let’s go to the store and get what we need, and maybe we can wrap this up before dinner.” It was about 10:30 AM.
After the quick trip for copper pipe, welding material, a series of pipe fittings and more gas for the torch we were back in the basement in an hour.  As we unpacked and I organized the material, my dad re-approached my notes and did a bit of mental math in his head. He shrugged, smiled and shook his head while smiling in a sign of agreement. He then excused himself and wandered out to help my mom with gardening as I set to work placing and soldering pipes before their installation. 
Within an hour, with the pipes soldered and installed, I was ready to subject my project to a pressure test. My dad was as anxious for success as I was, partially for the fix, but I also suspected he would be able to make his tennis game if there was success with the plumbing. As I watched for leaks from under the house, dad cautiously turned the water back on and yelled for my mom to turn on the sink. I could hear the water in the pipes as it first passed over me in towards the bathroom. 
As we tried putting stress on the system, none of us saw any signs of failure. I reviewed every joint under pressure, and without pressure. The entire system worked without a hitch, and every joint was dry. It was 1:30 PM. If he’d hustled, my dad could have made his tennis game. Instead, the three of us went to lunch at the beach, which was pretty cool, but not as cool as hearing my dad say I’d done a good job. I got lucky on the start of my journey.

The four foot by four foot deck

A few years back, I received an emergency phone call from a friend’s wife late on a Thursday night. Apparently my friend, Tony, had managed to slip down and destroy the small rear steps from his mud room to his driveway, and in doing so suffered some damage to his knee and lower back. In order to enter his house Tony could only use the front door, and that door had a series of steps to it that were playing havoc with his back and knees. Tony’s wife, Anne, asked that I join another buddy of ours, Greg, to venture up-state to help replace the four by four landing to the mud room. Without much consideration I cancelled my weekend plans and loaded an overnight bag to go help. How hard could it be? A small landing coming out of the back door with some steps down to the driveway, it’d be a breeze. We’d be doing for a four hour job, and spending the rest of the weekend drinking beer and shooting the breeze with Tony, Anne and their neighbors. No big deal.

Greg loaded his tools in my rig and we set forth late Friday afternoon. Now Greg’s never been one to slack on tool ownership, but after talking with him about the weekend’s plans and comparing the plans to the number of tools he was bringing, I figured I might have missed something. We loaded three hundred pounds of tools into the back of my Land Cruiser, and for a small job, that seemed like a lot. I gave Greg the benefit of being over-prepared, and we got on the road. Three hours later we were standing in Tony’s driveway looking at the project, and as the light was fading for the evening, I noticed the large stack of untreated decking wood hidden under a tarp near the garage. Uh, oh. 
As I was reconnecting with Anne, Greg and Tony were talking amongst themselves in somewhat hushed tones. The way their hands were scoping out the hand drawn plan seemed to show a more vast footprint than a four by four step. They looked like a pair of architects from a Bechtel ad pointing dutifully into the future, with clear vision and chest pockets full of protractors. Something was afoot, and I could see the gears turning in Tony’s head as he bobbed and weaved about the job site. Greg continued to survey the site and measurements as I approached Tony.
“You’re pretty flexible for a man with a bad back and wounded knees” I said. 
“Ooh , ahh, yeah. I used a batch of tiger balm this morning. It stunk like crazy, but I feel better.” Tony blurted
“I’ve been shanghi’d, haven’t I?” I replied, smiling wryly and accepting an ‘on cue’ beer from Anne.
“Well, the plans have expanded some since last night. But nothing too drastic.” He impishly looked to the heavens and threw his hands apart as he said that. As long as we had been friends, which was quite a while, I’ve always enjoyed Tony’s willingness to begrudgingly accept responsibility for under-estimating his plans. It was going to be a long weekend spent with good friends working on a big plan.
Up at 6AM on that Saturday, the remnants of the old landing came out easily enough, although dragging the cement bases out required tying them to the Cruiser with tow straps. The twin pergola came out the same way, torn from the earth in low gear. Before 10 AM Tony and Greg were off to any of the five DIY stores within forty miles as Anne and I set up an assembly line to stain the decking wood. We were 3/4 way through the ordeal before Tony and Greg returned with more wood, concrete and decking hardware. We worked as a team pretty well once we were all on board with the plan, and by 7PM Saturday we had the foundation in place and had finished staining all 200 deck pieces. We wrapped up work for the evening with great food, a few cold ones and catching up with old friends. The plans had indeed changed, enormously, but the new plans made for a great deck experience for the future visits.
Bright and early Sunday morning Greg brought out the finish nailer in order to get us started framing the deck. As we all set out and began to work, progress was occasionally set back by visits from neighbors and other friends, (some of them really could have used the MANVIL cards) but we kept on working through the day until it was time for Greg and I to decide to return to our homes down state. We loaded up our bags, but left the tools with Tony and Anne in case they wanted to work through the week.
The deck project itself took two more weekends to finish. Greg and I made it back up to Tony and Anne’s with smiles on our faces and pride in the eventual solution to Tony’s deck needs. We were fed like kings, worked like dogs and have subsequently enjoyed many a fine meal on that twenty foot by twenty foot deck. Our friendship grew exponentially, just as the deck did, and that makes light work of any of the effort.