Finally, a decent iPhone case

I’ve been trying for years to make a case for an iPhone that I like. I have a good design for a belt holster-style case, but I’ve never been completely happy with a snug case that fits into a pocket. The difficulty is preventing bulk, putting in the needed accessibility for plugs, buttons, etc., and making it easy to get on and off. I managed to get a design that really only deals with bulk and doesn’t worry about buttons or getting it on and off, but it is my favorite so far.

The key was to make it in place. The problem is that the case won’t come off without cutting or unbraiding the sides. So it isn’t something I can really make for others, but that is ok, because I’m generally too busy to do much leatherwork these days. It is quite simple: a small top and bottom slip-on cover with the right holes and a few hand stitches to hold it in place. Then, I braided the top and bottom covers together along the side using either a 4 strand (7 case) or 6 strand (7 plus case) flat braid. I made the 7 plus first, and I now realize that the 4 strand is better because it is less bulky on the turn-back. I also made the mistake on the 7 plus case in putting the bulkier turn back on the top rather than bottom. This makes the case a bit harder to use, because the other “feature” is that there are no holes for the on-off, volume, or mute buttons. I realized that you don’t really need holes and that you can easily work these through a light piece of leather. But the added bulk of the braid should be on the bottom. The red 7 plus case was for my wife, and when I do a redo for her, I’ll fix those things and dye the kangaroo leather red per her request. That may need to wait for awhile until I get my next nice weekend in the shop!

A memoir of a friendship: Chapter 2

This is a continuation of Chapter 1 in the series.

I wasn’t a very good high school student. Nothing much excited me beyond ice hockey and the usual teenage boy distractions. So when I did not get accepted into some of the better hockey colleges, I wasn’t surprised. I had no plan “B”. I didn’t see much point in going to more school, so I took a year off. One of the memorable adventures that year was riding the Lewis and Clark Trail with my buddy Den Coello and his wife from Astoria, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri. That was an amazing 45 days and a life-changing experience.


A skinny Art in the middle of the Lewis and Clark Trail bicycle ride. The dark patch on my rear end is the black dye from the bicycle saddle. Photo by Dennis Coello.


Just before the Lewis and Clark Trail, I decided to apply to St. John’s College. My best friend Joe from high school had gone there the year before, and it sounded great. On top of everything else, they were sympathetic to students with “non-traditional” paths and “non-traditional” grades and test scores.

This was the setting when I first met Lynn. When I got to St. John’s, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was intrigued by a traditional liberal arts and Great Books curriculum and still had the bug of a recent adventure on a bicycle.


Passport photo from 1981, which was about how I looked when I met Lynn at St. John’s.

St. John’s attracts a wide diversity of students, and from my perspective, I was one of the more traditional. I attended classes, almost always prepared, and I didn’t do much partying. The main thing I remember from those days was an intense focus on trying to figure out what was interesting to me. For several months, Joe and I regularly visited a beautiful Catholic Carmelite Monastery that was a short walk down an arroyo from St. John’s. I still remember fondly listening to the beautiful songs of cloistered nuns, smelling incense, and hearing latin in daily services. I would have converted if I had believed in god, but that was the part I couldn’t deal with.

I don’t recall the details about how Lynn and I started to connect, but by the end of our first year, neither of us planned on returning the following year. Nothing really grabbed me in school, even though I did enjoy the classes and books. I especially loved Euclid (and still do!). I think one difference between me and Lynn was that he had very little patience for things that didn’t interest him, so he gradually drifted away from his studies and classes. When he did participate in seminars, he would often discuss books that were not on our list. Nietzsche was his favorite, and he would regularly remind the class that “God is dead”. He would then be asked by the tutors to stay within the topic and not jump to books that we had not yet read.


Route that Lynn and I took to ride from St. John’s together.


Near the end of the year, Lynn and I were talking and trying to figure out what to do next. I still had the bicycling bug and wanted to visit my old friends in Minnesota, so I decided to ride my bike from Santa Fe to Minneapolis. When I told Lynn, we decided to ride together. We had about a week to prepare. I had my complete rig from the Lewis and Clark ride, but Lynn had to cobble things together. Without a single training ride, we took off together for Kansas City, MO. Then we would split up: Lynn would ride on to St. Louis, and I would ride to Minneapolis.

Santa Fe is about 7000′ above sea level, and there is quite a climb to cross the mountains around Taos and Angle Fire. The sun is also quite intense at that elevation in the early summer, and by the end of the first day, Lynn and I both had severe sun burns. We camped the whole way, and I think that if we hadn’t been completely exhausted from the climb, we would have never slept because of the pain of the sun burns. I have a fairly dark complexion, but Lynn was very fair, with his bright orange hair. He had the worst of it, but neither of us learned anything from the first burn. We thought that we were just conditioning ourselves and that after a few days it would be much better. Instead, after a few days we both peeled and reburned under the exposed patches. We then each had bright red spots with a background of color ranging from brown to a lighter red.

The memory that stays with me the most was riding through southeast Kansas, which before we got there sounded about as awful as I could have imagined. Boy, was I wrong! This was in the days without cell phones, and neither of us had a camera. I found this photo online in another blog post, and it captures the memory of that trip. Lynn and I were past the big mountains and our sunburns were healing. There were no cars for miles, and all we could hear was the wind softly blowing through the grass, which made the most beautiful “grass snakes” that I’ve ever seen. We didn’t talk, because we didn’t need to.

We rode together until we reached the fork in our paths near Kansas City. I went north; Lynn went east. Memories have faded for me, but we bonded on that ride, which must have taken about 2 weeks. I was sad to say goodbye, and neither of us knew if we’d ever see each other again.

A memoir of a friendship: Chapter 1

On Thursday, January 29, 2004 at about 8 pm, I watched my best friend die. It had been a cold and grey day in Madison, WI. I was with Lynn’s family in the hospital, and I felt lucky to be with them and also like an intruder on this most intimate moment.

Since this day, rarely a week passes that I don’t think of Lynn. I’ve been thinking about writing a book, and the title of this post is the best that I came up with. A combination of lack of time, confusion about our long friendship and what it meant to me, and not wanting to get details wrong are some of the reasons that I haven’t written it yet. And to channel Lynn’s likely response (with a grin and twinkle in his eye), “get off your high horse, you’ve just been a lazy ass!”

Recently through the wonders of the internet, one of Lynn’s high school buddies found me after finding an old post about about Lynn on this blog. I didn’t use his last name, but the combination of Lynn, St. John’s College, and who knows what else led Bruce to find me, and we realized that our Lynn was the same guy. A few weeks after connecting with Bruce, Lynn’s brother Wes contacted me after hearing from Bruce. Then a few days later, Lynn’s daughter reached out to me and wanted to learn more about her dad, so I decided to get off my ass and turn the phantom book into a series of blog posts.


Lynn and his daughter, Chuck.


Wes, Lynn (hat), Kaitlin (Wes’ daughter), Phyllis (Lynn’s mom), and Ivy (Lynn’s wife) at Mt. St. Helen’s on 7/19/87. Lynn’s caption on the back of the photo that he sent us is “examining a willow gall of erythroid mites”.

I first saw Lynn in the fall of 1979 at our matriculation into the 1983 class at St. John’s college. I remember clearly (though with some details a bit blurry now) an amazing-looking guy walking across the stage from the right to the left. He had bright red hair that hadn’t been combed in a long time. If he had been wearing shoes, they were his typical untied and beat-up sneakers that probably reeked for the people in the first few rows. The only other shoes I ever saw him wear back then were hiking boots. He was wearing baggy and very worn blue jeans that were too long and had holes worn by his walking on them. If he had been wearing a belt, it would have been a rope. He probably had on a tee-shirt. And I’m pretty certain that he had a worn paperback book in his back pocket, because I rarely saw him without that.


The Great Books

Many of us at least combed our hair for that important ceremony that would launch us into our quest to become philosophers. A month or so earlier, I had bought my entire set of books (THE Great Books) at a used book store in Salt Lake City, and I proudly had them on a book shelf in my dorm room. Lynn never had anything other than beat up paperbacks, not always Great Paperbacks.

St. John’s College is an amazing educational experience. Everyone starts as a freshman and goes through an identical curriculum using only the Great Books. You can’t transfer into St. John’s, because you would not have the shared experience. Professors are called “tutors”, and every tutor eventually teaches every class. Students develop a shared and very rich learning experience that grows over time. There are no tests, no grades, and (with a few exceptions in the final two years) no electives. The first year we read and discussed Homer, Euclid, Plato, Aristotle, Lavoisier, Copernicus, Ptolemy, and several others. We also studied ancient Greek. Our classes were small: about a dozen students with 1 or 2 (for seminar) tutors.

About 4-5 students end up in all the same classes together, and Lynn was in my group (I forgot the name for this group at St. John’s…). Given that this group would put us into contact for over 20 hours each week, I really didn’t see Lynn that often. When he was in class, he clearly had carefully read the book we were discussing as well as every book that he had missed. He always seemed a few steps ahead of most of the students (certainly me), even when he hadn’t attended. I’m not sure where he was when he wasn’t in class because at the time I didn’t know him very well. It was probably a combination of hung-over, hiking/camping, building things, or reading things that were more interesting to him.

We got to know each other more towards the end of the year, and we were united by the common bond that neither of us was returning the following year. Lynn was “trespassed” from campus, and I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. When school ended, Lynn was returning home to St. Louis and I was going to visit friends in Minnesota. So we did the logical thing: with virtually no planning or preparation, we got on our bicycles to ride to our respective destinations from Santa Fe. That was the real start of our friendship.

Stay tuned…


I’m a Conservative

As usual these days, it has been a long time since my last post. Yes, I was busy with work. Yes, I was traveling a lot. Yes, I hadn’t had much time in my shop…

But this time, there is a more honest excuse. The US presidential election has gotten me down. I voted early and was traveling in Zurich, Switzerland when Trump won the election. Just hours after Hillary’s concession speech, I was having lunch with my collaborators and expressing my disbelief. My Swiss host then told me a saying that stuck with me and provided some comfort:

The coffee is never drunk as hot as it is made.

Since the election, I’ve been thinking about many things, and the common thread is that I now realize that I’m a conservative. No, I didn’t vote for Trump, but he isn’t a conservative. In fact, I’ve never voted for a republican presidential candidate, because I don’t think that I’ve seen a conservative in that party. I want to help conserve the earth, because it is all we’ve got.

I’m a scientist and am very concerned about climate change. Even after the progress made in the last several years in world awareness, I am very worried about where we are heading. Now that we have elected a president who denies climate change and wants to reverse environmental laws, things are only going to get worse.

What can I do? It is hard to know how to deal with such a huge problem that goes beyond our own houses, towns, states, and countries. My wife and I decided after the election to lease an electric vehicle. We have been thinking about doing this for a few years, and I discovered that President Obama has significantly enhanced the electric vehicle infrastructure through the Department of Energy. The Union of Concerned Scientists have published a very comprehensive analysis of the climate change benefits of driving an electric vehicle. We chose a BMW i3 with a range extender (2.9 gallons of gas to give an extra 80 miles when needed). It is a great car, and we’ve only used 0.8 gallons of gas in over 1000 miles! And it costs very little to charge through a special electric vehicle charging rate from our electric utility.

I love nature and enjoy hiking in protected areas. Conservation needs to begin by protecting our diminishing natural places. One of President Obama’s last acts has been to protect the Bears Ears Buttes in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada. Republicans are already trying to undo this remarkable conservative gift from Obama. Since most of us don’t have the executive authority to protect large amounts of land, what can we do as individuals? Obviously, it is important to contact our local and national elected officials to let them know our opinion on protecting the environment.


If not me, then who?

We can also do small things. My wife and I took a lovely hike to Panther Creek Falls in Georgia last month, and we found a lot of litter on the trail. This not only detracts from the experience, but it also can encourage others to treat it the same way. After I passed a few cans and paper on our way out, I asked myself, “If I don’t pick these up, who will?” It wasn’t hard to pick up most of the trash I could find on the way back (except I could have used a bigger bag), and my new motto is If not me, then who?”

But this is a leatherwork blog! Do you think it was easy for saddle and harness makers when automobiles were introduced? No. A lot of craftsmen lost their jobs. The world no longer needed saddles to function. I’m certain that would have been very difficult, especially for the families that relied on the income from saddle making. But change happens, and now saddle making and traditional leather work is a luxury. I am sad for coal miners who have lost their jobs, but some of them may learn to make solar panels or batteries for electric vehicles. It is possible to retool, and the future of the world may depend on it.

Because we no longer commute on horses and carriages, my leatherwork is also a form of conservation. I like to conserve and respect the knowledge from the very talented craftsmen who were the coal miners of our past. I have been very busy with my day job, but I was able to spend some time in my shop over the holidays. I unstuck my gluepot, got a new MAKER stamp, and made a few belts for my relatives as gifts.


One of my Christmas belts for family.

My current project is some new bicycle bags, similar to some I made a few years ago. They should be ready in a few weeks. Our BMW i3 is a very green car, but it can’t touch a bicycle!

on bike

My bike with the front and rear matching bags.


I haven’t posted a blog for some time now, because I haven’t had much time to work in my shop, because I’ve been very busy working. It has been a busy time since August, with several grants, papers, and trips. I spent a wonderful month in Ecuador teaching and developing new collaborations for 2 weeks on a Fulbright grant and then traveling for another 2 weeks my wife and our kids. For the final 8 days, we visited the Galapagos Islands, which was even better than I imagined! Since Ecuador, I’ve had trips about every week, and these continue until the end of 2016. Shop time has been rare…


My new maker stamp, which will show up in a few weeks.

Last weekend I carved out a day in my shop, and it was a wonderful reset! One nagging thing for me since we moved from Gainesville, FL to Athens, GA last year was that my old leather stamp still says Gainesville. I managed to finally design and order a new maker stamp, which will arrive in a few weeks.

I also made a new iPad Pro case last weekend. I’ve been using my new iPad Pro for a few months, along with an Apple pencil for taking notes. I made a case with a different design when I got it. The idea was something simple that could be slipped off and then I could substitute my keyboard. It was a pain to use, and the I never had a place to keep the pencil, which is very nice but surprisingly “un Apple-like” in its design. There is no place to put it, and it doesn’t even have a clip to keep it in a shirt pocket. The new case seems to work much better, and I’m enjoying it so far. I also developed a keen dislike for the hard plastic covers that are designed with the keyboard. iThingy’s are useful but soulless, and I really like a handmade cover that has little glitches and idiosyncrasies to soften the hardness and glare of the technology.

Today I was working in my shop again and listening to a nice story on the radio about Studs Terkel. He has been a real hero and inspiration for me since reading “Working” in high school. That was perhaps my favorite book for many years. I love the stories of the mechanics, bus drivers, doctors, waitresses, flight attendants, farmers, and prostitutes. Studs Terkel listened to regular people and recorded their stories. The book made me aware of the importance of individuals and that everyone has a story.


New ideas for an iPhone case. Stay tuned…

I love to make things out of leather. It is satisfying to take an idea and a hide of leather and end up with something that is functional and grows more beautiful as it ages with the owner. But perhaps just as important as the leatherwork itself has been the connection to a group of mentors in shoe shops, boot making, and saddle shops. These have been some of the most important people in my life. Most of them had different political and religious views than I did. Some had very little formal education. They made a living but worked very hard to stay afloat financially. Several of my leatherwork mentors are dead, but I still love visiting with leather craftsmen, and I always try to visit interesting shops and meet new people on my trips.

I voted early yesterday in this crazy presidential election. It felt good. I support Hillary Clinton and think that she would be a good president. To me, the alternative is terrifying. But I know that a lot of people fear immigrants and other less tangible fears that have been injected into this campaign. In the line for early voting, there were several people who I thought would likely be voting for Hillary and others who would likely be for Trump. We didn’t discuss it, and we weren’t allowed to have campaign material, so I really don’t know. The good thing is that it was comfortable. People were friendly and respectful, and I thought about my days in shoe repair and saddle making shops. Today I imagined what Studs Terkel would have done in that line. He would have wanted to learn more about their stories.

Who would my leather mentors have voted for? How about our shop customers? I don’t know. And I don’t care. We had something in common, which was deeper than any election or religion or political event of the day. We loved craft and we valued beautiful things that were made by hand in a long tradition passed from person to person.


The simplest can be the hardest

I finally got back into my leather shop this long weekend. Travel has been very heavy, and I’m also trying to learn guitar, so the shop has patiently waited for me to remember to visit…


My old (thin) bifold, used for about a year. Kangaroo leather dyed red.

I needed to touch my tools and leather for a mental reset. It truly is therapeutic to make things by hand. However, another motivation was to rework my bifold wallet design. I always strive for simplicity, quality, and functionality in my leather work. I spend a lot of time thinking about functionality, and I use pretty much everything that I make in the early stages of design refinement.

I’ve always enjoyed making wallets, and based on the number that I’ve made, other people have enjoyed using them. Wallets are uncomfortable if you carry them in a rear pocket. Therefore, my primary design goal has been to keep them thin. I almost always use kangaroo leather, which is very thin, soft, and tough. It also ages extremely well and gets more and more beautiful with time. The tough part is getting a place for cards that doesn’t add much thickness. I have always hated the cheap fabric that many commercial wallets use inside the card slots, because it tears.


Front of new bifold wallet design. All kangaroo (body and lace).


Until now, I’ve compromised by having a single piece of leather for all the cards, and this is very thin and works. However, it can be a pain with several cards, and over time the cards don’t stay up and are hard to grab. Therefore, I tried a modification with different thin layers sewn separately to hold 4 cards on each side. This works (and is widely used on wallets), but it does add bulk compared to my thin version.

Since I hadn’t been in the shop for a long time, I also had a hankering for braiding, so I decided to do what I had avoided for years: edge braiding! I loved to make wallets as a kid at summer camp using this technique, and since then I can only think of summer crafts at camp when I see one. That is a nice memory, but maybe still a bit clunky for a nice wallet…

The front 5 thong applique braid adds a bit of bulk, and I probably should have avoided that, but it was fun to do. I’m reasonably happy with the whole thing, but it is thicker than my last design. The cards seem to work much better, though. It is a bit “crafty”, but it also evokes a simpler time. And it was fun to make! Stay tuned for the next iteration when I use it for a while and get some more shop time.

Take the time, just for talkin’

And if you go searchin’
For rhyme or for reason
Then you won’t have the time
That it take just for talkin’
About the places you’ve been, babe
About the places you’ve seen, babe
And how soft the time flies
Past your window at night

Townes Van Zandt, verse from “Don’t you take it too bad”

It has been some time since my last post. As always, work is busy and my travel schedule has been quite heavy. I haven’t been in my leather shop for over a month now. I leave again tomorrow for D.C. followed by London, so my glue pots must be getting pretty dried out by now…

My last trip took me to France for a conference in Montpellier. It was lovely, and my wife was able to join me, so we spent a short time in Paris and Nice besides the 3 days in Montpelier. Before cell phones and GPS, the detailed map of the city that is often provided by the hotel is a necessity. With these maps, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out major street intersections and patterns. Your eyes go back and forth between the map (usually quite worn after 2-3 days) and the surrounding city. Sympathetic locals also regularly stop to ask if you need any help, and that can result some nice interactions if you are open to them.


My view of Montpellier for a few days

Now that I have my handy iPhone, all of this happens on my Google maps app. Sounds great! It works almost anywhere, and you just stare at your screen and walk one direction or another until you tell which way the GPS marker moves. Fantastic! To hell with those old fashioned paper maps and receiving help from locals who probably don’t even speak English!

My meeting in Montpelier was about 1.23 miles (24.5 minute walk) from our hotel. All the streets were curvy, and signs were all in French. But never fear, my iPhone equipped with Google maps could get me there! If I was just slightly less self conscious, I could even had the nice Google lady speak the directions to me as I walked. Then I’d even have company who speaks English, or any other language I request from her.

I got to the meeting without a wrong turn a few days in a row, and then I realized that I had no idea what the city and streets and shops and cars and people looked like. I had spent much of my walking time–which is normally my favorite activity–staring at my phone. Then I decided to go rogue and try it without my phone. I had the opening talk of the conference, so that was done and I didn’t need to worry much about being a bit late. I made several wrong turns and needed to use my phone a few times to reorient me. But I got there! Then I walked back to the hotel and only made one wrong turn but didn’t even need my phone to right myself. The next (and last) trip was perfect without the phone ever coming out of my pocket.

The city is beautiful! I saw for the first time the nice old walls, cobble stones, and small shops along my route to the meeting. I smiled at other peds and cyclists and noticed people carrying baguettes and flowers, and I could hear and smell more things too.

We went to Nice after Montpellier and had a great time. The phone was out some (ok, too much) of the time, but mostly we walked and looked and took in the sights. A few of the highlights were the Chagall and Matisse museums. They are definitely worth your time (but put your phone down and just look and enjoy!).

Besides travel and work, there is another thing taking me away from my leather shop: I’m learning to play guitar. I’ve always loved music and played trumpet for many years. I also sang in a wonderful acapella group called Audacity in Gainesville, FL. I listen to a lot of music, but I always have an urge to make music, and that urge has been growing recently. It isn’t a perfect analogy, but in many ways listening to music in the background while we go about our lives is a lot like walking around Montpellier glued to an iPhone. In both cases, you miss the subtleties and beauty, because your mind is somewhere else.

One of the reasons I took up guitar was Townes Van Zandt. His songs tug at my heart, and hearing him play his acoustic guitar and sing his songs is about as good as life gets. One of my favorites is “Don’t you take it too bad“. The middle verse has a few lines that get me every time and remind me to put my stupid devices down: “And if you go searchin’, For rhyme or for reason, Then you won’t have the time, That it take just for talkin'”. 

I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole

For those of you who are not Merle Haggard fans, this is not a missing chapter of my life that I forgot to blog about (current employer take note that you don’t need to redo the background check…). This is the chorus of one of my favorite Merle songs, “Mama tried”.

I was crushed when Merle Haggard died a few weeks ago.

I wasn’t raised on country western music, but I grew to love it during my shoe repair and saddle making days. I grew up listening to rock and roll, along with a healthy dose of classical (more on that below). My first real exposure to country western was in Tip Top Shoe Repair and Moccasin Shop. My boss Wayne played country western all day and would shut down the load machinery anytime one of his favorites was played. I’ll always remember him singing along with “Oh lord it’s hard to be humble, When you’re perfect in every way” by Mac Davis.


My gluepot, dye, etc. This has minimal drippings.


From that point onward, if there was music playing in any of the shoe repair shops or saddle shops, it was always country western. It was just part of the culture, and to this day I like to turn on some good country western when I work in my shop. Rock and roll, jazz, and classical just don’t cut it in a leather shop for me.

I first got introduced to Merle Haggard in Santa Fe, probably in Cerrillos Saddlery. His songs were old school and stir me to this day: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee…”, “Sing me back home…”, “If we make it through December…”.

My wife also loved Merle, and we decided that if our first baby had been a boy, we would have named him Merle. When our daughter was born, my friend Lynn suggested “Merle the girl”, but we settled instead on Emily.

These formative years in the saddle shop with Merle Haggard coincided with the rise of Prince, another musical legend who tragically died this week. Prince wasn’t played in saddle shops, at least not where I worked. I never got an early exposure to him, and as a result he never became part of my life. I’m listening to some of Prince’s music now in reaction to the news, and I can see his talent and appeal, but he wasn’t part of my early life.

Probably my earliest exposure to music was “classical”, which was playing regularly in my house growing up. My mother was a professional cellist in the Utah Symphony, and orchestral music was part of my childhood. We would see many concerts (I think when babysitters weren’t available…), I’d hear my mom practice regularly, and my brother and I would spy on her cello students until we were banned to our rooms. My father also loved music, despite his late start and limited skill at the viola. Every week he had his friends come to our house for string quartets. I became familiar with many great quartets by hearing them struggle with hard passages in our living room.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that my favorite instrument is cello and that my favorite work of music is Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites. If I had to pick one piece of music to bring to a desert island or a one-way trip to Mars, this would be it. I have several different recordings, and I listen to all of them fairly regularly.


My workbench in Athens GA

We now have such an intense focus on STEM education that we often forget the value of music and the arts in a complete life. I can’t say this for certain, but I’m pretty sure that neither Bach nor Merle would be part of my life if I hadn’t been exposed to them at formative stages. Once I take the time to learn and listen to a particular genre of music, I grow to appreciate it. I was introduced to Jay Z through an interview with him by Terry Gross. Then I learned more about him and listened to his music, and now I really like Jay Z.

But Bach, Prince, and Jay Z don’t work in my leather shop. That is the domain of Merle.

My new iPad pro

I just transitioned to another iPad. When I first got one of these, the main reason was to see if I could make a case for it. But since that original iPad, I’ve grown completely dependent on these things. The cases are surprisingly challenging, because the goal is to make them very simple but functional. The main design goal is to “humanize” the experience of using an iPad. We now live our lives with iThings everywhere, and I find that the nice smooth shiny metal and plastic is hard and not the most pleasant experience to hold and to use. I’ve now made probably 50 cases over the years for iPads and their relatives, and these cases will outlast their devices by probably 100 years or more if they are not thrown away with the obsolete devices. (note that I really have no idea what to do with an old iPad case for a device that is no longer made and doesn’t work, but at least my contribution won’t wear out very fast…)


iPad pro with keyboard and pencil

My 2 generation old iPad air still worked but was getting slow. More important, I like to take handwritten notes, and I hate to keep track of all my paper notebooks for various topics. I never seem to have the right notebook when I need it. For a few years I’ve been experimenting with various note-taking apps and styluses. Nothing was perfect, but I did find an app that I like (Notes Plus). I never found a stylus that I was happy with. So, I decided to try the new iPad pro with an Apple pencil. While I was at it, I figured I’d give the keyboard a try, because I travel a lot for work and always need to haul my laptop with me. Maybe the new iPad and keyboard could take its place.

After almost 2 weeks with the iPad pro, keyboard, and pencil, I can say that I really love them. I’ve taken about 20 pages of handwritten notes at a few meetings that I’ve attended, and I’ve used the keyboard to type some documents. They work great. The problem is that they are hard and shiny and (in my opinion) not a very satisfying way of working.

The problem is that my old iPad cases would be a pain to use with the keyboard, because the iPad would always need to be pulled out of the case and then put back in when I’m done. And there is no place to put the pencil (which has no clip to hold it in a shirt pocket…) Therefore, I decided to make a “slipper”, similar to a design I made for an iPhone a few years ago. The front was an afterthought, and I realized that you could use it with or without the front piece by just cutting a flat no-frills piece of leather (all from kangaroo) that could be sandwiched behind the iPad if you want it or taken out if not. Both the front and the back are single, thin kangaroo, so they are light and compact. And you can take them off very easily and quickly.

But what about the pencil and keyboard? I couldn’t put these onto this minimal slipper, so the next best solution was to use my old “simple satchel” to keep everything. I love this bag and use it for most of my trips. It holds a small laptop or iPad, sunglasses, pens, etc. All the components for the new iPad fit just right, and I can either use the iPad with the cover or take it off to use the keyboard.


New design in the works for a hand-held case

But it would still be nice to have a solution to carry in my hand like a portfolio. I’m working on a design that should be similar to my old iPad covers but a bit bulkier. I’ll report back when I have a chance to finish this. At the rate I’ve been able to work in the shop, there will be a new iPad release before I get a chance to finish the prototype…


Happy Pi Day!

I love math, though I always wish I were better at it. The first time that I really saw its beauty was studying Euclid’s elements my first year at St. John’s College. This wasn’t enough to keep me from dropping out after that year, but it remains one of my most important points in life.

After I stopped going to St. John’s (for the second time) and became a saddle maker, I still had a hankering for math. We were living in a tent, and my wife was the sole breadwinner in her nearly minimum wage job while I was a saddle maker apprentice earning nothing. However, I also decided that I wanted to learn to program and to do math, so I went out and purchased a $200 HP41C programmable calculator. We had this in our cabin with no running water or electricity, but since it ran on batteries, we were fine.


Me riding Logan (with my saddle!) shortly before leaving Santa Fe.

After playing around with my HP41C, I went to Los Alamos National Labs (just up the road from Mr. Ginder’s saddle shop in Cuyamungue). I stopped into the first office that I could find that was outside of security to ask how I could go to graduate school there and learn math and physics. I think they were laughing pretty hard to themselves, but they humored me and said that if I entered UNM they could figure something out…

March 14 is Pi day, and this particular one is significant, because 16 (2016) adds two more digits to Pi. This is all an introduction to what I consider the most beautiful equation in all of mathematics, and perhaps one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen. It is the relationship between 3 of the strangest numbers:

Pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter): 3.141592654…

e (another famous irrational number): 2.718281828…

i (one of the most bizarre numbers): the square root of -1, or i^2=-1

A mathematician named Leonhard Euler realized that these three numbers in the following equation are equal to -1. Exactly -1, not some rough approximation.  eipi

This is one of those things like looking at the stars or listening to Bach that never ceases to amaze me. There is deep truth in this. Happy Pi day!