BRAVO! That is exactly the way I feel about what I am trying to do. I have been back into photography for about a year after a twenty year abscence (old news). Only in the last two months have I been able to print at home using my kitchen at night when all are asleep (when I should be sleeping!). I find your comments very inspiring and insightful and I will remember them. I strictly use HC-110 (varying only the dilutions and agitation); I strictly use PolymaxII neutral black (F) in 8x10. I'm much more familiar with Tri-X of the old days (for me that is), but feel comfortable with T-Max 400/100. I'll say though, I still love Tri-X with the right subject when I have really filled the frame!
One thing that I have not ventured into is the personal film speed test. I want to get a complete grasp of how I can use the manufacturer's speed before I start attempting to change it or the subsequent processing of the film. I'm adhereing to Ansel Adams' theory in "The Negative", page 243, 6th paragraph down, he states: "If the higher speed rating is used, the effective threshold is raised to about Zone II." I must say, in my own use of this procedure, I have not been displeased (this does not imply that I have settled with that, more importantly, it means that I understand the meaning of that statement).
Finally, before I stop rambling, I'm adhereing to Fred Picker's statement (Zone VI Workshop pg. 12 last para) that: "Variable development is a refinement (of the Zone System); the placement of values on the exposure scale is the basis (of the Zone System), and the principles involved come into play whenever a negative is exposed". When I read Adam's book(The Negative) a year ago and Picker's book, it *absolutely* opened doors for me. I am much more in control of my camera now than I was twenty years ago and much more consistant in my thought processes.
Again, I really liked your thoughts above.