Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Crow Whisperer

This morning, as I walked down the street to catch the bus to work, I heard a commotion up ahead:


At first I saw three crows up in a tree; then a fourth; then a whole bunch more in an adjoining tree -- perhaps not a murder of crows, but at least an involuntary homicide of them.  They seemed to be rather disturbed about something.

I like crows, partly because they're smart little bastards and partly because they remind me of Huginn and Muninn, Asgard's airborne intelligence agency   I hate to see them upset, so I made an attempt to calm them down.

By doing my very best lady-crow impression.

I don't know how accurate it was -- my purring gargle probably came across as more penguin than corvid -- but I got a bit of a dialogue going with the gang up in the tree, and as I walked by and chatted with them they settled down quite nicely.

Most importantly, I got to work with absolutely no crow poop on my hat.

I do wonder what the crows were talking about after I left, though...

Monday, February 19, 2018

Does anyone know how to defuse a squirrel?

When I stepped out the back door this morning I heard a disconcerting sound, high in the elms:

tick -pause- tick -pause- tick

The source was She Who Must Not Be Fed, an evil-minded red squirrel who patrols the neighbourhood and hurls abuse at any moving object that is not her.

What I found alarming was that SWMNBF sounded like she was running down.  Under normal circumstances, it's easy to wind up a squirrel:  All I have to do is dare to show my face in my own back yard, and I get doused by a veritable fire hose of enraged chattering.

I know this has been a long, cold winter and there's still a whole month to go before the equinox, but I'm worried.  Is SWMNBF counting down to zero, about to explode?  Do I cut the red wire or the green wire?  And how do I get up into that tree?

Paging James Bond... Mr. Bond, please pick up the courtesy phone...

Saturday, January 13, 2018

How not to store things

I just figured out why I keep running short of grocery bags:  They're full of stuff.

If you ever decide to explore the eldritch territory known as Astreja's House, please watch your step.  Chances are that there are 1d12 carrying bags or similar containers somewhere along your path, and you'll have to roll a saving throw versus dexterity to avoid tripping and impaling yourself on the corner of a coffee table.  If you were to do that exploration today, for instance, this is what you might find:

  • Saxophone case, tucked in between a bookshelf and the fireplace.
  • 2 clarinet cases, right next to the aforementioned coffee table.
  • The knapsack that I use to transport smaller clarinets, occupying one whole spot on the couch.
  • The shopping bag that has my flute, jazz band music, and alto sax stand, occupying the other spot on the couch.
  • Pair of snowshoes in a bag hanging on a hook by the back door.
  • Large cloth  bag with shoulder strap, occasionally used for transporting my alto clarinet, and known for migrating to random places on the first floor of the house.
  • Laptop case, purse, and gym bag, on hooks by the front door.
  • Shopping bag with 50' extension cord, right in the middle of the study floor.
  • 2 buckets full of painting and plastering materials under a shelf in the kitchen (formerly 2 buckets and a shopping bag full, until I reorganized and confiscated the shopping bag).
I'm not going to get into other feet-unfriendly objects, like the multiplicity of toolboxes, or file boxes, or various plastic storage bins, or the space heater in my office.  And please don't go wandering into the spare bedroom -- even I'm not sure what's in there right now.  The gist of the matter is that my organizing and decluttering skills still need a bit of work.  In the meantime, it's just so convenient to drop a bunch of project materials into a shopping bag and park that bag somewhere close to where the project will be happening.  (That explains the extension cord in the study, and the bag previously full of drywall tools and boxes of plaster in the kitchen.)

But no, I am not going to the store to buy big plastic bins.  I know that's a January tradition, rushing out to the store to buy plastic bins as part of some demented New Year's resolution to tidy up the house.  Maybe I'll buck the trend by giving a few of my bins away.

Once I figure out what the heck I stored in them, that is.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Dragon repair kit

According to the readout on my car dashboard, it was -27°C outside when I got home from the store.

According to CBC Manitoba at 9:24 p.m. on this particular Friday night, it's now -29°C -- and feels like -42.

Why, you may ask, would anyone go outside on a night like this?

Well, among other things (including going to the gym and picking up some groceries), I had a favour to do for an old friend.

In my kitchen there's a carved wooden dragon that I've had for almost 19 years.  I bought it because it looked so much like my pal (and self-appointed bodyguard) Glori.  Unfortunately, wood being wood and years being years, the years have not been kind to the wood.  A couple of teeth have chipped, part of Glori's moustache is missing, and a huge crack has been threatening to separate the upper jaw from the rest of the dragon.

It's also not the right colour.  The sculpture is reddish-brown, whereas Glori is more of a teal green.  A minor concern, though, when doing dragon triage.

While I was out in that mind- and body-numbing cold, I stopped off at a craft store and bought a bottle of gesso, some oven-bakeable clay, and a bottle of metallic teal paint.

When I got home, I rounded up a few more things:  One of my power drills, some small drill bits, a container of toothpicks, a jug of white glue, a table knife, a drill bit gauge, an extension cord, a ball of twine and a cable tie.  I used the drill to drill pilot holes through the nostrils, the table knife to sneak a bunch of glue into the jaw crack, the toothpicks and some glue to hold it all together, and the twine to make sure it stayed together while the glue dried.  (I used the cable tie to gently scrape excess glue off the wood.)

(checks weather forecast and shivers)  Looks like Saturday will be a good day for dragon dental work.  And hot chocolate.  (clinks mug with Glori)  Cheers!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Insight versus incite

Springy G confessions time:  I enjoy arguing on the Internet.  Even worse, my favourite topic for arguing is religion.  This is a Sisyphean task, because the prospect of coming to any sort of agreement is vanishingly unlikely.  When the battle lines are drawn (generally with me on the side of humanists, atheists and liberal believers, and all manner of fundamentalists on the other), it can literally go on for days.

If you’re lucky.  Sometimes a particularly wild and emotionally-charged melee can go on for months on end, and I’ve been known to occasionally throw a fresh log on the embers of a discussion thread that was that close to slipping off page 1 of a discussion forum.

Why do I torment myself like this?  Because it’s fun.  Not trollish fun, but an ongoing challenge to find new ways of getting a point across.  It’s a great writing exercise, if nothing else, and you can learn a lot:  Biology, physics, geology, history, sociology, languages, logic, and a whole lot more.

When I first started this odd hobby back around 2004, I was angry about the interference of religion in civil society and the rights of individuals.  The more backstory I learned, the angrier I got; in fact, at one point I was skirting the fine line between “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” and “barking mad.”  Eventually I came back to my senses, became more selective about getting embroiled in a debate, and started to curate my bookmarks and now only visit three or four sites on a regular basis.

I still come down hard on people who wander in and cheerfully threaten their brand-new Internet acquaintances with eternal torment at the hands of whatever supernatural being they worship, but in all other matters I’d rather be the adult in the room:  Say what needs to be said, generally with civility, and walk away.  Occasionally some particularly apt phrase springs to mind that just stops an argument cold.  Call it a mic drop, call it a /thread tag, but when days go by and no one adds to what I wrote, it’s quite satisfying.

I’ve also had some of my one-liners outlast the conversation where I originally thought them up, and blushed all the way down to my socks when someone took a longer quote from me and made an actual meme picture with the quote, attribution, and my forum avatar.

Every now and then I wonder if this is something I could or should do professionally -- for example, expanding on some of my ideas and turning them into a book of essays.  It’s tempting, but first I need to finish things I’ve already written.  Rather than going on the lecture circuit with a book of theo-political rants, I think I’ll pull out my old National Novel Writing Month and Script Frenzy projects (11 of them at last count) and work on them for a while.  What a concept:  Staying up late writing something that’s more fun and considerably less fury.  It’s a crazy idea, but it just might work.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

At last, a to-do list that doesn't suck.

It’s taken some time to get myself to realize this, but I have a rather unusual motivation problem.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I work too hard, or don’t take time to relax, or other traits that sound suspiciously like a workaholic in need of an intervention.

They don’t know me all that well.  I do indeed goof off on a regular basis -- just not when they’re looking.  What other people see is me cranked up to 11, doing something ludicrous and physically taxing like loading broken concrete into a truck or scrabbling around the garage roof, cleaning leaves out of the gutters with a scoop.

What they’re seeing is not me but my to-do list, an entity so implacably evil that it ensnares me and forces it to do its bidding until I’m dragging my feet up the staircase in 30°C heat, destined to collapse in a sweaty heap on an unmade (but still very cozy) bed.

You see, I have no problem writing down a list of things that need to be done.  I have an insurmountable problem when it’s necessary to unwrite them, take them off the list because they’re physically undoable (too late in the day, too late in the season) or because I just plain lost interest in them.  I also get into a weird frame of mind when I set myself five tasks to do but only manage to execute four of them.  There’s pathological perfectionism lurking in the background, preparing to beat me up emotionally and steal my lunch money because I decided not to start project #5 at 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday night.

Well, I think I have the beginnings of a cure for this malady:  Shorter, more focused to-do lists, mostly easy wins with maybe one high-priority difficult task carefully phrased as one specific part of the task, such as “Bring another piece of plywood underlay in from garage” (as opposed to the vague and epic “Finish the hallway floor”).

On the day I started drafting this post, one of the easy tasks was “Go to the Art Gallery to see the Picasso exhibit.”  The hardest part was deciding where to park.  I also dusted off some books and put them away, relocated a bunch of certificates to my filing system, and for bonus points did some tidying-up of the cookbooks in the kitchen.  The 3-ring binder that used to house the certificates has been repurposed as a recipe binder, and I had to change the shelf spacing to make room for taller books.  While I was at it, I also evicted two books we never use and put them into my giveaway box.  The tough task for the day involved going out in the garden to do some weeding, and the second-hardest was the continuation of a sewing project -- which got considerably further than I expected to get with it.

The number of things on the list is not fixed, but I’ve been trying to keep it low -- generally at least two things, but rarely more than five.  There’s an inverse relationship between the number of items and the average complexity and effort required.  When there are lots of items, chances are that all but one of them will take less than 10 minutes to finish.

Since implementing this system a couple of months ago, I’ve gotten a lot of things done.  Today I had only two items -- finish and e-mail some paperwork (high concentration, moderate time demand, low physical effort) and move some network wiring.  The wiring job was the big task of the day:  Average concentration, moderate physical demands due to ladder work and multiple trips up and down two flights of stairs, high time sensitivity (minimize Internet downtime) and low margin of error (danger of damaging the wire, which would require an emergency trip to purchase 100 feet of Cat5e cable, a couple of RJ-45 connectors, and a crimping tool because I have no idea where mine is hiding).

Both items are done, which is why I’m writing this from a lovely patch of sunlight in a corner of a Winnipeg coffee shop rather than fussing with an Excel print preview or balancing on a stepstool in a dusty corner of the basement.  

Someday soon (but not tomorrow!), I need to write an item on my new-and-improved to-do list:  Inventory the toolboxes.  I have four of them.  I probably don’t need that many, and I probably don’t need most of the stuff inside the toolboxes, either.

But I’m sure that my network cable crimper is in there somewhere...

Monday, August 21, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the Third)

The total solar eclipse of 2017 has come and gone, and I’m still processing the experience on many levels.

First:  I’m glad I went.  It was an extraordinary roller-coaster, wild swings of emotion to both ends of the visible spectrum -- and perhaps a bit of infrared and ultraviolet moods as well.

Second:  What I saw and what I didn’t see are a bit muddled up in my head right now.  Carbondale was beset by a flashmob of rogue clouds at possibly the worst possible moment, but that made me pay attention to other things:  The glow on the horizon and the rapidly coming and going of midday twilight.  The shadow of the umbra sweeping eastward across the glowing clouds.  The crackle of fireworks to the southeast.  The roar of pure delight coming from the Southern Illinois University stadium about a mile south of my observation post.  The rather puzzled pair of crows testing out the steps of their traditional evening dance, seven hours too early.

The corona did break through for a few precious and eerie seconds.  I think that’s when I started jumping up and down maniacally in a parking lot just south of the Amtrak station, cheering at the top of my lungs.

I wish I could have seen more -- but I always want to see more.  It was more important to just be there, and I was.