Saturday, December 27, 2008

Once more unto the... crawlspace?

(dusts Self off) Well, that was a fine mess I got Myself into. (brushes wood chips and mineral wool out of hair) But it was for a very, very good cause.


As I type this, the temperature in Winnipeg is -20 Celsius... Approximately -4 Fahrenheit. Not the coldest we've seen this winter, but not exactly swimsuit weather either.

And, lest it get really cold when I'm not looking, I thought today would be an excellent day to add more insulation to the crawlspace under the back end of My kitchen. It's a weird little space under there, sand and rock and bits and pieces of old building materials; ABS drainpipes that freeze solid every winter (rendering the downstairs bathroom unusable); and *shudder* the occasional piece of petrified cat poop.

So, armed with suitably warm clothing, sundry cutting and stapling tools, a six-volt lantern, and a tarp to sit upon... Off I went. Flung slabs of insulation through the trap door at the back of the house, and sliced and diced My way to a much warmer kitchen.

I managed to install most of a bundle of R14 insulation in only two forays under the house, elapsed time somewhat less than two hours. Once I was in there, out of the wind, it actually wasn't all that bad working under there. At one point I did have to evict cats from the construction zone, and I did come in for a tea break at halftime. By the time I called it quits, there was insulation across the east end of the crawlspace wall, and under one section of kitchen floor.

Sometime in the next few days I'll probably go under there again and insulate at least one more section of the floor. When Spring comes (ahh, Spring!) I'll be doing some serious crawlspace reno work... Adding a telepost or two; stripping out those old drainpipes and relocating the bathroom right next to the main part of the house; and building an inner wall to protect the new drainage system from the outside cold.

But, overall... Not bad for two hours' work.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

An odd little week, this.

As December 25th wobbles to a close and collapses snoring in a pile of shredded wrapping paper, I'm taking this opportunity to catch up on My reporting of life at Astrejurhof. Things have been busy, extraordinarily so; and yet, everywhere I've turned there's been truly remarkable synchronicity.

Like yesterday's shopping trip... I got off work at 12 noon; walked out the door and three minutes later caught a bus that took Me exactly where I needed to be. Went speed-shopping, going to six stores over a distance of seven city blocks, and making purchases at four of them. Arrived at the bus stop just in time to catch another bus that took Me straight home. (And with five minutes left on the original transfer, no less.)

On Tuesday night, Red and I and a friend performed a moving job for a relative. Three people; two short trips with a small pickup truck and a rather brave '01 Cavalier; a crescent wrench, a couple of screwdrivers, and some duct tape; three tables, two chests of drawers, and a double bed, duly moved. Getting the smaller of the two dressers into the back seat of the Cavy was actually fun, in a weird kind of way.

Today, the roast duck was done to a turn; and, in this blissful Henkell Trocken-numbed state I successfully emptied out the custom-built closet where I keep most of My musical instruments. Managed to fit several single-drawer filing cabinets into the space... Again with the 'synchronicity' theme, the closet was just wide enough (a scant 3 centimetres of horizontal clearance) to install them two abreast. So now I have room to put away some music books and ring binders and electronics gizmoi, which are Legion. Oh, and the closet beside the large one is just wide enough to hold two more guitar cases and a Roland JV-80, too.

But I must admit that I'm looking forward to taking Boxing Day off. Really taking it off, as in 'staying home and not doing much of anything.'

Except, perhaps, eating mass quantities of chocolate and finishing off this bottle of sparkling wine. Happy holidays to one and all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Come to the dark side. We have cookies.

Tonight, after returning from writer's group, I did My traditional Yule baking. In just over two and a half hours I constructed a batch of brownies; about three dozen Skor™ cookies; and an orange cake.

Recipes are here. Enjoy!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sentience on the surface of reality

(walks up to blog and erects sign)

Memes Under Construction
Hard Hat Area

A few minutes ago, while wreaking havoc on one of My usual forums, I started pondering the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Specifically, I started wondering about the hypothesis that consciousness is an innate property of matter, and that greater complexity and interconnection leads to greater levels of awareness. (q.v., Teilhard de Chardin's concept of the noosphere).

(The Internet itself makes a case for this... It has developed a life of its own. And a few gods, as well. :-D)

But as I sat here knitting a scarf for a tiefling friend of My daughter, My attention turned to the needles that were performing the actual work. It's their boundaries that define them. Just as the surface of *sip* this glass of Green Chartreuse *sip* defines its... Darn, it's all gone. What was I saying, again?

Oh, yes. Imagine, if you will, a collective sentience that gets bigger as the universe expands... Thinking with its surface area, not with its insides. And smaller spheres of interconnectedness that grow into greater awareness as they expand their boundaries.

Think big, and look for the connections between Everything and Everything Else. We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Attention, progress... and satisfaction.

Bit by bit, I am starting to get My inner polymath under control. Gone (at least for the time being) are new projects standing on the shoulders of older, unfinished ones. Gone, the desire to do seventeen things at the same moment (thereby guaranteeing that none of them will get a fair shake).

What I'm attempting to cultivate now is serial attention. If something needs to be done, it goes to the front of the line and everything else is put on 'pause'.

This has many tangible benefits. For one thing, I don't have to wonder about what to do next; I just do it. For another, My mind is much less chatty and doesn't get in the way as much. When I'm doing Project_A with full attention, I tend to not even think about Project_B; but, if I do, it's easier to get back on track.

Today, this phenomenon manifested in My karate class and enabled Me to finally assimilate the closing sequence in Heian Godan. Although I don't need to know this kata yet, it'll be there when I do need it.

I also had a particularly good clarinet practice this afternoon, working primarily on a D minor study from the David Hite book Melodious and Progressive Studies, Book 1.

Onward to test out My hypothesis that focused attention makes life much, much more pleasant.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Calculus, interrupted.

I've decided to take a break from the calculus course, deferring it to another time. As John Lennon put it in the song 'Beautiful Boy', "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Key word here: Busy. In addition to family commitments and work commitments and karate class and clarinet lessons, it's also November and I'm deep in the heart of NaNoWriMo-land.

This year's story, Ice Cream for Lakshmi, is now over 20,000 words and developing a plot even more twisted than My usual twisted plots. An excerpt can be found here -- Click on the tab labelled "Novel Info" to read an excerpt.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Springy G. vs. The Computer From Beyond

In keeping with My mandate as the goddess of random equipment malfunctions, this evening I effected repairs to a household computational device that appeared to have been infested by Space Lichen.

Or possibly the mother, maiden aunt and great-great-grandfather of all dust bunnies. In a word... Eww.

Unfortunately, merely vacuuming out the case did not cause this fine system to spontaneously fix itself. The problem in question was the dreaded Eternal XP Reboot Loop, and solving it took some actual tech work on My part.

And a Ubuntu Live CD, to move a few files off the system drive in the event we had to format and reinstall.

And the Windows XP install disk, so I could run Recovery Console.

And a glass of orange pop. (Note that I'm wearing My static strap, in accordance with Geekitude Best Practices, and a rather natty blue and grey workshirt.)

So, once I pulled up a web page on how to actually use Recovery Console (on My Fedora Core 6 Linux box, mwahahaha!) I tried a few commands and restarted the system after each one to see if the 'puter had come to its senses.

Ran fixboot. Nada.

Thought about running fixmbr but quickly reconsidered, as one hypothesis for the system failure was virus infestation. As opposed to Space Lichen infestation, which we had relatively under control by this time. The prospect of blowing away the partition tables and destroying 100+GB of gaming data and original art files (and incurring the wrath of a horde of vengeful sidhe and tieflings) simply made a full reinstall of the system drive a far, far more attractive prospect.

But in the end all it took was chkdsk /p, which found and fixed errors on the hard drive. Oh, and a quick search to replace a motherboard audio driver that had apparently been raptured by the computer gods. Virus and spyware scans both came up clean, leading Me to suspect that the problem was a corrupted driver on the hard drive.

And the computer -- Chala's beloved Bob the Minotaur -- is now back in action and none the worse for its adventures.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ceiling My fate

Something is terribly, terribly wrong at Astrejurhof this week... I'm actually putting things back together instead of ripping them to pieces.

Exhibit #1: The wiring in the downstairs hallway. It's fixed. I have actual working lights in the stairwell, in the hallway, and even in the middle of the living room ceiling. I've even patched the wall.

Exhibit #2: The hallway ceiling is, slowly but surely, going back up. The furring strips are all installed, and some of the ceiling tiles are already in place.

Egad, what next?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A seasonal announcement *ex officio*

Greetings of the vernal equinox to everyone in the Southern Hemisphere! Extending My best wishes for a fruitful and happy time.

(accepts canapé and mug of cold draft from southern-hemisphere spring deity) Mmk uu... *swallows* I mean, thank you.

You're in good hands, folks. Have fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

As I said earlier... Serious power tools.

Yesterday, Red and I achieved something rather remarkable: We got an 8-foot couch into a Cavalier. And yes, power tools were required.

But first, I got a serrated bread knife from the kitchen and did a cushiondectomy on the hapless victim. Mwahahaha!

This made it possible to actually get the dadblasted couch out into the hallway. After much huffing and puffing and swearing and outright manipulation of space-time (and ad hoc counselling for cats who were traumatized by the sight of a digital piano parked in the kitchen), Red and I got the couch out of the house and down the front steps. And then the fun began in earnest.

We semi-systematically demolished the couch into car-size chunks, cutting and hammering and cutting some more. When I hit hardwood, I escalated to a folding dozuki. But finally I did resort to a circular saw to cut the two remaining sections in half, because it was getting late and we were both running out of steam.

Finally, Red and I hit the road with the mortal remains of the couch safely bundled into the cargo area of our tiny little car. Our destination: The Brady Road landfill in south Winnipeg.

And here's one we've already unmade!

Monday, September 15, 2008

An emergency peanut run?

That's right. My household is now in thrall to the local squirrels and blue jays.

We actually had to make a special trip to the grocery store this afternoon because we needed another 1 kilogram bag of unsalted peanuts.

But it's worth it when one of those long-tailed maniacs comes bounding merrily along the top of the fence and takes a snack right out of My hand.

(Photo taken by Red on August 14, 2008)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Calculated risks

Midway through one heck of a busy week, it's time to report on "What I did after My summer vacation ended".

But first... (clambers down from roof of Cat Gazebo 2.0) ...Oh, did I mention that I built a roof?

(muddles around a bit in the twilight, picking up tools and putting them back in the garage) And last Sunday I got simply plastered...

As you can see, the reconstruction of the wall in the main stairwell is progressing nicely. One more thin coat and it'll be time to sand, prime, and paint; and then the new light fixture goes in.

In the next seven days, this is what I hope to accomplish:
  • Finish framing and sheathing a small, oddly shaped area on the gazebo roof
  • Get the flashing and shingles installed
  • Build a cat door and some stairs
  • Add two lattice panels to close off the remaining wall
  • Get that stairwell plastered
  • Put up the furring strips for the new hallway ceiling and position the octagon boxes for three more light fixtures
  • Open up the downstairs hallway wall to install a new quad switchbox and associated wiring
  • Do about a hundred pre-calc review problems... Trigonometry, inequalities, set builder notation, absolute values, functions, quadratic equa...
...Oh, did I mention that Calculus has started? I'm taking mass quantities of notes, reading through one horking big textbook, solving problems...

...And enjoying it very, very much.

Speaking of 'mass quantities of notes', My first clarinet lesson of the season is this Saturday.

And I won't need a ladder to get the high notes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I seem to have invented a new form of cardiovascular exercise.

(runs out to garage for ladder)
(runs upstairs to remove two dragon pictures from stairwell wall)
(runs to basement for hammer, dust mask and folding dozuki)
(sets up ladder in stairway leading to 2nd floor)
(rushes back to basement for a chisel)
(lets cats in)
(climbs ladder to take measurements)
(gets electronic stud finder from toolbox in study)
(back to basement to get trouble light)
(lets cats out)
(over to storage room to pick up octagon electrical box)
(up to 3rd floor to get Red's opinion on placement of light fixture)
(down to kitchen for pencil and measuring tape)
(lets cats in)
(moves purses, coats and shoe racks from hallway to dining room)
(up the ladder again, measure and mark)
(down ladder to get hammer and chisel)
(whacks at plaster wall for 60 seconds)
(runs to study for wastebasket)
(up and down ladder, removing sundry plaster chunks)
(lets cats out)
(back to basement for wider chisel)

...And that was just the first thirty minutes. With all the running around I did today, I could have recorded a three-DVD set of exercise videos.

But yes, the preliminary work has been done for a new light fixture in the main stairwell. Which means that the hallway ceiling will be back in place sooner rather than later.

Now, if you'll excuse Me, it's time for some carb-loading.

(runs out for ice cream)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Back off, man!

I have a graphing scientific calculator and I know how to use it...

...Uh, almost. Give Me a second...

(fiddles with "Mode" button and squints through Her graduated bifocals, trying to read ridiculously small text in user's manual of Her brand new SC-6109G)

...Hang on a second... Don't go away...

...Aha! Take that!

(successfully brings up a sine wave curve on the screen)

And that!

(stores the number 543678 in memory and successfully retrieves it)

(finds cosine of 30 degrees and the cube root of 343)


Now if I could only use it to graph a learning curve...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Xtreme Housecleaning...

...usually involves a versatile vehicle, copious amounts of spare time, and occasionally some serious power tools. (Or, when all else fails, a pickaxe.)

Red and I have been Tidying Up around the place. In true Astrejurhof fashion, large amounts of Stuff are being conveyed to locations as far from Astrejurhof as possible, by any means possible.

But usually in My little four-cylinder car, who is celebrating her 230,000th kilometer today.

Yesterday, we took several hundred pounds of plaster, lath and concrete to the city landfill.

Today, we took an old computer, monitor and inkjet printer to an electronics recycling depot, along with a venerable Applewriter laser printer.

Tomorrow, I'm either going to start running new wiring for the downstairs hallway or go out back and build the final wall for the Cat Gazebo. And one way or another, a certain Cavalier of My acquaintance will be going *somewhere* with Me and Red on board.

Because, after a few hours of pulling cable and smacking 2x4's with the business end of a framing hammer, a coffee would be so very nice.

(rushes off to dismantle old couch with an aggressive tooth handsaw and a pair of vise grip pliers)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wreaking havoc in a civilized manner...

...Because uncivilized havoc simply will not do.

Here you see My hallway floor as it appeared at three o'clock this afternoon. I got up this morning with single-minded determination, intent upon doing serious damage to the plaster on the hallway ceiling. After a leisurely noonish breakfast, I emptied the hallway of anything and everything that might be damaged by ancient black plaster dust. Shoe racks, coats, purses, binoculars, hats, mittens, and eight rather puzzled cats. Then I rounded up the tools: Hammer, goggles, dust mask, stepladder, and a tarpaulin and some duct tape to close off the entrance to the kitchen.

And then I set to work, stopping only to grab a breath of fresh air or change the filter in the dust mask (which I did four times before I was finished -- That dust is nasty stuff).

Mass quantities of plaster and lath came crashing down with great force. For the most part the cats stayed well away from the area, going in and out through the rear kitchen door, but occasionally someone wanted to go upstairs and had to be airlifted over the rubble and onto the second-floor stairway.

But by 4:30 this afternoon all of the ceiling was down; the plaster shards, bagged and out of the house; the lath, neatly stacked in the back yard. And yes, I did reveal the Secrets of the old wiring...

...Which is Legion. *eep*

And sometime around six o'clock I finished sweeping and washing the floor, and Astrejurhof got back to normal.

Whereupon I sought out the comfort of a nice hot bubble bath; fell down on the bed for an hour; and went out for coffee with Red.

And now maybe I can get that $%!*#!! study floor finished.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ceilings and floors and roofs... Oh, my!

First the good news: All the roof rafters for Cat Gazebo, Mk. II are now in place. This means that it's now time to build and install the final wall of the structure, and start sheathing the roof with plywood.

Now the bad news. I have *another* project underway... Demolition of the hallway ceiling.

(sneezes out some plaster dust)

You see, the main hallway at Astrejurhof has been in an almost-finished state for several years. I opened up one wall to run some wiring, then closed it up but didn't finish painting it.

Because I've known for at least a year that I would have to go into that wall at least one more time. And it looks like that time is now (give or take a week or so).

While working on the floor in the study, I discovered some disconnected tube-and-post wiring that leads in the general direction of a mysterious and apparently inert light switch in the downstairs hallway. My theory: A long, long time ago there was a light fixture in the middle of the living room ceiling, and the switch in the hallway controlled it.

Well, suffice it to say that certain Springy Goddesses of My acquaintance are not fond of such mysteries. The switchbox is getting opened up, the dead-end tube-and-post stuff is leaving, and new switches and fresh NMD90 are going in.

Along with, oh, some new compact fluorescent recessed fixtures for the hallway ceiling.

And a light fixture for the main stairwell.

And the fixture currently hanging from the study ceiling is migrating downstairs because it'll look much better in the living room.

Oh, what the heck: Might as well add a switch and a new outlet on the inside of the front porch, so I can control mass quantities of (energy-efficient LED) Yule lights.

As soon as I have all the switches in place and the wall re-plastered, Red gets to paint the wall and I get to put the ceiling back up.

But first I have to *achoo* take it down...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

An astrophysicist!

No, seriously. I've been fascinated with the cosmos since I was a wee little goddess gazing up at the stars from My back yard in Otterburn Heights, Québec. I will literally run to see a total solar eclipse, the finest of My generation being the one on 02/26/1979.

I also watched the partial of March 7, 1970 from My front yard via a pinhole box that My dad had thoughtfully constructed. (And then My friends and I went for a shopping trip at Galeries d'Anjou on the east side of Montreal, whereupon I bought a very fine zodiac poster in a style that I now recognize as homage à Gustav Klimt.)

(side note: It's surprisingly hard to type straight under the influence of two picnic mugs full of Freixenet Cordon Negro...)


I can tell you that the bright star in Leo's paw is named Regulus, and that the pretty red one in Orion's right shoulder is named Betelgeuse. (pauses to wave 'hi' at Ford Prefect). I will stop My car and pull over onto the shoulder for a few moments of "Ooh! Ahh!" when a lunar eclipse manifests or an unusually bright celestial object wanders into view.

Ahead of me is a lot of hard work, bringing My math and physics up to the standard required for some serious work in computational physics.

Perhaps I'll figure out what really happened before the Big Bang.

Perhaps I'll build the world's first time machine by taking a shortcut or two across those lovely curves in space-time.

Or maybe I'll just wander over to the M42 nebula to say "Hi" to My old neighbours.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Floored! (Part the Third)

Tuesday afternoon I made yet another attempt to get My study floor into a semblance of order.

For those of you just tuning in, I've been intermittently trying to level the floor in the room that adjoins My office on the second floor of a 95-year-old house. Long before Red and Chala and various cats and I moved in, some unknown event caused the front part of the house to sag. Repairs were attempted by an unknown party, but not particularly good repairs.

If you look closely at the joist in the foreground of the above picture, you will see three, count 'em, three separate pieces of wood pretending to be a joist. The real one is the one in the middle, and off to the right you can see how I chose to deal with large gaps -- Custom-cut 2" lumber to match the desired taper, and glue and screw down onto the top of the proper joist.

Like this:

Here you can see the old joist, on the bottom; the old piece of tongue-and-groove lumber reinforcing it on the east side; The angled board that I cut to fit; and an additional 2x4 that brings it up to the correct height. At this point (roughly in the center of the floor), the drop from the starting point in the northwest corner is now over four inches.

And yes, I did count the cats after I put the floorboards back down at the end of the night.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How to Carry Lumber In Your Car

(Cue official-sounding theme music with ticker-tape piano melody and an aggressive horn section) A Springy Goddess special report!

So let's say that you want to build something -- For instance, a gazebo for your dark legion of cats -- But you really don't want to spend $50 to have the requisite lumber delivered.

Well, unless you only live a quarter of a mile from the lumber yard, you probably don't want to walk the lumber home. That said, I have done exactly that -- Hauled 2x4's in a grocery cart, or carried a single piece of wood on My shoulder for untold blocks. Not My idea of a good time, though, especially not on a hot or rainy summer afternoon. For the purpose of this essay, I'm also assuming that your buddy with the 3/4 ton pickup truck has gone to the lake for the weekend, and that you must bring home a long, long board in a fairly short car with a fold-down back seat. A Cavalier, for example.

First things first: You'll need the usual lumber yard packing stuff such as nylon rope, shrink wrap, tape and red hazard flags, but you will also benefit greatly from:
  • One or two cheap tarpaulins, for protecting the trunk and also for stuffing between the lumber and the dashboard.

  • A sturdy cardboard box, an old pillow, or a thick chunk of styrofoam. This goes on the armrest between the front seats, elevating the lumber so that you can still reach the shift lever.

It's desirable to do this project solo, because in addition to dropping the rear bench backrest you'll also have to move the passenger seat all the way forward and then tilt the front passenger-side backrest all the way back. This also frees up the passenger-side seatbelt, which in the above photo is keeping the pile of lumber away from the driver's side of the vehicle.

Over the years, Red and I have determined that 10' lumber is the longest that will actually fit inside a Cavalier. 8' pieces are even more manageable; in fact, I brought home six of them this very afternoon. Essentially, I just opened the trunk, loaded them in, shut the trunk lid, and drove home:

Yesterday, however, I purchased five, count 'em, five pieces of 2x4x12' construction spruce.

To bring home twelve-footers, I load them in through the trunk and slide them as far forward as they can go... Right up the center of the car and onto the armrest, where they are duly elevated several inches by a chunk of foam and an old cardboard box. Again shown is a bunched-up tarpaulin, which keeps the radio and the air conditioner from developing a bad case of scratches and splinters.

I still have to deal with the back ends, however. To protect the trunk lid from damage, what's needed is another chunk of styrofoam or another soft, thick material. The wood itself has been wrapped in an open-ended plastic bag, and the foam has also been placed inside the bag. Nylon twine is wrapped around the wood and plastic, in front of and behind the foam, which keeps the foam block in position till I get home.

Oh, and don't forget to take your car out for coffee afterwards.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

July 13 is Think Like a God Day

Because I said so.

Here's how it works:

Pick a god, any god. Perhaps you practice a religion; feel free to ask yourself, "How would Athena play this sudoku game?" "If I were Loki, would I go for coffee, or swing by the service station and gas up the car first?" "How does Diancécht really feel about crescent wrenches?"

Or you can make up your own deity on the spot, ex nihilo or by grabbing the first object you...

...Hey, look, everyone! It's Malmetricia, the goddess of tape measures that don't quite snap all the way back.

And remember: Ixnay on the iting-smay.

Because other gods smite right back.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Correlation, causation, and... support stockings?

Well, it's been quite a day. I am pleased to announce that yes, I have made progress on the to-do list that I posted last night.

First, the university stuff: I have obtained a signed prerequisite exemption form for Intro to Calculus and am now in a position to register for the class.

And the proofreading project: I did four of the remaining seven chapters this evening.

Tidied My desk a bit and culled some papers in a box of files.

Folded laundry. De-lumped the Dark Legion's litter boxes. Tossed our karategi into the dryer.

I also did a few family errands, including troubleshooting a television, getting some keys cut, paying a bill, and wrestling some drapery hooks into a somewhat reticent living room drape.

What I find interesting about today's burst of energy is that this morning I decided to wear My handy-dandy 20-30mmHg support pantyhose.

Coincidence? I. Think. Not.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eight happy fish (and a happy computer, too)

Just got upstairs after mucking out the power filter on the 20 gallon fish tank. Algernon the Algae Eater, Mr.? and Mr.? Corydora, and the Blackskirt Quintuplets look a lot friskier. I'm not overly committed to being a fishkeeper, but I do like to have My tenants in good health.

Next fish-related project will be an alternate lighting system for the tank, as humidity got into the incandescent lighting hood and shorted out the last couple of bulbs. I'm thinking in terms of low-wattage LEDs, possibly a string of them around the outside of the tank. I don't like to run the lights in the summer because of the added heat in the tank, so that approach may well solve two problems for the price of one.

As for the wintertime, I've already removed the 100 watt heater from the tank and am upgrading the fish to 200W.

I'm also playing with My new laptop computer, a recent acquisition... I'm running Ubuntu 8.04 and Windows Vista, dual-booting with GRUB as My boot loader.

The laptop is My first serious wireless-networking device, ever. I spent seven years as a sysadmin and hardware geek, but only recently have I felt inspired to go wireless. Security has been My main concern; and that concern was refreshed when I turned on the laptop and immediately found several unsecured networks in range of My house.

I do want the option of going mobile in November, when NaNoWriMo starts up, though. Writing chapters longhand on the back of scrap paper, and then transcribing them when I get home, gets old real fast.

Off to look for wireless drivers for the Ubuntu side of the installation!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Melodious tootling redux

From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor."

*squeal* My marks are in! My marks are in!!

It's official: I have passed My Grade 4 clarinet exam, with first class honours.

So it ends, and so it begins... The long, dark night of the *gulp* arpeggios, and the first step on the road toward the Grade Six clarinet exam. Probably two years from now, in June 2010.

Now, if you'll excuse Me... (collapses onto floor in tangle of clarinet parts and #3 Vandoren reeds)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Enough with the exams, already!

It is now the afternoon of Tuesday, June 17. (pauses to wish Caramon and Raistlin Majere a Happy Day of Life Gift).

The karate test is over. Yes, I passed; we got the results at Monday night's class. Red passed, too. Film at eleven, or whenever the shipment of belts comes in.

The clarinet exam is over. I have no friggin' clue if I passed or not. Both pieces sounded great. The List 1 studies both sounded really good, too. Probably aced the ear training. G major scale, no problem. Sight reading not perfect but not bad, either.

And from there on in... I just don't know. There was a disconnect between the syllabus requirements and what I was actually studying and rehearsing. C# minor harmonic scale?? Arpeggios??? Ulp. No, didn't know they were required.

Tried to play 'em anyway, with varying degrees of success.

I was somewhat tense for the List 2 studies, and breathing was a bit of an ordeal. Had to play parts of all three of 'em.

Bottom line: I *think* I passed, but we'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime... I could do with a good stiff triple espresso and All the Chocolate There Is.

Monday, June 16, 2008

All tootled out.

At least for the moment.

If I hear one more C# melodic minor scale, I'm gonna...

Ah, that felt good.

I'm at T-minus 30 hours till the clarinet exam, and have officially entered the mental state of 'done just about all I can do'. Will probably get one more practice in tomorrow afternoon, well in advance of Monday night karate class.

Ah, yes, karate. Got tested for green belt test today. We usually get the results at the following class, so I'm hoping to know My fate by tomorrow evening. Overall, though, it felt pretty darned good.

Off to bed with Me... 'Night, all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A whole lotta nothin' goin' on...

It's downtime time again. Weather is a bit on the cool side. Spent Sunday afternoon cleaning out the crawlspace under the back of the house, and most of Monday finishing a new pair of gi pants. (They're wonderful, by the way.)

Don't wanna go shopping; did that yesterday.

Not in a mood to work on the study floor, ride My bike, bake cookies, muck out the fish tank, or do some gardening.

I don't even have a clarinet lesson today -- My teacher is away on musical business. And it's twenty minutes before I have to leave for karate.

So I've been sitting around, playing video games and wandering through various Internet fora and contemplating writing another essay for I already have a theme in mind: A psychological critique of the "Must-Obey-Deity" mindset.

And writers' group is tomorrow, so there's stuff I need to print out.

And, as there are still six practice days before My clarinet exam, I foresee Myself playing mass quantities of scales later tonight: All the major and minor ones up to four sharps or flats, sixteen different scales in all.

But, in the meantime... (stretches out Her legs) ...Ahhh!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Deconstructionism at its finest

I'm sitting here at My desk with a snoot of Scotch and... a stitch ripper.

In My lap is a pair of karate pants that have definitely passed their "Best Before" date. The cuffs are frayed; the sides are threadbare; and I can put My finger right through the cloth immediately below the waistband.

So I'm taking 'em apart to make Myself a fine pattern for a new pair. My primary motive is an upcoming test for green belt, but it would also be nice to have a lighter-weight, custom-sized outfit for what promises to be a very hot summer. (Bonus points: I can use the very same pattern in the fall to whip up an über-heavyweight gi for the Dreaded Season of Cold and Dark.)

It's always been a bit of a struggle to find the right pants, be they gi pants, blue jeans or dressy trousers for work. I have a fairly unusual lower body structure, with a waist-to-thigh ratio that has baffled Me since puberty or so. In most cases, pants that are loose enough for My upper legs are generally far too loose at the waist, and six inches too long as well.

The pants that I'm currently wrecking are a heavyweight canvas size 6... Which, in karate terms, is Pretty Damned Big Indeed. I've already severely modified them, shortening the legs and re-doing the side splits to taper the waist inward. I did similar custom work on the jacket, shortening the sleeves so that Sensei could actually see My hands when I punch.

(turns pants inside out to get at the other side of a leg seam)

In My younger days, I had a lovely pair of brushed-cotton jeans that didn't quite fit. I hung onto them for years and years, trying them on every once in a while to see if I had magically shrunken into them. Eventually I did briefly resize Myself to the pants, but it was a long, judgmental and -- above all -- painful struggle. I would've been a lot happier if I had just purchased the right size of pants to begin with.

(pauses to rip out part of a seam)

When it gets right down to it, there's enough suffering in the world without inflicting it upon ourselves. And, over the years, I've found that the questions we ask ourselves often contribute to that suffering.

Because... *rip* ...sometimes... *shred* ...we take the questions themselves as the answers.

I refuse to question these legs any more. There's a reason I have this particular build. I accept it.

And I intend to use that reason to My advantage.

And practice yoko geri keage many, many times... In cool comfort.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Limitations and Challenges

I'm in an interesting mood this evening/early morning, somewhere between "vaguely pissed off" and anticipatory and taking a break. And I have been put in mind of the ways in which life forces us to s-t-r-e-t-c-h.

Permit Me to explain... It's been an atypical Saturday, with an exam rehearsal at noon, a clarinet lesson at 12:30, and then several hours of shopping.

Somewhere along the way, I ran into an unknown entity that triggered what appears to be an environmental allergy. (I suspect it was something at the grocery store, which is where I started to feel Not Quite Myself.) Despite the extra oxygen in My system from an hour of clarinet playing, I arrived home with body aches reminiscent of those I acquired at a workplace I quit several years ago... Primary suspects were mold and inadequate airflow in a basement office.

(makes mental note to phone Karma Faerie and ask if that dish of Revenge is cool enough to serve yet)

The bad-airflow-at-the-Mall theory is currently the one that I favour, because when I got home I brought out the clarinet again (yes, three times in the same day) and worked on a couple of studies for another half-hour.

And it made Me feel much better.

Not only that... I felt *so* much better that I had a major breakthrough in learning the program Cinelerra and managed to edit and render two short video segments. In a good enough mood to listen to L'Heptade by the band Harmonium.

Bottom line: Oxygen is grossly underrated. Don't leave home without it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Chala, your mother sounds like an ice cream truck."

Whereupon My daughter comes around the corner into My office, studies Me for a moment, and reports back, "She isn't nearly rectangular enough."

As the Æsir and Vanir are My witnesses, the preceding incident actually happened about half an hour ago.

You see, it all started when I decided to do some intensive work on the E flat study I'm preparing for that exam in June. It's a bouncy little number, the love child of a polka and a brisk marching tune. (Think dotted eighth note with a sixteenth note chaser.)

And, as fate would have it, tonight I worked on a small section of the piece... Playing it over and over and over again. (Think lots of arpeggios in that dotted-eighth-plus-sixteenth pattern, up and down and sideways through two and a half octaves.)

I had been doing this for about five minutes when I had the ice cream truck vision. This is the season when those accursed vehicles come out of hibernation, then rampage slowly up and down suburban streets playing their siren songs... Never-ending snippets of "It's a Small World" or "Dixie" or a Mozart sonata gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Yes, I have become what I fear most: A vanilla soft-serve with rainbow sprinkles. On wheels.

But the voices in My head prefer spumoni.

(pours Herself a snoot of Glenfiddich, then cues up some Blind Guardian)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tootling in 5/4 time

It's late Thursday evening in Winnipeg, and as I wind down from the long day I've got my clarinet out. Got an extra lesson on Saturday, noon-ish, and am putting in a few longer-than-usual practices.

On the menu tonight: Allegro Con Grazia from Symphony No. 6 by Tchaikovsky. I've been working on getting a better-sounding B flat at the top of the chalumeau register, and ridding Myself of a few unwanted chirps and twitters caused by intermittent interruptions of airflow.

Oh, and did I mention that the aforementioned Allegro is in 5/4 time? (A 2+3 feel, to be specific.)

My overall sound is improving quite a bit as of late, something that can be attributed to one particular thing: Regular and mentally focused practice.

'Regular' as in 'Not just the evening before the next lesson'.

'Mentally focused' as in 'If you keep making the same damn mistake in the same place, stop right there and play it slowly until you're no longer making that particular mistake.'

And those #3 reeds are softening up nicely, too.

Thirty-two days till the exam... Thirty-two days till the exam...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Once more unto the... exam room?

It's official: In about five and a half weeks I will have to get up Entirely Too Early and drive downtown with my clarinet, for a rendezvous with destiny.

Or, at least, a rendezvous with a piano accompanist and a Royal Conservatory examiner. Yes, folks... Here comes the dreaded Grade 4 practical exam.

(Not bad for someone who's only played clarinet for a bit under three years, mind you...)

It's been an interesting year of preparation, full of Random Equipment Malfunctions. Most of these have involved a new ligature, a Bonade inverted that insisted on slipping off the mouthpiece.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided enough was enough. I took a small piece of #400 wet-dry sandpaper and applied it vigorously to the inside surface of the ligature. Sanded down the high-gloss finish on the metal, roughing it up eeee...ver so slightly. Now, when I set a reed, it stays put.

A definite advantage when one is trying to actually play something.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Springy Tech Support

(stretches, wanders over to window, looks outside)

*dial dial dial*

"Welcome to MacroSeasons technical support hotline. All of our deities are currently busy. Your call is important to Us. Please stay on the line, and Your call will be answered by the next available representative."

(makes cup of tea)
(feeds cats)
(feeds fish)
(feeds Self)
(reads War and Peace)

"...are still busy. Please stay on the line..."

(reads War and Peace again, this time in Русский язык)

"MacroSeasons Tech Support, Indra speaking. How may I help You?"

"Hi. My name's Astreja Odinsdóttir, and I'm calling from Winnipeg. I've been having problems with Vernal Equinox 2008. Keeps crashing on Me."

"Mmm... Did You download the Daylight Saving Time patch?"

"I think that's what caused it to crash. I've had to reboot a couple of times already. And when it does run, it's sluggish... I can't even play Minesweeper without some half-frozen sparrow tapping on My window and telling Me to knock it off. I even got a Blue Screen of Death the other day..."

"I'll have to check with My supervisor. One moment, please." *click*

(writes alternate version of War and Peace, in Esperanto, making Marya into a day-trader with an allergy to spinach)

"Hello, Astreja? Sorry about the wait. I'll have to escalate this to Tier II support. In the meantime, just keep rebooting..."

(insert insincere closing pleasantries, followed immediately by the sound of a MacroSeasons Certified Goddess card being run through a shredder)

Enough of this crap! I'll get this razzafracking season working even if I have to rewrite the whole damn thing Myself. On Linux.

(does a quick search for GPL-licensed weather software, a C programming HOWTO, and the name of a good travel agent, Just In Case)

Right. Let's see what We've got here...

Ah, that's better.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The taxonomy of taxfolk

I took a little drive down Memory Lane this evening, en route from clarinet to karate class. My mission: Drop off  some tax stuff at the Canadian Revenue Agency.

So at 6:15 this evening there I was, at the CRA building on Broadway.

Along with a lot of other people. Cars pulled up on the west side of the building and spat out envelope-wielding humanoids, who would promptly run to the mail slot and feed the April 30 Monster before running for dear life.

And one brave soul was sitting in his truck with a clipboard propped up on the steering wheel, finishing his tax return on location.

By the way, the Monster bites. It wanted the ring on My right hand and wouldn't let go. (rubs finger)

The 'Memory Lane' business? Oh, I used to work for accountants... For six years.

For those in the number-mangling profession, April 30 (or 04/15 in the States) is a bit like New Year's Eve. Only you have to work later, rather than getting out at 2:30 in the afternoon. Everyone -- Accountants, data entry technicians, secretarial staff -- works like a friggin' maniac to finish the tax returns brought in by last-minute stragglers. Once I was in the office past 9:00 at night, printing and collating the last couple of tax packages.

But then... After all is printed and signed and driven downtown and stuffed into the mouth of the Monster... It's party time, and not a moment too soon.

So if you encounter any ravening hordes of drunken accountants in your local bar tonight, tell them 'Hi' from me.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Practising while fully present

I've had an exceptionally good evening this Saturday, putting in two solid music sessions.

First up, clarinet. After working with the F# minor study being prepared for this June's Grade 4 practical exam, I brought out Ye Olde Digitalle Chromaticke Tunerre. The problem: How to correct a somewhat flatter-than-it-oughta-be B flat at the high end of the chalumeau register. After some trial and error (tempered by the satisfaction of seeing that most of the lower notes were right on the mark), I found that I could get a cleaner, truer tone by creating a thin and more centered air stream.

Then, while singing the F# minor study, I also tested My vocal pitch with the tuner. I discovered that the pitch varied considerably depending on the syllable I was singing. "Aaaa", with the mouth wider, didn't have the same accuracy as "Oooo".

But I can fix that.

And, by Euterpe, I shall do just that.

(Still on my clarinet to-do list: Unlock several double-jointed phalanges on left hand, improve articulation, cleanly speed up a fairly complex G minor study, relax the upper lip.)

Then I got out the violin. As this was clearly a day for technical breakthroughs, I started with the Dancla School of Mechanism (Op. 74) book and worked on exercise #1 till I actually started to get it. Nice, clean strikes of all four fingers onto the fingerboard, in rhythm and with good intonation. Rockin'!

Finally, I spent about half an hour cleaning up a gavotte by J.B. Lully (from the Suzuki Grade 2 book)... It's a wonderful 17th century piece that needs a light touch and graceful baroque bow gestures, but oh! those string crossings. *squeak*

So I decided to fix one particular part of the B section, a quick jaunt from the D string to the G and back again. Slowed it right down and worked on getting the bow angle just right, aaaand going in the correct direction at the correct moment.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I also discovered that I could cure the "whistling" sound just by keeping the bow at a strict right angle to the strings. As it turned out, that irritating high, thin sound was actually the bow hairs sliding up or down the string.

Oh, and I think I know how rosin actually works, too. I've started to feel it as I play.

Now if I could only be as present for my meditation...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Flow and Focus

After making some progress with the physical side of the Lakshmi Project -- The re-ordering of my immediate environment -- I'm now revisiting the mental side.

There are several things happening simultaneously that could be construed as evidence that the Project is starting to take root in my mind.
  1. Due to other commitments, my violin teacher is only going to be teaching for another month. This will give me some extra cash in the form of a tuition refund, and give me additional practice time to prepare for a clarinet exam in June. Conveniently, this turn of events will provide the cash for a pre-calculus prerequisite math course I want to take... And the required graphing calculator, too.
  2. I've acquired a paid proofreading gig, cleaning up a book manuscript.
  3. I've been improving self-discipline and concentration skills through various means, including leaving the computer switched off during music practice, and doing my reading in a straight-backed chair under adjustable lighting.
The mind truly is the final frontier... And oh, what a trip I'm having on this particular starship!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Put down the lutefisk and back away slowly..."

As part of my household's traditional vernal equinox cooking frenzy, tonight I'm featuring some not-so-traditional Scandinavian cooking.  Tried out a vinaterta recipe but modified to make it gluten-free. To date it's the most fun I've ever had with a 750-gram bag of dried prunes.

Next up: Rack of lamb with yams and caramelized pearl onions for dinner tomorrow, and maple crème brulée for dessert.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's here! It's here!!

(signs for package and closes front door) Now, let's see what we've got...

*rip* *unpack*

Yup, it's all here. Vernal Equinox 2008, Northern Hemisphere Edition.

(loads software into computer)

Oh, heck. They forgot about the Daylight Saving Time change.

*downloads patch*

*program crashes with Random Equipment Malfunction*


Hang on, folks... It may take me till past one in the morning, but you will have your Spring on schedule.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"I don't want to go on the wagon!"

"Oh, don't be such a baby." (Springy G runs several pads of obsolete blank cheques through the shredder)

Yes, the Lakshmi Project continues. Tonight I did something extraordinary indeed... I finished Phase I of the data entry for My 2007 tax return. And it isn't even the last week of April.

Bank statements, sorted and hole-punched and clipped into the correct folder. Teaching income sorted by month and tallied. Car expenses and mileage entered.

(puts paperwork away in filing box for Later, then starts sorting through the last few CDs on her desk)

Well, I'll be... There actually *is* a desk under there, after all!

Life is good.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Weather Gods are your friends. Really.

Yes, spring is on the way. At least, I hope so. I ordered those parts months ago.

And now I'm getting an assist from the Weather Gods, who have seen fit to bring the outside temperature up to a whopping 257 Kelvin. But wait, there's more! We're scheduled to get actual rain sometime tonight, for the first time in months.

Freezing rain, mind you --

-- Aw, heck. I'll take it.

Even though it reminds me of that evening in 1973 that I went out to deliver the Montreal Star, slipped on a patch of wet ice, and landed on my posterior in a very large and very, very cold puddle...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

56 square feet... And a cat or two...

Did some more work on the floor in the study today.

And I had helpers... Little whiskered dudes and dudettes, tiptoeing over boxes of flooring screws and wandering between the joists. At first I tried to keep the Dark Legion out of the construction area altogether. However, when you're dealing with eight feline variables, solving that particular equation is... Well, like herding cats.

(pauses to pull a splinter from the terminal phalanx of Her left third finger) Oh, and I cut a bit of wood, too.

I'm pleased to report that after the new floorboards were laid in place, the inventory count showed that we still have eight cats.

And there are now seven 2' x 4' plywood squares installed: The entire first row (w00t!) and the first board in row #2.

Amazingly, when I reached the junction of the office floor and the main study floor, the height difference was less than a quarter of an inch. All the more impressive because I started on the far side of the room and worked towards the existing floor. This bodes well for the project.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Meet Lakshmi!

Here is a fine lady dragon who truly appreciates a clean desk.

And shiny things like lapis lazuli eggs.

And cerulean crayons.

But mostly she's just happy I'm cleaning up my act.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Whatever you do, Penfold... Don't say 'rock'!

Today was a tidying-up-loose-ends kind of day, a time for dispatching overdue projects.

First came the orange cake that I had meant to bake for Jól.  Instead of all-purpose wheat flour I substituted a 50/50 mixture of rice flour and tapioca flour to make the cake gluten-free. (Oh, and a quarter-teaspoon of xanthan gum to make it all stick together, too.)

Then... (cue ominous music) ...I tackled The Fishtank.

Among my housemates are Algernon the Chinese algae eater, two albino corydoras, and five black-skirt tetras all peacefully coexisting in a 20 gallon aquarium. About once a month I give the tank a partial water change, vacuum the gravel on the bottom, and scrub down the inside of the glass. Normally it takes about an hour to do that and get the new filter materials installed, the plants pruned, the new water dechlorinated, and the system switched back on.

Today, when I turned the electricity back on, the power filter just sat there.

I fussed with it. *poke poke*
And fussed with it some more. *click* *prime prime prime*
And yet again. *adjust* *click*

And contemplated praying to the Power Filter Gods, but they had the day off.

So, out came the filter, and I took it back to the kitchen sink for another look.

Then, finally, I saw The Rock. A tiny, tiny pebble stuck deep down in the almost-as-tiny impeller mechanism, preventing the rotor from spinning properly.

*SHAKE* *clunk*
*reinstall* *click* *whirrrrr*

I think this one is covered under my mandate as the Goddess of Random Equipment Malfunctions. (reads fine print on her contract while enjoying a slice of that wonderful orange cake)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tooth or Consequences

Ow. Three hours in the dentist chair today.




I'm a patient of the local university's dental clinic, which gives me access to state-of-the-art work at very reasonable cost. The upside, and downside, is that a great deal of the work must be checked by the student dentist's instructor -- who is frequently a few stations down the floor, checking or assisting other students.  It can take a while to move from Step A to Step B, let alone to K or L or X.

As for my aching jaw, it wasn't so much the dental work (large composite filling at the very back of my mouth) as holding my jaw wide open for prolonged periods of time.

It is an interesting way to spend a Tuesday afternoon, though, especially a bitterly cold January one. I've become an expert at pantomiming "Hand me the suction" and have been known to play with the up/down buttons on the chair when no one's looking. Added words like 'buccal' and 'mesial' to my vocabulary.

But I don't think I'll play clarinet till sometime tomorrow... (sucks back another cup of warm tea)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

And the Lakshmi Project continues...

Things are moving along in my life... Not swiftly, but steadily and in the correct direction.

I continue to make progress in the organization of personal space. Desk is not clear yet, but far closer to it and settled into a new, somewhat tidier homeostasis. Approximately 50% of the boxes previously piled up near the window have been emptied... Most of them into a new old bookcase acquired from the parental units. More room for music stand, guitar stand, and the wooden stool that Freyja uses to access Very High Places.

I've already downloaded this year's crop of tax return forms and will be filing my financial statements and tax return substantially before the deadline.

A letter of acceptance for university (with a lovely collection of transfer credits from prior college studies) is being finalized and should be in my hands within a few days. I've also found a way to pick up a couple of missing course prerequisites in a relatively painless manner (Translation: Studying physics and pre-calc math at home at my own pace rather than spending five mornings a week at an Adult Ed center).

Wood necessary for levelling the next 16 square feet of study floor has been cut into appropriately sized pieces.

My new workbench is up and running, along with a better-positioned bench vise and a pegboard. New 20 amp wiring for the router table, chop saw and vacuum will follow in due course.

And clarinet lessons resume tomorrow.

Life continues to be good.