Happy 4th! Weekend Update

A happy and blessed fourth to you and yours. Two thoughts on patriotism: first, *you* are the pater, the father, to your country. Your job is to look after your country. It is not your country’s job to look after you. Second, and related, is something Chesterton said (paraphrasing drastically): that a patriot hopes to be worthy of the great gift of his own country. I would go so far as to say: a patriot, as any father, should hope and strive to be worthy of his own child.

Note that there’s nothing much individualistic about this attitude:  no sane man could hope to take care of an entire nation on his own, but rather should hope to care for the little corner that has fallen to his responsibility, and should seek out the company of good men and women who strive to be responsible for theirs. Together, we try to keep the long-term health of our nation in sight. This is the true meaning of a republic, a commonwealth: we have received our great nation as a gift, and with it the duty to make sure that we can also give it as a gift.

On to the more mundane. The weather today was perfect: low 80s, low humidity, light breeze. We had both brunch and dinner on the back patio under the shade of our massive walnut tree:

For brunch, Younger Daughter made blueberry pancakes with fresh strawberry syrup and whipped cream – red, white and blue. For dinner, fresh guacamole, burgers, tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, home made sweet potato fries. After dinner, we did an hour of Adoration at a local church, then caught some fireworks, then came home to Younger Daughter’s home made Baked Alaska – she made vanilla ice cream with strawberry, raspberry and Macadamia nut brownie swirls – outrageously good.

One of the best 4ths we’ve ever had.

On the Home Improvement front, over this weekend: (This is so ridiculous I’ll put in a break to make it easier to skip over. Really, amateur hour at the hardware store. Fascinating. )

Continue reading “Happy 4th! Weekend Update”

Home Improvement Projects: Mid-stream Update

Had 3 things to do this long weekend:

Replace the toilet tank innards in two bathrooms – 1 down, one to go. This I will get done. Here is the epic jury-rig of the year entry I replaced from toilet 1:

Starting a couple months back, this shut-off gadget began to fail. First, the refill nozzle inexplicably began shooting water onto the lid, which then dripped to the floor. Solution: cut up the lid from a peanut butter jar and rubber-banded it in place to redirect the spray back down; 2. the float broke off the arm. Solution: using duct tape (camo pattern) and a plastic toy saw that happened to be the right size, taped that sucker right back on. It actually worked, more or less, for a couple weeks! But it’s in the trash now. 

Fiberglass shield, 2nd try – glass & epoxy phases done; need to clean up edges, finish sand & do fancy paint job to meet 13 yr old’s design spec:

Lots of rough work, edges we couldn’t get to stick down properly, but also lots better than the 1st try – nothing that can’t be made perfectly usable with a little work. 12 coats of wax may be overkill, but the darn thing came right off the mold. The Caboose is pleased, which is what matters;

Make some progress on the brick oven. Before I build the walls and barrel vault of the oven proper, I want to extend a lip or apron out maybe 8-10″. This is involving way, way too much planning, hardware and tools, not to mention time.

Here’s a picture of the materials and tools I’ve accumulated so far. I think I’ve got everything:


Tools are fun – got a nice set of titanium bits to put a few holes in the angle iron (got the set because getting the one 1/2″ bit I actually needed cost about $2 less than the set), a 12″ 1/2″ hammer drill bit and a couple nice files.

Other than that, I am so winging it – setting 4 24″ long 1/2″ threaded rods into the oven slab through the angle iron at about a 30 degree angle, epoxying and concrete screwing the angle iron on the front, attaching the expanded metal strip to both the slab and the angle iron upon which to place the mortar in the desperate hope that a crack won’t open up over time. Then I’ll build a gig out of 2x4s to hold the rods so that I can bend them parallel to the oven floor about 1″ lower, THEN drill 4 holes in my slab of Douglas fir, bolt it on, plane it flat, throw some finish on it (linseed?) and – I can see about 20 ways this could go bad, even apart from eating up hours of time.

So of course, while picking up an 8 oz can at the store, tweaked by back. Whatever odd reach/twist/bend combo that simple act involved unlocked a new pain level. Because this isn’t already way too much, now I’m trying to get by on will power and Tylenol.  Sheesh. Nothing structural, just some useful muscles on my left side that are sore and threaten to sort of lock up if I so much as think about moving funny.  It’ll be fine in a day or two.

Further updates, including details on the shield construction, as events warrant.


Updates: Home Improvement Project, Graduation Season

Yes, I still need to review Belloc’s Europe and the Faith (short: it’s good), but, until we get Grandma moved in and stuff moved out – you know, stuff – I’m pretty much time-impaired. And I got stories to finish! Anyway:

A: If Grandma is to move in, it would be necessary to have unimpeded ingress to the house. Thus, I needed to get to a point on the endless front yard brick project (EFYBP? Doesn’t roll off the, um, cerebellum?) where a wheel chair, say, could be rolled up to the front door. Thus, last weekend and this morning were dedicated to laying brick. Here’s where it stands:

(Faithful reader Agellius asked for wider view, to see context – couldn’t really work it, but here’s a bunch of pictures that might help.)

From the street, driveway to the left.
From the driveway, featuring the bench between the two planters – fig to the left, citrus to the right.
Standing on the porch, looking street-ward.
The porch, with my back to the door. Did herringbone on the porch, 2 straight lines of bricks as transition, then checkerboard transition to the curves matching the planters.

That’s it for now. Needs a planter next to the house, with a pillar in front tall enough to support a hand rail. To the right facing the door will be another short pillar, tall enough to hand a gate off and wide enough to house a mailbox – this will mark the entry to the orchard/garden. Will need a couple steps down as well.

But that can wait – one can now approach the front door without running an obstacle course.

B. Went to the high school graduation of the daughter of dear friends, held in St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, often referred to as “Our Lady of the Maytag”. It is an agitating building:

Image result for St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco:
At least, with beloved Archbishop Cordileone, the homilies are less likely to initiate the spin cycle.

It seems that speakers at events held here are obliged by contract to refer to it as ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely’ – the graduation speakers surely did.

Related image

My daughter, fresh back from 4 months in Europe, including three in Rome, asked: are there any pretty cathedrals in California? And – I was having trouble coming up with any. I’m sure there are, somewhere – it’s a big state – but not in any of the places I’ve lived.

The 1st speaker did a gracious job reminding people that we were in a church, to remain seated, and hold applause until the end of any group acknowledgements. And, for a while, people were pretty good.

But the event wore on. Eventually, graduates got some whoops and hollers; then stomps and shout-outs – and it was open season. My 13 year old son was very distressed by this – as a family, we always find the tabernacle, when possible, and genuflect, and try to keep the yacking down. I was equal parts sorry for him (and us, frankly) but also happy that he took it seriously enough to be made uncomfortable by it.

But what do you expect in a building that requires very little imagination to picture hosting a major appliance vendor’s convention?

C. The above-mentioned daughter, who is an amazing baker and served as Thomas More College’s baker for a semester (and will probably do so again), agreed to make a cake for Diablo Valley School‘s 20 Anniversary Party next weekend. The theme is Disco Tea Party (?!?) so the cake is going to be some sort of disco ball/teapot hybrid.

Sure to be memorable. I will post pictures.

Updates, Home Improvement Project

Things did not go quite as planned this weekend. Grandma Brilliant (my mother-in-law) paid a visit to the hospital and is now in a convalescent home. We would like to break her out and bring her home.

However, as anyone paying a frankly unhealthy degree of attention to this blog will recall, a couple months back Middle Son tore out the little concrete slab walk that allows on to get from the driveway to the front door (as mentioned in passing here), leaving a gap manageable by the spry, but otherwise impassible.  Younger Son and I did get the concrete base upon which bricks will be laid down – progress, but not good enough for wheelchair access.

Soooo, instead of whiling away our long weekend with less strenuous activities that would leave me awake and pain-free at the end of the day so I could write, I spent a good number of hours on my hands and knees laying bricks in order to finish the walk so that, if it works out to bring Grandma home, we could get her into the house.

Here’s where it stands:

The area bottom center is sloped too much to simply brink over – I’m considering options…

Got all the whole, roughly level bricks in; started in on cutting all the fitted bricks. Still need a half-day to finish, then sweep dry mortar into the gaps, gently water, clean up – and Voila!

I might even live through this. My 59-year-old back, knees and hands are not really up for more than a couple hours of hard manual work at a crack.

Anyway, please say a prayer for Grandma and those who love her. Thanks.

Flotsam, Update, Etc.

A. Politics has rarely been this bracing. I’m hardly able to form opinions about much of the current kerfluffles – too much smoke to see what, if anything, is on fire. My only advice: ignore polls. If the flawed reasoning and potential for manipulation don’t convince you that polls are worthless, the last election should.

B. Home ‘improvement’. Yesterday, my 13 year old son and I mixed and poured 26 60 lbs and 8 80 lbs bags of ready mix concrete, to the following result:

A sub slab, to be covered in brick, creating a gentle slope up to the porch, continuing the brick walk at the bottom of the pic completed last summer. Still need to pull the forms and fill in some spots – all the curves and elevation changes made this tricky.

So, let’s see: I lifted each bag at least twice (loading at Home Depot; dumping into the mixer; most also unloaded and stacked) so that’s minimum of 2.2 tons lifted, manhandled and poured. And the pedestal mixer I rented started acting up about 2 batches in, and totally failed over the last 2-3 batches, meaning MORE manhandling and manual mixing.

I’m 59 years old. At one time, I was a strapping young man who could do this sort of thing before breakfast, play hoops all afternoon, and do it again the next day. Now? Oh, I’m a little sore. Tylenol is a good thing.

Anyway, I am now prepared to while away a good number of long summer evenings on my hands and knees setting bricks. On the plus side, it will be very pretty. On the down side, living through it long enough to enjoy it is not a given. That’s probably just my arms, knees and back talkin’.

C. Then there’s the brick oven I started last summer. Really need to finish it. But had to set it aside because the hole where the path to the front door used to be was a hazard. On the plus side, at least it’s mostly to the standing up phase, needing only to bend over when mixing mortar or lifting bricks.

But all is not bad. The fruit trees got planted and are mostly doing well, the back lawn seems to be taking, and a number of small projects are getting done. So, yea, assuming I’m close to as healthy in 7 years when I can retire, home should be fun!

D. Next will read & review Belloc’s Europe and the Faith, which arrived two days ago. Commenter David Smith asked if Lafferty’s Fall or Rome should be read before or after the Belloc, and I sheepishly had to admit I hadn’t read it. It’s short! Should get through it pretty fast. 

E. The family is heading out to a school camping trip Friday at Del Valle reservoir near Livermore, CA. The trip would be fun, except for the packing up, setting up, sleeping on the ground, packing back up again, and cleaning and putting things away.  There’s been plenty of rain, so the reservoir should be full and the streams flowing – very pretty.

Blogging will be light.

F. Finally, our Chesterton Society reading group will be finishing up In Defense of Sanity next month, and moving on to The Everlasting Man starting in July. I cannot recommend either book too much. The more Chesterton one reads, the more dazzled with his brilliance one becomes.

Interlude of Updateitude

A. Man, Lafferty’s Fall of Rome is just so awesome and fun.  A few pages left, just – wow. Will review in a day or two. When I get back to writing The Novel That Shall Not Be Named (let’s go TNTSNBN, shall we?), I am so going to throw this book up on blocks and strip it down to the frame for parts – everything from names, relationships, character motivation are just so dramatic and involved, and the stakes are so high – Stilicho & Co are trying to Save the World!

So far, I’d modeled the relationships and motivations in TNTSNBN on the Medici, the Fords,  and other historical families, because just as all politics is local, all history is family.  But man, Stilicho is now just about my favorite historical character of all time. In an Empire of 75,000,000 people, Lafferty compellingly contends that the decisions of a handful of men and women determined the course of history, pushing the virile, civilized world of Rome over the edge when it could have been otherwise. You are left to speculate on what kind of a world – a better world, Lafferty leaves little doubt – would have ensued had only Rome persisted for another couple of centuries and further civilized and assimilated the peoples on the borders.

I’ve long suspected that, had Islam arisen and pursued its campaign of conquest against an even semi-coherent Rome instead of riding out of the desert to loot the wreckage of an empire, history would have been very different. Stilicho, one imagines, would have put a stop to that nonsense in short order. But we’ll never know.

Image result for orkney islandsB. Younger daughter just spent a week in on a farm in Orkney, on her way home from her semester in Rome. She’s caught Lourdes, Paris, Ireland (Limerick, I think) on her way to Orkney, and is now in London for a couple weeks with her aunt, uncle and a half-dozen cousins. From there, she and some friends are planning day trips to Oxford and goodness knows what else. I’d tell her my preferences – York, Salisbury, a day or two walking London – but I think she’s got plenty of people to advise her.

Image result for harrison clocks
Harrison 1. C’mon, it doesn’t get any cooler than this!

Wait – Uncle Paul’s house is within walking distance of the Prime Meridian, the Royal Observatory, and the Harrison clocks! Text message going out.

Then, from London back to New Hampshire to attend graduation at her college (she has friends among the seniors) and then, finally, home.

When I was 19, my entire experience with planes was taking a roughly 2 hour flight from Albuquerque to LA once, coming home from school. At the same age, my daughter has got to be pushing 100,000 miles of air travel, between cross country back and forth to school flights, a couple trips to Europe, and a few up and down the coast visits to family and friends.

She lives in a different world than me.

C. 93 drafts for this blog. It’s not getting better. 2 short stories *this* close to being done. One NTSNBN on temporary hold. One book on education history I’m going to feel guilty about neglecting for the last couple years any day now.

Maybe I have some issues with, I don’t know, letting go? Discipline? Success?

On the plus side, got a million words easy on this blog, and, after years of not even starting stories, I’ve got some that I really, truly could finish in a few hours if I can a) find the hours; and b) make myself do it. This week – 2 stories wrapped up. You heard it here.

D. Home Improvement Project proceed at their own very slow pace. After middle son tore out the concrete path to the front door, I’ve been sloooowly cleaning up and prepping for a small concrete pour to create the stable slab onto which I’ll set bricks to make a fancy-dan brick walk with a gentle slope up to the porch to make it easier on old people.

Got the frame and rebar in. Had to drill some holes and epoxy in some bars to make sure the porch slab, existing slab under already laid bricks and the new soon to be poured slab act as one as much as possible, and don’t settle unevenly, which would be a disaster. We’ll see.

Did you know that running a hammer drill at awkward angles to put in some rebar connectors is really tiring and hard on your arms? Who’da thunk it?

E. I’m just not a very good consumer of pop culture. I watch a piece of gorgeously pure pop nonsense, and am I taken out of the mood by preposterous fantasy fights and explosions? By tech that hardly even rises to handwavium status? By people routinely surviving falls, punches and explosions that are fatal times 10? Nope, that’s what you sign up for, as long as it’s cool. But Guardians of the Galaxy II, (review here) hardly alone in this, assumes people’s psyches are a hundred times more resilient as their bodies, so that no amount of abuse delivered over any amount of time does any really serious damage – well, you lost me.

It’s like arguing that things would have been all right if only someone had given Pol Pot a hug; that Che was just misunderstood; that Mao had a few issues a little family therapy could have solved.

The backstories of Nebula and Gamora are that, as little girls, they watched their parents murdered by Thanos, who then modified and trained them to be killing machines and set them to fighting each other every day. So they don’t get along. Now, after spending years as killing machines – after having killed many people, one presumes – Gamora just wakes up one day and turns on her fake father Thanos and becomes almost normal, while Nebula still has a few anger issues. But, when the time comes, these two hug each other and make up, and it’s all good.

See? Parenting, a stable home, consistent love – none of these are needed to be a good person! You just are! And no amount of neglect, abuse bordering on torture, or use as a tool by those who should love you can change that! Or, in the case of Thanos and the hundreds of Ravagers Yondu killed during his escape, you’re not a good person, and are therefore acceptable cannon fodder one needn’t trouble one’s conscience over murdering. No reason, just the way it is.

I’d love to believe that the writers were trying to emphasize the sacred primacy of human free will and just kind of over did it. But I can’t – in this world, today, the wreckage of families, the human debris of unrepentant and frankly unconscious egomania  has created hordes of Gamoras and Nebulas – and Peter Quills, Yondus, Rockets, and Mantises – who dream of saving the galaxy of their own families, or harden themselves to believe that they don’t need them.

It’s also telling that Drax the Destroyer is the one character who, in his digressions, mentions a father and a mother fondly, a wife and daughter with affection – and he’s the comic relief, and a bloodthirsty madman.

In general, however, GG II is scary. Psychologically, its target audience are people who, in their suffering, would really like to blow things up and kill people. I say this not from some lofty perch – I, too, sometimes think of things in my life that make me want to just beat the hell out of people, and I take vicarious thrill in watching comic book characters act that fantasy out. But at least I know that’s wrong.

Bombe Chests & Writing

Ships, bricks and bombe chests – the stuff of my obsessions. Did you know YouTube is lousy with videos showing you how to build boats? I’m partial to wooden boats, as the craftsmanship involved in building a large wooden thing with few if any right angles or straight lines that has to withstand all sorts of intermittent and rapidly changing stresses while remaining watertight is awesome to behold.

Consider this: (found at http://www.drakenexpeditionamerica.com/)

There are videos of this Viking dragon ship being made:

They use what is called clinker or lapstrake construction: each strake – the long horizontal pieces on the outside of the hull –  is individually curved and fitted, and overlaps the one below it. The lap is shaped to snug and the lower strake lined with tar and plant fibers. Then teams of people curve and fit it on top of the last strake. The strake is clamped and nailed into place, then reinforced from the inside. The ends are cut and carved to fit into the bow and stern. The end product, many tons of lumber with thousands of feet of seams, is supposed to stay in one piece and watertight out on the open ocean. Wow.

There are hundreds of videos out there on wooden boat construction, showing how to build everything from  a birch bark or cedar strip canoe to bronze-age stich-ships to East India Company ships. There’s even a lovely young couple building the ship of their dreams.

Anyway, watching these videos is hypnotic. My woodworking is almost always straight-line, right angle, stays put stuff – bookcases, tables, boxes, that sort of thing. I don’t have to consider the possibility that the next wave will twist a few tons of oak boat one way, then the other, within a matter of seconds – and not only can’t it break, its must stay watertight. Over and over. For years.

Now, that’s some serious woodworking. I almost wish I liked sailing, to have an excuse to build my own boat. I’d need a lot more room, a bunch more tools, and a lot better woodworking chops. And a cure for seasickness.

Or maybe I need to make a bombe chest:

It’s only a little curvy, and doesn’t go anywhere, so the requirements aren’t quite so high as with boats….

Getting real, though, way beyond my current skill level. I’ve never successfully (long story) cut dovetails, for example. So – maybe after I retire?

There’s also the whole design and planning aspect. With a bookcase, say, all the structural elements are straight and square. No need to layout complex curves that will need to fit other complex curves. With a bombe chest, you need to cut and fit a number of curvy surfaces – you’d better know how they are to fit together before you start sawing away! There is unlikely to be any recovery if you cut something wrong – you’ll probably need to throw the piece out and start over.

Writing, it seems, is getting to this point for me, the point of designing a bombe chest if not a boat. I see all the carefully fitted pieces, the caulked seams, the elegant lines – and the planning that went into it – and see that the story I’m working on needs that level of care if it’s not to sink under its own weight.

I understand and am even doing this. Progress is being made. It is slow. This piece by John C. Wright (h/t to the Puppy of the Month Book Club) pretty much sums it up.

The last thing (apart from time) that is a stumbling block: balancing the desire that this story be perfect with the need to just get it done while also not accepting anything less than ‘pretty good’. Very hard to judge from the inside, especially since, while I’ve written my 1,000,000 words of sundry blog posts, I haven’t written 10% of that in fiction. Just a newbie, really.

With boats, the masters made sure they would float, handle and not fall apart by sticking to traditions, building on the backs of centuries of empirical engineering. With this in mind, I’m planning on rereading a couple of my favorite novels just to see how they do it. (Aside: one of the things that made me want to write was Have Spacesuit Will Travel – because it’s obvious what Heinlein is doing! Very straightforward. In the hands of someone less skilled, it might even have come off as paint-by-numbers. Every chapter is Problem-Resolution-Bigger Problem until The Fate of The World! is in the balance. Then he gets even with the school bully. Marvelous!)

Tuesday Mish-Mash

(Sort of clearing the tabs in my head – what could be any more Yard Sale of the Mind than that?)

Staying away from the news, which reports on our wretched hive of scum and villainy, and instead getting all domestic:

A. Freight and Salvage is a music venue in Berkeley that does a lot of folk/ethnic music. They also run a summer Fiddlekids day camp that our youngest attended this year – hang with the fiddlers, learn new tunes, some folk dancing and do a little art. Sounds like fun.

IMG_2841While there for the end-of-camp concert, we picked up tickets to see the Savoy Family Cajun Band last week, who were a lot of fun. Nice folks, good musicians, great tunes.

When we entered the venue, the manager, a woman who recognized us from Fiddlekids, came over and was very friendly and solicitous. She has the right job for her personality. Later, once the show began and I looked around, another possible (if less generous) reason sprang to mind: I, just under 60, was one of the younger people there. We were one of maybe 3 families with kids, there were a few folks in the 20 – 40 age range, but the majority were, frankly, aging hippies. This observation was confirmed by the slight wiff of the weed one got in the lobby during intermission.

We (even I!) might well represent the future of Freight and Salvage, as the existing clientele is largely north of 70, some quite a bit north.

I really like the venue, I wish it well. Not sure how often I’ll be able to make it over to Berkeley, though.

B. Money puts the ‘fun’ into ‘fungible’. Just wanted to say that.

C. Younger daughter, who bakes up a storm (we’re a family of cooks and bakers – tough break, I know) decided to make Baked Alaska for 4th of July dinner:


This entailed making ice cream (a vanilla-raspberry swirl), cake from scratch and the meringue topping (I don’t care for meringue, but this was yummy).

Where do my kids get this crazy overboard enthusiasm for DIY stuff? Oh, yea:

D. Since I’ve only got a million books to read, a bunch of reviews to write, a short story to finish by week after next (more on that later) along with all the duties entailed by being the Dad Incumbent, I decided to build this:


This is sort of the larval stage of a wood-fired pizza oven. I was testing out the arch support frame when I stopped for the day and took this shot. This is just the base – the actual oven will go on top, after I finish the decorative brickwork (arches are fun!) and pour the oven slab (8 cubic’ of concrete with rebar suspended 32″ off the ground  on top of those cinder blocks – piece of cake! I’m insane!)

Why would any sane man pushing 60, with semi-bad knees and a standard-issue back willingly start a project that consists of 1. lifting numerous heavy things over and over; 2. spending lots of time on one’s hands and knees; 3. several MONTHS to complete?

Someone asked me: why are you building a pizza oven? I was brought up short: I have no idea. Must have sounded like fun at the time.

But it is cute, right?

E. Home Improvement Project Gone Bad: I don’t have a picture, and I probably won’t take one, but, in the annals of DIY projects, I think I may have hit Pointlessly Complex Bottom. Background: we compost. Out back by the shed is a plastic stackable compost bin we’ve had for years. However, rats have long found our compost bin. In the past, using traps and poison (not in the compost, obviously, but near enough by), I’ve managed to keep them under control.

Not any more. These are either smarter, tougher rats, or they’ve grown immune to poison, or something, because they don’t die and they’ve gnawed their way through the plastic and into the bin, they are increasing in number to the point where putting out compost tends to produce an audible and often visible scramble (yuck!) in the surrounding bushes.

So, DIY me decides: I’ll build a rodent-proof compost bin! I’ve got piles of junk lying around – I’ll just wing it! So, I go survey the material lying up against the shed for Candidates.

Aha! thinkest me – there’s an old slatted oak futon frame just moldering back there! I’ll repurpose it, thereby removing an eyesore and repurposing a stupid hippie piece of garble garble in a poetically fulfilling way.

It gets worse. Instead of grabbing a couple pieces of plywood and throwing together a box, maybe put some wire mesh on it to blunt any nasty little teeth that might attempt to chew through, and soaking the thing in water proof sealer AND BEING DONE WITH IT, I took dozens of little oak slats and assembled them into 3 10″ high stackable squares lined with galvanized wire screen, THEN lined that with some old wainscotting material we had left over from the remodel 10 years ago – which required cutting and installing dozens of little pieces. THEN make a couple top and bottom pieces complete with the wire screen, to close the rodent-proof loop. THEN seal it up with that green copper anti-fungal stuff for wood in contact with the soil, THEN paint the whole thing with paint left over from the remodel just to get rid of some paint.

Aaaaah! Shoot me now! I’m not done yet, and I get kick-myself-in-the patootie urges every time I look at it. Could’ve thrown a perfectly acceptable plywood box together in under an hour, but NO! Hours of labor, actual money spent (for the wire screen) on this! Hundreds of screws, with countersunk holes, because the screws I had weren’t quite long enough. Dozens of little pieces of oak, trimmed to fit, carefully installed, covered with wire, finished with wainscotting… All while I have a pizza oven and a short story to finish.

I am clearly out of my mind. But the futon frame is gone. Mostly.

F. I just like this picture, taken in our kitchen, of my daughter, her grandmother and some friends at the table (made that table. Theme here?). The color and composition were accidental and remarkable. Well, to me, at least. IMG_2845


Weekend Roundup. May Involve Actual Dead Weeds

A. Better Living Through Chemistry. I think the critical aspect of the herbicide Roundup for us suburb dwellers is the sense that one has Done Something. Sure, I could grab a hoe – as the son of my farmer father, I have decent hoe-chops (ha!) as a birthright – or even, God forbid, get down on my hands and knees and *pull* those kale-without-a-P.R.- firm members of the Green Stuff family. But what fun would that be? Instead, through application of a *gasp* chemical substance, I can feel good knowing that those leafy bastards have been Taken Care Of. And I didn’t even have to bend over.

Then there’s the whole p*ssing off the right people aspect of the thing. By now, millions and millions of gallons of Roundup have been sprayed on virtually every acre of land where people live that isn’t paved – and a lot of the paved stuff, too. Not much bad has happened. So, while the chemicals in Roundup are no doubt bad for us in some as yet to be determined concentration, so far, if they were bad in ways that, say, water isn’t, it seems that we’d know it by now, what with the inevitable mounds of corpses and armies of mutant zombies. Ya know?

The proper attitude is simple prudence. Use only as much as is necessary, and pay attention to what happens. And just pull the dumb weeds on the side yard, for crying out loud!

B. In yesterday’s science news as recapped in the previous post, this deathless line appeared in the abstract to a paper in Nature:

Here we report observations of three short-period Earth-sized planets transiting an ultracool dwarf star only 12 parsecs away.

I focused my attention on making fun of the absolutely technically correct yet odd-sounding phrase “ultracool dwarf star” by imagining they were thinking of Peter Dinklage – yes, I am that childish. But today, we kick it up a notch, and take on the preposterous adjective ‘only’, as in we’re ‘only’ 12 parsecs from these three maybe earth-like (or Venus-like, take your pick – what difference could it make?) planets.

12 parsecs is about 230 trillion miles. That’s about 40 light years. At a comfortable 1 G acceleration, it would take about 2 years to reach about 97% of the speed of light. Let’s just say you coasted at that point until you needed to flip your ship and do 1 G of deceleration for 2 years so that you don’t just go whipping past Peter Dinklage too fast to even get an autograph. So, yea, armchair physics says it’s not *impossible*.

That’s assuming 1. you solve the engineering problems involved in achieving and maintaining 1 G of acceleration for 4 years (2 starting and 2 stopping) and 2. don’t hit *anything*. A grain of sand, at 97% the speed of light, packs the punch of a freight train. Technically speaking.

So, say you hollow out an asteroid and put a boatload of fissionable material in it to power a couple big-ass (another technical term) nuclear reactors for a long time. You use the reactors to power drives of some sort that ionize asteroid rock and fling it out the back at very high speeds. And power life support for your crew, stuff like that.

With enough stuff, you could theoretically get your asteroid in gear to the tune of 1 G, not to be confused with the tunes of Kenny G, assuming that the mass of the reactors, fissionable materials and rock to be ionized don’t weigh so much that you can’t lift yourself by your bootstraps – can’t accelerate and decelerate all that stuff that much over 4 years given the efficiency of your engines. Also, let’s imagine some sort of shielding, something that keeps dust and dirt and anything larger from striking your ship. Magnetic? Automated lasers that reduce targets in the flight path to even smaller grains, grains it is fervently to be hoped are small enough that your ship could survive if it hit one?  Let’s just assume you solve that problem. With relativistic effects and a little luck, you might just make it there and back in your lifetime.

You’re ready to go – after all, you’re only 12 parsecs away! Just like I’m only about $100 billion from being the richest man in the world. Not to be a wet blanket, but 12 parsecs might as well be a million parsecs, given the current and short-term imagined state of technology.  But again, only 12 parsecs! A man’s got to dream!

3. Home Improvement Projects – of Doom! I have this pile of bricks, see. And a vivid imagination. On Craig’s list, it is easy to find yet more bricks for little or free. So, we need, as in clearly can’t survive without, a brick oven, a brick grill – and a brick walk up to the front door. Which would entail a brick ramp in lieu of hard-for-elderly-relatives-to-manage 2 steps. And a couple brick planters along the path for definition. And a little wall, same thing. Maybe some railings – they have these welding classes down at the Crucible. The front porch is ridiculously small, after the manner current in tract homes built in California 65 years ago – it could clearly be expanded to a more usable size…

No, there I draw the line – the porch project would probably require a permit in the eyes of the city, so it will have to wait a few years. However, these here bricks… I spend time at Mass meditating on the pleasing aesthetics of keystones in brick  arches, arranging imaginary fruit trees in our (really kinda tiny) front yard, placing imaginary half-wine barrel planters along an imaginary front walk. Web surfing keeps bringing me around to brick p@rn. Like this. Not that I mean to, it just that I’m a *little* *tiny* bit obsessive, sometimes.

The odd part is that I’ve had these bricks, maybe 15% of what the project would require, for years. Why now? Empty nest syndrome? Do it while my knees still work? In case you’re wondering, yes, I have done a couple brick projects over the years, nothing nearly this

extensive, but the real deal. Even own a good trowel, and have used it enough to understand what makes a trowel good. I find these projects very satisfying, so much so that, like a mother (Mother’s Day tie-in! See?) forgetting the pain of childbirth, I have forgotten the sore back, sore knees and frustrations in light of the cool brickwork.

Perhaps I’ll finally hurt myself or otherwise become convinced that I’m too old for this sort of thing, and should focus on reading and writing. If not, hey, cool brickwork! And fresh wood fire pizza!

Latest Home Improvement Project: Patio Table

In the story Johnny Mnemonic (not the execrable movie, but the excellent short story) Johnny walks into a tense and dangerous meeting packing a sawed-off shotgun in a gym bag. He knows he can’t out high-tech his adversary, so he goes low-tech. He states as accepted street wisdom that, if they go low, you go high; if they go high, you go low.

It doesn’t work out – they went a little too high – but fortunately, Trinity is there to bail out Neo – I mean, Molly Millions is there to bail out Johnny. Same difference.

This has nothing to do with my latest home improvement project, except that last time, for the triple bunk bed, I went high, with nice materials and high-quality finishes, brass and maple highlights, that sort of thing. So, this time, I went low: scrap and salvaged lumber, minimum sanding, no finish (although I probably throw some wood sealer on it, just in case – it is sitting outside, after all).

About 19 years ago, the company I was working for at the time bought the adjoining property in order to expand. On the couple acre plot were a couple old houses and a number of out buildings, all that was left of a farm that had once been there. The property manager was a friend of mine, and her knew that the wrecking crew was just going to reduce the houses to splinters and throw everything out, so he invited me to scavenge.

The house was about 90 years old, and so was built for the most part out of old-growth lumber. If I’d had a month and yard to stor it in, I’d have taken that house apart. As it were, we triaged: he grabbed some beautiful wainscoting and some built-in cabinets; I snagged a small pile of ancient Douglas fir T&G subflooring planks, maybe 4″ wide and 16′ long – straight, tight grained, not a knot in sight. These have now been waiting patiently for almost 2 decades for me to make the wall-mounted computer desk/tech center I’ve designed in my head….

And so on. As for today’s project, I also salvaged a couple work benches from one of the outbuildings – one about 10′ long, one about 5′. They consisted of 4 redwood 5/4 planks glued and tied together with some smaller pieces, and painted industrial green, with galvanized threaded pipe legs. I stuck them against the wall in the garage for a decade or so, then set one up to use as an outside table – but it was way too wobbly for any real use.

But not any more!

I’m going to leave the top more or less as is, as it’s kind of junk-chic. A little light sanding and maybe some penetrating sealer.

As is my habit, wildly over-engineered this, with way-sturdy legs:

Legs are old treated 4x4s from some old planters. Everything came from the scrap pile except that one 2×4, which was left over from another project, and the large dowels, which, along with a couple boxes of screws, were the only things purchased for this project.
Did I mention I wanted stable? The four corner legs are tied to two center legs by high runners and 5/4 dowels; the center legs are tied to the high runners and to low runners. It ain’t going anywhere.
Since we’re talking old pressure treated lumber, which very likely contains arsenic, one wants to keep the sawing and sanding down to an absolute minimum. Here, I cut slots to tie the cross pieces to the legs. Other than cutting the legs to length, that’s about the extent of the cutting.

Finished just in time for it to start raining! Soooo – we’re ready to rumble next summer.