Funsaster!

I’m coining a new word – and you can’t stop me! – a combo of fun and disaster – funsaster! It is for those cases where you do something, and turns out disastrously bad, yet was a lot of fun to do.

That fiberglass shield the Caboose and I were making? (item E) Well, just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong: the gel coat on the hardboard form wasn’t thick enough (spots showed through) so we added a second coat – so far, so good. When we cut the fiberglass, it was really hard to get the sizes right because I’d already curved the board and attached support pieces, so we had to kind of wing it – the pre-cut pieces were not very close, making for a lot of hurry-up patching. We did not have enough epoxy. I may have added too much hardener to one of the batches. It got goopy too fast. We were trying to spread it and press down the glass while it got harder and harder to work with – and then we ran out. Tried to stick on the handle and strap for holding the shield – barely got the handle on before completely running out – it’s a hairy mess. Never got the strap on.

So we’re looking at this pathetic mess, wondering if we could salvage it, somehow. That evening, we removed it from the form – it kinda worked, which is to say it kinda didn’t – maybe 2/3rd of the shield came right off with a little coaxing, leaving a nice shiny red gel coat finish – but 1/3 did not, leaving either patches where the fiberglass came off the gel coat, or the hardboard did not.

Mangled-looking shield with only a handle, no strap, so it sorta waves round, and is scratchy where we ran out of epoxy and the fibers are exposed.

Ugly.

BUT! It’s a Funsaster! On the plus side, we didn’t cement ourselves or any tools, pets or wildlife to the patio, nor did we destroy any clothing we had on. I maybe ruined a pair of scissors, but even that’s only a maybe. Otherwise, we used disposable stuff and threw it out when done – easy-peasy. We had fun doing it, and learned a lot, mostly of the cautionary tale variety. Maybe next weekend, when I have 4 days off in a row, we’ll try it again.

Image result for this time for sure bullwinkle

 

Update: Writing, Reading, etc.

Finally got back into the writing groove, and finished a story. No, seriously, I, decorated member of the Procrastination & Self-Defeat Hall of Fame, finished something. It’s a trifle, really, under 3,000 words, but it’s done. Will let it sit a couple days, make a single clean-up/formatting pass, and then send it off to an appropriate publisher. THEN, I’ll read it to the family.

Time to start my collection of rejection slips.

Next up are two more stories that are almost done as well. The first is a bit more ambitious, maybe 7-8,000 words worth. Got maybe another 1,000 to 1,500 words to go.

The first two stories were begun in the last few months. The third story has been rattling around for 20 years. I’ve actually written it twice already – the draft I’m now on is #3. So, instead of continuing to rethink and over-think it, I’ll follow Heinlein’s advice and just do it.

The second one will probably take a few days; the last I can probably finish in one sitting.

Next up: I’ve three other stories that are not so close to being finished, one of which has this elaborate tense moment/flashback/even more tense moment/flashback/really tense moment/flashback/climax structure that may frankly be out of my league to pull off. Plus, if I recall (been a while since I looked at it) it’s chock full of info-dumps. Not sure if I can work it, but, again, taking Heinlein’s advice, I should just finish it and send it out. Who knows?

The second is only maybe 1/2 done, and, If I recall, ran aground on technical issues – I couldn’t see why, exactly, events would unfold as I wanted them to, given the underlying tech. Bradbury would just write the hell out of that sucker, and it would be so good that you’d not even notice that it didn’t make much sense until long after you’d wiped the satisfied tears from your eyes. If it were pure stand-alone story, I’d just hold my nose and finish it. But it’s part of the TNTSNBN* Universe, and so I want to work it out so that it makes sense, rather than having to orphan it. Heinlein would say: Just Finish It! I should not be a schmuck and listen!

The third is an attempt at humor (actually, several of these stories are funny at least to me!) that projects a cowboy attitude into space – Mike Flynn, among others, has already done this (and Flynn’s efforts should make a fellah like me saddle up and get out of Dodge, if’n I had any horse sense.) But really, if you’re imagining what kind of culture would develop or be required in space, you’re kind of limited, at least in the early going, to maritime and frontier – those are basically the types of people you’ll attract, and the culture will likely reflect what we’ve seen on earth. Cowboys in space is not really far-fetched, but almost inevitable. It’s really just a matter of degree – do you want to play it for laughs, or make it less obvious and play it straight? (And those aren’t really mutually exclusive options.) The only other is sort of barbarian migration, but that conflicts with the high tech ideas – at least, ships and cowboys were on the cutting edges of the tech of their day (think: marine chronometers and six shooters).  Maybe this one gets skipped? Is that Heinlein I hear tsk-tsking?

After triaging those 3, think I’ll start some new ones. I’ve started a folder of story ideas, many just a phrase, some a sentence or two. I’ll pick one and write it next, eschewing the tendency to think too hard about it – just gotta do it. I’m afraid my mind runs toward thinking tech/nature/politics before thinking people (Asimov, anyone? If only I were that good!) such that my characters, to me, seem a little thin. I hoping I’m wrong. The solution is to just keep cracking and hope for useful feedback.

Then, once I’ve steeled myself with ample rejection notices and, one hopes, gotten an item or two published, I’ll plunge back into TNTSNBN.* I’ve got maybe a dozen or two pages of useful introductory materials/scene setting/character introduction written, plus many pages of notes and research, and stray drafts of key scenes, written so I could focus on where the story is going.  Family trees, backstories, charts and graphs figuring top speeds and acceleration and relativistic effects, doodles of what the ships look like, descriptions of the key tech, whole planetary systems mapped out and named, screen grabs and web pages – yea, gotta stop and write the darn thing.

Finally, probably after I retire (7 years, but who’s counting?) I’ll write a book or two on education history.

Reading? Well, the pile is not getting any shorter. Have 80 pages of an early Heinlein novel to finish. We’ll be starting The Everlasting Man for the Bay Area Chesterton Society reading groups starting in July, so I’ll be rereading that.

Aaaand, this weekend all our kids are in town! Woohoo! Older Daughter and Middle Son are driving up from SoCal; Younger Daughter and the Caboose are here already! The hammock I ordered has arrived, the weather is supposed to be near-perfect this weekend, and the lemon tree still hangs heavy with lemonade-in-potentia. The shield (item E) needs to be finished, the half-finished brick oven cries for attention, and there’s a dude about 20 miles away trying to get somebody to take 1,900 paver bricks off his hands – that are still in the ground. I could use them, except I might be dead by the time I dig ’em all up.

I’m real busy, but happy about it!

* The Novel That Shall Not Be Named

Father’s Day Recap

Here’s hoping all 3 of you fathers who read this blog had a nice Father’s Day! I sure did. After this, I’ll lay off the autobiographical stuff for a while, I promise. Well, except for pictures of the brick oven and fiberglass shield when I get them done. But who wouldn’t want to see those?

As mentioned in the last post, went to see Guardians of the Galaxy II yesterday with our 2 kids currently home for the summer. It was fun. Younger Daughter and the Caboose also did breakfast and dinner for ol’ Dad. Breakfast consisted of Eggs Benedict. While they did buy the English muffins, Younger Daughter made the Hollandaise sauce while the Caboose poached eggs, chopped Canadian bacon and did assembly. Delicious.

Dinner was falafels, with pitas, hummus, that yogurt stuff  – all homemade that afternoon – along with tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, and other good stuff to add in.  Also delicious. My daughter makes the best hummus, and fresh pitas are way better.

Then, came dessert:

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That is a carrot cake. Anna Kate was wondering why I took a picture, because to her that’s just a cake like you’d whip out any old afternoon. Not like these, say, or this.

Other than that, we caught the 10:30 Mass with grandma. That’s a production – she does not move quickly. At. All. Must allow 15 minutes minimum at either end for helping her into and out of the car.  And sat around in our air-conditioned home. It was 105 F here yesterday. Only supposed to be 98 F today.

Weekend Update/Pointless Post

Unless you like pretty pictures of food and second thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s no excuse for this post, and no reason for you to read it. Just being upfront.

A. Did get a bunch of reading in last week, will do a couple more book reviews soon. I could get used to this. In addition to the client visit/long plane flights/boring evenings in hotels providing opportunity to read, I felt well, which reinforced how not well I have been feeling since about November. Nothing in particular, just draggy, sleepy, unfocused. Might be blood pressure meds – but those have been the same for years. Will be seeing the doctor soon, but, as usual, I always feel better after making an appointment. (If only this worked for dentists – chipped teeth and decaying fillings just heal themselves once you’ve got a date to get them fixed. No?)

B. Saw Guardians of the Galaxy II a second time because it’s Father’s Day, it’s 105F outside, and my younger daughter had not yet seen it. Gotta say: as goofy as the action is, as unnecessary 90% of the (slight, I’ll admit) potty talk is, this movie works so well on an emotional level it’s shocking. Yondu steals most scenes he’s in, manages to convince you you’ve misunderstood him all along, and gets you crying (well, I, at least, had something in my eye) near the end – and then they ratchet it up from there – and it works. One of the reasons I wanted to see it again was exactly that: had I just fallen for cynical manipulation the first time? I kind of think not – I think they really understood that the only stakes worth raising were emotional stakes, and they went at it with everything they had, and it worked.

C. Speaking of pretty pictures of food: this year, my basil crop has been and continues to be outstanding. If you’ve got basil, make pesto; if you have fresh homemade pesto, make pasta; if you have homemade pesto pasta, you must bake fresh bread. I do understand that wasting people’s time with pictures of food is lame. I’m making an exception this once (well, except for my daughters’ cakes – but those are art) because my family kept going on about how beautiful this particular loaf of bread was:

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So, yea, it’s a picturesque loaf, I’ll grant. It’s the simplest loaf of yeast bread I know how to make – this one just came out particularly beautiful after the manner of its kind.  Tasty, too.

D. On the flight back from Atlanta, got to see lots of snow. There was plenty in the Rockies near the New Mexico-Colorado border, on  into Utah (especially considering I was on the right side of the plane heading west, meaning I was mostly looking at south-facing and thus less snowy slopes) .

The real snow action was the Sierra:

 

We seemed to be flying right over Yosemite, so my view was of Mono Lake (too low for snow, just north and east if Mt. Whitney and just north of the Long Valley Caldera), Hetch Hetchy, which is the valley on the western slopes just north of Yosemite and which contains San Francisco’s main reservoir, and the high granite domes which make up the bulk of the high southern Sierra.

Lots of snow, even in mid-June. Several ski areas have announced that they will be open through August! The pictures are too small to see this, I suppose, but even from the air you could see areas above 8,000 or 9,000 feet just buried in snow. Along the western side, I could see white-water waterfalls coming off those high granite domes down into the valleys, and all the rivers were likewise white until well into the foothills. Spectacular.

E. My son asked long ago for me to make him a shield. After googling around, I decided to try fiberglass. Just because I’ve never done it before. So I made a hardboard form, if you will, gave it three coats of varnish to seal it, had my son apply 4 coats of wax to it. I’d attached some 3X2 boards along the sides, screwed in a couple big hooks, had my son lean on it in the middle, them wired between the hooks to get the curve:

 

Then we applied the world’s sloppiest gel coat – hey, it was our first time! As soon as we can get 2 uninterrupted hours, we will put on 4 layers – 2 mat, 2 cloth – and epoxy in a handle and adjustable strap. Then let cure over night.

And pray we can get it off the form!

In Atlanta: Reading Update

Brief update: Visiting a customer this week to help with the roll out of a new product of ours. This time of year in Atlanta, it is merely quite warm and humid, but certainly tolerable. I hope to take a couple long walks, with luck all the way to the Cathedral of Christ the King 2 miles away. Next month, it gets pretty icky here for a spoiled Californian like me.

A couple cross country flights and nights stuck in a hotel room mean one excellent thing: Reading Time! I’m trying to finish up William Briggs’s excellent Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. I am reminded a little of the experience of first reading Aristotle many years ago: you must understand the phrase before you understand the sentence, and then understand that sentence before going on to the next, or you will soon be lost.  While it is true that this book is not a math treatise, per se, it is also true that there’s a density to it like the density of math, where a simple formula can sometimes mean the world. I can breeze through a chapter and get something out of it, but if I really want to understand – well, then it’s one sentence at a time, don’t proceed until you’ve got that one clear.

But this is not a bad thing – when you actually do make the effort, what is understood is well worth understanding. I’m thinking I might do a chapter by chapter review, more or less, since I’d like to reread it anyway, and thinking about each chapter would be a good exercise. So, maybe next week.

Also reading Dawn Witzke’s Path of Angels because, what the heck, it sounded interesting, isn’t too long, and was cheap! Also picked up a couple of Heinlein novels from this stack:

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So, after I get back from this trip, thing are looking up reading and book reviewing wise. Writing, OTOH, suffers a little when I travel since I’m often tired or agitated one way or another – but I’ll give that a try, too. Things might be much better next week – let us hope.

Graduation: Cakes

My beloved younger daughter made cakes for the Diablo Valley School graduation and 20th anniversary party. First the graduation cake:

Raspberry cream filling and frosting on a vanilla cake. Even more delicious than it looks!

And my lovely daughter.

The theme for the 20th anniversary party was disco tea party. My daughter responded:


On one side and she put silhouettes of disco dancers:


She also handed detailed the flowers:


All I can say is that I hope somebody at school ask for a death Star cake some year, because I’d really like to see that!

We had fun. People were duly impressed.

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.)

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From the street, driveway to the left.
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From the driveway, featuring the bench between the two planters – fig to the left, citrus to the right.
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Standing on the porch, looking street-ward.
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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.

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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.