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March 31st, 2009 - The Next Big Election

Talk about mixing church & state.
I didn't even know he was running. Did I miss the primary?  What's Judge Miles Lord going to do? Or Jack Lord for that matter. I guess he could only run in Hawaii anyway.
We just get over another brutal election and now we have to face another, mud-slinging, name-bashing, "Us vs. Them" slugfest. Either you're with us, or you're against us. 
I can't wait to see what this ballot shapes up like.
You must show a complete voter registration identification, signs of stigmata will not be accepted, no matter how severe. Please be sure to completely fill in the sign of the cross in the box provided. Is there room for any write-ins? Buddha for Ombudsman?  Tom Cruise and John Travola on the Scientology platform? Martin Luther on the comeback trail? Ralph Nader will figure out some way to wheedle in at the last minute. Pat Robertson, are you hiding behind that sign? Who's going to step up from the darkside, Marilyn Manson? Alice Cooper, didn't you have political aspirations...? Be sure to completely blacken your chad. Or choose Allah the above...?

March 27th, 2009 - Convert or Desert...?

As I noticed my neighbors bringing in a TV set from their van the other day, I got to thinking...
I wonder how this whole "Digital TV" switchover thing is going for people, and if it is going to create a tidal wave of junk TVs headed for the landfill.
Effectively, our household is biased, we don't watch TV. We don't seem to miss it. I don't understand how people can spend time in front of a TV set and still get the rest of the things in their lives done. 
We will watch a Minnesota Twins baseball game if one's on standard channels, but since they sold out to the cable channels a few years ago, "network" TV games are few and far between. We don't have cable, have never had cable, and probably never will, it's just not cost effective for what we're interested in.
I don't understand the digital TV switchover. It seems like they (who ever "they" are) are giving us something we never asked for. Yes, Europe's had Hi-Def TV for many years, but it's like not it's a knock-your-socks off improvement, (correct me if I'm wrong) and with the necessity to buy cable to properly view it, for us, what's the point, we don't like TV programs. 
The way I understand it is, if you buy the converter box you get to keep watching your non Hi-Def TV, with your signal still coming in through your crappy antennae, and the signal you are seeing is digital converted back to analog, which is crappier and more degraded than it is now. All for a one-time (as far as we know) fee of "$120 + a rebate, amount TBD."  Wow, that's, um... pointless. Plus a little more electricity to run the converter box thrown in, as icing on the cake.
We will watch DVDs occasionally, so I suppose it's worth keeping the TV for that, but it seems like at some point we would be better served by getting better computer monitors and using the computers to watch DVDs, download our video selections, or watch streaming vid if we have a fast enough connection, or pay a subscriber fee to record our baseball games, at least we don't have to get twenty extra channels just because we want baseball.
Hmmm, then we are still sending our old monitors to the landfill, unless we wait until they completely die. Dang.
It seems to me that this 'Digital Switchover' may be the last gasp for the networks, possibly even for cable TV. When people figure out that they can get the video stimulation they want from their computers; on demand programming without the extra crud, get downloadable media, and more control over that media, it just makes sense. Why have a dedicated appliance to do everything in your house. That would be just like buying a donut-maker just to make donuts! Have you ever noticed how many donut-makers there are at the thrift store?
So who are the people that would be the potential analog-converter box buyers again...?  
Seems like they would be basically poor people with no cable, that depend on TV for entertaining and educating their kids, learning cultural intricacies, getting their news and providing respite from a day of drudgery of a low-paying job. Can they afford $120 for a converter box...? Is it important enough for them to go into further into debt for? And if they say, why should I pay $120 for a converter box when I can get a new TV that is all Hi-Def and digital ready, I can't watch my old TV and I'll get all that mind-blowing high-quality video everyone tells me I must have for 'just a few hundred bucks more.' I'm going to debt anyway, maybe this is something my family needs and uses every day so what the hell, let's get rid of that old TV.

This permeates the crux of this post's flame up: what happens all those old sets that fall by the wayside?  Do you need a converter box for every set in the house that is not digital-ready?
If that is the case, I fear hundreds of thousands of TVs now in kitchens, bathrooms, workrooms, garages, etc. are going to be headed to the boneyard. That seems like it would be a strain to the growing global garbage pile that is already reaching Mephistopholian proportions. 
I've heard that appliance manufacturers are "stepping up and taking responsibility" for the junk electronics that come back to the recycling centers. Which is good. I think. Except what do they get out of it...? I have a hard time believing they are that big-hearted that they all just decided to pay millions to take back their old junk with out passing some cost on to the consumer.
People counter with, "Yeah, but they're recycling it!  Melting it all down to get the precious metals and stuff!" I would like to know more about how that works. How do they separate all the parts out of an old TV?  How much time and money is involved? Do they heat big piles of them up in the garbage-burner and skim off the tantalum? How much does that cost? How much air pollution does it make? Are they making us pay for a converter box that we have to have to keep watching TV so they can pay to recycle the old ones soon to be obsolete?  Soon the converter box will be in the landfill next to the old TV because no one will be buying non-Hi Def TVs... 
I don't know these things. I would like to know. It seems like we need to start looking further down the road soon before we run out of places to put our old junk.
Why does it seem like progress is so good at inventing something new and great, but it's always that it doesn't allow you to use any of the existing hardware or infrastructure to get it...?
Okay, taking a deep breath and slowly backing away from the soapbox. 
What's a soapbox again...?

March 26th, 2009 - Things & Stuff

Things. Yes, well Einstein may have said, "Time is so things don't all happen at once," but they still do. At least fast enough so that to humans it seems that way. Too fast for me to get them all up regularly on the blog anyway. Here I have some "things."
I was talking to a neighbor at the local java stop, the "Nokomis Beach Coffee Shop." As we were yammering about blogs, Facebook, and other internet topics that you seem to overhear everywhere today, I realized that I was fixated on the glass-block windows over his shoulder. We chatted, looked at the patrons, etc., but I kept coming back to these two windows on the bottom row that reminded me of the "Comedy & Tragedy" masks. After he left I went over to take a few photos and realized they were more like "Evil & Not So Evil" masks. Makes me wonder if they are always there, or if just the light and whatever cars were parked outside formed them...

Gulls are just so, I don't know, peaceful, when you see flight pictures of them. When you're there in person they could be dive-bombing the sun-seekers and squawking bloody-hell, but in photos, especially black & white; peaceful. Ahh.
Speaking of things, I'm reminded of my former co-worker Roger. Once we were talking about travel and language barriers, and he was telling me about visiting Finland. He said he was in the photolab installing some equipment and said to the Finnish technician something to the effect of "like this stuff..."
And the Finn said, "Vat is dis... stuff?" He said, "You know, um... stuff. Things. Everything."
The Finn stared at him dumbfounded.

I walked Hapdog over to the Falls after the coffee shop and took a few "normal" pictures of the falls, then got to thinking, what if I set my shutter speed low and try to pan with the water...? 
Or furthermore, what if I do that and "pull zoom" at the same time?  Results above. Click to see bigger. Kinda cool, stops the water in mid-fall, but smears the rest. Learn something new everyday if you're not careful.

Our neighbor's "sweet ride." And another sign of spring, I guess...

March 16th, 2009 - Turning the Corner

Well, hey - we're still trying to put the excitement of "Pi Day" behind us here, hope you had a good one and spent the day memorizing lots of digits. One distraction here has been that our weather is actually showing hope for a turn into spring, or as we say around here, "Turning the Corner..."
We will probably do a couple 360's before we actually make it around the corner, as March is the snowiest month in Minnesota. But you can tell that March's minus five degree windchills are not the same as say, January's minus five degree windchills. The sun's warmer, the breeze is milder, and every one's got a little spring in their step, probably because of all that dog crap hiding in the snow all winter is now everywhere.

I have noticed a few Spring Phenological signs in the neighborhood this week:

1. The Dairy Queen is open! (Major indicator) Haven't had my first HFS (Hot-Fudge Sundae) or Blizzard yet to initiate it  though.

2. People out shovelling or chopping ice in their short-sleeve shirts.  Most everyone feels a compulsion to go out and lean on a shovel handle showing off their porcelain white arms while catching up with the neighbors and getting some run-off water flowing in the proper direction off of their sidewalk. It's kind of one of the "wash-line-rumor-mill" rites of Spring: 
"Oh say, did ya hear that big boom dere last night, eh... whaddaya think that was now...?" 
"Oh Cripes yah, it darn near shook da house down, scairt the dog so's he woont come out from under da sofa. Geez, damn kids prolly."
"Welp, better git dis water movin before the car freezes back in, hey...?!"
"Yah, heh. Whycha come on over fer a beer later."
"Yah, all right."

3. I saw a sign on a gas station that read, "HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY MARGIE!  WHAT GLOBAL WARMING, THAT'S JUST MARGIE'S CAKE!"
So maybe it's all Margie's fault and we're just in a temporary warm-up.

4. Heard, then saw a number of RWBB's (red-winged blackbirds, "telephone birds" we call them, as they sound like an old-fashioned phone ringing) both in our neighborhood and by Springbrook Nature Center. When the RWBB's come back, "It's on."

5. Then Hap Dog and I were walking at the lagoon last Wednesday and saw a couple crows flying loops and making a loud ruckus (like there's any other kind.) I was wondering why there weren't any pigeons on the wire by the bike path, and then as we got down by the "old pump," I saw a young red-tailed hawk perched in the tall tree near there.

Beautiful bird. You can tell the Red-tails, because for one; they are one of the few raptors with a red tail. Pretty straightforward. The rest of the bird may be pretty sundry depending on the age, morph, and "variation within species" (key phrase for naturalists; means "I dunno, they just look different.) But the real telling-factor is the "belly-band" of mottled, spotted, or sometimes almost opaque-looking stripe of feather pigments in the middle of their under-carriage. 
The ice was still good, so we walked as close as we could and checked him out before he flew to the other side of the creek, and then followed him over there for more hassling before he said that's enough and flew to the neighborhood trees for a respite. Poor guy. If it isn't the crows, other raptors, or just plain intrusive world of noise, activity and pollution, there's got to be some boob with a dog and a long lens following him around when he's trying to find a bite.

How can you not, though. The first word that comes into my mind when I see them is "regal." Maybe it's anthropomorphizing as we are wont to do, but these birds do seem to hold their heads high, fly with grace, and command an air of respect, more than your average little brown bird.
I'm so glad we have the chance to see them at least fairly closely in our own neighborhood.
Happy Spring. We're turning the corner. Billion points of light. I'm a believer...

March 10th, 2009 - Post # 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510... A Piece of Pi

dot. dot. dot. Or as Kurt Vonnegut would say, "And so on."
A handy phrase to have around. A recent post had me waxing philosophically (re: babbling) about numbers and British idioms, which of course, reminds me of a funny story.
Once upon a time I travelled to Sweden to install some photographic equipment. (and this reminds me of another story, making notes here...)
I was staying at a hotel in the city of Malmo. Most of the younger generation in Sweden speak English pretty well, especially those in positions dealing with a lot of travellers, and my hotel receptionist was no exception. But every once in a while she'd stumble on a phrase or verb form or whatever, as you'd expect any second-language (or for her, probably fourth or fifth) speaker would.
It was fun and reassuring to have someone to speak your home tongue with (especially when it's the only language you speak), and extremely helpful when you are in a foreign country and don't speak the language, understand signs, or order food properly. 
I did take German in Jr. High and High School however, and Swedish is a Germanic language, but then again, so is Lowlands Scots. So that only goes so far, you can recognize the roots of some words and puzzle a few things out, but just as easily get yourself into all sorts of trouble and embarrassment thinking you know what something means when it doesn't.
One day I asked the receptionist where a certain shop was, and if it was hard to get there from the hotel. She said, "No, no, it's right down the road. It's as you Americans say, 'Piece of Peanuts'!"
Well, it's actually the Americans that use the idiom, "Peanuts" for describing something insignificant or easy, and the Brits often say, "Piece of cake" in the same way, sometimes in sort of a back-handed fashion, for something insurmountably difficult. Since they meant basically the same thing, my receptionist neatly combined the terms.
Americans also have been known to say, "Piece 'o pie" in the same fashion, to describe a bagatelle or triviality.
My pun on "Piece of Pi" though, is really quite a stretch if you know anything about "pi" the value. Though "Pi" the number may sound like it would be a simple thing, it's anything but trivial. And, since March 14th is "World Pi Day," I thought you might need a little prepping.

The word Pi itself they say, was first used in 1706 by William Jones, but since he didn't have a very famous sounding name, Swiss mathematician Leonhart Euler (and no, he didn't invent the ruler) popularized it by using it in Latin in 1748. 
Pi was derived (in a grammatical sense, not mathematical) from Hebrew. Literally, it means, "little mouth." Heh, as in round. It's an abbreviation of the Greek peripherei meaning "periphery" and represented by the Greek letter "π." 
Cool stuff, eh, wat...? But wait, there's more. And more, and more, and more. And so on.
While the value of Pi (π) has been currently computed to more than a trillion (about 1012) digits, elementary applications; such as calculating the circumference of a circle, will rarely require more than a dozen decimal places. 
For example, a value truncated to 11 decimal places is accurate enough to calculate the circumference of the Earth with a precision of a millimeter, (that is, if the Earth were actually round, as if) and one truncated to 39 decimal places is "sufficient to compute the circumference of any circle that fits in the observable universe to a precision comparable to the size of a hydrogen atom." (!) Is about all I can muster to say to that.

Beyond all that trivia, Pi is an amazing value. Behold:

Pi is:
  • An "irrational number." Meaning a "real" number (and don't even get me started on "imaginary numbers") that cannot be expressed as a ratio between two integers*.
    *An integer, in case you've forgotten, is a member of the set of positive whole numbers {1, 2, 3, . . . }, negative whole numbers {-1, -2, -3, . . . }, and zero {0}. You know, your basic numbers 'n stuff.

  • A "transcendental number." Which just plain sounds cool and means it's "a real number that is not the solution of any single-variable polynomial equation whose coefficients are all integers." Oh, momma.  Let's just skip down to the rest of the bullet points:
  • All transcendental numbers are irrational numbers. Okay.

  • But the converse is not true; there are some irrational numbers that are not transcendental. (Grind, crunch. Okay. I think.)

  • The case of Pi has historical significance. The fact that Pi is transcendental means that it is impossible to draw to perfection, using a compass and straightedge and following the ancient Greek rules for geometric constructions, a square with the same area as a given circle. This ancient puzzle, known as squaring the circle, was, for centuries, one of the most baffling challenges in geometry. Schemes have been devised that provide amazingly close approximations to squaring the circle. But in theoretical mathematics (unlike physics and engineering - which I now know why I like A LOT better), approximations are never good enough; a solution, scheme, or method is either valid, or else it is not. (or snot, as my dad would say)

  • It can be difficult, and perhaps impossible (hah! blasphemer!), to determine whether or not a certain irrational number is transcendental. Some numbers defy classification (algebraic, irrational, or transcendental) to this day. (don't I know it!)
    Two examples are the product of Pi and e (we'll call this quantity "P pie") and the sum of Pi and e* (We'll call this "S pie." For some illogical reason). 
    *BTW, "e" is the base of the natural logarithm (just trust me on this one, and we won't even go there)
    It has been proved that Pi and e are both transcendental. It has also been shown that at least one of the two quantities P pie and S pie are transcendental. But as of this writing, no one has rigorously proven that P pie is transcendental, and no one has rigorously proved that S pie is transcendental. Gah. Bashes head to desk.

  • Pi's decimal expansion never ends and does not repeat. Well, as far as we know... (To me, THAT is cool, he said geekily.)

  • We do know that the Egyptians and the Babylonians knew about the existence of the constant ratio Pi, although they didn't know its value nearly as well as we do today.
    (Not bad though, considering it was 2000 BC) 
    They had figured out that it was a little bigger than 3; the Babylonians had an approximation of 3 1/8 (3.125), and the Egyptians had a somewhat worse approximation of 4*(8/9)^2 (about 3.160484). Why Egypt made it, and Babylon crumbled, is probably the subject of another blog post. But not on my blog.

  • This infinite sequence of digits has fascinated mathematicians and laymen alike, and much effort over the last few centuries has been put into computing more digits and investigating the number's properties. Despite much analytical work, and supercomputer calculations that have determined over 1 trillion digits of π, no simple pattern in the digits has ever been found. Stupid computers.
Now the thing that this begot in my thinking was, "which came first, numbers or words...?"
I mean when you think about it, numbers may have had more significance than words in the development of language and the psyche. Like when an animal becomes self-aware, now it is "one." What was it before? When Johnny Weissmuller uttered the famous words, "Me Tarzan, you Jane," what did Jane think? Geez, I thought I was one, now you are telling me you are one AND I am one? What does that make both of us? And um, I understood there would be no math...
So I don't know, maybe language sprang up to describe numbers. Too bad I hated math in school. I hated it so much I would write in any number in math homework with pages of long division. Maybe it was my "visual-learning" rebelling against this nauseating "conceptual-learning." These numbers are so boring to look at! Ahhhh! And they never end!!!! Ahhhh! And so on.

Which brings me to my last piece of Pi:
Memorizing digits, or piphilology.

Recent decades have seen a surge in the record number of digits of Pi to be memorized.
Long before computers had calculated π, memorizing a record number of digits became an obsession for some (very sick) people.
In 2006, Akira Haraguchi, a retired Japanese engineer, claimed to have recited 100,000 decimal places. This, however, has yet to be verified by Guinness World Records.
The Guinness-recognized record for remembered digits of π to be recited is (drum roll please...) 67,890 digits, held by Lu Chao, a 24-year-old graduate student from China. (Rim-shot, high-hat)
It took him 24 hours and 4 minutes to recite to the 67,890th decimal place of π without an error. I wonder if he said at the press conference, "That was the best day of my life."

There are many ways to memorize π, including the use of "piems", which are poems that represent π in a way such that the length of each word (in letters) represents a digit.
Here is an example of a piem:
"How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics." Notice how the first word has 3 letters, the second word has 1, the third has 4, the fourth has 1, the fifth has 5, and so on. 
The "Cadaeic Cadenza" contains the first 3834 digits of π in this manner. (And I thought Facebook was a vapid waste of time...)
Piems are related to the entire field of humorous (I didn't write that) yet serious study that involves the use of mnemonic techniques to remember the digits of π, known as piphilology.
In other languages there are similar methods of memorization. Or lack thereof.
However, this method proves inefficient for large memorizations of Pi. (I think in my case it would prove inefficient for even small quantities.) Other methods include remembering patterns in the numbers. (Wikipedia leaves off... somewhat cryptically.)
Holy Smokin' Moses!  I have to go stick my head into a snowbank now. The reactor core is going critical....

"Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics"--Siméon Poisson

"Ahhhh!" -T.
(Also known as πB)

March 9th, 2009 - Seeing the Forest Through Another's Eye Trees

The phrase "can't see the forest for the trees" is one I like and use often as a naturalist. 
The idea that you are so familiar with something that you can no longer see it for what it is, or what it was when you first looked at it, or just that everyone sees things differently, is a great concept. 
It seems like just about the time you start thinking you've got it down, is the time you need to be knocked on the head and reminded of it again.
In England they say, "You can't see the wood for the trees," and maybe it's even a little more graphic. If someone can't see the wood for the trees, they are unable to understand what is important in a situation because they are giving too much attention to details. For example, perhaps after you've spent many years researching a single topic, you get to a point where you "can't see the wood for the trees" anymore.
The other day I got an envelope in the mail from my dear sister, yes, that's right; "The Coffee Queen," with a Mary Engelbright Post-it (again, we are talking about my sister here) stuck to a black & white photo of the "birch trees with eyes" picture from a post on this blog some time ago.
It read, "dear Tim, Look what your work inspired: 14-year old Olivia from Laura's group (best friend of my sister, who teaches special needs kids) drew the following 2 pieces after studying the 'Birch Eyes' -

Fabulous ?!!"
Well, I should say. I was blown away, and so gratified to have actually inspired someone to do something. Especially something this artistic. That's what it's all about for me nowadays. 
If something I feel strongly enough about to show to the world creates a response, especially a positive one (but I'll take what I can get, sometimes controversy is good) my cycle is complete.
Thanks SO much for sharing, Olivia.
And Laura.
And Bethy.

Olivia's first picture is called, "The Desert at the End of the Earth."  Not what I saw when I looked into a grove of Minnesota trees in the middle of winter. Everyone sees the forest differently. What would the world be if we all saw it the same way? Pretty lame, I would think. That's what we need artists for. And I mean artists in a broad sense, I think an artist is anyone that can show you a part of the world that you didn't realize was there, or make you see or think of the world differently. I think we are all artists for someone, at some time or another.

Olivia's second drawing is untitled, or at least was on the copy I received. I like it as well.
It's got 'flow.'
Thanks again, everyone. Thanks for including me, and letting me post the pictures. 
More of Olivia's work can be found on deviant ART. (I'm working on a direct link, will postthat  ASAP)

I will now go and look at some great classic photography and hopefully shrink my head back down to it's normal, megalomanical size.

March 7th, 2009 - Late Evening Woodwooding Edition

On February 13th, which happened to be a Friday, just as the upcoming March 13th is a Friday, (I'm not particularly superstitious, anymore, but there is something a little weird with that. Retract that, it's just interesting, not weird. The real mathheads say there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything is random and just because we came up with this Gregorian calendar to make some form of reference for ourselves, it's our own fault if we get two Friday the 13ths in two months consecutively. All the numbers from zero to nine repeat in multiple iterations inside Pi if you calculate it out far enough. Which is kind of cool. But the series Pi itself does not repeat, ever. As far as we know. It's a transcendental number. It doesn't get much more profound than that. I'm not a mathhead, but I am interested in what happens with logic, numbers and how people perceive and are affected by them. Uh-oh, I feel another blog post coming on...) 
Be that as it may, it was the day before "Valentine's Day." Let me say that Sharon and I don't celebrate VD, we acknowledge it, we don't exchange gifts and we move on.
Any day of the year could bring a gift and it would be much more of an exciting surprise than a heart-shaped pizza on a pastel-bullcrap greeting card holiday. As you may have gathered, I'm not big on Valentine's Day. I really feel for the lonely, single people that have to deal with all the Valenhype, because I was one of them for many years. It sucks. Anyway, that day I had been doing a lot of around-the-house-puttering, and usually when I get started on those sorts of hands-on things, I get all sucked into more and more projects and can't seem to stop. I also had a woodworking-based feeling brewing in my soul, sometimes I just feel like carving or making something out of scrap wood. I had been also been feeling guilty for spending too much time at computer, so suddenly I felt a compulsion to carve a heart out of a large piece of wood for Sharon. And there's no denying it, it was for myself too. I wanted the therapy of some hammer and chisel time.
I dug out the largest piece of scrap wood we had in the stack, which I think is a piece of Ponderosa Pine from a 'cat tree' that had long outlived it's usefulness. Pieces of it now can be found in various projects around the house. I was chiseling away with my favorite three-inch Sandvik chisel (Grampa Anderson's, re: ancient and GREAT) and my favorite orange Stanley dead-blow shot hammer. There was wood flying everywhere, the basement smelled of pine and life was good. It was an escape. I thought of Anthony Quinn and Salvador Dali. Three or four hours later, what began as a eight inch by seven inch by two-foot split-rail slowly took shape into a nine-inch by six inch relatively rounded off wooden heart. It had a large knot right through the left atrium and some very cool grain in different places, more symbolism hidden beneath the basic "form" of the concept you have in mind, I like that. 
I was ready for it to pop right in half a couple times as I was whacking on it, but it never did, nor did the knot start creeping out. I have to admit I was a little proud that I had formed the thing using only a hammer and chisel; no saws, power tools, etc.  Just me tracing the grain with my two tools. 
Later my hands and especially my left thumb however, were not quite as proud. 
It wasn't 'done', per se, and needed finishing, but Sharon came home and I decided to show her what I was up to, as I wasn't so sure it would be done the next day. Fateful mistake. Never show the "art-work" to the receiver before it's finished. This is where pride as a Deadly Sin comes in.
I presented it to her and tried to convey that it wasn't necessarily a Valentine gift, that it was something that I had wanted to make, actually felt I had to make, and that I hoped it represented the times when I was thinking of her and couldn't say the right thing or didn't say anything when I should have. At least that's what I was thinking, I'm not sure my actual words delivered that message. (I of course see now that they didn't...
I'm not good at dedications, coronations, eulogies, or on-the-spot speaking. Or speaking in general. It was what it was, a wooden-heart sculpture thingie. 
She tried to be genuine and gracious about me creating it as a gift, but I could tell it didn't click with her. I said I would pick it up again tomorrow, but began feeling guilty about spending a lot of time on something not contributing to the financial good of the household, and it slipped into the background of our lives. I felt a little disheartened about it (if you'll pardon the term) every time I saw it lying there on the workbench, but it's hard for me to work on stuff like that if I'm not inspired, and there's always something else, else, else... 
So today, (Argh! It's a month later!) I was going to pick it back up and dust it off. I had decided to change my approach and bring some rasps, Surform tools, and maybe a Dremel if I got desperate into the mix to get it to a form that I considered "done." 
Just as I was ready to get to go downstairs with an armful of tools, we had a conversation that ended up deflating my feelings about the whole thing.
Sharon is my 'complement'* in life, which means she completes my whole, often to my edification, stupefaction, and revelation of pointing out my obliviosity. (new word, don't look it up)
What it came down to was that I was feeling guilty because I hadn't finished the project after dangling it there in front of her, and she was feeling demeaned because it had turned into a "non-gift" and now I was picking it up again like it was the next day, when it was actually three weeks later.
In the back of both of our brains I believe we were thinking, what were we really going to do with a piece of sculpture in our tiny house already full of pieces of clutter. 

* Usage Note: Complement and compliment, though quite distinct in meaning, are sometimes confused because they are pronounced the same. As a noun, complement means "something that completes or brings to perfection" (The antique silver was a complement to the beautifully set table); used as a verb it means "to serve as a complement to." The noun compliment means "an expression or act of courtesy or praise" (They gave us a compliment on our beautifully set table), while the verb means "to pay a compliment to."
Note it is always I that gets us into trouble... 

Sharon left for yoga with a friend, and I brought all my stuff down to the basement and stared at my wooden heart. 
I still wanted to see the thing through, but I was a little miffed that I had left my favorite orange Stanley dead-blow shot hammer down at the mini-storage, as I wanted to beat on something and how could I think I would actually go back there the next day and use it...?! Am I that much of a self-deceived procrastinator that I would think that I would actually DO something the next day, just because I said or thought I would...?! 
I was, as Sharon had just just pointed it out to me. Damn! I needed another hammer. 
It was then that in a distant synapse, in a galaxy far, far, away; deep in a spongy fissure of my applesauce brain a spark jumped a gap. I had THE ANSWER to both of our issues: I would make a wooden mallet out of the frickin' thing...!!!! I had a beautiful hickory hatchet handle. I had motivation. I had a handle wedge. I had hand tools and I wasn't afraid to use them. I MUST FORM WOOD!!! 

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you - "The Love Hammer!"

Symbolic, no...?  I'm thinking if it splits while I'm whapping something, I'll have a broken heart.

The Business End of the ventricles and the interventricular septum. I'm thinking I might cut a groove shouldered in from the face and find a way to attach some sort of metal-banding, reminiscent of the circus mallets used for the 'Ring the Bell' game and pounding-in tent stakes. The idea is that the band keeps the face from splitting and mushing out too badly. I need to do a little more research on proper placement, finishing treatments, and attachment of materials.

The top view of one of the world's most basic, and yet most functional tools. 
I love my hammers! Now my Carpenters', the Ball-Peen Family, the General-Purpose Family, the Tack, Rock, Mini's and of course my favorite orange Stanley Dead-Blow Shot will be joined by another soft-faced, yet serious individual of the tribe.

It works...!

I would also like to add that I am of the mind that not everything has to have a practical aspect, some things (for me at least) just have to be created and can exist just to tactile, extravagant, symbolic or for no reason at all really. I suppose for the sake of aesthetics, I guess. Like a rock you pick up because something tells you that have to. Unfortunately, this is what has gotten our house to more than 50% of it's current status. Shar, you have some catchin' up to do...!  Get more stupid things!

March 7th - 2009 - She ain't heavy, she's my lov-er....

Hap Dog and I were checking up on the construction and creek flow at Minnehaha Falls the other evening. 
When I walk by the infamous statue of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha, especially at night, I'm always looking to get "the" picture of it; something new, original, definitive, and just different. The other night the lights were on (it's sort of bottom-lit by a couple flood lights) and I was shooting the digital black & white, so I braced off of the fence and tried a couple shots with fill-flash and without.
The one above was actually without fill and when I got home it was okay, but still your basic 'ordinary' newspaper shot of what I usually see of pics of the statue.
I ended up taking the black & white shots and playing with them in Paint Shop Pro way too late into the night.

I kind of like this version, it has a bunch of effects stacked on top of each other, but mostly the "hammered metal" sticks out the most along with some coloration. It's better big and up close, (on my desktop right now) but I'd be interested in hearing anyone's comments about this sort of image manipulation thing, pro or con, and if anyone has any of their own pictures of the statue or similar that they particularly like and/or would want to share (we can put them on the Facebook site).

The plaque on the bottom of the statue reads:
Hiawatha and Minnehaha by Jacob Fjelde
Erected in 1911 by means of funds raised through the efforts of Mrs. L.P. Hunt of Mankato, and contributed principally by the school children of Minnesota.

March 6th, 2009 - Next Gen

I was at the library today (Nokomis) and just as I was about to back my car out of the tiny parking lot, my eyes fixed upon the sticker on the car window next to me.
There should be a name for this kind of thing, and there probably is, as I have a standing joke that half of the words in the English language are needed to describe the English language.
So this is too much information.
Like someone that had a problem with the "First Generation Air Bags" is going to like the second generation better if we differentiate it with a decal...? Oh, I feel SO much better about strapping in now, don't you...? Sorry we had to use you as a crash-test dummy the first time around. No hard feelings!
This is similar to another car sign I posted on this blog a long time ago: The "New Ford Escape - Limited." It happens to be the same car manufacturer as the one that made this decal.... coincidence...?
Also distantly related is the scarily minimalistic aluminum bicycle frame known as the "Break Point."
Why pay for entertainment, when you can get it for free, just by reading signs...?!

March 1, 2009 - Entertaining Junk

You know, nine times out of ten "spam" emails are just that, another waste of time to get rid of, hopefully without contracting something nasty.
Occasionally however, I get one that is so poorly written or mis-translated, or just plain whack, that I have to laugh (out loud) (lol).
Today I got two. This morning "Mr. Ming Yang" had this to say, in this exact format:

I am Mr. Ming Yang,I have an obscured business

suggestion for you.Yourservices will be 

That's all. You're right, it was very obscured there, Mr. Yang. Just send me the money, sounds good, he didn't even ask me to do anything. Unusual for this type of message. I like it.

Then tonight I got one with this subject line:

Could you spare one minute to help prevent another chimpanzee tragedy? test email

Somehow, the tiniest bit of insincerity sneaks through that one. Can't quite put my finger on it...

Okay, enough of that. 
I took a hike around the Springbrook Nature Center trails after my shift today with a friend from the LLCC Photo Retreat. There wasn't much stirring, not even a mouse (that we saw, anyway) just a few cardinalés, woodpeckers, deer, yadda yadda. We were hoping for the owl, but he didn't show. C'est la vie. La vie.

We did however come across what seemed like one of the first Pussywillows of the season, the lower buds were all still in there cases, except for the very top one which had jettisoned the booster-stage and gone fluffy. Auspicious sign, I don't care what that wicked bad Pennsylvania groundhog says.

Then yesterday I had a full-on snow grooming, candlelit skiing, room-renting extravaganza at Wood Lake. We received between five and nine inches of new snow in the Metro overnight and Chuck the maintenance guy at Wood Lake sure picked the right week for vacation.
It was alright by me though, as I got to groom the ski-trails and pack the hiking trails using the King-hell (as Hunter Thompson would say) snowmobile and tow-behind groomer. 
Earlier in the year I had gotten a lesson from Chuck on it once, so it was sort of the "Okay, you're flying the plane" feeling. It went okay though, and was fun mostly. Hilarity ensued at a few points though. The first was after chipping about a half-inch of ice off the bottom of the garage door, prying it up with a shovel (and sweating buckets in a down jacket) so I could get the snowmobile out, I was trying to remember all the intricacies Chuck told me about getting the groomer hooked up and adjusted, everything looked good. I gunned her up and headed back to the Nature Center (NC) to get the weights to put into the track-maker. 
When you just pack the trails, you flip-up the attachment that cuts the double ski racks, and the carriage of the groomer then leaves a nice "combed" snow surface, known in the trade as "corduroy." I shut the shed doors and headed for the NC checking fervently that the groomer was still attached, and that my corduroy was looking okay. It wasn't great, but I wasn't sure what to expect with new fairly fluffy snow. So as I pulled up in front of the NC and got off the sled, I noticed two "rails" of snow crossing the shoveled off area by the front doors... Hunh. What the heck could that be from...? (Looks quizzically at the sled and groomer...) Busts out laughing...!  There was the little four wheeled caster cart that Chuck built to pull out the groomer and hook it up to the sled, still stuck under the groomer, I had just pulled it about a quarter-mile down the trail still stuck under the thing! Heh Woops. Must have been a little frozen on. After some kicking and lifting and gunning the sled I got it out and slunk back into the NC to get the weights. Good thing there was a lot of snow. Of course, if there wasn't, the thing probably would have come off like it was supposed to. heh.

So other than a couple embarrasing turns and slight demolishment of my nicely-lain track due to the monstrous turning-ratio of the rig, I had a pretty good time. I actually got a nice compliment from one of the skiers on my great grooming job. (!) Beginner's luck. The snow was perfect for it though, you really couldn't lose. I wish I could have skied it, but I had to set up the candles for the night ski. 
So after some carbo-laden lunch I got all the luminaries set up and pulled them out along the trail with the sled (the pulk-sled this time, human-powered) and got them all lit. 
It was a beautiful scene, and kind of a special feeling to have created the trail and done all the candles and seen the whole day progress.
HOWEVER, this morning I was definitely feeling yesterday's massive energy output. I was thinking it's probably a lot like being a farmer, the fun part is riding on the tractor and taking in all of your domain as you till, the hard part is wrestling with all the equipment, slogging a few miles in deep snow pulling the sled, and all the bending, stooping, and things you don't think about until you melt into bed.
I'd do it again though. Especially now that I know how to put the snowmachine into reverse.