Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What is Home?

Yesterday on Twitter Astronaut Ron Garan retweeted a fancy script font image that read, "Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends always belong, and laughter never ends." What? No it's not.

I have seen platitudes like this my whole life and they never felt right to me. I thought maybe it was because I was a curmudgeon, a skeptic, non-spiritual. This month I finally figured it out. Maybe some people are connected to people, some people are connected to nature. Bruce Means asked me to read a manuscript for him that is the story of his recreation of John Muir's 1000 Mile Walk to the Gulf. Because it is easier for me to read things on my iPad I downloaded a PDF of the original and read that first. John Muir grew up in Wisconsin after moving from his birthplace in Scotland as a young boy. The south was very foreign to him and strange. Not home. Towards the end of the book he explains it all very eloquently.
In Kentucky...thousands of familiar flower faces looked from every hill and valley. I noted no difference in the sky, and the winds spoke the same things. I did not feel myself in a strange land.
In Tennessee my eyes rested upon the first mountain scenery I ever beheld. I was rising higher than ever before; strange trees were beginning to appear; alpine flowers and shrubs were meeting me at every step. But these Cumberland Mountains were timbered with oak, and were not unlike Wisconsin hills piled upon each other, and the strange plants were like those that were not strange. The sky was changed only a little, and the winds not by a single detectible note. Therefore, neither was Tennessee a strange land.
But soon came changes thick and fast. After passing the mountainous corner of North Carolina and a little way into Georgia, I beheld from one of the last ridge-summits of the Alleghanies that vast, smooth, sandy slope that reaches from the mountains to the sea. It is wooded with dark, branchy pines which were all strangers to me. Here the grasses, which are an earth-covering at the North, grow wide apart in tall clumps and tufts like saplings. My known flower companions were leaving me now, not one by one as in Kentucky and Tennessee, but in whole tribes and genera, and companies of shining strangers came trooping upon me in countless ranks. The sky, too, was changed, and I could detect strange sounds in the winds. Now I began to feel myself "a stranger in a strange land."
But in Florida came the greatest change of all, for here grows the palmetto, and here blow the winds so strangely toned by them. These palms and these winds severed the last strands of the cord that united me with home. Now I was a stranger, indeed. I was delighted, astonished, confounded, and gazed in wonderment blank and overwhelming as if I had fallen upon another star. But in all of this long, complex series of changes, one of the greatest, and the last of all, was the change I found in the tone and language of the winds. They no longer came with the old home music gathered from open prairies and waving fields of oak, but they passed over many a strange string. The leaves of magnolia, smooth like polished steel, the immense inverted forests of tillandsia banks, and the princely crowns of palms — upon these the winds made strange music, and at the coming-on of night had overwhelming power to present the distance from friends and home, and the completeness of my isolation from all things familiar.
Elsewhere I have already noted that when I was a day's journey from the Gulf, a wind blew upon me from the sea — the first sea breeze that had touched me in twenty years. I was plodding along with my satchel and plants, leaning wearily forward, a little sore from approaching fever, when suddenly I felt the salt air, and before I had time to thing, a whole flood of long-dormant associations rolled in upon me. The Firth of Forth, the Bass Rock, Dunbar Castle, and the winds and rocks and hills came upon the wings of that wind, and stood in as clear and sudden light as a landscape flashed upon the view by a blaze of lightning in a dark night.
As strange and unfamiliar as the south was to John Muir, it is my home. I get great comfort from those dark, branchy pines and the smell of their needles baking in the sun. The sound of a pileated woodpecker banging his giant head on a hollow trunk, and the rising, smooth white noise as the wind moves through the long needles — that is home to me. Here there are all the right animals, the right plants, the right light, the right water, the right soil, the right air. These are the things my grandmother taught me to identify, to study, to love. My grandmother died, but the piney woods will thrive as long as we let them. It is my responsibility to care for these woods and struggle against their aggressive fecundity to assert my own tiny bit of order on it. When it's not trying to destroy my civilization with humidity and mice, my home amuses me.

My Best Inventions of 2014

It's the last day of the year, time for my 2nd annual list of the best things I invented in the last 12 months.

I guess my life is pretty settled because I can't think of anything I invented this year. I'm still enjoying last year's best invention, the closed cell foam insulating cast iron tub backrest. I did come up with one unique problem solution. I'm going to count that. It also involves rare earth magnets like last year's invention.

I had a weird health year. I spent way too much time reading about how little medical science knows about what might be wrong with me. I found only two useful things I could implement for improvement. One was green lipped mussel extract to help my back pain. It's one of those alternative medicines that's been proved to work. It's basically an anti-inflammatory that doesn't hurt my stomach. The other problem I have is acid reflux where only two treatments have been proved to work. The first is proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec and Nexium. I have been taking those every day for 14 years. The only other thing that has been proved to help this condition is to elevate the head of your bed six inches. Well my bed is a loft. The mattress is already so close to the ceiling if I elevated one end I wouldn't be able to sit in bed and watch TV. I don't have a couch. My loft is my only place for leisure time. I thought and thought and realized I don't have to sleep the same direction as I watch TV. King size mattresses are almost square. I'm shorter than the width of my bed so there's no reason not to sleep on it sideways. Now every night I elevate one small part of my mattresses and then sleep on top of that hump.

Step one is to insert this enameled steel meat tray under the edge of the mattress
by the ladder. I can stand on the steps to do this.
Step two is to heave up on the tray and prop it up with this live oak mallet.
Pull back the covers, move the pillow from the TV watching spot, climb in and go to sleep.
I mounted a pair of very strong cup magnets on the wall to store the tray
during the day. The mallet fits in the space next to the ladder.
Ready for tonight!

If you have any problem that could be solved with magnets like this, here's the link. I got them on Amazon from Applied Magnets. I bought four but two were more than enough.

I'm pretty sure this is terrible for my mattress. I try not to climb in and out too much when it is deformed in this way. I am pretty light for what mattresses are designed for, so I hope it might withstand this treatment for several years. I have a spare king size mattress in storage so if I break the springs and metal starts sticking out of this one I can dismantle the loft and get it down. Maybe that will be the time to install a dump truck mechanism under the loft so a motor can lift the head of the bed after I lie down. That sounds like a maintenance issue though. This steel tray thing has a very satisfactory failure mode. It won't be in anybody's way if I leave and somebody else without acid reflux wants to use my house. 

I found one more thing that helps my back feel better, a workout video that came with an inflatable peanut-shaped ball. Here it is on Amazon. It involves a lot of stretching moves and core strengthening exercises. There was one more you can download from their website. I do all three. I ripped them to iTunes and put them on my iPad so I can take them with me if I go out of town. If I do it at least five times a week my back doesn't hurt so much. It also involves a lot of balancing. I think that might've helped my recovery from vertigo. Well, it didn't hurt. It made me feel like if I had the illusion of falling over my muscles would automatically take over and correct. I never did fall down, so maybe this is true, or maybe I'm just really careful.

Going out of town reminded me of another invention. Creation really. OK, it's just an outfit. But I didn't copy anybody. I went as Global Sea Level Rise. It did involve making a skirt out of a t-shirt, so that is sort of an invention.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Orion EFT-1 Launch

I got in my car and drove about 5 hours last Wednesday to go see a Delta IV Heavy rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. That's the biggest, fastest rocket currently available to launch things into space. It was launching the test setup of the Orion capsule. (I got to see it up close in 2011) It would go farther and faster than anything designed to hold people has gone for 45 years. I guess it's my cynical nature that makes me think we've failed for the past 45 years, not that we just accomplished something. It's the same feeling I get when my old professors retire and they just stop teaching that subject. No Dr. Payne? No Psychoacoustics class. No Dr. Braden? No more Physics of Photography. Letting knowledge, skills, and experience just go away offends my intellectual nature. If building Orion is the only way to pass on the knowledge of how to build a Gemini style heat shield then I don't think it's a waste of money even if the program gets cut later and nobody ever goes to space in a capsule like that.

Phil Plait expressed his serious misgivings about Orion and the yet-to-exist Space Launch System that would power it into space. I don't disagree with him, but if not this, what? The engineers that have experience sending things to space need to be working with new engineers, need to be sending things into space. I don't care if it is the wrong thing, an underfunded thing, a failure or a success, as long as the new engineers are learning what the older guys know so their own ideas carry us forward. It's a job for these engineers and they get hands on experience making a thing for going to space. It just went to space. They must feel good about that. They deserve it. Given a chance they are better equipped to make something better because of the experience building this thing.

In the post launch press conference a reporter from The Guardian asked Bill Gerstenmaier how much sooner they'd be ready to launch people into space (and bring them back) in Orion if they had a bigger budget. He said it's not happening in a serial fashion just because they can't afford to hire more help, it's happening that way because they need certain research to be completed as input to the next stage of the design. Scott Kelly needs to stay on the space station for a solid year, for example, before they have all the data they need to determine the proper specifications for the habitat module that ESA is going to build based on their cargo ship.

I get the impression that they are keeping their options open. They seem to be enjoying the luxury of management being actual engineers. Back in the '90s when I worked in consumer electronics we used to joke that managers thought you could get nine women pregnant and have a baby in a month. I told that to my friend the spacesuit engineer and he said he'd never heard that joke. Must be nice.

Somebody in the press conference mentioned that the heat shield is tedious to manufacture. It's a honeycomb type thing and each cell has to be filled by hand – in my mind I'm imagining West System epoxy in a syringe, I don't really know what it is. So they are trying better ways to manufacture that. The next Orion that launches into space won't be the same as this one. If you do something in a hurry you don't have the luxury of trying new things. You over-design it, see if it survives potentially destructive testing, then lock that down and work on whatever didn't pass. Since they don't pay these engineers very much the least they can do is shoot something they made into space from time to time. What else is going to motivate them to not just leave the space program to get a better paying job?

I went to the launch attempt Thursday and actual launch Friday with a friend who has a Johnson Space Center badge. He got a placard to allow him to park on the NASA causeway for the launch. I brought the folding chairs.

Thursday was interesting to see all the traffic on the road at 3 am. It didn't seem cold when we got there, but after a few hours of a damp wind I was chilled to the bone. As soon as the launch window opened at dawn they stopped the countdown because of a boat in the restricted area. By the time they got him out of the way the wind had picked up and automatic sensors stopped the countdown two more times. By then the valves on the liquid hydrogen tanks got cold and required extra cycles to close all the way. They called off the launch for the day so they could save battery power and try the next day.

Friday morning there were no boats in the restricted area. I wore an extra layer of jacket. The valves were functioning nominally and the rocket took off right on time. The sound seemed instantaneous with the "liftoff" announcement on the public address speaker. That may have been because the rockets light up several seconds before it moves, before it registers that it should be making noise. I was busy trying to shoot video and still pictures and grab a screen shot of my sound pressure level app all at the same time. I couldn't really take it all in. I envy the people I see in photos just watching. I can't do that. I have to share with all you good people!

Orion Launch from Barbara Tomlinson on Vimeo.

After the launch we went to the Visitor Center and looked at Shuttle Atlantis. The space shuttle was a lovely space plane. As much as I enjoyed watching the parachutes opening exactly right on Orion it didn't make me feel the pride in the American space program a shuttle landing did. Those lovely lines, the big rockets! Beautiful space plane.
The shuttle looks kind of ratty up close.
How did Serenity get away with a hand painted logo?
There's a 7" fuel line (not shown) from the external fuel tank
going into the engines.
There's a Nature exhibit at the Visitor Center. Your basic taxidermy and silk plants and some signage that brought out my inner pedant.
Leatherneck is a slang term for a member of the Marines.
A species of sea turtle is a Leatherback.
This is why I can't have friends or a job.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

That shirt is atrocious

Today's science event is Philae attempting to land on a comet. I woke up and turned on the live stream immediately. It was a lot of old white men with cool European accents who sounded like they were reading the Acknowledgements out of the front of their book. Not my favorite kind of presentation. I turned to Twitter to see if I could glean any interesting facts about the comet or the engineering behind the landing.

I was quickly in the middle of another Sexism in Science discussion because of Dr. Matt Taylor, from North East London and a lead scientist on the mission. He chose a particularly sexist shirt this morning.

(Click photo to link to tweet to read the conversation after it.)

The consensus from Twitter scientists that cross my path is that this is a sexist shirt and he could have worn something else colorful and interesting that didn't have objectified women all over it.

But over at the Daily Mail they didn't see it as a sexist shirt at all.
Twitter users praised Dr Taylor for being ‘a proper cool scientist’ and ‘definitely not boring’ after he appeared on the European Space Agency live stream and BBC Breakfast wearing a multi-coloured shirt emblazoned with illustrations of glamorous women, which he teamed with shorts, which showed off his tattoos.
Here's a video from Nature interviewing Dr. Taylor. Skip to 1:22

The Nature reporter is grinning like a Cheshire Cat in this video. She KNOWS it's going viral because of this guy's shirt. If she was a problem solver and averse to controversy like me (instead of a person who can keep her job) she would have told him to take that top shirt off before she aimed the camera at him. He's wearing a WHOLE OTHER SHIRT underneath that. (As a scientist I must concede it could be a dickey.) Reporters and scientists are very different, as pointed out by them asking scientists all morning, "How do you feel right now?" and the scientists, every woman and man, gave the media person a withering look that says, "I don't know that! How is that a REMOTELY interesting topic? I can't be arsed to come up with an answer for that idiotic question." But they could all be arsed to put on a long sleeve shirt and a jacket before being interviewed.

Dr. Taylor has a lot of tattoos in addition to the comic book shirt. Which makes me think about my "Why I Hate Tattoos" blog from years ago.
I think people's personalities are so variable a tattoo puts too much emphasis on just one aspect of it.... 
If I'm going to a job interview I wear something that makes me look professional. If I'm going to see my dad I wear something that makes me look conservative, if I'm going to see my mom I wear something edgier.... This is because I respect them. I want to show that I get who they are and understand what they value. My personality is pretty blatant. I can't really change the fact that I'm prone to curse and correct errors of fact all the time. But I can emphasize different aspects of myself outwardly through my appearance.
Tattoos just eliminate that option. I am very uncomfortable with that. People with tattoos are THAT sure who they are and who they want to be in EVERY SITUATION? FOREVER?
Yes, apparently it would be a personal betrayal for him to wear something that respects the audience of stuffy old white guys in awesome horn rimmed glasses. His audience is apparently a different audience than what everybody imagined when they got dressed to go to an event to be streamed live all over the world. His audience is the readership of the Daily Mail.

I would love to just hate this guy and go on a rant about how offensive he is and get a few juicy paragraphs out of it, but I can't. If I worked for ESA and this guy came into the lab wearing this shirt I would not be embarrassed or uncomfortable. I can see how other people would be and I think he made a bad decision to wear it. But I can't put him down as a bad person, just a physicist with bad taste and lack of sensitivity. I know a lot of these people and I forgive them. As I said in my Tattoo blog.
Some of my favorite people have one thing they do that I don't like particularly, but I know enough other stuff about them that I respect and appreciate that I just ignore the parts of their personality that I think are silly. Like my brilliant physicist friend who is so obsessed with his own penis he made a plaster cast of it and created a hard plastic gear shift lever in its exact likeness.
A lot of people, women scientists and men, on my Twitter feed think this is an opportunity to rail against creating a hostile environment for women in science. I applaud them. But seriously, that was not my big problem with science. I can deal with objectification of women. It's the inability to get and keep a job because management despises innovation and creativity and wants yes-men and people to be quiet and take a lot of shit. This is what is holding back women in science, not soft-core porn.

My major professor in undergraduate school had some really graphic photos of women in his office. I think old students sent him post cards on purpose to try to one-up each other. He had a row of them on the chalk tray of the blackboard in his office. I remember one vividly. It was from Brazil and featured a close up of a bare ass coming out of some cut-up-the-butt denim shorts with a little dusting of beach sand on the protruding cheeks. You could see the fine blonde hairs on her butt shining in the sun. It was a very good close-up. It was the sand that bothered me. I wanted to reach out and dust it off. I hate sand on my skin. But I had a brother who read Playboy in high school because my mother got him a subscription. I was trained to think there was nothing wrong with these images. I was lucky this was the preparation my mother gave me to prepare me to be a woman in science. How did she know?!

There was a straight-up centerfold on the back of my professor's office door. But if you were in there the door was open and you couldn't see it. It often had a coat hanging over it. I only ever saw it when he had to close the door to get a book from the shelf behind it. Now that I think about it, somebody really should have told him to get rid of that stuff. In fact, it's possible that when I got to know him well enough I probably told him. I recall that when I went back to visit after I graduated he had removed all that stuff.

Last weekend I went to see this professor, now retired, at his house. He clearly does not notice the things used for decoration. His house is decorated with the mid-century furniture his wife bought in the '60s, the same pink plates on stands, gilt tea set on the coffee table. Clearly he is one of these men who just doesn't notice this stuff. He only pays attention to technology. And he likes to keep old things as long as they still work. That cell phone is from the '90s. He built these speakers in 1964.

This is why I am inclined to give Dr. Taylor a pass on his sexist shirt. I have been trained to excuse men for liking pictures of objectified women. In my experience it does not stop them from being good scientists, good mentors, and very supportive of women scientists.

The people I blame for holding back women in science are not men scientists. They are managers who are holding back ALL scientists. Managers who don't let engineers innovate and manufacture new amazing things but want to just keep the same old stuff that makes known amounts of money. Women are just going to be eliminated first because if they have a strong enough personality to learn to forgive weird behavior in their fellow students and professors and stick with the program then they have a personality that men managers hate in women.

While I was writing this Philae touched down. But the anchors did not shoot. They are not sure if it's going to STAY on the surface. The live stream is still ongoing.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Table Manners: A Short Story

“God, honey, it’s disgusting!”

“What?” he said.

“My father! He sounds like a turtle chewing a hard boiled egg! There’s more couscous lodged in his wrinkles than he managed to swallow! One Labrador isn’t going to cut it. We’re going to need to get a terrier to clean the food off Dad’s shirt!” she exclaimed. 

“Oh,” Phil said. “Well, he doesn’t have to eat with us,” he problem-solved over his shoulder as he left the kitchen.

The next night at dinnertime Lois served four plates and then took one of them to the living room. Her father was sitting in his chair watching the financial news. She set up a little folding table without even waking him. Then she shook him gently by the shoulder. “Here’s your dinner, Dad. I thought you might like to eat here while you watch your show so you don’t have to get up.”

The rest of the family sat down at the kitchen table. When Junior finished his first helping he got up to take the biscuit basket out to his grandfather to see if he wanted another one. Then he sat back down and ate all the rest of the biscuits with butter and jelly.

After Lois cleared the table she went out to the living room to get her father’s tray. He had cleaned his plate. He always liked okra and tomatoes and meatloaf. And Lois had enjoyed hers more because she couldn’t hear him slurp it up. She felt very smug as she loaded the dishwasher that night.

On Friday night Phil brought home a rotisserie chicken. Lois cut off a thigh for her father. He liked dark meat. She arranged little piles of buttered rice and field peas. She set up the TV table for him while Phil and Junior served their own plates at the table. She sat down to eat and about the time Junior got a whole chicken wing in his mouth there was a crash. Lois ran to the living room. Her father sat with a knife and fork in his hands and all his dinner was scattered on the carpet. “Oh, Daddy!” cried Lois. She moved the TV table out of his way so he could get up. A waterfall of rice and peas fell onto the carpet in front of his chair. He stepped gingerly to not crush any into the carpet. Lois picked up the plate and the chicken.

“Buddy! Here Buddy!” Lois called. The dog came and obligingly ate all the rice off the carpet, neatly licking all the butter off every pea without swallowing a single one. Lois sighed as she went for a dustpan, a bowl of sudsy water, a sponge and a roll of paper towels. When she came back to the kitchen with her bowl of dirty water and soggy paper towels her father was at Junior’s place at the kitchen table finishing a portion of peas and rice while Junior gnawed on a chicken bone in the chair with no place setting. Junior asked his dad to be excused and everybody got up. Lois sat down to finish her own dinner alone, disappointed, but determined.

The next night Lois had to improvise because the financial news doesn’t run on Saturday. She served three plates as usual, then she put some of the mashed potatoes in one of her medium sized mixing bowls. She put in a spoonful of corn, some pole beans, and topped it with a slice of pot roast torn into bite size pieces. She poured some of the pan drippings over the whole thing. She poured some cold water in a plastic cup with a screw-on lid and a straw. She stabbed a spoon in the bowl and went to the back door where Junior was lying on the floor coloring. "Get the door for me please, Junior," she said. 

Junior opened the door and Lois took the bowl and cup out to her father. He was on the back deck with Forbes magazine and his binoculars near the bird feeder. Then she went in to dinner with her husband and son. She told Junior three times to get his elbows off the table and corrected Phil when he tried to put his dirty knife back down on the placemat. It should be placed across the plate. She was getting the hang of this. Table manners would prevail.

On Sunday morning Lois went for her long weekly run while Phil made breakfast for the men. After she got back and showered and came out to the living room with her coffee she found Phil and her father reading the funny pages while Junior was building something with his Lincoln Logs. She sat down on the floor for some quality time with her son. “What are you building, Junior? Is this your house?”

“Yeah, that’s the house where we’ll live when I’m grown up,” said Junior.

“And what’s that you’re building out in the yard?” said Lois.

Junior replied matter-of-factly, “This is a trough for you and Daddy at suppertime.”

That night was Sunday Supper. Junior’s aunts and uncles brought dishes of food over and they had a big meal together. Everybody sat at the long table in the dining room, even Granddad. 

On Monday night Lois left the TV tables in their little stand in the corner of the living room. She waited for the financial news to end, then announced that dinner was ready. Everybody sat down to eat together that night, and every night after that.

Updated version of the Grimm fairy tale "The Old Man and his Grandson," 
By Barbara Tomlinson ©2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rise of the Gopher Tortoise

I have seen more new gopher holes this year than I have ever seen in my life. I don't know if they are just experiencing a real estate boom and all of a sudden they want more holes per gopher, or if there are actual new animals moving in to enjoy life near mown grass. Do they particularly like my yard and my aunt's yard because we are there mowing the lawn for them? Or did the tortoises and the people both pick the same spot for the same unrelated reason — hill tops are the best.

Today I was going to check on things at my aunt's house and take my trash to the dump when I saw a brand new large gopher hole by the chicken yard fence, not 20 feet from another burrow inside the garden under the grape arbor. Both gophers were in their holes, so it wasn't just an extra hole for the one gopher.
Foreground, brand new gopher hole, wasn't there Friday. There's another one
in the center of the photo under the grape arbor.
Here's a zoom shot of the gopher that lives under the grape arbor. View from the new hole. So close!
Of course I stopped and took a picture of it. It's how I do. Then I kept going up the driveway to take my trash to the dumpster. And I saw another new gopher hole under the blueberries. A few weeks ago I saw one just the other side of the driveway there too.

Another new gopher hole under the blueberries.
You can tell these are brand new because the sand is soft and all stomped on looking. As the holes get older the apron of the burrow gets kind of solid looking and smooth.

When I came back from taking the trash I decided to count the gopher holes I could see from the truck. I was wearing shorts so I didn't want to go tromping around in the briars looking for more, so these are strictly ones in direct proximity to our crude variety of civilization. Also I am terrible at counting, so I used my Logger GPS iPhone app.

Total Gopher Holes: 20
Number of holes with leaves in the entrance indicating no use in a week or so: 2
Juvenile holes, smaller than 7" across (by eye): 4
New adult holes: 3

I call this a juvenile hole. It's next to an old burn pile in the middle of the lawn,
which explains the charcoal. 
I don't know how old the juvenile holes are. I think they are all from this year. The juvenile with a hole in my yard has been there over two years. He has had a digging fit this week and has made his much deeper with lots of dark orange dirt on the apron. So these that are still light colored sand, I think they are new.

I didn't see any bitty baby holes at my aunt's house. I have 3 of those over here at my house, under 3" across, as well as 2 juveniles and 10 or more adult. Maybe I'll count them tomorrow.

Here's the plot of gopher holes done on Google Earth. I tilted the scene and rotated it to show surrounding area. Density increases the closer they get to the lawn. Some of these holes are just astonishingly close together. I've never seen them do like this before. There's 12 in under an acre if you ignore the ones up the driveway.

There were always gopher holes along the driveway at the ancestral home when I was a little girl. I don't remember any being in the yard though. And I don't remember any in the yard at my house. But we always had a dog, the big kind that would pick up a baby tortoise in his mouth and slobber all over it and worse. My aunt used to have this kind of dog too. Since she got a Beagle and keeps her tied up the gophers have proliferated.

The last week was a real scorcher too. Do gophers typically get the urge to dig when it's really hot and dry? I know their burrow at the bottom of the hole is usually at the water table so it's nice and damp. I can see digging deeper if the water table drops. But why start over from scratch?! They have excess energy so they just dig another hole just for practice? I don't know, but I'm happy to have them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matrix Poster with Red Pill/Blue Pill Shadow Box

I have a client who is addicted to Mondo Tees posters. I frame them for him for $25 each. They're kind of hard to get. They announce the sales on Twitter and then they sell out in seconds. I saw this Matrix poster announcement and immediately bought it. But my friend was, meh, it's not one of the popular artists. But he said he'd look at it when I got it and maybe in person he'd like it better. I think it's really pretty. I like the colors, and you can look at it for a long time. I like the silver ink for the bright parts. I also thought it would lend itself to a bit of embellishment. Sure enough, I talked my friend into it.

My embellishment idea was to add a shadow box with a red pill and a blue pill under the poster. I found an image of what the ones in the movie looked like.
These are probably DayQuil and NyQuil Liquicaps
I searched online bead shops for something that looked like these. Real capsules seemed like a bad idea because of heat and humidity. I tried grinding down miniature Christmas tree ornaments to look like these. Finally I just decided to get something that would look good from a distance, match the poster, and be easy to attach to the shadow box. (Note: it is impossible to take a picture of your own hands from the angle shown above. To get this shot I clamped my phone to the counter and touched the screen with my nose.)

That'll have to do.
I settled for some wooden beads. I got them from The Bead Factory. ( The colors are Light Siam and Aqua. I got 8 of each color for $1.50. If anybody wants a pair let me know in the comments.

I cut some little spacers of that black irrigation tubing they call funny pipe. Drilled holes in the back of the shadow box, ran some heavy duty thread through there, through the tubing, through the bead, and back down through the tubing and the hole in the backing. I tied a knot around a straight pin. Then I turned the pin until it was all cinched down tight and taped it down so it wouldn't unwind. This took two hands and I couldn't get a picture.
Very hard to photograph because of this reflective glass
When I finished I went down to my friend's office and talked him into moving Sleeping Beauty into the lobby with The Black Cauldron so we could hang the Matrix in the conference room with Back to the Future 1 and 2 and The Birds. I like it!

Reuse: Coach StarTAC case to paperweight

Did you see my stop motion video, Obsolete? Remember the Motorola StarTAC? After I finished messing around with that video (which really hurt my back, which is the reason for the extreme brevity of the film) I wanted to do something with that old phone and the nice Coach leather case for it. I thought of making it into a paperweight by strapping something heavy to the belt loop on the back, but then I realized it would be better to just replace the phone with something heavy. The case is really easy to pick up and the leather is soft. The phone went back in the plastic bin with the laptops.

Now I know what you're thinking, "But Barbara! You told us you were totally paperless!" That's true, I don't keep paper on my desk. But I do frame a lot of posters that come rolled up in tubes. They need to be flattened out. So I got out my sewing stuff and made a heavy thing to go inside the case. I measured the phone to see how big to cut my fabric.

6" around, so I'll make my pouch 3" wide and it
should fill out properly.
3 1/2" long
I had a choice of some black velvet, black speaker grill cloth, or the scraps off some gray black-out curtains I hemmed up. I decided the black-out fabric would be the tightest weave. The velvet kind of passes light if you hold it up to a window, and the grill cloth is right out. It's made to be air permeable. It would look better if it were black and not gray, but scroungers can't be choosers. I can always make a tiny black pillow case for it later. Ooo, I should make a little black pillow case with a wee antenna sticking out. But anyway, on with it.
Measure and cut the fabric for the 6" diameter, allowing for seams
Fold it right sides together and sew it up.
After sewing the two unfinished edges, turn it right side out and fill it with lead shot. I happened to have a 3 lb bag of lead shot from a neoprene scuba diving belt. I loaned the belt to somebody decades ago and never got it back, but the lead weights have been consistently useful regardless. But this one got a hole in it when I was using it to rivet patches on the roof of the Spartan. I fixed it with tape, but I felt ok about using it for another project.
3lb lead shot weight for scuba diving
Here's what's on the inside.
I worked over a dishpan to fill up the bag. I made a funnel out of an index card and poured the shot from the mesh bag into the new StarTAC size bag.
Here's the new bag filled with shot and hand sewn along the end that had the old hem.
Weight inside the case, side view

Weighted case, top view
When I finished I still had some shot left. I made another bag to be a paper weight. I had something ampule shaped in my mind when I sewed a freehand shape.
It's a... I don't know what that is.
This one was a lot harder to fill with shot. I don't recommend this small of a neck. It does have a wonderful feel in the hand though and is easy to pick up. 
Here it is doing its job like a champ
I use the Coach one face down so there's no chance of the brass ring making a mark.
The poster you see here is a Matrix poster from Mondo Tees. I did a neat framing ensemble for that.

Reuse: '90s Jeans to Laptop Sleeve

Everything has come together to compel me to write up how to make a laptop sleeve from a pair of old jeans. My niece started college this summer and asked me if I had a slim sleeve for her laptop so she didn't have to carry her whole big bag to class. I thought I had one but couldn't find it. So I made one. Later I found the store-bought one and offered to bring it to her but she said she liked the homemade one. Fall semester started yesterday. I got this text from my niece this morning.

Hmm, I wonder if this admiration for her laptop sleeve has anything to with this thing that happened over the weekend?
I love how it's called a "denim ensemble." I hear it in my head as AHN-SAHM-bbb, like somebody is trying to be sophisticated and then fell down the last step. My niece calls it, "Oh my gosh! That is wayyyy too much denim in one outfit". No, that is way too much denim in FOUR outfits!

Anyway, here's how I made a laptop sleeve that has just the right amount of denim for an outfit. (Pics from my niece in her dorm.)

Here's how I made a laptop sleeve that has just the right amount of denim for an outfit.

First thing I did was go online and find the dimensions of the laptop. My niece has a 15" MacBook Pro (she bought it herself when she was a junior in high school so she could use FinalCut Pro on it. Yes, her computer is better than mine, shut up.) The page with the Tech Specs for Macbooks is under the Support tab on the Apple website. I found the right one and used the dimensions to make a blank out of scraps of foam core. If you have the actual laptop just use that. I didn't have it.
Cut two pieces of foam core to the size of your laptop
Add layers until the blank is close to the right thickness. Better over than under I think.
The middle layers don't have to be full size. I stacked up various strips.
I used plain Scotch double sided tape to stick it together.
Get a pair of jeans from the '90s with big legs and cut the legs off.
Don't worry, you are never going to want to wear them again.
Waists went back up, but that loose thigh and small ankle part
 did not come back in style as far as I know.
I split the legs up the center of the back so I'd have plain fabric to sew without the heavy seams in the way. I'm not sure how my sewing machine would handle that. Play with the fabric and your blank to see how you want to place the seams. Because of the flair of '90s jeans these seams will come out slanted, but I decided to center them. Based on the ensembles above you can see there is no right or wrong to this.
I think something like this... Seam goes here.
The legs of my jeans were wide enough for the laptop but it takes both legs sewn together to get them to wrap all the way around it longways. I decided to use the factory hem of the jeans at the edges of the case, so I had to let the excess overlap at a seam in the back. I could pretty much put it anywhere, but I decided to let it fall at the top of the back of the sleeve, so it was one full leg and part of the other one. Because of the flare cut in the original jeans the original seams didn't line up at the cross seam. This probably best because they are so stiff they wouldn't lie flat if they matched. I let them offset and cut a notch so they both keep going the way they want to.
Try to get the seam in the back to lie flat.
After I made the legs into one long piece I folded it around the blank inside out. I decided how much of the top of the laptop I wanted to come above the front part of the sleeve so you can grab it and get it out. I pinned the sides tight to the blank and sewed it on my sewing machine. Then I trimmed the excess fabric and turned it right side out.

Now this part is counterintuitive. NOW is when you want to sew the buttons on to work as the closure. I messed up and ended up reaching under the lining to sew my buttons on, fortunately remembering before I'd sewed up all the edges. Best to go ahead and sew them on before you move on. The denim is strong and should hold the buttons fine. Going all the way through the other layers is just asking for trouble. I looked through my button box and couldn't find two big matching buttons. I allowed as how my niece could change them if she found better buttons later so I just went with a mismatch. I also had a shoelace in my sewing box. I cut off one of the aglets and sewed that end under the top button.

After making the outer shell I turned to the padding. I used 3mm Volara closed cell foam I had left from the Spartan project. I got it from  If you notice that web page says Yoga Mats at the top. By the transitive property then, you could pick up a yoga mat at TJ Maxx to make this project if you wanted. Cut the foam of your choice using your blank for a template. It needs to fold around it long ways and cover the flap too. I had a hard time getting it to come out with square corners. Watch out for the rhombus.

Cut some closed cell foam for padding
The idea is to get the foam to roll around the sides to protect the corners, but not so much as to bulk it up too much. The denim will provide some protection there with the seams. I put the foam inside the denim shell 

Next it needs a lining. I had some navy blue silk jersey that a friend brought me from a business trip to China. That will do nicely. Repeat the process for making the denim sleeve to make a sleeve out of your lining fabric that fits snugly around your blank.

Silk lining.
Before you sew the lining in, have you sewn on the buttons for the closure? There are lots of ways to potentially close this thing. I was just using what I had on hand. I was criticized by some for not using velcro, but I just don't think that works with this design. Other ideas would be to transfer some of the belt loops and tie it closed through those. Or attach a strap to the flap and a buckle to the front I had some buckles, but I just thought buttons would be less fussy and faster. You can get out of class in a hurry with a string and two buttons.

Once you have the lining made and slipped inside the foam and the denim you can figure out how to sew it in. I folded in the edge of the denim of the flap, folded the lining around the foam and pinned the lining to the denim and just top stitched through the two fabrics on my sewing machine with navy blue thread. You can barely even see it. I didn't stitch through the foam. If you sew the foam it is about the same as cutting it. It just separates and you end up with a little piece bulking up the seam for no reason.

I top stitched the lining to the front as well. It was hard to get up to the thick jeans seams so I did a little hand sewing to get it all secure. 

I hand sewed the lining to the denim in the bottom corners so it doesn't flip inside out like a starfish stomach. 

And there is it!