October 10, 2010

I am not a cinematographer

But I have just uploaded my first Youtube video. I just bought a new air compressor, mainly because I'm tired of carrying my 26 gallon compressor up and down the stairs or to somebody's house to help them out with something. I like it a lot, but it leaks a little too much for my taste. Some people are telling me that some leakage is to be expected, but it seems to me excessive. I hate to have to pack it up and take it back, but that might be where I am.

August 19, 2010

Here I go again on my own

It's that time of year again when I prepare to piss in academia's collective cornflakes. Yes, the Beloit "Mindset List" is out for the class of 2014. Ostensibly created 'way back when to keep college instructors "aware of dated references," it instead inspires my annual full-body cringe, because in spite of its intention, it appears to me to be a thinly-veiled excuse for the most educated people in society to gloat over the ignorance of their charges. Why? I don't know, but it's probably because they fear death.

But let's get this out of the way first. I know it's a list, and on the internet lists validate everything, but explain to me what can possibly be meant by "11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis." Sorry, but W? T? (to the) F? Can I say that "John F. Kennedy never lived" because I was born in 1964? Could Chaucer say that the Norman Conquest never happened? Can baby boomers everywhere say the Holocaust never happened? (I know genocide is a touchy subject, but check out, if you will, #32).

Isn't there a better way of saying what you mean, whatever that is?

Or are we really just implying that college students are incapable of knowing anything they didn't personally experience? If you really believe that, why are you spending your time trying to educate them?

Listen: public higher education is suffering greatly at least in part because academics in many fields spent more than a generation insisting on, even reveling in the very irrelevance of their gloriously postmodern enterprises. Maybe they were saying it because it was "true," but given that there is (it turns out) no such thing as "truth," I doubt it. It's just unfortunate that they were so successful in teaching a generation of policymakers that part of the lesson. Now everybody knows that you don't need to know about Beowulf, Sir Gawain, Elizabeth Bennet, or Molly Bloom, the Renaissance, the Reformation, or the Industrial Revolution, in order to be a successful legislator or even president. You want to chuckle wisely over the stuff these students don't know? They're the least of our worries. You want to alienate them on the first day of class? Hand this list out and gloat a little because at least you know who Beavis and Butthead are.

Guess what, folks: we think our students are ignorant? Well, our professors thought we were ignorant. Their professors thought they were ignorant. Educators have always bemoaned the crappiness of their students and the moral decay of the system (check out Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle, 1955). Their ignorance is our livelihood. The Gawain poet says that heroes were really heroes back in King Arthur's time. Yes, those were certainly the days.

Oh, but I forgot. Like the Depression, like Watergate, like the K-car, those days probably "never happened."

The list? There's some interesting stuff there, I guess ... but gang, it's about how out of it we are. And if you're getting ready to walk into that classroom and rock their worlds and change their lives, think twice about leading off by using this list as a "Let me tell you how little you know" toy. I don't know whether that approach will fit with their "mindset."

And for the record, I hate the word "mindset."

August 01, 2010

D. I. Whine

Because I like to take on home improvement projects, people sometimes ask me how I know how to do stuff. The short answer is, I usually don't. So I read books, ask my dad, do a Google search, post questions to relevant message boards, and dive in.

Notice what's not in that list? Home improvement TV, namely the cable network known as DIY. Now, I'll admit, I watch a lot of DIY ... but let's face it, it's not about doing it yourself. In fact, the point of the network is largely about NOT doing it yourself. Most of the shows fall into one or more of the following categories:

1. Stuff you can buy (e.g. Cool Tools, one of my favorite shows, because yeah, I like to buy stuff, and because Chris Grundy is funny);

2. Houses that are too cool for you (e.g. Blog Cabin or the new This New House) ... okay, you can have it if you're the one who wins it, but you see what I'm saying;

3. The terrible things that can happen if you try to engage in home improvement (e.g. Renovation Realities) ... okay, I watch this one, because I'm all about the Schadenfreude, baby. On this show, couples take on absurdly difficult projects with impossible deadlines and very limited experience or knowledge, and none of what I'll talk about below in point 4. Their experiences are edited together and sprinkled--dare I say festooned--with snotty little comments about their mistakes that don't shed any instructive light on them but instead gloat about the victim's ignorance and direct viewers to the network's website;

4. Experts that come to your house and lead you through the home improvement project of your choice (e.g. Man Caves, Desperate Landscapes). Ostensibly these shows are about experts like Amy Matthews showing you how to do stuff for yourself, but in fact they're pretty much the opposite. The pros come in with their crews and wind up giving the homeowners some low-stakes project to keep them out of the way, just as my grandpa would hand me a piece of worn-out sandpaper.

This last model of home improvement show is the most insidious, because it reinforces the idea that you can't do anything. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that a generation raised on Barney will apparently sit around idly staring at the wall until the big purple dinosaur (or attractive licensed contractor) shows up to tell them whether or not it's load-bearing. "Tell us how to have fun, tell us how to paint a wall, because we're utterly helpless and devoid of imagination! Tell us what to do, whatever you do."

I guess instructional TV isn't entertaining enough to be lucrative ... if it were, there'd be something else on the History Channel besides how the world is going to end in 2012. Still, I don't think it would kill them to put some honest to garsh how-to on every now and then.

Guess I shouldn't complain. When the zombie apocalypse happens, maybe I'll be able to trade attractive and comfortable handmade furniture to my fellow survivors for ... I don't know, vegetables?

July 25, 2010

Sawdust in my drawers

It took a little longer than I thought it would, but the drawer boxes for the kitchen cabinets are done. They don't have faces yet, because I haven't quite decided how to handle those. I opted to dovetail all of the joints, because dovetails are strong and because I like the way they look.

I didn't cut them by hand; for one thing, I've never done that before, and I'm not going to learn in the middle of a major project, and for another thing, they're kitchen drawers. Instead, I used the Stots Dovetail Template Master to make the jigs used to rout the dovetails. You follow the directions to make a dovetail template using the Stots template; you can tweak it, adjust it, destroy it, etc., and just make a new one when you're done. The template you make works a lot like the General template, I expect. These are through dovetails, as opposed to half-blind dovetails. I have a Harbor Freight dovetail jig that does very nice half-blind dovetails, but since I was working with 1/2" stock and applying drawer faces, I didn't think those would be appropriate.

Sooo ... here are the drawers. It's another piece of the puzzle. Next, the doors, which should be a learning experience. They're poplar, incidentally, milled to 1/2" thick as I've said. It's pretty good wood, but it does sport some of the characteristic green, brown, and purple patches that make poplar a good secondary rather than primary wood for a project.

July 23, 2010

"Hercules, hero of song and story"

Man, I used to eat this cartoon up when I was a wee lad back in days when we got only two and a half channels. It was in black and white back then, or so I thought. It came on on Sunday mornings, during that time after I had been readied for church and before my dad was ready to leave. My dad shares my resistance to situations wherein one might be obligated to be civil to people on weekends, but he had a greater sense of tradition and duty, so we went to church religiously (if you will) ... but we weren't in any hurry about it, and we didn't tend to stay a minute longer than necessary.

Disney version? Don't make me laugh. Literally, the Disney version didn't make me laugh. Much. I'm sure some of you were very fond of it, but it pales in comparison to this cartoon. IMHO badabimbo.

So, yeah, Herc and his annoying little centaur buddy came on before Davey and Goliath, which I didn't like that much anyhow, since I found it both tedious and painful to watch the characters work their way from error to correction. Brady Bunch anxiety, if you know what I mean. I never saw much D & G, since we had a 25 minute or so drive to church (driving past two other churches of the same denomination for reasons that escape me to this day).

Joseph Campbell would probably have something to say about the degree to which I associate the 60s cartoon Hercules with church--two of the hero's thousand faces converging, or something-- or make it three, since Herc and Superman are kind of twinny as drawn. I do not believe that the New Testament would be improved by the inclusion of a shrill, hippogynous centaur, but deep down in the dusty church basement of my unconscious, Jesus and the assertively pagan Hercules are at a pot luck supper, enjoying a nice crock pot of chunky primordial Jungian soup.

Made from centaur stock.

July 22, 2010

I give up

I've been trying and failing for years to make a joke along these lines.

Thanks, xkcd!

Bump, set, spike.

July 08, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation

I took the past week off, and it was nice. I sure do miss the academic calendar, I must say ... now I only read the ebb and flow of the semesters by the number of cars in the parking lot when I show up for work, the number of queries from the registrar about grades that "my" faculty haven't submitted (because you know they do whatever I ask of them), and the number of complaints about said grades I hear from disgruntled (or at least differently gruntled) students.

So here's what I did on my vacation to make progress toward realizing the plan depicted here. All the cabinet boxes are put together, minus backs, and the shelves for the upper cabinets are also done. I laid them out roughly in the position they'll occupy in the kitchen:

I'll probably cut out the backs next, though I won't attach them until after they and the cabinets are sprayed. It will be a lot easier to apply the finish without the backs getting in the way, and without all those corners to cause runs.

After that will come the drawers, which I'll be making out of poplar, with solid maple faces, and the doors, which will be raised panels. In other words, there's a lot left to do! A professional would have done the drawers and doors first, before cluttering up the whole damned shop with cabinets, but I wanted to fit the components to the cabinets, not vice versa.

In other news, I think the Domino's Pizza PR folks ought to be commended for their current ad campaign, the one that started with the frank admission that everybody knows their pizza sucked (and it may suck still, I don't know, though they're saying it's completely new and improved ... we don't have a Domino's around here). The commercial I saw the other day makes a big deal out of the unnatural acts that go into photographing food for print and TV advertisements, promising that Domino's ads will show the pizza in its natural state. Good stuff! I'd absolutely try their pizza again if it weren't 50 miles, probably, to the nearest one. I doubt they deliver here. Though I can't imagine it being better than Pudgies!

During my senior year of college, I had a roommate who worked at Dominos, and he would come home at 2:30 one or two nights a week with pizza that had been "wasted," written off and trashed at closing time. A diligent student--or at least one with a limited social life--I generally turned in by 11, and yet when Mark came in with pizza, I'd drag myself out to the kitchen (we shared a trailer in a shabby trailer park) and devour half a pizza, half-conscious, and then return to my top bunk to sleep until six. It was okay, but the locally owned joints were much cheaper and their pizza more interesting.

Mark was also something of a nudist, and he had successfully completed Ranger school--Army, not park--the summer before. I'll tell you more about him sometime, perhaps.

July 06, 2010

In praise of Gladys Kravitz

Before there was Lenny Kravitz, before there was even The Jeffersons, on which Lenny Kravitz's mom appeared, thus providing me with a halfarsed link between this pointless allusion and the wonderful world of situation comedies, there was the archetypal meddling neighbor Gladys Kravitz. I just watched Bewitched for the first time in many years (not counting the terrible movie of the same name a few years back), and I have a few words to say about Gladys Kravitz.

First of all, who are we talking about when we speak of Gladys? People always want to argue about which Dick they prefer, York or Sargent, but fewer people will debate the relative merits of the two Kravoi, Alice Pearce and Sandra Gould. Pearce's Kravitz was brilliant and unproblematical in my opinion ... she was just a nosey, shrill, hysterical proto-Furley. The archetypal Gladys. Gould, who Kravitzed the episode I just watched, is different. Strangely attractive when she's not overshadowed by Elizabeth Montgomery, and not blessed with the hilarious facial expressions and brilliant slapstick timing of her predecessor, she brings another layer to the character.

With the first Gladys, we feel somewhat bad for husband Abner, even though he's a loser, just because his wife is so annoying. With the second, though, Abner's sterotypical long-suffering husband schtick crosses right over into verbal abuse, and the smirking Stevens' mock-innocent shrugging as Gladys "Cassandra" Kravitz tries to blow the whistle on their satanic hijinks smacks of cruelty.

Because, of course, she's right. Samantha is a witch, and her family is a whole pack of witches, (a coven if you will). Admittedly, as a former wacky neighbor myself, I have more than average sympathy for my fellow WNs ... but I think Gladys's reputation is undeserved. What if your next door neighbor were a witch? Wouldn't you try to tell people about it? I say Gladys is a hero!


Back when I was teaching, I was once talking about witches in connection with "Young Goodman Brown" and a student announced that his sister-in-law was a witch. "There's no such thing as witches," I replied. "I mean, can she fly?" If you're a wiccan, earth goddess worshipper, etc., more power to you, but if you can't fly, you ain't a witch in my book.

Of course, this was at the same university where I once drew the five pointed star, the "sign of Solomon" from Sir Gawain's shield, on the blackboard, and a student in the front row flinched--actually flinched. I said, "Did you think I was going to summon forth a demon from the blackboard? Really? Do you think that if I could summon demons out of the blackboard, there wouldn't be demons running all over this place by now?"

No sense of humor, some of these people. Maybe they should watch some sitcoms.

June 16, 2010

The turn of the screw

I'm writing today about one of the best things ever to come out of Canada--and that's saying something--and I'll do my best not to be puerile. But I'm talking about a great screw. If they're so great, why aren't they used universally, you may ask ... the story seems to be one of greed, poor marketing, and politics. As interesting as that sounds, it's not my story to tell, but if you're industrious, you'll probably be able to find it on the internet.

Incidentally, am I the only person who thinks "puerile" ought to be pronounced "poo AIR isle" and not "Pure Ill"?

So ... I was talking about screws and screwing. Every now and then I find myself taking something apart, and because I'm amazingly cheap when it comes to little things, I remove and save the screws and bolts I might be able to reuse ... because I hate having to run downtown for the odd screw (come on!), and in fact I keep my nuts in a coffee can.

Now can we just get on with it?

I'm to the point where I will generally throw away slotted screws when I find them, because they're just a pain to deal with. It's good to have some around if you want to match hardware on an older piece of furniture, but generally, they're of little use to me.

I feel the same way about Phillips head screws. They're better, and they're the home center standard, I guess, but the screws you find in the home centers are, in my experience, pretty crappy, especially if you're driving them with a power driver ... even if you drill appropriate pilot holes and use the clutch on your driver. And when you strip out the head of one of these, you're well, screwed.

Note that I'm talking about wood screws here, not deck screws or drywall screws ... I do not encourage the use of drywall screws except for hanging drywall due to their brittle nature. In particular, I don't love seeing heavy upper cabinets hung with them. Probably it's fine to do so. Probably.

But for the projects I'm working on, and for all my wood screw needs for the foreseeable future, I'm going with Robertson or square drive screws. Like this guy and this guy, Robertson screws are a Canadian product, and once you've used square drive wood screws, other screws will just annoy you. Why? First and last, they do not tend to strip out. They'll also stay on the end of your square-head screwdriver, so you can probably get a screw started with one hand ... very convenient.

I'll wait.

Not sure what else you need to know, except where to get them, since most stores don't carry them, except the pan head variety used for pocket hole joinery. Where to get them is McFeely's ... check out their catalog, which will tell you more about screws than you thought it was possible to know. It's like the Kama Sutra of screws. And they sell square drive deck and drywall screws, too.

It's ... well, it's this.

This is not a paid endorsement! I just want you to be happy.

June 14, 2010

The vision

I'm pleased to report that the long-awaited kitchen remodel is underway. I used a program called Cabinet Planner to ... well ... plan the cabinets. You should be looking at a rendering of the plan, though you may not be able to see too much detail. It's not a radical departure from the current kitchen in terms of layout, though currently the refrigerator is sitting where the tall pantry cabinet is shown at the right of the attached image. In the new kitchen, it will be sitting roughly across from the dishwasher, across from the wall you're looking through in the picture.

A few other essential differences: the current cabinets are painted (I assume) pine or plywood. The countertop is postform formica, and it's not even really screwed down to the cabinets. Nor is it scribed to the back wall, so there are gaps behind it that a mouse could climb through to hilarious effect.

The current kitchen is dark. The new kitchen will be light, as the cabinets will be natural maple, which is light, with black appliances (the current ones) and a counter surface to be identified later. I hope to pick out the handles and pulls this week. We're also replacing the floor with a light laminate (we thought hard about hardwood or something more permanent and costly, but we know we're not going to live out our days in this house).

A few other features: the bottom cabinets will have either drawers or pull-out shelves, and the corner cabinets will have lazy susans. The sink will be black enamel, undermounted, I hope, and therefore lipless. The toe kicks will be cherry, as will the currently hideous soffits above the cabinet, and possibly the edge of the countertop. We'll be papering the walls, since they're already papered over paneling ... it's the easiest option, and it ought to come out okay.

So, how's it coming, you ask? So far I've done one cabinet. One. But it came out okay, and the rest will be done assembly-line fashion. They'll be finished with water-based polyurethane sprayed over shellac (Zinsser Sealcoat, which dewaxed shellac).

Should have it done in a week or so. Ha HAAAAA!

June 07, 2010

People need to stop messing with my stuff

Reading over some of my old posts from the last couple of years, I can't say that I'm overjoyed at the way the entities who actually own the material in Youtube videos have forced said 'tube to remove said material in the interest of protecting their copyrights. Because I gotta tellya, it interferes pretty seriously with some of the humorous juxtapositions with which I like to punctuate my pontificatin'. The nerve of these people! The hubris!

Even more irritating is when I dutifully posted the ostensibly legal links to material from MTV or Comedy Central, only to find that they are now dead. I try to play fair, people, but fair is a moving target, and as I've asked about other moving targets in the past, how come the moving target never seems to move any closer?

Of course, as a wannabe content provider myself, I take a much dimmer view of copyright infringement than I may have in the past. This not to say I wouldn't still be overjoyed if somebody thought any of the songs I helped to write were good enough to steal, which as far as I know hasn't happened yet ... and let's face it, that window of opportunity has probably sailed.

But the textbook is a different story, especially since we actually are getting some modest royalties on it. If I could put the kibosh on the black- and gray-market commerce in the book, I surely would ... including those people who buy exam copies from professors, though I must admit I've been on the offending end of that transaction once or twice or several dozen times.

Last year we received an inquiry from somebody in China asking for permission to translate the book. I had yuan signs in my eyes ... think about how many college students there must be in China--what a market! Turns out he wasn't willing to pay for permission to translate it. Well, crap.

Though I gotta tellya, the idea of all those Chinese students learning about writing about literature from our book (and thus becoming at least associate (if not full) minions)) does have its appeal.

June 02, 2010

I'm baaaaaaaack!

Back in the saddle again? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves ... I've missed doing this, probably more than anybody missed reading it. Look: if you know me at all, and you do, or you wouldn't be reading this, surely, unless you're one of the two or three people a day who get here by googling Karen Allen or something (why?), you know that I'm in general not a reliable correspondent ... but I'm going to try to write at least weekly. Hell, it got me through my dissertation, am I right? (Hi Murray).

I know that the themeless rant blog is passe (sorry about the missing accent), but I still don't really have a concept in mind aside from, as I've said before, the random conversation I'd have with students before class started, back when I was in the classroom ... or, let's face it, the monologue with which I'd waste the first few minutes of class. Not wasting ... building rapport. Establishing a positive learning environment. If you will.

Anyhow, I'm shooting for once a week at least, and I'm not going to talk about work. That's about it.

Oh, and I've been watching Justified, and it's not too bad.

January 04, 2010

You Are Not a Pleasure Unit; or, My Banal Anxieties

First, an observation: The Flint movies (the first title above is a quotation from Our Man Flint) play differently after Austin Powers. The tongue in the earlier films is somewhat salaciously in cheek, but the films are silly without being spoofs. Their existence renders at least a couple of the Austin Powers films superfluous. IMHO badabimbo. What's that? Oh, great.

And now for something completely different ...

I had an anxiety dream today, and it was disappointingly banal. I was in college again, taking a biology class(!), and I had an oral report due ... on bluegills(!!). I walked into class assuming I was prepared--after all, I had notes, and I've taught for many years, so I can prattle on endlessly with minimal preparation--only to learn that I had forgotten my notes and had no recollection of anything I learned while preparing them.

Gee. How novel. I might as well have showed up without pants.

The interesting thing is that it was me now, not me as a student ... so I didn't argue with the professor. I just asked him how many points the presentation was worth (152!?) and told him I was probably going to drop the class. His response was a wholly appropriate shrug.

When I woke up I was feeling quite anxious and relieved that it was only a dream. My only consolation is that I've probably inspired nightmares like that once or twice. At least I hope so. I want to be your superego!