Category Archives: Miscellaneous

My (pencil) cup runneth over

I like to write. I mean this in the physical sense: I enjoy pushing and pulling a pen across paper and leaving words in my wake. It must be something about writing itself, because moving a pen around on paper could describe drawing, and yet I’ve never really felt like making pictures with a pen. Just words.

Now to write, you need something to write on and something to write with. My paper supplies are almost reasonable, if you don’t look too closely at my stationery reserves or count how many blank books I’ve got stockpiled. I assure you, I’m working to deplete both. But then, there are the pens.

[pauses, sighs]

pens

Rest assured, about 60% of these pens were passed along to others after the picture was taken.

It’s the color. Well, it was the color, back in college when I started writing my papers in every color of pen I could buy: a different color for each idea. (Because before personal computers, writing a paper meant first writing it out by hand and then typing up the final version.) But that doesn’t matter much anymore. Over the years I’ve moved from many colors to blue and from blue to black. I’m delighted to report that I’m still capable of writing and creativity. Really, if this is a sign of maturity, it hasn’t been documented all that well.

Now it’s the feel of the pen that matters. A great pen has a near-perfect combination of width, weight, and texture. It writes without either skipping or blurping. It doesn’t magically come up with words, of course, but I figure, if I’m frequently picking it up it because it’s so pleasant to hold, there’s always a chance the Muse will consider this an invitation and drop by for a visit. The major drawback is acquiring enough pens to open my own office supply store—like my yarn stash, I suspect my pen stash will grow throughout my life. At least it doesn’t take up half a closet!

Free the teeth!

My braces came off today. 😀 ← See?

The next stage is the retainer. Two retainers, really: a short bit of wire permanently glued to the back of some teeth, and a clear plastic shell that fits over all the lower teeth, and which I have to wear near-constantly for the next six months. This essentially means no tea until October, which has utterly thrown me. I also can’t talk without a lisp right now, which should probably bother me more than the tea issue, but doesn’t. After all, the instructions they gave me say my speech would get better with practice…although they don’t say when that will be, and come to think of it, they said “better,” not “normal.” Anyway, analyzing what I can and can’t say clearly is bringing back my old linguistics vocabulary: alveolar and alveopalatal fricatives—the s, z, sh, and zh sounds—are something of a struggle at the moment. The retainer fits so tightly that I can barely get it out, so they gave me a special tool to help pry it free. I can’t help but think of it as a baby crochet hook.

A hook for removing an orthodontics retainer.

And the orthodontist gave me a going away present:

Candies, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss.

That’s the middle-school student version. The adult version involved champagne, and I appreciate the symbolism, but candy is more fun.

Library Technology Conference 2014

The program notes aren’t up yet, and my own notes/tweets/memories were erratic. If you were looking for a detailed reconstruction of the conference, I will be forced to crush your hopes utterly.

If this is March, there’s a Library Technology Conference, which was held on March 19 and 20 this year. I had a fine time overall, although I was disappointed that a session I’d really wanted to attend was canceled. The mysteries of library system developments will remain mysteries for now, it seems.

Each day began with a keynote speaker. Both speakers covered several topics, but I seem to have fixated on one or two for either of them, with the rest of what they spoke about evaporating from memory. What I remember from the first day’s speaker, Mita Williams, were the photos she showed us of a library in Denmark (I think it was Denmark) that has no staff and an academic library that was mainly just tables so that the students could use WiFi. She also talked about the idea of libraries as potential makerspaces. That sounded intriguing, and certainly more lively than empty computerized rooms, and I’m curious to see how that idea plays out in actual libraries.

The second keynote speaker, Barbara Fister, spoke in part about how libraries need to be less modest about their contributions to society. Not that this is a universal problem; she’d found one mission statement that just cries out to be on T-shirts and tote bags: “The purpose of the library is to preserve the integrity of civilization.” 😀 But she’d looked at several library mission statements and many of them were full of passive verbs like provide and support. I’m listening to this, thinking, aren’t those traditionally “feminine” roles? And isn’t librarianship one of the traditionally “female-dominated” professions? Hmm. I want to hear this speech again; I know there was a lot more interesting stuff than the snippet I’ve just mentioned, but I’ve forgotten so many of the details already.

At times, it felt like there were two parallel conferences going on. Call them the Patron Data Privacy Conference and the Patron Data Analytics Conference, if you will. I spent a fair chunk of the conference on Twitter, since attendees were live-tweeting sessions. At one point, several people were tweeting about preserving patron privacy. They tweeted about making private browsing the default for public library computers, securing the WiFi, avoiding adding social media sharing buttons to library websites, and resisting the gather-data-on-students trend. While I was reading all this, I was attending a session on collecting data on user behaviors so that librarians could adapt their websites to make them easier for patrons to navigate. The two “sides” both have good points. Even if a library is committed to preserving patron privacy, the library’s software may be allowing third parties access to patron data. At the same time, I admired what this presenter was showing us: a library website that can tell that a search has failed and that offers suggestions to the patron about what to do next. It can do this because it “watches” what the patron was doing and “recognizes” that the patron was searching for a journal article as if it were a book. So, reduce the amount of information gathered in the interests of preserving patron privacy? Or continue to gather as much patron data as possible to improve services and prove to higher-ups that patrons value and use the library?

And then there were the little things. Everyone got a nice reusable bag and a water bottle that folds flat when empty. Macalester is attempting to get to zero trash by 2020, and they’re well on their way. They banned sales of bottled water a few years ago (thus the water bottles in the goody bags), and all the plates, cups, plasticware, napkins, and so on was compostable. Impressive. There was an opportunity to play a bit with Google Glass, but I decided I was running out of energy to stand in line, so this will have to wait for a future opportunity. Also, I am getting way too old to spend a day in auditorium seating. Or perhaps I’ve been spoiled by ergonomic desk chairs at home and at work. You’d think all the time I spend in cafés would keep me in condition for rigid one-size-fits-all seating, but no. Ow. 😦 But slightly stiff muscles aside, it was an excellent conference, and I look forward to seeing what will be offered next year.

Considerations

Family of pine trees on Christmas morning, opening presents around a human skeleton hung with ornaments.This picture highlights why more families have been turning to artificial skeletons for their holiday celebrations. While artificial skeletons are perfectly symmetrical, natural skeletons are often missing teeth and sometimes a finger or two. It can be difficult to arrange the limbs of a natural skeleton, but artificial skeletons have adjustable locking joints, making it easy for anyone to pose them. This also allows them to hold more ornaments than the traditional vertical-only skeleton. Juvenile natural skeletons can be expensive, often beyond the budgets of students, recent graduates, and those on fixed incomes. By contrast, artificial skeletons come in a range of heights, so that those living in small spaces can get a well-proportioned smaller model rather than having to break the legs off of a standard adult skeleton. Also, artificial skeletons are a one-time purchase, not an annual expense. And those who put up natural skeletons must remember to keep them moist throughout the season. Else the small bones become brittle and break easily, and the skeleton is likely to drop teeth that you will still be vacuuming up two weeks after the holidays.

That said, of course, there’s nothing like having a traditional natural skeleton filling your home with the seasonal fragrance of rotting meat. Nor can anyone deny that real bone has a color and patina to it that even the most expensive artificial skeletons only barely approximate. In the end, of course, the spirit of the season is what matters, regardless of the quantity or the origin of the household decorations.

Well-meaning

Yesterday, as I was catching up on Twitter, I saw a tweet in Spanish scroll by. I can read Spanish fairly well, but every now and then a bit of vocabulary escapes me. I thought I understood what exigir meant, but to make sure, I dropped the entire tweet into Google Translate.

Google Translate screen capture.

Google—the search engine itself—has offered suggestions for alternate spellings for years. Often that’s helpful, especially if you had a typo; other times, you have to steer it back to the uncommon term you really are looking up. This is the first time I’ve seen it try to help out with translation. I suppose congratulations are in order: they’ve improved their translation capabilities to the point they feel they can offer suggestions. Yay! I’m just amused by this one because the original tweet is a quote from author Jorge Luis Borges. Who, I am certain, would have known whether he meant me interesó (interested me) or me interesa (interests me).

Chair quest

Until recently, I was in the market for a new desk chair. This turned out to be unexpectedly difficult.

Three chairs ago, my then-chair was nearing the end of its lifespan. This is never pleasant, but the timing was unusually bad, since I was frantically trying to write two exam papers I needed for my degree. My concentration was not improved by my chair spontaneously returning to its factory settings. Spoing! and the back would snap perfectly vertical. Shhhhhoooo and the chair would abruptly sink to its lowest position. I vowed that if I survived the exam, a new chair was on my shopping list.

Understandably, when I went to look for the next chair, I thought I’d treat myself. My first chair had been bought in those post-college not-a-lot-of-income days, and I’d mostly chosen it for the lovely burgundy color of its upholstery. It was what the industry calls a task chair: small, somewhat adjustable, and not meant for heavy use. Years later, knowing that I spend hours in front of the computer, I wanted something a lot more ergonomic, and I was willing to put money into it if that would save me pain later. So I hit up every office supply store in the area, bounced in and out of model chairs, read the pamphlets and inserts, pushed all the levers, pulled all the knobs. I ignored the task chairs and concentrated on the managerial chairs, the ones in which there were sliders for lumbar support, seat tilt levers, and so on. Which is how I ended up with the chair I was using up until last month.

Let me just say that there’s nothing obviously wrong with my “old” chair. It’s in good condition. I treat furniture gently and it’s never had to survive a move, so it has led a cushy life, fearing nothing more than a little dust at the very back of the seat cushion. It’s nicely padded and can be adjusted in myriad ways. And it’s too big.

As it turns out, there aren’t a lot of petite chairs out there in the office furniture market for the home office. Managerial chairs are designed to be large and impressive. I could adjust this chair in all sorts of ways, but no lever or knob was going to narrow its seat by two inches or more. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but what it meant was that even at their closest setting, the chair arms were too far apart. I could rest my right arm or my left arm, but not both without holding my arms out at an odd angle, which is hardly the definition of “rest.”

It’s not that office chairs can’t be built both ergonomically and to a small size. At work, many of us got new chairs this year, and after HR finished measuring us and our desks, those of us shorter than 5’2″ were given the petite version of the standard chair: just as adjustable, but with smaller parts. While nobody needed a “big and tall” chair, these were also available. But these are the chairs you buy when you have a business’s budget to work with; they were hundreds of dollars more than I was able to spend, and I have no idea if the vendor was even willing to sell to individuals. At the affordable home office end of things, these options don’t exist.

The chairs: previous (left) and current (right). It's all in the seat width.

The chairs: previous (left) and current (right). It’s all in the seat width.

The chair I finally found is a definite improvement over its predecessor. I will happily give up the padded arms and the faux leather upholstery of the old chair for this one’s narrower seat: I can reach the arms! When I bought the chair, the (tall and thin) salesman and I started talking, and I mentioned how difficult it was to find a small chair. He said he had the opposite problem: almost none of the chairs were big enough for him (I’m guessing he meant that most of the chairs were too low even at their highest positions). Yes, just how many men would be comfortable in those little task chairs, anyway? I find myself wondering if there are industry-wide standards for furniture sizes. And if so, are the chairs in today’s office supply stores being built to sizing standards developed decades ago when managers were usually men and the task chairs were used almost exclusively by women?

Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival 2013

Yes, I made it here two years in a row. I am impressed by how on top of this I was. I finally have it programmed into my calendar: the third Sunday of August (okay, getting it into Google Calendar was a challenge in its own right, but that’s another matter), And to add to the stupendousness, this year I brought the real camera, so the photos are halfway decent (the other half has to do with my lack of photographic wonder skills. Photoshop Elements can only correct so much).

We were lucky enough to have another beautiful, if windy, day this year. The taiko drummers and the children doing traditional dances were fine, but the koto players needed volunteers from the audience to hold the music open.

Taiko drummers.

Kogen Taiko. It’s a lot like the photo I took last year—but this year it’s in focus!

Children doing traditional Japanese dances.

Dancers from Sansei Yonsei Kai. Maybe the color of the kimono depends on the age of the dancer? The one in white was definitely younger than the others.

Koto players.

Sakura Kai (and brave, music-holding volunteers).

I ended up seated under the same tree as last year. If you’re willing to sit on mulch, it’s a great location for viewing the stage. The tree looked much healthier this year, and almost none of its leaves had been devoured. (yay!).

This was a popular kimono design. I have no idea if it signifies something, or if it was being sold on the grounds and was a popular souvenir, but several people, especially children, were wearing it. Note that the woman next to him is holding one too.

kimono_jllf2013

I don’t have much interest in the martial arts generally, but I caught the kyudo (Japanese archery) demonstration. Unfortunately, still photos don’t do it much justice. If I’m remembering archery from high school PE correctly, we held the bow and pulled the bowstring towards our heads. I don’t know exactly what these archers were doing, but it looked as if they held the bowstring steady (it’s caught by a little “hook” on their gloves) and pushed the bow forward.

Archer.

Archer from Minnesota Kyudo Renmei.

The remodeling of the Japanese garden that had been underway during the festival last year was completed this spring. Indeed, much of the reason I went this year was to check out the garden. Which, yes, I could have done for most of this summer, but did I? I need that extra bit of motivation. And now that I’ve seen it, I need to make myself go back and go through it when there aren’t hundreds of other people sharing it with me. Any empty space you see in these photos are a testament to lucky photo timing on my part (quick, while no one’s standing there!) and to the garden’s designers, who made it so easy to hide so many people in such a small space. A koto player and a shakuhachi player were alternating performances on the half hour. I enjoyed their playing, but with nowhere to sit down, I was only able to hear parts of their performances.

Stone slab bridge.

That bridge seemed to be slanted ever-so-slightly towards the water—eep!

jgrdnstatuething_jllf2013 jgrdnwaterfall_jllf2013

Koto player in the Japanese garden.

Fern Davidson, playing the koto in the Japanese Garden.

I couldn’t stay for the lantern lighting ceremony, though. With the taiko performance always scheduled at the beginning of the festival, and the lantern lighting ceremony always the finale, apparently I’m doomed to miss something I like. But the reward for coming early is being able to get steamed pork buns (yum!) before the vendor sells out, so it’s not an utter tragedy.

Random Milwaukee

Last weekend, I headed off to Wisconsin for our annual family reunion. This is usually something of an endurance test, as I visit cousins in Milwaukee (eastern Wisconsin) before we drive to the reunion in western Wisconsin, meaning I take four six-hour trips over five days. Let’s just say I get a lot of knitting and reading done.

This year, it was different. Hours after I got to Milwaukee, we learned that a family member was having a medical emergency. It had a happy ending, but the reunion was canceled, leaving me in Milwaukee for the duration. I don’t wish emergency surgery on anyone and I’m sorry I missed seeing a whole passel of relatives, but I did not miss that twelve hours to and from western Wisconsin. Anyway, my Milwaukee cousins rose to the occasion, and kept me happily hosted for the weekend.

Thursday: I arrived in Milwaukee in the early afternoon, and after lunch, we went out for frozen custard and ran a few errands. Basically, I took a photo of these eggs because some of them are blue. I haven’t seen (naturally) blue chicken eggs since I was in Great Britain in the 1980’s, and I didn’t know we had the breeds that lay them. These eggs came from a farm that lies in the Cudahy city limits, I think, so you can just stop by on your way to somewhere else in the metro area and pick up fresh eggs (laid that morning!) or put an order in for one of their turkeys for Thanksgiving, or whatever. Yeah, I’m impressed as all get out that it’s so close at hand. It was just up the street from another farm where we bought freshly picked corn from the corn fields that were right there behind the tables they were selling the corn on.

eggs in egg carton

Blue eggs! (And brown eggs, which are good too.)

Friday: the Wisconsin State Fair. We spent the day in animal barns and buying Wisconsin products. Horror of horrors: the cream for the cream puffs came from Illinois dairies because Wisconsin farms couldn’t produce enough to meet the demands of the fair (Minnesotans: the cream puff is as cherished at the Wisconsin State Fair as the Pronto Pup and cheese curds are here, hence the weeping and wailing about the cream. That the cream came from Illinois was just another little twist of the knife.).

Saturday: We set out in search of a farmers’ market, but hit detours (some sort of race). We ended up at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I thought the building itself was impressive as all get out, once I stopped being distracted by the sculpture of a large orange asterisk out front. I’m sure it’s not really an asterisk; I’m sure it has some sort of context that Milwaukeeans know well. But just seeing it there, I thought there should be a large orange word for it to sit at the end of.

The orange asterisk.

The orange asterisk has a real name: The Calling by Mark di Suvero.

We went in the museum and looked around a bit, although we didn’t go to any of the exhibits. The building itself was exciting enough for a first visit. The “wings” open and close depending on the weather, but we weren’t there during any of the scheduled movements, and the threatening rain might have thrown the schedule off anyway. It looked as if it should just set sail off into the lake.

Milwaukee Art Museum.

Milwaukee Art Museum.

But oh, the hallways!

Corridor at Milwaukee Art Museum

If I’m supposed to feel as if I’m on the starship Enterprise, it worked.

(And the ceiling!)

Ceiling at Milwaukee Art Museum.

(wow)

We passed the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center as we left, and I admired the mosaic on its front.

Milwaukee County War Memorial

Milwaukee County War Memorial

We had originally planned to go to the Morning Glory Fine Art Fair after the farmers’ market, and we had better luck finding it. I did not buy either of the gorgeous $525 quilts I fell in love with. Nor did I try to haul ceramics home in my suitcase (as my suitcase ended up under a pile of luggage on the ride home, this was a wise decision). I also resisted a statue of Daphne, portrayed after her transformation into a laurel tree, her hair made of the bay leaves I know from cooking. I enjoyed wandering through the fair, but it reaffirmed my reluctance to ever try to rely on my crafts for income. Someone must be buying these items, enough for the MGFAF to be in its 39th year, enough for it to be worth their time for vendors to come from as far away as the Twin Cities and Illinois. But how many people really decide on impulse, just after seeing an item on display at a crafts fair, to put down hundreds or even thousands of dollars for it? Although I suppose you only need to sell one such item to clear a profit for the day.

honeysuckle blossoms

Honeysuckles, seen en route to the Morning Glory Fine Art Fair. Included because I think they’re pretty.

Sunday: Cousin C. and I tackled the Milwaukee Public Museum. Like the Milwaukee Art Museum, this merits future visits. We really only able to give one display the attention it deserved (“Streets of Old Milwaukee”), made a good faith effort at the third floor (world cultures, and we think we accidentally overlooked the Middle East—oops), practically ran through the second floor (North America, focusing on Wisconsin), and never got to see the dinosaur exhibit or the butterfly room (closed for renovation). I’ve just missed the special exhibit opening in September: “The Scoop on Poop.” Darn.

And back on the bus first thing Monday morning for the uneventful six-hour trip home. The end.

CONvergence 2013

I’m back from CONvergence, the largest of our local science fiction/fantasy conventions. I haven’t heard official attendance records for this year, but on Friday, the con was saying they’d handed out 5,085 badges, and no doubt there were at-the-door registrations through the weekend. Rumors fly. One person heard from a con volunteer that attendance had topped 6,000; someone else heard it had passed 7,000. After a certain point, it was simply an endless mass of humanity.

The theme for this year’s con was “British Invasion,” but I think “Year of the Line” would’ve worked as well. The masterpiece was the line for people to pick up their badges. With a new system in place this year, and the con starting on the 4th of July for the first time since it went to 4 days, there was, ah, more of a line than in previous years. Registration was located in one of the hotel’s restaurants. At its peak, this line wound through the restaurant, stretched down the hall for half the length of the hotel, turned a corner, was condensed into a small back-and-forth area in the hotel’s plaza area, doubled back and went back down the length of the plaza area, jumped to the second floor, went back down half the length of the hotel to an area roughly over the restaurant, and zigzagged back and forth again to fill the available space. I hear it took people 3½ to 4½ hours to work their way through the entire thing.* There was an Expedited line for people with disabilities, volunteers, guests of honor, and so on; even that could take half an hour to pass through. While that was the most memorable line, there were others: lines for the elevators, lines for food in ConSuite, lines for drinks in CoF2E2, lines for popular events, lines, lines, lines!

Random shot from the con, including people standing in a line.

Random shot from the con, including people standing in a line.

Again this year, I don’t have a lot of photos. I’m best at taking pictures of things that patiently wait for me to get everything set up for the photo, like my knitting projects. People are more of a challenge. For instance, several times over the weekend, I saw people wearing fantastic Weeping Angel costumes. When I first saw them, I was talking to my friend on one floor and they were down in the plaza area. To catch up with them, I would have had to abandon my friend (rude) and dash down to the first floor, and it was too crowded to dash anywhere. Several hours later, I saw two of the Angels posing for photos only a few feet away from me. But I’d been in the elevator line for a while at that point and had just made it to the front of the line. I couldn’t bring myself to drop out and start all over again. The next day, I saw one at ConSuite, but at that point, she was in line for food. Repeat this for almost everything of photographic interest. Gah.

The delay in getting my badge meant that I didn’t get to any panels I was interested in on Thursday. I made a fresh start on Friday, knitting my way through “Young Adult Books That Are Too Good to Miss” and “Heroines in Young Adult Literature” and coming away with lists of more books to track down (which I desperately need, of course, because I never have anything to read). I don’t have a particular interest in YA literature, but year after year there are great YA panels at this con and I enjoy them even when I haven’t read anything the panelists are discussing. As one of the small percentage who can be up and functional by 9:30 AM, I made it to Saturday’s “Fiber Arts in Fandom” panel to see my fellow knitters/crocheters/embroiderers/crafters-of-crafts-I-cannot-identify.** It’s been years since I’ve seen Emma Bull (author) at a con, and I didn’t expect to see her at this one, but now I have a nice membership card for “The Madame Defarge Literary Criticism and Fiber Arts Society.”*** She was in the next panel as well, “E-Readers: Better Than Paper or Not?” (verdict: for some things, yes, for others, no—pretty much what I’d figured out on my own). Punctuate all this with time-out periods in the hotel room (peace and quiet!), runs on ConSuite, meals, visits to the Dealers Room and Art Auction, and occasionally, sleep.

Other random notes:

  • The con continues to take safety seriously. We saw several “safe spaces” where people could go if they were being harassed, where there were other people around who could summon help. Yay!
  • The elevators didn’t break down this year. Wow.
  • No one fandom ruled costuming. I thought there was a slight predominance of Star Trek uniforms, probably because of the recent release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, but it wasn’t as overwhelming as, say, Jedi outfits the year Phantom Menace came out.
  • I have finally seen Vilification Tennis. I am amazed that I stayed awake for it, but that may have something to do with the fact that I was standing in ConSuite for the whole thing. Or because I fell asleep while watching the Masquerade earlier that evening, and was refreshed by the time VT started. Or because managing to doze off during VT would be quite an accomplishment in its own right, and probably dangerous as well.

—–

*We stood in line for about 5 minutes before my friend suggested we go have an early dinner and try again afterwards. At that point, although the end of the line was still on the second floor, the line was noticeably shorter and it only took us 1½ hours to get our badges.

**Overheard behind me: “I have found my people!”

***After I got the card, I learned this really is a group on Ravelry. So now I have a membership to go with the card.