Critical Mess

This is not to be confused with “critical mass,” which is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction.

“Critical mess” is the smallest amount of clutter/disorganization/unwieldiness/disrepair in your environment needed for you to say “That’s it.  I can’t stand it any more,” push up your sleeves and sort it out.  Some of us (like my mother) have a very low threshold.  I, on the other hand, . . .

This is not to say I’m messy or disorganized, (well, not that messy and disorganized).  It’s a question of priorities.  I have a finite amount of time, and I prioritize it accordingly.  Straightening up is lower down on the list.

My “office” has just about reached critical mess.  At the tail end of a massive house cleaning bender at the beginning of last year, I rearranged my office.  But after I got my desk set up so I could work, I ran out of steam before I got the rest of my office sorted out.  It’s been this way for over a year now, and I’m getting to the flash point where a major cleanup reaction is about to happen.  This is good.  It means the cloud is lifting and I’m beginning to care about crafting again.  I’ve gotten back into knitting this year, which is good, and I feel myself wanting to get back into jewelry making and sewing again, which is also good.  In order to be able to do this, I’m going to have to sort out my office.  The pay period ends Tuesday night, and I’m thinking Wednesday. . . .

Once I’m through, I will have one table set up to sew at, another set up for crafting/jewelry making, and my roll-top desk set up for crochet, needlepoint, etc.   I’ll need to sort out and reorganize my craft supplies.  And there’s two closets and a bathroom to “dejunk,” organize and clean up as well.

Once that’s done, there’s my brother’s camera to figure out how to work, and then I’ll photograph some of my jewelry pieces and post them on this site and my Tumblr blog with an eye to possibly opening an Etsy site.   And I need to crochet a set of snowflake Christmas ornaments for my favorite author. . . .which I will post about on both this site and Ravelry. . . . Yep.  Gotta happen.

Drifting Along With The Tumbling Tumblr Blog

Like I have so much free time, I’ve opened a blog on Tumblr.  It will be mostly photographs and videos and such like.  It’s called “Notes From The Owl Underground” and I’ve added a link to it on my sidebar.  Tumble on over and check it out.

Here’s a little music to get you in the mood.  Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

Yowza! Call me old fashioned, but I like good voices, tight harmony, a good melody and being able to understand the lyrics.  That’s what flips my switch about TSOTP –  especially one of them in particular.  Back when I was in grade school, one of our local television stations would run one of the old black and white Republic westerns starting at 6 o’clock on Saturday morning.   Sleep in?  Not a chance.  It might be one starring the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers.  Tall, dark, handsome, rode a horse, and he could sing, too.  Major squee.  Major.

He, Robot

I’m told this is called “Dub Step.”  Not sure if it refers to the dance or the music — but that’s neither here nor there.  What fascinates me is the superb muscular control this man has over his body.  If you’re not into what currently passes for popular music these days, you have the option to mute the sound.  He does arms like Rachel Brice, which in my book is a compliment.

See what you think.

A Little Free-hand Lunch

I like to think of anything not made from a recipe as “free-hand” — like drawing something free-hand, versus tracing something.  I’m currently contemplating a little free-hand lunch. I’ve got blue corn chips, and I’ve got some of that Sargento Mexican 4 cheeses shredded cheese. . . Hmmm.  I really need to make a pot of tuna salad before my white onions sprout, and I really need to make some Wolf Brand Chili and elbow macaroni.  The chili and elbows would be easier and quicker to make. . . and I could put some chopped onions in it and put the shredded cheese on it . . .  As far as that goes, I could put some chili on the blue corn chips, and then put the cheese on and have chili nachos. . .Hmmm.

When I was looking up the Wolf Brand Chili link, they had a chili pizza.  I’ve got some of that store-bought tandoori nan in the freezer. . . Hmmm.

(20 minutes later) I opened a can of chili and made some nachos.  It doesn’t take a whole can, only 4-5 spoons full, so I might try some on some nan at a later date, like maybe tomorrow.  Three 45 second zots in the microwave, turning a quarter turn after each zot, and there we have it. I’d better get an extra paper napkin/serviette. I’m going to need a bib. . . . Oh, and a container of raspberry yogurt for desert, and a big glass of applejuice, and a pot of Earl Grey Hot. . . .Engage!

Kind of A Lazy Day

A day to catch up on sleep.  The cover with zippered pocket I ordered for my Kindle Fire came today.  The grey one is curled up on my chest at the moment with her head on my forearm.  Eventually the jiggling of my typing will send her off in a huff.

My first meal of the day didn’t happen until after 4 p.m.  — I didn’t wake up until almost 4 p.m.  It was a pair of toasted English muffins, one muffin, I buttered the halves and then spread on peanut butter.  The other muffin I put slices of cheddar cheese on and melted the cheese in the broiler.  I’ve been on a peanut butter kick here lately.  I bought a 17 oz jar last week when I shopped groceries, and I’ve already eaten half the jar.  It is a “no added” peanut butter, with no salt and no sugar added.  I made a pot of tea and had a container of cherry yogurt for “sweet.”

(vegans and vegetarians may wish to skip this paragraph.) The other atypical thing I bought when I shopped groceries was a small packet of liverwurst.  Every so often (like once or twice a year), I get a craving for it.  I peel the fatty rind off and throw it out in the yard for the feral cats.  I like to eat it on “artisan” bread with chopped olives spooned on top.  (My triglycerides are probably about halfway to Saturn now. ) I’ve always like liver — in our family divy of fried chicken, my brother got the drumsticks, I go the wings and the liver, my dad got the breasts and my mom got the thighs and back.  Nobody has ever had to force me to eat (beef) liver and onions.

I booted up the ‘puters and was doing a spot of work when my BFF called and we  had a natter.  We talked about her computer situation – “iffy” – She has this jicky little “laptop” about the size of your typical hardbacked book.  Her computer skills are marginal (she’s basically a luddite), and she is easily frustrated.  I talked about the free printer I got with the Dell computer (the one that crashed last August) and have never used, as I already had a printer, and about seeing if we could get it to work with her “laptop” (her “laptop” runs on Windows XP, so it should work).  We also talked about my camera which I have such trouble running with Windows 7. It’s dead simple to use, and there are free photo editing programs available on the internet that are relatively simple to use.  We talked about getting her a PC with a decent sized screen — the screen on her “laptop” is about 5 x 8 inches.  If she had a decent sized screen, she could join Netflix — 8 bucks a month is way cheaper than the amount she spends on renting DVDs from the local DVD rental place.  She is a film watcher like I am a book reader.  With Netflix, she’d be like the proverbial kid in the candy store.   She spent the majority of her working life as an illustrator and graphic artist for a museum, and she is a very visual person, so it is no surprise that films are her favorite form of entertainment.

My brother has loaned me one of his (3) cameras.  I would buy it from him but he paid $1100 for it 3-4 years ago.  He told me I could use it and if he ever needed it he’d come get it and use it then bring it back.   Since he has a new $1100 camera, it’s doubtful that he will need it, but that’s the deal.  It is a stop-gap because I can’t get my new computer to “see” the camera I have.  It’s just until I can scrape the money together to get a new camera — which may or may not happen any time soon.  I’ve had it since Xmas, but I haven’t even gotten it out to look at yet.  One of these days. . . .

I started a second color on my 9-blade circular shawl The yarn I’m using I bought probably 30 years ago and these are leftovers I’ve never used.  I’ve had it forever  It is acrylic yarn, and has filaments of something clear woven into the yarn so it has a shimmer to it which I like.  I hope I have enough yarn to get the shawl the size I need it, because I doubt you can buy yarn like this any more, and I just have 3 balls of it — one of the light blue, one of the dark blue and one of the purple.  What I’ve knitted so far is 27 inches in diameter and I’d really like it to be about 50 inches in diameter.  We’ll see how things go.  The dark blue is in two balls.  When I use up the larger ball, I’ll go to the purple, and use the smaller ball of dark blue to edge the shawl with a little crocheted shell edging.   In order to get this picture, I had to download the HP camera to my Vista machine, transfer it to a memory stick, and then use the memory stick to get it to the Windows 7 computer.

I really ought to work some more, so I’ll post this, change computers and go to work.

Kites and Memories

Earlier today, I was thinking about the summer my dad made us a kite.  He had frequently told us that as a child, he and his buddies would make their own kites.  They would run errands and do odd jobs for pennies until they had a nickel to invest in a roll of kite string. (A roll of kite string was a prized possession.)  The wooden kite sticks were 2 cents apiece, and the body would be made from penny sheets of tissue paper.  In effect, you could get the makings of a kite, string and all, for a dime.  They saved packaging twine and scrounged bits of rags for kite tails.  This was in the 1930’s during the Great Depression.  Money was hard to come by and it could take weeks, or even months, to save up enough pennies to buy the materials to make a kite.  Sometimes best friends would club together to buy the “fixin’s” and take turns flying it.

This one summer, when I was 9 and my brother was 5, he decided he was going to make us a star kite with hummers.  (When he was growing up, having a star kite was a big deal, because it took three kite sticks to make one.)  He stopped off after work on Friday evening and bought the materials, and that Saturday evening after supper, my brother and I gathered around the dinner table and watched him make the kite.

He folded the sheet of thin white paper in half and then in fourths to find the center.  Then he spread it out and my brother and I held down the corners.  With a piece of string tied to a pencil, he drew as large a circle (see diagram below) as would fit on the paper. He “eyeballed” where the sticks would go, and drew these lines (brown) in pencil with a yardstick.   Once he had those lines in, he could draw the outside string lines (black).  That enabled him to trim the circle into a hexagon with the scissors.  Next, he drew the lines (green and then orange) that would help him form the points.  He cut the blue areas in half along the orange lines to form the flaps that would become the points of the star.  Remember, he laid all this out by eye using only a piece of string, a pencil and a yardstick. This was “kite lore” that the younger boys learned from the older boys.

With that done, he cut about a quarter-inch slit into the end of each stick with his pocket knife, and then lashed the sticks together.  He strung kite string first along the green lines, one piece for the upward pointing triangle, and another for the downward pointing triangle, pushing the string down into the slit on the end of each stick to hold it taut.  A third piece of string was strung from point to point around the circle (black lines), again pushing the string down into the notch at the end of each stick to hold it taut.   These strings held the sticks in the proper position and gave the framework stability.

He positioned the framework over the paper, and folded the blue areas of the paper over the string (green) and glued them down onto the purple area with water-thinned white glue.  (As a boy, he would have made paste out of flour and water.)  That’s how the paper was held onto the kite, by folding it over the (green) strings and gluing it down.

The hummers were strips of butcher paper cut 12 inches x 1 inch, folded in half over the outer string (black) and glued together all along their length.  There were three hummers spaced equally along each stretch of string between the points.  You couldn’t use the paper the kite was made from because it was too thin.  The wind would “flap” it to pieces for the same reason a flag begins to fray along the edge that’s parallel to the pole.

He poked a small hole through the paper at the point where the sticks crossed, threaded the string through it and attached it firmly to the sticks.  Then three lengths of string were used to form a bridle, one piece of string attached to each of the points as shown in the diagram.  The other ends were fastened to a point on the main string about two feet from the kite.  The length of the bridle strings was adjusted to hold the kite at about a 40-45-degree angle to the main string so the wind would push it upward.  We made a tail from five short strips of old sheet tied at evenly spaced intervals to a piece of thick string that was about 5 feet long.  The tail was tied to the bottom point.

Finally it was Sunday.  After we’d come home from church and had lunch and had gotten it cleared away, we all waked down to the park that was about two blocks up the street to fly our kite.   Where I live is perfect kite country.  Flat land, not all that many trees, but always plenty of wind.

My dad ran the kite up (– trotted a short distance, actually as we had a good 20 mph wind going).  Up it went, higher and higher, the tail snaking out behind it.   The hummers made a low thrumming similar to a bullroarer.  The string was rolled on a length of old broomstick.  My dad held the stick in his fist with the string going out between his middle and ring fingers.  He could just relax his fingers and let the wind play out the string, or pull on the string with one hand and wind it back on the stick in his other hand by moving the stick in a circle.  My brother and I took turns holding the kite.  We had to hold the broomstick with both hands, the only way we could hold onto it against the pull of the wind.  More than once my dad had to grab us to keep the kite from pulling us off our feet; the wind got gusty as the afternoon progressed.  It was one of those clear, cloudless days, and the white star of the kite stood out against the blue of the sky.

What got me to thinking about this was the news that my dad’s boyhood best friend had died.  His son called my dad last week to let him know.   My dad had told us many tales of their exploits growing up.  Of making pop guns out of elder branches to shoot chinaberries at each other.  Of double dating and going to dances.  They joined the Marines together, and fought in the Pacific during WWII.  The war separated them, but spared them both.  After the war, his friend met and married a woman in California, and raised a family there.  My dad came back to Texas, to the city where they had grown up together.  There, he met and married my mom.  But they had stayed in touch over the years.  My mom told me about his getting the phone call, and about how quiet he was the rest of the evening.  I wonder if you can even buy kite sticks and string anymore.

Now I’m On Fire — Kindle Fire, That Is

Last week, I decided to spend my Christmas money on a Kindle Fire.  Apart from these two books that insisted on my having to reset to factory specs, which deletes all your content (which is either on the Cloud or on my PC’s hard drive, where I can get it back again)–twice–before it would let me read them, I am delighted with it.

For one thing, it has a color display.  For another thing, it can connect to the internet — not just to the Amazon Kindle store, but to the real, browsable googleable internet.  A while ago, I used it to go to the Feedbooks site and downloaded a bunch of free H. Rider Haggard books.  (BTW, there are a lot of free, public domain books available from Feedbooks, too, as well as those you have to buy, and you can download them to your laptop or PC and read them there, too.)

It has a headphone jack, so you can listen to audible books, and it has a free Rhapsody* app! (also one for Pandora).  I can read and listen to my playlists on Rhapsody — as long as I can get a WiFi signal — all on one device.  I love it!

Having a color display means graphic novels, magazines, and comics are accessible — since you can get internet, you can read webcomics and blogs on it. (I might need to investigate a feed reading app.)  There is a Netflix* app that allows you to stream movies and television programs as well, although I haven’t investigated that yet.  There is also an email app, which I haven’t tried yet, so ostensibly you can read your email on it, too.

The screen size is 6 x 4 inches (7-inch diagonal) and — get this — it has some sort of gyroscopic thingie that will turn the display as you turn the device, so all you have to do to change it from portrait to landscape is turn the device that way.  (It does have a “lock” so if you want to set it and forget it, you can lock the screen in whichever orientation you want.)  It’s touch screen operated, so the keyboard is touch screen, too.  You will want to get a screen protector — the one I got came with a little square of microfiber cloth to clean the screen thoroughly before you apply the protector, and that has proved to be a very useful little scrap of cloth for keeping the fingerprints and smudges off the screen.  You will also want to get a case for it.  The one I got has a cover that turns under and can be used to prop the screen like a picture frame for hands-free reading.  I also got a stylus which makes using the keyboard easier.  I’ve also ordered a neoprene case cover with a zippered pocket so I will have a place to store my stylus and earbuds, and not have to be rooting around in the drawer of my night stand looking for my stylus or untangling my earbuds.

The battery charge only lasts about 8 hours, but it recharges fairly quickly. You can bookmark a book with just a touch if you need to go on to something else, or have to stop reading.  Apart from the fact that there is a glare factor, the screen is actually easier to read than the Kindle Keyboard. (You can read in the dark!).   It’s purse size, and would fit easily in a backpack or messenger bag.  It’s thicker and heavier than the Kindle Keyboard, but that’s understandable considering all the features it has.

If you were a frequent flyer, a commuter, had to take kids places and wait on them, a Kindle Fire would be just the thing.  If you were a knitter or crocheter, did needlepoint or embroidery, or lap quilting, you could listen to audible books on it (there’s an app).  You can download and play music on it, and download pictures from your PC onto it.  You can download your personal documents to it, and there is a “Quickoffice” app that has Quickword, Quicksheet, and Quickpoint, so you could make additions and modifications to them.

I will note that the Kindle Fire comes with a charger, but that’s all.  The USB cable to attach it to your computer, the case/cover, screen protector and stylus all cost extra (but are worth it to my mind), and have to be bought separately.

*requires you to be a subscriber to the service and pay a monthly subscription fee.

More Internet Radio: AccuRadio and — AOL?!?

Googled for “free internet radio” a while ago and discovered that AOL has an internet radio station that has a gazillion different channels.  Just about any genre or “niche” you can think of is listed.  There are commercials, but I haven’t been listening to their smooth jazz channel long enough (only about 30 minutes) to know how many an hour they play– possibly only one.   You access it through an “in browser” player, but there is an iPhone app.  You get a trial period of about 30 minutes, but if you want to continue to listen, you have to sign up.  However, membership is free.  One nice thing, each channel has its own “home page” with the player controls at the top, which show you what song is currently being played, gives you an option to buy the track (from iTunes), and allows you to skip, “favorite” or “ban” the song which means, in essence, that you are creating your own customized “in genre” station.  Further on down the channel homepage, you get a short bio on the artist of the song that is playing, some of that artist’s albums,  artists whose music is similar to that artist and which channels of AOL’s lineup play that artist.

Of course, there are advertisements on every page of their website, and when you sign up for an account, they want to know your age, sex and location (zip code), which means they are collecting demographic and marketing information on you, and “targeting” their advertisements based on the information you give (I lied about my age, and would have lied about my sex, but the kind of ads I’d probably get are the kind I can do without. . . ). Just now, when I decided to listen to a different channel, I had to sit through a Tums video commercial before I could access the station.   However, I’ve been listening for about 50 minutes and I’ve only gotten one audio commercial so far and that was at about 15 minutes past the hour.  I changed to another channel after about 2 minutes and I didn’t get a commercial, so that may be a time thing.

For my UK readers, I have no way of knowing if AOL internet radio is available in the UK.   You might try the link and let me know if you can get it.  I’m sure they check your IP address to see where you are before they’ll let you access the service.

When I checked to see if there was an AOL internet radio app available for my Squeezebox (There isn’t, but I could add individual stations manually if I wanted to), I decided to check out the version of the Squeezebox app for AccuRadio that is available on the internet.  It is only available through an in-browser player, but it has iApps (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) and I can, of course, access it through my Squeezbox.  You can skip songs and ban artists and songs just like on AOL internet radio, but you can also mix genres into your own customized “radio station.”   AccuRadio is not commercial free either.  You sign up for a free account in order to access the full features, and again, they want your sex and age, but “Sex” has an “Other” option if you’d prefer not to give that information.  However, when you sign up, they do not ask for your location, so that bodes well for my UK readers.  Of course, they are collecting demographic information on what you listen to, etc.   Several times when I changed channels to check out another one, I had to sit through an audio commercials before I could have any music.  They probably play about 1-2 commercial an hour, based on the commercial I had to sit through when I signed back in after I signed out so I could bookmark the “My Channel’s” page.   Like AOL, AccuRadio has a gazillion genres and subgenres — Their “Celtic” genre has 10 different channels.   Their “classical music” genre has 55 channels.  If you are a jazz fan, you’d be in hog heaven here — 61 different channels — every subgenre you could think of from Swing to “off the wall” and everything in between.  For instance, there are 12 channels of Smooth Jazz alone.   One nice thing is that whenever you listen to a channel, it is automatically displayed on a “My Channels” page, which you can edit to remove stations if you wish.

Again, I don’t know if AccuRadio internet radio is available in the UK.  I’d appreciate hearing from any of my “non US” readers as to whether they can access any of the internet radio stations I’ve mentioned, and I will update those posts to reflect that information.

One thing I note is that both AOL and AccuRadio have a “comedy” genre, which looks to be mostly routines from stand-up comedians.   That might be fun to knit to.

What’s in a Game?

Some folks think computer games are great.  Others think they are great time wasters.  I’m kind of on the fence.  When it comes to slaying monsters, trashing aliens, crashing cars, shooting enemy soldiers, or any of those other games you have to have an X-Box for, nope.  But there are some games I really enjoy playing such as “match 3” games like Hexic, Amazonia, and Jewel Quest, the “rolling ball” type games like Zuma and Luxor, “shooter” games like Bubbletown and Cubis 2 , and puzzle piece type games like  Mozaic Tomb of Mystery and Mozaki Blocks.  Then there are games like Talismania (which has gorgeous graphics), Pharaoh’s Secret, and Hexalot which are what I would call “connecting” or “maze” games where you connect point A to point B in various ways.   They give me an opportunity to use my eyes in different ways, to look at colorful things, which can be quite restful after a day spent proofreading black type on a white page.  They exercise a different part of my brain and help me decompress from working all day.

But just here recently, I’ve discovered the “hidden object” games.  They involve some type of “quest” or “task” where you  progress from level to level by solving some type of puzzle or by finding a list of “hidden”objects.  The first one I tried was Magic Academy II.  It has interesting graphics, and it’s cleverly written.  It has several different types of logic puzzles and “brain teasers.”  Next I tried Echoes of the Past- The Citadels of Time.  This has some interesting twists on the hidden object hunt.  For example, in order to find the chicken you have to realize that the chicken is hidden inside an egg and that you need to find a hammer to break it open, so it’s not just finding shapes.  There’s some intuitive thinking involved.  There are also some pretty tricky puzzles, such as one where you have to press a series of buttons in a certain order, but you have to figure the order out by trial and error.  As you figure it out, you have to remember each step so that you can reproduce the correct sequence in order to accomplish the task.  As you work through the game, you have to remember what was where and how to navigate from “place” to “place.” The graphics are very nicely done.  I’ve recently gotten some more of this type game.  They are relatively inexpensive to acquire — costing less than a trip to the cinema, in fact.  Many of them have a truncated trial version that can be played for free online.  The MSN free online game site is a good place to start.

Most people would think I’m way out of the demographic for these kinds of games, being neither male nor a teenager (although I’ve been 15 at least three times now and I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. . .).   However, those in the “brain calisthenics/use it or lose it” crowd scribbling away at the crossword puzzle and sudoku books might want to check out some of these “hidden object” games.  They require you to apply a range of brain skills to a variety of problem solving tasks and logic puzzles, many of which are harder than they look.  Don’t worry if  you’re “not good with computers.”  These games require minimal computer skills to play.  Mostly all you need to know is how to manipulate a mouse.  If you decide to buy some, you can enlist your kid of choice to download the game for you, run the setup and give you a quick tutorial — preferably one who has to be in bed by 9 o’clock so you can get them off the computer long enough to play the game!