Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Once more, without feeling

I got the car back together. The gasket leaks. I have a missing wingnut and a mysterious extra vacuum hose that I don't know where it goes. Basically, I have to redo the whole thing.

Can anyone loan me a car for Thursday?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Frozen fingers

It has finally decided to be winter here in Winona Lake. I was beginning to think we'd make it all the way to spring without significant snow or cold temperatures. But, alas...

I selected the last two weeks of January to be my weeks to shovel snow at work, and mother nature decided that I shouldn't get off easy. I've been sweeping and shoveling just about every morning for the last week. I actually brought my own broom this morning (a spiffy sidewalk-width one) so that I wouldn't have to use the pitiful little broom they've got in the entryway. It's amazing the difference a good set of tools make.

Speaking of tools, I've also been working on the car. Now, if I could have picked better weather to do this, I would — but it looks like I'm going to have to use this car on Thursday to go pick up May from the airport, and it would be a lot nicer if it ran properly. May has never liked this car much (it rattles, smells funny, and has spiders, she says) so I'd hate to give her further fodder for complaint by having it break down on the road.

So, I hope I have this right. The place the coolant was leaking from looks consistent with the location of the overflow tube, and I don't see any evidence of leaks elsewhere. Since the overflow container was empty, and the radiator was full, and I had experienced dieseling, I figure something's getting pretty hot under the hood, and the first thing to try would be a new thermostat.

A heart of gold, set among the blackened remains of greatness...

Replacing a thermostat is normally pretty easy. I helped Paul replace the thermostat on his car last week (back when it was warm) and the whole thing took 30 minutes, 15 of which were spent trying to find my neighbor to ask if he had a set of metric deep sockets. What I had not contended with, however, was the cold. There are some bits that you can do with thick gloves on, but when things aren't fitting together, the way they should, and the RTV sealant is drying, and the gasket doesn't fit quite right, off come the gloves. And at fifteen below freezing... I cannot describe how bad your hands hurt to handle car parts.

I didn't get the car done, but I did do the dishes. All that nice, warm water to soak your hands in...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Three feet away

This must be what it's like to be a tooth during a root canal.

As I write, two construction workers are outside — scarcely three feet away — repairing the damage caused a few months ago when a youthful driver mistook the gas for the brake, and plowed the family van into the side of the building just opposite my workstation.

When you work in a steel building, and you have damage, who do you call? A contractor? Or an auto-body shop?

They're drilling into the concrete, I think. I can feel the whine and rumble very clearly through the floor, and I can hear — well, that's about all I can hear, actually.

The humor in all this is that one of the workers poked his head in the side door about half an hour ago, to let us know that they were here, and they'd be working on the wall, but there shouldn't be any bother to us inside.

Makes me wonder what they would consider "bother to us inside" — the wall coming down on top of me, maybe?

Now you see me

The Pontiac (a.k.a. Bree) hasn't been repaired yet — when do I have time? — so I've been riding my bicycle to work quite a bit, despite the snow and ice. The surprising thing? I'm really enjoying it. (Anyone who remembered me and my 400+ mile weeks in high school might wonder why this would be surprising; short story is, I got my driver's license.)

One thing that definitely needed improvement, though, was twilight visibility. I spent a while the other night, cutting red and white reflective tape and applying it on the inside of my back rim.

Must be pretty effective; cars are now driving off the road on the other side to give me plenty of room when they're passing me. Maybe I'll sit down sometime and do the front wheel, too.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Silvers and Gold

Over the last few days, I've been having a very enjoyable e-mail exchange with Rob Silvers. If you don't know Rob, he's the guy that invented photomosaics. Well, I had a more-or-less brilliant idea of having next year's Skyline background be a photomosaic of book covers. I told Rob I could provide more than 12,000 cover images. If it's possible to tell that someone is drooling over email... I could tell. Apparently he usually only gets a few hundred to work with. Anyway, he seems to be a very likeable guy — the enthusiasm is palpable. He even offered me a very generous discount on my project because we're a smaller company.

How much would it cost to do what I had in mind? Well, I'll keep the exact numbers confidential, but I'll let slip that he very generously knocked it down from five figures to four. We'll see what the bean-counters have to say, but I have my doubts, to say the least!

Money, money, money, money.
(Click for a larger view. It's worthwhile.)

If you give a town a greenway...

If you give a town a greenway,
They're going to want to use it.

If they're going to use it,
They're going to want to use it year-round.

If they're going to use it year-round,
you're going to have to clear the snow off of it.

If you're going to clear the snow off of it,
for Pete's sake, clear the snow off of all of it!

As far as I can tell, the path was cleared only as far as the entrance to the Winona Lake Hotel condos, which is right across the street from this picture. So, what — it's only cleared so that Hotel residents can get to the Boathouse restaurant for lunch? The number of tracks walking off the other side of the street lend some credibility to this idea. Thing is, look at the tracks that go off into the snow — there are a lot of them. But they're not going towards the Village and it's shops, so they must not be worthwhile, eh?

OK, I'm done ranting for a few minutes.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fun with Static Electricity

On Friday, we went over to a friend's house, and they had a Jumpoline, which tuned out to be a combination air-filled trampoline and ball pit. It also turned had the marvelous side effect of turning nearly all of Fiona's remarkable energy into static electricity.

This afternoon, while I was watching the kids, I was playing with a balloon, and couldn't resist trying it out on Aiden, too.

Rub, rub, rub


Friday, January 19, 2007

Just as well

Thursdays have been interesting as of late, especially with regard to transportation.

Now, the plan was that I would take the motorcycle to work, and, around noon, Deborah would drop the kids off at Tonya's house, come home, switch cars, and drive to her work, and then to her class in Ft. Wayne. Once I got off of work, I would then ride the motorcycle home, switch to the car Deborah had left (the one with car seats; you think we can afford four of those things?) and go pick up the kids from Tonya's house.

But that was not to be...

I got bundled up and trudged out into the pre-dawn darkness. I put the key in the bike, fiddled with a few levers, and ... RrrrrRRRrrrrrrrrRrrrr[click]. I tried again. And again. And again. The bike wouldn't start. I muttered something along the lines of how some engineer thought motorcycles were only for warm-weather use, and went hunting for the trickle charger to hook up to the battery. Couldn't find it. Somewhat grumpy, I went and warmed up the car, resigning myself to a good ten minutes of windshield-scraping. When I went to open the driver's side door, the button stuck, and I couldn't open it. I got in the passenger-side door, and then that one wouldn't close. (Too bad statistics don't work in real life. If I have one door that opens, and one door that closes, then on average, I have one working door, right?) When I finally got to work, and shut off the car, the engine kept running, slow and shaky, like an old Harley. Dieseling, I think it's called. That's weird, I'll have to check the coolant, I thought, and then promptly forgot.

At lunch, I made a quick side trip to AutoZone and got a new trickle charger. I was pleased to discover that the one I wanted was on sale, and that they had new connectors — ones that are the same kind as I use for the electric vest. Hooray! Now I dont have to ride around all winter with the side panel off the bike — I can just unplug the vest and plug in the charger. I zipped home quick to hook it up. When I went to go back to work, I noticed that the car was sitting in a pool of it's own antifreeze.


Now what?

I have a car out of commission, a motorcycle that won't be ridable for another few hours, Deborah needs the other car, and I'm already behind enough in my hours as it is. Well... bicycle it is, then!

Soon after I got to work, Deborah called and reported that she had found some one (Abby) to come watch the kids for a few hours. I'd have to go home at 6:00 rather than at 3:00. Hey, I might be able to get all my hours in after all...

Around 5:00, it began to rain. And freeze. (For you readers in California, this is called "glare ice" or "black ice" and is hard to stand up on, never mind driving.) at 6:00, I began inching my way home on foot, using the bicycle as a sort of cane. I felt rather grateful that Winona Lake, for all it's odd ideas, had decided to go ahead with the Heritage Trail greenway path, which kept me off of the streets for 90% of my walk/ride/slide home.

While I was getting the kids ready for bed, Duane from church called. They were having a Car Care clinic this weekend; did I need anything done to any of my cars? Why yes, actually...

Deborah finally made it home after her class around 9:00, having had adventures of her own driving slowly along some of the unsanded stretches of highway between here and Ft. Wayne. (Note to the Californians: You don't plan a 100-mile round trip if you know there's going to be freezing rain involved.)

At the end of the day, though, several things were evident:

  • We all got where we needed to go, and got home, safe and sound.

  • Neither of us had to go anywhere or pick up anyone in a coolant-free car.

  • The two-wheeled vehicle I got to guide home on the ice was a 20 lb. bicycle, not a 400 lb. motorcycle. (I've done the latter; it's not on my list of experiences I'd care to repeat.)

  • Deborah had the best car for the job — the only front-wheel drive vehicle we own.

Sometimes I think God takes care of us by letting things break down that we think we need!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It wasn't just you

This morning I was talking to James, who expressed shock at my response to his response about the biplane. Now, several of you are reading this, and thinking, "His response? I thought you were responding to me!" It isn't so. James was just one of a surprising number of people who were running around, waving their arms in the air, assuring me that I didn't want to own an airplane.

So, if you felt singled out, I apologize — you're actually in the good company of a number of concerned and thoughtful people who unexpectedly reponded en masse and in kind.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Go on, dare me

Since yesterday's post about by desire for a little red biplane, I have been greatly amused by the response — people going out of their way to track me down and convince me that I do not want an airplane. There's several things about all this that I find very amusing:

  1. People think I'm going to run right out and buy an airplane. Maybe it's the motorcycle — my judgment is obviously so far gone that I'm liable to try to do anything I dream up, regardless of the cost or consequences.

  2. People telling me what I want. How do you know what I want? No, really? Do I know myself that badly, and you know me so well, that you can tell me what I want? If you wish to say, "I don't think this is wise" or "Have you considered these factors?" or "I personally would want..." ...that's fine, but people telling me that I don't want one thing and want something else instead is laughable. It's even more amusing when they tell me what I do want, and they're very, very, very wrong.

  3. People think I have the means to do this. Ummm... sorry. Not now. Not on this budget. I don't think I could even pull off the $3000 or so that would be necessary to get my license, let alone insurance, or the cost of the aircraft itself. Of course, you might not know that. Or you might assume that, given the fact that I've bought a house, financed my college education, a motorcycle, and maintain a few cars that I might somehow see aircraft ownership as financially feasible. I don't. That's why I was asking for handouts, you see. :-)

  4. It's obvious some of these people who have gone out of their way to talk me out of this have done their research. This leads me to conclude one of two things:

    1. They've looked into this because they themselves wanted to do it, made a decision based on that data, and now want to convince me that their decision was the only logical choice, or;
    2. They saw that I wanted to do it, decided that was a bad idea, and went looking for evidence to support their claim.

    Why do people do either of these things?

  5. They think they will impress me with anecdotes I haven't heard before. Come on, folks. Case in point: I ride a motorcycle. I know they call them "donorcycles" in the emergency room. Everybody has some cousin of a relative of a next door neighbor that got hurt on one. Do you think I'm going to be so wowed by the statement that "You can't pull over by the side of the road when you're in the air" or "It's not a matter of if your engine fails, but when" that I'm just going to drop the whole idea? Do you?

The other possibility, of course, is that I am indeed insane, irresponsible, a risk-taker, and that I don't listen to advice from anyone. :-)

Now, where have I heard that before...?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Yearning to Fly

For some reason, for the last week or so, I have been inundated with a constant thought: Wouldn't it be cool to have an airplane? I can only imagine that this is what it must be like for a woman hearing her biological clock ticking: Baby baby Baby baby Baby. (I've experienced this sort of thing secondhand.)

Everywhere I look, it seems, there is discussion about flying and learning to fly. I know several dozen people who have their license, many of whom also have their own planes. My relatives have gyrocopters in their back yards. I see signs on the street that say, "Learn to fly!" (no, really!). A friend of mine asks where she can find pictures of old WWI aircraft.

Wouldn't it be cool to have an airplane? Not a model or something, a real one. And not something boring, all point A to point B, but something fun and totally impractical, like an aerobatic biplane. In red.

And that's where I messed up. I went to eBay, all innocently, and typed in "biplane."


Doggone it, just what I was imagining. For a small fraction of what I imagined it would cost. I just about cried from the longing. Can anyone spare me $15,000 or so?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Covers that never see the light of day

I have been reminded, once again, that there is a fine line between cleverness and obscurity. I tend to wander across that line on a regular basis.

Many of the books I get to design covers for can be classified as "esoteric." If I knew the book were about, say, pottery, I could put a nice pot on the cover. But I don't always know exactly what the book is about, even. Often, I get a photocopied Foreword, which I read, scanning for a hook I can hang a picture on.

This book had a very interesting Foreword, talking about (of all things) what was considered "esoteric" in the ancient world; that is, which prophecies, myths and legends were known to scholars, which were known to common men, and how the two sets differ, especially when they keep recurring throughout history. There was an interesting mention of cuneiform tablets found with parallel colums of stories. The images were suggesting themselves to me left and right. Or up and down. Repeatedly.

A wonderful, bold design! Filled with meaning, and displayed with a great economy of elements — just lines and text in two colors. Sideways English even sort of looks like cuneiform. So what if it wasn't legible...? I sent a copy around for comments with a note:

  1. Do you like it?
  2. Do you think the thoughtful reader will draw the connection between the way the type is arranged, and the different versions and columnar lists Livingstone describes?

Needless to say, I'm back at the drawing board for this one...

Covers that should never see the light of day

Now that I've lambasted my own work, I feel better about criticizing someone else's. To wit, I present to you, the Worst Book Cover of the Year, 2006 Never mind the 2003 publication date — 2006 is when I found the sucker. Let's take a look:

The Double Voice of Her Desire
...yes, it's a real book.

OK, first off... there's the severed head. Eww. I could stop right there and we'd still have a... winner. Not everyone appreciates gore on the cover. For that matter, I'm not sure I've ever met anyone that does appreciate it.

Next up... the purple. I don't have anything against purple, per se, but whoever designed this one didn't choose a color with a different value than the graphic they were putting it on. So the type just sort of blends in there, and does weird things with your eyes against the engraving, and engravings tend to do weird things to your eyes anyway.

Now, if the purple didn't obscure they type enough already, note that you can't see the articles in the title. They're tiny and far removed from the rest of the text, so you're left with what looks like DOUBLE VOICE HER DESIRE. Double voice? How do I do that? The only way to get two voices is... wait... with two heads? Is that what the image is about? And — DESIRE?? Ladies, do you find all this sexy? Say it ain't so!

And so, for 2006, we present (symbolically) to anyone who comes across this book... a stack of brown paper and some Scotch tape. Make yourself a book cover; you're not protecting the book, you're protecting the eyes that might see it!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

By the way, we're back in Indiana now

I never did mention that we flew back here on New Year's day. A few people are still under the impression that we're still in New Hampshire. But: We're back. Now you know.

May didn't come back with us, as originally planned. May's other sister, Sara, volunteered to coach May in her schoolwork, which had come to something of a standstill (standoff?) under our supervision. Last we heard, the schoolwork was going quite well.

Ah, yes, the bear. You were wondering about that, weren't you?

This was one of Fiona's Christmas presents, from her grandmother, I think. We went to New Hampshire with full suitcases, and all the carry-ons we could handle. We had even more coming back — I thought for sure we'd have to leave things behind. But on the last night, I had a bright idea: the bear could ride in the car seats on the plane! To save further space, the bear is also wearing Aiden's bulky snowsuit. Problem solved!

Seventeen weeks

I think I'm gaining a real appreciation for a number of things here.

For one thing, I am so glad that my career doesn't require either a) certification, or b) mandatory classes to retain one's certification. (What would I take, Remedial Creativity?) Deborah, on the other hand, does. She needs 6 more credit hours before she can renew her teaching license. So, tonight she left for the first class in Fort Wayne; Methods of Language Learning or something along those lines. Interestingly, its billed as both a 400-level (college senior) and as a graduate-level course. Same students, classroom discussion, etc., but different requirements and paper lengths. Since Deborah has no desire to get her Master's in anything, she's doing it as the 400-level course, which is plenty to regain her certification. You could, ostensibly, take underwater basket weaving if it actually applied to the subject you were teaching, such as elementary arts & crafts.

Another thing I'm starting to appreciate is just how active my kids are during those times when I'd normally be off at work. Yikes. I thought I'd have some time to get a few things done while I was home. Hah!

I'm pooped. And we have 16 weeks to go...

Farewell, sweet puppy

Ace, an accomplished omnivore, in her element.

I got a piece of sad news last night. Ace (May's alter ego and treasured companion) darted into the street and was hit by an oil truck. The driver stopped and helped Allan (my father-in-law) bury her beside the house.

As I was telling Deborah the news last night, Fiona, showing understanding beyond her years, looked up with great sadness.

"May loved her dog!"

I couldn't say it better. If it was obvious to a three-year-old who was visiting for a week, it would be obvious to anybody.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Eye update

Sorry to leave you all hanging like that... last I posted, my mother-in-law was off to the emergency room. the issue there turned out to be that she was allergic to the antibiotic they used — far easier to deal with than to redo the injections. (Financially, this is a relief; four injections are required. She took the "experimental" medicine at $100 per shot, which is much more affordable than the standard treatment, at $2000 each...) but the pain and stinging is gone.

Now that we're back in Indiana, news from New Hampshire comes a bit slower. Despite frequent headaches and blurriness, the cental vision in her right eye does seem to be returning, with small improvements on a daily basis. The doctor says it's healing nicely. Those who pray — keep it up, it works!