Friday, May 30, 2008

Prince Caspian

A number of friends (notably those in Canada in Europe) have asked what I thought of Prince Caspian.

It was very good, and very well done, for the most part. Not the best movie I've ever seen, but then, Prince Caspian isn't the best book I've ever read, either. (Oh, quit booing. I'm not saying I could have written it any better.) The book drags in places, and so does the movie.

There were some bits added (Susan flirting and being flirted with; an extra battle or two) and a few things interpreted rather differently than what I would have done (the Telmarines all have Spanish accents?), but for the most part, it stayed very true to the book, and made startlingly clear some of the points the book left subtle.

Many of the added comic bits, while funny, struck me as being out of character. In the books, Reepicheep is pompous and loquacious; having him say, "Yeah, everyone says that. No imagination!" sounds more like something out of The Italian Job than Narnia.

On the whole though, a worthwhile and entertaining flick, and a reasonable adaptation of the book. Four stars out of five. (Not that I have a really developed rating system, or anything.)

One of the things that got me thinking, afterwards, was Lewis's use of mythology, and it's representations in the movie. Lewis obviously had no problem with their presence; why did they bother me, then? Why were the flittering petals of wood nymphs simple beauty, while the representation of the water spirit troublesome? Theologically, I hold both nyads and dryads to be nonsense; analogies at best, animism at worst. The river spirits in Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away are a beautiful analogy; the water spirit in this movie seems totally out of place. Perhaps, I think, it is because of the human face. Or, more precisely, it's an enormous, white-haired, white bearded face wreaking vengeance on infidel armies. It's more or less the image many moviegoers have of God. And, while most Christians would agree on "King of kings and Lord of lords," there's a little nervousness about "God of gods." Where we expect God to work (aye, there's some tension brought out well in the movie) we tend to expect him to work directly, rather than sending forth the small-g gods and spirits that others worship in His place.

It's something I intend to keep pondering. What are your thoughts?

Pulling the Plug

Today is The Day the Pacifier Went Away.

Good grief.

I think I've heard more crying in the last two hours than at all the funerals I've ever been to, combined. I'm trying not to relent for the sake of some peace and quiet, but I don't think it would be any easier tomorrow if I did.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

New Whine for Old Wineskins

A new belt took care of the traction problem. (The old one, it was pointed out to me, was close to 70 years old.) An angle adapter — once I found a hardware store employee that actually knew the contents of the store — relocated the air hookup nicely.

Now I need several new fuses. Not for the air compressor — for the shed. I managed to blow out two circuits. The unloaded motor was drawing 6.6 amps; the motor with a load... obviously, a lot more. Something is still not right.

Still no all-weather air compressor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Wine in Old Wineskins

For years, I've wanted an air compressor, but couldn't afford one. For many a year I limped along with a noisy emergency tire inflater, but practical it wasn't, and it was more tempting to drive with a nearly-flat tire than stand there in the midst of a sleepy neighborhood, trying somehow to suppress the racket. Then, about a year or so ago, my in-laws retired back to the U.S., and brought their household stuff back with them. My father-in-law offered us some of the things they no longer needed — including an electric cart, a large TV, kitchen chairs, the chassis for a new computer — and to my delight, an air compressor. They loaded up a trailer full and brought it all down from New Hampshire.

At first, I was not impressed. But then, I didn't really know what I was looking at, either. It was a caked mass of dirt on black and rusted mountings, with all sorts of strange canisters and valves. My neighbor, Chris, wandered over. "Wow," he said, "that's quite the compressor." At that point, I didn't know if he was being serious or sarcastic. My father-in-law had built this thing out of used parts when he was 16... he's 66 now. But he set to work on the thing, and when I returned home from work, he had it chugging away happily, filling up a new tank we had bought earlier with plucky ease and a cheery pocketa-pocketa that made me think of Walter Mitty.

If there was a fault, it was that it wouldn't run below 60°F. It puttered along just fine at warmer temperatures, but lower than that, the motor would strive vainly against the belt, spinning in place and ultimately shutting off. Unfortunately, Indiana spends about half the year below 60°F. (Even now, in the middle of May, I regret turning the furnace off.) So we set our minds to the challenge: How could we rework the compressor to work year-round?

At first, our idea was to simply put a larger sheave (pulley wheel) on the compressor, and just have it run slower. This was made difficult by the fact that the hole in the center was tapered, and the wheels available locally only had straight holes. What's more, we couldn't have gained more than half an inch of diameter without cutting the frame of the compressor to make room. Reluctantly, we set this solution aside.

So we embarked on a different solution: more power! My father-in-law advanced some funds, and we ordered a new motor from (which has now been added, along with to my list of Very Dangerous Websites.) My father-in-law had to leave before it arrived, but we discussed our strategies, and waited eagerly.

It was a beaut. I rarely describe industrial equipment as lovely, but just the look and heft of this thing spoke of smooth, effortless power.

Unfortunately, the sum total of the included directions were (a) a small diagram on the side of the motor, and; (b) a warranty card that indicated that this product should be installed by qualified personnel. Unfortunately, "qualified personnel" does not include me. (Being the son, grandson, and son-in-law of three electrical engineers has not netted me any talent in this area.) Even so, between e-mailing photos back and forth and phone calls, we managed to get everything hooked up correctly.

To run at 220 volts, do nothing; to run at 110 volts, move the black wire to terminal 2. To blow all the fuses in the house, move the brown wire to terminal 3...

It took me 20 minutes to get the old motor off, and about 10 seconds to realize the new one had a different mounting pattern than the old one. I mounted it anyway.

Finally, the moment of truth arrived. All the wires and belts were in the right places, and I flipped the switch.

Looks like I'm going to have to move the air hose hookup, too.

Have you ever seen a race car do a burnout before the race? The wheels go a hundred miles an hour, but the car only goes three feet. That's what it was like. The motor pulley spun mightily against the belt, but the belt had no hopes of harnessing the power. There just wasn't enough traction. I tightened up the belt, but it just put a higher level of polish on the pulley.

So, still no all-weather air compressor. My next scheme involves fitting the old motor pulley (which had two channels) and putting on two belts. Twice the circumference, twice the belts should theoretically yield four times the traction... right?

Of course, the old pulley was for a 3/4" shaft, and the new shaft is 5/8", which presents a few challenges, but, I'm certain, not ones that haven't been solved before by thousands of other people.

We'll get it one of these days...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


It seems hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, I was reading daily updates from the Art Department at Grace about Prof. Art Davis going in for surgery, and the optimism about making a full recovery from his cancer. I smiled when I heard that it had been successful, and that he was back at home recovering, and grading senior portfolios with his wife on the couch. Then, suddenly, the cancer spread, fast and vicious, to his spine and liver, and he was back in the hospital again, going downhill fast. He was only there a few days, and died April 30.

I didn't go to the memorial service, as we had company over, but I talked to people who had gone, and was surprised to hear the tales of steady prodding and encouragement — usually, the best I had gotten out of him in class when my pieces came up for discussion was, "OK, that works," before moving on to the next piece. Twenty years of being told you were a good artist didn't count for much here. If nothing else, it was grim practice for the unappreciation of my first (and very nearly last) job as a graphic designer. The guy just about had me convinced I was mediocre, and that the best I could hope for was to not have my work criticized publicly.

Near the end of my penultimate semester, as I was getting ready to go get married, and get a job, I was sitting in his office, when his phone rang. He took the call.

"This is Art Davis." (pause)
"Of course. One of the most talented and creative individuals ever to come through our program."

My jaw just about fell off my face as he proceeded to give the most amazing reference I've ever heard. Whoever it was, I wanted to meet them, just to know who it was Prof. thought so highly of.

"Wow," I said, once he'd hung up, "what I'd do to get a reference like that!"

Prof. looked at me with a quizzical, pained expression.

"That was for you."

Thanks, Prof. Davis. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Perhaps they'll be easier to keep clean

Today I opened my kitchen cupboards and discovered that my father-in-law had cut the rims off of all the kids' plastic cups. It is not immediately evident why he did this. In the meantime, I guess we'll have to live with circumcised kiddie cups.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Need more cowbells

One of my friends asked what I was going to be doing this afternoon.

"Watching the race."


Ah, no. Better. Much better.

I've always enjoyed bike racing, and having the action so conveniently close — right outside our front door! — makes it all the better.

We started the morning out at the Harting's place on the other side of the island, where Hal made breakfast casseroles for everyone he'd invited (he made eight pans of it this year) as we watched the men's category 4/5 race start off the day. I had to sneak off for a few hours, as I had to run the sound booth at church, but by the time I got back, the lunch fixings were ready, and I fired up the grill.

One thing was lacking. Cowbells. See, rather than keep yelling, or clapping with every lap (50+ for the last race...) we ring cowbells — or, alt least, everyone on our block does. And I forgot, again, to go get some. Hal Harting loaned us a few for the afternoon races, though, and we egged the riders on. Fiona and Grandma Renaud both showed great enthusiasm.

You go, girl.
Fiona again demonstrates why she's actually a difficult subject to photograph.

* * *

A good number of people have asked whatever became of the girl and the rider that had an unfortunate meeting at last year's race. As I was walking back from where I'd parked, I passed by a rider in a NUVO uniform getting ready, and I asked whatever happened to his hapless teammate from last year's race. As it turns out, the USCF did press the case, and tried to strip him of his racing license, and then the girl's parents also tried to sue — and by the rider's use of the word "tried" I presumed they were unsuccessful — but at the end of it all, he threw in the towel and stopped racing. The girl has apparently recovered.

The race organizers this year made certain there would be no one behind the hay bales in that corner. Good move.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Village Photo Shoot

My parents treated us to a portrait shoot for our tenth anniversary, and we finally got around to taking them up on it. Signature Studio, just down the street from us (good thing, too, as the car was in the shop!) did a great job, and, enlightened people that they are, sold us a CD of the photo shoot, too, so that we can share.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The most creative lie I've heard all day

On my way to Wal-Mart to get a new car battery (9 years is good for a battery, but most good things come to an end) I turned right instead of left and started looking at minivans. The dealer only had one that I judged to be in my price range, and, sure enough, when I told the guy what I was willing to pay, he tried to keep smiling, and asked his boss, whose smile also faltered for a second, and together, they both pointed out the same minivan that I had been looking at.

Of course, they gave me a price that was exactly a thousand higher than what I'd said, but only after he "brought it down a bit" from a higher figure, because he'd "agreed on that price for someone else." I smirked to myself, but let him keep talking. A third guy wandered closeby as the boss kept going. "There's totally nothing wrong with it, man. We went all through it" — and here he paused, as though a guilty conscience had overtaken him — "well, except for the cupholder. That's the reason the guy sold it. So that's —" "Oh, we took care of that," said the third guy. "Oh, you did?" — and he turned back to me with a broad gesture to say, "Well, there you go!" as guy #3 walked away.

With that well-rehearsed little ploy, I decided it was time to have some fun of my own.

"So, what can you do on a trade-in?" I asked. The boss blustered about for a bit, and then got back on track. Things weren't going the way he planned, but he was determined to make this sale, if only to show his new employee how it was done.

"Well, what have you got?"

"A 1977 Pontiac Phoenix." I swear, the guy just about cried.

"Oh, you couldn't have made it something easy, could you? What's up with the weird cars this week? We had one guy bring in a Javelin, and there was this '59 wagon..." He was being genuine, and I laughed. America is a weird, wonderful place for car culture. I made a mental note to tell the next dealer that I had a 1952 Lada. Or maybe a Talbot. Or both.

He set about trying to determine the value the hard way.

"Well, does it run? Does it drive?" (There's a distinction between the two.)

"Yep." Well, it will as soon as I go get a battery for it across the street, I thought to myself.


"Dude, it's had two owners. My grandfather, and myself. I know for a fact that it was driven once a week to the grocery store. Hasn't even broken a hundred thousand miles yet."

At this point, I was selling him a car, and the irony wasn't lost on him.

"Where is it?"

"It's at my house, in Winona Lake." What, I thought, are you going to go get it right now? ...yeah, he probably would, if he could make the sale.

"Does it have any rust?"

"Yeah, a bit. Around the wheel wells. But don't worry, anything that fell off, I kept. I still have the rear bumper." I grinned. He buried his face in his hands.

Poor guy didn't make a sale today. But I had fun, got some good practice for the real thing, and I discovered that unseen, funny old cars make interesting bargaining chips!

Now, if Deborah and I applied the techniques we used on the street vendors in Ecuador...