Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arts Patrons

Capt. Sweetie and I went to the St. Paul Art Crawl this weekend. We intended to go commission a stained glass piece to replace our front door window. There is a stained glass artist we had seen a year ago and we finally decided that was what we wanted to do. But she wasn't open until 2, and we were ready to go at 1, so we went down to the Tilsner building where a friend of ours was showing her work, along with another friend.

And we fell in love. I fell in love with this piece first, by Katie Clymer. It's not very big, only about 10"x10" including the frame. But I love the color and the motion in it, and Capt. Sweetie, living up to his name, was fine with my buying it.

I know, the picture is quite dark, but there is glass over it, and at least you can see what's going on. It looks like water and clouds to me, and I'm really excited to have it.

Then we looked at our friend Kate Pearce's work and I saw this one and my eye kept coming back again and again to it. The verticality is wonderful--it's about four feet tall and two wide (guestimating). Our house has a little footprint, but a lot of tall walls, and this shape was just right.

It had a twin--a second canvas that made up a diptych, and Capt. Sweetie easily persuaded me that we needed both of them. Here is the second canvas, clumsily photographed leaning against a book case.

There is method in that madness, as we have contemplated moving that bookshelf and hanging that canvas in its place. That would place the twin paintings on either side of the door into the TV room, actually hanging in the dining room.

After making those purchases, and getting a reputation for supporting local artists (sounds so cosmopolitan, doesn't it? As if we routinely fly around the world buying art.) we went off to the glass artist's studio and that is a work in progress for now.

The next day, I went to pick something up in my studio, and saw there was an artist showing right above me who did fused glass and fine silver--both of which I am very interested in. She was showing with two other women, one of whom specialized in jewelry made from vintage buttons, and the other who used recycled materials. I ended up buying presents for my girls, and deciding to see what else was happening in my building.

I ended up buying this tile from a woman who did wonderful watercolor and abstract work. She had a bunch of pieces that Capt. Sweetie would have liked too, but I felt we had done enough artistic patronage for one weekend.

This is a reduced copy of one of her watercolors on a 6"x6" tile, which I hung on the backsplash of my kitchen. I liked the colors, of course, and the process of putting the image on the tile gave it a very polished finish.

And, as I wrote on my other blog, it got me excited about doing art and craft again, so I went back into my studio today and made some new designs for earrings. It's been a long, cold, dark winter, and going to the studio sounded much less appealing than staying in front of the fireplace. But now the sun is out, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and I'm heading back again.

Swine Flu?

We went through this in the Carter Administration. What lessons does that debacle have for our current situation?

Let's look back, shall we?

Lesson number 1: There is nothing scarier than a man with a needle wearing a striped shirt and a bow tie.

Lesson number 2: The 1970s were second only to the Victorian Era in the goofiness of facial hair.

Remember--those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

Photo source: Salon.com

Monday, April 27, 2009

Homework Sounds

As I type this, Tonks is struggling with math. I worked with her for a while, but it's a series of problems that totally push my panic buttons. It's physics.

That's right--her 9th grade basic algebra class is using quadratic equations to do physics story problems. And people say that her school's reputation for academics is inflated. I say HA!

But I couldn't get through to her. We sat for easily 20 minutes working on a problem involving throwing a ball up into the air at 144 feet/second from the top of a 100 foot building. We needed to find the highest point the ball reached. With the formulas we had, we could solve for time, but then we had to plug the time back into the original formula to find the height. And she just couldn't get hold the idea of time and height being different.

Being 15 is hard today. She came home from school wounded by harsh words from classmates, upset and processing her emotions. Math on top of that is exhausting. While sitting with me, her brain literally shut down.

Now, I have been really good about sticking with Tonks and her math. I have walked her through weeks worth of math homework, but this one is at that intersection of math and physics where I am weakest. I never truly got command of the topic, and my teacher routinely forgot to include all the data in his test questions. Which didn't help.

So, bless his wonderful self, Capt. Sweetie came home and stepped in. And I cannot tell you how good it is to hear Tonks giggling, and even occasionally saying "Oh!" in that surprised voice that means she understands something that she didn't before. To hear her speaking calmly and rationally about manipulating her numbers is like water in the desert. The sound is muted and happy, as they are going quietly about the business of launching projectiles off imaginary buildings at ridiculous speeds and then calculating the time.

This is the happy and productive sound of learning. This is what education should be, in my opinion; the pleasure of opening one's mind to new things and gaining new understanding. Why can't it be like this more often?

Alternatively, wouldn't it be great if you could study physics by taking your rocket launcher and stopwatch to the top of the 100 foot tall building and just shoot stuff up?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Calendar Is Filling Up

Well, I'm kind of late to the party, but in honor of Shakespeare's 445th birthday, today is first annual "Talk Like Shakespeare Day."

I'm going to have to put this day into the calendar and celebrate it properly. I'll have to blog like Shakespeare (as if!)--or maybe I'll just lower my sights and make dinner in honor of Shakespeare. Not that I'm going to try to cook Renaissance recipies (or "receipts" as they spelt it then) No, my cookery tends more toward making a small pork dish and calling it a "Ham-let."

I know. The kidlets have already informed me that was lame.

Exeunt. Pursued by bear.

(So, is this a picture of Shakespeare, or Paul Giamatti? Hard to tell, if you ask me)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How To Feel Old

Receive an email congratulating you on having a Hotmail address for 10 years.

Does this also make me lame? For not having my own web address, or for not switching over to gmail or something?

Is having a 10 year old active Hotmail account a total announcement of my lameness, like an AOL address does?

Yes, as cold and dead as my heart is, I still worry about my coolness. Sad. I know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fortunately, Unfortunately

Fortunately, the HP Mini is easy to take out to restaurants and coffee shops.

Unfortunately, it is so little and cute, that it feels unacceptably dangerous to leave it on the table while using the restroom.

Fortunately, it folds up to about the size of a clutch, so one can take it to the restroom to keep an eye on it.

Unfortunately, it leaves a Very Odd Opinion of you, if you can't leave the computer even long enough to go to the bathroom.

I swear, it's a security measure, not a sign of addiction!

HP Mini 1030 NR Review

So, I did it. Wired announced last month that this is now the Netbook Age. Since my laptop is slowly releasing its hold on this life, I thought I'd check out a netbook as a possible replacement.

After a bunch of online research, I toddled down to Best Buy to try out what they had. Because I like to see and touch something like this before I make a decision, I needed to go somewhere that would allow me to do that.

Not that Best Buy is a terrific place to do that--netbooks are so small that they have to be extra-secured or I guess they walk off. So not so easy to just try one out to check the size of the keyboard, the processing speed, etc. However, I lucked out as a demo of the very machine I was looking for arrived from "the back" and they let me play with it before they reattached its leashes.

It's amazingly little and cute. At 10.2", it comes with a nearly full sized keyboard, so all time I spent learning to touch type hasn't been lost entirely. The keys are flat and square, encouraging a light touch and easy to adjust to. The screen is almost twice as wide as it is high, giving it a widescreen effect. In fact, the compactness of this netbook makes the laptop seem unreasonably heavy and large.

With its solid state memory, it runs much more quietly, and doesn't heat up like the laptop does. The touchpad is good sized, although I'm not overly fond of the keys' location on either side of the touchpad, rather than below it, which I'm much more used to. The working of one of the mouse keys is a bit sticky, which may be idiosyncratic to this particular machine. I have a little auxiliary mouse that I can use instead.

Internet surfing is fine, although the screen isn't quite large enough, especially if you keep any sidebars open. I have had to adjust the screen to deal with sidebar ads on some sites, but on the whole it does well for internet reading.

Officially, the HP Mini weighs in at under 3 pounds, although when you add the cord, a mouse, and a sleeve to keep it from getting banged around, it totals up a bit higher. If you drop it into your shoulder bag, for example, you will notice the additional weight, but it's negligible compared to a regular laptop. Or to my regular laptop, that is. It works out to be like a large hardcover book--so if you carry around The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, for example, you can swap that out for the Mini with almost no noticeable difference in weight. I think the Mini might actually be slightly smaller.

There is a speaker that runs across the top of the keyboard on the hinge to the screen, and its sound is at least as good as my laptop's speakers. The on/off switch is on the front, and works like a cover latch would--there is no cover latch, the screen just rests on the base. Personally, I find the on switch to be a little hard to operate--it has to be held to the side for a full second or so, and I find that it often slips out from under my fingertip before the computer actually starts up. I find myself hooking a fingernail behind the slider and wedging the button into place, which is fine unless one has brittle nails.

The HP Mini came preloaded with Windows XP, which is what the home computers use as well. I have read a lot of reviews that claim that Vista is too big and slow for a netbook's limited memory, but I haven't had to deal with that problem. I was willing to investigate Ubuntu as a replacement if I had to replace Vista, but I'm finding that Windows XP is fine and since it's compatible with what I use on my other machines, I'm very happy to keep it.

The battery is promised to last 6-8 hours, and I admit I haven't really tested or timed that. I do notice that the AC power plug doesn't fit securely onto the DC jack, and I need to have that looked at as well. I have spent the purchase price of this machine on getting the DC jack re-soldered on my laptop, so it's an issue I am sensitive to. I had a Toshiba that also had a DC jack problem, and it is not acceptable to have one on a machine that is less than a week old.

It's a darling little machine, and I could easily fall in love with it if I traveled regularly, or did my writing in cafes and coffee shops, as it is easy to carry around and easy to type on. This particular post is being written on the netbook at a lunch place, and it's remarkably convenient. I suspect that this is also about the size of a tray table on an airplane, which would be a huge improvement, especially when the person in the seat in front of you insists on reclining. You wouldn't need to tilt the whole thing at 45 degrees and type with your wrists up at your ear lobes like you do with a full sized lap top.

I haven't investigated all the outlets, but I have used the single USB port, which is located on the right--convenient for a mouse. There are other ports, and a web-cam built in that reportedly requires a well lit room to work, but that's not why I bought this, so I haven't used it yet.

Why did I buy this? One part as a replacement for my dying laptop, one part as an experiment to be in front of the technology curve. What do I use my laptop for, primarily? Writing and web, which is what the netbook is designed for. It is not, however, a complete replacement for what I use a laptop for.

For one thing, I use my laptop to download and store my music and a lot of audiobooks. I don't believe that this machine could serve that function without an external hard drive. Same with photos. I'm not a huge photographer, but I do keep some pictures, and they are not part of the Mini's portfolio.

I have a few web based Shockwave games I have tried on this machine, and it is noticeably unequal to those demands. Playing online solitaire demonstrates significant lag times, as well as as the limits of the small screen. It is not always possible to adjust the image via slider bar, and parts of some games remain unseen.

So, what it comes down to, is this: do I value the portability , or do I prefer to be self-contained? The Mini could meet all my interests with a external hard-drive, and external CD/DVD drive, and an external monitor, in addition to the auxiliary mouse and a printer connection. But all of that both overwhelms the little machine, as well as interfers with the portability. Part of the symptoms of senility my laptop is displaying is that the CD/DVD drive doesn't work, and so I'm already using an external one. Have I improved anything with a Mini?

What is obviously happening is the ongoing trend of computers and smart phones are merging. There is very little that this Mini can do that my iPod Touch can't do, although it's much easier to type on the Mini. If I added an air card and broadband access, I'd have the equivalent of a very large Blackberry, without the phone pad. My laptop, for the most part, has taken over the role otherwise played by the household desktop. If I use the desktop as a core of my computing, rather than my laptop, maybe the Mini would make more sense.

I have not yet resolved whether this is the right machine for me at this time. It's causing me to examine my computing habits. Capt. Sweetie and I have spent quite a few happy evenings with our laptops in front of the fireplace this winter, and I'm not convinced I want to limit myself to a desktop or this Mini. On the other hand, this does give me mobility that I haven't had before, and I find I am enjoying the freedom of tucking it in my bag as I head out.

Of course, the easy solution is to keep the Mini AND buy a new laptop when the old one finally goes. Sure. And I should repair my old 80G iPod so I always have tunes for in the car, and keep the iTouch (which I bought to replace the mortally wounded 80G) for bopping around.

A girl can dream, Nobby. A girl can dream.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Definitely, Maybe, a review

I stumbled across this film while folding laundry, and Tonks came by and got sucked into it as well. Before it finished, we had to leave for an appointment, so we ordered it from Netflix.

Released in 2008, the movie stars Ryan Reynolds (a/k/a Mr. Scarlett Johannson), Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Wiesz, and Abigail Breslin. Due to a school human sexuality lesson, Ryan Reynolds is compelled to explain to Abigail Breslin how he ended up marrying her mother, now that they are divorcing. He agrees to tell her, but insists on changing the names and making her guess which woman is Mom.

We go back in time to Reynolds' college days, when he was in love with Elizabeth Banks but left Madison for NYC to work on the 1992 Clinton campaign. There he met free spirited Isla Fisher and they became friends. Elizabeth comes to visit him, and he asks her to marry him, but she refuses and blurts out that she slept with his old room mate.

Time passes, and Reynolds goes to DC, then comes back to NY to start a campaign consulting firm. There, he runs into Elizabeth's old friend, played by Rachel Weisz, who was living with Kevin Kline--a cranky professor with a taste for younger girlfriends--but he dumped her. Reynolds ultimately falls in love with her, but the day he plans to propose, she shows him her magazine article revealing the skeleton in the closet of his candidate. The candidate has to withdraw, and the relationship ends.

Years pass, and eventually, Reynolds meets Elizabeth Banks, who is now living in NY. Turns out she's Abigail Breslin's mom, so the mystery is solved. However. . . Reynolds is still not happy, and Breslin prods him into going to see Isla Fisher again. Breslin has spotted that Fisher has been in love with Reynolds for a long time, and she engineers their reunion.

Slight, but pretty, fully of pretty people, not the least pretty of which is Ryan Reynolds. There is some definite fudging of time lines--at no time does the "present day" Reynolds look nearly old enough to have been 22 in 1992. He does convey a gentle naivete, which is how New Yorkers imagine people from the midwest to be. He remains a kindly, conservative, Democrat, who is in many ways a female fantasy of a Good Man, and Marriage Material.

The best part of the movie, however, is Abigail Breslin, who is the rare child actor who isn't childish. She remains truly believable and relatable, and when Reynolds tells her "you are my happy ending," I believed it. How could Reynolds and Banks failed, when their relationship brought about Breslin? If the proof is in the pudding. . .

Light fare, that arrived and departed in 2008 without my ever having even heard of it. Nice movie to match socks to, and Tonks pronounced it "cute." Can't argue with that.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It Is Definitely Spring.

Do you know how I know?

It's not the crew setting up the temporary garden stores around town.

It's not the first robin that I saw today.

It's not the red tips of peony bushes pushing up from the ground.

It's not the person walking around in flip-flops--that's just pushing the season.

Nope. None of the above.

It's the ants that suddenly showed up in a swarm on my kitchen counter.
They didn't even stop first to build a mound in the sidewalk cracks.

I guess there is something good to be said about winter.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens--in 3D!

Don't expect much from this movie, and you will be pleasantly surprised. The animation of the lead character, Susan, is as human as anything done by CGI. Which is to say, that she is delightfully rendered and one of the first human computer animated characters to be able to star. There is a reason the first most successful such movies were about toys and robots and cars. . .

Stephen Colbert plays the President. As such, he steps forward to greet the alien robot, and is nearly crushed. I can think of quite a few actual presidents I would rather sacrifice to an alien in order to save Stephen Colbert. That man is quite literally a national treasure.

Dilemma: one of our characters is a gelatinous blob with no brain. Who to cast, who to cast? Gelatinous. Brainless. Blob. Hmmmm. Brainless blob. I'm thinking. I'm thinking. . . .why is Seth Rogan standing in my office?

When Susan gets hit by a meteor, and subsequently grows to 50 feet tall at the altar on her wedding day, why does her skirt tear off, and her garter snap, but the dress says in place? "BECAUSE IT'S A KID MOVIE. DUH."

Why is the Missing Link a fish-man?

Hugh Laurie--still amazing even as a cockroach.

Note to self: when lecturing daughters on Men To Avoid, include TV weathermen.

Movies have Secret Government Facilities all wrong. They would never be hundreds of stories underground, clad in steel with automatic doors and high tech hovercraft. They would be in boring concrete buildings, with walls painted industrial green, full of old cubicles with mismatched chairs and poor climate control. Trust me on this. The roof would also leak.

Is paddle ball the "secret handshake" of 3D movie makers, and that's why it's in every one?

You Know The Winter Is Too Long. . .

Last night, Sursels, our very own Polar Bear--the girl who greets the first snowfall of the year by going outside in snow boots and her pajamas; the girl who is willing to go swimming in 60 degree water; the girl who has to be ordered to wear a jacket if the temperature is above freezing--announces:

"I'm tired of washing my hands in cold water. It's been cold for too long."

Spring better show up here soon, or it will have to answer to Sursels.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

So What Does This Mean About Me As A Parent?

Tonks came home today with stories about April Fool's jokes, played and simply proposed. Several girls were trying to come up with a prank for their friend to play on her mother. Mom had, apparently, played a rather nasty joke on said friend.

The most popular option was that Friend should tell her Mom that she (Friend) was pregnant. Friend declined to do so, on the grounds that Mom wouldn't think it was funny, and Friend would have to deal with Mom's anger.

So, Friend argued, you should do it.

Tonks pointed out that she couldn't do it, as I would figure out it was a prank and not true at all.

Which--go me! As far as having a child who believes I understand her and the life she is living.

But--would I laugh? What if she was serious? Wouldn't that create a terrible reaction to an emotionally fragile situation? It's making me look at how I would react--and I'm thinking popping her into a scalding hot bath and pouring gin down her throat would NOT be my first response.

However, apparently, I do know how to do that. . .

Another Helpful Service

Are you writing office memos? Crafting a one-half page "Executive Summary" of work it took thousands of actual work-hours to create? Just want to sound savvy?

Here's your answer: the Web Economy Bullshit Generator.

No more trying to come up with your own incomprehensible phrases--with just a click you get arcane and meaningless verbiage that sounds like something that BELONGS on a PowerPoint presentation.

Some recent favorites include:

  • mesh interactive channels
  • disintermediate world-class ROI
  • utilize bricks-and-clicks mindshare
  • whiteboard global portals
  • maximize holistic metrics
Don't wait! Use it today!