Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Flora

My Mom's garden is better than yours. Oh wait, did I mention that already? Every time I visit here I end up with a backlog of Friday flora. Here's an irrationally exuberant Stanhopea hernandezii.
The flower is pretty huge, 10 cm across, and rather fragrant. The plant is in full bloom, with many flowers. No moderation here.

Here's an unusually vivid Crassula, C. coccinea:
And a bit of the garden bed, with a few artfully strewn rose petals...
Hey--what's that?! Zoom in!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Flora

Leptotes paulensis. I told the plant that it had its flower on upside-down, but it went ahead and bloomed that way anyway. Willful thing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Too many tools

The Real Doctor and I have been involved in this violin-building project for a couple of years now. I now have a violin just about "in the white"--that is, pretty much ready to varnish and set up. The Real Doctor, over a year ago, purchased a violin in the white, varnished it and set it up. So, between the two of us, we have done everything required to go from wood to fiddle.

When my friend Dave found out about our efforts, he noted that lutherie, like any hobby, provides an excellent opportunity to buy many neat and nifty tools. This has been the case. Though we have borrowed a few tools, we've largely gotten this far with tools we've bought. Of course, everybody recommends this or that specific tool for the job, and since we're both complete noobs, we have to try them out. The result is something like our gouge collection:
You need a broad gouge for roughing out plates. Our best book, Courtenall and Johnson, says get a gouge like the one at top right. Our guru, Michael, says that's ridiculous, get one like the one immediately to its left. The amazing Ray Lee says psssssst, try this one out--so we get the last one with a handle on the top left. A few other gouges are needed, but probably not as many as we have. There's a lot of redundancy there, and we just have to see what works best--Stubai? Power Grip? Willow? Swiss steel, English, or Japanese? Will I like the same thing the Real Doctor does?

We have a similar situation with knives, with files and rasps, with planes (we have a box full of Stanley #102 planes bought on e-bay, in an effort to find a couple of good ones), finger plane blades, and so on.

Eventually, I hope, this will settle out. Some of the stuff will go back to e-bay, or somewhere where I don't have to worry about it. The goal is to be like Mike (or Stradivari) and just use a handful of tools. But for now, I hope we are nearing the top of this curve:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Officially a resident of Oregon

So, I'm officially a resident of Oregon. The Real Doctor and I trooped down to the DMV, which provided an experience much nicer than any I've had in California. I actually managed to get a driver's license photo that isn't horrible. The Real Doctor's makes it look as if she hasn't slept for a few days and has just seen Rupert Murdoch cavorting on our front lawn wearing only a speedo.

Anyway, the unpacking continues; coincidentally, I found a rather older driver's license. Me, without a beard, but with a pony tail and a bit more youthful idealism.
Kind of frightening. Been a while since I've been able to muster that much of a smile for an official photo.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Standard Answers

It seems that nine times out of ten, when we'd tell people that we were moving to Oregon, they would reply, "Oh, it's nice there."

Now we're in Oregon, and living in a fairly small town. How small? It seems that nine times out of ten, when we tell people that we're renting a house in the Laurelwood neighborhood, they reply, "Oh, you mean that cute yellow two-story house with the apartment and garden in back? That's a nice place."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Flora

Angraecum didieri, which smells wonderful. Flower is maybe 5 cm side to side.
Compare with Angraecum distichum. Same basic idea, just stretched out and distorted. Amazing what you can do by tweaking just a few regulatory genes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Working on the fingerboard

The scroll being pretty much done, it was time to do the fingerboard. First, it's necessary to make the back of the fingerboard perfectly* flat.

This was one of those things (like fitting a bass bar, shaping a corner, roughing out a top, building the entire violin) that took me half a day, but takes Michael Darnton about a minute. I'd put the fingerboard down on a sheet of glass and try to find where it was rocking, and take away a tiny smidge of wood. I'd try it again on the glass, and it would still rock just as much but in a different direction, and so I'd plane off another smidge of wood...and so on for an entire morning. Eventually, it got to the point where I was just pressing the fingerboard down onto the glass so hard that it flattened out, but this succeeded only in deceiving myself.

Eventually, I took the fingerboard to Michael. He pointed out my self-deception, rocked the piece of wood on the glass, whipped out his trusty Stanley 102, and made a half dozen alarmingly decisive strokes, and got the wood perfectly flat.
I'm not really frustrated by this. Making a violin is a process of excavating a delicate object from a block of wood. It's like excavating a delicate fossil from a matrix of rock. If you don't know the rock and you're not too handy with the tools, you would go as slowly as possible, and patiently remove matrix with dental picks and brushes. This takes a long time. If you're really the master of the rock and the tools, you have the skill to remove almost all of the matrix with dynamite, and you can get rid of the last millimeters with the dental pick and brush.

Now, I'm scared of using the big knife and the big planes for removing all but the last millimeter, just like I'd be scared of using dynamite to remove all but the last millimeter of limestone from a fossil. So I use the big knife, then the smaller knife, then the tiny knife, then the thumb plane, then the scraper, then maybe sandpaper. It takes me forever. But, Michael has practiced this for a long time and he knows how these things behave. So, he sizes up the situation, and knows exactly where to put the big knife--and boom!--out comes a violin from its woody matrix. He's paid his dues. Me, I need to practice.

*Once the bottom is flat, a gentle stroke with a plane puts a very slight concavity into the bottom--this helps with the gluing.

A similar process has to happen with the top of the fingerboard. However, instead of being flat, the top has to have a precise curve. We have a template for this.

I've seen a stiff steel scraper made that has this exact curve, and I think I may do this. It was a pain in the hiney to do with a plane. It could be worse, of course--the Amazing Ray Lee started with a big billet of ebony rather than a pre-shaped fingerboard blank.

Oh, and all this work planing a fingerboard? It makes a lot of ebony curls--so, meet Ebonezer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Closer to home

The living room of our rental is still so full of boxes that one must walk through it edgewise. There are still widgets in the kitchen that have no real home. The bicycles are still not rideable, and I have no idea where my helmet or the Real Doctor's cleats are. I'm using the same clothes I've used and washed for the last month, since I haven't unpacked my clothing boxes. I have not set up the workbench. My piano is still in storage in Sacramento.


Tonight we had the first dinner cooked at home for ourselves since June 1 (spaghetti carbonara) and a very nice bottle of wine that was captured sunlight and CO2 and water nineteen years ago (Dickerson Vineyards Ruby Cabernet, Napa). So, I feel less like a displaced person.

Vote for Newt!

No, not that one. The smart one:
(This little dude was in the basement of the house we're renting. He's now out in the garden somewhere.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lost in America

I spent most of yesterday morning in an uncomfortable state of not knowing where I was. We had only been in Oregon a couple of days, so I still woke up thinking that I was in Sacramento. We had spent the entire previous day indoors, unpacking the mountain of boxes that the moving company had deposited in our house, so very little was done to reinforce the fact that we were in Oregon. To make matters worse, we had stayed up until 3:00 AM trying to get things ready so that we could fly out to Wisconsin for the Real Doctor's parents' 50th wedding anniversary--so I was already thinking hard about Wisconsin, a second home to me.

After three hour's sleep, the Real Doctor and I staggered out to our car, loaded the carry-ons, and drove the three hours to Portland to catch the plane. The road signs did nothing to help my sense of place: there are exits on I-5 in Oregon for the towns of Saginaw, Ontario, Dallas, Boston, Lebanon, and Albany. The geography also conspired against me: after emerging from the hills of Roseburg, I-5 goes through the Willamette Valley, which in places looks an awful lot like the Sacramento Valley between Sacramento and Stockton. In other places, if you can ignore the mountains in the distance, it is a dead ringer for bucolic Wisconsin. I'd say that by 9:00 AM, it would have been really easy to brainwash me. Without too much work, I could have been persuaded that I was driving through Timbuktoo.

Fortunately, at the end of the day's travels, I was given the soundest of moorings to my surroundings. As we circled the Madison airport, the woman in the seat behind me pointed out a lake to her neighbor, and said, "oooh, that's Lake Wescahhnsun," pronouncing "Wisconsin" as only a true native can. Dinner really grounded us in the Dairy State. There is nothing, nothing in the world that tells you where you are like a dinner of deep-fried cheese curds, battered walleye, and a bottle of New Glarus Spotted Cow beer.


A note on the flying experience: the last leg of our journey was on a rather old Airbus A320, at the very back of the plane. The guy in front of me was big, and as soon as the flight started he almost violently reclined his seat as far as he could. I found myself thinking "I just don't know this guy well enough for him to fall asleep with his head in my lap."

Monday, July 4, 2011

America's Moving Adventure

Yesterday was d-day--our final move from Sacramento. The mezzuzot were removed from the doorways and the flag was lowered from the fort:
The original plan was to drive up in our two cars, but the big pile o' stuff (a lot of wine that the movers wouldn't touch, all the violin building stuff, four fiddles, an accordion, the stuff required for camping out for a month, a dog (but not a cat; more on that later)) all added up. So, America's Moving Adventure literally became "America's Moving Adventure (tm)" as we rented a U-haul and trailered up one of the cars.

California is my native land. The first time I moved away from California, what made it really hit home was looking backwards through an airplane window and seeing Mt. Shasta recede in the sunset. I got to relive that experience yesterday.
But wallowing in nostalgia for things lost is not conducive to progress. Forward!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Flora

My Mom's garden is still better than yours. This is Synandrospadix vermitoxicum, which sounds like it kills worms.
Apparently, a related flower made quite a stink at Davis last weekend. Go see the pictures of Amorphophallus titanum, a.k.a "Ted the Titan."