Saturday, June 23, 2012

Views may differ

Nobody sees the same thing the same way. I see the quail sitting in the morning sun on our pile of scrap metal, and I think about a bird that makes my life richer with its plumage and charmingly dorky quiff. The foundation contractor, seeing the same bird, notes "them's good eatin'."

I subscribe to a handful of magazines, and it can be amusing how differently they see the same thing. As a tree-hugger, I get the official organ of the Sierra Club. Nerd that I am, I get Science, official organ of the AAAS. I recently started getting The Economist, which I like for good writing and its acknowledgement of the existence of countries other than the US and the EU, but seems to be the official organ of people with a deal of money who want to make damn sure that they will always get more. Needless to say, how these rags see the same thing often differs.

What sets me off on this observation is the latter magazine's special feature on the Arctic in an era of climate change. You might view the Arctic as being kind of like a distant uncle--almost a stranger, partly because he's so damn hostile that he tries to kill you when you visit, but really interesting and exotic. We are in a situation where we are just starting to find out some amazing things about this uncle--but at the same time, we know that he's dying. All three magazines acknowledge that the Arctic that humanity has known for all of recorded history is toast, and own that it is due to human activity*. It's their views of the basic facts that vary.

Sierra's is boringly predictable, if justified--their hair is on fire. Science is more interesting. They remind me of a dispassionate doctor, attentively monitoring the pulse of the dying uncle, reporting the ebb and flow (actually, just the ebb) of arctic ice, the disappearance of habitat, the relentless northward creep of ecosystems, pointing out calmly exactly what is going on and how and why. Occasionally there will be an editorial suggesting that, while the uncle is dying, we really ought to at least slow the rate of decay. These editorial outbursts are rare, and as striking as Star Trek's Spock breaking down in tears.

And then there's The Economist, far and away the most interesting in how it views the matter--in the way that sociopaths are interesting. The entire thrust of the special feature on the Arctic was this: Our rich, fascinating uncle, who has been affecting our lives for as long as we have lived, and has so much to tell us, is dying. Whoohoo! I hear he has a gold watch--we can cash that in! He's got property that we can liquidate for profit, profit, PROFIT! We can actually hasten his demise by trying to get at this stuff--but he won't care if he's dead, and it will get us the stuff quicker! Hell, he's going to die anyway, so it's practically a moral obligation to hurry up! What? Oh, yeah, I suppose it's sad he's dying, but hey, PROFIT!!!

Oh well. I suppose I should give The Economist some credit for being arch-conservative and actually acknowledging anthropogenic climate change as a solid, undisputed fact. It's how you can tell The Economist is not an American magazine.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Flora Frantic Edition

Busy busy busy. The last week was like thisand like this
(That's a Mantegazza, a Vuillaume, the "Jackson" Stradivari, a Petro Guarnari, a 1742 Guarneri "Del Gesu," an early-1900's Italian instrument, and the extra space is for the "Mendelssohn" Stradivari. The bows ain't hay either--There's a Peccate and a Tourte. More info here.)

The Real Doctor and I spent a week in Claremona--the Southern California Violin Makers' Workshop, Cremona in Claremont. After a week of focusing on fine art and spending three days obsessing over things on the scale of a tenth of a millimeter and wielding blades that make razors look dull, it was home to my parents' for a night. The night was spent largely in the emergency room, using a CAT scan to find out that the pain my father was experiencing was, after all, constipation. The next day featured a fourteen hour drive through the 104 degree central valley into the more temperate climes of Oregon. The beasties were all in good shape, but the next morning we found this
Which is the shed housing our reservoir, and a break in the water main to our house. Gone the razor sharp tools and submillimeter fussing. Break out the shovel and the PVC glue. In the five days we've been back, the contractors have just about finished work on framing and roofing the addition to the house.
Now the real work begins for me--I will be doing the interior walls, the sheetrocking, the ceiling, the exterior wrap, the siding and trim, and the deck (not to mention the paint).

All that, and four sheep are supposed to arrive here on Monday. I need to get some sort of fences made so they don't end up as roadkill, and some shelter made for them so that they don't end up as coyote snacks. Oh, and the chickens--they've outgrown the chick box I made for them, and I am trying to make a chicken coop.

Which is all to say, that's why there hasn't been much here for a while. Here's a Friday Flora for ya--and a reminder that my Mom's garden is still better than yours.

Friday, June 8, 2012

L'addition, s'il vous plait

There hasn't been enough going on at the farm, so the Real Doctor and I decided to make an addition onto our house.  This has been a different sort of process from the remodeling; starting from scratch, we get to use modern techniques (which are not necessarily better) and avoid some architectural and structural eccentricities (which is definitely better).

The addition is intended to replace the back porch, which was decayed to the point of being life-threatening.

The entire structure was riddled by carpenter ants--this is one of the four posts that was holding the whole thing up.
Demolishing it was light work: saw through the roof to disconnect it from the house, and then simply pull it over.

(There was a more difficult phase to the demolition; there was a stone barbecue built just off to the right of the last picture; it was massively built, a mix of stone and lots of concrete.  It took a couple of days of work with sledge and pick to even dent that thing; ultimately, it succumbed to the excavator's backhoe.  Yay power tools.)

The next step was to excavate for a concrete pad.  The guy who did the excavation was a real pro, and it was a pleasure to watch him with his backhoe.  I felt like a western tourist admiring a display of Balinese court dancing--I had no relevant experience to judge his performance by, but I could still be amazed by his virtuosity. 

We are trying to economise as much as possible, so the excavator was hired to simply excavate; what to do with the excavated soil was my problem.  So, I spent the day running around in our tractor moving soil to an out-of-the-way pile.  I am as unskilled with a tractor as the excavator is skilled, so I was kept busy while he was often kept waiting as the soil built up.

As part of the remodel, we had to get the electrical service changed from overhead lines to an underground conduit, and we had to get the electrical box moved over.  So, trenches 36" deep had to be dug.  The transfer of power from overhead lines to the conduit was achieved weeks later.   Also, some forms were set up for the footing,
 and then we were ready for the first round of concrete. 

Once the footing was poured, it was time to make the stem wall.  This was a little tricky; ideally, the stemwall should be perfectly horizontal, but it should also join up nicely with the existing foundation, which is not.  So, there was a little art trying to get it to slope by 1/4" over the length of it.

There are all sorts of interesting tricks that the contractors have; the last step before pouring is to spray all the forms with kerosene, which acts like a non-stick coating to ensure that the forms will come off cleanly.  Pouring the concrete was fun to watch, as well as an interesting study of sociology.  The contractors who made the forms shared many friends with the contractors pouring the concrete.  The entire time they were working, they were updating each other about so-and-so's crazy uncle and how the other guy's sister was doing, and how $@%&ed-up the Oregon State Board of Education is for banning mascots named "Indians." 
While they were discussing these things, they were leveling the the concrete and smoothing it and dropping in bolts that would anchor the walls to the concrete and making sure that some rebar was exposed for an electrical ground.
With the forms off, the stemwall was ready.  The ground was covered with heavy plastic, for insulation and climate control.  A layer of pressure-treated wood got bolted on,
then a box attached to that,

and floor joists,
 and finally sub-flooring--the same stuff that we installed in our attic a few weeks ago.  
 Once the subflooring was in, it was amusing to stand where there was nothing but air just a few weeks ago. 
 Next, the walls are framed.  They build them lying down, then stand them up and bolt the to the stemwall and nail them to the subflooring. 
To the considerable surprise of everybody involved, the new wall mated exactly with the sub-siding of the house--the house, after eighty-some years, had walls that were perfectly vertical.  Not only that, but the floor was very nearly level--a quarter inch in twenty-seven feet, which is pretty good considering how the house was built.

The crew knocked off after putting up the sub-siding--a layer of treated chipboard that provides some extra stiffness to the wall, and allows us to put up siding.  They'll use a router to cut out the windows.
 The next bit is going to be kind of exciting.  In a week (after the contractors tackle a minor job) they'll cut away a chunk of the existing roof, attach a roof beam to the existing roof structure, and start putting in the roof of the addition.  Should be fun to watch--one of the contractors though it would be "a freaking nightmare" but the other was of the opinion that it will be "fun, at least it was the last time we did one like this." 

There will be updates.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus!!!!!!!!

Venus transited across the sun today. Unlike Captain Cook, we didn't travel to Tahiti to see it; we slouched out to our front porch. Of course, we didn't see the entire transit, and for most of the day it looked as if we would see only the transit of raincloud. Fortunately, at just about the last minute, the weather broke...
Here we see noted natural philosopher The Real Doctor with her sophisticated apparatus, observing the transit of Venus:
Here's a close-up of the transit, as we saw it projected onto a Dixie plate (the most readily available stiff white surface):
Here's a few minutes of the event. If you blow the first clip way up, you can see the shadow of Venus wiggling and jiggling like a droplet of water--that's atmospheric distortion. The remaining few minutes shows (upside down, as it is projected through a telescope) the sun and the transiting Venus as it is blocked by a telephone pole down the driveway from us, and then as it is approached by the trees on our local horizon.

I love microbiology because it makes me feel connected to the scope of life on earth; I love this kind of astronomy because it makes me feel connected to the universe. The solid earth I stand on suddenly becomes part of an orrery, and I feel my home and all I know tumbling through the cosmos in a dance with the sun and moon and planets and stars. It doesn't make me feel insignificant at all; it makes me feel connected.

(The audio for the clip is included as this is also a personal blog, and it illustrates the more microscopic details of our life right now--we were planning to be in LA right now for the violin-building workshop, but plans exist mainly to remind us that we're not in control of things. Between the excitement of work on the farm and house and some conniptions involving a faulty alternator, it seems we are missing the first week of the workshop. A bummer, definitely, but far from a tragedy.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Please may I go out now?

This fine fellow appeared on our kitchen floor last night.  We tried to pick it up, but it kept jumping towards the door and then, with the marvelous sticky fingers of a tree frog, climbed up the door and sat on the doorknob.  It knew what it wanted.  It wanted out. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Flora IT'S A TRAP!

I went to pick my love a rose...
I gathered a couple, but stopped at one flower because it had a bee in it. On second glance, the bee was not moving and sort of lying sideways. It was only on the third glance that I saw why I shouldn't pick that particular blossom:
I think these guys, crab spiders (probably Misumena spp) are terrific. If you're lucky you can find one lurking in a flower, because they make it difficult--they can assume the color of the flower they're hiding in.

These guys are ambush predators, and are fierce. No webs, just a lunge and a grab and a dose of venom. They do pretty well. I've been watching this one for a week now, and as one blossom dies, it moves to another; I've seen it on three different blooms, and each time it's been happily sucking on a honeybee or one of the native bees. My mom's experience is that they will bite you if you stick a finger in their flower, but this one has been kind of shy--as I approach it, it shuffles sideways to the underside of the bloom.
The roses won't be blooming that much longer, so I wonder where this spider will go next.