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* not actual Canada Day fireworks, but actual fireworks nonetheless. Enjoy!

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I can’t draw, but I do love designing things like maps and logos and books and fun gifts. I use software to make it all work and shortcuts can be a terrific time saver. That’s why I’m excited to report that I recently discovered a very helpful trick for aligning objects in Illustrator.

I came to Illustrator from Freehand and found myself tripping over simple things. This particular tip fixes an issue that’s been bugging me for years, so I wanted to share in case I’m not the only one. (Maybe you already know this trick? Good for you, now give me a sec to share this bit of wisdom with those of us who have been less fortunate;)

I use Illustrator CS5 so ymmv, but here’s the gist, paraphrased from this useful article:

Select the objects you want to align, then (here’s the important bit) click once on the object or guide you want to use to control the alignment of the other selected objects. No shift key needed, just a straight click. The Key Object will show a heavy border outline around it. Align as usual.

It should look something like this:

Enjoy!

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I love this so much I just can’t even say. The idea that a generation of Potterheads and aspiring Jedi and would-be superheroes are tackling the big issues of the day? Absolutely fantastic.

As Time correspondent Charlotte Alter put it,

“This is not just a generation that has grown up with school shootings,” she tweeted, before building her apt analogy. “It’s also a generation that grew up reading Harry Potter.”

It’s everything I love about storytelling and everything I want for society. To those writing the good fight, from Tolkien to Rowling to all of you working to make the world a better place through storytelling…

Thank you.

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Oh hey, don’t ask me how but it’s the end of October already. This holiday I bring you the winner of The Most Awesome Costume award (as determined by yours truly):

/zomg, now I so want a speeder:)
Happy Halloween!

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For those who may not know, today is Canadian Thanksgiving. What am I thankful for? Lots of things, but let me give a shout out to that politest of places, that spiffy top hat where North America keeps its brains, that hopeful beacon of the North.

Thanks, Canada, for being you:)

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I like making things. Some days that means building worlds with words, some days it just means building. I find the two modes of creation to be complementary.

One of the more useful things I learned about myself in grad school (aside from the fact that I am capable of a great deal more persistence than previously suspected) is that I like understanding the world through concrete objects. Ideas are good, ideas can be great, but it’s harder for me to make real headway unless I’m also operating in the physical realm. It doesn’t have to be all I do, but it is satisfying to create something with my hands as well as my head. (Yep, Mens et Manus right there.)

In grad school that meant following a lifelong interest and taking up archery (hey there, Legolas!). When my shoulder decided it had had enough, I learned how to knit and ran sidelines in bookbinding and baking. As of a month or two ago, it also means woodturning.

What is woodturning? Simple explanation: one “turns” wood by mounting it on a lathe, spinning it real fast, then shaping said wood with a sharp object.

olde thyme lathe

What you can make: many things, so long as they are in some broad sense, round. Think bowls and pepper mills and pens and honey dippers, but also (if you know anything about me at all:) magic wands. What’s not to love?

It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s exciting (see aforementioned machinery spinning at high speeds!). It’s also strangely relaxing (the word “flow” may have been mentioned). The process is something like pottery, if the potter’s wheel rotated 90 degrees and was used with hardened steel tools and a chance of stitches.

What have I made? A lot of test pieces, a few practice wands not suitable for spell casting, and this little fellow.

This is my first honey dipper. Hello, little honey dipper!

So, not much yet, but I can tell this is a good outlet for me because I’m constantly fiddling with ideas. I can practically feel the creativity overflowing, and that’s a good thing. Not only am I focused on building tangible objects, but new story ideas are popping up all over the place too.

Win win:) I’m hardly the first to say this, but it’s terrific that creativity doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

I’m still very much a woodturning beginner but here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  • An introductory course can be a great way to get started and also teach you how not to end the day bleeding all over your new lathe (bonus!).
  • Online resources are also quite useful. Videos are great for seeing what experts are doing with their hands as they say super helpful things like “Then you just pivot the tool and you’re all set!”
  • It’s good to step gently into a new and complicated habit, but at some point you’re going to have the take the plunge and buy decent tools.
  • You don’t just need a lathe, you’ll also need a grinder to keep your tools sharp. (Tip: apparently fresh-from-the-store tools aren’t actually sharp enough to use. Now they tell me!)
  • Based on the shopscape (shopping + landscape = fun new word!), retailers think that most woodturners are men. This may in fact be true, but leads to a problem for any aspiring woodturners smaller than size large. As far as I can tell (Google helped and everything) woodturning smocks do not come in women’s size 4! Pro tip: chef’s jackets work, if you can find one with a closed neck, side pockets and a zipper. I’m happily using a slightly modified version of this one.

For me, making things is a lot like running downhill. Getting to the top can be an effort, but once I get started every step is easier than the last.

So, creative cross-pollination in whatever flavor floats your boat? Recommended! Also, fair warning to those with whom I celebrate gift-giving holidays:
I hope you like wood!

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In honor of today’s eclipse, I’d like to spotlight this piece on Annie Jump Cannon from the funny and informative site Rejected Princesses. Their tag line?
“Women too Awesome, Awful, or Offbeat for Kids’ Movies.”

Hee hee! If you’re interested in quick, clever portraits of some of the most interesting women in history, Rejected Princesses is the site for you.

(Related aside: I’m also pretty sure that popular movies are selling our kids short.)

Why Annie Jump Cannon? Because she fell in love with the stars at a time when most women were only expected to fall in love with homemaking, and then she went and did something about it.

Born the same year President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, she attended college at a time when few women did, and then worked at the Harvard Observatory as a “computer.” (If you’ve seen Hidden Figures, you know what “computer” meant lo those many years ago. If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, I highly recommend you do, stat!) She excelled at Harvard, classifying stars by the hundreds of thousands and building a spectrographic star classification system still in use today.

Ms. Cannon has been called The Queen of Modern Astronomy, but also brought a useful perspective to more terrestrial concerns. And while earthly challenges must continue to occupy our thoughts and energies, one quote in particular seems appropriate for our current times:

“In these days of great trouble and unrest, it is good to have something outside our own planet, something fine and distant and comforting to troubled minds. Let people look to the stars for comfort.”

If you don’t already have eclipse plans but you’re interested in a once-in-a-century astronomical event, NASA has a great site. They’ll help you enjoy the eclipse with everything from maps, safety, activities, DIY pinhole viewers, what to do if you don’t have a viewer but still want to see the event, and more.

Like most people I’ll be outside the path of totality, but we’ll still get 65% coverage. Well worth putting together a pinhole viewer… Oh look, here’s one I just happen to have, hacked together from a shoe box, legal paper, the sticky bits of reusable adhesive you find on the back of various packages, and a phone for easy photo taking:) I’ll cut the lid off to better control the distance between pinhole and paper, then hope for clear skies!

Eclipse: Who? What? Where? When? and How? is a good place to start, or check out the Eclipse Kit for all most of your eclipse party needs (beverage of choice not included:)

Have fun!

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