Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Thanks, Canada!

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:)

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!

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Today is the autumnal equinox, or the official start of Fall. I like to think of it as the Universe giving all of us here in the Northern Hemisphere a pat on the arm and a kind word to prepare us for that whole Winter thing.

What is It saying? When it comes to the grand workings of the Universe it’s always difficult to be sure, but I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

“Now now, Winter’s still a ways off and hey, you had a good Summer, right?”

(inarticulate mumblings about sunburn and too many mosquito bites)

“Well, not to worry. We know Winter is hard so We try to ease you into it with the likes of apple pie and hot cider.”

(sniffles, with a muffled acknowledgement that pie is really quite nice)

“And remember how much you liked that new recipe for spicy beef stew? Pull yourself together, dear, it will be fine.”

For those who prefer a slightly more technical explanation of the experience on which we are all about to embark, a few more details…

Solstice: occurs when the Sun is the farthest away from the celestial equator, or the imaginary line above the Earth’s equator. This happens twice a year, around June 21st (when it reaches the northernmost point) and December 21st (when it reaches the southernmost point).

Equinox: marks the time when the Sun crosses the celestial equator. Day and night are (close to) equal length. This happens twice a year, around March 20th (vernal) and September 22st (autumnal).

Would you like to know more? Check out Time & Date or Royal Museums Greenwich or EarthSky for additional information, helpful diagrams and fun facts (like Chichen Itza’s Snake of Light).

I do love pie and cider and crisp autumn days and bright red leaves. Today I’m also grateful that marking such astronomical events no longer requires human sacrifice, for the word “phenology,” and for the reminder that in spite of everything, we all see the same sky.

Super Serious Thoughts

How It’s Done

Will the sky be clear enough to see the eclipse? This question was on the minds of many people attempting to view yesterday's solar eclipse. The path of total darkness crossed the mainland of the USA from coast to coast, from Oregon to South Carolina — but a partial eclipse occurred above all of North America. Unfortunately, many locations saw predominantly clouds. One location that did not was a bank of Green River Lake, Wyoming. There, clouds blocked the Sun intermittantly up to one minute before totality. Parting clouds then moved far enough away to allow the center image of the featured composite sequence to be taken. This image shows the corona of the Sun extending out past the central dark Moon that blocks our familiar Sun. The surrounding images show the partial phases of the solar eclipse both before and after totality. Image Credit & Copyright: Ben Cooper

A post shared by Astronomy Picture Of The Day (@astronomypicturesdaily) on

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!

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

This Quiet Season

I am still on a bit of a posting holiday, apparently. A lot is happening here at Chez J, but it’s all ruminative on the writing front, nothing to see here… yet. Before you head off to what I hope is a terrific summer day, though, have a slice of on-point social commentary from a master of speculative fiction, in conversation with DEATH (who, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a lot to say about this business of life).

[tl;dr: be excellent to each other, or what’s the point?]

“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather