Archive for the ‘My pathetic life’ Category

Dani California

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Lately I’ve been taking some trips down memory lane. My kid turned fourteen this summer. Fourteen. That’s only 2 1/2 years younger than I was when I dated his dad the first time and 4 1/2 years younger than I was when I left home for good. The cake is all but baked. He’s on the verge of driving, dating, voting, and making decisions about schools and professions. All he really wants from us at this point is the occasional hug, a steady supply of pizza and Red Bull, fresh laundry, and no embarrassing questions about which websites he’s visiting.

It’s thought-provoking and mildly terrifying. Have his father and I done a decent enough job of preparing him? Is he going to have a good foundation for an ethical, productive, satisfying life? I hope so. He’s living in a much different world than the one his grandparents or his father and I came up in. It’s a better world in some ways and a much harsher, more challenging place in others.

When I was not too much older than my son, I moved from east Texas to the Bay Area. It was a move regarded with much suspicion and, in some cases, thinly veiled hostility on the part of family and friends. My father in particular had nothing good to say about California or the Bay Area. “I’ve been to Oakland,” he told me. “I’ve seen all I need to of the Bay Area.” I saw him one last time before I left Texas, a chance encounter in a Walmart. I smiled and said hello. He looked through me as though I didn’t exist. I wish I had realized then what that meant. Sometimes life presents lessons before we’re ready to absorb them, though.

 

The exquisite environs of east Texas, near the ancestral homestead.

Happily, the Bay Area was nothing but good to me. Unlike east Texas, the weather was congenial, without wintertime icicles worthy of murder weapon status or summers so hot that cracks formed in the ground. Yes, housing was on the dense side – “wall to wall people,” as my father groused. Bizarre as it seems now, at first I was confused by the lack of visible boundaries between cities. I was used to seeing open land with grazing cattle.

However, the roads were paved, not mud masquerading as limestone gravel. Power and water outages were almost nonexistent. The places I lived, while not luxurious, all had toilets that worked consistently, painted walls, and floors of tile or wood or linoleum rather than plywood floors, unpainted sheetrock walls, and rain blowing in around the edges of homemade windows.

There was public transportation. The locals complained about it in endless screeds to the newspaper, but I was grateful. If you had the price of a day pass for the bus and were healthy enough to make up the difference between the bus route and your destination with your legs, you could get around a good many places. You could get by without a car, for at least awhile.

People seemed happier out here. Education was valued and people were congenial, busily pursuing matters they found interesting or important. If you hadn’t formed dreams of your own or didn’t yet have the means to pursue them, you could help out with someone else’s for awhile. For years I did just that.

There were libraries. Not just one library, with a building erected by Andrew Carnegie and a paltry two books allowed out for a period of a couple of weeks. No, there were libraries everywhere, at universities and in the cities. People used them, piling bags high with books. There were also museums, art, music, gorgeous places to hike, and people out smiling and waving as they walked their dogs. It was a paradise.

Alas, my personal life was a wreck. On weekends I’d try to escape it by walking from Escondido Village at Stanford, where I lived, down to California Avenue in Palo Alto. I’d walk and walk and walk and stay gone as long as I could. California Avenue had a thrift store, a bookstore, a photography store, and tons of windows to peer in. There was also a club; I think it was called the Keystone. I dimly remember seeing concert posters, low budget things run off on colored paper on a copier. Those were fun to look at. One of them mentioned a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

Huh. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was an interesting name. I wondered who and what they were.

Happily, the Stanford Daily ran some lovely stories about them, such as this article about a concert in 1985:

“The Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared last, and it was soon apparent they Were out to prove that punk’s not dead but has merely absorbed other musical styles and undergone a slight transformation in the process. The band was visually pleasing — lead singer Anthony Kiedis tied an American flag around his waist, and drummer Cliff Martinez wore some sort of bizarre headdress. Unfortunately their performance was not so pleasing. Flea’s funky bass and Jack Sherman’s hardcore/heavy metal guitar riffs completely overwhelmed Kiedis’ voice, so I couldn’t hear what he was singing. Kiedis spat a lot, and he and Flea wasted time with their stupid shouting between songs. His posturing and posing during songs lacked Fishbone’s humor; he looked like an attention-hungry brat. Most of their songs sounded essentially alike. An exception was “Mommy, Where’s Daddy,” primarily because it wasn’t as fast as their other songs and allowed a clearer sound to come through. They are all proficient musicians, but they are entirely predictable; combined with Kiedis’ obnoxious behavior, The Peppers’ show was less than what I had hoped to see. However, they did possess a raw energy that is truly what rock is all about and seeing Fishbone’s crazed stage spectacle made the evening memorable. The Chili Peppers were not “red hot” at the Keystone last Saturday.”

Bizarre headdress! Spitting! Stupid shouting! Now that’s journalism. It also sounds like quite a spectacle. I’m sorry I missed it.

Later I read about their wearing the infamous socks. They will never be allowed to forget about that; it’s a cruel reality of being a celebrity. They’ll be 105 years old, kept alive only by a drip of opiodes and pulverized kale, and somebody will ask them if they’re going to do another performance while wearing only socks. That or they’ll be asked, once again, why they began performing that way.

“Why did you perform with only socks over your privates?”

“Uhhh … take your pick:”

  1. “It was an existential protest against the brevity of human life.” 
  2. “It was a clever bit of stagecraft.”
  3. “We hadn’t done laundry lately.” 
  4. “We didn’t want to be arrested for performing naked.” 
  5. “We were young, we were doing a lot of drugs, and we wanted to play loud music and attract a bunch of girls.”

For me, it was wonderful. Rock musicians wearing socks! Only socks! That confirmed every stereotype my stepmother had tried to pound into me about rock musicians – debauchery, womanizing, poor dental hygiene, rampant sock-wearing. I was mildly scandalized (just socks!) and secretly delighted (just socks! in public!). What can I say? I was clinically depressed but I wasn’t dead.

I never did get to a Chili Peppers concert, although I did go to other concerts at Stanford – Joan Baez, Shadowfax, Ravi Shankar. They were all chosen by my ex, who supervised my music consumption and many other aspects of my life. I was braced for debauchery each time but there was none, unless one includes wearing socks with Birkenstocks.

I spent the following years doing the things one does: going to endless counseling sessions, getting out of one messed up relationship and sprawling into another, shoving electrons and positrons around and around a giant ring, shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, doing that and going to school, griping at people while shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, studying graphic design, running a business, working at a startup, divorcing, marrying, having a baby, adopting a couple of dogs, and whining about putting on weight while simultaneously baking batches of cookies.

I didn’t get back to the Chili Peppers until a few weeks ago. Sorry, guys. Not that you missed me.

I may be late to the party, but I’ve found that their videos – and there are quite a few – are a delight. I missed the golden age when MTV was in vogue, so it’s lovely catching up now. I’m guessing that we’re in a second golden age and that making videos is once again necessary if you want your songs to be commercially viable. People my son’s age aren’t watching broadcast TV or browsing record stores for LPs or CDs. They’re watching YouTube or listening to stuff on Pandora or Apple Music.

Here’s one of my current favorites, Dani California, which was released back in 2006.

The video does a lovely, entertaining job of chronicling the eras of rock history via a series of set pieces, complete with changes in costume, dance style, and persona.

 

Screencap from Dani California

We get to see Flea’s hilarious, adorable mugging (5 seconds, 26 seconds, and elsewhere) and the antics of the other people in the band.

 

Screencap from Dani California

Oh yes. We’ve all been there.

 

Screencap from Otherside

As usual, Anthony Kiedis is charismatic and has beautiful abs and bone structure. I suspect that he has painting that resembles a morph between himself and Keith Richards tucked away in an attic, or perhaps he just has new bodies cloned every couple of years.

 

I kind of want to make a 3D mesh of his face, much like the one I’m making here. Yeah. Having total strangers make digital 3D models of your face isn’t creepy at all.

There’s a nice writeup about the song on Wikipedia. I’m not going to repeat all of it, except for this part: “Kiedis has commented that the character of Dani is a composite of all the women with whom he has had relationships.”

Anthony, sweetie, that statement worries me. Do all of your relationships end with the girl getting shot to death in North Dakota? That just doesn’t sound healthy. You have enough going for you that you could date women who are a little smarter and less prone to getting shot. Next time, maybe look for somebody with a Ph.D. in anthropology or a nice school teacher type. Somebody you could actually talk to, who won’t go fleeing to another state.

I kid. Who knows why anybody gives the answers they do during interviews? If it was me on the spot and I’d been asked the same thing for the 5,000th time, I’d probably make stuff up for my own entertainment.

The video is great but it becomes even better after viewing the three-part documentary. (The entire thing takes about half an hour to watch.)

It shows some of the moving parts necessary to make the video: costumes, makeup, sets, cameras, camera angles, instrument techs. It soon becomes clear that what looks like a film of a bunch of guys messing around, singing, and having fun is actually intense, repetitive work.

I have no idea how many days of prep were involved or how much work was required in post. The fact that they did the filming in only two days, with ten costume and set changes, amazes me. It’s a testament to the preparation and maturity of everyone involved. They went in, they got to work, and they made it look fun.

Part 1:

Some personal favorites:

3:23 Flea goes on a screed about the British Invasion. My kid found this delightful. I’ll refrain from getting concerned until he decides to buy a pair of pointy-toed shoes.

5:14 Anthony kicks it fifties style. That footwork! I’m not sure how he wiggles back and forth so efficiently. My son and I have tried to reproduce his movements, with much clumsiness and laughter. So far we haven’t injured ourselves, but it’s been a close thing. What can I say? We live in Silicon Valley. We do nerd stuff. Even our dancing is kind of nerdy.

 

Part 2:

1:54 Flea is downed by an errant microphone. Here we get a little sense of the affection between him and Anthony. I suspect that’s what has kept the band glued together over the years: friendships, forgiveness, and fundamental respect for the different members’ abilities. People grow, change, and conflicts happen. It’s inevitable. It’s how people cope with such changes that makes the difference between enduring and parting ways.

2:24 Anthony hospital war story. Amusing.

4:58 Flea’s pompoudor wig. It’s big enough to cause an eclipse!

6:12 Chad Smith doing some hair metal mugging. Once you have lipstick and a tiger print body suit on, how can you resist?

8:26 Photo-sonics tech John Wagner describing a Cold War military-grade camera used capture Flea’s jumps. Military grade!

9:15 Flea’s kicks. The man has ups! He’s darned near making it out of Earth orbit. I’m sure the camera is positioned so as to make his jumps look more dramatic, but they’re still very impressive.

 

Part 3:

3:22 Flea’s screed about his less-than-functional bass. There’s just something about seeing a man who’s wearing a net shirt, black lipstick, and a spiked collar grin and say “Maybe I should come over there and beat the **** out of you” that makes me sick with laughter. Another household favorite.

4:14 Chad being deliciously sour. That isn’t meant as criticism. He does it very nicely. Anyone would feel sour and weary by then, really.

7:20 Anthony’s facial gyrations during the punk segment, with a camera darned near shoved up his nostrils. Great stuff. Those are the kinds of faces I secretly make in the bathroom mirror. Yes, I stick out my tongue, too.

Good for these guys. 

These days I view all sorts of things as celebrations of life – badly made art quilts that make somebody’s grandkid look like he has leprosy, the tree behind the ice cream parlor that’s covered with thousands of blobs of used chewing gum, and going to the dog park to throw balls. A music video falls in that category, albeit a more sophisticated one. It’s a carefully crafted celebration of life. The guys in that band have gotten up to heaven knows what over the years, but they’ve also put a lot of joy in people’s lives including mine. Their music has kept me from going nuts at times, when I’m shambling along on a treadmill or folding yet another brain-numbing, idiotic stack of towels. I’m glad to get to celebrate that creativity.

Back in the mid-eighties, I was near the beginning of my arc as an adult. I was a scrawny young woman with bad hair, a couple of thousand miles away from friends and family, taking long walks and trying to figure out how to straighten out my life. The Chili Peppers were similarly starting out, doing whatever was necessary to launch their careers – couch surfing, grabbing concert dates, and indulging in antics that scandalized and delighted onlookers.

We’re all now further along in parallel, non-intersecting arcs. They’re creative and productive. I like to think I am too. Much of the turbulence of early adulthood has settled out for everyone. Hopefully we’re all putting more good into the world than bad.

It’s none too soon. In my household, the next generation is on its way to getting launched. I hope my son’s launch will go quite a bit better than mine did. We’re going to try to help that happen.

My newest preciousssss.

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

During the past few months, this blog has read like a chronicle of broken machinery. Fortunately, most of it was easy to repair, a matter of getting in the appropriate devil-may-care mood and shoving in new parts or cackling madly while waving around a soldering iron.

Then came the most recent issue, the death of my beloved 17” Macbook Pro. After seven years, a chronically busted 4 key, a logic board replacement, and several RAM and hard drive upgrades, it embarked on an ugly series of hardware problems. One night the end came in a technicolor crescendo of crashes and screens of death.

“Oooh! Can I look at it?” my husband squealed happily. “Sure,” I said, having backed up all of the data on the machine a couple of other places. (Not that the drive was likely to be impacted.) He caressed the sickly machine, cooed to it, and began pressing keys. It faded into eternal blackness while in his arms.

“Hey, you finally killed it!” he crowed, ignoring the fact that technically it had died while he was touching it, not me. “Well, you’ll just have to march down to the Apple Store and get a new one. You can even have some coffee while you wait.” (Our closest Apple Store is at the spaceship campus’s visitor’s center. They have coffee there as well as high dollar nutrition bars with frightening names. I still haven’t had the guts to find out what a Manuka is.)

 

Happy happy consumers fingering I-devices.

The barrista drew a panda head on my coffee. Despite that, I was bitter. It isn’t often a machine bests me. I’d known that the computer was near the end of its life but I’d hoped that could be delayed a bit and handled on a non-emergency basis.

As I thought about the price of the new machine, I could hear my father’s voice ringing in my ears. He eternally had contempt for my using Macs, which he always seemed to regard as a personal failing. “Just think of all the Amiga 500s you could have bought instead!” I could hear him rant.

 

 

However, once I hooked the new computer up, I liked it a lot. The 5k display was large and gorgeous, and it was able to tackle 3D and graphics tasks a jillion times faster than before.

Alas, in short order I’d made the workspace a mess again.  I hate to draw comparisons that would make a pig feel bad but yes, when I’m working I tend to toss things around and wallow in them.

I briefly considered hauling everything non-electronic out to driveway and throwing a can of gasoline and a lit match on it. However, that seemed like a waste of good fossil fuel. Perhaps what I needed was a computer stand.

I stumbled across a review for Understands, a series of wood computer stands. They were elegantly designed and showed a great affection for wood. Some were one-of-a-kind designs, highlighting the unique characteristics of a particular piece of wood. Others featured dovetail joints, drawers, and access slots for cables. They were beautiful and quite a bit nicer than anything I could make myself. I also liked the company’s story, using urban reclaimed wood to create things of beauty and practicality.

I ordered one, the Planet 6 Walnut. Yes, I could have stacked my computer up on some of the thousands of books I have in the house or even employed the concrete brick I removed from the bottom of my washing machine last month. However, I believe there’s value in investing in the things I use and touch each day.

 

The new stand arrived a week later and promptly was inspected by the house wolf/Siberian Tube Dog. He tried to tell me what the UPS driver had eaten for breakfast and report on conditions in the shop in Rockford, Illinois, where the stand was created. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to understand.

 

 

Nice packaging.

 

Oh, beautiful. Look at that grain. Look at those dovetails.

 

Cork-lined drawers. Sweet.

 

The back of the stand has a slot for the base of one’s iMac or iMac Pro, so that the base will disappear into the top of the stand. It also has slots for cables, so that peripherals can be tucked away yet remain plugged in.

 

What’s this? A little surprise in one of the drawers? That’s a thoughtful touch.

 

The “surprise” proved to be a sliding dovetail box embellished with a laser cut heart. The tolerances of the dovetail are so tight, so snug, that one almost can’t find the slide unless one inspects the box with a magnifying glass.

 

The story behind the box. I like that and I’m glad they included it. Everything around us has a story, whether it’s about the people who designed and created it or where its source materials grew and were harvested.

In the case of the box and the computer stand, part of the story is about gorgeous wood, which otherwise might have gone to waste, being reclaimed and used to create items of practicality and beauty.

 

The new computer mounted on the computer stand.

Today’s celebrity monitor appearance is Anthony Kiedis. Hi, Mr. Kiedis. Thank you for visiting my studio, not that you had any choice in the matter.

 

And yep, I’m glad I ordered the stand with six drawers. In the top drawers there’s room for my external drive, backup drive, a track pad, and a remote control I’m hiding from my family. Thanks to the cable slots in the back of drawers and the fact that I’m running drives which don’t generate much heat, I can leave them plugged in while they’re tucked away in the drawers. (I wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing that with a “spinning rust” drive.)

 

The bottom drawers are large enough to hold a numeric keypad, Wacom tablet, and a three button mouse. These are items I like close at hand but don’t use every day. The numeric keypad and the mouse are primarily used with Blender, where I flail away with both hands while working.

 

The top right and left drawers have secret compartments for things one would like to keep hidden away. Not that I have any anything like that, heh heh heh. At least, not anything I’ll admit to.

 

A peek behind the computer. There’s room for cable and headphone storage. The wood artist’s manikin is holding earplugs. Yeah. About those. I have earplugs in my purse, in my nightstand, and all over the rest of the house. You see, a few years ago we adopted a terrier from one of the neighbors. The neighbor was going through some changes in her life and our other dog – the package inspector at the top of this blog entry – adored the terrier.

The terrier is a sweet dog and is usually fairly calm. Unfortunately, he can spin up wilder than an F-5 tornado, with yapping so sharp I want to jam an ice pick through my ears. He makes sounds that no living creature should be able to generate, noises which make me think that whoever engineered terriers was deranged. If they weren’t crazy before breeding the dogs, they would have been in short order after hearing the yapping. It drives me nuts. I also don’t think the dog can help it. Efforts to train him out of it have been unsuccessful. So yeah, when he starts to get excited before a walk or whatever, out come the earplugs.

 

Cables and flotsam behind the other side of the computer. There’s a little story behind those earrings. I keep remembrances of people around my work space, things that probably look like pieces of junk to other people but have meaning to me.

Years ago, I had a T-shirt that matched those earrings, with a large version of those creatures screen printed on the front. Burt Richter – yes, the same Burt Richter who won the Nobel Prize for  co-discovery of the J/ψ meson – referred to the creature as my “radioactive kitty cat”. I never thought to ask him whether that description was inspired by the feral cats at SLAC who had, alas, found their ways into places that weren’t healthy for them.

Richter passed away recently but his vision and his work persist. The earrings are a reminder of that, even though they’re a tad silly.

 

Much better. The computer stand has done wonders as far as cleaning up that part of the room. I really admire the design and workmanship of the Understands computer stands. Mine is worth every penny I paid for it.

Did you know there’s a chunk of concrete in your washing machine?

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Back in May, I wrote a blog entry in which I stated that having my dishwasher or my sewing machine break was a “good” problem, ever so much better than having my clothes washer break.

HA HA HA HA HA! (Wiping tears out of my eyes.) What an idiot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing those words was tantamount to daring the machine to break. I might as well have yanked my clothes washer out of the laundry room, drawn a pentagram around it, lit some candles, and begged old man Beelzebub to come down and do his worst.

So, yeah. August came. One morning I was hanging out, working on some art stuff and downing coffee so maybe my face would look less like a character drawn by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. “Huh. I wonder if everybody has clean underwear,” I thought. “Maybe I should throw a load in the washer. After all, who doesn’t like clean underwear?”

 

The art stuff I was working on.

Half an hour or so later: BAM BAM BAM BAM! 

What the …? 

A hideous racket was coming from the laundry room. I went to investigate. The source of the racket was the washing machine attempting to rattle itself to death during high speed spin. Ugh. I went through the usual troubleshooting stuff, such as rebalancing the load and simply running the machine empty. Same issue. It was clear that something had broken.

Fortunately, there are helpful diagnostic sites on the web such as fix.com. I headed over there, entered in the model number of my washer, and was soon puzzling over parts diagrams.

Based on my extensive knowledge of washing machines, which is to say none, I decided that the problem was probably a broken tub dampening strap. It made sense; if a strap had broken, maybe the tub was ricocheting around the enclosure during the spin cycle. I smiled to myself. That would be an easy fix, just a matter of popping off some covers and installing a new strap.

I went over to YouTube, found a video where a nice helpful person was dissassembling a GE Top Loader, and got to work.

 

And … no. All of the straps were intact. What could the problem be?

 

This. This was the problem. When I looked in the bottom of the machine, opposite the drive motor, I found a loose concrete brick, a couple of metal straps, and two long, unsecured screws. At first I didn’t understand what I was looking at; why was there a concrete brick in the bottom of the machine? Was one of my family members playing a prank on me?

It was, admittedly, a silly thought. Tempting as it may be, nobody in my household has enough energy to take apart a washing machine and shove a brick in the bottom just so they can hear me yell. No, the brick was the counterweight, positioned so as to balance out the weight of the drive motor. It turns out that all or most top loading washing machines have them, although some of them have a more refined appearance. (Do a Google image search on “washing machine counter weight” if you’re skeptical.)

It turned out that the metal straps and long screws I’d found were part of the (poorly engineered) mounting mechanism for the brick. Over the years, vibration from the machine had caused them to hog out the threads in the plate they screwed into, meaning that some lucky soul – me – would have the life scared out of her one morning while she was innocently downing her coffee.

After some soul-searching – could I just go down to the hardware store and kludge a new mount together? – I purchased a replacement brick with improved mount for $80.

 

“Well there’s your problem right there. You got a big ole rock stickin’ out the bottom of your washing machine. See, normal people, they don’t let their rocks rattle around like that.”

Fortunately, once the part came in, the repair itself was trivial. The worst parts were getting the tub out of the washing machine enclosure and putting the drive belt back on afterward.

 

A test run after installing the new brick and putting the tub back in the machine enclosure. I like to leave devices somewhat open until I verify that they’re working properly. This shot is fun; we can see the level of the water through the tub, as well as mildew I failed to remove while the machine was disassembled. I’m just that good.

 

Taking a peek to see if the drain is leaking (nope: good) and whether the drive belt is tracking properly on the pulley. The latter was a bit of a worry while the machine was disassembled, as the pulley has some wobble. Unlike with, say, a band saw, there isn’t a nice way to adjust the tracking of the pulley. Fortunately, it has proven to be a non-issue thus far.

Lessons learned:

  • Most or all top-loader washing machines have bricks or concrete slabs in them.
  • Washing machines are fairly simple devices.
  • Provided one is just swapping out parts and knows what the problem is, repairing a washer is fairly straightforward.
  • I like my washer better now that I’ve worked on it. I feel like we’re friends now.

Now we have clean underwear again. Now I’m back to making art. Unfortunately, I still resemble a character drawn by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth before I’ve had coffee in the morning.