Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Interior Painting Project Part 7

Fixing a hole (apologies to Paul McCartney):

I'm painting my room in the colourful way
And when my mind is wandering
There I will go
Ooh ooh ooh ah ah
Hey, hey, hey, hey

This Sunday my younger son and I rested from our painting labors.  I did some minor preparation for painting the living room this week by removing four antiquated television antenna outlets and ethernet outlets and patching their holes in the wallboard.  This was one more step toward my goal of making my townhouse look less like a outdated playground for a 1980s electronics nerd. 

My patching approach began by inserting skinny pieces of plywood in the holes as backing for the patching compound.  The hole on the right already has its backing screwed in place.

The next step was to apply patching compound with a putty knife.  Unfortunately, I got excited and inadvertently applied some light-weight spackle designed for shallow repairs instead of the appropriate patching compound my younger son had bought.

At this point it's too soon to tell whether I have filled the holes with something that will take forever to dry, something that will resemble thick pudding for days to come.  No doubt this will trouble my dreams tonight.

The Interior Painting Project Part 6

Finishing the living room ceiling

Today my younger son and I finished the living room ceiling by adding a second coat of paint.  As usual, my son did most of the work; but he briefly turned over the roller to me so that I could try my hand at painting an area of the ceiling that didn't get much direct light.

Our equipment consisted of a roller fastened to a four-foot pole, a 5 gallon bucket filled with about three inches of paint, and a roller screen.

(picture stolen from the excellent website

He handed me the pole and I proceeded to make a succession of novice paint rolling errors:

Error 1:  I didn't load the roller with paint evenly. 

I had watched painting videos and knew to dip the roller into the paint at the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket and run the roller up and down the roller screen.  Despite my efforts, the side of the roller that got dipped remained soaked with paint; the other side remained relatively dry.  The result was that the roller laid down a corrugated pattern: heavy-light-heavy-light.  My son immediately spotted this error and showed me how to correctly use the roller screen.  With this error out of the way, I was ready to commit Error 2.

Error 2: I pressed the roller too hard on the ceiling. 

The result was that whenever I started a stroke, I squeezed out a drippy blob of paint.  My son told me to use a lighter touch when beginning.  So far, so good.  On to Error 3.

Error 3:  I didn't keep the roller perfectly horizontal on the ceiling. 

I tended to lean a bit to the right.  The result was that the roller stroke would be heavier on right and thinner on the left.  My son noticed that I was laying down a striped pattern and cautioned me to keep the roller level.

Error 4:  Instead of laying down parallel lines of paint with the roller, my lines tended to wiggle about. 

This error bothered my son the most, because I was corrupting the straight lines he had painted earlier.  He ended up spending more time fixing this error than I spent committing it.

Happily, when my son finally called it quits, the ceiling looked fine.  Here is a picture of the freshly painted ceiling.  We used a paint that is light purple when first applied and then dries to Ultra White.  A faint purple is still visible.

Tomorrow we start preparing the walls for painting.  Preparation involves cleaning, patching, texturing, and priming.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Interior Painting Project Part 5

Ceiling texture and paint

Today was the day to fix bare spots in the texture of the living room ceiling.  I searched the internet for ways to repair texture and settled on the Homax ceiling texture spray can.

The can's directions advised making a practice try on a scrap board or a piece of cardboard.  I took the can and a cardboard box to the garage.  I set the box up on an overhead rack. so that the bottom of the box simulated my living room ceiling.

I cautiously pushed the button.  A watery spray spat out of the can.  The result was a gloppy mess dripping from the box onto the garage floor.

My younger son stood in the doorway silently watching me.  He said, "Try again, but this time keep the can farther away from the box, don't let up on the trigger, and keep the spray moving."  (In his typical polite way, he was telling me to step up and spray like a man.)

I applied his advice on my next attempt.  A smooth pattern of texture dots appeared on the bottom of the box.  Success!  I went to the living room and made short work of fixing all the bare spots on the ceiling.

Leaving the texture repairs to dry, we ran off to do errands all afternoon.  Then, after a home-made Sichuan meal of spicy tofu and broccoli over Japanese-seasoned rice, my son and I returned to the living room to tackle painting the first coat on the ceiling.

My son volunteered for the skill work of applying the paint with a roller.  As the roller cannot apply paint any closer to the wall than the roller radius, this radius distance must be "cut in" using a brush.  My job was to cut in this border so that my son would have a wet edge to work with when he came along with the roller.

We made good progress but ran out of paint about two thirds of the way through the first coat.

Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Interior Painting Project Part 4

Selection of living room paint

My younger son has finally come forward with his recommendation for paint colors on the living room walls.  The colors are Valspar Brioche (orange) and Valspar Black Evergreen (pretty much black).  The scrap board shown leaning against the living room wall is painted with test samples of these two paints.

The orange will be the predominant color of the living room and should brighten things up nicely.  The black will be an accent color.

Given my son's aptitude for design -- the ability to assemble pieces into a harmonious whole -- I have no doubt that his color choices will yield a pleasing result.  My only concern is that he has chosen the team colors for the Cincinnati Bengals.

With this color scheme, my townhouse may be unmarketable to rabid Denver Broncos fans.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Interior Painting Project Part 3

Choosing the paint color

My younger son and I went to Lowe's hardware store to chose paint for the living room walls.  I knew what I wanted: paint that was dark enough to contrast with the fireplace mantel and that had a yellow hue to blend with the laminate flooring.  I knew what I didn't want: the same drab shade of mustard yellow currently on the living room walls.

I fidgeted for an hour in front of the racks of paint samples deliberating on the color choice.  I oscillated between various shades of yellow, brown, and tan.  My younger son stood patiently by and offered no opinions of his own.  Finally, I forced myself to pick a color and asked the paint clerk to make me a 6 oz. test sample.

When we got home, my son dipped his finger in the test sample and smeared it on the wall where the old thermostat once resided.

I couldn't have picked any color at Lowe's that more closely matched the current mustard yellow color on my walls.  A chromatic blunder!

This blunder came as no surprise to my son, who described my process of paint selection as "The Stockholm Syndrome" of interior design.   I lean toward whatever is familiar, no matter how aesthetically poor it is.

The Interior Painting Project Part 2

I chose a paint sample called Valspar Birchwood White from Lowe's hardware store.

The Lowe's expert, a retired painter, urged me to buy one can of Birchwood White and conduct an experiment.  He suggested that I paint a scrap board and then carry the board from room to room to see the paint's color in all kinds of light and in proximity to the other colored surfaces in the townhouse (e.g., kitchen cabinets, the laminate flooring, the ceilings).  Better to check for weird color clashes before I commit to purchasing many cans of paint.

Here is the freshly painted test board at 10:00 p.m. tonight, as viewed by lamp light.  The color appears to be a cheerful off-white.  But how will it look during the daytime?

I am off work for 18 days during this Christmas break and am looking forward to this painting adventure.  I don't recall any previous time in my adult life where I had 18 straight days when I wasn't being told what to do by some professor or boss.  This will be an interesting and instructive foretaste of retirement.

[Updates from 12/17/2015:

To be completely accurate, I had two months off in 1984 when nobody was telling me what to do.  This was the period when I was laid off during the first oil shale boom. 

The Valspar Birchwood White color mentioned above had a bit of red in it and made the fireplace mantel appear a sickly pale green by contrast.  I was fortunate to evaluate the paint sample before making a major paint buy.  More paint research is needed.]

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Interior Painting Project Begins

Right in the middle of The Great Bicycle Build, I have injected another project: The Interior Painting Project.  You gasp in astonishment.  Two concurrent projects, really?  Yes, it's madness!

I feel the need to make changes in my life.  The first step in this change process will be to rid my townhouse of the familiar mustard-colored interior paint in favor of some sprightly off-white with a hint of red.  (It's obvious that I approach life changes very slowly and cautiously.  If Christopher Columbus had my disposition, he would have stopped at the Canary Islands, shrugged his shoulders, and called it good enough.)

Here are two views of my living room as it currently appears.  The first view was from the back.  The second view was taken from the entry way as I leaned over the partition.  

 My younger son and I are making preparations to paint the ceiling a fresher shade of white (a whiter shade of pale?).  Next week we will start on the walls.

My son has an urge to add some dramatic color to the fireplace.  I, however, am comfortable with its current bland look and am skeptical of fireplace drama.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ashley Sterne Look Before You Leap

This short sketch was published on 15 May 1920 in The Journal (Adelaide, SA). 

There is an artful use of the subjunctive in the paragraph below that begins “Of course, you will think this a very drastic measure to take…” Read slowly and savor it.

The word “parti” in the final paragraph sent me scurrying for the dictionary.  The word, chiefly used in England, means an excellent match.


[By Ashley Sterne]

I always get frightened when leap year comes round. I feel as if I want somebody to hold my hand, ply me periodically with sal-volatile, old liqueur brandy, Milton, Stilton, or other, approved stimulants and whisper, "Courage, mon brave" (or the same thing in English would do) into my ear at intervals.

This year I am more frightened than ever before: frightened, I must explain, not that damsels will refrain from proposing to me, but frightened that they may. In fact, I feel sure that already more than one maiden has her eye on me, especially a certain one whom I encountered at a dance the other night.

When I was first introduced to her, just after I had got my elbow entangled in her back hair during a fox trot, I thought I was being introduced to a set of freckles, but subsequent investigation showed that she really had got a face concealed behind them. I asked her if she'd ever tried rub them out with pumice-stone, and thinking doubtless that I really took an interest in her facial structure, my remark apparently gave her an excuse to get intimate with me.

Among other things I gathered that she had worked very hard at an engagement all last summer, but that the victim had escaped by being taken back into the army on compassionate grounds. It isn't every man, you know, who can thoroughly understand freckles and appreciate them at their face value.

I carried her shoes home for her after the dance, and next morning she called round to express the hope that I was not too fatigued after my exertions of the previous evening, though whether she was referring to the labour of carrying a pair of size nines for a mile and a half, or to my frantic struggles at the buffet with men much older and bigger than me in order to procure the 17 meringues she consumed during the evening, is a moot point.

My next move is to call and see her parents and demand to know what their daughter's intentions are, for if they are matrimonial I am going to leave the neighbourhood secretly, on tiptoe, with muffled oars, the very next dark night.

Of course, you will think this a very drastic measure to take merely to avoid a proposal. You will probably wonder why I don't let the proposal buzz along in due course, and then just turn it down with kindly courtesy and promise the wench to be a brother to her, a second cousin german, a step-uncle, a solicitor — anything else she likes, in fact. But you have probably forgotten the fact that if a lady propose in leap year and be rejected it is a point of honour with the gentleman to present his disappointed suitress with a silk dress.

Now this silk dress business is going to be a costly affair with prices at their present high level and a 42-hour week for silk worms, and I am not at all sure that it wouldn't work out cheaper in the long run to accept the proposal and have the lady for keeps. A husband is not legally bound to clothe his wife in silk.

However, I think I shall be able to protect myself against any serious financial loss with the aid of my widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Danks. A man who is already engaged is certainly at liberty to refuse other proposals without forfeit, and I have therefore decided to procure a legally drawn-up agreement with Mrs. Danks to the effect that for a small monetary consideration she shall be betrothed to me for the year 1920 only.

And this device will, of course, not only protect me from the assaults of the freckled damsel, but from those of other adventuresses who may have already marked me down as a desirable parti. it is pretty well known in my neighbourhood that I have a whole War Savings Certificate, which has only three more years to l run before I come in for One Pound Sterling, and there is a persistent rumour that I have got several lumps of sugar saved up. I shall not long remain unsought after.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ashley Sterne Too Long!

Today I had a trying day at work.  Fortunately, I have just found refreshment with this comic sketch by Ashley Sterne.  The sketch was published in The Journal (Adelaide, SA) on 17 July 1920.


[By Ashley Sterne]

In my opinion it was a very good story; and I ought to know because I wrote it. It had a "strong love interest” — my hero had already committed bigamy and was contemplating committing trigonometry with my heroine, who was engaged to four gentlemen simultaneously. You couldn't have a much stronger love interest than that. The plot, too, had "plenty of incident." On the very first page there was a panic on the Stock Exchange and a water-spout; on the second there was an eruption of Vesuvius and an epidemic of mumps; while on the following pages there was a gas explosion, a blizzard, a railway accident, a runaway steamroller, and a chess tournament. I don't suppose there ever was a story which had quite so much incident in it.

*          *         *

So I showed it to an editor. He liked my story; he liked my handwriting; he liked the paper it was written on; he liked the ink I used; he liked the strong love interest; he fairly gloated over the wealth of incident. But it was too long. If I would cut out a couple of thousand words. . .  Accordingly I took my story away and cut out the hero's second wife, one of the heroine's fiances, the waterspout, and then carried it back. Meantime the editor had died. They turned me over to the new editor. He, too. liked my story and the paper and the ink, and the remains of the love interest, and the incidents. But it was too long. If I would cut out a couple of thousand words. . .   So I went home and cut out the hero's first wife, took away another fiance from the heroine, and did away with the blizzard, and several of the mumps. Then I took it back to the editor's office. It was closed. The magazine had "shut down." Served them right. If the editor had only taken my story when he had the chance that magazine might have lived happily ever afterwards.

*         *         *

There was no help for it but to take it to another editor. I did. He liked my story almost better than the other editors did. There was only one thing against it — it was a trifle too long, and he was already late for his third lunch. Would I therefore cut out a few words, say a couple of thousand? Then he would be delighted to accept it. Once again I set to work, and made the hero a widower, and gave the heroine no fiances at all. I also took out the eruption of Vesuvius, and the chess tournament. Then I took it back. The editor was still alive and the magazine had not "shut down." Yet my story never got taken. No. The magazine had "changed its policy."' It had ceased to be a magazine of fiction, and had become an organ for propaganda on bimetallism. In vain I offered to make my hero an unmitigated bimetallist and introduce an "incident" on Wall Street where frantic stockbrokers bid six dollars for an English sovereign. They said the idea expressed the true spirit of bimetallism, but it wasn't exactly propaganda. I found another editor hiding behind his desk. He had heard me trying to find him. However, he read my story, and liked it even better than all the other editors put together. He wanted to take it and read it to the proprietors then and there, only — “

"I know," I said. "It's too long. I’ll take out a couple of thousand words — “

"Exactly," he said. "Then it will do capitally."

I took out two thousand words. I dispensed with the hero and heroine entirely, and cut out all the remaining incidents. And then — well, there really wasn't enough story left to take back to the editor. I didn't feel I ought to bother him with only eleven words.

But they appeared in print all the same.

All that was left of my story was published last Christmas, and had a tremendous circulation. People actually struggled with one another to get hold of it. It made its appearance as a motto in a Christmas cracker.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Gym in the Snow

I took a walk down to Tommy Davis park and was surprised to see stations of industrial-strength exercise equipment on the path surrounding the park.  Here is the elliptical trainer.

I hopped on and gave it a try, but then felt so silly that I hopped off again.

The Great Bicycle Build Part 3

Yesterday my younger son and I put all the spokes on the front and back wheels, 32 spokes on each wheel.  The technical term for this process is "lacing the spokes."

Here is the beginning of the process for the back wheel.  My son laced the first 16 spokes (eight spokes on each side of the hub) to get things off on the right foot.  Then we set the wheel in the truing stand for ease of construction with the remaining spokes.  Note the elegant symmetry.  I was reminded of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man sketch. 

Our goal was a 3-cross spoke pattern.  The pattern is beautiful and has the advantage of increased strength from the crossed spokes, which reinforce each other.  I immediately set to the work and laced up a 0-cross pattern, which I was proud of until politely informed that I had gone astray.  All of the spokes I added had to be unlaced.  Such are the pitfalls that await the novice bike builder. 

Finally,  my son and I got all of the spokes where they belonged for the 3-cross pattern.

The spokes haven't been tightened fully, so they are still a bit wiggly.  The spoke tensioning and wheel truing (straightening) process comes next.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Great Bicycle Build Part 2

My younger son and I are tearing down a perfectly good Lemond Zurich bicycle with derailleur and totally rebuilding it as a 3-speed.  I was fond of my old Raleigh 3-speed decades ago, and I suppose that I want to relive my youth.

We are building wheels this Thanksgiving break.  The back wheel will incorporate a Nexus 3-speed hub.  Holding this weighty little hub in the palm of your hand makes you feel like an a real mechanic.  (Real mechanics among my readership may be forgiven if they scoff at my presumption.)

Here is the hub.

Here is the Lemond Zurich before radical surgery.  My living room makes a good bike shop.

After surgery:

 New parts will be added over the coming weeks.

My son is instructing me in the fine points of bicycle mechanic work.  His instruction usually takes the form of presenting me with a task to undertake or a problem to be overcome.  Then, when I consider what needs to be done and am dismayed that some specialized tool appears to be required and consequently am discouraged because I lack this specialized tool, my son will disappear into the garage and return with the tool.  For example, when one wants to break a chain for easy removal, here is the tool (the L-shaped part at the left, that is) needed to push out the rivet that holds chain links together.

Here is the tool needed to remove the crank.  There is no graceful way to remove the crank without this handy tool with its interior and exterior threads.

Despite my usual inhibitions about mechanical things, I am enjoying learning new techniques and tools for bicycle building.

[This is my first blog post after upgrading my 13 year-old Pentium computer to a nifty little Mac mini.  Nobody can accuse me of being an early adopter.]


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ashley Sterne Drummed In

This moderately droll burlesque was republished in The Australian (7 November 1917).

Drummed In

Practically the whole battalion was drawn up on the barrack-square. The only absentees were the sentry, who was engaged in his charitable task of presenting alms at the gate, the guard, who was examining tickets, and the quartermaster, who was swarming up the quarter-mast in order to troop the colours. Even the regimental mascot, Alphonse, the ant-eater, was there, held in leash by two stalwart mascoteers, who alternately fed it with ants to keep it quiet and prevent it from biting the battalion.

Facing the serried ranks of bright, clean faces, with the Adjutant at his side holding the prompt-book, stood the Colonel — a stern, fearless soldier, upon whose breast gleamed the ribbons of the Waterloo Cup, Doggett's Coat and Badge, and the Total Abstinence Pledge. He was obviously distraught, for it might have been observed that he was nervously twiddling the Adjutant's moustache in mistake for his own.

And little wonder he was dispossessed, for it was his duty that day to degrade Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs, the idol of his company, the hero even of his batsman, the most popular figure in the officers' mess, before the whole battalion; to deprive him of the insignia of his rank; to break his sword across his knee and dismiss him from the Service. In short, Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs was to be "drummed out."

And what, you ask, had he done to merit this cruel degradation? Ah, gentle and constant reader (who, I trust, have manifested that constancy by placing a standing order with your newsagent), living in happy ignorance of military procedure, scarcely will you understand the enormity of Captain Carstairs Cathc— — you know whom I mean; I won't swot through it all again — 's offence. Briefly, some days before this incident opens, he had had the temerity to call "six no trumps" over his partner, the Colonel, who, holding the whole thirteen hearts in his hand, had called seven of that suit. The consequences were all too obvious. Captain Carst— — . etc., was at once placed in open arrest; a courtmartial assembled in due course, and sentence was promulgated as already mentioned. The climax was reached this day when, as I have previously explained, the whole battalion was stood up in rows upon the barrack- square, waiting for the revels to commence.

"All present, sir, except the absentees," said the Sergeant-Major, coming briskly to attention and bringing the right hand smartly, with a circular motion, to the head, palm to the front, fingers extended and close together point of the forefinger in f—— (In fact, see Infantry Training. — Ed.)

"The absentees are absent, I suppose?" queried the Colonel, showing that profound knowledge of battalion drill for which all Colonels are justly celebrated.

"At present they're absent, sir," replied the. Sergeant-Major, coming briskly to attention and bringing the right hand smartly, with a circular motion, to the head, palm to the — — (Quite so. We know all that. Get on. — Ed.)

"Then bring in Captain Cathbert Staircase," said the Colonel, who, partly through emotion and partly through the influence of the gin-and-bitters he had taken to steady his nerves, had muddled his words.

A hushed hush pervaded the barrack-square. The chattering in the ranks stopped as if by magic. Even the N.C.O.'s threw away their unfinished cigarettes .and craned their necks in the direction from which Captain Cathcart-Carstairs was expected. Presently he came, manacled and fettered, clanking like a home-made railway engine. Advancing with his burden of ironmongery to the centre of the square, he halted, placed his heels together and in line, feet turned out at an angle of about 45 degrees, knees straight, body erect, and carried evenly over the thighs, with the shoulders — — (In other words he "shunned." —Ed. "L.O.")

Over the scene that followed it were best to draw a veil. Suffice it to say that the hushed hushness remained silent, but for the tink, tink of the buttons and badges as they fell at regular intervals, under the rapidly moving scissors plied by the regimental barber, and the sharp metallic clang that came when the Colonel deftly snapped the captain's sword in two at the spot where it had been neatly sawn almost through (to avoid all risks) earlier in the day.

Then at last was borne on the air the bump-bump-bumpety-bump of the drums, as the Drum-Major gave the signal for the drums to make the noise I said. With downcast head and hands forced tightly into the small of his back (for, in his misguided zeal, the barber had snipped off all the brace buttons), Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs slowly staggered across the barrack-square.

"Brace those knees!" shouted the Sergeant-Major as the forlorn, drooping figure passed him.

"Swing those arms!" bawled the Physical Drill Instructor as the stooping, shrunken form went by.

" 'Old that blinkin' 'ead up!" yelled the Sergeant-Major of the ex-Captain's own company, as with broken, faltering footsteps the unhappy man stumbled along. Only the mascot, Alphonse, the ant-eater, showed any signs of pity for the degraded officer. As he passed it extended a long, curly, sticky tongue and in token of mute sympathy deposited a partially-masticated ant on his knuckles. Then from the street beyond the barrack walls came the shrill cry of a newsboy — "Heligo land declares war on the Isle of Wight." (Another large instalment will appear in a few minutes when I've thought out how to go on.)


"Name?" said the Recruiting Sergeant.

"Cathcart Carstairs Carstairs-Cathcart," replied the smart, soldierly-looking man.

"Don't make that nasty clicking noise in here," snapped the Sergeant.

"That's my name," explained ex-Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs (for it was he), blushing to think of the hideous deception he was practising in thus giving a false name.

"Sounds more like an attack of hiccups," remarked the Sergeant, with that pungent wit that is invariably associated with the possession of the third stripe. "Age?"


"Trade or profession?"

"Dutch cheese stainer," replied the other, wincing as he uttered this second falsehood.

Then for an hour he stood idly by while the Sergeant painstakingly and laboriously filled in Army Forms Q1973 and X4509 in quadruplicate, just as if there wasn't any war on. At length he finished, and dabbed the papers with a piece of Army blotting-paper, which immediately rendered them totally illegible.

"You will report at once," he said, "at Crippleton Barracks. The 14th Umpshires need one man to fill up a hole in the draft that leaves for the Front next week."

A grim smile stole over the ex-Captain's features. The 14th Umpshires was his old regiment! But little did he fear detection. His hair had turned piebald on the night of the day he had been drummed out, and in the mean time he had shaved off his moustache and eyebrows. It. would have needed a sharp man indeed to recognise in the new recruit who later that same day reported at Crippleton Barracks the one-time popular officer commanding "Z" Company.


(Owing to the paper shortage I regret to say that this section has had to be omitted. Briefly, it deals with C.C.'s heroic rescue of Anzora, the Colonel's daughter, from being gored to death by Alphonse, the ant-eater, who went suddenly mad from hunger in consequence of the ant shortage. A delightfully romantic attachment between the two — Anzora and C.C. I mean, not Anzora and Alphonse — kindly sprang up, in order to make the plot more interesting.)


The shell burst within a yard of the Colonel. Simultaneously a hand shot out of the dense smoke, while the Colonel staggered, turned round three times, took away the number he first thought of, and would have fallen heavily to the ground had not a strong arm encircled and caught him ere he collapsed. A faint odour of gin-and-bitters made him rally sufficiently to take the bottle that his supporter held to his lips, and drain the contents.

"What has happened?" he gasped, faintly, looking up gratefully at his rescuer.

"Regardless of your rank a shrapnel shell had the impertinence to burst within a yard of you, sir," was the reply.

"Then I am wounded," said the Colonel, peevishly. "See that my photograph is sent at once to the 'Daily M—"

"You are unhurt, sir," interposed the other. "I — I — caught the bullets in my hand."

As he spoke he placed about a stone of neat lead in the Colonel's lap. A great wave of emotion spread over the latter's face as he realised the man's devotion. A tear stood in his eye. Then it lay down and meandered all over his cheek.

"I owe you my life," he said, huskily. "What is your name?"

"Corporal Cathcart Carstairs Carstairs-Cathcart!"

A dim flicker of recognition dimly flickered over the Colonel's dim-flickering organs.

"The noise you made sounds somewhat familiar to me," he observed, scrutinising the other closely, "I once had a captain —"

"I am ex-Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs!"


For the space of a minute the two gazed at each other. Then they got sick of it and gazed elsewhere.

"Corporal Broadstairs Cardcase," said the Colonel, at length, "you have saved my life. Just how valuable that life is to the Army I may not tell you. It's a Military Secret. In return for that inestimable service to your country I shall at once recommend that you be reinstated in your former rank. Hand me Army Pencil Mark IV."

From his pocket the Colonel drew a bundle of Army Forms, mostly those for claiming allowances, the monthly filling up of which is the thoroughly efficient officer's first and most important duty. Eventually he found, the one he required — A.F.B. (x2 x y2)/(2xy). He filled it in.

* * *

A week later a brand-new three-star officer turned in the direction of Oxford Street and caught sight of a familiar female figure approaching. It was carrying a sack of coal in one hand and a pound of sugar in the other. The officer's heart beat quickly. Rapidly they drew into alignment. In another moment the air was thick with Derby Brights and Demerara, and two arms encircled the officer's neck. In accordance with A.C.I. 9097 of 1916 which prohibits officers from being embraced in public, he cut away her arms smartly to the side.

"Carstairs!" she whispered, the love-light shining in her eyes.

"Zenoh — I mean Anzora!" he rewhispered, the same mixture gleaming in his own.

And as they both guessed right, I really don't see that any purpose will be served by my unduly prolonging the record of these events. — (By Ashley Sterne in "London Opinion.")

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Great Bicycle Build Part 1

My younger son is teaching me how to build a bicycle.  We are starting with the front wheel.  The kitchen table makes a handy workbench.

The spoke slips through a hole in the hub and is held by a hook at its end.  It matters whether the face of the hook is on the interior or the exterior of the hub.  We used a front wheel from another bicycle as our guide.

My son told me that the emblem on the hub needs to face the label on the rim.  Otherwise, professional wheel builders will snicker at you.

It's tricky (for me, that is, not for my son) to tell which particular hole in the hub corresponds to where the spoke is attached to the rim.  I made a few false starts.

The spoke is fixed to the rim by a little aluminum nipple that is slipped through a hole in the rim and then screwed onto the spoke's threaded end.  In other words, the spoke, with its last few threads lightly lubricated with green bicycle grease, plays the part of a bolt and the nipple is the nut. 

Seeing the tiny threads on the end of the spoke (undetectable in the fuzzy photo below) tested the limits of my bifocals.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Great Day for a Blue Jay

I hiked the Enchanted Forest trail today.

It was ideal hiking weather.  The trail was strewn with aspen leaves, the next best thing to being strewn with rose petals.

I saw a flash of blue and grabbed for my digital camera.  It was a mountain jay.  I fired off several quick photos without wasting time to zoom in or even focus very carefully.  The mountain jay doesn't stay put long.

Farther up the trail I saw another jay (or maybe the same one again).  I took a quick photo before the bird vanished into the pines.

Soon after I saw another blue bird walking ahead of me on the trail.  This little fellow, about the size of a sparrow, is called a scrub jay.   It had no problem with being photographed.

Here are pictures of the mountain jay and the scrub jay taken by competent photographers.  (Also, the models were a bit more cooperative than mine.)

As I often say: "Any day you see a blue bird is a good day."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Shop Till You Drop at the VeloSwap

My younger son and I attended the VeloSwap at the National Western Complex today.

VeloSwap is a giant consumer bicycling event part expo of new bicycle technology and part sprawling flea market of used bicycle parts.  Our goal for the day was to buy the parts to construct a good road bike for me.  And this goal supported my longer-term goal of having my son share his expertise with me on how to build and maintain a bicycle.

Doors opened at 9:00 a.m.  We arrived at 7:00 a.m. to get a good place in line.  There was no line.  We went back to the car and took a nap.

At 8:20 a.m.we roused ourselves and went to take our place in line.  About 60 people were in front of us.  During the next 40 minutes I had time to review my wish list of bicycle parts that my son had helped me compile last night.  The list contained all the major parts (e.g., frame, fork, brakes, crank, handlebars) and minor parts (e.g., stem, front hub, seat post, bottom bracket) needed to construct a bicycle.  For each part, we had gone on the Internet and determined compatible sizes for the parts and the price ranges (new and used) for each part.

We had done our homework: we knew what we wanted; we knew what we were willing to pay; and we were ready to haggle.  Caveat venditor!  Let the seller beware!

Promptly at 9:00 a.m. the doors opened and we filed inside with the rest of the eager bicycle enthusiasts.  The stadium was packed with vendors.

There were two immense halls filled with rows of bicycles from local shops, company booths with smiling young women selling bicycle clothing, and a great multitude of tables heaped with used parts.  My objective was to find quality used parts, and I relied on my son to sort out which used parts were junk and which were diamonds in the rough. 

Our first purchase was a pair of caliper brakes that my son found worthy.  The brakes were followed by a drop bar (handlebars).  On and on it went.  In keeping with flea-market practice, every purchase was a cash purchase.

Over the next two hours I checked everything off my list but the frame and the crank set.  Then we spied a used bicycle with an excellent frame made by Gunnar, a company in Wisconsin.  My son suggested that we could buy the bicycle, throw away everything but the frame, and then rebuild the bicycle from the ground up.  However, on closer inspection, it became apparent that all the parts on the bicycle were as good as the parts we had just purchased.  A rebuild had already been done.  Too bad.

Just for curiosity's sake, my son asked the owner what price he wanted.  The owner responded with a price so low that we immediately purchased the bicycle, a 2001 Gunnar Roadie with a substantial number of upgrades.  Here is the gorgeous contraption itself.

Now I was the owner of one complete bicycle and two thirds of the parts for a second bicycle, everything except the frame and crank set.  We decided to press on and buy everything for a second bicycle that we could build together.  After stowing the Gunnar safely in my car, we returned to complete our parts purchases.

We soon found a serviceable crank set.  Now all that was lacking was a frame.  We searched through countless aisles without luck.  The frames were either cheap but unsatisfactory (such as 50-pound Schwinn frames) or satisfactory but too expensive.  Then we stumbled upon an old 1980 Austro Daimler bicycle with a suitable frame.  The frame's height and overall geometry fit me well.

The bicycle's price seemed cheap.  But that didn't stop my son from haggling to get the price down by twenty percent.  Embarrassing perhaps, but that's just how the flea market game is played.  A few crisp bills and a handshake later, the Austro Daimler was mine.

On closer inspection, my son and I found that the Austro Daimler's various components an assortment of French, Belgium, Swiss, and Japanese replacement parts were quite sound in spite of their age.  Now I was the owner of two complete bicycles and another two thirds of a bicycle in parts.  Here is the Austro Daimler Inter 10, an eggplant-colored European beauty with a touch of Japanese.

The purchase of a second bicycle presented an unexpected complication.  I couldn't fit another bicycle in my car trunk.  (Not much thinking ahead here on my part.)  My son solved the problem by graciously offering to ride the Austro Daimler to the nearest light rail station and take the light rail home.

So now what?  I still want to build a bicycle with my son.  At the moment, though, I have misgivings about dismembering the venerable Austro Daimler to extract its frame.  On the other hand, it would be ridiculous to end up with three working bicycles in my garage.  (Or would it?)  The whole business requires further thought.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Signs of Autumn

I noticed the seasonal changes this morning as I went off for a hike on Mt. Falcon.  The trees in the nearby park are taking on their autumn colors.  I especially like the red trees.

On the hiking trail, the bushes are also changing colors.

But my favorite sign of autumn is the appearance of baby deer in the foothills.  Here is one young deer I saw today as I was leaving the west entrance of Mt. Falcon park.  It was calmly eating grass by the roadside as I stopped my car to take a picture.  I had to call out "Hey there" before it paid me any attention.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Hooray for the Clogged Kitchen Sink!

Tuesday morning, prior to going to work, I ran the garbage disposal and saw the sink erupt like a geyser. Something like this.

There was a clog in the drain line somewhere.  I wrote a warning message to my younger son that the sink was clogged and left for work.

It was yesterday night before I summoned the nerve to address the clog problem.  Why the delay?  Because I am afraid of plumbing problems.  This goes beyond my incompetence as a handyman; it is a full-blown anxiety that I will fail so spectacularly that I will shame myself in the eyes of the plumber whom I will eventually be forced to call.  For me, a clogged sink becomes an existential crisis.  This is a psychological impairment that I need to overcome.

Yesterday night, with my younger son offering guidance and moral support, I nervously unscrewed the PVC trap beneath the sink and inserted a six-foot snake down the vertical pipe.  I had a few unsettling moments as I struggled to push the snake past the pipe elbow beneath the kitchen floor.  After that, the snake didn't hit any resistance at all.  With fading hope, I pulled the snake out, reconnected the trap, and turned on the faucet for a test.  My efforts had been useless: the water quickly backed up into the sink.  I gave up for the evening.

This morning, after a troubled sleep, I resumed the battle.  My son had discovered a plumbing remedy on the internet involving baking soda and vinegar.  He chucked a half cup of baking soda down the drain.  I poured down a cup of vinegar as chaser.  We waited for ten minutes to let the potion do its work and then turned on the faucet.  The water backed up faster than before.  The baking soda and vinegar had made the clog even more tenacious.  Dismal visions of a judgmental plumber filled my mind.

My son, who is never dismayed by household repairs, suggested we rent a heavy-duty snake from Home Depot.  Off we went to rent a fifty-foot snake that was spun by an electric motor.  It was a formidable piece of equipment.  How could a mere clog — essentially nothing but a ball of disgusting black grease, oatmeal lumps, and discarded tea leaves stand up to such an implement of destruction?

Its tip was a fearsome instrument of medieval clog torture.

In the interest of saving time (and sparing my nervous system), my son took charge of the snake.  He donned his trusty deerskin gloves and fed the snake down the pipe and past the initial elbow.  About seven feet along the wall, he ran into clear resistance at another elbow and tapped the motor switch to give the snake a spin.  The resistance went away.  He continued feeding the snake on and on through a long, straight run of pipe.  He explained that there was a danger of half measures — that is, leaving the clog largely intact and simply relocating it downstream.  To be on the safe side, he ran the snake all the way, some thirty-five feet or so, to the big drain pipe in the garage that led to the sewer.

I was ready to claim victory.  However, my son, with characteristic thoroughness, insisted on reeling in the snake and then repeating the entire process.  Only then was he ready to reconnect the trap.  He carefully cleaned all of the pipe threads to ensure a tight fit before connecting.  (This sensible precaution would never have occurred to me.)   He then stood up and turned on the faucet full blast.  The water sped freely down the drain.  The clog had been obliterated!

Our triumph had manifold benefits.  On a practical level, we once again had a functioning sink and could use the dishwasher.  On a psychological level, the experience had diminished my fear of plumbing.  And, best of all, I had the satisfaction of working closely with my son in solving a problem.  Hooray!  I was almost thankful for the clog.  We celebrated at a nice restaurant this evening.   
The only unhappy note was that my son's fine deerskin gloves were befouled.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Driving Off The Spleen

The famous opening lines of Moby Dick:

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

Yes, and if you replace "Ishmael" with my name and replace "the ocean" with "the woods", then you get a good understanding of the feelings that I often cherish myself.

Today, my younger son and I hiked a moderately difficult (easy for him, difficult for me) trail in the Golden Gate Canyon State Park, west of Golden, Colorado.  The trail was called Burro Trail (marked on the map below by the symbol of a burro's hoof) and began at the Bridge Creek trailhead.  We saw no trace of burros.

The hike was a 4.5 mile loop with an elevation gain of 980 feet.  I lacked the stamina today to follow the adjacent spur to the top of Windy Peak.

The aspens were displaying their beautiful fall colors

Such was the calming effect of the hike that I felt no urge to knock off the hats of the people I met along the trail.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ashley Sterne Photography

While searching Google Books, I found part of a comic sketch by Ashley Sterne in The Amateur Photographer & Photography, Volume 47, 1919,  p. 234.  A feature writer called "The Walrus" provided this snippet:

The photographer began to look me up and down as if he had lost something.  "If you are looking for my face," I said, "you'll find it on top of my neck, just underneath my cap.  It's that round thing, something like a melon." 

He uttered a little joyful cry as he recognized it from my vivid description.  "Yes," he said, reeling back in admiration, and holding his hand over his eyes to hide his emotion.  "I think I've got a couple of steel plates that will be able to take the strain.  Just sit down on that chair." 

I did so, while the photographer arranged a tasteful and pleasing background of thunderclouds and sea made out of painted canvas, and placed a beautiful Corinthian pillar made out of papier-mache for me to rest my right ear on.  He put a rustic stile, made out of rustic stile wood, on the other side of me, and thrust a newspaper made out of newspaper into my hand.  Then he produced a 3 in. 2 cwt. breech-loading camera, and aimed it straight at my weasand, odds bodikins.  Then he slipped a dark slide into the breach of the camera, squeezed a motor horn, took two guineas away from me, and threw me out.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

This is the forest primeval

As I hiked yesterday on Mt. Falcon, I remembered the haunting line that opened Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline:

"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks..."

I reread Evangeline today and was once again struck by Longfellow's wonderful descriptions, which skillfully evoked human emotion and brought to life long-ago Arcadia and Louisiana.

I doubt that many American schools still teach Longfellow's poetry in American Literature class.  My quick Google search of several dozen high schools failed to find Longfellow's work on any English syllabus.  As might be expected, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was popular.  I was disheartened to see that Arthur Miller's polemical and dishonest play The Crucible was equally popular.  Worse, many English classes devoted significant attention to trendy (and vacuous) topics such as Gender Identification.  The Great Dumbing-Down continues.

I urge everyone to read Longfellow's works.  In modern America, reading fine literature from America's past has become a revolutionary act.  Search for what is true.  Think for yourself.

Monday, September 28, 2015

To Iowa and Back

I just returned from a trip to Davenport, Iowa made in honor of my father's birthday. 

In the past I have made the 850-mile trip from Denver to Davenport in a single day.  This time I took my older son's advice and limited my driving to about 400 miles per day.  (My son's last visit to Denver was in a behemoth RoadTrek conversion van, and this probably influenced his thoughts on how far one could comfortably drive in a day.  A van of similar vintage is shown below.)

My first day of travel got me to Grand Island, Nebraska in the middle of the afternoon, early enough to see a tourist attraction.  I googled the town's list of attractions and chose the 3:30 p.m. tour of the Hornady ammunition works. 

When I arrived, I found that I was the only one present for the tour.  Therefore, I got a private showing from the tour guide, a very sharp and personable young lady.  The fabrication processes on shop floor were fascinating, and the tour guide gave me excellent answers to all my questions.

Unfortunately, no photographs of the shop machinery were permitted, in order to protect trade secrets.  All that I was authorized to photograph was the office area.  In what must have been intended as a motivation experiment, the Hormady office workers are surrounded on all sides by stuffed animals bagged by the company founder, Mr. Joyce Hornady.

My favorite was this goat, whose calm expression reminded me of a young Alec Guinness.

I arrived in Davenport, Iowa the following day and began an enjoyable three-day visit with friends and family.  One unexpected highlight was watching my brother-in-law perform an aerial flip with his electric drone.  I would have bet that the stunt was impossible until I saw him do it.

I returned to Grand Island on Sunday evening.  The next morning I drove down Interstate 80 to the famous Kearney arch.

On the grounds there was a facsimile of a pioneer's sod house.

Feeling a bit like a peeping-tom, I positioned my little camera between the guard bars on the doorway and photographed the interior.

A placard outside the sod house interested me from a chemistry perspective: it described the process for whitewashing the walls.  It also described the construction of the bed.

The placard reads:  "Whitewashing the inside walls made the sod house brighter and easier to clean.  Slaked lime was a common base to make whitewash.  The slaked lime was made by heating limestone at high temperatures, turning it into calcium oxide, and then adding water (or milk) to the mixture to make calcium hydroxide.  As the whitewash was exposed to carbon dioxide in the air, it cured, acquiring a distinctive bright white color.  It was possible to enhance the white color by adding chalk, ground rice or flour.  After it first dried, the whitewash seemed rather thin, almost translucent.  However, a day or two to cure finished the process, leaving the whitewash mostly opaque.

The rope-bed was made without nails or screws.  A bit-and-brace drilled the holes for the rope, which was woven both directions to create the foundation for the mattress.  Keeping the ropes tight made for a more comfortable bed.

Did you know the term 'Good Night, Sleep Tight' refers to keeping your rope-bed tight?"

The placard stimulates my inner mad scientist.  I feel an urge to get some limestone and a propane torch and make some whitewash for the inside walls of my townhouse.  However, I feel no urge whatsoever to make a rope-bed.