Saturday, December 30, 2006

We've been to see the Queens

One of the great advantages of having my mother live so close is that I have someone to go and see girl movies with. We neither of us want to see blood 'n guts, shoot-em-up, car-chase stuff.

So on Boxing Day we went to see The Queen. Helen Mirren was fantastic, as all the reviews have pointed out, but so was the rest of the cast. We particularly liked the portrayal of Prince Charles by Alex Jennings, but all of it was good. There weren't many in the theatre, and during the scenes of Diana's death and the surrounding grief I could hear sniffling - somebody was really getting into it. Afterwards I asked Mum if she knew where the sniffles were. "It was ME" she said. She says she always cries at the movies!

Today we went to see a Queen of quite a different ilk - Marie Antoinette. How different can two women be? One Queen sees her role as a lifetime of service to her people, the other as a license for personal extravagance. Kirsten Dunst plays a very engaging and likeable girl in a very difficult position, and it is easy to forgive her for all her frivolity, and to understand it. The reviews are right - the fashions are gorgeous and the colour and sumptuousness of it all make for a splendid movie.

Now for the really important comparison of the two films. Those frolicking little corgis in The Queen were very cute indeed, with their smiling faces. Cute, yes. But not Pugs.

The opening scene of Marie Antoinette features a silver fawn pug puppy (Mops) curled up with M-A, and there is a tear-welling moment later when she is separated from Mops as she leaves Austria for France. Fortunately there are more little dogs at the court in Versailles, including a very puggish Black Pug. Tres chic!

And here, because you can't have enough Pug Pictures, is one of Jonty in a typical pose:

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tales of Christmas gifts

We had a wonderful Christmas with the family. Here is a photo and Julie's blog about the day.

A couple of gifts were worth mentioning. I had taken to heart some of the affluenza discussion from Heather's blog, particularly her mother's Christmas list. I mentioned it to Julie, who duly noted it, and I was presented with a dishcloth! A yellow Chux Superwipe, to be entirely accurate. What a good daughter! There were other goodies, of course.

The best of all was a set of four DVDs. Not just any DVDs. Ooh no. These were really special. For years and years I have blathered on about a BBC show I saw decades ago. It made a huge impression on me, and I have yearned for it ever since. Called Talking to a Stranger it has lots of entries on the web, but it was not available to buy. We've spent years wistfully searching for it. I found one site that listed it as being in someone's collection, but emails were fruitless. I'd given up, thinking of it along the lines of a live performance - enjoyed once, then gone.

But the Great Sleuth had not given up. He did his annual search, and this time persisted through the 1,810,000 sites listed, past all the sites in Russian and Polish and Japanese, on through the Roumanians, the Lithuanians, and on and on. Suddenly he saw this site listed

I can only imagine what it must have felt like for him to find it. He contacted Stan and Jeri, ordered it, and wrapped it in Christmas paper. He kept quiet about it, but said he had a corker of a present for me! He also videoed me opening it. I went pink, got teary, was amazed, clutched the discs to me, and wanted to go home immediately to watch it. This is on the same scale as when Julie found me all the episodes of Quark I had wanted for years.

So we've been watching them. There are four episodes, each one told from the perspective of one family member. We have watched the first, daughter Judi Dench, then father, Maurice Denham. They are intense, gritty, black and white, talky, fascinating. You certainly couldn't watch them too often, but they are as compelling as I remember. As the same scenes are shown over and over, each time from a different perspective, your perception of the characters shifts. A tour de force for the performers, and a tour de force for present-giving. Thank you, Great Sleuth!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mistressing the technique

There are people who craft because they like the results, and there are others who just like the process. In the best of all possible worlds, you craft because you like doing it AND you like the results. I am more of a process person. I usually like the results, but I am a junkie for a new technique. You can learn anything if you have the right instructions, so a good book or video with good instructions opens a world of new things to try.

It begins with the book, and the desire to try it. Then you gather the materials. With materials in hand and book open, you awkwardly try and understand, follow the instructions, and make your hands do something quite unfamiliar. It feels like you are all thumbs. Your hands and fingers get cramped, your shoulders are tight, you squint, rip out, drop stitches, swear.

Then gradually, slowly, you discover that if you hold the wool/thread/beads/shuttle/knitting needles just SO, and if you put this finger just HERE, and twist ever so slightly as you make THIS stitch, it starts to go quicker. The facility increases, your new product grows, and eventually you whip along at great pace and wonder what on earth you found so difficult at the beginning.

Julie wondered in her last comment on this blog whether there were any beads in my future. When I stopped laughing, I thought about the next little project. There were still beads strung on crochet cotton left over from the beaded purse. Once beads are ON the cotton, it is too distressing to take them off again. I decided to re-visit bead knitting.

The beaded purse was simple - you slip the required number of beads, then knit a couple of stitches. With bead knitting, however, you push a bead into the knitted stitch. I've done this before. I started with a sample of 12 stitches of assorted purple and silver beads which had been strung in a pattern which was going to be a crochet rope, (another interesting technique) but with which I had lost patience. I knitted one bead into every stitch, twisted stockinette stitch. The resulting piece curled in on itself, so I added a clasp and it became a necklace for a friend. I liked the result so much I made another for myself. People often comment on it when I wear it.

I thought that I might have enough seed beads on the black cotton to do another necklace. So I cast on 12 stitches to my tiny knitting needles and began. Hmmmm. I had forgotten the technique. Off to one of my beading books. Couldn't find the instructions. Where was that other beading book??? Oh yes, that was a library book. Up to the Library. No, it was the other library, way up in Gordon. Hmmm. Off to the web, where I found and ordered a copy of the library book for my own collection. And I found this book/video on knitting beaded bags (divine) and ordered that too.

Back to my first beading book, looked more closely, and there were the full instructions. Yesterday was a struggle to re-mistress the technique. Today I'm getting faster and better at it. Here is the right side - you'll see some spots are beadless if you look carefully, and you'll see I am getting better at it. You can also see how it curls over to make a very effective rope. I might not have enough beads for a necklace but I'll keep going until I've knitted them all.

Here is the wrong side, showing just a peek of the bead through the knitted fabric.

Are there more beaded things in my future. You betcha! Happy Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The beaded purse is done

Yesterday I finished the knitting. Today I consulted with Mum and Michael about whether it should be lined, and we decided it needed to be. So I found some blue silk for lining and stitched it to the purse. Then I stitched it to the purse frame that came with the kit, and the sides. It is done! I am very happy with it, and shall probably carry it around with coins in it for a while. Maybe it can replace my very old and very tatty purse that goes to the beach with me - just big enough for some coins, a note or two, and a driver's license. It was surprisingly easy to do, and quick. Very satisfying.

Now I can get back to veggie knitting - the black jumper.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Welcome to the worms

As reported a while ago, we booked into a course run by the City of Sydney Council on worm farming and composting. It involved two hours one Sunday, and the main attraction was the free worm farm plus instructions on how to use it. We went, and it was fascinating. We spent one hour on the worm farming, and another hour on composting.

The original idea was to give up composting in favour of worm farming. However, the course inspired my passion for composting anew, and I realised that I didn't need to give it up entirely, just make a few adjustments. So now we are both worm farmers AND composters.

First of all, we assembled the worm farm kit, bought a starter pack of worms and installed them in their new home, in our very small back garden. We have started to feed them - avocado, lightly microwaved asparagus, mango. They seem to like that (who wouldn't?) and appear to be thriving. We are very excited about this new venture, and I have to stop myself peeking too often. They don't like light, and when I lift their covering of damp newspaper they go squiggling out of sight. I can hardly wait to be knee deep in worm castings and worm juice.

Now for the compost. We gave our old bin to Julie, so we had to look for a replacement. We found one at Bunning's , a bit higher than the old one, and a smaller diameter in the base. A perfect fit for our garden. Into this bin I put some chicken wire as a base to stop rats and mice getting into it. Finally, we bought a Compost Mate which is like a huge corkscrew. It aerates the compost and turns it, and also extracts lumps of it for chucking on the garden. I shall report on it when I have used it.

I've been a composter for years and years, and the interregnum has been awful. I feel so guilty throwing perfectly compostable stuff into the garbage, it really goes against the grain. It is wonderful to have it back again, and the addition of the worm farm is terrific. It isn't too ugly, doesn't take up too much space, and we are all happy. Let's hope the new arrangement isn't so attractive to the unwanted wildlife.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ebb and flow in King Street

King Street Newtown is just a couple of blocks from where I live, and it is usually described as vibrant! It certainly has lots of wildlife, and is never dull. The shops and restaurants come and go, some quickly, others stay for a long time. We watch it with interest. Whenever anything new comes along we somehow completely forget what was there before.

The latest up-and-coming cuisine looks like it might be Mexican. For a while there, Thai and Indian ruled the strip, but now there are two new Mexican ones. We've been wanting to try Guzman y Gomez for a while, but since we eat out mainly at lunch on weekdays, and they aren't open for lunch on weekdays, we haven't tried it yet. Yesterday we spotted a new one - BBNT for Burgers, Burritos, Nachos and Tacos. What a terrible website THAT one is! It doesn't list the Newtown restaurant, each button opens a new window which can only be closed, bumping you right back to the very front page. Ridiculous. The food, however, was good. They were slow, just getting their act together, I'd say, and they were just (proudly) filling their largest order ever. We didn't mind waiting, watching the passers-by on King Street. I ate two tacos, one chicken, one beef. Not the usual mushy mince meat fillings, but chunky and savoury grilled meats with spicy overtones. Very good.

After our eats my mother and I strolled down South King Street to poke around the vintage stuff, the quirky boutiques and weirdo places. Two of my very favourite shops are down there. The button shop - All Buttons Great and Small - and the ribbon and braid shop - Aviamentos. STOP! What's this? Oh No! Aviamentos is GONE, empty. It was a treasure trove of ribbons, cords, braids, rickrack, tassels, all kinds of wondrous things. I am so sad to see it go. Bollywood Braid & Trim, a little further down, has some fabulous things, but Aviamentos will be very much missed.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The snowdomes are out

Yes, it is Christmas time again and time for the snowdomes to come out of their hidey holes. Christmas is a time for snow, and for tacky decorations, so this is their time in the sun. During the year they live in hiding, avoiding dust and dusting, but now they are out in force. Some live on the mantelpiece in the dining room, along with a waterfall of tinsel.

Some live on a side table around the lava lamp.

This year's crop are together on the mantelpiece in the loungeroom - Brussels, Berlin, Nagoya, Honolulu (which lights up with different colours) and more. A lesson Michael learned was that they don't travel well - the Berlin one lost its water, and the windmill from Holland lost its water and its globe. It is the domeless dome.

We have a tree as well, only a small one, with lots of pug ornaments on it and a couple of domes around its base.

In addition to snowdomes, we like to buy Christmas ornaments on our travels. This array comes from Lousiana, Nebraska, Washington, Quebec, and Monterrey (Mexico). On the far lower right you can see a tatted one - yes, I made that one, and it was to be the first in a series. I guess it is - a series of one!

Do you think that's enough Christmas stuff for one small house? Thank heavens it is only once a year.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Whoever thought it was a good idea to include statistics on Windows Solitaire games??? Do I REALLY want to know that I (yes, me personally) have played over 4,400 games of Spider Solitaire Medium level and won 20% of them? Do I REALLY want to know that between us (since the last time we cleared the stats) that we have won 71% of our Freecell games? What about those arguments about losing umpteen games in a row - "Have you been playing Freecell and losing! I've worked ALL DAY to get those stats back up to 72% and you've lost four games in a row....."

Now blog statistics, that is another matter. SiteMeter is a button at the bottom of my blog, and if you click it you can see who has been accessing the site in all kinds of ways. I just adore the world map with the lights on where readers have come from - Finland, Spain, all kinds of exotic locales. Their entry pages are also listed, so I can see those users who have come to me because of their search for 'starch tatting'. Being, as you know, a sucker for applause and for readers, SiteMeter is a well-visited site of mine. Where are you, my readers? With SiteMeter, I know.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The sound of two hands clapping

A few things have come together recently which gave me a new understanding of myself.

The first was reading an article about Catherine Hewgill, a cellist healing from a broken wrist. The key phrase was "My husband said I wasn't happy unless I was being clapped at five times a week. He said I was a nightmare to live with."

The second was our four performances of the Messiah, which got a good review in the Sydney Morning Herald, and which got much applause at each performance. (Yes, the transport gods smiled and I did get back from Melbourne in time for the Tuesday and Thursday performances.) Being only one of more than 500, of course I assumed ALL the applause was for me. It gives one a very warm glow, being clapped! The days between those performance, where there was no applause, were a bit dull. I had to ask Michael if he would occasionally and spontaneously give me some! He obliged.

An audience is a wonderful thing. Whether they be listeners or readers, I've loved being in front of audiences and revelled in their applause when presenting conference papers. I adored getting positive feedback from readers when I wrote Online Currents, a newsletter about the information industry.

The third and final event was a meeting of all those involved in the PILIN project this last week. We were asked to say something about ourselves that nobody knew. I turned that around, and said that I had just learned something about myself that everybody else already knew, and that was that I just love receiving applause. They all clapped, and I sat down very happy. We discussed it later, and all agreed that positive feedback is a wonderful thing and I am not alone in enjoying it. We all need it, whether it be from co-workers, customers, your boss, your friends, your family. Some jobs give you more of it than others. Peformers, trainers, technical support people, speakers, authors, and teachers get it if they are lucky. Kind words, applause, appreciation, we shouldn't ever understimate its importance.

Friday, December 08, 2006

First performance

Last night was our first performance of the Messiah. It was just wonderful. Julie was surprised when the audience stood for the Hallelujah Chorus, but I told her it was traditional. Mostly we sang the right notes, mostly we came in where we should have done, and mostly we stood/sat when we should have done. I found it terribly easy to get caught up in listening to the performance and being caught a little short when it was our turn to sing! None of us suddenly chorused forth when we should have been quiet. Generally it went well, and by the fourth performance we should be pretty good. We are trying to persuade the Man and the Boy to attend, and maybe they will.

It wasn't a knitter-free performance by a long shot. After all, Julie and I were there, but so too was BlueMountainsKnits, who looks after lighting in the Opera House. She took a picture of the choir, and if you search very closely, you can see Julie and I singing away.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Reference Collection

Once upon a time, before computers, I was a reference librarian at a university library. The reference collection was a treasure trove of information for the curious. I loved that collection, and knew it intimately. Every request would send me rushing off to a dictionary, encyclopedia, directory, index, or arcane catalogue. I loved the Great Wall that was Chemical Abstracts, the massive volumes of the Library of Congress pre-1956 Imprints. I adored the Sotheby's catalogues with their beautiful glossy pictures of antique objects. The Book of Saints was well worth perusing, and there were lots of other delights.

Our home reference collection is pretty extensive, and well used - for crosswords as well as curiosity. The dictionary collection includes a 2 volume facsimile of the first great dictionary by Johnson, as well as the Shorter Oxford, the Concise Oxford (with its own magnifying glass), the Macquarie, and a US Webster's Collegiate. The teenager next door needed a definition of biomass for school one time, and we went through each one looking. He was impressed by the extent of the collection. Surprisingly, we found it in only one of the dictionaries (and their appendices) - the Webster's.

Then there are the other much loved works: Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science & Technology; the three-volume Cyclopedia of Names (very dated, but what a concept! My favourite reference work); the NY Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary; Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable; Bartlett's Familiar Quotations; two encyclopedias of music (we gave each other one accidentally for Christmas one year); Bullfinch's Mythology; The Times World Atlas; The Enclopedia of Science Fiction; two Baseball Encyclopedias (reams of statistics that The Man knows by heart); The very weighty and well illustrated History of Art and the Oxford Companion to Art; and too many more to list. I love and use them all.

Once a week or so I go to work at the Library at University of NSW. For exercise and a trip down memory lane the other day I went for a browse in their reference collection. It all looked so OLD! So much dead paper, so many directories, indexes and yearbooks with stuff that must all be available on the web. This is by no means a reflection of the age of that particular collection, but I really did wonder who uses this material these days. My own collection is getting more rarely used now that I have broadband. The web is the source of so much information that I really do wonder about the relevance of the print resource.

It feels traitorous to say so out loud, but have reference collections had their day?

I was so excited by the information revolution back then, in the 1970's, and to see the effect it has had suddenly became very real to me.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Technomoment 3

Don't you wonder what you ever did before memory sticks? Floppy disks, burning stuff to CD, what a pain that all was. Memory sticks, or as Alexander Downer once called them in a lovely malapropism, message sticks, make life so much easier.

They can be a bit tricky though, as I'm sure all users know. Some computers just don't want to read some sticks, so sometimes if your life depends on some file or other, you take two sticks, or you copy the file somewhere on a wiki or the web for easy access.

Another pitfall I encountered is that you can indeed cram too much on them. My first, beloved stick seized up on me a while ago. It said it had something like 35 MB left on it (a 128 MB drive) which in the olden days would have seemed an ENORMOUS amount of space. But it wouldn't do anything.

Nothing could be deleted (using Windows XP.) Nothing would copy, or open. It wouldn't format using Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Disk Management either.

Back to native DOS then. (OK you youngsters, you can call it the Command Prompt if you must). Yup, I could see the files there. Try the dreaded format *.* command. (yes, I've done that with dire effect years ago.) Are you sure Y/N? Yes, I was sure. Nope, DOS wasn't sure at all, and told me it couldn't be dismounted or formatted or anything.

Hmmm. A long time went by, and I forgot about it until today. I thought the only source of a file I needed was THAT stick. So I mucked around again. Tried formatting again. Sigh!

Then I thought - if the problem is that the disk is too full, and I can't delete anything off it using Windows, perhaps I can delete some of the files using DOS. Would it work? Yes indeed, it did work. I deleted files manually until I had more room, then tried it in Windows. Hooray! Everything was just fine. Now why didn't I think of that before?

So just be aware out there, if you stuff too much on your stick, it will seize up on you, but there is a way out.

No, the file I was looking for was not on the stick. Sigh!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The bright side..... and the dark side

Now that Julie's birthday is over, I can think about Christmas. Stage 1 of the decorations is done, the lights are up, festooning the front of the house. These icicles have a number of settings, including one really frantic flashing set that could give an epileptic an attack! It is slightly hysterical, and I love it.

Getting those lights up is always fun. This is my job, as I do ladders rather better than someone else who lives here. A couple of years ago I put cup-hooks up there, so now it is simply a matter of getting the ladder out from the side of the house, and hooking the lights up.

Which brings me to the dark side. The side passageway is rarely used. It is very narrow. The ladder must be brought from about the middle of the house to the front. I have blogged earlier about the rat problem. There on the path was a dead rat. Or what was left of it. A kind of awful rat-smear. Smelly. "Yikes," I shouted, to the man of the house. "there is a decomposed rat here and I can't deal with it, and I am just going to pretend it isn't here!" Truly, I am not good at dealing with dead rats. Julie and I share an early Portia the Rat Killer story... no, let's not go there.

The Man of the House got a shovel and broom, and dealt with it like the brave hero he is. The corpse was taken to the railway line, under the fence, where it will decompose further. Deodorant spray was deployed.

I continued to hang the lights - a dirty job even without the wildlife - and am very happy with the results. End of Phase 1 Christmas decorations. Picture below. You are spared pictures of the rat.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hands off that remote control...

There I was on Saturday, focussing on my beaded knitting, when I looked up and saw this:

Yes, bird sitting on the couch, on the remote control! It must have just hopped in the back door and seen what was on television, and decided to change the channel. It was a quiet bird, didn't even budge when I took pictures of it. I slowly got up and closed some of the internal doors in the house. Moved towards it, and it hopped off and outside. It went into the laundry to investigate things there. It appeared to have something wrapped around its left foot, and I considered ways of capturing it and wrestling with it to remove the bits. However, it flew away. But then I went into the office and saw the same bird perched on the window bars, peering in at me. Hi, I said, and went outside. But it was gone.

Sunday is washing day, and I was putting things on the line to dry. Suddenly, our little friend came down and perched on the line. Hi again! If it comes again I shall have to give it a name.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Jonty was Reikied, I saw a Black Prince

Sunday morning, things don't move too fast around here. Jonty moves very slowly, so our Sunday walk is a very leisurely affair. This morning we were in Green Bans Park, and I saw two girls peeking around the hedge, unsure of whether to approach. We are quite used to this, given Jonty's magnificence and magnetic personality, so I encouraged them. They did the usual oohing and ahhing and mentioned that he might have a touch of arthritis. No, I said, spinal problems. He had a spinal laminectomy some years ago, so we are lucky to have had him this long, really. Then one of them laid her hands on his back. Jonty seemed very happy about this, and stood soaking it up. "A bit of Reiki," she said, then flicked away the energy. They went on their way. Jonty stood still for quite a while - we were in no hurry - and then proceeded home.

On the way I saw a Black Prince on the ground, and remembered that these cicadas have a certain cachet. We get lots of Green Grocers around here, they seem to like our mango tree. The noise is enough to drive one inside some days. Summer's iridescence is audible, along with the colour of the jacarandas and the shimmering heat haze. Not today though, it is unseasonably cool.

Back to the beaded knitting: it is much easier than I thought it might be. First, transferring the beads from their strings to the crochet cotton was a breeze. So easy that I might just think about the tatted beaded bag I have lingered over in Juliea Sanders' Tatting Patterns (no picture here of the particular one..)

Second, the pattern is sooooo simple. You just slide over the required number of beads, and they make these pretty loops. I am about two-thirds of the way down the first side already. It really is fun, and quick.

Blog, you bloggers, I'm ready for you!

The world is divided into those who like their home pages to be densely populated, and those who like them clean and simple. One of the reasons for Google's success as a search engine was its clean, simple interface - especially true in the dialup days and slow download of graphics. Google has been my home page for as long as I can remember. So why have I let other stuff creep on?

I have moved to a personalised home page, and for two reasons - Google Calendar and Google Reader.

Keeping up with blogs is fun, but what was the best way of doing it? I tried Konfabulator before Yahoo acquired it. It wasn't happy on my computer, and I had to go to my desktop to look at the widgets. I am never on the desktop, I am always in my browser or email. Then I tried Thunderbird and that was fantastic, but it cluttered up my mailbox (I'm not good at deleting) and I eventually abandoned Thunderbird because it didn't have an integrated calendar. When I went back to Outlook I installed RSSPopper, but it would occasionally crash Outlook. Adding links from my own blog was OK, but I would have to visit each site to see whether anything had been added. Bloglines is OK but again, you have to think to go there.

Google Reader is like Bloglines, but you can also add it as a portlet to your personalised home page. Every time you go to your Google search, it searches all the sites you want to keep up with and allows you to read them, go to the original site, and so forth. Very neat and effective. Every time I fire up my home page, I immediately see the updates.

Google Calendar is another portlet you can add to your home page. We are beginning to use it as a shared calendar at work, and it might just prove good enough for me to be able to abandon Outlook and go back to Thunderbird again, which would mean I could just use Thunderbird to add the blog feeds. Ummm, wasn't that where I started?