Friday, February 26, 2010

More fun from YouTube

Your life will be richer for having seen this, I guarantee it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Congrats on not keeling over yet, Dad!

My father turns 70 today. He's been awesome for at least 36 of those years (I can't vouch for the ones before I showed up, although based on the photographic evidence, he was pretty cool back then, too).

In no particular order, here are 70 things my father has made over the years - some he made just for me, some he made just for the fun of it and I've absconded with them when he wasn't looking, and many I'm sure he's forgotten about completely:

  1. A toy shelf with my portrait painted on the back in white enamel
  2. Another bookshelf for my toy room
  3. Bookshelves for my bedroom
  4. Loft for my dorm in college
  5. CD cabinet
  6. Art supply cabinet
  7. Shelf for my stereo
  8. Sawhorses to use at our first house
  9. "That's one" plaque to remind me of a traffic accident
  10. Name plaque that declares me to be a boatbuilder
  11. Head sculpted from clay he dug from the beach near our old house
  12. Yard sale signs
  13. Silk-screened t-shirts for the entire low brass section in my high school band
  14. Garden tote
  15. Toolbox
  16. Plant labels for garden
  17. Golfer crossing sign for Jason
  18. Wooden toy truck
  19. Dollhouse
  20. Dollhouse furniture
  21. Wooden ladder to help me climb trees at our old house
  22. Splinter the Wonder Horse
  23. Stilts
  24. Rope swing with wooden seat
  25. Tire swing
  26. Bench to sit on in my hiding spot behind the lilac bushes at the old house
  27. Swing set at the old house
  28. Basketball hoop
  29. Balance beam
  30. Manger for the hideous salt dough nativity scene I made in elementary school
  31. For Liza: Toy fairy house with furniture
  32. For Liza: Balance beam
  33. For Liza: Rocking balance board
  34. Ultralight kayak
  35. Yarn swift
  36. Partridge carving
  37. Beaver carving
  38. Whale carving
  39. Fox carving
  40. Goose carving
  41. Wooden spoons
  42. Wooden butter spreaders
  43. PPG Man carving
  44. Santa with a Cat carving
  45. Santa with a Goose carving
  46. Pumpkinhead Man carving
  47. Red Christmas sleigh
  48. Reindeer carving
  49. Cardinal carving
  50. Balancing bird carving
  51. Big Ralph carving
  52. Medium Ralph carving
  53. Spirit of St. Louis Christmas ornament
  54. Wright Brothers airplane Christmas ornament
  55. Santa face Christmas ornament
  56. Peeking mouse carving
  57. Hand carving to hold yarn
  58. Scarf pins
  59. Name sign for my office with a carved wooden plane on the top
  60. Santa gargoyle carving
  61. S-W Man carving
  62. Goat carving
  63. Penguin carving
  64. Snowman face Christmas ornament
  65. Ball in cage on a chain carving
  66. Skunk carving
  67. Winnie-the-Pooh carving
  68. Caroling mouse carving
  69. Angel with trumpet carving
  70. Carved wooden flour scoop

Since he's made me all these things over the years, I thought it was only fair that I make him something impressive for his birthday. Behold, the Liberty Blanket:

That sucker used up 13 skeins of yarn (that's more than 1.5 miles), is about 7 feet long, weighs a ton, and is guaranteed to keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures. More importantly, the chart for the pattern was 70 rows long (get it? 70th birthday, 70-row chart? Yes, I'm geeky like that), and I worked on the blanket intermittently from October 2008 until the end of January 2010. The size of the project translates out to me knitting on it for 2 hours every night for more than 70 total nights at the top speed I managed once I was good at the colorwork ... but in real life it took much longer than that because I was really, really slow at the beginning. It was my first serious colorwork project, my first steek, my first hemmed project, my first full-sized knit afghan. And it was all worth it, because he seemed to really like it, and he used it twice while I was there (and found an old pillowcase to keep it in so their cats don't shred it right away).

Happy birthday, dad. Eat some cake, then go finish up that ginormous dragon head so I can add it as #71 to the list for next year, okay?

Book recommendation

This week Liza and I are focusing on learning about art, so I checked some books out from the library to expand our repertoire of craft techniques. One of the books I'm most excited about is called Easy Art Fun, by Jill Frankel Hauser. This book is really designed for use in classrooms, but a lot of the projects lend themselves to home crafting, as well.

What I like best about the book is that it's designed to be used by early readers, so the format of each page is the same, and it's all really clearly spelled out. Each project fits on two page sides (which face each other, so there is no flipping back and forth to finish something), and each offers variations on the project to make it more complicated or with a different theme. There are sections that focus on coloring, cutting with scissors, making toys, making gifts, making things for pretend play, making music, and making wearable art.

Liza is not quite five, but she reads really well, and she was able to breeze through reading several of the projects to pick out one she wanted to do. The book is a great way to get kids some practice with real-life reading, rather than story reading - practical reading really does use a whole different subset of words and phrases that kids need to learn.

And the projects are quite nice, with several old favorites and quite a few that I've never seen before. Liza chose to make the Monster Mouth game, where you decorate a paper bag like a monster face and try to throw balls of paper into the open mouth. Personally, I want to make some bendy people (paper cutouts with baggy ties taped to the back to let you bend the dude into different positions) and a few other projects that are new to me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sleeping with the fishes, Jersey-style

Today Liza and I made the trek across the Delaware to see the aquarium in Camden, NJ. We spent some quality time petting the sharks ...

... and the rays ...

... and the starfish ...

... and Liza's favorite, the sea cucumber.

The object of Liza's affection:

And when we were done petting everything and looking at all the exhibits, we went through and did it all again. And when we were done seeing it again, we went through and looked at everything again. And then we fondled all the sea life again. And then I drug her out the door, her heels leaving furrows across the parking lot, so that we wouldn't get totally stuck in the Friday rush hour traffic leaving Philly.

Here's hoping she doesn't think to ask for a pet sea cucumber for her birthday, because something tells me I'd kill it off in a matter of minutes. Then again, the chance to watch it eviscerate itself might be worth the risk. Anybody got a spare 75-gallon saltwater tank laying around somewhere?

Longwood Gardens

Earlier this week Liza and I went with my parents to Longwood Gardens, a place she's been before but never remembers from one visit to another. Score! They've got an orchid festival going on right now, which Liza was in favor of - bring on the pink and purple!

As usual, the Children's Garden was a big hit. We were about the only ones there, so she had plenty of room to run around like a maniac, paint (with water) all over the walls, and generally wreck havoc and have a good time.

Just like last time, I came away vowing that next time we WILL bring a dry change of clothes for her to use after visiting the Children's Garden ... 17 water features that children are encouraged to manhandle means a severely drippy child.

So, what should I talk about, then?

Certain people have been attempting to guilt-trip me into posting on the blog, despite me having nothing entertaining to say. Here are potential blog topics I've rejected in the past two weeks, just so you know what you've been missing:

  1. Look how cool the construction of these socks is going to be!
  2. The socks don't fit and have to be redone - Oh, noes!
  3. Look how cute the redone socks look!
  4. Well, I thought they looked cute at first, but now I'm not so sure. Poll?
  5. Look, I finished the super-secret project I can't post about until after my father gets his birthday present!
  6. Oops.
  7. Steeks - they're really not that scary.
  8. Help me decide between the 483,712 different projects I might make with this rainbow yarn I'm trying to use up.
  9. Boy, doesn't it suck that my dad has a sore on his (redacted) ... oh, wait, I'm not supposed to blog about that.
  10. Boy, doesn't it suck that my dad has to use a (redacted) ... oh, wait, I'm not supposed to blog about that, either.
  11. Hey, how about Microsoft technical support these days - is anyone actually in the US anymore? Take my laptop, please!
  12. Seriously, you expect me to believe your name is "Andy?"
  13. So if it's illegal to text while driving, how much do you think the ticket is for "following technical support advice to install Microsoft Office on my laptop while driving over to pick up my kid at school"?
  14. Boy, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is pretty boring, isn't it?
  15. Poll: Best rest area on the PA Turnpike? I vote for Oakmont Plum.
  16. Fifteen ways my kid acted like a total spaz when introduced to my mother's therapist.
  17. Have I mentioned recently how smart my kid is, despite the wide variety of animal noises she made when talking to my mother's therapist?
  18. First- and second-grade workbooks my daughter has blown through this week.
  19. Inappropriate things to do with a 10-inch-long chocolate cornucopia when your kid isn't looking.
  20. R.I.P. Skipper - After 30 years of devoted service, you didn't deserve to have your head ripped off like that, even if you were trying to marry Barbie when she was already married to the other Barbie with the crown built into her head.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thursday, February 04, 2010

I wish I was more surprised by this

As many of you know, my husband and I lived and worked in Japan in the late 1990s. Our role was to act as liaisons between the Japanese and American groups in the company as they worked toward passing a new quality audit Toyota was requiring. This involved a lot of paperwork and flow charts, and not much actual science, so we were pretty good at it.

While our job there only involved documenting the methods and testing, we heard a lot of stories from our colleagues about what went on behind the scenes with the product development. It turns out that Toyota's policy of continuous improvement is great ... to a point. And after that, it can actually get in the way of producing a useful product.

Let's say, for example, that you make some kind of paint or sealant. Obviously, the stuff doesn't stay good forever, so you need to know how long it can sit before it turns into unusable jello. This takes a different length of time depending on the environment it's subjected to, so in order to develop a useful test, you have to decide what the worst-case scenario is that you want the product to survive.

So, do you want it to be able to be usable after one day at 110F to mimic what might happen if the air conditioning went out in the storage room? Or maybe a few days at 90F to mimic what the stuff might experience in a really hot spell during the summer?

These are reasonable scenarios, but the problem with "continuous improvement" is that the test requirements keep getting more and more stringent, even when the existing requirements are more than sufficient for the job. So instead of passing three days at 90, next year you've got to pass six days at 90. Then 10 days. Then a week at 110. Then even worse conditions, with even smaller tolerances for change in the product. At some point you reach a situation where the test is so far beyond what the product could actually experience, it fails to tell you anything useful at all. Eventually, no one can follow the test method correctly and pass it, no matter how good the product actually is.

And according to our colleagues, this was the case with some of the tests that were required by Toyota - they had gotten so stringent that nobody - not us, not our competitors, not God Himself - could make a product that would pass those tests. Our contacts at Toyota, my colleagues said, agreed that the test was virtually meaningless and that passing it did not do anything to insure that the product was fit for use ... but they were unable to change or modify the requirement because that wouldn't fit with the company's quality philosophy.

This, along with many, many other situations we ran into with the whole quality auditing process (ask me some time about the auditor who refused to acknowledge my presence during meetings because I was a woman), totally enraged me. The product we were making was good and met all of the reasonable specifications, and I was confident it was a good product. But according to our colleagues, we had been virtually forced to change the product (or lie about the test results) in order to pass some tests that had evolved over time into completely irrelevant behemoths that even the Toyota guys said were pretty much useless.

Every time I fumed about this (which was often), my standard line was, "You know, the fact that we have to change the product or lie about our results is bad enough. But it's not like people will die if the product is a little worse for it. But if they do this to us, there's no reason to think that they do anything different for the brake manufacturers or any of the other suppliers. Do you really want the brake supplier lying about test results, or making an inferior product that happens to meet Toyota's asinine quality requirements? I will never, ever buy a Toyota!"

We've been back in the states for a decade now, and the passion behind the statement has dimmed somewhat. The last time we were looking for a new car, Jason cautiously admitted that he would consider a Toyota, if he found one that appealed to him and was in his price range. I was still dead set against buying one, but I now do a lot less foaming around the mouth when I discuss the topic.

Or I did ... until Toyota started having some quality issues ... with things like, I don't know, the accelerator pedals on a bunch of models. You know, the ones that sometimes randomly accelerate and have killed people? Yeah, those. Wonder how their quality audit results looked ...

And as if that wasn't bad enough, now they're reporting problems with - you guessed it - the brakes on some Prius models.

Now, if I weren't such a caring, empathetic person, I'd be chortling with glee while jumping up and down shouting "Hah! I told you so! I told you so! Pthththththtbth!" in the general direction of Toyota-shi. But dude, people have died, so I'll skip the gloating and finger pointing. I do, however, allow myself an irritated snort of scorn and disbelief when I'm watching a television show we recorded a few weeks ago and see one of the Toyota commercials touting the quality of their vehicles.

Guess we won't be seeing those too often anymore.

Hah! Screw you, Phil!

Okay, so the groundhog may be under the impression that we're in for six more weeks of winter, but some of the crocus in my front yard have different ideas.

And even the Japanese maple tree is giving Phil the finger.

Also - apparently I need to moisturize more. In hi-res, that photo of my hand is downright disturbing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go dig out some shorts and a tank top. It is 35F, after all.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Butterfly, butterfly

Liza and I went over to the Cleveland Museum of Art today, and we made the most astounding find ... CMA has a piece by Damien Hirst on loan for the next five years, and it involves neitherformaldehyde nor dead animals.

Er, actually, "Bringing Forth the Fruits of Righteousness from Darkness" does have dead animals. Lots of them. Like thousands and thousands of them. Thousands of dead butterflies, glued down precisely so that the pattern of their wings mimics a triptych of stained glass windows.

check here for a larger resolution copy of the pic - it's worth the extra click to see it

The piece is huge and gorgeous. From a distance, it's a beautiful piece. From up close, it's astounding. There's really no other way to describe it. Liza wanted to draw something inspired by it in her journal, and we sat on the floor in front of the piece for maybe 20 minutes. Yes, I was crocheting at the time, but I was still captivated by it.

Now, if I could just find a print of it, I'd be super, super happy. Or maybe I could just wallpaper my bedroom with a similar print ...

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Lecture

"Of course I don't want syrup. These pancakes have a great deal of butter on them. Pancakes should have butter OR syrup, not both."