Sunday, January 22, 2012

a pictureless post: on sharing and acknowledgement

An interesting thing happened recently: I checked my email one evening to find that someone had linked to a post about a satsuma candle...a "candle" which looked remarkably like the satsuma lamp I wrote about in December.

Now this has happened before: I'll post a project and then spot a similar one elsewhere. But I've thought of those more in the vein of, "Oh look, someone else had the same idea—what a funny coincidence." It's not like I've been posting the Theory of Relativity, after all.

This particular time was different. The satsuma lamp is an adaptation of a project that's been floating around the web for many years. I've seen it posted and reposted in various guises already, and I know exactly which modifications I added. So when I read phrases about, for example, scoring 1/3 of the way down the skin and drying it out overnight for a better burn, it didn't feel like much of a coincidence to me.

I will add that this blogger made a point of saying she had learned it from a friend at a dinner party; so some kind of argument could be made wherein the friend read my post, forgot where she read it but could still use her otherwise eidetic memory to give detailed instructions to the blogger dinner party guest, who transcribed her instructions verbatim. Whew.

I'll let you do your own math. In any case, it got me thinking.

This is the web, the worldwide web, and we all publish with the intention of sharing our ideas. We expect them to be passed around the way we ourselves pass around findings which inspire or amuse us. But knowing how quickly things can spread, it's important that we also share source and history. This is about connecting, not about competition.

Or is it?

With all this sharing, the web becomes bigger and noisier all the time. Perhaps when one's income is based on blogging, the desire for traffic and recognition trumps the ability to acknowledge that we are all part of the same world and all learn from each other. That's all I can come up with, anyway. Twitter friend Lori, whose homeschooling writings have been plagiarized on multiple occasions, put it more succinctly (we were on twitter, after all): laziness + entitlement. 

I will tell you, and not to my credit, that the satsuma post ate at me for a couple days before I was finally able to rethink it in a way that brought more joy than offense. I looked at my stats and learned that whereas for most of its life this blog has been a little side project of my twitter account, it somehow took a growth leap in December. I have followers and subscribers that I can't trace back to twitter anymore. Posts have been shared and pinned beyond my circle. I don't understand what tipped the balance, but I'm happy about that.

So along with my rant I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to all who are reading and appreciating and sharing—with or without attribution. I do truly love how the web has made our world both smaller and richer in this and so many other ways.

And I plan to take a simple precaution. I'm not at the point where I want to add watermarks or post warnings all over the blog (although I now have much greater sympathy for those who do), but I've decided to double post any new projects over on Instructables before I post them here. Instructables has a large readership and a supportive community, and S and I have used it in the past to publish our joint projects. I've also cross-posted from here to there, or vice versa, from time to time. I'll just make it a point to do so more consistently and hope it will be harder to pull a project from a big site like that without it being noticed.

In keeping with today's theme, I'd like to publicly thank the tweeps who responded, shared their own stories, and otherwise helped me to get to today's post. With gratitude to HSofia, Sam, Jen, Lori, & Cathy.

the waterless hot water bottle (heated rice bag)

Although I've filled old socks with rice to heat the dog beds on cold nights, I'd never used one myself until a friend gave me one as a gift. It's long and skinny and drapes around your neck to keep your torso warm.

It worked so well that I also started using it to warm the (human) bed...and then I had the idea to make a rice bag shaped like an old-fashioned hot water bottle. Remember those? They always felt so good at the beginning of the night, and then you'd wake to find this cold slab of rubber like a lump in the bed.

Rice doesn't do that.

So here's a quick project to keep your bed warm on winter nights. I like it plain, but I also went ahead and made a second with a Valentine heart on it since I had extra fabric.

This is basically an envelope-style pillowcase around a pillow filled with rice. I made up two simple patterns, which you can download here and here. Unfortunately, the patterns won't print to original size (which runs to the edges of the paper) but always add a little margin around the edge. My suggestion for this is to redraw the pattern yourself, or trace around an actual hot water bottle. The only thing you need to remember is that the back pieces must overlap by about 2 inches or so.

Or you can use the patterns as is and have a slightly smaller heat pack.

For the pillowcase/cover, I used a red fleece. Red fleece is in abundance in the remnant section now that Christmas has passed. Anything over 12" should work comfortably and make 3 water bottles.

My rice pillow was made from a scrap of muslin. Any tightweave cotton in any color/pattern will work, though, as it won't show through the fleece.

The filling is 2 lbs of rice. Lentils, dried beans, and even clean cherry pits also work. I like rice because it's cheap and relatively fine. I don't think I'd want to roll over onto a sack of cherry pits in the middle of the night. (I also can't imagine how one would accumulate 2 lbs of them in the middle of winter.)

After you print out the pattern, cut around the solid outline and lay it on the fleece. For the front piece, you can just weight the pattern down with your rice and cut around—be sure to add 1/2" for seam allowance.
If you want to add the heart, this is where you'll do it. I just cut a pink heart from some scrap felt and zigzagged it to the center front of the fleece. I also played around with adding a felt initial and a strip of ribbon, but it's that time of year, so ultimately the heart won out. Here's what the others look like, though:
The back pieces are a tiny bit more complicated. You need to fold down Pattern 1 along the long dotted line for the lower half—don't cut it, as you'll need to unfold it later. Pattern 2 is the upper half. These two pieces are placed on the wrong side of the fleece (it'll be the side with less pile and fluff) with some clearance. Then you'll take a marker and draw around the outlines of the patterns, as shown below.
Remove the patterns and cut 1/2" around the marks you have made. Hem the straight edges by rolling them under and stitching.
Now you just layer the pieces thus:
  • On the bottom is the large front piece, with the right side of the fabric facing up. 
  • Next is the hemmed top half, right side of the fabric facing down.
  • On top of these two pieces is the hemmed bottom half, right side down.
Pin carefully and sew along the lines you've marked. Sew all the way around, overlapping to secure the seam. Trim your seam allowance, clip curves, and turn right side out. You should have a little pillowcase.
inside out, sewn
inside out, seam allowances trimmed, curves & corners clipped
right side out, front view
right side out, back view
Now for the pillow. Unfold your large pattern again and refold at the dotted line going across the neck.  Draw around the pattern on the wrong side of the fabric as you did above, and cut out 2 pieces with the extra 1/2" seam allowance. Sew on the marked lines, leaving a 2" opening at the top for filling. Trim and notch as before.
Then turn right side out, fill with rice, and stitch closed. If your machine is a tabletop model like mine, it may be easier to place the filled bag to the right of the needle so that its weight doesn't drag down.
And that's all there is. Stuff this rice pillow into your red case, and you are done. The total cost of this project is under $5, and it takes no more than an hour to cut and sew. 

To use, heat in the microwave for about 3 minutes. Keep an eye on it to be sure the fabric doesn't get caught up anywhere (ask me how I know this) and take it out when it's comfortably warm. Then tuck it into your sheets just before bedtime. It should keep you or your loved ones comfortably toasty all night.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

the blukuleles—or how to form a group to learn anything

When one is prone to impulsive, hare-brained ideas like buying a blue ukulele with a dolphin jumping across it simply because it is adorable—
—is it a good or bad thing to have friends who are equally loony enthusiastic?
One way to learn something—anything—is to form a group for it. We were all once active homeschooling moms, so it only took a bit of idle talk and a few phone calls to get this thing going. There were no meetings, no person in charge, just a mutually understood agreement that we were going to learn together in a way we knew worked well. Here is how our little learning collective is set up:

  1. We have a name so that everything related to this experience can be easily tagged and recognized.
  2. We share resources with each other, in person and via a shared Dropbox folder.
  3. We have two experienced musicians who can lead us through the process. This was just luck, but I certainly recommend having expert guidance whenever possible.
  4. Early on we set the rule of no self-deprecation. Women, especially, can be prone to saying things like, "You sound so good. I sound terrible..." Not with us. Such statements get quashed immediately by everyone else in the room.
  5. We have fun—admittedly, a given with the ukulele—but are also serious. Meeting times are held to. There is no off-topic chatter. We move fast and try to have a plan for each meeting.
  6. We set goals, ranging from learning a particular song, to playing onstage in one's existing band, to joining other area playalong groups.
  7. And we check in and track our progress: chords learned, songs memorized, patterns recognized, skills built. In this way we can see the concrete results from each practice session.
Group learning isn't for everyone or everything, but it can work very well in the right situation. Years ago, I used this same idea in setting up a knitting class—a class which has since turned into an ongoing knitting group for the last 13 years. And it's the concept behind Young Makers and most every homeschooling cooperative activity. When you're committed to a group, you're less likely to make excuses about practice time and more likely to just find a way to make it happen. If you do fall behind, you are motivated to catch up so as not to slow others down.

Most importantly, a group has multiple eyes, ears and hands. As each person shares a new song, a fingering tip or a video they've discovered, we amplify the learning process for everyone.

It's a cliché, but energy truly is infectious. A good group will encourage progress, cheer each step, and solidify your identity as an ukulele player (or whatever you choose). With our little blue ukes, we are on our way—

Saturday, January 14, 2012

louis gaspar ukulele

Here is Mom's other ukulele. You can see at a glance that it is a handmade instrument in the pineapple shape—a form pioneered by Sam Kamaka, whose family-run ukulele factory is still operating (and very highly esteemed) in Honolulu. If you peer into the sound hole, you can see this label:
Louis A. Gaspar
Ukulele Manufacturer
Wailulu, Maui
Hawaii 96793
"Wailulu" is a typo for "Wailuku," one of the main towns on the island.

There is not a whole lot of information on Louis Gaspar. Kamaka Ukulele's site tells us that Gaspar was Sam Kamaka's brother-in-law and learned the craft from him. And we can see his oddly lopsided pineapples at one online ukulele museum and in occasional eBay listings. Mine is equally funky: not quite symmetrical, with the grain of the wood running off-parallel to the body. 

A couple of interesting features: the frets are placed directly into the neck, rather than on a fretboard.
And the headstock is elongated, with the tuning pegs lined up in an angled row.
The neck is a little on the narrow side, which for me means that the top G string, in particular, has a tendency to slide off. Maybe it's my novice playing, but I know I don't have the same problem on the Duke uke.

Mom's ukuleles, unfortunately, had sat in a closet for decades after her death and were not in the best shape when we cleared out the house a few years ago. When I had the local luthier replace the bridge on this one (he built a replica vintage Kamaka bridge but had to move it, as the original had been situated in the wrong spot), he was surprised at how many cracks and splits there were.
It was probably a humidity issue, but again, the Duke did not have this problem. Gaspar seems to have used his wood very sparingly. The unfilled grooves around the sound hole are apparently just shy of popping out.

Along with the ukulele were these notebooks:
Did Gaspar teach ukulele, too? I'll ask my grandmother next time I see her, but at 97 years old, I can't be sure she'll remember. The books are identical inside. There is a hand-drawn chord chart:
—and pages and pages of song lyrics with the chord changes typed above them.
All done in that purple hectograph ink—anyone else remember hectographs? :)

This ukulele has a soft, hollow sound and after reading more for this post, I now know that this is due to the pineapple shape, which was and is particularly valued for its warmth. I tend to play mine when I don't want to disturb anyone, but this week I am finding much more to enjoy about it on its own terms.

I can't end without linking to this series in which a Gaspar ukulele is carefully dissected and reconstructed. He explains some of the design elements but also finds his instrument crudely built. I think it's clear why Kamaka ukuleles are still prized, while Gaspar ukuleles quickly died out. My guess is that it was an inexpensive (Maui) local alternative to Kamakas or other brand name ukuleles in the 1950s. If you know more about them, I'd love to hear.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

blog game/ukulele

Sarah was kind enough to tag me with a versatile blog award. I hope you'll go and look at her blog and at the other blogs she named.

And then please forgive me while I cheat on this post. I recently did a similar one here, and that seems like enough stray information about myself for the moment.

Okay, I can add one new fact: I've recently started playing ukulele.

Just like everyone else, right? I'm no musician, but it's pretty hard to resist an instrument that has such a low threshold of entry. Sure, there are amazing virtuosi like Jake Shimabukuro or Peter Moon, but it's also possible for the average doof like me to play simple songs pretty quickly. I love that.
This is one of my mom's ukuleles. She grew up in Maui in the '40s and '50s and had at least 3 soprano ukes in the house when I was growing up. This one is the Duke Kahanamoku model—which sounds impressive, until you learn that Duke was actually a surfer whose name was on the nightclub where Don Ho rose to fame. Knowing how crazy my mom was about Don Ho in the '60s, my guess is that on a trip back, she and her sister went to Duke's where she bought this ukulele in the gift shop.

This was made in Taiwan, and there seem to be a gazillion of them in existence. You'll see them listed for lots of money, but the two most recent sell prices I found on eBay were on one side or the other of $100. Still, it sounds nice and bright to my newbie ears and tends to be the one I pick up to play. This last week, however, it's been on loan to a friend so I am playing Mom's other ukulele, which I will show you in another post.

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