Northern California musings from one who fell out of the nut tree.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Not Enough Ink

I have been privileged to have voted in a great number of elections in my lifetime, although being a life-long Democrat means that I have been on the losing side for the majority of the time. However, I would have to say that for many reasons the voting experience yesterday for me was the most exciting ever. Afterward, as I was walking away from the polling location, I definitely had tears in my eyes.

It started in the polling booth when I pulled that blank voter card out of the folder and placed it on the table in front of me. I just stood there and marveled at it for a while, like a general giving one last look over the field on the eve of a great battle. There I was, preparing to cast my vote for a black man for president. And this time, I had a pretty good feeling about his chances. And it wasn’t because of his race, but rather because of the race he was in—he was clearly the better candidate. I filled in the oval next to Obama/Biden. I went over it again just make sure it was clear, crisp, and left no bit of white remaining.

I proceeded down through the congressional candidates, the city government, the local school board, and finally into the propositions. Eventually I came to Proposition 8. Again, I paused and stared at the two blank ovals. I took a deep breath. Then I filled in the oval next to the NO.

I filled it in again to be thorough, and to leave no element of ambiguity. I briefly considered adding an exclamation point to the right of the oval, but figured there might be a chance it would confuse the optical reader and mark my vote as invalid, so I decided against that. Instead, I went back and filled in the oval a third time. I filled it in again a couple more times after that, all for good measure. It was as if I felt the more I marked it in, the more votes I would rack up. Three, four, five votes—I’ll just keep darkening it more and more.

I thought about all my married friends, both opposite and same sex. How fortunate for them that they were able to find that special someone with whom to share their lives. I know the profound joy at having found my soul-mate out of all the billions of people in this world. I know how precious a gift it was to be able to pledge my life to that person before friends, family, and God. Now some people wish to take that gift away from so many others—how cruel is that?

I darkened in the oval one more time.

I thought of the scenario of both propositions 2 and 8 passing—the former adding rights for farm animals and the latter taking rights away from Gays and Lesbians. Would that not mean that we place a higher value on the rights of chickens than we do for human beings?

Again, I added another layer of ink to the oval.

Then I thought about what I was taught about homosexuality in the California public school system. On the day after the assassination of Harvey Milk in San Francisco city hall in 1978, a teacher (yes, a TEACHER) made the comment “well, at least somebody knows what to do with those faggots.”

I darkened the oval three or four more times.

Then I feared that if I did it too much more, I would wear completely through the card and it would invalidate my vote altogether. So I finished up and turned it in.

Now I watch the news with heavy heart as this hateful abomination known as Proposition 8 has passed by a margin of less than 500,000 votes.

Sometimes there is just not enough ink in the world.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Battle Sail!

On the 8th of March we went on a "Battle Sail" on the San Francisco bay. This is where they take two square-riggers out, and they dance around and fire cannons (blanks) at each other. We were out there from 2pm to 5pm (a three hour tour...a three hour tour).
This was an amazing amount of fun! The ship we were on was the Lady Washington. We were squaring off against the Hawaiian Chieftan. We got there early so that we could make sure to get on the Washington. This because we had already sailed on the Chieftan several years ago, and also because the Washington was the one that they used in filming the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. It was fun to think that we were running around on the very same deck that Johnny Depp had been on.
What was particularly interesting was finding out what it was like to sail one of these old tall ships. There is an amazing amount of coordination that has to take place on the part of all hands. It gave me a real appreciation for what it took to be a sailor. It's all about knowing your lines and your knots to the point where you don't even have to think about it. You just run over, grab the right line, pull it, and tie it off. And repeat this a thousand times an hour. (Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a tad.) It was truly amazing to watch. To think that back in the day there were folks who could do that day in, day out, in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of seas, and to do it whilst cannonballs whizzed past their ears!
I got an extra thrill because I have had sailing vessels on the brain lately. For one thing, there has been the genealogy research. I had discovered that my great great grandfather had sailed around the southern tip of South America and came sailing through the Golden Gate in a ship that was probably not too different than the one we were on. So I got to try to imagine what that would have been like. Also, I have been involved with several work projects in recent years that involved sailing vessels. There was "The Battle of Tripoli" and "U.S.S. Constellation", both for the History Channel. Then there is the project I am working on now, which has me building a 3D model of the Quaker City, a sidewheel steamer that also had two masts and sailing rigs. So it was great to get out there and get a feel for what it was like onboard those ships.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Climate of Angst

Another week, another multiple homicide. This time again, it is at a school. Gunman opens fire on a crowded lecture hall full of geology students at Northern Illinois. Five dead. Candlelight services. Makeshift memorials. The brief outcry for more gun control. The standard NRA response: "well, if the teachers were packing, this wouldn't have happened." Things will die down for a little while, then we'll get to do it all again. We are getting to know the drill.

According to some articles I've read, there is a growing tendency towards resignation. People are just starting to accept that there is nothing that can be done to make this kind of thing go away, so they just start watching over their shoulders and look for it to happen at any time and in any place.

Everybody has their own theories about what there is to blame. You see, we are a nation of fixers. We want to single out the cause of a problem and fix it. What I think is happening is a realization that the cause of this problem may not be any one thing, but a combination of a number of things. It's not the violence in video games and movies, it's not the economy, it's not the complexity of life in our society, it is not the fatigue of being mired in an unpopular war. It's all of these things combined with many others I didn't mention. They swirl around and create individuals who act out of perceived desperation.

It seems that every generation thinks they have had it worse than every other. I remember having conversations with my mother about how incredibly complex and stressful life is getting. She would say oh, this is nothing. We had the Great Depression to get through. You want to talk about having it rough. Well, I would still like to nominate the here and now as being pretty darned nasty.

It is the incredible amount of complexity that modern life holds. Here in this information age, we seem to hold all said information very dear. Yet, so much of what we receive is contradictory, misleading, or downright deceptive. We live in a society that is bloated, laced with red tape, and choking on its own success. We now have the ability to be lied to at the speed of light. Look at the past several elections--nearly statistical dead heats. It is as if we have resorted as a nation to flipping a coin; since everything looks too similar to make a distinction. Gone is the possibility of a landslide victory in anything, because everything is the same.

It also seems that everyone has at least one thing in their life that weighs heavily upon them on a daily basis. It may be taxes, it may be job (in)security, looming house foreclosure, bankruptcy, child support, divorce, bad grades, or whatever. Our nation has been invaded by 800 pound gorillas, and it is causing its sons and daughters to turn on each other in random, desperate acts. I believe that this has been how all the great empires have fallen throughout history. Not by direct and massive invasion from without, but from the thousands of tiny invasions and decays from within.

My mom did make a concession once not long before she passed away. She and I were watching the news on TV, and she said she was afraid for me and for the future that would be mine and not hers. She was concerned for where the country was heading, and she felt she had to apologize to me for it. I remember that weighed heavily on me at the time, and to this day it haunts me. I fear we must find our hearts, else all is lost.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Check Off Another One

That's one more of my woodworking projects in the "finished" column. I just turned the final screws on the workcenter I designed for use in my woodworking area. There are two major things I designed this piece for. One, to act as a sturdy base for my router table, and two, to provide a drawer for my bits and blades (anything with a cutting edge) so that I can put a dehumidifier in with it to keep them all dry.
You see, it gets a bit damp in our garage during the rainy season. There's nothing more disheartening than to go out to the shop in the spring and see a sheen of rust over all my router and drill bits. So my desire was to build a cabinet with some drawers, and make one of the drawers very deep so that I can have all my bits in slots, and some dehumidifying silica in the drawer to wich the moisture out of the air. So that's what it does.
I also designed the top to be interchangeable. I can mount the router table up there using the four bolts protruding from the top. However, I can remove the router table and make other tops that use the same bolt arrangement. My plans to this point include a bench grinder top, a clamping/saw guide top, and a flat top for just general use.

Oh, and here is the original design drawing I did for the workcenter. I stayed mostly to the plan, except I decided not to flare the scrapwood bin on the left, and it seemed to make more sense to have the small drawer on the top and the deep one in the middle.
I haven't decided yet whether I am going to paint or stain the unit. I had planned on just leaving the wood bare. Now I'm thinking I might want to give it some finish, so that the same moisture I'm trying to protect my tools from doesn't do a number on the unprotected wood.

Next up? The long-awaited coffee table!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Nice Round of Ghoulf

I am convinced that if you play the game of golf long enough, you are going to have some very strange rounds. Some rounds will frustrate, some will dazzle, but some will leave you scratching your head and wondering "what the heck just happened?"

I had one of the latter a couple of days ago. Maybe it was the proximity to Halloween, maybe it was the fact that it was a full moon, I don't know. But I certainly heard the theme from Twilight Zone going in my head a few times.

Admittedly, I was getting a late start--3:30 on a Friday with sunset at around 7pm is pushing it for playing 18 holes, even on the executive course at Green Tree (it's a pitch&putt course, no sand, par 29 for nine holes. To play 18, you just go around twice.). But it was a gorgeous day, and I figured I would just play till I couldn't see anymore.

The front nine was fairly uneventful, but aside from some uneven results from my driver and long irons (I was slicing a bit), I did pretty well. In fact, I shot a 35 for that front nine, which was my best to date on that course. I did have a David Copperfield moment with a ball I hit to the right of the green on the 4th hole, but I could see it come to rest. As I walked toward it, it disappeared. I mean, one minute I'm looking at it, I look over at a heron standing on the shore of the lake, I look back and it's gone. There was nobody else around. I had nobody behind me, so I spent a good ten minutes looking for that ball. I just didn't want to give up on it, cuz there was no freaking way that ball should have been lost. It was flat ground, no water, just a few leaves, all fairway's as if it had slipped into another dimension. But I finally had to give up and play another. Very strange.

I guess the incident unsettled me. The next hole is a par three that is mostly lake between the tee and the green. I put my ball in the ball washer to "clean off the sins of the previous hole". (Golfers are every bit as superstitious as baseball players--don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.) When I pulled my ball out of the washer, it had changed brands, and there was someone else's initials marked on it. Great Jumpin' Houdinis, I exclaimed--there IS magic in the air! Then I realized that mine was still in the washer, and that somebody must have left their ball in there by mistake. But still I heard that Twilight Zone refrain...

Well, it must have distracted me, because I topped my tee shot and it flew low and fast right at the lake. I saw it skip once, twice, and not again. Could it be I hit a peanut butter shot, as my sister calls them? (Skippy!!) Could it have made a landing on the far shore? I hit a provisional, then went searching for the first ball. When I got to the far shore, I could find no sign of my first shot. However, I did find a nice Precept ball partially buried in the muddy lake bottom. I figured nobody was going to claim that one, so I fished it out and pocketed it. Put one in, pull one out--it seemed fair. Well, on a whim I teed up that Precept ball on the next hole. You see, it is a par 4 coming right back the other way, so if you slice you can put the ball right back in the same lake. I figured that ball might have an aversion to the water (since I had just rescued it from there), so it might fight to stay out.

Sure enough, I hit the longest, straightest drive I'd ever hit on that hole! It set me up for an easy par for the hole. I played with that ball for the rest of the game, and it performed beautifully. I figure that maybe it was grateful to me for saving it from its watery grave. So that became the Grateful Ball.

I finished that front nine feeling pretty good. The sun was getting low in the sky, but I figured that if I played quickly, I should be able to get it in. Unfortunately, a group of three guys teed off ahead of me, and though they weren't painfully slow, it was enough to have me waiting a couple minutes to tee off at each hole (but not enough to warrant pressing them to have them let me play through). But the remarkable thing that happened on that back nine was the wind--it stopped. I mean, I usually have more breeze in my office (read, NONE). The air got still and deathly quiet. You could hear an earthworm pass gas, it was so quiet. And about that time, I went into the zone with my swing. It was amazing--I would just select the club for distance, point it right at the flagstick, and the ball would go there. I put four of my nine tee shots on the green, and on the two par 4 holes, I got on in two. And the ones that weren't on the green were just off the fringe. I'd never hit that well in my was like I was Phil Mickelson for a day!

As I made the turn on the 6th hole (dogleg right around a lake, first of two par 4s), the sun set. I looked over at a field to my left and saw a family of burrowing owls--one adult and two fledglings. They were the cutest things! I guess they were coming out for the evening's hunting. It was getting dark fast. As I went to tee off on the 7th, the marshall was sitting beside the fairway--he was pulling the flags behind me! When I hit my tee shot, he yelled something at me. Was he admonishing me for for almost hitting him with my ball? Did he see my ball hit somebody in the group ahead of me, and he was saying I should have yelled "fore"? I had no idea, because I lost the ball in the dark once it came down out of the sky. I had no idea where it was, except I thought it felt like it was heading toward the green. Well, as I walked toward the green I kept trying to replay what the guy had yelled over and over in my head. I came to the conclusion that he'd yelled "NICE SHOT". Sure enough, as I got up closer I could finally see my ball--about ten feet from the hole.

By the time I got up to the 8th tee, it was simply too dark to see anything. I looked toward the green (about 160 yards away), and I could see the guys in the group ahead of me silhouetted against the full moon, which was just rising (the image at the top of this entry is my attempt at drawing that from memory). That's the only way I could see that they had cleared the green.

At that point I contemplated heading back to the parking lot. It was just friggin dark. But then I decided that I was hitting so well and so predictably, that I could just hit my tee shot and walk toward the green, and maybe I would get lucky and find the ball. I'd played that course so much...I knew where the greens were from memory. So that's what I did. I hit my tee shot on 8 and it felt like a clean strike. I took off walking toward the green and sure enough--the ball was about five feet off the green on the right fringe. (The dark did cost me a stroke right then though. I could see the ball fairly well, but I could not see the ground it was sitting on. My chip got a bit too much Earth, and it barely made it onto the green.)

The last hole is a par 4 back to the parking lot. I pulled out my driver, then put it back. I figured that if I sliced at all with the driver, I'd never find the ball. However, I knew I was hitting very straight with my irons, so I pulled out my 4-iron. I hit the ball with everything I had, and the strike felt good. So I took off walking. When I made it to around the distance I usually hit, there was no sign of the ball. I began to figure that my luck had run out. Darn--I was sitting at 29 strokes through the first eight holes...I probably would have posted my best ever for that course! So I gave up and started walking to the parking lot.

Then to my right, I caught a glint of white in the grass. I figured it had to be a stray rangeball, but I went over and checked it out. I just about laughed myself silly when I got to it and found out it was mine! Well, I couldn't see the green, but judging how far I had walked, I knew it had to be close. So I pulled out my 8-iron and hit it a bit softly towards where I remembered the pin was from the first time around. Again, the strike felt clean. I just walked up to the green, and there it was--about a foot from the edge of the green, leaving me about a 25 foot putt. I couldn't see the hole (the flag had been pulled and was laying on the green), so I walked over and found it. I darn near made the putt! It went about a foot right of the hole, which left me with a tap-in for par.

Then I got the giggles. I just couldn't believe I had par'd that last hole in total darkness. I thought that maybe I should buy a blindfold--it might improve my game! I giggled all the way back to the car. Then I laughed for the entire drive home.

And it still makes me smile as I'm thinking about it now. I guess that's the aspect of golf that really gets under your skin. Mark Twain once said that "golf is a good walk spoiled." Well, obviously he never played a round like I had that night. I will forever remember the owls, the moon, the David Copperfield balls, the Grateful Ball, and those miracle shots under the cover of darkness... and those memories will fuel my love for the game that I hope to feel and be playing with for the rest of my days (and nights)!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stopped and Starting (again)

Wow, talk about your stops and starts. I talked of that in my last entry--back at the beginning of June. I sure do have the stopping part down. Here it is late October, and it's high time I added some life in here.

It's not that there has been a lack of activity here in Vacaville. Just the opposite, and that's why I haven't been writing in here lately. After getting through all that needs to get done on any given day, there just doesn't seem to be much energy left for writing. Especially since doing a lot of writing is usually one of the items on the to-do list! (I'll elaborate on that later.)

So I'm just going to go through a recap of everything that's been going on with me since June. I think I left off while still in the planning stages for the BlauJeans project. I worked on that through around the end of July, and I think I came up with some pretty cool maps and CG graphics. That got my 3D graphics blood up, and I set off on a quest to build some of the architecture of San Francisco from before the 1906 earthquake & fire. So I spent one day walking all over the city taking pictures of various buildings in the financial district and SOMA area. That was a blast, and I did manage to build a pretty good rendition of the Spreckles Building (commonly known as the Call Tower). You can check out some samples of it on this page.

Then the Dialogue project came along, which was to provide text treatments for a documentary film by Mike Garibaldi-Frick. It was a very inspirational piece, and hopefully it will be playing on the festival circuit soon.

The amount of work that these projects represented was something unusual for me in that it was what I would consider a light workload. I haven't had a light workload since back in the 20th century! Usually I'm scrambling and juggling to get work done for a bunch of different clients and a bunch of different projects. But after the LucasFilm project ended in June, I decided I wanted to take a little time to stop and smell the roses, and...have a life! So Mary and I went to the Silent Film Festival in July, I went to SIGGRAPH in San Diego in August, and Mary and I have been catching up on some of our DVD watching.

Another fun aspect of this having a life stuff involved trying to increase my fitness level. So I've been riding my bike more, watching my food intake, and I've lost about 30 pounds since May as a result. My goal is to get back up to the mountains to go skiing this winter. I haven't been for over a decade, and I used to go pretty much every other weekend! So that's my goal.

And speaking of returning to activities I hadn't done in a while, the summer of 2007 marked my return to the game of golf! I used to play a lot, and even played in a corporate league back at Link Flight Simulation. But after a back injury in 1991, I pretty much dropped out of the sport. The last time I played at all was in 1994. But at the end of June of this year, I was at my brother-in-law's retirement party, and I had a chance to watch him play for a bit, and the bug bit me hard. So the next week I dragged my clubs out to the local course and went to the driving range. I took a lesson, tried some short rounds, then I had a chance to try hitting with my brother's clubs. I was amazed at the difference. The clubs I had been using were handed down to me by my brother when I was still in high school. Well, I looked them up online, and it turns out they were made in 1962! So I decided it was time to upgrade to some newer technology, and I bought a used set of Taylor-Made Burner irons. Well, that helped my game quite a bit, and since then I have added a couple of new hybrids, and some used Cobra titanium drivers. So now the only club I still have from my previous set is my old putter!

So I played a lot over the summer, and I'm really enjoying it. I've played with my brother up at Plumas Lake (where I played my very first round back in high school), but mostly I've been playing at Green Tree in Vacaville. I've had some bad rounds, but overall my game has been perking up and I'm having a lot of fun at it.

But even with all that, I found I still had some free time. So I signed up for a class at Solano Community College. I'd always wanted to take a film class, and they were offering one over the summer called "The Art of Cinema". It was a history of the industry, discussions on techniques, genres, etc. I loved the class! We would get about an hour of lecture, then get to watch a film. I'd have to write a discussion on the film, but I love doing that kind of critical analysis. Well, I had great fun in the class, and I really liked the instructor. So I was talking with him after the final exam, and asked if he was doing any other film classes. He said he was teaching a screenwriting class in the fall, and suggested I give it a try.

Well, I've had a long list of classes and subjects I'd like to take and study, and screenwriting was either way down on the list or not on there at all. But I decided what the heck. So now I'm just a little halfway through the term, and it has been an amazing experience. It's been a lot of work, but I really enjoy it! So far I've written a PSA, a video game, a television episode, a documentary...and now we are doing our big project--a full two hour movie script! And I came up with what I think is a doozy. I am really having fun getting into it, complete with all the research. I think I might actually have a shot with this in some screenplay competitions after this is all over! Or at least, I'm figuring on giving it a shot.

That's the real reason I haven't been writing much on this blog--I've been typing my fingers down to bloody stumps with all the homework.

So currently I am working on my movie screenplay, and working on a documentary about the Mark Twain book "The Innocents Abroad". And I am about halfway done with my workcenter that I am building for my woodworking. I designed it myself, and it is a combination router base, set of drawers and cabinets, a power breakout box and workshop kill switch, and so much more!

That's me, I guess...I just can't seem to sit around and do nothing! So I'm trying to do a little bit of everyting...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Stops and Starts

Well, it has been a while since I had left an entry here. So much has been happening, and I've barely been able to keep up. But seeing as I am stuck in The City on a Friday evening, I thought I'd do some writing. I'm sitting in Maxfield's House of Caffeine in the Mission District of SF, just having concluded a client meeting. Good coffee, free WiFi, I could hole up here for weeks!

It has been a time with some things finishing, and some things beginning. Some thing starting, and some things coming to a halt. Worldwise, we have the freeway in Oaklnd back as good as new. Here the highway department was saying it was going to be out of commission for months! It was out for less than one month. Amazing what $5 million in incentives can do to motivate people.

Finished also is "whale mania". We had a mother and calf humpback whales took a wrong turn at San Francisco and wandered ninety miles inland to Sacramento. It caused quite a sensation, with people flocking to the levees along the Sacramento River to get a glimpse of Delta and Dawn. (Those were the names the local media gave the pair. I hated it. These are noble, ocean creatures who entered the Sacramento delta region by accident. What if we were designated by places we mistakenly ended up in? Just call me "Colusa John"...) I loved the name that someone coined for all the people trying to see the whales..."Blubberneckers". I really wish I had thought of that.

And yes, I ended up being a blubbernecker myself. For the most part, I was in favor of everybody just leaving the poor things alone and disturbing/upsetting them as little as possible. But I just happened to be in the bay area on the day that the whales made their way back to the Golden Gate, so I went over to San Rafael to get a glimpse of them out by the prison at San Quentin. I saw them from afar, as they breached and vented their blowholes. It was pretty cool, especially as it was looking like they were going to make it out to sea again. We got worried about them for a while. (Yes, I realize that there is a LOT of marine life that also needs our protection out there).

On a more personal note, things have been drawing to a close on the Lucasfilm project. We had our wrap party out at Skywalker Ranch in early May, and that was a truly wonderful event. I got a chance to hang out with George Lucas and drink really good champagne. It was a little sad, too. Kind of like the last day of high school, where everybody is signing yearbooks, and wondering if we are really ever going to see these people again. Excitement about what lies ahead, but a bit of sadness about the fact that such a fun thing is drawing to a close.

On the woodworking front, I am designing a number of things at once, and I'm not sure which one I will start working on next. I have the coffee table as my main target, but I also need a table for my drawing tablet (that situation is driving me nuts). And to do any of that, it would really help if I could come up with some sort of base for my router table. When I was working on the desk organizer, I had trouble with it scooting around the floor of the workshop. Nothing worse than trying to put a nice, beveled edge on something while you are chasing the tool around the floor. So now I am designing my "super workcenter" that will have drawers to hold all my router accessories, and interchangeable tops so that I can mount the router table to it, or a grinder base, or clamping vise, or whatever. SO I'm in the sketching/planning phase on that. And I am beginning to modify the cofee table plans a bit too.

I've started working on a new film project called "Blaujeans", which examines the changing relationship between the United States and Germany since the end of the second world war. I'm doing some map work for it, and it should be pretty fun.

So it's been busy busy, with a few breaks here and there to gawk at whales.

Well, the traffic will probably have subsided a bit by now, so I guess I will head back in the general direction of Vacaville...