26 October 2006

Quilting in Glass

These are Glass Projects #4 and #5, the first pieces I made at home in my very own kiln. They are blocks of a traditional quilt pattern called "Crazy Amish Star". They are translucent but unfortunately I have not yet figured out how to photograph this kind of work successfully...

25 October 2006

59 Five-vowel words

Here is a list of words that have all five vowels in them, compiled in the last year by my students and the good people at Babble:

eunoia <--shortest with only 6 letters
facetiously <-- has all vowels in alphabetical order
ultrarevolutionaries <-- has each vowel exactly twice

more geekiness like this

23 October 2006

Colonial Gravestones

Today J and I spent the day exploring Concord, Massachusetts with my parents. I was especially drawn to the old cemetery next to St. Bernard's church, where my grandmother and I used to go when we were early for Mass. Today the oldest grave we found marks a death in 1690. (Concord was settled in 1635.)

The artwork is beautiful, and I wished I had done a little research ahead of time to see if rubbings were allowed, and how to do gravestone rubbings without causing damage. Two helpful sources for advice of this nature are the Connecticut Gravestone Network and the Association for Gravestone Studies.

I learned new uses of words: a "consort" is a woman who predeceases her husband ("Sarah, consort of Josiah Wheeler") and a "relict" is a woman who is widowed by her husband. "Relict" can also refer to a child whose father has died.

There were some gravestones which were weathered to the point where they could not be read at all. I learned that sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide from pollution (notably from burning coal) contribute to the weathering and destruction of headstones. Flat memorial stones are also damaged by sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in acid rain.

Our second stop was the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, also in Concord, where my grandmother is buried. Sleep Hollow Cemetery is a tourist destination because of "Author's Ridge", where Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Henry Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are buried. (Today those four famous graves were marked with little pumpkins in honor of the season.)

The stories we pieced together were compelling - Revolutionary War Veterans, frequent remarrying due to untimely deaths, confusing intermarrying between families with familiar historical names, and tragedies such as the family who lost their three little girls, aged 5, 4, and 2, all within a week of each other.

I seem to be fascinated by things that people say I should find morbid.

17 October 2006

The Limerick Game

My friend C24 invented a fun game in which we write limericks by passing them back and forth between us, writing only one line at a time. We've come up with some terrible ones, which I won't share - but here are some of my favorites.

Written 19 January, 2006:

A man with a gimpy-legged shuffle
was killed by a poisonous truffle
"Alas, I am smote!”
were the last words he wrote
with a quill on the edge of his ruffle.

Written 22-29 January:
A painter who wore a beret
Heard a devious art dealer say,
"Just pretend that you're French
And dress like a wench;
I'll sell more of your paintings that way."

Written 14-15 March:
A boy with a shiny new bike
Had just traded in his old trike
"With two wheels, not three
I can ride fast and free
Since the front and the back are alike."

Written 18 June - 28 August:
I’ll never forget me first nanny
For she’d whack me quite hard on the fanny.
I wouldn’t have minded
Except that I’d finded
She caused pain in me least favorite cranny.

Written 17 October:
The boys at the long wooden table
Make fun of the horse in the stable.
Ah, if only they knew
What that horse likes to do
When he sneaks in the house to watch cable.

One we didn't write, in honor of the math geeks in my life:
A mathematician named Bath
Let x equal half that he hath.
He gave away y
Then sat down to pi
And choked. What a sad aftermath.

And finally, a wonderful example contributed by my Mom:
An erotic neurotic named Sid
Got his ego mixed up with his id.
His errant libido
Was like a torpedo
And that's why he done what he did!

09 October 2006

Lady Edisons

This weekend's TV theme at our house is Inventors and Inventions, and I've loads to tell about female inventors and their roles in our daily lives.

The US Patent Act of 1790 changed the rules and allowed women to hold patents if they were single or widowed. Since married women of the time were not allowed to own property in most states, and patents are intellectual property, most women could not hold patents despite the Patent Act. The first woman to hold a patent was Mary Dixon Kies, who lived in Connecticut, where law did not prevent married women from owning property independently. Her patent, issued 15 May 1809, was for a method of weaving straw and silk together to make hats. At the time, the United States had an embargo in effect on European goods (blame Napoleon) and the economy in the New England states, which had been heavily supported by imports, was suffering. Kies' method made it possible to produce hats quickly and efficiently, bolstering the local economy. (I looked for Kies' original patent document - it was apparently destroyed by a fire at the Patent Office in 1836.)

Margaret Knight absorbed her education of mechanics while working in paper and textile mills as a preteen and teenager. In 1868 she was working at a paper bag company in Massachusetts when she developed a machine that would automate the production of square-bottomed paper bags. (At the time, most paper bags had envelope-style bottoms; square-bottomed bags were handmade and prohibitively expensive for mass production.) She built a wood model of her machine and brought it to a machinist, since the patent office required an iron model. While the machinist was working on the job, a man saw Knight's machine and stole her patent. She brought a patent interference lawsuit against him, and won her patent in 1871. Her opponent's main defense in court was that a woman could not have possibly created such a mechanical invention. During this time, newspapers patronizingly referred to Knight as "Lady Edison". Over the course of her lifetime, Margaret Knight held many patents for machines relating mostly to textile and fashion industries.

Mary Engle Pennington was a chemist who specialized in bateriology. She researched safe handling of milk and dairy products, eventually convincing dairy farmers and street ice cream vendors to change some of their procedures to make their products safer. In 1905 she applied for a job with the USDA under the name "M. E. Pennington". Apparently the government did not realize she was female until after she received a promotion in 1906. Mary Engle Pennington designed refrigerated railroad cars, which allowed perishables to be shipped safely all over the country, and also improved the shipping of eggs with a new design for egg cartons.

One unlikely inventor is Hedy Markey, better known as Hedy Lamarr, who, together with pianist and composer George Antheil, developed a method of encoding radio signals called frequency hopping, an example of spread spectrum. Their method, which they patented in 1942, was based on the idea that radio transmissions could be hidden if they switched frequencies in a pattern that would be difficult for an eavesdropper to trace but easy to follow for someone with the appropriate key (in this case, a piano roll from a player piano). The government turned down the opportunity to buy a license for their method during WWII, but spread spectrum is used today in radio and cell phone technologies to make transmissions less prone to interference and eavesdropping.

And kevlar! Stephanie Kwolek first created kevlar fibers while working as a research chemist at DuPont in 1971. And Liquid Paper, which was invented by Betty Nesmith, a typist who enjoyed painting as a hobby, and mixed her own version of a white paint that would enable her to better correct mistakes. It goes on and on - windshield wipers, signal flares, no-wrinkle cotton - tons of stories about women inventing stuff. More good info here. I'm off to go tinker in the basement.

07 October 2006

Matrimonial Pearl of Wisdom and Poems

October is a month of many weddings for us, with three weekends in a row committed. Today's wedding gave us this pearl of wisdom, courtesy of Ogden Nash via cousin Molly:

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup:
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
Whenever you're right, shut up.

One of my favorite wedding poems is another Ogden Nash, Tin Wedding Whistle. My favoritest favorite, though, is The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear.

05 October 2006

A Secret of Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island is a popular destination for tourists and locals in the San Francisco Bay Area. The US military decided in the 1850's that Alcatraz (so named by a Spanish explorer in 1775, after the local pelicans - alcatraces) was well situated to be a fort, although it was never needed to defend the San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz housed prisoners from the Civil War onwards. In 1934 it was released by the military to the US Department of Justice, who converted the island into a federal penitentiary. Isolated and surrounded by swift chilly currents, Alcatraz was an ideal location for a prison. For the next 30 years, Alcatraz housed some of the most infamous criminals in the country.

So far, all of this is info you can get from the audio tour. The secret part I learned this past weekend, when J convinced me to volunteer with him for the Alcatraz Historic Garden Project. Initially, Alcatraz was mostly bare rock - the soil now on the island was brought over from nearby Angel Island, and all the vegetation was placed there over the last 160 years. Over time there were many gardens on Alcatraz, either planted by officer's wives or planted and maintained by the inmates themselves.

We worked in an area where three Victorians used to stand. Between the houses were terraced gardens, and when the houses were torn down in the 1940's, the foundations were used to plant vegetables and flowers for cutting. Landscape duties were highly valued among the inmates, and some brought flowers back to their cells. The gardens had been neglected for the last forty years, until 2003 when the Historic Garden Project started to rehabilitate the gardens on the island.

One group was given recipes of chicken manure and other yucky smelling dirt type stuff to rehabilitate the soil in the house foundations. Our group was assigned the more fun task of cutting back a huge overgrowth of ivy that was covering the path along the bottom of the house foundations. The photo above shows what it looked like when we were done - when we started, the view and the path were both completely obscured with ivy six feet tall. Those flagstones had not seen sunlight for forty years! The gardens will be replanted this fall, the concrete railing that was torn apart by the ivy will be replaced, and eventually the gardens will be open for docent tours.

I worked alongside one girl who enjoyed breaking rusty rebar with her bare hands, and had a knack for finding unusual objects as we worked. Among her finds: a shard of porcelain (probably from a plumbing fixture) and a penny (date obscured). J found a large pile of bones, mostly chicken, which were probably dropped there by trash-picking seagulls. Our team also found a manhole cover leading to the sewer, which had been long forgotten.

Despite the early and foggy morning and the smelly boat ride with the stacks of chicken manure, volunteering in the garden was extremely satisfying. We even got a behind-the-scenes tour of Alcatraz! If you are interested in volunteering, check out the info here about the Conservancy's work.

03 October 2006

Glass Class Project #1

Today I got home from my second glass fusing class, and I am loving it! Here's the project I made last week.