Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For Auld Acquaintance Sake

For Auld Acquaintance Sake--another New Year's card that was never sent; the image is printed on a stiff, translucent yellow material, and the ribbon joins this with the paper inner layers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year, From the Old Country

While my grandma's mom came from Bohemia, her father was from Scotland, and Scots-themed New Years' greetings are well represented in the card collection.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wishbone and Merry Christmas

That's a mighty large wishbone, to support all that holly and mistletoe! 1907 seems to have been a very festive year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Florence Williamson At Year's End, 1907

It's disconcerting for me to think about my grandma, 101 years ago, a young woman putting her postcard collection in an album. I'm closer in age now to what her mother, Agnes Williamson would have been in 1907. Agnes was born in Bohemia and married to a Scotsman in Iowa. Her childhood included an ocean crossing under sail and labor as a domestic servant in Des Moines, while her married life began with relocating in a covered wagon to a sod house in western Nebraska. She died in 1936, at age 88, from a farm accident. The comparison makes me feel like a sissy, worrying about my troubles.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Snow Report

Evidently, it was snowing in Des Moines on Christmas Eve day in 1909.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Angel

The postmarks on these old cards run through the New Year, so I feel justified in further seasonal displays. May the year end well for you all.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, 2008

While I've been paging through my grandma's postcard collection, Sherry and Dave have been making their own seasonal postcards. Meanwhile, needle artists like SharonB have been making fabric postcards. So many wonderful things to see, so little time!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Brick Testament

Brett, newly established at The Hendricksonians, made me aware of The Brick Testament: The world's largest, most comprehensive illustrated Bible. That title fails to mention that the Bible is entirely illustrated by photos of scenes built of Legos. The stories' texts are straight from the Bible, but the Brick Testament is not devotional in intent, nor is it for children. I have found it disturbingly addictive. So far, I particularly liked Acts of the Apostles, which includes stories such as Accept Communism or Die and Paul Gets Stoned. The latest addition, The Book of Job, is also interesting, especially the sight of God speaking out of the whirlwind, constructed of Legos.

If your sensibilities are delicate, you probably want to give this site a pass.

Secular Christmas Images, 1909

Pretty ladies and pretty birds--I don't know if the juxtaposition means anything, but there's nothing overtly seasonal except the holly and the message. I wonder if this is the beginning of Fox News' perceived "War on Christmas?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas, 1908

Here's a Christmas card my grandma received 100 years ago. She was 24, single, living with her parents on their farm at Williamson. Williamson consisted of her uncles' store and Williamson Hall, a community center still used for dances and reunions when I was a kid. By 1908, Williamson no longer had a post office, and her cards were addressed to Prescott, Iowa.

The text of the card: Front: A Bright and Happy Chrstmas from Margaret to Florence. Back: Florence Williamson, Prescott, RFD #3, Iowa. Postmark: December 22, 6 PM, 1908, Prescott, Iowa

Monday, December 22, 2008

Antikythera Device--The Ancients Knew More Than We Credit

Reproduction of 2,100-year-old calculator deepens mystery: The model of the Antikythera Device is based on the latest discoveries of the mysterious mechanism. I remember reading about the Antikythera device many years ago, in the sort of periodical devoted to Roswell cover-ups, alien encounters, and the evidence about the lost continent of Atlantis. I was really surprised to hear about it again a couple of years ago, and this year, a new article in Nature has prompted a string of articles, and this amazing video. Remember, the original object is 2000 years old!

I've put together a list of links about the Antikythera device below. It's so cool, you'll have to read more about it. My favorite observation comes from New Scientist's December 12 article, Archimedes and the 2000-year-old computer:

Historians have often scoffed at the Greeks for wasting their technology on toys rather than doing anything useful with it. If they had the steam engine, why not use it to do work? If they had clockwork, why not build clocks? Many centuries later, such technology led to the industrial revolution in Europe, ushering in our automated modern world. Why did it not do the same for the Greeks?

The answer has a lot to do with what the Greeks would have regarded as useful. Models of people and animals, like those of the cosmos, affirmed their idea of a divine order. Gadgets like Hero's were also used to demonstrate basic physical laws in pneumatics and hydraulics....

Rather than being toys, devices like the Antikythera mechanism were seen as a route to understanding and demonstrating the nature of the universe - a way to get closer to the true meaning of things. To what better use could technology be put?

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I don't know where I got the wrong idea, but somehow, I thought that "Ponzi" was a mathematician or economist who described the swindle, maybe in the 18th or 19th century, some early student of probability and statistics. The Washington Post set me right with this interesting feature: One Name Stands Alone in The Grand Scheme of It All--Madoff? Meh. History Put Its Money on Ponzi.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Apple Cake

About 10 years ago, someone made me an apple cake. I've been looking for the recipe ever since, and this year, with an abundance of apples, I've tried lots of them. The closest approximation of the cake in my memory came from this recipe. It's based on Cathy Anderson's award-winning apple cake recipe, with some substitutions and additions on my part. The cake is very sweet, and very moist, so it tastes fine unfrosted. Sprinkle a little confectioner's sugar over the top if you want to make it look pretty (like a first snowfall). If you must have frosting, the cream cheese recipe from my old Betty Crocker cookbook works better than most of the richer recipes you'll find on the Internet these days. You can definitely overdose on sweetness with this cake.

Apple Raisin Sheet Cake

  • 4-5 cups chopped apples (cored, but with peels)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2 cup salad oil
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups flour (1 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat works well)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Mix apples and sugar thoroughly. Add oil, molasses, raisins, eggs. Combine dry ingredients (flour, spices, salt, baking soda), add and stir to mix. Bake in a greased 13x9 inch pan for 1 hour, or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out without any batter.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 Tbs milk
  • 1 Tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/2 c confectioner's sugar

Blend cream cheese, milk, and vanilla--an electric mixer works best for this. Add the sugar and continue to blend. If frosting is too stiff to spread, add a little more milk.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Florence Nightingale's Graphical Presentation of Data

She's remembered as a nurse, public health advocate, and career-minded woman in a patriarchal society, but I was fascinated to learn that Florence Nightingale was a statistician!

Through her work as a nurse in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in establishing the importance of sanitation in hospitals. She meticulously gathered data on relating death tolls in hospitals to cleanliness, and, because of her novel methods of communicating this data, she was also a pioneer in applied statistics. We explore the work of Nightingale, and in particular focus on her use of certain graphs which, following misreading of her work, are now commonly known as 'coxcombs'.

The article includes links to several interesting sources on Florence Nightingale. I found this November 11 blog post from Understanding Uncertainty via Slashdot (/.), which pointed to Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician By Julie Rehmeyer, published November 26, 2008 in Science News. This column didn't actually reference Understanding Uncertainty, except in an incorrect URL crediting a graphic, but the whole Science News column seems to be based on the Understanding Uncertainty posting.

Understanding Uncertainty is well worth a visit. Their mission is to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining! and I found plenty to entertain and instruct. Like Slow Food and Slow Bloggers, they even have a manifesto: Manifesto for a statistically literate public. They appear to be using Drupal in a fairly straightforward way, so I'm learning something from their site design, too.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blogging More or Less

I've written 30 posts in 30 days for November Is National Blog Posting Month, although I haven't posted each day. At the same time I've been trying to post more often, a number of people have been posting about why it would be good to post less often. Leslie at The Clutter Museum brought this to my attention through 5 Things Teachers Could Learn From Slow Blogging. Leslie focuses on the uses of technology in higher education, but she links to a collection of articles on "Slow Blogging."

It seems a New York Times article by Sharon Otterman (November 21, 2008) triggered this month's discussion: Haste, Scorned: Blogging at a Snail's Pace

...Ms. Ganley, 51, is part of a small, quirky movement called slow blogging. The practice is inspired by the slow food movement, which says that fast food is destroying local traditions and healthy eating habits. Slow food advocates...believe that food should be local, organic and seasonal; slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechCrunch and Gawker are the equivalent of fast food restaurants--great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the longer haul.

Recursively enough, Slow Food (American style) has its own blog, The Slow Food USA Blog. I used to follow it regularly, because I'm interested in agriculture, food, cooking, gardening, old-fashioned skills, recipes, animal breeds, and crop varieties. However, I gradually lost interest in reading their musings on these topics. There's a line between being mindful of what you eat and where it came from and self-absorption, and they crossed it a little too often for my taste.

Unfortunately, as I made my way through the links Leslie provided, that same feeling began to creep over me. Maybe it was too many articles on the same introspective topic all at once. Perhaps if I approach these one at a time in a few days, I'll be able to get through them.

I do believe it's valuable to think about what you're doing and why you're doing it, but I'm not sure how interesting it is for other people to read about it, at least in abstract terms. Heaven knows I love my tomatoes, and I slap photos, recipe, and how-to's on my blog expecting that others may enjoy or learn. The tomatoes are wonderfully concrete, and much more interesting than my second-hand analysis of the evils of agribusiness.

Aw shucks. I've gone and blogged about blogging again.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buying a Drupal Book

I try to avoid buying computer books, partly because I'm cheap, partly because I have limited shelf space, and partly because free online resources are often better. However, I've been having trouble getting started with Drupal--I know how to make it work, but I don't really "get" what I need to know to start working on a real Web site. (By the way, my latest set of helpful Drupal links is listed below.)

There's useful information here, but not what I'd been hoping to find. That's why I ordered Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6: Build your own professional blog, forum, portal or community website with Drupal 6 by David Mercer. It came in the mail yesterday, and I started working my way through it this morning. Even though it was quite pricey, I'm pleased to have it. The author walks you through developing and implementing a sample Web site. The site tells you how to do hundreds of different things, but David Mercer tells you why you want to do a few of the more basic things, and what things you need to learn about first. It was this orientation that I've been missing.

Adventures in Slow Cooking--A Fascinating Blog

Speaking of "how-to" Web sites, I just happened across this blog: A Year of Crock Potting--A New Year's Resolution to use the Crock Pot every day in 2008. Every day Stephanie photographs her ingredients, gives "The Recipe" and "The Directions," and follows up with "The Verdict." I've found that many recipes on Internet cooking exchanges have typos, missing ingredients, or are passed along because they "should work," so "The Verdict" is a very important component.

Like Stephanie, I love my slow cooker, and I use it several times a week to cook big batches of oat groats (and other recalcitrant breakfast cereals), dried beans, deer roasts, and the odd chunk of meat we find on sale. However, her year of cooking slowly is much more adventurous than my bowls of fancy oatmeal. She has slow cooker beverages, deserts, fondue, quinoa, ethnic entrees and cornbread!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How To Do Stuff

In an attempt to get back on track blogging with "30 Posts in 30 Days" I've been sifting through my collection of half-written posts (now spread across three different computers--electronic clutter times 3!). Here's a resource I don't want to lose track of: 80 How-To Sites Worth Bookmarking. The list includes eight topics such as "Become a Technophile in 10 Easy Steps," "Dining on a DIY Diet," and "Every How-To They Can Get Their Hands On." It's a post on Stepcase Lifehack, a blog on productivity and personal development: Dozens of authors posting how-to's on dozens of topics.

"Life hacks" as an information category has alternately irritated me and filled me with pity. The things kids need directions for, these days! How to shop on a budget; how to cook something for dinner; how to iron a shirt--didn't their parents teach them anything? Evidently not. Thank goodness someone taught them how to look stuff up on the Internet.

I started learning how to do stuff from books when I was 10 or 11, and the Internet sucked me in long before the World Wide Web appeared. Those Usenet newsgroups were a gold mine of esoteric "how-to" information, from statistical analysis (where I was legitimately using my computer guest account) through baking, brewing, photography, and musical instrument repair (not legitimate computer use for me, but very welcome). I don't know when directions for simple and mundane things like ironing your own shirts and comparative grocery shopping started to appear.

I guess I feel sorry for people who have to look up these things on the Internet because these are things adults taught me when I was a child. When I iron shirts, I remember my mom showing me how; when I roll out bread dough with a rolling pin, I think of my grandma; when I fry an egg, I remember fixing breakfast with my dad.

Learning how to do something is its own reward, but I really hope the "life hackers" have some knowledge that gives them a connection to the past and their families.

Fabric Shopping Online

Lest I misplace it again, here is the online accompaniment to an article in Threads magazine: Online Fabric Shopping: A List of Resources. If you quilt, there are several places to buy fabric in our area, but for wearables, I've shopped online for a long time now. As the article's author, Carol Fresia, says:

For lots of sewers, the pleasure of wandering through a local fabric shop, touching swatches of fine yardage and dreaming up future garment wonders, is a thing of the past. So where do you go when you need--or just want--to purchase fabric? In Threads #120, I discuss the many advantages of shopping for fabric via the Internet.

Her list includes my three favorite sources:, Sew Sassy Fabrics, and Dharma Trading Company, as well as many I've never seen before. This long, unannotated list will mean hours of browsing pleasure (or wasted time--you decide).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Full Bust Alteration on Sewing Patterns

It struck me after the last post that I had buried the useful links on full bust alterations in the middle of a post on another topic. Just to be clear, I think full bust pattern alterations are the cat's jammies, the cream in my coffee, and way, way better than sliced bread. (Feel free to add your own favorite archaic slang superlative.)

One reason I'm so excited about them is that for years I tried in vain to improve the fit of my shirts, blouses, and jackets. I read books, made slopers, bought pattern after pattern, and cut out disappointing garment after disappointing garment. My problem didn't fit the classic full bust diagnosis, and besides, this is America. How could anyone's bust be too large?

I happened on the issue when I was altering bra patterns. It seems that most sewing pattern companies assume a B-cup bra size. The majority of American women require a C-cup or larger, which means that many of us will benefit from a full bust alteration on sewing patterns.

I tried the adjustment to see what would happen, and it made all the other alterations I'd been using unnecessary. I don't have dowager's hump, forward thrusting shoulders, or a sway-back. Instead, I'm a Jane Russell kind of gal!

Now, this is not just a nicer label for my middle-aged figure. I'm reworking my pattern collection, and getting flattering garments with a minimum of fuss. Sewing is so much more fun when the results are pleasing.

Here's how to determine if the full bust alteration might help you with pattern fitting. First, wearing your best-fitting bra, measure your chest at its fullest point. This is called your full bust measurement, or often, simply your bust measurement. Then, measure your chest above your bust, just under your armpits. This is known as your high bust measurement. If the difference between your full bust measurement and high bust measurement is substantially more than two inches, you may find this pattern alteration useful.

Instead of selecting your pattern size based on your full bust measurement, take your high bust measurement, add two inches, and base your pattern size selection on that number. These helpful links give clear, well-illustrated directions on making a full bust adjustment for various garment types.

Pattern Transformation: Tee Shirt to Sweatshirt to Sleepshirt

Lately I've had a hankering for some new cardigan sweaters out of fleece or velour. As I mentioned before, I'm too cheap to pay for a new sewing pattern when I have already-fitted patterns that can be altered for style. That's why I pulled out Kwiksew 2900, a basic tee-shirt pattern that works well for not-too-stretchy knits. I've altered this pattern to fit and used it a dozen times or more.

My first attempt at a cardigan was quite unsuccessful, so I decided to handle the alteration in two steps. First, I selected one size larger than what I normally use. The bigger armhole and sleeve are necessary for a cardigan to fit smoothly over another garment. However, this produced a too-wide neckline and a too wide shoulder, and the test garment (a simple sweatshirt too unsuccessful to photograph) pulled up in the front.

To fix these problems, I recut the larger pattern using the smaller neckline front and back. I made the shoulders an inch narrower, and I made a full-bust adjustment on the front. The test tee shirt's finished bust measurement was plenty large enough for my measurement, but I've learned that adding a full-bust adjustment to a pattern often fixes the "pulling up in the front" problem. This knowledge took dozens of patterns, yards of fabric, and many hours of frustration to obtain--I give it to you here for free. Here are some good descriptions of the full bust adjustment, also free:

My second and third test garments fit much better. I made one out of an extra-stretchy fleece remnant, and one out of an unstretchy printed cotton jersey. Both fabrics produced well-fitting garments.

While I was at it, I decided to try the new pattern as a nightgown. I extended the length and width of the pattern pieces as described in my "shirt to nightshirt" pattern transformation. It's shown here made from a wicking knit remnant, producing a very warm winter nightie, suitably loose-fitting for comfort. I'll probably use cotton jersey, cut it considerably shorter, and make short sleeves for other seasons.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From Shirt Pattern to Nightshirt Pattern

When I was young, I used to buy a lot of sewing patterns. In those days they only cost a couple of dollars, and I always hoped that the next pattern would turn out just as I imagined, with no messy alterations or disappointments.

Even as a teenager, though, I had favorite patterns that I cut out and sewed over and over again because they were so reliable. Doing that, I learned that it is much easier (and more fun) to make style alterations than alterations of fit. That's why, before I shelled out $10 or $17 for a nightshirt pattern, I thought I'd try and make my own by restyling a pattern I'd already altered for fit.

I've made nightgowns, pajamas, and nightshirts before, and they are generally loose-fitting, for comfort. However, I've often been awakened in the night by an oversized nightie that didn't move with me when I turned over in my sleep. To avoid getting tangled up in my lingerie, I thought I'd try something with less wearing ease. This is the pattern I started with: Jalie 2322. Here are the shirts I made from it, as the designer intended.

Four ladies' shirts on my clothesline

Basically, I made the shirt longer, left off the collar and cuffs, and turned it into a pullover when I cut it out. If you're interested in more detail, I've included a list of my changes.

  • To plan the bottom width of the sleep shirt, I measured the bottom width of an oversized tee-shirt. I used the finished length measurement from a nightie listed in a catalog. Both these measurements were quite satisfactory--I believe there's a lot of room here for individual preference.
  • I omitted all the darts except the side bust darts. If I make another night shirt, I will run gathering threads between the side seam dart markings, and ease in the fullness, rather than sew the darts. I think this will look better. It makes no difference in comfort.
  • I turned the front-buttoning pattern into a pullover by folding the shirt front pattern at the center front line, and placing this new center front on the fold of the fabric.
  • If you cut your neckline deep enough (and this one is, in fact, deep enough to pull over my head, even with all the buttons buttoned), you don't need a placket at all. However, I like the look of Grandad's old-fashioned shirt, so this time, I made the simplest neckline placket I know, for fastest results. I measured a polo shirt placket for length, and used three buttons because it looks right. Next time I make this, I will make a full-blown tuxedo shirt placket for that old-time menswear look.
  • I cut the neckline about three inches deeper at the center front, and about half an inch deeper at the center back. I selected this by trial and error, cutting until it seemed comfortable. I finished the edge with 3/8 inch plush lingerie elastic, because that's what I had on hand. Bias tape or self-fabric bias strips would probably be better in the long run.
  • I used the sleeves just as they were, and made up the missing length with a lace edging instead of a cuff, because it was much easier and quicker. It's also less constricting, if that's a consideration.
  • I made a shirt-tail finish on the bottom edge by folding the sewed-up garment, free-hand cutting the side vents, and making a rolled hem. (I've made a lot of shirts in my day.) You could make a even hem, or finish it with lace or other decorative edgings to suit your fabric.

Snow On Snow

It snowed twice last week, piling one snowfall on another, and we've had one night colder than any time last winter. Yesterday's rain has turned into today's snow, and we can expect more of the same. The new house looks sad and spectral, and the sky is more like mid-January than the end of autumn. I'm reminding myself how lucky we are to have the old house and a warm wood fire, but I can't help taking in a little gloom from the atmosphere.

Friday, November 21, 2008

78 RPM to MP3's: Amazing Music Collection

Here's another person giving away something wonderful for free on the Web: My Collection of Recorded 78 RPM Records - Free MP3 Downloads. There's a layer of "password protection" to get to it, (He gives you the user name and password.) and here's what he's posted:

The following is a list titles recorded from my collection of 78 rpm records. All of them are linked to MP3 files and will play what was recorded. No sound enhancement, just what was recorded. Right now, there are 3,877 titles on this page linked to mp3's.

You're bound to find something interesting!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

LAMP on Debian--Apache2 Tips

These are some Web resources I found very helpful in configuring my Debian Linux box as a server and running some Web 2.0 apps on localhost. Posting them here will keep me from misplacing them, and, thanks to the search engines, may help someone else as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jacket Pattern Redux

I started fiddling with this jacket pattern more than a year ago. I tried several approaches to fitting, put it away, worked on many other things, and got it out again last month. This round of alterations produced a promising muslin (made of old bedsheets, so no photographs).

I've read dozens of books, magazine articles, and Internet tutorials on fitting garments, and found dozens of conflicting suggestions and instructions. Here are the steps that I followed this time, with more success than usual.

  • I took a chest measurement just under my armpits--the "high bust measurement." To this number, I added two inches. I used this as my "bust measurement" for selecting my pattern size. There are many approaches to selecting pattern size, but this has worked best for me.
  • Since my actual "bust measurement" is larger than "high bust measurement plus two inches," I needed to make a full bust adjustment. This adds inches across the chest, but only in front. Most American commercial sewing patterns use a sizing convention developed around 1950, with a "standard ratio" of bust to waist to hip measurements. From what I've read, women who have this 1950 "standard" figure have become quite scarce.
  • Because this pattern--Jalie 2559--has princess seams, I tried Full Bust Alteration on Princess Seamed Bodice from Debbie's Sewing Projects--Tips and Project Instructions. These directions are clear, detailed, and easy to follow, and they worked like a charm. How often does that happen?
  • I cut out my freshly-altered sewing pattern from an old sheet, sewed it up, and discovered that I needed to narrow the shoulders (by taking the seams on the princess panels a bit deeper) and lengthen the sleeves (at the "lengthen or shorten here" lines, thank you, Jalie). These are wonderfully easy alterations!
  • I've cut out out the pattern in a navy blue cotton-poly twill, although I haven't bothered with the lining and interfacings yet. I'll cut those out if I'm still pleased with the jacket once the bodice pieces are sewn together. And there's always that option of finishing without a lining.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Princess and the Sewing Machine

Cats are notorious for interferring with knitting and yarn. Mine have all shown interest in fabric, patterns, and half-finished garments as well. Princess, however, takes it a step further, and is willing to nap next to a running sewing machine, even when fabric and pins must slide over the top of her.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Drupal In Theory and Practice

I continue to poke around the Web, hoping I'll come upon the Drupal resource that will make it all clear. (That does happen to me sometimes.) I'm actually making a little sense of it, between experimenting with an installation on localhost and reading more manuals. and many other Web sites have excellent documentation on how to accomplish specific tasks, but the place where I'm hung up is approaching my planned content, breaking it up into content types, and determining how to organize and display it. The documentation skips over this theoretical aspect, assuring us that we can do anything we can imagine, and "don't be intimidated bye the steep learning curve." (I'm really getting annoyed with that "steep learning curve" metaphor--it's so ubiquitous that most of the posters on the forums feel obligated to slip it into their questions and answers.)

Here are some resources that have given me some inkling of how to classify and organize my content and begin to plan a web presence of the Pocahontas County local history project.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Basketball Bird

Basketball bird.

CSS Tips and Techniques

While I was cleaning out my blog junk drawer, I came across these links on CSS tips and techniques. In the interests of keeping them where I can find them again (and to benefit anyone else who might want them), here they are:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lost In the Archives--Using Drupal

I've been test-driving content management systems, both general-purpose Web site packages and archive/collections management tools. I've decided I really like Archon, The Simple Archival Information System. It works on Mac, *nix, and Windows, its easy to install, and it can work as an archive manager, a digital collections manager, and an online exhibit manager. The other tools I've reviewed and tried out don't suit my purposes, or else, like Omeka, look promising, but are not quite ready for prime-time.

The "regular" content management systems for Web development are more problematic for me. I've narrowed my choice to a couple of systems I've installed and test-driven locally. Wordpress is easy to get started with, but it seems to turn everything I try to do into a blog with a few static pages on the side. I know it can do much more, but I'm not sure it's a good use of my time to bend it to my will. Drupal will do everything I can imagine, but I'm getting lost in the nine million alternative modules, themes, and add-ons. I need to read about what other people have done on projects similar to mine. With that in mind, I've assembled these links:

Using Drupal

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Snappy Sewing Projects

My recent fiber endeavors have seemed fruitless. I've intended to make jackets since last year, and for me this involves an iterative process of altering the pattern, sewing a muslin, and repeating until I'm ready to make a test garment. Then I have to work out the remaining bugs in the test garment before using the "good fabric" I wanted to use in the first place.

Last week, I took a brief break to make some actual finished garments as a reminder that sewing sometimes has a practical purpose. The two mens' tee-shirts on the right are from Kwik-Sew 2334. It's a straightforward pattern--it required no fitting or alteration on the designated wear-er, and it is quick to cut out and sew.

Although it's not obvious, the other two garments are by-products of the seemingly endless jacket-fitting project. The long-sleeved tee-shirt on the left also allowed me to practice using my new snap setting tool.

In the 1970's I tried several snap-setting outfits in my search for the perfect denim jeans and jackets, with unsatisfactory results. Sometimes the snaps were hard to set and chewed holes in the fabric, and sometimes they fell out after a few wearings. I gave up on the whole project and stuck with buttons and buttonholes.

Lately, I've been trying to make jackets out of knit and fleece fabrics, where tidy buttonholes are difficult at best. On the recommendation of Beth, the prolific and adventurous sewing blogger at Rusty Bobbin, I tried the "SnapSetter" tool and snaps from The Snap Source. I'm really pleased with the quality of the snaps, and the setting tool works well. The instructions on the Web site also are included with the tool, and if that's not enough, The Snap Source includes a video.

I think the "SnapSetter" tool works as well as it does because the snaps are of high quality. I ordered some large jacket snaps, a snap assortment (light blue ones shown in this photo) and some white pearl snaps. You know what that means--cowgirl shirts! I look forward to getting in touch with my inner Dale Evans.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Relaxing With the Rokon

We love our all-terrain utility vehicles here in West Virginia. Ours is a two-wheel drive motorbike called a Rokon. (Years ago they were manufactured as "Tote Goats.") I've never mastered keeping it upright even on level ground, but it navigates steep, roadless places well, and doesn't tear up the ground like a conventional dirt bike.

Princess doesn't care for anything motordriven, unless it has a comfortable seat, and is safely turned off.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

My dad was a schoolboy during World War I, and In Flanders Fields was a poem he and his classmates learned and recited at school. When I was a kid, he used to recite it sometimes on Armistice Day.

In Flanders Fields
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army

IN Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wasilla Hillbillies and Self-Loathing

Throughout the presidential campaign, I was perfectly positioned to be insulted by both parties--I grew up on a farm and live in the country, which makes me racist white trash on one hand, and I have an education, which prohibits me from living in "real America" on the other hand. Just when I thought the dual dose of contempt was over, we have fresh insults in Newsweek's "special election project" (Nov 5, 2008):

...While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy....One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000....An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

"Wasilla hillbillies!" I don't see the connection to the southern Appalachians. (West Virginian's official nickname is "Mountaineers.") The Palins look more like wannabe-yuppies run amok. The term snowbilly has been coined for them, apparently one more "white trash" synonym. It's just not an accurate application of our beloved/despised ethnic slur. If a real hillbilly were to loot a department store, wouldn't it be Cabela's, rather than Neiman Marcus? (At least, that would be my personal preference.)

This sort of discourse puts Republicans in an awkward position. For years, some of them have heaped contempt on the "liberal elite" and metropolitan populations, but now, it turns out that small town people are "hillbilly looters." I guess the Republicans are the party of self-loathing.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Recyling Craft Projects--How About a Rug?

I always get on a "recycling" kick this time of year--usually with fabric scraps. One year it was rayon scrap window quilts; last year it was compacting the denim scrap collection; another year it was converting some heavy handknit pullovers to cardigans. Maybe that's why I keep noticing things like Plastic Bag knitting. I've actually tried this, and wasn't that pleased with the results; however, plastic bag crochet might be a little more promising; as crochet gives a firmer fabric.

Cocoknits, the source for Plastic Bag knitting, also has tutorials for knitting bathmats out of rag strips. Her project looks fabulous in her photo, but I have made such, and, once washed, they are quite disappointing. However, this reminded me of the wonderful world of rag rugs. Woven, braided, crocheted, hooked--I've never gotten beyond the initial experimentation stage. I wonder if I have enough denim scraps? Here are a few Web resources on rag rug projects.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Recycling a Satellite Dish

Another Recycling Idea: Our neighbor made a small gazebo out of an old satellite dish. It's just large enough to keep the rain off a small table and chairs. I've seen them used for bird baths and planters, too, but the readers of /. (slashdot) offered some Alternative Uses for an Old Satellite Dish that really fascinated me, including parabolic microphones, speakers, and antennas. Here are the links I've archived....

Friday, November 07, 2008

Troublesome Plastic Bag Build-Up

The garden is done for the year. I'm already missing the fresh vegetables, but there is another negative as well: My plastic grocery bag collection is building up again. I use plastic bags to bring in tomatoes, peaches, grapes, peppers, cucumbers...everything. After the bags are muddied or ripped, I can throw them out in better conscience. Since there is no place locally to recycle them, they just pile up the rest of the year.

I have a sense that they "must be good for something," so I'm always on the lookout for ways to re-use. Here's a way to turn them into "fiber" for crochet, knitting or Recycled Plastic-Bag Weaving by Jana Trent. Her woven plastic project is the best looking use of plastic bag "yarn" I've seen, and it makes me want to try it out.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Textile History and the Battle of Droop Mountain

Today is the anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Droop Mountain. The reenactors visited last month, when the weather is more likely to be pleasant, but 145 years ago, the Yankees were bombarding our ridge with cannon fire, and the Confederate troops were dug in across the road, where you can still see the remains of their earthworks in Droop Mountain Battlefield Park.

Pearl S. Buck's novelized biography of her mother, Caroline Stulting Sydesntricker, The Exile (1936) includes an account of that battle, a major event in Carie's childhood memories. This book is out of print, unfortunately, because I think it is one of Buck's best works, and its it gives a vivid impression of time and place. Here's a favorite excerpt:

The postwar period in the life of the little West Virginia town [called Hillsboro now] was one of deep spiritual fervor coupled with necessarily ascetic living. This atmosphere was the air which she breathed in her youth, and which forever placed a check upon a nature that was at heart sensuous and beauty-loving. But it gave also the opportunity for experience of many sorts and in this her varied mind delighted. I remember her saying once, "I have done every kind of work needed to maintain life and I am glad of it. After the Civil War there were no shops, nothing to be bought. We grew our own flax and we spun linen thread and made our own sheets and table cloths and inner clothing. We dyed our dresses from cotton and linen thread we had made ourselves and we wove it. I learned to know what colors could be made from different herbs and barks and from roots of many kinds. Sometimes our experiments were failures and we had to wear them just the same. And we sheared sheep and washed the wool and carded it and spun it and wove it. I am glad I learned how to do everything."

This has been my standard of textile austerity for the Civil War era, but not long ago, I ran across an excerpt from Godey's Lady's Book, 1866, entitled Dress Under Difficulties: American Civil War Fashions in the South During the Blockade. Whoever wrote this had a different definition of austerity.

Let those who have never experienced it set their imaginations to work and conceive, if they possibly can, what must have been the condition of ladies in society - and very gay society, too - cut off for four years from their supplies of new dresses, shoes, gloves, linen, buttons, pins and needles, ribbons, trimmings and laces, not to mention the more urgent necessities of new bonnets, hoop-skirts and fashion-plates! How we patched and pieced and ripped and altered! How we cut out, and turned and twisted; how we made our new dress out of two old ones; how we squeezed new waists out of single breadths taken from skirts which could ill spare a single fold; how we worked and strained to find out new fashions and then worked and strained a little harder to adopt them - all these things form chapters in the lives of most of us, which will not be easily forgotten. Those who wish to learn economy in perfection, as well as those who interest themselves in curious invention, will do well to study the experience of the blockaded devotee of fashion.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Visualizing a Fourth Dimension

I've intended to post these amazing links for some time now: Seeing in four dimensions by Julie Rehmeyer in Science News describes a new series of videos to help people visualize complex mathematical concepts. This is the trailer:

The trailer shows some snippets from the Nine chapters, two hours of maths, that take you gradually up to the fourth dimension. Mathematical vertigo guaranteed! offered on Dimensions: A Walk Through Mathematics. I won't pretend to explain the fourth dimension as a mathematical concept, but there is text that accompanies the nine "chapters" of the film. I don't know if repeated viewings will allow me to absorb the ideas, but it's so engaging visually that I almost don't care. When Hutchinson described an ecological niche as "a multidimensional hyperspace," I wonder if he had any concept of what even one "extra" dimension would "look like."

Here are the credits for Dimensions: A Walk Through Mathematics: This film is the result of the collaboration of three enthusiasts who worked together on all aspects of the project: Jos Leys, engineer turned computer graphics enthusiast, specializing in mathematical imagery (Antwerp, Belgium); √Čtienne Ghys, CNRS senior researcher, working at the ENS-Lyon, mathematics and the scenario; and Aur√©lien Alvarez, ENS-Lyon graduate student, technical aspects, and computation of images.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Wishes

Mt. Olivet Methodist Church, Droop Mountain, WV

This picturesque old church is our polling place on Droop Mountain. I am so glad Election Day is here. I heartily wish that all the TV "journalists" who have covered the election for the last two years will be unemployed tomorrow, and that their positions will be filled by actual reporters who go out and gather information about events of the day.

I also wish unemployment on all misogynist campaign staffers, pundits, and commentators, whatever their gender or political affiliation. I don't care whether they called an older candidate "shrill" and "shrewish," or a younger candidate a "bimbo." They are ashamed to be called "racist;" why should "sexist" still be OK? Unemployment would give these people time to reflect on this contradiction, and would free up gainful employment for those who deserve it more.

I also hope that everyone else will exercise the franchise in a stress-free, pleasant voting experience.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rose Again

I have some tough roses here on Droop Mountain.

Even after last week's snow and ice, this rose is determined to make pollen while the sun shines.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

November Is National Blog Posting Month

I've signed on for November Is National Blog Posting Month again this year. Other duties and projects have pushed writing and photo editing to my back burner, and I hope this commitment will help me turn up the blogging heat.

I've signed up over at NaBloPoMo, where I found this really cool Cartesian Blogging Badge by Sara. (If you were wondering "Why Descartes?" as I was, she explains how as well as why.

The National Blog Posting Month Web site is a social networking affair where you can, in theory, read the blogs of others participating in the project. Discovering blogs like Sara's makes this an attractive proposition, but the nifty social networking site crashes my browser with some regularity, as it did last year. I don't think Linux compatibility is high on the priority list of the hip young women who run the project.

Un-hip, un-young, and Open Source as I am, let's see if I can't post something here every day.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

End of the Season

I'm trying to adjust to the abrupt end of autumn--it's warm and sunny enough to bring out a few sluggish, dessicated flies, but that autumnal glow is gone. Tomorrow's "early" nightfall is bound to be disturbing, too.

Friday, October 31, 2008

More Scary Stuff in Appalachia

I'm sorry to report that I don't have a new local ghost story for this Halloween. You could revisit my old ones at Haunted Pocahontas County, if you're disappointed. However, I do have a couple of additions for my collection of "scare the tourists away" horror movies set in or around West Virginia. I hope to bundle these and make them available at Snowshoe Resort someday.

A few weeks ago, I caught Wicked Little Things on television. (The occasion was Zombie Day on the SciFi channel.) According to the IMDb synopsis, In 1913, in Carlton Mine, Addytown, Pennsylvania, the cruel owner of a mine uses poor children in the exploration and after an explosion, a group of children is buried alive. These zombified waifs haunt the woods and eat hapless teenagers who foolishly sneak off for illicit teenage fun. Of course, some unsuspecting city folk move to the woods, screams and bloodshed ensue, and a wise old woodsman explains that the zombie children will never rest until they eat the mine owner's grandson, who wants to open a ski resort.

Wicked Little Things has several bright spots--Ben Cross is the wise old woodsman, and the sets, costumes, and makeup produce some haunting effects. The little zombie waifs move through the woods like a pack of feral dogs, and the stylized sets recall spooky silent films.

Pocahontas Countians are bound to love a movie where the zombie waifs hunger for the flesh of a ski resort developer, and I think the coal fields of Pennsylvania qualify this movie for the Appalachian backcountry genre. At least one other viewer connected Wicked Little Things With Pick Axes to West Virginia.

There are five movies in the Pumpkinhead series, and the fifth one is called Pumpkinhead 4 - Blood Feud. (Don't ask me about the math.) Until this latest installment, the fictional locale has been unspecified, although the characters have generic "Southern accents," and the setting is vaguely rural. The presence of a sinister granny woman who will conjure a vengeance-exacting creature from her pumpkin patch on request has sent me looking for an Appalachian connection, but Blood Feud settles this question for me. The titular feud is between the Hatfields and McCoys, placing the whole series on the Kentucky--West Virginia border.

These gory, formulaic movies contain some things that interest me. One is Lance Henriksen, whose character dies in the original movie, but subsequently returns as a helpful ghost and plot explicator. Another is the moral message--that revenge is corrosive to everyone involved. In a genre that usually teaches us that teenage fun is deadly and girls trip whenever they run away from monsters, this is surprising sophistication.

If you wish to review, here are some other movies from my "scare the tourists" collection:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Snow Fruits and Snow Flowers

I am always entranced by incongruous snowfall. This week's snow washed away all the red-gold autumnal glow. The snow's gone and we had sunshine today, but the remaining leaves are pale. The pear tree has still not dropped its load of fruit.

Quite a few apple trees are still holding on to their fruits too.

Poor Rosebud!