31 October 2014

Cueball Joe, or: how things sometimes go wrong in woodcarving.

I don't normally do much carving for the bazaars and craft season.  Carving is very skilled (I'm so so at best) and time consuming work, too much so to be put on a craft table in a church basement where customers come and say things like: "Hey, that's nice.  I'll give you five bucks for it."

But I thought I would give it a shot this year.  I decided to try and do a small nativity set and see if can give it a decent price and still move it.  So I found some plans for a nativity set on line and took a shot at carving them out.  They are ok, as far as caving plans go.   The clothes are mostly featureless, which is okay since I didn't want to spend hours upon hours on carving drapery and just bleeding all the profit out of it.

However, I did hit a snag when carving Joseph  For some reason, the plans gave Joseph a mullet.  That's not a terrible idea, as the hair would then cover both the neck and ears, which can be a little tricky for carving.  My problem came when I was carving in the front of his hair- in truth I was close to giving Joe a pompadour- when my carving tool snagged on the wood a little and blew out a large chip of his hair. The chip fell to the floor and became utterly indistinguishable from the other chips lying on the floor.  It was not going to be found, so I couldn't glue it back in.  The upside was that it was only hair, and if I merely changed his hairstyle he would be fine.  The other downside was that the only style that now fit was bald.

I've worked on Joe a bit since I took the photo.  I've shortened up the beard and worked on the hands.  I'll put up another picture as soon as the sky clears enough to have some decent light.   He doesn't look too bad, though he looks a bit old.  Oh well.

Joseph was an old man
And a very old man was he,
When he married Mary
In the land of Galilee...

I wonder how many of the great scultures of old turned out the way they did because a chunk fell out of the wrong place and the sculptor had to improvise away from the original plan.

The other problem is the prominent glue lines- they are most obvious on Mary and Jesus (not shown).  I had to glue up some boards to get a block thick enough for the carving.  Usually the glue line is nearly invisible, but this time it stands out like a sore thumb, which means I'll have to paint these if I want to get rid of these lines.  Which means more time spent on this, which means, assuming they sell, that I'll be paying myself about a dime an hour.

27 October 2014

I can't make this stuff up

Headline:  Panic as clown terror spreads to southern France.

According to the article, some teens have organized themselves into 'anti clown vigilante mobs'.

Truly, parody is dead.  What is the purpose of satirists in a world where reality itself is this warped? 

It's municipal election time!

Oh boy! Time to go out and vote for the shiniest of three turds! Yippee! Hooray for democracy!

26 October 2014

My job search engine does it again

This time they think that among other jobs I'd be a great physics teacher in Kazakhstan.

I wonder why they even bother to ask people to submit a profile. I'm starting to think I may as well ask them to throw completely random jobs my way. I don't think the results would be terribly different.

22 October 2014

Shootings on Parliament Hill

Please pray for all involved.

I often agree with Rick Mercer. This time I don't.

Update:  I posted this literally seconds before I heard about the shootings.  If you are coming here for information about the shootings on parliament hill, there is none here.  My original title was misleading in this context. I have since changed it.

I suppose I should begin with some disclosure.  I have long enjoyed Rick Mercer.  How could I not love the man who wrote this in defence of our troops?  And that is merely one thing he has done for his troops.  I for one am extremely grateful for the work he has done for the men and women in uniform.  And, I should also add, I usually find him funny.  I mean "usually" as an honest compliment: I have never met anyone who is always funny, and usually is about as good as it gets.

And now I will continue with some more disclosure: The Speaker of the House of Commons in Ottawa is a relative of mine.  I won't say exactly how, as it is the wish of my wife that I do not identify us or my family too particularly in this blog.  We- the Speaker and I- haven't exchanged Christmas cards, and the last time I saw him was about a decade ago at a funeral.  I believe we said hello to each other.  The time we saw each other previously was another funeral.  We said hello that time as well.  I didn't attend his wedding, nor he mine.  I found out he was Speaker of the House in the newspaper.  Off the top of my head I can't name his children.  He is family, but "close" is not the word I would use to describe our relationship.

It is common these to note that the journalism on shows like the Daily Show or Last Week Tonight or the Colbert Report is often of a higher calibre than the 'real' journalists.  Rick Mercer and the show he started on- This Hour Has Twenty Two Minutes- predates these shows by years.  Unfortunately, while I have found his show to be hilarious from time to time, I do not look to it for 'news' nor do I think he escapes the usual problem of the news, which boils down to the Dunning Kruger effect.  For those who want the short version: Dunning and Kruger found that when people only know a little on a subject they tend to speak with more authority than when they know a lot.  The reason behind this is simple: when one only knows a little, it is easy to imagine that one knows everything, but when one takes the time to really learn a subject, one quickly learns that they are only scratching the surface.  To put it in an even shorter way, I need only quote Alexander Pope: "It is with narrow-souled people as with narrow necked bottles: the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring it out." I watch Mercer for entertainment, not information.

Unfortunately, I am about to comment on something Mercer said, something which I believe was wrong, which brings to me the heavy weight of Brandolini's principle.  Sadly, it can't be helped, so here goes:  Mercer recently used one of his popular rants to attack the role of speaker in general and specifically my relative.  To put Mercer's rant into context, here are two videos showing the incident that inspired Mr. Mercer's rant.  If you can stomach it, the first is question period in Parliament.

The tl;dr version:  "How long will our troops be in Iraq?" "What is your position on Israel?"  "You answer me!' "No, you answer me!" etc ad nauseum.  Meanwhile the other members stand and cheer their member like the first one to stop clapping will be taken out back and shot.  That, I am sad to say, is what passes as political discourse in my country, and it has been for years.  I remember when I first started watching question period, which was shortly before I stopped watching question period, and seeing Brian Mulroney at work.  He was a slippery little weasel. "Mr. Mulroney, what is your position on X?" "Are you asking me what my position is on X? How dare you." "That is not an answer."  "Are you suggesting I haven't answered your question? How dare you."   I believe- don't quote me- that a member may only ask a question a limited number of times- or within a certain time limit- before the next person has a chance to speak.  So, if you want to dodge a question for a few minutes, you're good to go.  Dodging has become a standard practice performed by all parties. Some people are better at it than others.  The Conservative in the above video is lousy at it.

So Mulcair questioned the Speaker, who is a member of the Conservative Caucus, about his neutrality and why he hasn't forced the Conservative member to answer the question.  The Speaker took time to issue a ruling on himself (I honestly don't know how or why that would be allowed) and the Speaker delivered his ruling the next day.

The video title says the Speaker Chastises Mulcair, but I didn't quite see it that way. It was more like he was chastising all the members of the House for their low standard of behavior.  He further says that it is not his job to make people answer questions, but to maintain order and decorum in the House.  He cites precedent, in particular from Speaker Milliken, who was the previous speaker,  the longest running speaker of the House and a Liberal.  Keep that in mind: This Speaker's ruling was based on precedent and cites it copiously.   The conclusion is that he does not have the power to change his function: parliament alone has the power to do that.

Enter Rick.

It's funnier when the laugh track is added.

First, what I agree with:  300 methheads is a fair description of Parliament.

Second, what I am not sure of:  Mercer says, contrary to what Scheer says and backs up with precedent, that it is the Speaker's role to make sure questions are answered and has been since the 1890's.  I would have liked to have heard him cite something to show that is the case, if it is indeed the case.

Third, what I disagree with: Getting rid of the Speaker is a terrible idea.  The speaker is there to maintain some semblance of order.  He keeps track of who's turn it is to speak, keeps track of how long they may speak.  The Speaker rules on questions of procedure (as he did in this case).  Do I think these guys can take care of it themselves without someone handling it for them?  Go back to the first video.  The only real answer  is an resounding no.  Without a Speaker or some kind of referee, parliament would go from near chaos to absolute.

Fourthly, the guts of the matter: if I were to meet with Mr. Mercer, I would ask him a serious question about the position he outlines in his rant.  I would ask Mercer to define his terms starting with the one at the heart of his rant: If Mercer believes that the speaker should force the members of parliament to answer questions, then what is an 'answer'?

The question may sound facetious, but I am serious. Deciding what an answer is, and if the answer's given in parliament meet those parameters would be the speaker's role.  I honestly have no idea how that would be achieved.  While I don't think anyone could seriously claim that any question was answered in the first video, once you get away from "not answering" and into "attempting an answer" or "sort of answering" we run into murky waters.  Consider an example: A member asks what they believe is a yes or no question.  The other member answers "maybe" or "it depends".  The questioner believes his question has not been answered, but the responder believes it has.  The Speaker is to rule: what should he say?

Here's another example: Let's say someone answers some of the question.  Let's put a number to it and say that a member answers fifty per cent of a question.  Is that an answer? If no, then at what percentage is an answer given: eighty? Ninety? or is one hundred per cent alone sufficient?  And how can the Speaker tell when a question is fully answered- which he must since he is to rule on it?  Or let's say someone who didn't know very much attempts to answer the question and gets it wrong. Is that an answer?  Or if someone lies, is that an answer? And if not, than how is the Speaker to know?  Must the Speaker now be a universal genius who knows all the answers so he may rule on them?

Fifthly, I would rather have a bag of flour with a happy face on it for Prime Minister, but that's another matter entirely.

As I said earlier, I realize fully that the responses given in the first video in no way constitute answers, and I am frankly embarrassed and have been for decades by the behaviour of our politicians, but forcing the Speaker to rule on whether or not an answer has been given would be, in my opinion, a short and ready route to even greater chaos.  Rick Mercer, I am sad to say, has proven himself in this case to be no better than our regular journalists, which is a polite way of saying he's incompetent at news, though he is usually good at humour.   Rants are fun to write and fun to hear, but one should take the time and trouble of thinking it through first.  And everyone should take them with a grain of salt, not as sound political commentary.

13 October 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

To the Canadians, of course. To my American readers: Happy Monday. Enjoy your day at work.

10 October 2014

On woodworking: The easiest thing I know how to make, conclusion.

 And now, the pieces. I'll quickly outline some ways to make the pieces.

First, buy some.

Not the worst idea, but, on the other hand, if you were into buying things, you wouldn't be making this chequerboard. So, onto the next suggestion.

Second, cut up a dowel

This is a simple way to make the pieces. Get a one inch diameter dowel, or an old broom handle as I did in the pictures, and start cutting off quarter or 5/16 inch slices. It is helpful if you have a cheap mitre box for this. I used my old bench hook as a stand in in the photos, but the idea is the same.

First, put a stop block the thickness of a piece plus a hair away from the right angle cut slot.

Next, put dowel up against the stop block.

Then cut.


Sand both sides to smooth. Repeat another twenty three times.  Get a dark stain or the paint from the board and colour half of them. Done.

Third: Ah, this is a bit more involved.

Background: I used to do more craft shows and bazaars than I do now. I used to make wooden toys for them, until a lawyer friend of mine told me that selling wooden toys was a good way to get sued by people whose kids were dumb enough to try and eat a truck. And no, he would not represent me pro bono if I ran into trouble, and no, I would not hand out his card to my clients.

So I stopped making toys en masse, though I still make them for my own kids. I was left with a bunch of toy parts, especially wheels. Wheels were something I made on days when I didn't have anything specific happening in the shop as something to do and as a way of getting rid of those little pieces of wood that just start taking over eventually. Every now and then I would spend a day making scrap wood into wheels, because I always needed more wheels. Until I didn't.So, when I first started making the chequerboards, I started using up the smallest of the old wheels.

So, to make the pieces you need to make some wheels. Here's how.

You need these.

Tools shown here are a drill, a 1-1/8 inch hole saw, a saw, a plane, and a nut and bolt with a couple of washers.  Not shown: some sandpaper.

Get some scrap wood (The pieces I used for this I literally pulled from the garbage pile.) Clamp it down.

Start drilling from one side. Be careful, the hole saw heats up and smokes. use a low speed, and pull the hole saw often to clear the kerf of sawdust. Do not touch the hole saw with your bare hand after it has been used. Only drill through until the tip of the drill bit breaks through the other side.

Flip over, and drill again. Line up the drill bit with the exit holes.

Out it comes.

This is why you don't drill through all the way from one side: The wheel you just cut would be stuck up inside the hole saw, rather than mostly sticking out as it is here.

The standard wood around here is 2/4 of an inch thick. This is too thick for a checker piece. So, clamp it in something that can hold it tight,

and cut it in half. Eyeball it. Accuracy isn't important yet.

Now to make them all a uniform thickness. Get a piece of wood and use the hole cutter to drill out a piece of wood a quarter of an inch thick, then attach the wood to another block of wood that you can clamp somewhere.

Put the small wheels in the hole,

and plane them down. Don't go all the way on one side. Get started on one side, then flip the piece over and plane all the way down to flush on the other side.

Now the faces are smoothish and they are of a uniform thickness, but the edges are still rough. Not a problem. Get the bolt, the washers and the nut, and line up a few wheels on them, spacing them apart with the washers.

Chuck the bolt into the drill

And spin the wheels against some sandpaper.

I actually held the drill in one hand and the sandpaper in the other when I was actually doing it. Start out with a rough grit of sandpaper, then go up to some of the finer grades. Repeat until finished.

(I didn't do the full twenty four for this.  I still had some left over wheels from earlier years)

Colour the pieces as desired.

One of the reasons why I prefer the wheel over the cut dowel method is that the dowels will need some kind of container to hold them in, but the wheels allow you to string them together with some twine or an old shoelace. I just think it looks better.

And you're done.


Assuming I've already lost the tl;dr crowd, I'll just post a last few reflections.

I hope someone out there made it this far and found this to be of some use.I think what is best about this project is that it can be used an an introduction or a way to get started with some of the basic skills of the woodworker: measuring, marking, cutting, planing to a line, smoothing. Believe it or not, that is a very large part of woodworking right there. Whether you are making a small board or a large case, the basics don't change. Whether you use power tools or hand tools, it is the same. You measure, you mark, you cut, you bring to the line. It doesn't have to be a chequerboard for you to learning these basics. Every time you pick up your tools and set to work, you are creating not only work of wood, but also the opportunity to relearn and renew your understanding of the craft.

Part of the value of a little piece like this is that it offer an introduction into the art and it can be done before the new worker get discouraged or bored. One of the harder things to learn from my experience is how keep going. Big projects, and I've done a few, have what I like to call "the long middle". Starting a project is fun and exciting, a new venture into seemingly boundless possibilities. Ending a project is also wonderful, seeing all the hard work come together as your work takes its final form. Between the two points lie the long middle, where the excitement of setting out has faded, and the end is not yet in sight. As workers and craftsmen, it seems to me we live and die in the long middle. The way through, for me, is to enjoy the process, to love the time you have in your shop with your wood and your tools.

Most of woodworking is basic stuff repeated over and over. As proof of that, I offer you this, which I've been working around and has even crept into the edges of a few photos for this post.

It's an art cupboard/play station for my son. It's almost done, and, despite being badly photographed, it doesn't look too bad. I hope to have it painted and in his room in a few weeks. The whole thing, every last bit of it, is made with the same skills as it took to make the board: measure, mark, cut, plane, smooth, finish. That's all. The size of the piece, or the fact that it has more parts is irrelevant. Each piece became what it is now the same way- the exact same way- the other piece of wood became a chequerboard.

And so I leave you. I hope the man for whom I originally wrote this actually had a chance to read this despite my verbose and prolix style. I hope someone got something worthwhile from this.  I've only outlined a few of the most very basic of basics, but with some practice, a few basics can take you quite far.

9 October 2014

Quick question...

...and I would really appreciate some responses

Short Version: The parish is going to have another advent recital this year and I, along with the main choir and the school choir (who are actually pretty good, by the way.  Their leader is a professional singer who sings with the Opera Atelier chorus.),   have been asked to participate and sing some advent music. Last year the organist also brought in a couple of professionals friends to do a song or two, so I was literally the worst thing on the list that night.  Anyone have any suggestions for good advent music for solo male voice?  Assume the obvious good stuff- O come o come Emmanuel, etc- is already taken.  I am thinking about doing a couple of the O antiphons, but I am not a terribly good chanter.  So: suggestions? Favourites? Anyone? Bueller?