Sunday, February 28, 2010

First Breaths Of Autumn

Nice day yesterday. I've pretty much got this computer jumping through the hoops I want now. Solved a minor boot-priority problem (who knew that an external USB backup drive would demand first place on the boot-priority list? Not me! Still, it means I can probably set up a simple Linux system on a thumb-drive, add the capacity to read NTFS and FAT32 to it, and use it as a troubleshooter if I have to. That's encouraging); set up the old computer for the boys to use -- still have to put the printer drivers on it, but that's no big deal.

The day was sunny and lovely. We've had a bit of recent rain, but it's drying out again, so the boys and I decided it was time to go on an Expedition. We put on our best explorer garb (and I've even managed to find a pith helmet to go with the solar topee purchased at Christmas) gathered our survival gear, and went down to the bottom of the property, near the spring.

Y'see, the spring rises from a gully, and there the trees and the near-rainforest starts. And I think that our spring eventually becomes a small creek which runs into the Brid river near the start of a local dirt road -- so I thought we could try forging along the banks of the creek through the trees until we came to paddockland once more.

I was, of course, quite wrong.

The gully has been logged and cleared before. That's obvious by the fact that pretty much everything growing down there (tree-wise) is wattle, which means regrowth. I did find a few little myrtles down there, near the creek itself, but they were in bad shape. I think the last few years of low rainfall have put the zap on them.

Anyway, despite past clearings, the regrowth has gone ahead in a big way. The creek bed itself is unnavigable -- it's not so much a creek as a permanent bog in the bottom of a ravine. Lots of squelching, fears of leeches, and a maze of fallen logs and tree-ferns to negotiate. Hard going. We eventually scrambled up the bank, and followed the side of the creek through the trees, but it was still tortuous stuff, with lots of clambering and struggling and backtracking to find a clearway...

... eventually we ran out of time. The boys had become a bit nervous about getting lost (and of course, one wonders how we were supposed to manage that!) and we definitely had to get back in time for Natalie to go off to music, so I struck out uphill, towards the main highway. Eventually we found a marker post for the underground phone cable, and since I knew the cable led back onto our property, we followed the general direction of the arrow on the little sign, and came out at the bottom of our place once again.

The boys were utterly delighted by the whole event. It counted as a 'proper adventure', apparently. We took photographs, and made notes on a map, and next time, we'll even keep a video log. Apparently.

Finished up the day with hand-made pizzas and an Iron Man cartoon movie while Natalie went off to music. Oh, and while I'm at it: here's a really good use for leftover pizza dough --

Home Made Pretzels

These are the big, salty, bready kind, not the small crunchy kind. But they're really, really good. What you do is make a standard pizza dough, and once you've made your pizzas, you take the leftover dough and put it to use as follows -- start a small pot of water boiling. Put some baking paper on a cookie sheet. Prepare a glaze of egg and a little milk. Set your oven to 220C (2oo for fan-forced). Break off a golf-ball sized chunk of dough, and roll it between your palms until it's about 30cm long. (That's a foot in the old measure.) Tie it into the familiar pretzel shape, and drop it into the boiling water. While it's in there, start making another one. By the time you've rolled and tied your second pretzel, the first will have floated to the top of the water. Remove it with a slotted spoon, and put it on the baking paper. Put the second pretzel in the water, and continue as before. When you run out of dough, glaze the pretzels on the baking paper with the egg-mix, and sprinkle them with some salt flakes. You can add poppy seeds or sesame seeds, but these are seriously non-canonical. Finally, bake your pretzels for about 20 minutes, or until they turn golden brown. Enjoy them hot, fresh from the oven -- or let them cool, and put them into your kids' school lunches, where they will be enjoyed tremendously.

And now, some photographs...

Yes. Those are slugs. And yes, in the right upper corner you can see a pair of sunglasses. I've never seen slugs this size or colour in Australia before. Must pass this photo on to friends at the museum...

Cub Scouts... very proud of their new uniforms.

Toxo The Cat loved the visit from Grandma Rose. Wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.

Grandparents are incorrigible. Here's Rose cleaning the kitchen windows, with help from the Mau-Mau.

The Mau-Mau, off to her first day at school. She thinks the uniform is the Best Thing Evar!

Younger Son's foray into Thai Fish Stew was a success.

On Expedition: this is about forty metres downhill from our spring

And this is probably a hundred metres or so downhill from the spring. You can see why we wound up climbing out of the creek bed. I totally love the headgear the boys are wearing, though. We were The Compleat Expeditioners, I tell you...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Holy Spunt!

Wow. That's possibly the strangest email problem I've ever wrangled.

As mentioned before, I've been using a lovely little email client called 'Foxmail' for about ten years. It's simple. It does what it's supposed to do. It works. It's free. What's not to love?

However, migrating to this new machine and Windows 7, I had to jump up from Foxmail 4.1 to Foxmail 6.5, and in the process, I had to figure out how to change its default setting from Chinese language to English. Fortunately, the Interwebs are good at finding clues to things like that.

Unfortunately, once I got it all set up, I couldn't for the life of me RECEIVE email. I could send, sure, but not receive.


Eventually, I downloaded Mozilla Thunderbird, and set it up. Thunderbird promptly did the kind of thing that gives me the screaming shits with Windozeware in general: it decided to 'read' all my info and set up my email accounts for me. Of course, it couldn't account for the fact that I use a router off a Satellite modem, and that I have maintained a cheap, minimalist Ozemail account for the last ten years precisely so that I haven't had to change email addresses. In other words, I get mail in via the ozemail POP server - but I send it out via the satellite provider SMTP server.

No worries in Foxmail. All I've ever had to do is simply configure the two processes separately. A no-brainer. But Thunderbird insisted I was using some kind of IMAP server, and kept over-riding all my choices. Still, I kept at it, occasionally swearing and hitting it with a stick, and eventually I got it set up. Or so I thought.

What I discovered was that I could RECEIVE email on my new Thunderbird software, but I couldn't goddam well SEND it.

So now I had a Foxmail setup that could send emails. And a Thunderbird setup that could receive them. And all my email addresses, current files, etc, were in the Foxmail system.

Not a tenable situation. And a deeply goddam irritating one at that.

So I went outside for a while. We had a long, slow, roll-around-and-ricochet thunderstorm this morning. There was rain, and even hail, and the weather since has been threatening. However, it cleared up for a bit, and I figured I'd spent enough time fragging around with the Big New Toy. Especially as I was getting frustrated enough to think about kicking holes in the wall.

I fired up the mulcher, and put a huge pile of branches and trimmings through it. Then I took the resulting mulchy goodness and spread it around the place, over the new plants and gardens and stuff. Then the rain came back, all threatening-like, so I returned to the embrace of The Computer.

And in pure desperation, I tried something on Foxmail I've never tried before: Remote Mailbox Management. Lo! The moment I opened it up, it promptly noodled its way onto the 'Net, and declared I had two new emails. I had to figure out how to execute a 'fetch-and-delete' routine to bring them to my machine -- but it worked!

So that's one more small piece of progress. I can once more send and receive email to my longstanding address, using my favourite email client. Yay! other news, Smaller Son wants to undertake his Cooking badge in the world of Cub Scoutery. Ergh. And so I shall be overseeing his efforts at Thai Fish Stew, and Custard with Shortcake and Blackberries this evening.




I've moved all my photos, video clips, music and documents across to the new machine. I've put Google Chrome in place, and migrated my bookmarks.

I've reinstalled Irfanview, Audacity, Abiword, OpenOffice, AVGfree, GIMP, ImageForge, Dogwaffle, Monkeyjam, Noteworthy Composer, Yeah Write, Foxit Reader, and VLC player.

I've taken the opportunity to add CCleaner, DeepBurner, Recuva, and Zipgenius.

I've hooked up the D-link router, and made my 'Net connection sit up and do tricks. I've even purchased a wireless D-link receiver for my old computer (now the new computer for the boys) and ensured that a 'net connection works for them too.

Everything is looking groovy, yeah. Except...

For years, I've used a nifty little email client called 'Foxmail'. It's very small -- maybe a couple MB in size -- but incredibly efficient and stable. I love it. It does all the stuff you WANT an email client to do, and none of the bells-and-whistles bullshit you get from the big boys. It doesn't autolaunch. It doesn't demand to be integrated with anything. It just fuckin' well receives and transmits email, keeps address books and directories... and that's about it. Brilliant.

Except, of course, that I was using version 4.1. And the only version now available is 6.5

So let's start with the fact that Foxmail is Chinese. I put my old 4.1 version onto this Win7 machine only to see it crash and burn. Okay, fine. So I downloaded 6.5 and installed it... except that it was all in Chinese.


I did some research. Turns out that if you dig through the installation files, you can find a file called "Chinese.lgb" and delete it - and after that, Foxmail speaks English.

Okay, sweet. I did that. And lo! There it was -- a lovely, shiny version of Foxmail, complete with all my old address books and files and inboxes and everything. And when I used it to send email, it did so without complaint.

But when I use it to receive email?

Nothing. I get a brief note that says 'Idle'... and then nothing. Nothing at all.

Now, I know the password and userid is right. It's the same one I used on the old machine just 36 hours ago. And I know that the SMTP and POP servers are right, for exactly the same reason. And I can send and receive webmail. And I can use Google Chrome just fine.

So... What The Fuck is wrong with my goddam email client all of a sudden?


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dull Computer Tasks

Well, I'm typing this from the floor of my study, where I've set up my shiny new computer. The old one isn't really powerful enough (memory or speed) to handle animation work for/with the school, and the boys needed a replacement for the ageing and temperamental laptop that they've been working from here at home. The connection was obvious: update time.

Of course, it's never so simple as that, is it?

I sent out a half-dozen requests for quotes, to a range of Launceston-based suppliers. Three of them actually replied. Of the three, two completely ignored every word I wrote about "please don't bother trying to sell me security-ware or antivirus wares. I will manage that for myself", and tacked prices for enormous, kludgy Suites for the Lazy Brain-Dead User onto the quote. (Yes, Norton. I'm looking at you.)

That left only one. They seemed good -- the quote was very reasonable, the machine fit the specs I requested, there was some useful advice and alternative suggestions attached. There was something that struck me as odd about the phone number, though. When I rang them, I figured out what it was: they're based in Hobart.


Still, they offered a three-year hardware warranty, and they do have a Launceston office to handle service issues. And they were truly helpful. So -- faced with such a mighty plethora of choices, I got up at 0630 this morning, and made the drive to Hobart. I was there for about fifteen minutes, picking up the system and handling the paperwork. And then I turned around and drove all the way back again.

Three hours either way. Eh. You get that. I liked the people I dealt with. I'm confident that if something goes astray, I'll get help out of 'em.

Of course, that doesn't alter the fact that migrating all of my working software and documents from one computer to another is a big, fat, hairy job. And on top of that, I've allowed myself to be persuaded to try Windows 7. (According to all sources, it's what Vista was supposed to be. Except functional.) But this system has a dual license. I can revert to XP if Win 7 sucks.

So far, so good. I've set up the browser. I've hooked up the network cable: no troubles getting online. I've ported my weird little email client through, and made it work. I've brought trusty old Yeah Write across, and installed Abiword. I've transferred tonnes of old documents and photos without a hitch.

I reckon I've got about two more days worth of this kind of work before I can hand the old machine over to the lads and plonk this one down on my desktop. Boring, boring, boring...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

So It Goes

Yesterday was supposed to be a special event. Yesterday marked a sea-change, an alteration of my circumstances such that I could at last begin the transition away from Near-Total Parent back towards something approaching Human Being.

It was, in fact, the day that the Mau-Mau went to school, and both boys went to school, and Natalie went to work, and my parent(s) were back in North Queensland.

I guess you could say I've been waiting nearly nine years for this one. Certainly, I've been actively anticipating it since before Christmas last year -- savouring the prospect of a day largely to myself, to focus on the things I want to achieve in writing.

That's how it was supposed to be. Me. My computer. And six whole uninterrupted daylight hours in which to work. Nobody shouting and arguing. Nobody watching movies outside my study. Nobody demanding food, drinks, resolution to arguments, answers to ridiculous questions. Just me, and the muse.

And so, of course, at roughly 0930, the power went out.

I connected the old-style phone we keep for precisely this reason. (Walkie-phones die when their mains power goes.) I rang Aurora, the power company. No -- no power losses in my area. I pressed buttons, and eventually spoke to a nice lady. She made me go through a complicated and -- to my mind -- rather stupid routine of shutting off everything in the fusebox, and then turning it all back on again in a very particular fashion.

The power did not come on.

She advised me to ring again in an hour. There might be news.

I rang a neighbour. He didn't have power either. So it wasn't a fault at my end. Good.

An hour later, there was no news.

I read some books. I worked in the garden.

There was no news two hours later.

At 12.30 or so, the phone rang. A cheery woman on the other end asked me if the power was on. It was not. I went outside to the fusebox and performed the Pointless Ballet Of The Power Switches once more, and the power resolutely remained non-existent.

Ah, she said. Obviously the crew hadn't located all the faults yet.

Oh. Fucking great.

At a little after two, just as I was packing up to go shopping and fetch the kids, the power came back on.

I don't really think I can convey how angry and disappointed I was. I know -- I should probably take it all in my stride. Power outages happen when you live in the bush, yeah.

But... I was really, really looking forward to yesterday.

Now all I want to do is kick someone.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

S ! C ! I ! E ! N ! C ! E ! SCIENCE!! YAAAYYY!!

Ladies and gentlemen, once again the world of science has finally begun to catch up with one of the idle-moment outputs of my mighty brain. I remember some twenty-five years ago, living in a noxious, ugly flat in the Fairfield river-flatland area of Brisbane. I recall lying awake at night, sweating like five pigs in a one-man sauna as Brisbane worked its summery magic on my stifling, stuffy little bedroom. I remember opening the windows, in the vain hope of catching some sort of leaden, humid, corpse-breath breeze from the stinking, turgid river...

... and then I remember the whining. The terrible, shrill, vicious whining of the clouds of Brisbane summer mosquitoes charging into my bedroom, sharpening their goddam nano-tipped bloodsucking probes, and diving straight for my fucking earholes. FUCKERS! FUCKERS!

In the end, I recall I pulled the sheet all the way over myself, leaving only my nose exposed so I could breathe. And of course, periodically one of the little bastards would have a crack at spelunking, and I'd get mosquito up the nostril, whereupon there followed much sneezing and snorting and swearing, and very little sleep. Christ on a flaming jet-propelled crutch, I hated those little bastards.

In the quieter moments of that night, I dreamed up a device. I designed it in my head. I dwelled on it at length, envisioning exactly how it would work. It would have three lasers, at least. Little things. Not too powerful. But they would be controlled by a computer, and a couple of high-resolution, motion-sensitive cameras. And whenever the cameras picked up the movement of a mosquito, ALL THREE GODDAM LASERS WOULD HOME IN ON IT -- and there, in the crossfire, the intensity of the three or four beams at once would be enough to ANNIHILATE THE FILTHY LITTLE BASTARD IN A BLAST OF SUPERHEATED LASER-DRIVEN MOSQUITO VAPOUR!

It was a Fine Dream. It made me happy. And I took it to bed with me on many long, sticky, filthy, vermin-ridden nights in South-East Queensland... at least until I could afford a proper mosquito net.

And now, ladies and gentleman, it is with the greatest of delight that I can tell you that Science has finally understood my needs, and come out swinging. Check it out:

There's even mosquito-zapping footage up on the website. Oh, and the scientists in question reckon they might be able to bring the per-unit cost down to maybe $50.

It's just a shame there are bugger-all mosquitoes here where I live. But if they build one that will take out those awful little fucking flies that you bastards breed on the mainland and send across the Strait with the northerlies every summer, I will buy at least one for every room in the house. In the meantime: YAAAAAYYYY SCIENCE!

Friday, February 19, 2010


That was a big two weeks.

My dad came a-visiting from the Deep North, along with my stepmum. They're great people, and it was wonderful for the kids to hang out with 'em for a while. Both of them, however, are busy folk. As in: constantly active.

Over the two weeks, Stepmama managed to clean most of the house within an inch of its life. I managed to draw the line at the study door, purely by virtue of increasing the chaos within my study to point where even I was appalled. (It's a little better now. I made a show of tidying it a bit every day...)

The cleaning and rearrangement was generally a very good thing. Natalie has a tendency to get 'stuff' for the kids, and let them accumulate it. And I don't have the heart to randomly throw out the sixty percent or so which is pure junk. So having Grandmum on hand to take charge was fine. I'm quite surprised, really -- the boys' room is pretty much tidy. They lost three garbage bags of beloved 'stuff', and not a single word has been said. Shows how often they used their 'stuff', I guess.

The Mau-Mau also has her own bedroom mural now. It's not quite as epic as the coral reef scene the boys got last time Grandmum came visiting... but the Mau-Mau didn't want epic. She wanted flowers, and a fairy, and that is precisely what she got. It's lovely, of course.

Meanwhile, my dad hit the gardens and grounds. Trees were pruned. Trees were outright lopped and removed. Piles of rocks were shifted. Sheds were tidied. Giant skip bins were dragged to new positions, as was the rotary hoe which we never use. (Point to note: this guy is sixty-seven, and has had three spinal vertebrae fused. Yes, I know -- our rotary hoe isn't particularly large. But he dragged it a good twenty metres over open, stony, grassy ground to its new position. I could do that, yes... but I'm damned if I know anyone else his age who could.)

He also cleaned and painted the trailer. Oh, and pulled out the old bathtub in the ground in the orchard, and filled the hole with rocks. Admittedly, he got some help from me on the bathtub. It was cast iron, and full of rainwater, so he wanted some extra muscle involved. But the bathtub is now down the hillside next to my greywater outflow tub, and as soon as my pumpkin vines have finished their activity for the year, I'll dig a trench, place the new tub - and have twice as much storage for my greywater, for gardening.

This was all on top of daytrips here and there, occasional movie nights, the return to school and ju-jitsu, etc. So... yes. The last two weeks have been a bit draining.

I bought a shredder, mind you. That was fun. It's electric. I turn garden clippings and moderate-sized branches into mulch with it. That's very useful, because it has allowed me to mulch the two mulberry trees I just planted. And the orange tree. And my fig trees. And I'm in the process of mulching the hell out of my herb garden. Given the amount of branches and clippings available to me, I may well be able to mulch the entire property, if the shredder doesn't die on me first.

Anyway, the Parentals took off this morning. It's a hot day, with strange winds and the distant threat of storms. I'm feeling very tired and lacklustre. The Elder Son has his best friend visiting overnight, so I'll cue them up in the Movie Zone later with 'Underdog', and enough popcorn.

As for me? I've got a lot of work and writing to catch up on. But at least I'll have a bit more time for it now, I hope.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oh, Dear. It Seems To Be Starting.

The following is not a news article, nor intended to be taken seriously by anyone. (Except maybe me. And a certain primary school teacher.) It is published here by permission of its author, who happens to be my Elder Son.

Alan Sconat Sparks Revolution In Winter Games

‭ ‬In Vancouver,‭ ‬Canada,‭ ‬the winter Olympics were being hosted with pride.‭ ‬Although many participants were satisfied with their results in the contests,‭ ‬some like Dale-Begg-Smith and Alan Sconat were not very enthusiastic.
‭ ‬When Alan was asked to participate in a specific contest,‭ ‬he rebelliously declined.‭ “‬I don’t think that EVERY game should be life risking and likely to kill me‭! ‬Why can’t we do some lighter games like a snowball fight marathon‭?”
He registered his complaint to the people who were hosting the games at Vancouver,‭ ‬but was excruciatingly cold-shouldered.
‭ ‬Finally,‭ ‬someone paid attention and gave him a protest positioning court.‭ ‬Alan presented his argument in court,‭ ‬but when the judge denied everything Alan said,‭ ‬the flames started to rise.‭ ‬For half an hour the judge and Alan battered each other with strong intimidation,‭ ‬verbal and emotional blackmail and annoying insults.‭ ‬Finally,‭ ‬a spectator told them to settle down and come to an agreement‭; ‬but they weren’t finished yet.‭ ‬When the Judge stated that he reckoned Alan didn’t like dangerous games because he probably had a low self-esteem,‭ ‬Alan leapt up at the judge and thrashed him like a rabid dog.
‭ ‬Alan eventually lost the argument and was evicted from the winter Olympics for‭ ‬3‭ ‬days at maximum,‭ ‬and Alan decided he wouldn’t come back until they got a better judge,‭ ‬which was never going to happen,‭ ‬so he also said he’d never come back.‭ ‬But...

‭ ‬Many fans of Alan were outraged when they heard he was going to be evicted from the winter Olympics,‭ ‬but the stubborn Judge would not let him back:‭ “‬I will not,‭ ‬I repeat:‭ ‬NOT,‭ ‬let that him back‭! ‬Is that so hard to understand‭?” ‬asked the Judge.
‭ ‬But this time luck was not on the judge’s side.‭ ‬At midnight there was a gargantuan crowd of winter Olympics fans thundering at the judge’s door.‭ ‬He asked his secretary to see what all the fuss was about‭ (‬which he suspected was about evicted Alan.‭) ‬A few minutes later the hysterical shrieks of the secretary were coming down the corridor.‭ ‬The secretary came rushing back,‭ ‬his tie ripped,‭ ‬and his coat in tatters.‭ ‬It turns out they wanted ridiculous winter games,‭ ‬like a snowball fight marathon.‭
A massive vote took place in court to determine whether or not the ridiculous games could be allowed,‭ ‬and the vote was won‭; ‬there are ridiculous games for willing participants now‭; ‬Alan’s dream had come true.‭

I am quite disturbed by this. He isn't yet ten years old. I'm not certain I could have done this at his age...

...poor bastard. Another writer? Oh, Cthulhu.

EDITED TO ADD: And why the hell AREN'T there any Olympic Snowball Fight events, anyway?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Toxo The Wonder Cat Strikes Again

So there's this cat. It lives in and around this nursing home in Rhode Island. And this cat has a habit of curling up on the beds of patients who are about to croak. Check the story -- versions here, and here.

The story seems to be on the up-and-up. The cat's hit record is remarkable, and several times he's outguessed the experts and medicos. They suspect that something in the failing metabolism of a soon-to-be-dead type can be smelled out by the cat. But that's only a theory.

Anyway. You all know my cat Toxo, and the long saga of his involvement with the kids. Time and again, he's climbed up on the bed of whichever kid is currently afraid of the dark, or cranky, or otherwise upset by bedtime. And every time, the purring and the relentlessly friendly furry kitty stuff have conquered, and Children Have Slept.

Not just my kids, either. There was the little girl who slept over here a couple weeks back. The one who apparently doesn't sleep well on her own, and has nightmares. The one who repeatedly climbed out of bed here and really didn't seem to be happy about the whole sleep thing -- at least, until Toxo climbed on the bed, and I explained that he'd look after her. And then she went to sleep, and got up in the morning to tell us all how Toxo looked after her all night long...

Today there was a minor car accident on the highway outside. The curve where our driveway hits the road is apparently rather deceptive. Every year or so, we usually wind up with a motorcyclist lying halfway across the drive. This year, it was a slightly dented Holden Barina. The young lass driving it kinda missed the curve a bit, and clipped an oncoming ute. The ute driver was fine, and the only damage to his vehicle was some extra paint left on the bullbar. He checked to see the girl was okay, left his details, and hit the road.

The girl, however, was a bit shaken up. She was unharmed, but the rear bumper and panel of her car were... well, they were history. (I helped pick 'em up and load 'em into the car that came to collect her.)

Naturally, once we were sure she was okay, we invited her in for the necessary cup of tea, so she could call people, and calm down a bit. Not good to send someone back on the road if they're in shock -- and frankly, she seemed more than a little shaky.

At least, that was how she seemed as she sat on the couch. Right up to the point where Toxo the Cat marched into the room. He ignored the kids. He ignored the grandparents. He even ignored me, which is almost unheard of. Nope. He walked up to the couch, and oozed his way onto the young lady's lap. And there he sat, purring and kneading until she finally laughed, and stroked him, and began to relax.

You could see her whole body calming, her entire attitude changing as she interacted with the cat. It was... actually, it was kind of amazing.

That cat totally freaks me out sometimes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Posting On The Run

Well, the Old Folks are here. That's hardly a term to apply to them, though. My dad refuses to acknowledge his late-sixtyish situation. He's a good deal more fit than I am, and stronger than most men twenty years younger than he is. Scary sumbitch; always has been.

So - he's wandering around the place, doing all kinds of gardeny/yardy stuff I haven't found time for. Meanwhile, his partner Rose has brutally cleaned the residence topside and bottom. It's all a bit alarming.

The kids like 'em, though, and with the grandparents in residence, I've been able to put in a bit more kid time too, which is lovely. So in the last few days:

-- we took a day trip to Reliquaire, in Latrobe. Grandparents and all. There were a lot of cherries involved, too.

-- the kids and I took in Fantastic Mister Fox at the cinema. And yes, it's fantastic. Wonderful stop-motion animation that beautifully lifts the story. Sharp dialogue and screenwriting. Top-notch voice-work. Good soundtrack. Very respectful to the original Roald Dahl story, while adding complexity and depth to make a film out of what was quite a short, simple book. And altogether entertaining, both for children and adults. Unlike Avatar, just to grab an example, Fantastic Mr Fox is a film I will very readily see again, and possibly again. You should make the effort now to catch it at the cinema while it's still available.

-- prepped for school

-- picked up a functional sewing machine, hemmed Mouse Guard cloaks. Have to make another one for the Mau-Mau, though.

-- cooked. A lot.

-- cleaned. A lot.

-- discovered that the chainsaw doesn't start, despite recent cleaning and tuning.

-- edited. Not as much as I should.

-- set in train events leading to what should be a return to higher education for your humble scribe.

Gotta go now. It's hot, and the power supply fan on my old computer, here, is singing soprano. Not good, because I've got a lot more work to do.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What I Have Been Doing

Moroccan Burnoose cloak design. Easiest damned cloak I've ever seen. Works a treat, make the kid happy.

One 'Rabbid' shirt for Barnes #2. Hopefully he'll enjoy it. Yes, that's a toilet plunger in the hand of the cartoon character.

'Mouse Guard' -- Younger Son is utterly captivated by his newly created cloak. Gonna have to fix the edges so they don't fray, but other than that, the thing is done.

Penannular broach/cloak pin. I've never tried messing around blacksmithing before. That was a whole heap of fun, and the thing actually works properly. Cool!

The Mau-Mau Has A Shiny New Haircut.

School holidays persist in Tas a little longer than elsewhere. I have, therefore, been Doing Stuff With My Kids. Among other things.

Essentially, I've taken a step back from the usual writing duties, so I'm well behind on things. (Got a couple stories to finish, and a novel. And another novel. Yeah. Plus... ummm... one, two, three book reviews. And a game review. And a combined comparative review of Dune as novel, movie and miniseries. Oh, and a lot of reading and assessment and editing too. But I'll get there.) But in the meantime, I've taken a bit of time to hang around with the kids. We've played video games and board games, gone walking and berrypicking, messed around in the garden, and done some creative stuff too.

The photos above are a testament to some of that. The red shirt with the bizarre cartoon rabbit on it -- that's a gift to Mr Barnes' offspring. The character comes from a series of Wii games much favoured by my own children as well as Spawn of Barnes, and in thanks for the help that Barnes # 2 (as opposed to Barnes #1, right, Mr B?) I got out a bunch of fabric paints and did a bit of cartoonery. And of course, that was a bit of a cue for the kids. Elder Son has created a complicated cartoon shirt of his own, as a gift for his mum on her birthday.

Then there's Younger Son in the cloak. See, not long ago I discovered the 'Mouse Guard' comics. I'm a sucker for good comics, and the art in the Mouse Guard series is very fine. The stories aren't bad either. So I ordered a couple of the books -- for the boys, y' understand -- and got a deal on the rules to the role-playing game too, which was a bonus.

The books arrived, and Younger Son absolutely devoured them. When I told him we had game rules, he nearly exploded with delight and impatience. The first thing he wanted to know: "Can we dress up like Mouse Guards?"

Well... I guess so. Yep.

So. We got some nice green cloth that was going cheap. And I noodled around on the 'net until I found the simplest damned cloak pattern available -- it's that red thing up there, the 'Moroccan Burnoose'. There's an absolute minimum of sewing involved. If you plan and cut thoughtfully, the only actual sewing is the seam at the top of the hood. Of course, as you can see from the photos of Younger Son, I'll have to reinforce the edges to prevent fraying, but that won't take long. At least, it won't once I have a sewing machine. Must buy a cheap one tomorrow.

Anyhow, having cut and stitched the basic cloak, Younger Son was beyond delighted. He's wearing it everywhere. Stalking around the house in it. Creeping around outside, swishing the thing back and forth, pulling the hood low over his eyes, springing out with his wooden sword... completely happy.

But we both decided it needed a pin or a broach to close it, and the Mouse Guard illustrations show that his hero-mouse (named Saxon) has a cloak with a classic penannular broach. Well -- I figured that couldn't be too hard. So I got a cheap-ass paper towel rack from the local cheap-shit store, and I cut the appropriate lengths of metal rod therefrom. And I grabbed a hammer, and a big old chunk of cast iron to act as an anvil, and a butane blowtorch, and I went to work.

I admit: it's not a work of art. But it is, after all, my very first penannular broach. It does in fact do the job keeping the cloak in place, and it actually looks the part. The steel is a bit uninteresting, though, so I picked up some copper sulphate from the hardware store. Sometime in the next few days we'll set up a copper sulphate bath, connect a 12v battery recharger through it, slap the cloak pin on the proper electrode, and the boys will get a quick-and-dirty lesson in basic electrochemistry while the pin turns from roughly hammered steel to interesting, weathered copper.

Meanwhile: tomorrow my dad and my step-mum arrive from Far North Queensland. They're here for a couple weeks, which will be nice. But of course, that's precipitated some action around the place. I've had to stop the slashing of the paddocks -- had to stop anyway, because we had some serious rain and the hills are currently too slippery for safe use of the tractor -- so we've just picked up a decent secondhand queen-size bed. And today, I carried the foldaway couch/bed down out of the guest room, and with a bit of an assist, I heaved the thing up into the loft/cinema. That's a good mix: it will make a great movie couch, and will act as an extra spare bed in times of Many Visitors.

Meanwhile, I've hauled the queensize mattress upstairs to the guest room, which is currently being cleaned within an inch of its life. Once all that's done, I'll assemble the bed, load the mattress, and put all the fixin's in place. Thus will the Oldies be rendered comfortable for the duration of their stay -- and equally, future visitors will no longer battle the adequate-but-stern foldaway couch.

These are the kinds of things I've been doing. So no: I haven't been online a whole lot. Never mind. That'll change, especially as nights get longer and days gradually get colder...