Saturday, October 27, 2007

Butterfly Wings

At this precise moment, I'm listening to the insufferable Kris Kristofferson doing his piteous warbling on an bondfide 8-track tape. If you must know, it's his classic(?) 1978 offering called Easter Island. It's torture, even for someone like me who owns the original version of Video Killed the Radio Star (Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, not The Buggles' ripoff version).

How'd I get here - and why do I stay?

Rewind to a couple of months ago (something one cannot do with an 8-track!). My father-in-law, Clarence, sends one of his infamous Monday morning emails. In between the usual weather report from the Sudbury area and his rundown of local news, he asks if it's possible to copy 8-tracks to CD. Like the great guy *cough*idiot*cough* that I am, I say, "Sure! We can probably do it. I can show you how next time you visit. Just bring some tapes and a player and we'll figure it out.".

Clarence has the world's largest collection of 8-tracks. The Guinness people don't know it, but it's the truth. He does. His tastes run decidedly towards old-school cowboy music, but he throws in a Carlton Showband or Burl Ives here and there. He also has a modest collection of 8-track players that he picks up a garage sales and flea markets. His primal fear - his vast collection perishes (the tapes tend to break easily) or he runs out of players. Hence, his email.

Long story short, he brings me a player and 24 tapes. While Clarence is long gone back to the wilds of Northern Ontario, I sit here copying 8-tracks to CDs for him. I could have shown him how, but it's fussy, tedious work and I wanted a chance to come up with an easy system. Next time I see him, I'll pass the torch and he can beaver away at the remainder of his collection.

For now, I'm on tape number 8, with 16 to go. Got me some Stompin' Tom and Wilf Carter to look forward to - if I can just get through Kris. I'm sure he's a nice enough guy, but lord he sounds painful. I've learned my lesson well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Low Rent Tableau

It was brief and hard to understand. I was driving too fast - my attention focused on merging into traffic from a parking lot. My mind, juggling too much input and too many decisions, registered the scene as humourous. When I changed my mind, it was already too late.

A family walked together down the street. They looked young. The street was one of those places always dusted with grey leaves that sometimes take their breezy orders from passing trains. The tracks inevitably perch on a high embankment that marks boundaries for the neighbourhood of grey leaves. The boundary says this is a place for the dispossessed - relying on welfare, workfare, angry machismo, one more training course, too much rent, and too much time.

The family really wasn't walking. They moved first down the sidewalk and then across an expanse of scrubby grass . They moved forward together, but they moved as an ever changing swarm - the four of them.

Mother - blond and small and emotional - arms gesticulating wildly at Father as she struggles to remain in front of him, face to face. She keeps falling behind, though.

Father - tall with patchy facial hair and adorned with ball-cap and backpack - walks with deliberate strides. Paying no attention to Mother and eyes fixed ahead, he has Brother's arm and is drag-walking him to whatever objective he had set.

Brother - small and scared and probably 5 years old - hangs lop-sided from Father's grip as he stumbles to wherever he supposed to go. I knew he cried and screamed.

Sister - blond like Mother and a protector for her younger Brother - follows Father with angry screams dampening her face. She uses a long, thin stick to weakly hit Father's backpack, but to no real effect.

I had driven a few blocks before my brain put it all together. These were people in crisis and sorrow, and I could imagine many reasons. I remembered this feeling. It's been so many years, but I remember the Kid-Me and his fears.

At the next block I turned the van around. I needed to see this family again. Maybe I would do something, but I wasn't sure I could help. Maybe I just needed to see Brother and Sister. They could be alright now and I wouldn't even know it if I didn't see them. Kid-Me made that snide smile because he knew that all the years hadn't dulled the ability to justify and lie on the inside.

But they were gone already. It had only been a few minutes, and I'd missed them. Two weeks have passed and I'm still bothered by it all. I hope they're okay now, but I doubt they are.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Best Line I've Heard Today (So Far)

The difference between blogging and flogging is that flogging leaves an impression.

Discuss - all you bloggers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

We Have Liftoff!

It wasn't perfect, but it'll do. As the late Tom Synder was known to say - fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


So we've been building this water rocket. Actually, I've been doing the design/build work whilst JediBoy as been the much-too-eager ground crew. Like most projects I start, my reach tends to barely exceed my grasp and the rocket-building took on new complexities at every turn.

The concept is simple enough: use a standard 2-liter plastic pop bottle as the main component, add some fins for stability, a nosecone for aerodynamics, fasten a parachute, and hack together a launching apparatus. Then you fill your rocket with water (about 40% full) and pressurize it with air. The launcher keeps it all together and, when you release the rocket, it flies. In fact, 100 feet is not an unusual target with these things.

We built the rocket. We built a lovely standing launcher to control pressurization and rocket release. We tested at every turn with small, controlled flights of about 20-30 feet. Everything just worked. Watch:

Today was our final test before going for serious altitude. The test - make sure the nosecone would fall off easily and release the parachute.

Here's the 'before':

And here's the 'after':

Yes, after 2 semi-successful tests, the nosecone failed to fall off when we increased the amount of water and air pressure. The additional thrust (we think) caused the nosecone to jam, and the parachute could not deploy.

But we will try again. London needs a space program.