Thursday, July 31, 2008

you just never know...

A friend sent me this the other day:


The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did 'they' use that gauge then?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England , because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads?

Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England ) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

(photo borrowed from this guy)

And the ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a Specification/Procedure/Process and wonder 'What horse's ass came up with it?' you may be exactly right.
Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses' asses.) Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah . The engineers who designed the SRB's would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRB's had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass. And you thought being a horse's ass wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything... and CURRENT Horses Asses are controlling everything else.

Usually, when I get one of these urban legends emails, I go directly to the website to check it out. Generally these things turn out to be completely untrue, and yet they get passed on and on and on, thousands of times. In this case, even though they ultimately declared it false, the rundown on the snopes site was pretty fascinating.

It seems that it's a story not entirely without some truth...especially the last sentence, don't ya think?

P.S. I also think it's entirely possible that modern day planters were modeled after the Coliseum...

Monday, July 28, 2008

a few random moments at camp cactus

Sometimes the days seem warm and sunny, idyllic almost. Everyone's basking in the early morning light...

and then without warning, the underbrush attacks!

I've really gotta do something about those hops.

Friday, July 25, 2008

just a little rant

I've been reading lots of other blogs in the past week or so, spending way too much time reading accounts of blogger conventions, both real and virtual. And some of these accounts are kind of, um, boring and maybe just a little too self-serving for my taste. That said, I've probably just pissed off the few people who actually take the time to read this, but I guess I'm just pissed at myself, really. All this time spent perusing these accounts from BlogHer were a convenient avoidance maneuver. I should be spending time in my studio, getting ready for upcoming shows, making stuff for my etsy shop, and planning for the next three weeks teaching. Or at the very least, I could have been tackling a few projects around the house that need attention, like vacuuming or laundry or mowing the lawns, or writing letters to my congressman.

Meanwhile, out in the real world (as opposed to the virtual one, although lately I'll admit it's hard to tell which is which.) The shit has hit the fan. Really. Have you noticed how the world seems a bit surreal lately? Everyone seems to be walking around in a daze, like they're pretty sure this is just a crazy dream and they'll be waking up soon, so why should they bother paying too much attention? Have you seen this video of our President? The man who's known as the leader of the Free World? (In this country anyway) What the hell is going on, and why is he still talking?

Recently I've been feeling as if I've suddenly lost my voice. Not my physical voice; it's more like I've lost my psychic voice, the one I hear in my head. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and I can't put the words together succinctly enough to make sense of it. So I'm resolving to go to my studio and make stuff. I'll listen to NPR, stay away from my computer for a bit, and try to make sense of it all. Because, I'm sorry, but in the end, I really don't care that she wore purple tights to BlogHer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

it's all just smoke and mirrors...

This morning I was planting some geraniums left over from a photo shoot a few days ago, and I came across this:

a lovely plant, but something wasn't quite right...

Oh, right...real plant not lush enough? No problem! Just add some flowers!
the real thing
Ever wonder why everything looks so much better in catalog photographs than in real life? What planet do these lush flowers and fluffy, soft beds and gorgeous fashions that fit perfectly on flawless models come from, anyway? And why the hell doesn't it look like that on me/in my house/in my yard???!
The answer is, it could. That is, it could if you're not disinclined to wear your clothes clamped in the back with pins and clothespins, gaffer's tape and wire...or if you don't mind sleeping in a bed with 3 or 4 layers of down, packing tape and foam blocks, or if you don't mind planting silk flowers in place of real ones in your garden.
My job as a photo stylist is pretty hard to describe to most people without a rather lengthy explanation. It's not very complicated, really, (and it's definitely not brain surgery) but it's one of those invisible professions designed to be behind the's all about creating illusion with smoke and mirrors, so to speak.
Advertisers would probably sooner poke their eyes out with a sharp stick rather than let the general public know just how much adjusting, tweaking, fluffing, buffing, polishing, etc. it takes to make their products look appealing in a photograph.
Many art directors like to say they're not selling a product, they're selling a lifestyle.
Photo stylists sometimes specialize in specific areas. Some work strictly with models on fashion shoots, some do nothing but food. Others choose to work only on room sets or with soft goods. Some, like me, like to work on a little of everything. I mostly work on soft goods: apparel, bedding, towels, etc. Live models really aren't my thing, although I've been known to pinch hit when necessary. Personally, I prefer working with mannequins and inanimate objects, mostly because they don't complain if I accidentally stick them with a pin.

~ lifestyle ~

~ reality ~

Even a photo of a stack of neatly folded t-shirts is not entirely what it seems...

I could tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you...So next time you look at a Macy's, Mervyn's or Target ad, or a Pottery Barn catalog, or even a fashion spread in Vogue, remember to view it with a healthy dose of skepticism...and never say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

this one time at art camp...

Ahhh, Saturday. I survived my first week at art camp and it appears that I may have actually escaped with most of my faculties intact...(mind you, I didn't really have a full set going in!)
Anyway, it was a good week. The kids were pretty capable, and most of them seemed to at least have a rough idea how the needle and thread thing works, although there are always one or two who are so clueless, you have to show them how to put the needle through the fabric and pull it out the other side. I sometimes wonder why they pick our studio (fibre arts) if they're not even vaguely interested in sewing...Maybe "Fibre Arts" is too esoteric a title, and we should just call it "Sewing". It's an exercise in patience, for the most part. I find it helps to remind myself that I'm here to teach this child a new skill, which may or may not involve learning to sew. Sometimes what they come away with is a larger skill, like problem solving ("Wow, that's a big knot! Let's see how we can fix it!"), or sharing ("Savannah, could you please lend Henry the scissors?"), or patience ("I can help you as soon as I'm done helping Sarah.").
Truthfully, this part-time gig makes me appreciate full-time teachers even more. These are people who dedicate their lives to teaching our little brain-dead zombies to read and write and become functioning, valuable members of society, and they deserve our utmost respect.
So, without further ado, here are a few highlights of the week:

You would think that only girls would sign up to be in our studio, but we've found that lots of boys like to sew...
and they're good at it!

We made some (purposefully) very ugly trolls...this one's name is "Mr. Freaky Freak-Out"

Here are some Icelandic sheep (some even got earrings and bells!)

There was lots of embroidery goin' on...

some very sweet moments,

and even the 4 and 5 year olds in the preschool group made Viking flags to wave in the parade on Friday evening...

of course, by the end of the day Friday, it looked like a textile mill exploded in our tent.

but then, Friday evening ended with music performances, a puppet parade, and a charming dance around the Maypole.

and all was right in the world.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

summer camp

I spent the day today prepping to teach fibre arts at art camp next week. This year we're teaching about the native arts, music and crafts of Scandinavia. So, today I was figuring out how to make a simplified version of this:

It's a version of a crown worn by Norwegian brides, generally passed down from one generation to the next. It's always a challenge to come up with a version of a native craft that kids can accomplish in the span of a couple of hours or so, while learning useful crafts such as embroidery or weaving or other fibre techniques. (Oh, and did I mention, with a very small budget?) Anyway, it's fun to witness the sense of mastery that kids get after learning these new skills. And it's always a treat to see them wearing their creations on Friday night at the open house. Here's what I came up with:

Whaddaya think? Thanks to my always patient model, Abbie!

Monday, July 7, 2008

gardens gone wild

It's barely midsummer, and I'm pretty sure the garden is trying to take over the world. Seriously, the hops vine (just one) I planted to cover the chain link fence a couple of years ago is threatening to engulf the house and anything else in its path unless I hack it back to the fenceline every day.
Yesterday it almost got Abbie while she sat peacefully on the path, minding her own business. I could almost see the evil green tendrils reaching out for my poor, defenseless pup, ready to encircle her neck in a choke hold and drag her into the thicket. Thank God the monster dies back in the winter, or we'd all be up to our necks in hops by November.

Everything else is growing to giant proportions, and it seems like the yard is getting smaller every day. Don't get me wrong, I love the flowers and vines and crazy volunteers popping up everywhere, it's just that it all grows so fast!

In the picture above, you can see the studio disappearing under the climbing roses and clematis. I started planting vines and climbers when I ran out of horizontal ground to plant stuff in...
Did I mention that HGTV has contacted me about filming their new reality show, Gardens Gone Wild? (Not.)

Peace out, people.

Friday, July 4, 2008

hooray for the red, white and blue!

Some fabulous facts about the fourth of July:
  • 1. Outsource it! $207 million worth of fireworks and $4.3 million worth of American flags were imported from China last year.
  • 2. Blow it up! The CDC reports that nationally, more than 10,000 people needed emergency medical care for fireworks injuries last year. 
  • 3. Eat it! More than 25 percent of hot dogs and sausages eaten on July 4 come from Iowa, about a sixth of the steaks and burgers are from Texas, a little less than half of the baked beans originated in North Dakota, and over half of the taters in your potato salad were grown in Washington or Idaho. 
  • 4. Open the windows! After eating all those hot dogs, beans, burgers and taters and perhaps a couple of beers for good measure, July 5 could be pretty explosive as well. Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist at Eastern Virginia Medical School suggests some less combustible choices, such as chicken, summer veggies (like zucchini) and nectarines.
  • 5. Keep it local! Around here, nothing says Independence Day like a patriotic penguin appearing on your neighbor's front stoop.
Sources: this morning's Oregonian.