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Monday, February 22, 2010

By request: chickens perching on cardboard box.

I got four Buff Orphington chicks to renovate my herd. They are getting to that adorable part-fuzz and part-feathers phase. And they're practicing their perching skills.


From members of the Complaints Choir of Durham Chapel Hill

I'm going to post some of the complaints our members submitted as a teaser leading up to the great performance!

"Every time I clean everything gets dirty all over again."

"Half gallons of ice cream keep shrinking."

"Anxiety over getting shut out of a full yoga class seems so wrong."

More to come.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In which we hold the first meeting of the Durham-Chapel Hill Complaints Choir and a fine time is had by all.

It wasn't long ago somebody posted this video to Facebook (skip to around 1:10, which is when the singing begins):

I thought it was great! And soon found out there were tons of Complaints Choir videos on youtube. Naturally, the next thought was: "We should do that." I talked composer/arranger/choir director Glenn Mehrbach into joining me in starting one up.

We met today at the gorgeous, bright, welcoming music room at the Montessori Community School. Everybody brought snacks and drinks. I had seven pieces of poster board with the complaints sent in previously (probably a hundred) organized in categories. I had written a warm-up using a few of the complaints we'd gotten:
What is with all this cold weather and snow and ice storms?
I moved here to get away from all that
Maybe I should move to Florida
But then there would be alligators
I really don’t like alligators.

If computers are always getting faster,
Then why am I spending more time on mine?
They don’t plow my street till the snow is already gone.
Health insurance costs too much.
People steal the pens from my desk.

Everybody sounded great and had a wonderful time. If you're local, it's not too late to join us: see our website for details.

Concert: May 2, place TBA.

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Propagation."

I wanted to express energy fields or life energy, a concept at the core of Eastern medicine.

Acrylic on canvas 9 x 12


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Computer virus, trojans, worms: the bad guys have won.

"The bad guys have won," my computer guy told me after he'd looked at my laptop (which is my recording studio and my graphics program headquarters). I had two viruses - one called "" and the other called "obfuscater" (or something like that). The purpose of the second one is to hide the first one. They are supposed to lie on my computer, unseen, and log keystrokes and get access to bank accounts, etc. but something went wrong and they wrecked my hard drive instead, so I couldn't boot up.

My computer guy says there is nothing that can be done to protect a computer using Windows or Vista or any Microsoft operating system. He is advising everybody to go to Linus or Apple. Unfortunately, the programs I use every day are not available in non-Microsoft form...

He sounds a little like a fanatic when he says the Chinese computer hackers are thoroughly conversant with the contents of our military computers. But this morning in the New York Times:

Extracts from
Malicious Software Infects Corporate Computers
By JOHN MARKOFF for the New York Times, February 18, 2010

A malicious software program has infected the computers of more than 2,500 corporations around the world, according to NetWitness, a computer network security firm.

The malicious program, or botnet, can commandeer the operating systems of both residential and corporate computing systems via the Internet.

Such botnets are used by computer criminals for a range of illicit activities, including sending e-mail spam, and stealing digital documents and passwords from infected computers.

In many cases they install so-called "keystroke loggers" to capture personal information.

Currently Shadowserver, an organization that tracks botnet activity, is monitoring 5,900 separate botnets.

The Kneber botnet [links] infected systems. The purpose appears to be to gather login credentials to online financial systems, social networking sites and e-mail systems, and then transmit that information to the system's controllers.

The botnet has been able to compromise both commercial and government systems, including 68,000 corporate log-in credentials.

It has also gained access to e-mail systems, online banking accounts, Facebook, Yahoo, Hotmail and other social network credentials, along with more than 2,000 digital security certificates and a significant cache of personal identity information.

"These large-scale compromises of enterprise networks have reached epidemic levels," said Amit Yoran, chief executive of NetWitness and former director of the National Cyber Security Division of the Department of Homeland Security.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Adrift."

Mind adrift and unsteady from the long sea voyage, she found comfort with her parrot.


Acrylic on canvas

9 x 12


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

[Hannah]: Emergency Kit....??????

Highly amused by The Knot's emergency kit for brides. Apparently you are supposed to pack for your wedding day like you are going off to war. Or some other kind of very important secret mission. Let me see if I can figure it out.

Some of these things make a lot of sense.
Bottle of water. You may get thirsty.
Corsage pins. You may mess up your flowers.
Dental floss/toothpicks. You may get something stuck in your teeth.
Tweezers. You may have a facial hair gone rogue at the last minute. (Those little f*ckers can grow unbelievably fast.)
Band-Aids. You may receive a wedding-related injury.
Aspirin (or pain reliever of choice). At some point, you will almost certainly get a headache.

Some of these things would require you to go through Advanced Feminine Training to be able to use correctly.
Clear nail polish (for stocking runs). Huh?
Hem tape. Mini sewing kit. Last-minute basting job? MOM!!!! HELP!!!!!
Static-cling spray. This must be something that real grown-ups own.

Some of these things would also be really good to carry around if you happened to commit a murder.
Sedatives. Yup. This is actually on the list.
Small folding scissors. So you can stab someone if you suspect they are about to run off with the leftovers. Or if they are whining about where you seated them or about the temperature outside or if for any other reason they are really, really, really getting on your nerves. Or if they are a secret agent working for the Soviet Union.
Extra panty hose Makes a great gag. Also, IMO, functions as a torture device even when used as per manufacturers directions.
Scotch tape. So they don't spit out the pantyhose. Again, duct tape would just be too conspicuous, and it doesn't match anybody's wedding colors.
Chalk (to cover up any last minute smudges or smears on your wedding dress). Or to draw the outline around the body, to give the police a head start.
Hand towelettes To wash off any evidence real fast. Bridal gloves, the more practical solution for this, are unfortunately out of fashion these days - would be highly suspect.
Smelling salts (you may faint.) Especially if you're not used to stabbing.
Spot remover. I think this one is obvious. Working with those crappy little folding scissors might get a little bit messy.
Tissues. It's just so.... tragic!
Matches. Now I, seriously, and in all honestly, absolutely cannot imagine why you would need to bring a box of matches in your emergency wedding kit. And I am a very smart person. I can think of three options. 1) You just need your goddamn smokes. 2) To relight the caterer's oven, which has gone out, and they don't have any matches, and you are half an hour from the nearest convenience store. If you think these are implausible, and I guess I do too, I am left with 3) To light the signal flare to signal the waiting helicopter that this whole charade is over, you think someone might have heard something in spite of the sedatives, and you hear voices in the distance getting steadily closer, and you are ready for, as discussed, an airlift to an undisclosed location, stat.

Oh, man, what would I do without The Knot??? I'm about to write in to them and let them know that this all looks great but they forgot to put the signal flares on the list. Anything else I'm missing?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Muddy."

The Giraffe's Feet are Muddy

Really, this began as a hippopotamus but I saw the giraffe on the canvas and radically changed the composition. That is one of the things I like best about painting.



Sunday, February 07, 2010

[Hannah]: DIY wedding flowers

Good morning! Yesterday a friend and I practiced arranging flowers, because my wedding flowers will be DIY.

First we went to the San Francisco Flower Mart. This is a bunch of separate wholesalers that sell to retailers early in the morning and then open up to the public around 10 AM. Word to the wise, they say on their website that they are open until 3 PM on Saturdays, but we came at 1 PM and almost everything was already closed. There were a few stands left and plenty of flowers but to get the full effect, come before 11. Or so said the guy at one of the last open flower marts who started teasing us for being so tardy.

Here's what it looked like when we were there:

We tried to get a mix of different sizes of flowers and some leaves for "filler." We were a bit hazy as to the ratio of flowers to filler that would be required. I like light and bright colors so I got mostly yellow, white and pink flowers. I also bought some floral tape (this is absolutely essential), floral wire, and pearl-headed pins.

Then we took the flowers home.

First I made a bouquet. This is much trickier than it looks because your eye is very eager to see colors "clumping" together so if you want them to look evenly distributed you have to be very careful. Strip all the leaves off the flowers first. Then you start with a few sturdy flowers clumped together in the middle, hold them in your hand pointing straight up. (If I were doing this for real I would floral-tape this first clump together. Then you have to start placing the flowers around the center ones, keeping an even distribution of large and small, yellow, pink and white. And - this is important - you have to place all the new flowers slightly at an angle so they start to make, like, the top of a dome. This is very important. If you put all the flowers in with stems vertical it will just make a blob of flowers. The problem is that it's very hard to hold the slight angle particularly as you rotate the bouquet in your hand. The flowers kept moving against each other and I had to go back and re-dome them a lot of times. I think this site explains the process better than I can. At the end the stems will all sort of spiral around each other.

Note: this takes a LOT of flowers. I think there are probably 24-30 stems in the bouquet I ended up making.

I learned a lot doing this project but it was the kind of thing you really had to "feel" to get right. NO amount of reading internet descriptions could have made some of this stuff clear to me. Nevertheless, here I am putting it on the internet, so at least I can remember what I learned:

- filler leaves are useless if they are floppy. THey are supposed to take up space and if they just fall down out of wherever you put them, it's not going to work.

- A mix of flower sizes and shapes look good, but one shape/size should be dominant in order to make it much easier to form the dome shape. I don't know the exact ratio that would work best but my bouquet had about half gerbera daisies, and half is a bad number. If it was 2/3 gerbera daisies, then the rest of the filler could have been just about any size and shape and the dome would still work. I think it could also work if it was, say, 1/2 gerbera daisies and 1/4 smaller daisies, cause they would still have that daisy shape. Or 1/2 big roses and 1/4 ranunculus (which look like little roses). and then the last 1/4 filler or baby's breath or whatever.

- My gerbera daisies saved this project. They are big, so they take up a lot of space. They are sturdy, so you can manhandle them a lot while you are fixing your mistakes and they will forgive you. If the heads are tilted in a weird way, you can poke floral wire up through the head, bend it again like a fish hook, pull the other end down through the flower head, tape it together, and it will hold the angle of the flower head in the way that you want it.

- White, pink, and yellow together remind me of Easter. So, if I do not want to be reminded of Easter I need to do white, orange and yellow maybe. THe little bits of purple look good too.

- Beware the flower in which multiple small heads grow at very different heights on the same stem. This is a waste because, remember, we need to control the height of every flower in the bunch in order for it to be visible. If you cut it into individual stems, most of the stems will end up being too short for the bouquet. But if you leave them all on, only the flower at the top will be visible in your bouquet.

- That said, tiny dainty sprays of flowers, which I first thought would be a disaster, worked fine in the bouquet - I just had to poke them in from the top after the dome was otherwise finished. That way the pressure of the other flowers kept the spray stuck together. That's the purple in the finished bouquet I posted below.

- Cats love this project because it has a lot of long twitchy stems flying around and a lot of things that made rustling noises. I did this at the house of my friend who has a 10 year old cat who mostly just sits and stares at the wall all day, and even he felt compelled to come over and "help." If your cat is more active you will have to put her in the bedroom while you do this project.

Finished product!

We also did boutonnieres and table arrangements but I have to do a lot of homework today so I will post about those later.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Polka-dotted ice? What?

Well, there is something new under the sun - or under the clouds.

The concept of "wintery mix" (or is it "wintry mix"?) was a clever invention. They didn't have that when I was a kid. The old guy at the equipment rental place this morning said: "That way they've got it all covered."

And in fact, on my way there I began under a lovely downfall of big fat winter-wonderland flakes of snow, already half an inch of them on the ground, and proceeded through sleet, hail, rain, and snow again before I got to the Rent-All place.

And now this! What makes polka-dotted ice form?

The first picture is the balcony outside my bedroom, the second is the porch outside the kitchen.