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Happy Pancake Day!

pancakes

It’s Pancake Day, calloo callay! Pancake Day is what the Brits call Shrove Tuesday. They make pancakes on this day to use up rich ingredients (like eggs) before Lent. My mother in law made pancakes today, and she’s older’n dirt.

It’s hard to see British pancakes as rich, though…they’re usually more like crepes. Imagine my sadness when I ordered pancakes in a restaurant once, expecting to get a fat stack of flapjacks oozing butter and maple syrup, only to be served one thin crepe, folded over on itself with a dusting of powdered sugar. It was a sad, anemic little object. To be fair, if that’s not astringent enough, you can order them with a twist of lemon.

O wherefor art thou, IHOP?

For Pancake Day, they more or less lose their food status and become athletic equipment, where they feature in pancake races.

Meh. Think I’ll have a hamburger.

February 28, 2017 — 9:11 pm
Comments: 27

News you can use

pigs

Someone is killing the famous Swimming Pigs of the Bahamas. Yes, there is apparently a herd of feral but friendly pigs that like to swim with the tourists. Mostly because the tourists have delicious food, and pigs is pigs.

Only, they think maybe someone is giving them booze, because about half the herd of twenty have floated to shore dead. Honestly, they could wait for the autopsy.

Mystery pigs. Not native to the Bahamas and nobody really knows where and when they arrived. Possibly with sailors hoping to come back for them.

Donald Trump Jr. took a snapshot of his family with the pigs last Summer. I’m surprised nobody’s blamed his dad yet.

February 27, 2017 — 7:27 pm
Comments: 10

Physics. Huh.

phu

Here’s an article about the physics of the banjo. Specifically, why it twangs.

It starts thusly: “Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of David Politzer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who in his spare time, is a Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist.” Call me crazy, but I’m guessing theoretical physicist is his day job and this banjo thing is something he does in his spare time, but that’s about the last thing I understood.

It’s fucking physics, man. Of course I didn’t understand it.

This I got. I think. If a sound vibration is matched with a vibration that is similar and several tens of hertz higher, it sounds plinky. You can (apparently) make this happen in Audacity by making a sound and screwing with it. It doesn’t apply to things like guitars and violins because wood tops aren’t as springy as a banjo head.

But I got all tangled up in the difference between the frequency of the sound and the frequency of the vibration. And that made me feel stupid. And that made me sad.

Don’t be sad, Weasel! It’s the weekend!

February 24, 2017 — 8:41 pm
Comments: 18

Doris Day

doris

The remnants of tropical storm Doris hit us today. The news called it Doris Day, because of course they did. Gusts to 50-something miles an hour.

I tried cycling into work in it. I’ve been out in blows that strong before, no problem – bike and me together are pretty heavy. But a gust caught me just right and knocked me over at speed.

Eh. I was wearing yellow slicker pants that I couldn’t move properly in and I couldn’t catch myself. Didn’t knock me up and over, as in the picture, it knocked me sideways into a ploughed field. I’m fine, bike’s fine. I stalked home, muddy and soaking wet, and called in. There was nothing that really needed me today.

Went back to bed, slept until quarter to one.

True story.

February 23, 2017 — 9:50 pm
Comments: 19

No, not this one

moons

I think this would be a difficult piece of furniture to live with. “Twin moons stare down one-eyed space aliens fresh off the mothership, 1769” we’ll call it. It’s got a certain…mmm…I dunno.

For our anniversary this year, Uncle B bought a beautiful 17th C coffer to replace the Ikea entertainment center eyesore in the living room. It arrived today, and it’s spectacular. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in and it’s perfect (and, yes, it has the set-top box on it, but somehow it still manages to look dignified).

We’ve been meaning to buy one for that spot, like, forever. When this house was built (sometime between 1500 and 1610), oak coffers like this would have been the one for sure piece of furniture they would have had; probably a number of them. The chair was a newfangled contraption (at least in terms of furnishing a humble household), so these things would have served as storage, seating, working surfaces. We had no lack of ones to choose from — Britain is lousy with them, still.

Anyway, I found our friends the moon-aliens while looking for a picture of a coffer similar to ours to show you, on account of I’m too lazy to try and get the difficult shot of ours in situ. Mostly, though, I wanted to tease you guys with the sort of antiques easily available here. Tease, tease.

Oh, and thanks to Brexit jitters, the pound is nearing parity with the dollar. You can buy a whole English £ for $1.20 today.

February 22, 2017 — 10:10 pm
Comments: 8

Here, let me waste your afternoon for you

monster

The Sea Monk (Umi Bozu) is a sea monster with a smooth round head, like the shaven head of a Buddhist monk. This woodblock print illustrates the story of the sailor Kawanaya Tokuzo, who decides to go to sea on the last day of the year, which other sailors consider unlucky. A violent storm breaks out, and the Umi Bozu appears. In a ghastly voice the apparition demands, “Name the most horrible thing you know!” Tokuzo yells back, “My profession is the most horrible thing I know!” The monster is apparently satisfied with this answer and disappears along with the storm.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) did woodcuts for popular consumption. They were like 19th C Japanese monster action comix. There’s a nice selection of his pictures here.

He was a contemporary of Hokusai, the Great Wave guy and they both belonged to a school of painting called Ukiyo-e. The word ukiyo means “floating world” and describes the lifestyle rather than the subject matter.

Edo (now Tokyo) saw a boom in the 17th C and suddenly merchants who had been at the bottom of the heap could afford to go to the theater and hang out with the professional ladies. And go watch the fat guys rassle in their underpants. And buy art for the walls. This stuff caters to that taste.

If you go to the Wikipedia article (previous link), look at the pictures in the sidebar (you’ll surely recognize some of them), take a name to ukiyo-e org, you can spend happy hours paddling around the art.

I think Kuniyoshi is my favorite, though. Lots of soldiers and monsters and ghosts.

February 21, 2017 — 8:35 pm
Comments: 6

The Oven Roaster of Turin

broilerofturin

Went to put the Sunday roast pan in the dishwasher — and behold was revealed unto me in the grease thereof the divine image of…a roast chicken, basically. Look at it.

In one of my (many, many) Facebook chicken groups, someone posted that she’d bought two chickens from a local small breeder. A couple of months later, she bought another from the same breeder. The third chicken was the chick of one of the first two and she was astounded when mother and daughter recognized each other and were happy to see each other.

I swear, I’ll end up vegan. Or a Jain.

If only chicken weren’t so gosh darned delicious.

February 20, 2017 — 8:08 pm
Comments: 13

Art geekery

muller

When I was a teenager, I was the spergiest art geek EVER. Art lends itself to geekery. It has so many moving parts.

One of the coolest is pigments and colors. All that ancient boogidy-boogidy alchemy survived as (among other things) paint chemistry – some of the experiments they did on the way to the philosopher’s stone resulted in paints and dyes that we still use.

In art terms, at least, a paint is made up of little particles of colored pigment, often mineral, that don’t dissolve in the medium. A dye is made of a colored stuff, often vegetable, that does dissolve in its medium. So, proper oil paints are a paint but most ink is dye. Dye is inherently fugitive (but often gorgeously colorful).

Between the two are the lake pigments, which are organic dyes that are stained onto an inert material making them kinda sorta pigments, more stable than most dyes. The best are just acceptable to use in an artist’s palette. My favorite color, Alizarin crimson, is a lake; it was the very first natural pigment (madder) to be synthesized in a lab in the 19th C. It’s usually regarded as the least permanent of the acceptably permanent pigments.

Folks, I could burble like this for hours.

Anyway, I made my own oil paints for a few years. They refer to this as “grinding” paint, but it’s a misnomer — you don’t grind the pigment particles into smaller pigment particles, you spread them out as thinly as possible to make sure each little particle is surrounded by oil. To do this, you use a sheet of glass and the thing in the picture, a muller (that’s a purty one, available here). A little pigment, a drop of oil, and you go round and round and round and round. It was the shitty job given to the newest apprentice in the studio.

Over and over again, you’ll read that modern paints are far better than this. That machine methods ‘grind’ paint better than any snot-nosed apprentice ever could. That the old masters would die for the kind of paint we have now.

I read it for years before it dawned on me what they were clearly, obviously, blatantly saying — modern paint is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from the stuff the masters used.

Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound like an all-caps moment to you, but I assure you it was one of the stonking thinks of my lifetime. I felt like flinging off my clothes and running down the road yelling “URETHRA!”

And it’s true: you have a better chance of reproducing some of the masters’ techniques with paint that is slightly less well ground. In fact, some of that beautiful, globby lace that Rembrandt painted wasn’t even ground at all, it was just pigment lightly folded with a drop of oil. Turns out, though, that it only really matters in the bright opaque colors, particularly white.

I’m not going anywhere with this. I’m just happy to be playing with my paint box again.

Good weekend, all!

February 17, 2017 — 9:07 pm
Comments: 21

I joined a thing!

paint

I joined a local art society. Been meaning to do it since I moved here. I was going to describe it as prestigious, but it isn’t that at all. It’s…venerable. It’s an amateur society set up fifty years ago to complement the local professional society.

You don’t apply to join the professional society. If they want you, they’ll let you know.

In addition to monthly lectures of various kinds, the real appeal is the annual show. And the appeal of the annual show is to kick me in the ass and make me paint some shit.

Behold, my ancient pile of watercolor tubes! (Here it is in color, because honestly that looks pretty cool).

Now I just have to paint something.

February 16, 2017 — 10:42 pm
Comments: 29

A how much of what now?

coal

Are we back now? Excellent. Thank you for indulging me. For posterity’s sake, the anniversary header image can be found here.

And now back to your regularly scheduled weaselin’.

The stuff in the picture is similar unto the stuff we burn in the stove for heat. It’s like charcoal briquettes. It comes in lots of different flavors and I don’t understand it very well, but if you aren’t extremely careful, Onkle B will tell you all about it.

We buy it by the ton, it arrives in 40 or so 25-kilo bags wrapped up on a wooden pallet. We move the car, the delivery driver uses one of those handcart dealies to push it down to the end of the drive, and there we are — enough or nearly enough for the average heating season. We’ve done this for years.

Only, today’s guy was a stroppy bastard and decided he couldn’t be bothered. He winched it off the truck and left the whole flipping thing at the curb, blocking the end of the drive. Blocking us out and ripe for the stealing. We had no choice but to unwrap it all and carry it to the end of the drive ourselfs, bag at a time.

A TON of coal.

Lest you think that was unchivalrous of Onkle B, he did the heavy part. He lifted the bags onto a handtruck and I only had to wheel them down and tip them off. I wouldn’t let him do the whole thing himself.

A TON of COAL.

February 15, 2017 — 8:47 pm
Comments: 30