Friday, February 27, 2009

Apricot wood and dovetails

This is kind of a complainy post, so keep out if you want. You have been warned.

I'm teaching myself to make dovetail joints on wood. The first time I tried it, I used green sapwood (apricot) which I milled from a small (thigh-sized) log. It worked fairly well, except that the joints weren't light-tight, and the wood subsequently warped out of true, resulting in a funny-shaped box two weeks later.

Let me just say right now that I spent five hours turning a chunk of log into some small boards to make a box, and apricot wood has got to be some of the most brittle, opinionated wood I've ever met. If you look at it wrong, it splits. If you sneeze at the wrong angle, it shatters. And just try to find a place without a preexisting split. It's beautiful wood, though.

Nor does it help that the table saw I've got is prone to angling itself in the middle of a cut, grabbing the log and refusing to let go, and hopping around while you're trying to saw. Some of this may be fixed with a new blade, some of it is a result of having a lightweight table saw.

Today I spent at least 2 hours sanding down four of the straightest, most uniform boards, and then another hour carving the first set of hidden dovetails into what will eventually become a box. It's a nervewracking feeling to be continually striving for perfection in the materials, only to go onto still higher probability in the next step of ruining it all.

As it stands, I have one eighth of the joinery for this box finished. If it works out, I'll be proud. There are people (Kevin and Ari, for example) who will ask me why, if I'm learning a difficult skill, would I not do it on something easy, like pine or birch. The answer is that I don't have a lot of pine or birch out in my backyard, and I'm just that cheap and lazy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Something I made

Hatband made of goat leather (dyed black) 3/32" wide, glossy/matte sides in a 9-strand braid using a woggle, a 4-strand roundbraid and a monkey fist to facilitate buckling. Parts of the braid look handmade, but I think not painfully so. Feedback? Requests?

My hat, modeling the hatband.

The buckle of the hatband--loop and monkey fist.

Me, modeling the hatband (so you can see the scale).

Hatband buckled, with a guest appearance by the knife-that-actually-works in the background. Yes, it's snub-nosed, but that's what happens when you use half a B-negative NewHolland Combine tooth.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I've been thinking a lot lately about family, and what that means. In mainstream U.S. culture, the idea of family is a "perfect unit" of Mommy, Daddy, Junior, and Sis with a dog and a cat. Two cars in every garage. If you're unusual, maybe Grammy lives with your little unit and shares the pocket-handkerchief lawn. Around the holidays, family means the people you go see once a year and stuff yourselves silly while "catching up". Sometimes it means who gets what when someone older kicks it.

While recognizing that genetic relatedness is a factor, it's not necessary to keep the idea of "family" restricted to such. If we're going to be outside of evolution to the point of polluting and climate change, we might as well get the benefit of being able to grow our families however we damn well please, is what I think. I'm lucky, because I have a lot of family. I have related-families that I've sort of appropriated, and I have a lot of family that isn't really related to me, but might as well be. I have individuals I've found and formed strong bonds with, and not all of them know one another, but they're all my family. You know who you are.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Donate to Max! (Official Furium Endorsement)

Things in Mada aren't looking so great, but we take this time out of our busy schedule to put in an official Furium endorsement for a friend. Here's what my awesome friend Max is going to do:

"I have decided to bike across the country this summer after graduating with a program known as Bike and Build! On June 3rd, I will leave from Providence, Rhode Island for San Francisco, California, on a trip devoted to raising money and awareness for the affordable housing cause. Over the past decades a lot has been learned about how to build effective, safe and affordable housing, a key component to creating desirable cities and communities across the nation. This trip will undoubtedly require a huge investment from me of both my time and energy, and so my goal of spreading awareness and support begins with this letter [note, this is from a letter he sent me].

"I will be embarking on this trip with 30 other riders. Overall, Bike and Build will be organizing 8 routes this year, sending a total of 240 riders across the country over the summer. I first learned about this organization from 2 close friends at Cornell, and I will be working with them as we will all be riding together from Providence and the Atlantic to San Francisco and the Pacific. While on the road we will be keeping our costs at a minimum by staying in homes, churches, community centers and schools along the route, eating group meals cooked with our generous hosts. We will also meet with community members and give presentations on the affordable housing issue each night. Finally, in addition to riding, there are 7 days dedicated to actually working on and helping construct affordable homes with local chapters of Rebuilding Together and Habitat for Humanity. On these days, we will trade our bikes for hammers and tools and set to work ourselves, spending a full week over the course of the trip getting to work on actual projects.

"As part of my commitment to Bike and Build, I will be spending time volunteering with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, which is planning a new project here in Tompkins County. I will also ride over 500+ miles to train and be preparing a presentation on important aspects of the affordable housing issue. Additionally, I will be raising at least $4,000 for the cause on top of my own donation.

"The proceeds from the trip will be used to fund affordable housing projects across the country, and will be split up in several ways. Some of the money will be contributed to en-route affordable housing organizations, another portion will go to groups through pre-arranged contributions of $10,000-$60,000, and finally $1,000-$10,000 will be awarded through a grant process on which the riders of our trip will decide. Some money will also inevitably go to supporting the trip. However, my family and I will be contributing our own generous donation so that the money donated to me by others will go to affordable housing projects! I am also looking for a local business that might be willing to make a matching donation pledge to help me raise even more!"

Max is not the kind of person who flakes out on commitments, and he is an incredibly generous human being. In short, he's not the kind of person who will just take your money and then decide not to bike across the country. If you're feeling like you'd like to donate money to help him do this, you can follow this link, and select his name as the one to whom you'd like to donate!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

OR Tambo airport and complaining, or One more reason to play the flute.

I realize that there are bigger problems out there, I really do. And I realize that some of them--like poverty, and economic imperialism, and greed, and unequal wealth distribution--are causing the relatively small one that I have right now, and that those are without doubt a bigger deal.

But it's really burning me up that--if we do get to go to Madagascar, after all--I won't be able to take my mandolin. Why not?
1. Peace Corps prohibits having more than 80 lbs of luggage checked.
2. Unless I want to pay extra, the airline caps the amount of checked baggage at 2 pieces.
3. We're staying the night in a hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the night of March 12.
4. Per Peace Corps requirements, our checked luggage will remain in the airport overnight.
And the crux of it all is that
5. Johannesburg airport is known worldwide for baggage theft.

I don't know how many baggage handlers would like a nice handmade mandolin case, complete with mandolin, but it looks like I'll have to just deal with not having it until someone visits me. Yet one more reason to play a flute.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Here we go again...

Here's the cast:
~Marc Rafalomanana, president of Madagascar, self-made millionaire who owns large chunks of the Madagascan economy.
~Andry Rajoelina, mayor of Antananarivo (Madagascar's capital city), opposition leader, former DJ, also owns large chunks of the Madagascan economy.
~Lots of poor Malagasy, who are hungry and frustrated

Here's the summary:
Rajoelina has "successfully tapped in"to widespread Malagasy frustration with the government, and held (initially) peaceful protests in the streets of Antananarivo ("Tana"). Thousands attended these. In response Rafalomanana shut down Rajoelina's radio station. So, the demonstrations turned ugly, attacking and setting fire to government property, including the national TV and radio broadcasting stations, and a mall. The UN report says 89 people died in the riots, which continued until last Wednesday or Thursday (I think). Rajoelina called for Rafalomanana to step down, or else he'd start appointing ministers to his new government. At some point in here, he also declared himself president, and claimed to have the US, France, and the Madagascan military behind him. The US and France denied this, decried Rajoelina's actions, and encouraged a dialogue. The military didn't say one way or the other. Now, Rafalomanana's party (TIM, "I Love Madagascar") has fired Rajoelina, replaced him in what seems to be a legal action in accordance with the constitution. Rajoelina anticipates massive demonstrations in Tana, though, saying that the people won't stand for it, and given that his original protest was that Rafalomanana was a dictator who threatens democracy, he may have a point.

Here's why it impacts my life:
Today, Peace Corps told us that our staging is postponed until--tentatively--March 9. They reminded us that there is precedent for being postponed twice, but that it's unusual to get postponed a third time, and we'd most likely be reassigned in that case. This is mostly fine with me, as it gives me time to get really organized and work on learning Malagasy. However, it is worrying that things aren't calming down yet (but that makes sense, it will probably take around 10 days for stuff to stabilize, and I think after that things will be okay. Peace Corps must think so too, because they're not evacuating current PCVs yet...). Also, it is kind of daunting to be in a town where I have no friends my age for over a month. Thinking vaguely of taking a trip somewhere, but there are so many people I love, and they're all so widely scattered. The trip I just took, to visit everyone, was great, but exhausting. Perhaps I should go visit Carol and Erika in Hawai'i... Thoughts?
PS For those of you who haven't yet noticed or commented on my luck with official-in-some-capacity visits to African countries, try clicking here for an explanation of this post's title.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Madagascar Approaches (we hope)

In spite of the political rough-housing over there on the big red island (if you're unaware of the situation, go google using "news: madagascar"), I've decided it's finally time to really start the packing list. By Wednesday, I should know whether or not I'm leaving when I've been planning to leave...

If you'd rather not read the packing list, this is your chance to stop.

All of this has to fit into two checked bags (one backpack and a daypack--up to 80 lbs combined), and two carryons (mandolin case, and a messenger bag to carry all "tech" stuff, a toothbrush, and a set of extra clothes).

x Chaco sandals
w Hiking boots
x 6 pairs good socks
x dressy shoes
x 2 pairs convertible field pants
1 pair jeans
1 pair fleece pants
1 field shirts
x 3 t-shirts
3 t-shirts with sleeves cut off
2 tank tops
1 hooded sweatshirt
w 1 Tilley Hat
3 bandanas
4 sports bras
18 pairs underwear
1 pagne complet
x 2 "business casual" shirts
x 2 ankle-length skirts

x Sunlinq 25W (12V) folding solar panel
x Tekkeon MyPowerAll
x Solar battery charger
x Eneloop batteries (AA and AAA)
x Petzl headlamp
x Apple PowerBook G4 laptop, + cord + battery
x 2 mini maglights + replacement bulbs
x 1 travel alarm clock + replacement battery
x 1 Canon S5-IS digital camera with around 7 GB of memory in SD cards
x 1 mini tripod for said camera
x 1 Timex lizards watch + extra battery

x 2 drybags
x 3 Otterbox cases
x 1 pair Nikon Monarch 8x42 binoculars
x 1 Leatherman Juice
x 1 paring knife (homemade)
x 1 snubnose knife (homemade)
1 whetstone
w 7 feet 700-lb string
2 40oz Klean Kanteens
x 1 2.0L Platypus bottle w/extra caps
x 36 water purification tabs (emergency)
x Backpacker firestarter thingwop
x 1 padlock
x 4 TSA locks
x 3-season sleeping bag
x 1 towel
x 1 umbrella
x 1 journal
4 pens
x 1 deck playing cards
1 tweezers
1 small crochet hook
~100 small rubber bands
1 or 2 dedcm
x 1 slackline
x some dread shampoo and lock peppa (
x mandolin, pitch pipe, picks, and strings
x divacup and spare
soap dish
spare soap from my mom

x English-Malagasy Phrasebook
x Southern hemisphere star chart
x Star guide pamphletty thingwop
x Chayanov's Theory of Peasant Economy
x Isle of Fire
x Another Book The Name of Which I Have Forgotten
x Natural History of Madagascar
x Mammals of Madagascar
x Madagascar Wildlife
x Birds of the Indian Ocean
x Political Ponerology
x The Elegant Universe
x Malagasy notebook
x moleskine book-in-which-to-write-lists
presents for my host family (dollar store stuff)
pictures of friends and family
little jars for soil, which will probably contain seeds/spices/herbs on the way over there

spices (especially Italian spice mix)
duct tape
sewing kit
clif bars/candy/comfort snacks

Items in bold still need purchasing.

EDIT (2.3.09) It's looking like I'll have enough space for everything, even including the far, so good. Of course, I have a month to practice packing, now...
EDIT (2.11.09) Things still seem to fit, but it's looking iffy on the carryon policies. Grr.
EDIT (2.28.09) Going to take my chances on the mandolin, hoping that (a) having a US government passport (b) many African airlines don't weigh or molest carryons and (c) I can bribe someone if I have to. Also hoping that worst-case scenario is that I have to check the mandolin planeside.