Monday, February 16, 2015

Back blogging

Emily's awesome self portrait. 

I have been thinking a lot in the last few weeks about what I have been doing online. Between work, email, Facebook, Studio C, Slate, google news, and the weather I have felt like the internet was shrinking. So I have been trying to expand what I do online and improve the quality of what I do. What do you use the internet for besides chasing links on Facebook. I have enough of that. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Work in progress

Leila stripped off one layer of wallpaper only to uncover four more to go. I watched a number of YouTube videos that argues that hot water and a scraper would work as well as a steamer without all the mess. 
I went to Quick's Hardware and Mr Quick was skeptical. He told me that I would need the steamer and that he would see me at 8 AM to pick it up. He was so right. Again. He is the owner of the hardware store in Huxley,  It is a small hardware store, but with just about everything you could need.  Mr Quick takes great pride in his customer service and really isn't comfortable with people wandering through the aisles looking for stuff.  He knows where it is and is eager to tell you what to do.  I tried to by an oil primer once.  He was insistent that I really wanted the latex primer, but I was firm that I did not.  He had oil primer, but refused to sell it to me.  He told me I was welcome to buy it at Lowes, but he was not going to sell me a product I would regret using later.  I don't regret the oil primer, but I have learned that I can get a lot of great advice, fast service, and sometimes a discount if I go directly to him when I go into the store and tell him what I am trying to do.  

Such an improvement. The wallpaper came right off and it was less mess than hot water. That Mr. Quick was right again.
While my mom was here over Thanksgiving we were have having problems with the kitchen sink backing up, the toilet clogging, and then leaking at the base. The original plumbing looked like something at a waterpark with tight turns and dips.  I thought maybe it was plugged somewhere so took it apart.  Looking again on youtube I decided that maybe the problem was that the sink is not connected to the sewer vent.  Why it would stop working now after 20 years of no venting, I can't explain.  I showed this picture to Mr Quick and he found me all of the new pipes I would need, cut them approximately to size and showed me how to put it together on the counter along with advice on how to assemble it dry, mark it, cut to size and then glue together.  
 Here is the finished sink pipes, remarkable similar to his demonstration.
 This is harder to see, but the black cap on the PVC pipe is the vent that really did help the sink drain better.
For once, feeling like home repair is not impossible.  We also tackled the toilet problems.  Our downstairs toilet gets most of our use and has been clogging a lot recently.  I mean a lot.  Then it started to leak.  I tried to replace the gasket underneath with Emily late one night, but after a big clog, it started to leak again.  On Thanksgiving.  When my mom was here.  And friends from church.  So we went to talk to Mr Quick.  He had a new toilet in stock that he assured me would not have the problem.  He also had a reinforced toilet wax seal that was easier to install and wouldn't smoosh off or fall out of place for only two dollars more.  That Mr Quick was so right again.  
Now, I just need to finish the walls we stripped, redo the bathroom upstairs, take off the garage gutters and fix the wood in the corners, replace that last piece of siding, and then start the kitchen remodel.  Ugg.  Maybe I will go ask Mr. Quick about that. 

Monday, December 01, 2014

How transparent is the GMO regulatory approval process?

I posted this to Facebook today, but wanted to post it here as well. 

A student of a friend of mine recently asked me about the regulatory process around GMO's. She wanted to write about how the process should be more transparent. As part of my response I was excited to find that all of the regulatory documents and decisions have been compiled in a searchable database:
If you are interested in reading thousands of pages of regulatory approvals and environmental impact statements, they are actually available.
Too often this kind of thing feels like something from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is from his exchange with demolition crew boss come to demolish his house to make way for a bypass.
“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
GM Approval Database (GMO Database): ISAAA presents an easy to use database of Biotech/GM crop...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Finally getting back to normal

Fall hits like a hurricane for me.  Every year I think, I have it all together.  I have a good plan.  I can do this.  Then, reality hits.  Everything not related to corn harvest and data analysis gets shed, which means this blog, running, church callings, and anything fun or productive around the house.  I tried to stay home for a few hours while the kids were awake, but even they were neglected.  Leila really covered for me.  However, I am determined to get back to normal or better.

It has started to snow and winter is here, but I still have chores that need to be finished, now in the cold.

  1. Insulate around the upstairs 
  2. Replace siding by the kids bedroom. - should have that done Monday. 
  3. Finish stripping wallpaper in computer room - I chafe against calling it the computer room and would rather call it the library, but the computer draws our attention in like a moth to flame and we don't notice the half removed wallpaper so much. 
  4.  Repainting the hall.  
  5. We ordered a door for the kitchen - that is an expensive upgrade, but the cold air slides through the current door all winter long.  
  6. Make stuff in the workshop.  I don't have a clear plan, but I would like to re-upholster a chair and make some benches.  I really want to take some classes from this woodworking shop/museum that is near here.  They teach classes for 250, which includes materials and three days of instruction.  Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Walking corn fields across Iowa

I spent most of the last few weeks looking at plots around the state. 
For someone who doesn't like to drive, I have spent most of every day driving from place to place. I have been in Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Manitoba, and Wisconsin.  

Last of the garden harvests

This year the garden and weeds got away from me. I had two wheelbarrow loads of potatoes. But so many weeds. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Teaching violin lessons

I am back teaching violin lessons. I can't say that I have been very successful as a violin teacher through the last few years.  I have had a handful of students - a brother and sister in Texas, we traded violin lessons for horse riding lessons in Indiana, the daughter of a close friend here in Iowa and now my two students:  a young woman from church and Colleen. I tried teaching Emily, but that didn't end well.  My Texas students changed to the cello and then quit.  My Indiana students moved to Idaho.  My first student in Iowa quit.

This time I was determined to do a better job and started reading online about different methods for teaching new students.  My mom was my first teacher and taught using the Suzuki method.  I can remember practicing my footwork and holding my cracker jacks box under my chin before I started on the twinkles.  My mom taught another boy my age named Eli, who was my friend, and I went to Suzuki camp in the summer in Nampa.  I can remember signing a very large birthday card for Dr Suzuki, performing the Suzuki songs from book 1 and 2 on stage at the Nazerene College, trying to learn to juggle, panda power bow grip, catching butterflies with my friend Nathan and his sister in the park, and loving to play the violin.

There is apparently a lot of angry debate about the merits and damage done by the Suzuki method.  From my own experience, I have good memories associated with learning to play this way.  When I was twelve I got a new teacher in Boise. I learned a lot about technique, how to read music, played etudes, probably better songs, but violin became more of an obsession than a love affair.  I practiced after school in a practice room at the new center for the arts downtown.  I was in three orchestras: chamber, string, and youth symphony.  I tried competing in a few solo competitions, but was so nervous that in one competition I switched songs randomly in the middle.  Luckily my pianist was amazing and jumped right with me without missing more than a note.  I was so nervous that I felt like Renne from The Soloist. My fingers felt slow and fat, my ear acutely aware of all of the errors that crescendoed exponentially as I played.

In college, my teacher was a superb musician, but not a good teacher and his goal was to break me before building me up in his image - his words at our final lesson.  By the end of the first year, I never wanted to play again and was moved to the very back of the second violin section in the BYU symphony.  I started playing again on my mission and never really recovered from the almost complete breakdown during college.

So, when I was thinking about how I want to teach, and how I wanted to continue to learn, I am not sure that any method my teacher's used is what I wanted to do.  I like much of the music and playing of Mark O'Connor, but man that guy hates the Suzuki method.  His books are set up well for young students.  I never have been sold on the songs and I like many of the fiddle songs better.  Quite honestly I don't care about many of the points that bother Mr. O'Connor about whether Suzuki was a fraudulent teacher that exaggerated his academic and musical background to promote his teaching methodology and books.  I wanted to teach music so that my students and I loved to play.  That is what I remember so fondly about Suzuki violin.

I bought O'Connor's book and the cd, but then my plans were thrown out the window when I had my first lesson with my new student.  She already had played the songs in the first O'Connor book and book one suzuki.  She had taken lessons from a highschool student.  She played well by ear, but couldn't read music, had a list of technique improvements to make, and most importantly was committed to play this at her cousin's wedding in just a few months, unaccompanied and on the violin, but otherwise just like this:

I decided then that it didn't matter what songs we played, but that we would try to use them to build technique as we go.  This means, I have let her choose most of the songs we work on, and then I reserve the right to add additional material to teach technique and expand her musical exposure. I have learned through this that youtube is a treasure trove.  There are a ton of inventive and creative folks that are recording themselves in backrooms and posting them to youtube. Some of them even have sheet music posted online as well.  If you are interested I have posted lesson materials to a new blog:

Colleen is starting as well, but from the very beginning.  We will be working out of O'Connor's book and the Suzuki books for now, until she has mastered the basics and then I think we will try listening to recordings and surfing youtube together to see what else to add.