Communion Of Dreams


House horrors, part one: the uncovering.

We live  in a “Notable Historic Structure“: the house built by the first dean of the University of Missouri Medical School back in 1883. As with almost any structure this old, it’s seen a lot of alterations and additions over the years, complicating the history and the condition of the house. It’s quite literally the case that there are layers and layers of changes you uncover when you do any work on the place. About a decade ago we had the house professionally painted by someone who specializes in doing work on historic buildings, and the painter estimated that he removed about 35 layers of paint — it was about a half inch thick.

So whenever we have to do any work on the place, you expect to find … surprises. For major projects we’ll call in a crew of professional. But for smaller jobs, my wife and I will tackle it on our own. Since she’s an architect with a lot of practical construction experience, and I’m good working with tools, this usually works pretty well. Usually.

Earlier this year, a spring storm peeled back some of the roofing material off of a small porch on the west side of the house. This porch was probably put on sometime around WWII, and was just a roof over a small concrete pad, open on the sides. In the sixties it was chosen as the site to install an air conditioning unit which serves to cool about half of the first floor. Anyway, while we knew the porch roof was in need of work, we didn’t realize how bad it was until the storm revealed this:

roof

Seeing that, we planned on doing some substantial roof repairs the next time we could set aside a couple of days for it. Which turned out to be this week (hence the fall leaves in the pic above).

When you start a project like this, you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you actually start getting into it. So we got up there and stripped off the rest of the flat roofing materials, and expected to have to replace some of the original sheathing board. But after close examination, we decided that it made more sense to just replace the entire deck surface — it looked like the deck boards had probably been scavenged from some older building when they were originally put up, and all of them were in pretty poor condition.

So we got them off, and were down to the rafters:

roof2

Then closer examination of the rafters, and the support beams on the front and side of the roof indicated that they were likewise in need of replacement. Here’s a pick with the rafters removed:

rafters gone

In removing the rafters, we saw how the porch roof had been tied onto the roof of the house (seen above in shingles). This is looking down at the fascia and house roof:

fascia

Good lord.

What had been done was that they just added the 1″ wide fascia on top of the original fascia, with notches cut into the new fascia to help support the rafters. Oh, and some of the rafter ends were cut at an angle and then just nailed RIGHT ON TOP of the old house roof. Yeah, they didn’t clear it off, or anything. In fact, if you look closely, you can see that someone had just put down plywood sheathing over the old roof of cedar shakes and asphalt shingles.

So first we removed the 1″ fascia, so we could examine the original:

2nd fascia

And finding that the original was in pretty poor condition, removed it. This is what we found behind that:

behind

The horror, the horror …   That’s more of the original roof material just covered over by plywood. Sheesh.

Here’s a detail showing the end where the last porch rafter was mounted on top/through the piled mass of old shingles and shakes, along with globs of pitch to help seal the whole mess:

phd

Getting to this point was two days of work. We had allotted three days to do the entire porch repair, including time to assess the true nature of the work and get the needed materials for completion. That was because the weather forecast was for heavy storms to start late on the third day.

There was no way we were going to be able to get the whole thing finished.

So yesterday, on the third day, we got the additional materials and prepped the area for later. We also prepped it to close in securely, not with a permanent repair, but with a sufficiently solid repair to get through the bad weather of a few days time:

prepped

That temporary close-in consisted of a layer of new tar-paper tucked under the clean edge of the extant tar-paper on the house roof, then stapled down. After that, a layer of roof roll goods tucked up under the second rank of shingles shown above, and secured with roofing nails just as you would put down a new line of shingles. To make sure that the paper and roll goods were secure and would extend out sufficiently to cover & protect the exposed house rafters, we tacked down three lengths of wood to hold everything in place until the weather got better. Here’s a shot of that:

ready

And I’m *very* happy to report that the temporary work has handled the storms so far just as intended. When we get good (enough) weather again, we’ll take off the side beams and replace everything with new lumber, properly constructed. With all the old crap roof stuff out of the way we’ll be able to attach the porch roof much more securely and have a better seal/transition of the roofs as well.

Blimey, what a job.

Jim Downey



Take a look back.

I’ve mentioned Pentre Ifan, a wonderful neolithic site (which is  also the title of a chapter in St Cybi’s Well) before. It really is an amazing site, see for yourself:

And here’s the passage where Darnell sees it in SCW:

He continued on. Along a tumble-down wall separating fields, partially overgrown with hedge and briar.  Past cattle in the field, grazing and occasionally lowing to one another, who took little interest in him as he walked along. Through another kissing gate, and almost suddenly he was standing there before the structure, bare to the sky.  One great slab of stone several meters long and a couple wide, supported by three menhir, high enough that he would have to stretch a bit to touch the underside of the capstone. There were a couple of additional uprights at the south end, and several largish stones which had tumbled over. He just stood there for a moment, taking it all in.

 

Well, CADW has just released a new ‘digital restoration’ that’s very cool:

Neolithic Burial Chamber digitally restored

An ancient structure synonymous with the Pembrokeshire countryside has been recreated using the latest CGI technology.

Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, has digitally restored the Pentre Ifan burial chamber in the latest of a series of videos available on its YouTube channel.

 

Fun to see that interpretation of it.

 

Jim Downey



A useful swarm.

Another interesting item about developing the technology to create a useful swarm of small robots:

Harvard Researchers Create a Nature-Inspired Robotic Swarm

Some scientists believe that the way to solve the flocking enigma is to replicate it. Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently developed a micro-scaled robotic technology that enables a controlled, flash mob–like assembly. In August, the team led by Harvard computer-science professors Radhika Nagpal and Fred Kavli demonstrated the ability of 1,000 robots to self-organize into user-selected shapes, such as a five-pointed starfish and the letter K.

* * *

“Increasingly, we’re going to see large numbers of robots working together, whether it’s hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways,” Nagpal said in the press release. “Understanding how to design ‘good’ systems at that scale will be critical.”

One provocative concept is the possibility of building and infrastructure construction that is carried out by thousands of self-organizing modules. Although many technical hurdles remain, this notion is especially intriguing in the case of hazardous and other challenging settings. In the near term, we will likely witness simple, one-story pavilions built from a collection of mobile robotic bricks to create emergency relief shelters following natural disasters.

Hmm … seems I’ve heard about that idea before someplace. Oh, yeah, from Communion of Dreams:

They were, in essence, enclosing the entire planet in a greenhouse of glass fabric and golden plasteel. It was going to take generations to finish, even using mass microbots and fabricating the construction materials from the Martian sands. Tens of thousands of the specially programmed microbots, a few centimeters long and a couple wide, would swarm an area, a carpet of shifting, building insects. As each cell was finished, it was sealed, joined to the adjacent cells, and then the microbots would move on.

But it is pretty cool to see the work being done to bring that about.

 

Jim Downey



Mmm. Cobbler.

Among other things, my Good Lady Wife is the exec of the local chapter of the AIA. And last night they had their annual awards dinner.

Now, you might think that such an event would be formal and fancy. But that would be ‘big city’ thinking. This is where it happened:

20131018_170641

No, I’m not kidding. Here’s another pic:

20131018_171111

It’s the Claysville Store, just off the Katy Trail at mile 150 outside Hartsburg.

Here’s a nice little video about the place:

 

Here it is from the Trail:

20131018_172923

And here are a couple of images taken from the Trail while I was wandering around:

20131018_173235And:

20131018_173039

So, if you find yourself on the Trail, or in mid-Missouri sometime and are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, give them a look. Excellent, simple fare. Limited menu, and hours.

But man, the blackberry cobbler was delicious.

 

Jim Downey



Functional beauty.

A good friend shared this item from the NYT with me: A Tool’s Beauty Is in the Eye of Its Holder. It’s a good piece overall, but this particular passage resonated for me:

Why do such objects look so enticing, given that they were designed with very different objectives? One reason is their virtue (another old-fashioned term). It can be both refreshing and reassuring to see an object whose appearance is determined by such laudable qualities as economy, efficiency or reliability, rather than the hope of seducing us visually. Another factor is their honesty. It is easier to feel confident about admiring a utilitarian object, whose appearance is defined by its function, than it can be to enjoy one because of its styling.

Resonated? Yeah. Here’s an excerpt from a meditation about tools I wrote in 1995, and which has gained some recognition since:

This isn’t a respect borne of fear for their sharpness.  It is something more . . . something that is almost spiritual.  When you use a tool, it tends to take on the shaping of the use, and of the user.  It will conform to your hand, wear in such a way that it actually becomes more suited to the task, until in some ways it is easier to use the tool correctly than to use it incorrectly.

I think that this is why old tools, well made and well loved tools, are so valuable.  When you take them to hand, you can feel the right way to use them.  Some of the time that went into shaping that tool, training it for use, can be shared from one craftsman to the next.  So long as the tool is loved, cared for, and properly used, it continues to accumulate knowledge, storing the wisdom of the hands.

If you have a moment, I’d invite you to read both pieces. They make a nice pair.

Jim Downey

PS: Small milestone – this is blog post #1,400 for me here. Just thought I’d share that factoid.



“An abnormally excitable way.”

I woke about 1:00 this morning, rolled over and looked at the clock. My side hurt, the way it usually does. But it was the nasty bit of headache which had the bulk of my semi-conscious attention. I reached over to the nightstand, picked up the pain pill I had left there. I sat up enough to pop it into my mouth, then picked up the water glass, took a drink to wash the pill down.

About 4:30 I repeated the task.

I still had the headache when I finally woke at about 6:00, just before the radio came on.

* * * * * * *

Our house is about 130 years old. It has a narrow central staircase off the kitchen which leads to the second floor, making three 90-degree turns in the process. As far as I know, these stairs are largely original, though there were some minor modifications made at the bottom back in the 1950s.

Between the first and second turns there’s an exposed nail where someone made a mistake in construction. It came through the riser, but didn’t enter the tread properly. Part of the wood popped loose, and at some point broke away. But it doesn’t really hurt anything, and is out of the way, so no one has ever bothered to fix it.

I notice things like this.

* * * * * * *

The energy dynamic has changed again.

Well, to be honest, it is always changing. But while I had been riding fairly high in my bipolar cycle, now I can feel the old doubts, the old fears starting to creep back in.

Doubts? Fears?

Of failure, of course.

As I contemplate putting together the Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well, I start to worry. Will it be successful? How the hell am I going to reach the audience for Communion of Dreams to let them know about it? For that matter — can I even write the damned book, and if I do, will everyone just hate the thing?

* * * * * * *

Yesterday the Diane Rehm Show had a segment about migraines. From the transcript, this is Dr. David Dodick, neurologist at the Mayo Clinic and chair of the American Migraine Foundation speaking:

Well, Diane, when one does a functional scan, like Dr. Richardson just talked about, whether it’s a PET or a functional MRI, we see activation of certain regions in the brain and certain networks in the brain, particularly those networks that process sensory information, like light and noise and pain and emotion. So we see activation of all of these networks during migraine. And indeed what we’ve come to recognize now is that not just during a migraine attack.

But even in between attacks the brain is processing all of that sensory information in an abnormally excitable way. So, migraine was thought to be just a disorder that comes and goes and you’re perfectly normal in between. But we now recognize the fact that it’s an abnormal processing — abnormal network processing in the brain that continues even between attacks.

* * *

And that’s one of the reasons why we, as a medical community, absolutely must take this to sort of more seriously. Migraine sufferers are three times more likely to have psychiatric disorder such as depression, anxiety, bipolar illness. They’re twice as likely to have epilepsy. They’re twice as likely to suffer an ischemic stroke. They’re six to 15 times more likely to develop brain lesions.

 

* * * * * * *

I woke about 1:00 this morning, rolled over and looked at the clock. My side hurt, the way it usually does. But it was the nasty bit of headache which had the bulk of my semi-conscious attention. I reached over to the nightstand, picked up the pain pill I had left there. I sat up enough to pop it into my mouth, then picked up the water glass, took a drink to wash the pill down.

About 4:30 I repeated the task.

I still had the headache when I finally woke at about 6:00, just before the radio came on.

I’ve had this headache off and on for the better part of a week. Maybe longer.

The codeine I take each evening/overnight to deal with the torn intercostal muscle pain is also effective at disrupting the development of a full migraine. But the cycle still tries to complete. It’s annoying.

But some things you learn to live with. Like imperfections in old homes. Yes, I’ll see the Kickstarter through, as well as writing the book whether or not the Kickstarter is completely successful.

Some things you learn to live with.

Jim Downey

 



Italy, 2012: Rome Alone.

We left the villa early on Monday morning, since it was a drive of some hours back to Rome and we needed to get there about noon to allow some members of the group to make travel connections.

There had been rain overnight. When we left, this was the view of the sea from the villa:

 

 

Taking the inland interstate-style highway, we got to see part of the country we hadn’t before.

 

 

And I discovered that the rest stops in Italy are much like rest stops anywhere, complete with baffling toys…

 

No idea . . .

…and various products to help you stay awake:

Actually, I bought some of the “pocket espresso” things – and they weren’t bad. About an ounce of high-density caffeine with a lot of chocolate, in liquid form like an extra-small juice box.

* * * * * * *

We got to Rome, dropped off several people at the main train station. Most of the rest of us were back in the hotel we had stayed in the first few days of the program. We got checked in, dropped off bags and then made plans for the afternoon.

Most of the remaining group were leaving the next morning, just a few staying on to Wednesday. The bulk of the group made plans for dinner together that evening. But Steve & Amy needed to get a number of things done to wrap up the trip (and plan for the next one), so they were inclined to not join in on another big dinner.

In all honesty, I think they were also tired of being “in charge” and just wanted a little down-time. I know that when I have been in such a role for a week or two, I feel wiped out, and no offense to the people in the group but I am usually ready for a break.

So we spent the afternoon hitting a couple of different sights, mostly giving Steve and Amy time to do something of a post-mortem on the workshop – discussing what worked, what didn’t go so smoothly, how to perhaps change the schedule. I mostly kept my mouth shut, though occasionally I was able to offer some perspective as a tag-along. We had coffee & conversation on the Piazza Navona, then eventually Amy went off to take care of some errands and Steve and I went to see the Carravagio paintings (The Calling of St Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) at the nearby San Luigi dei Francesi. Naturally, I had seen reproductions of these pieces, but seeing them actually in the space they were intended for was breath-taking.

Following this, we wandered back to the hotel room. We both wanted a chance to rest and shower before getting back together with Amy for drinks and dinner that evening.

Dinner that night was worth mentioning: a place which specializes in dishes with porcini mushrooms. We ate heartily, washed the food down with some local artisanal beer. According to Amy & Steve, such beer is a relatively new thing in Rome – but it was quite good, though it was odd to have it served in what was basically a champagne bottle.

* * * * * * *

The next morning we mostly went our separate ways. Steve & Amy needed to check out a couple different museums for the next program. I was tired of “Roman Stuff” and opted to do a bit of exploring on my own.

Starting with a completely delightful exhibit I had noted on previous wanderings: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Big Machines”. I had seen that there was a traveling version of this show which made it to the US, but I hadn’t had a chance to see it for myself. Here are a few images of the fun items in the exhibit:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, this *was* shown to be a fake entry – but it’s still fun to see it produced in da Vinci’s style.

This was mostly geared towards kids, but it was still fun to see actual mock-ups of a number of da Vinci’s drawings. And one thing which was completely new to me was the octagonal closet which was completely lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. You stepped into this closet, closed the door, and were able to see an infinite regression of images – like being in a room with two facing mirrors. Except that in this case, because of the placement of all 8 mirrors, you were able to see yourself from every angle – and it is a very odd thing to see your own back full size, in real time. What’s most impressive about this is, of course, that during da Vinci’s time it was impossible to make mirrors of sufficient size or quality to demonstrate this effect – he had done it all through basic knowledge of optics, applied as a thought-experiment. Very cool.

* * * * * * *

I got some lunch from a street vendor, then decided to go see this:

 

 


Yeah, the Trevi fountain. I’d promised a friend I would toss a coin in for her, and fulfilled that promise.

Two things I want to note about seeing the Trevi fountain: one, it was crazy with crowds. Seriously, just a block away there were few tourists. But in the square with the fountain it was packed. Nuts. Worst crowds I had seen anywhere in Rome.

And two, I had gotten to know my way around Rome well enough that it was pretty easy for me to dead-reckon with minimal reference to a street map. This got me to and from the Trevi fountain with minimal problems. This made me inordinately happy.

* * * * * * *

I made my way back to where the hotel was, stopping by once again to just stand inside the Pantheon. It was the sort of place I could probably visit a hundred times.

Along the way back to the hotel, I noted this interior courtyard:

 

 

No idea what that was. But it was cool.

* * * * * * *

After dropping off my bag at the hotel, I popped over to the Campo de’ Fiori – the little market square I mentioned previously. I got a beer and some snacks, sat down to write some notes and just observe what was going on in the square.

And what was going on was the take-down of the market stalls and subsequent clean-up:

 

 

 


One thing in particular I want to point out:

 

That’s one of those little motor-cycle carts as seen in “Roman Holiday”. I was a bit surprised to see that they’re still very much in use in Rome, since that movie is even older than I am. But quite a number of the different merchants had them, and they seem quite practical for such use given the narrow winding streets in the heart of the city.

* * * * * * *
Dinner that evening was again just the three of us: myself, Steve, Amy. We ate at a place not far off the Campo, which is to say not that far from the hotel. This was by design, since we had to be up early to catch a private van to the airport.

Which we did the next morning, leaving about 6:30. My flight was later than the other’s, but it made the most sense for me to just get to the airport a bit early.

Of course, as it turned out, things all ran late at the Rome airport for me, and I could have gone over much later in the day. And the delays meant missed connections and the usual travel-foo. But I got in to St. Louis eventually, and in time to catch the shuttle home.

Yes indeed, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”  I almost don’t believe it, myself.

Jim Downey




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