Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On the route

First off, I am really pretty depressed about having heard nothing from UMass with regards to fellowships or assistantships. Apart from the money issue (which I could really use), I can only conclude that everyone's happy to make money off me, but no one has any confidence in my scholarship or my ability to be a good TA, which is, well, really depressing. I know one is not supposed to rely on external validation for self-worth, but this is getting pretty bad. No job, no money: no one thinks I can do anything for them. You would think I was a brain-dead sponge. Nope, can't use those library/computer/design/research/historian/writing/editing/carpentry skills.

I finished my first assigned area yesterday, and got a new one within an hour (and between areas, I went to the Depot to buy some railings for Tina's porch). I spent about 9.5 hours working on a rather large area today (I took it on my bike, as it is local) which spread from the hopping city center of Milton out into the hinterlands of Milton. You say, "Milton can't be that big!" and you are correct, but I saw parts of Milton I have never seen before.

The first area was right around my house (about 450 residences) and ranged from poor to middle-class. There were some ultra-paranoid people, and some very nice people, including a few who invited me into their houses, which I mostly had to refuse. A youngish grandmother was quite helpful, and the seniors at the senior housing were alright too. A naturalist wanted me to take her classes. Most folks just looked some combination of puzzled and irritated. A twentysomething girl and a 40ish man were downright hostile. But that was really no comparison for today.

I started out on North, which intersects Main and goes up toward Georgia and toward the top of Arrowhead Mountain Lake, which is a segment of the Lamoille River. The road starts out with a row of bland rectangular living units: some trailers, some modular, some just contemporary with beige siding. I guess there are a few older homes in the mix, but mostly post 1960. The landscape quickly changes into farmland, fewer houses, larger houses, and the Husky Plant. I saw a brick farm with carpenter gothic details around the roof area, but it was across the road and not in my area. It also had a huge cross attached to it.

Anyway, I came across the sheriff's house, and the sheriff. And I went along further and turned onto some other streets which were a bit more swanky. Not all, but some. Developments from the 80s I think, with a few older and a few newer interspersed. I happened upon one house, one guy (who came out to talk to me for a half hour or more) who gets by, by making pickles and mounting deer antlers. He heats his house and big separate workshop with wood burning boilers which run radiant heat through the floors (as my mom has), and he makes a point of getting the wood for free. Boy, he could talk! I liked him well enough though.

Further on down the road it got pretty rural--folks who'd rather not be found, I guess... although I wonder what the point is of putting a house down a long, winding and foresty drive, and then making it a big, white, ostentatious colonial revival. And then leaving a bunch of junk around the yard, and a rusted-out car, too. So I finished up the end of the road and turned back. Very close to North again, I encountered a friendly, barrel-chested bearded man who said, "Oh! I see we're getting counted!" and I had to say, "Oh, sorry, not yet!" (addresses only for now). I was happy to get a happy reception though. It seems rare.

Back onto North I had the weirdest and most annoying encounter. Only seconds away from a friendly family living in complete disarray, I found the biggest and most pretentious looking gentleman's (or gentlewoman's) horse farm. I could not find the address anywhere (not uncommon, sadly), and I was trying to find out if there were any additional houses on the property. Well, there was at least one adult there--the trunk of the Subie was open, and I heard footsteps bounding through the house. No one answered the door, or my calls. I saw a woman coming from the back of the farm in a big black SUV and I tried to wave her down (I jogged a little towards the car and waved) and she looked right at me, and drove right by! Well, needless to say I was REALLY MAD. I had half a mind to tap "does not exist" on my little screen there, but I didn't. I made an assumption about the address and moved on. But really. Even if I was a Jehovah's Witness or from the LDS, I mean they really couldn't just answer the door?

Out the window, they see a short female dressed in business casual on a bike with a tag on a lanyard and a handheld computer. Is that really terrifying? See first paragraph for possible connection. I've talked to, oh, probably over 100 people on my routes so far (and some have hid from me!) and you know I didn't start this job being wary of people, but maybe I am now!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Address Canvassing (Census)

While I was updating the census maps and address list, I had an opportunity to check out the long abandoned rail station, located (of course) next to the tracks on Railroad St. It was right on my route, and I wanted to make sure no one was camped out there, because if someone was, I'd have to make a map spot.


It has clearly gotten a lot of graffiti and glass-breakage over the years--I guess it's better that the kids go here to be destructive than somewhere else. I didn't find anyone camped out, or even any evidence of that--which maybe surprised me a little, considering that I've seen people sleeping under the counter at the laundromat--but it is awfully messy and dangerous in the rail-station, so it really isn't conducive to camping out.


My cell-phone pictures don't do the building justice, sadly, but I will return with black and white film to really get some nice contrasty images. Everything was very still, and the chickadees (or are they nuthatches?) were flitting from tree to building.


I had some nice cooperative people (such as at the senior housing), some neutral people, and some mean and/or scary people on my routes. I also saw a number of pit-bulls and Am Staffordshire Terriers, I think, which are the short-haired ones that maul people sometimes? I wondered what people are so worried about that they train their dogs to growl and lunge at a person arriving quite neutrally in broad daylight, and announcing themselves. I was forced to take map spots from further away in some cases because I thought if I approached the stairs, I would get bitten or worse.

There are an awful lot of paranoid people here in Milton, or maybe in the world. Very suspicious, even when I tell people who I am, show them an ID badge, hand them a sheet about the confidentiality of the census, and say that I'm only updating addresses. One not-too-bright individual told me, after I'd said this, "I don't want any!" Want any what? Are you listening to what I'm saying here? Good grief, don't answer the door if you're only going to be mean--I knocked lightly and I'll go away when I'm done updating my maps, if you don't answer, [jerk.] What's funny is that the people who are most likely to form a militia are living on such bucolic-sounding streets as "Lovely Ln." and "Aurora Ln." Sweet_enemy mentioned earlier that the Bureau of Ironic Names must've been through beforehand.

The job is intermittently worrisome, and mostly boring. But I will update if I find any other interesting abandoned places.

How to! Part 6

Well, things are getting close. I won't write too much here--if you want to know how I determined the rafter length and pitch, and how I cut the bird's-mouth on the rafters, just comment and I will tell all. Suffice it to say that I decided to put the rafters on a 19.2 (diamonds) layout--because I had just enough lumber for that, and it looked evenly spaced. Ordinarily, I would stack them on top of the studs, for load-bearing, but on a playhouse it really isn't necessary.


Then I cut the sheets of 1/2 inch plywood to size, painted the inside light sky blue, and installed them with screws to the rafters. Because of the small size and rigidity, I did not need to pull the rafters to layout, but ordinarily you could not skip this step. Here it is--you can see a little of the under-blue:


I also put ice and water shield on the roof, but no pictures for that! Roofing next...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Can't touch the New Deal

I'm behind in my postings for the dumb screened-porch, but I had something more pressing on my mind for this entry. I got an email from Vermont Arts Council, famous local grant-awarding organization, about a $250,000 allotment from the federal government, to be managed by VAC, for the purpose of distribution to non-profit arts organizations to: retain employees that would be lost, due to economic conditions, or to pay fees for previously engaged artists which the organization could no longer afford.

You can read the details here.

Now, here's what bugging me. (You thought perhaps I wrote this to get the word out? I didn't.) It's not that I fault the government for spending the money. $250,000 is peanuts. And it's not that I have anything against VAC, non-profit arts orgs, or perish-forbid, artists themselves. But I find this to be not a very useful, or efficient way to direct the flow money, and ultimately spend it.

The VAC plans on giving grants of $5000 to small orgs, and $10,000 to large ones. Let me break this down, in terms of payment:

A small organization will be able to pay ONE employee, full time, for about 6 months, at a bare-minimum wage ($5.25 an hour, about). Or in VT, since minimum is about $8, they will be able to support a full-time employee for about 3 and a half months. A large organization might pay a part-time employee (let's change it up here) for 6 to 12 months (depending on hours)--but the part-time employee had better be supported by a wage-earning spouse, or have a nice bank account already. A small or large organization may choose to pay for an artist-in-residence, or performance artists who are already booked. Read: one/few, no new hires, no new work in this budget.

My problem is not with the funding itself--fine, it has a purpose, and the purpose is sound enough. But the funds 1) are not enough to retain employees, and 2) go through a network of orgs before reaching the artist--if they reach the artist at all. Employees to be retained (not that there's anything wrong with this, but...) may not be artists at all--even if they are important to the function of the organization.

What I'm ultimately getting at here is... probably shockingly socialist. But once upon a time, the government used it's own (well, taxpayer, ultimately) money to fund DIRECT arts programs. I'm not saying there wasn't bureaucratic red-tape there too. But I, artist, would have been able to apply to one of many programs, and possibly be HIRED to do the work I AM GOOD AT. And thousands like me. Not to become an administrative assistant at a non-profit arts organization, or an event-planner for an arts festival. An actual artist, doing work for the government, in or on or at public sites and structures, or for the public good.

Instead, because we wouldn't want to seem too socialist, we funnel money through lots of little organizations, which each have an operating budget and at least 1 employee, and what's left of the money goes to the promotion of a select few artists, who are then thrown on the mercy of the public market/economy to either make it or fail, sink or swim--get their art purchased, or not. I would rather be a wage-earner building, painting murals, collecting oral histories, recording folk songs or acting in a play for the public benefit, than scramble around looking for ever-decreasing grant money and hoping that some buyer will help me break even on my art materials, while I work full-time at a dead-end job to make ends meet. Perhaps this, in someone's mind, is "on the dole," and perhaps in a lot of minds, I'm saying something unAmerican. But to my mind this is trickle-down economics as applied to non-profit organizations and their recipients. I didn't like government funding of charities for the same reason--not on religious grounds, but because I think it is a great way to squander money.

No non-profit--heck, not even the government--intends to squander money. But the more levels, and channels, and streams and flow-charts you add to something, the more money gets diverted to operational costs--the costs of business. Little by little, the stream gets smaller.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How to! Part 5

First, I remeasured my deck and decided where I was going to place the walls, and made small pencil marks for layout, since I can't use the indelible red chalk on the decking. I also measured how tall the wall would be, and subtracted 4.5 inches for 1 bottom and 2 top plates. You use 2 top plates both for strength and trim, in this case.

Then I came back to my cut station, and cut the bottom plate and the first top plate. There are vicissitudes to layout, and I will only touch upon it here. Truss, stud, joist or rafter layout is usually done in one of 3 patterns:
16 on center
2 foot on center
19.2 or 'diamonds'
Instead of choosing a layout (since I want a nice, even screen pattern), I chose to start from the center, working outwards in three sections on the long walls, and two sections on the short wall. It is very close to a 2 foot layout pattern:


In order to make both plates the same, by the way, you might want to line the plates up, mark your spots with a ^, make your line across both boards with a speed square, and put an X on the side of the line you want to put the stud.

Okay, then I carried all the walls over, and attached the bottoms to the deck with deck screws (easier than pulling nails if there is a mistake.) I also put a screw in the end stud to attach it to the house. I stepped back and took a look:


Aside from the dorky looking house, I noticed a problem. The deck is level, but the house isn't--and neither is the house plumb. And so my screws into the end studs were pulling my fresh walls out of plumb. I checked them with a level, and indeed this was the case. I needed to pull the tops of the walls out about 3/4 inch (with the bottom still tight) to make them plumb. If this was getting sheathed, I would have just nailed the end studs tight and brought the top plate out from the wall--but this is not an option, because I have to create square screen frames. So luckily I still had the second top plate to make.

I pulled the screws out and let the tops loose, and they came right into plumb. Then I measured specially for the second top plates. I made them weave together, so that the walls lap and hold together at the joints. To do this, I made the short wall have a seven-inch longer plate, and the long walls had plates that were short 3.5 inches each. And then I installed them:


There will be a trim discrepancy, but it was the least of all evils. Hopefully I will be able to disguise it before Tina goes: "why is there a gap here?" So then I decided to go a little further and try a ridge beam:


Once again, I measured the height (and I had toyed with the idea of making it lower, since good roofing requires it to be about a foot lower for the ice/water shield, and the flashing, and drainage... but that would have made a really low ceiling--and I thought, what the heck! It's a playhouse. I will do my very best to ensure that no ice-dams form in the winter--I plan on using ice/water shield and flashing, but in a much smaller space. Next, rafters...

Monday, April 06, 2009

How to! Part 4 (Dual Language Edition)

I'm going to keep this one short, for obvious reasons. First, I decided I needed some crushed stone to go over the black garden fabric, and underneath the deck itself--I want to avoid any growth under there, while providing a little drainage. I also realized that I probably should have filled the whole area with crushed stone, but I'm not made of money.


Obviously "tuī jǐ" is not the best choice for the second sentence/action, but finding a better word will have to wait. I also bought more three-inch ACQ compatible deck screws, but as it turns out, still not enough. But I was able to start laying the 5/4 by 6 (or 1x6, if you like).


What I wanted to do was put the PT 1x6s tight, so that when they shrink up, they won't leave too much gap. So I determined how much overhang I wanted on the first board, and then laid out (in pencil, on the joists) where each board would fall. The porch takes ten boards very neatly, with an overhang in the front and back. When you install deck boards, it is important to measure the distance of your screws from the edges of the board, and to keep the screws centered over the joist, so that when you come upon the deck, it looks neat and professional. I recommend the ACQ compatible deck screws with the square head because they don't strip as easily, and they are easy to remove... and because when you're hitting galvanized nails with a hammer (the other method) you inevitably leave marks all over the boards, or bend the nails. And then just try to remove a bent galvanized nail without marring the board!


Or, en Espanol?

Ayer, compré alguna piedra machacada. Necesité seis bolsos. Hizo una capa delgada. Corté a algunos tableros de madera. Instalé a los tableros. Medí antes de que pusiera en los tornillos. No utilicé clavos.

And then: Here I am at the start of the decking, with the rocks underneath. I gave the front board an inch overhang.


And here I am at the finish, after I've trimmed all the ends with the skilsaw, and given them a 10-degree bevel.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

La Sonnambula

By Bellini! Okay, in this one, the concept was reworked a bit--from its original locale in the Swiss Alps, to a rehearsal studio for a production of La Sonnambula. The set was quite engaging, especially the tall studio windows, through which you can see New York: raining, sunny, nighttime, or snowing! The soprano, Natalie Dessay (who was the exuberant host of Lucia) was doing some very funny acting in addition to singing, which I gather is her forte. Guess who I also thought stole the show--the Count! (Mr.) Michele Pertusi managed to be sexy, creepy and funny all at the same time. Hoo yeah!

I'm supposed to like Flores, the tenor, I guess, and I did--but I didn't like Elvino, the character. He wasn't very trusting of his true love, eh? And the suitor of the bad-girl innkeeper was faithful all the while! I thought--this is a sort of qualified happy ending. But it did look like the Count got with the mother, which I had foreseen. I'm pretty sure the Count and the mother had a thing going before his self-imposed exile!

The Post gave this a bad review, and reported booing of the director--though I only saw standing ovations, so there! Granted, this staging works great for HD, but probably is difficult to catch in the nosebleeds--but then, so were Salome, and Tosca, when I saw them in the nosebleeds at Moscone, or wherever. And Dessay has an advantage in traditional (non HD) opera, since in the nosebleeds she can pass for 17, but in HD, she looks like an adult. A pretty adult, but still an adult.

I say, rock on Mary Zimmerman! Don't listen to those snobs! I think your direction rocked, considering this is a pretty fluffy, silly lil opera.

I still haven't found a composer who compares with Puccini--Bellini wasn't it. Massenet came close. At home I've heard Gounod and Wagner (Tannhauser, not ring cycle) and liked them, but the music is heavier. Next season they will be doing Turandot (very exciting) and Verdi's Aida among others.

How to! Part 3

t was a beautiful day today--just the right sort of day for deck framing. I started by getting a general sense of squareness by measuring the placement of the sonotubes and bolts, running a framing square off the existing building, and doing a couple of 3/4/5 triangles off the existing building (using dummy boards). The 3/4/5 triangle (and multiples) are essential for squaring up things in carpentry. You thought you would not use this quaint little geometric formula ever again... but YOU WILL!! My favorite is the 12/16/20.

Once I had an idea of what needed to be done, I constructed my pressure treated posts (made of PT 2x4, with a 1/2 inch hole drilled for the bolt. Because the bolts didn't line up--that would be too much to expect--I constructed the posts so that the edge of both would line up, and create a nailing surface for one of the joists. I was about 1.5 inches off on both sets, which was perfect--all I had to do was attach a third 2x4 to the side. And this is how the deck will be connected to the sonotubes, and it is what makes it rigid.


But before I could make all these connections, I bolted off the posts, and then made myself a 5-4-0 ledger, which I nailed to the existing building. I had to make sure the height was correct, as well as level. I made it 5-4-0 instead of 5-7-0 so that I could lap the rim board over the edges on both ends, and that way you won't see any end grain on the board.

Then came the harder part--putting the first joist in right (connected to the sonotube posts) so that it was level with the ledger, and also square with the ledger. I used my dummy boards to get it square with the ledger, and I had to screw and unscrew it a couple of times before I got it level on both sides. Then I cut a few more joists at 5-4-0, and my two rimboards at 6-6-0. I nailed the rimboards to the ledger and first joist, and then leveled them up on the ends with spare blocks. I was then free to put the end joist in. Then, I was able to re-square the entire deck frame, using diagonals.

Just measure a diagonal from corner to corner, and adjust accordingly.


Then I finished my joists, added some hangers, and got everything secure to the posts, and I decided I was done for today!


These are the tools you need for this bit: drill/screwdriver with multiple bits; circular saw; tape measure; speed square and framing square; galvanized nails and screws (3 or 3.25 inch); hammer; level; and a helper if you can swing it. Oh, and here's one last picture of the Simpson hanger: