Saturday, January 19, 2013

Meanwhile, At The Writer's Workshop

Anne and I did a nature journaling  workshop today, at the Nurture Nature Center in Easton. The class was on writing about, and drawing, clouds, and was run by a very enthusiastic (and competent) woman -- she was a published author, and graphic artist, and her hobby was tornado chasing, so she had all the bases covered.

The drawing part was in the second half of the course: drawing clouds, using graphite pencils and other drawing tools, and was mostly a "how to draw" seminar. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, but it was definitely not my strong suit -- I was there for the words, and that was all in the first half of class. The teacher started with several examples of writing about weather, and ended with a slide show of different types of clouds and interesting things about them -- some of the photos were spectacular, almost unreal -- and in the middle we did a few writing exercises.

Here's my first exercise, a haiku:

Thunder clouds at night:
flashes in a darker dark,
a show from the porch.

This was meant to be something from our lives, some weather that we particularly remember. My example was from when I was a kid: thunderstorms would often concentrate over Freehold, a few miles southeast of our house, and sort of the direction our porch faced. It would be kind of fun to sit on the porch, dry and safe, and watch the faraway flashes. I was thinking after class that the last line was unsatisfactory, and thought it might read better as "I watch from the porch," but now I like it again the way it is.

The other writing exercise was prose, another experience of weather, in one paragraph, and this time we were supposed to make sure we engaged as many of our senses as we could. My story was from a mountain bike ride on Gauley Mountain in West Virginia, though I wrote to deliberately obscure what I was doing there (like maybe I was on a hike), got caught in a storm and almost got hit by lightning.
I was on an old dirt mountain road when the storm came in, warm rain at first but it got colder. I was up just high enough that the rain clouds were bumping the trees around me, then lowered and I was in fog, and then I started to hear the thunder. There was really nothing to do but keep going, until a loud CRACK! and flash to my right sent me scrambling over the embankment. I lay in mud and wet cow-itch, laughing at myself and my bad luck, for the next hour while I waited for the storm to pass.
Anyway, that was my Saturday. How ironic that the day started without a cloud in the sky!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fun with CAD

I kick myself sometimes for doing this, but after a long day of engineering at work I like to relax -- by playing with engineering software at home. I recently found this program called FreeCAD, and once I got it up and running I've been having a lot of fun trying to get things done, or at least drawn, using it.

A View Of The Tee In The CAD Program
This first picture is something I slapped together pretty quickly, a reinforced forged tee like one we might use on a header. I used cylinder and cone primitives to make the tee body, another set of cylinders to cut out the inner parts, put in some critical fillets, and then sketched out the bore used it to create a shape to cut the end preps. This all seemed pretty straightforward, especially creating and combining the 3-D shape primitives.
The Tee As Seen On A Drawing

I then used the drawing creation utility to start a drawing. I got a nice side view (except that one line wouldn't show up), and added a projection. I have no idea (yet) how to add dimensions or text. The problems may be me, or it may be that FreeCAD isn't quite done yet.

What hasn't been so successful is creating bent tubes and pipes. I've been drawing the tubes in QCAD -- I've been using it for a while, and just sprung for the professional version -- then trying to import them into FreeCAD and turn them into 3-D objects, with very little luck. There are several laborious ways to make tubes, but none that just convert from polyline to tube the way I want.

We'll see how it all works out.

The Call Of The Crows

I go to work at the same time that the crows do.

They winter in Bethlehem and Fountain Hill, millions of them roosting near the river, the leafless trees ominous with their dark rustling forms at night. In the morning they all scatter, to forage in Bethlehem or maybe nearby farm fields and garbage dumps etc -- I'm pretty sure crows are omnivorous, people talk about feeding them corn and I've seen them quarreling over roadkill, there's probably quite a variety for them to eat around here -- and you can see them just at sunrise, flying just over the rooftops and calling to each other. It sort of looks like the flying monkey scene in The Wizard of Oz sometimes, there can be so many of them in the sky, and it's easy to pinpoint where they're coming from, because they all seem to radiate from a single point on the horizon.

As the sun rises earlier and earlier, I'm falling more and more behind my carpool buddies, and lately there are just a few stragglers by the time I go outside. I can hear the cacophony peak and subside outside, and I know I'd better get myself out the door, and by the time I'm outside and it's just me and the stragglers the individual calls can easily be distinguished.

Most of the time I notice a sort of even-numbered grouping of caws, like "caw-caw, caw-caw," i.e. groups of two with a short pause in between.

I've heard as many as six caws together like this, but it's mostly two or four; the other day I heard an unusual set, three caws like this: "caw-caw, caw," repeated back and forth between the stragglers.

What does it all mean? I'd heard that crows are pretty intelligent, and they are obviously social, so the calls must play some role in all that communal living. Strangely, they don't seem to call as much at night, though they're pretty vocal when they gather at dusk and scatter in the morning. Maybe they just converse quietly amongst themselves, with their "indoor voices," once they're roosting.

I tried Googling "crow calls" but found out very little, aside from the fact that different populations of crows have different accents, and possibly different vocabularies. (There seems to be a market for crow call CD's, to be played as decoys when hunting. This is a fairly creepy technique practiced by someone near Sals over loudspeakers, blowing the crows out of the sky and littering the trails with blood and broken birds. It's worst when there's snow on the ground.) Apparently, some sounds are known to be alarms, and some are "gathering" calls, but no one I found distinguished the calls, or their meaning, in terms of number or cadence/inflection of caws.

I guess it will have to remain A Mystery.