Wednesday, September 07, 2005

evacuation update

We made it to Florida well ahead of the main evacuation
rush, and my family there was wonderfully kind and
supportive. We didn't really have internet access there, so
here's a delayed update on our situation.

We stayed a week in Florida while some family in Tennessee
set up a room for us with my cousin in Sevierville.
We drove up yesterday and are getting settled in.

Everyone up here has been absolutely amazing. My aunt
got one of the local furniture stores to donate a new bed
and frame for us (!), and last night we slept well for the
first time in well over a week.

I'd also like to thank everyone who sent offers of shelter
and assistance-- just knowing that so many people care
about us has been a great source of hope and strength.

It looks like we'll be moving up here permanently or at
least for the forseeable future. M-----'s already beginning
the process of transferring to U.T. and I'm investigating
Tennessee's teacher mentoring program where I can begin
work as a math teaching assistant while I work on my

As soon as we get the signal that it's safe to return I'll
be driving down with my uncle for a salvage
operation. We have flood/renters' insurance, but can't file
a claim until the damage has been surveyed. We have also
registered with FEMA, but since we are lucky enough to have
immediate food and shelter, we won't be getting assistance
from them until after we know what's up with the insurance.

Whenever I regrow a brain I'll be posting some more details
of our experience and opinions about the situation on my
blog, if anyone is interested. Feel free post
any questions or topics you'd like to have answered. I've
got internet access again, so now I'll be able to write
real responses.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


... and the waves? Ah, no. Not that cool.
I just thought I should send out a notice to folks who
might worry about us letting everyone know what we're
planning on doing.

As of the midnight predictions, it looks like New Orleans
is gonna get plowed by hurricane Katrina.

Although at this time the computer models suggest that it
might not hit us directly, most scenarios place us within
or uncomfortably close to the hurricane's eyewall. That's
where you really don't want to be.

The storm spins counter-clockwise, and the worst weather is
on the right-hand side, where the winds are spinning up
from the south and carrying rain.

Things will be better if the storm goes east of us, because
you want to be on the west side of a hurricane. We were on
the west side of Dennis, and the day was absolutely lovely
at our house when it hit Mississippi.

Doesn't look like we'll get as lucky this time, so we're
bugging-out for the first time since we've lived here.

East or West, you don't want to be within sixty miles of a
hurricane center. And this looks to be a BIG one.

My great-uncle lives just north of Pensacola, Florida,
which got severely damaged by several storms over the past
couple of years, but looks safe for this one. They've got
the room and have generously offered it to us, and we're
taking them up on the offer!

We'll be leaving about 4-5 AM Sunday, headed for Milton,

It's normally a 3.5 hour drive, but we're planning for two
to three times this length, just in case. If traffic is
just lovely, then we'll get there between 8 and 9 in the
morning, which is the earliest I'd like to wake up Jimmy
and Darlene on a Sunday morning...

One problem is that the "contraflow" evacuation system is
in effect, meaning that most of the interstates leading out
of the area have both sides of traffic headed outward. This
does affect us, as we ordinarlily would have taken I-10
East, but that's not possible, so we're taking State Rt. 90
into Mississippi, and hooking up with I-10 later.

Not a problem, and actually traffic will probably be
lighter for us going this route! If the interstates become
weird along our route, we can actually take Route 90 almost
all the way there.

We're all packed up, gassed up, and I've been on MapQuest
printing out detailed maps of our route.

Our main reason for leaving is the loss of electricity
which is just assumed in any tropical system.

Every tropical system which has passed by us has killed out

New Orleans just loves it's live oak trees, which drape
dramatically across the streets... and fall dramatically
across the power lines during storms.

In Cincinnati there were harsh laws about how close trees
were allowed to get to power lines... and we rarely lost
power there. But, no, not here... trees equal tourism...

The last time during Dennis we were without power for over
a day and a half.

In this weather, with the heat indexes being over 100, we
don't want to be sitting here for several days like that.
New Orleans in August is just barely tolerable even with

Our house probably will not flood, as we're almost next to
the Mississippi river levy and one of the higher points of
the city. I don't even think we're below sea level, like
much of the middle of the city. Also, our house is over a
century old, and sits up on yard-high brick pylons.
Flooding, we're not worried about.

Wish us luck!

Hope for the best for New Orleans, as possible storm paths
are the "worst case" paths for this town. Paths which drive
water into Lake Pontchartrain and over the levys and
flooding the town. And the pumps are clogged by debris and
can't work...

Of course, it's really a stupid place to put a city.
Everyone knows this, but it's been too much trouble to move
elsewhere... we all know that it's just a matter of time
until a big storm returns us to the swamp from whence we

More later. I'll send notice and update when we're safe in Florida.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Book club?

I've decided to start an online book club!

I'm envisioning a place where we pick a book every month, and, well, chat about it.

If you'd like to join, just post a comment to this thread, or send me an email.

It will be in a blog format, with different threads to suggest books for future months and threads to discuss the current book. Books will be chosen by consensus among the monthly nomination participants.

You don't have to always participate to join. Lurkers are welcome. I realize that not all books will be interesting to all people, and that some months you're just too busy. That's fine.

I'll send notice and pick members at first, but I envision that new members will be voted on in the future when this gets going.

I know folks are busy, so I'm suggesting the following process:

One book per month, with a healthy lead time to discuss possible selections, then acquire and read them before the official discussion thread begins.

The first week of every month is the current nomination thread. At the end of the week I determine the consensus (if any) and post a thread naming next month's book. We then have four weeks to locate and read it. (is this enough time, or too much, not enough?)

The second week of the next month begins the ongoing discussion thread of that book, which continues so long as folks are interested. (I thought of having only three weeks to acquire and read books, but didn't want the nomination to coincide with new book discussion. Or would folks like one intensive week followed by three fallow ones?)

And, finally, would folks prefer Blogger (like this) or LiveJournal.

I've already got a couple of Blogger addresses reserved, but LJ ones are easy enough to create, as well. Whatever you prefer, I'll moderate.

So far as the name goes, I suggest either "Litrachia" or "Booke Clubb".

Please let me know what you think if you're interested!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Phranc and The Knitters

Another concert post.

We went to see The Knitters at Tipitina's with Phranc opening tonight. There was some doubt about whether I'd be attending, as Adrian Belew was also playing at a different venue. But, alas, Knitters tix had already been purchased, almost immediately by M----- when she heard about the show! While I would have loved to have finally seen Adrian with a backup band (the four times I'd seen him have been either solo or with King Crimson), it always sucks to go to a show alone. It would have also involved making M----- attend a show alone since she's found it oddly quite troublesome to locate friends willing to go see shows for free.

Anyway, as such shows go it was quite tasty, my grumpiness at missing Adrian aside. The Knitters were probably the best alt-country I've ever seen, at least tied with Gillian Welch, and are seriously worth checking out and especially seeing if you ever get the chance.

We were both thrilled that they (well, John Doe and Dave Alvin) opened with the classic "Send me my flowers while I'm living" which we'd last seen done by Homer Ledford in Northern Kentucky in one of the best mountain music concerts I've ever seen.

Phranc was awesome! Her voice has really gotten better in many ways, honestly. All of the stuff I'd heard had been at least twenty years old, but she was really able to be quite moving and powerful, in addition to entertaining and funny with her between songs patter. I knew she'd have a great sense of humor, having heard here stuff and reading her excellent interview in Angry Women in Rock.

She had no Tupperware for sale, alas, but she did sing a song about selling it, and took time to mention her "partner" and the fact that she's a "Jewish folksinging lesbian".

I didn't know it, but twenty years ago she toured with X, the classic punk band who forms the Knitters along with the always-excellent Dave Alvin, and this tour was kind-of a reunion for them all.

The Knitters were fun, and I totally and completely approve of a metal washtub used as a bass drum. The five-string Kay upright bass was also lovely.

This was the third time I'd seen Excene play, and the most enjoyable. I'd seen her once at Sudsy's with her solo band, once with X, and tonight. Although, honestly, John Doe is the better performer, in X and with the Knitters. Regardless, both her and John's voices always work well together, whether in punk or in classic country. Their version of Hank Williams' "Dough, re, me" was superb, and reminded me of the many duos who have recorded it.

John's a nice guy, I must say, as we chatted a bit before the aforementioned X show a couple of years ago. He seemed to enjoy hanging out with the fans, or at least the ones who wanted to have actual conversations and not just praise him.

We were right up front, but had to endure some annoying drunk people. For a while it was the anorexic woman who needed to take up as much space as possible with wild and chaotic dancing. But we didn't know how good we had it with her, because she was replaced by the overly enthusiastic drunk tall people towards the end of the night.

Now that I've been off both drinking and smoking for a while now, I have to say that drunk folks are far more annoying than smokers. I still wanted to smoke a couple of times during the evening, but the only times I thought about drinking was to acknowledge that if I'd been quaffing beer then I would have found the annoying drunk folks much less bothersome. Which isn't to say that I was craving a drink, just a simple observation of fact. However, when we got home, we both felt the need to change clothes and shower to get rid of the smoke smell. Bleh. But I never felt the profoundly strong need to punch any of the smokers tonight, but several drinkers needed the shit kicked out of them, for the benefit of humanity. Sincere and profound apologies to those who were around me drinking too much! Every time I go to shows I feel more and more sheepish.

I've been totally accumulating my lesbian cred lately in seeing Phranc, as last month we saw Le Tigre. Who totally bloody rocked! I'd kinda been hesitant about seeing them, as they digitise a lot of their show and I thought that it would be commodified. But it was stunningly good and energetic. One of the best shows I've seen in a long while.

It was weird seeing Kathleen Hanna, whom I'd last seen in Dayton playing with Bikini Kill very lo-tech, play with a band who was so very tech-y, but didn't let it interfere with their being punk as fsck. The previous week Mike had very generously paid for my ticket to see GBH, and they seemed tired and dated. Le Tigre seemed way more punk and extremely more politically aware and current.

Honestly, the Le Tigre show was probably the most political show I've ever been to, and the most politically effective. They had computer video showing along with their songs, nicely synched, and very effective at conveying both energy towards the live show and valuable information. None of the tech interfered with the energy of the show, as all vocals and guitar playing was live.

I must say that some of my enjoyment of Le Tigre, and my lack of enjoyment of seeing the Knitters and several other bands lately, was due to the fact that I was able to sit down during their show! We sat up in the balcony, and had a great view of the whole stage, great sound and not too loud, had the ventilation blowing near us, and weren't subjected to drunk obnoxious fans. I've been a fan of balcony views of shows since high school, when I ran lights for theatre and I got to like the above the stage view.

Since I've been going to shows, since I was 18, so almost twenty years now, I've most enjoyed shows where I could sit down and where I could watch the band play their instruments. I'm not a dancer, usually, especially if I'm sober, but a watcher, and that's what I enjoy doing at concerts. I really enjoy watching excellent musicians play excellent music, and I prefer sitting down to do so unless the music is just really incredibly moving. And even at excellent shows, there's a lot of wasted time when it's nice to have a seat.

But, really, having seats prevents the total drunk assholes from shoving in front of you and completely interfering with your enjoyment of the show. I'm very, very, tired of this.

The first few shows I ever saw were huge stadium affairs with assigned seating, and I still prefer that. And the shows I saw at medium venues which had seating instead of open floor were much more memorable. I can recall the songs I heard at such shows much more clearly that shows I saw which were standing.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Rock 'n' Roll

We watched the PBS American Masters special on Sun Records the other night, which was pretty cool. Catch it on re-broadcast if you missed it.

During it, they showed various musicians, sometimes with original Sun musicians, performing classic songs from the Sun catalog.

After a while, M----- and I noticed a distinct pattern. All of the older musicians seemed to be trying to reproduce the originals as well as their own distinctive styles would allow, and seemed to choose songs which worked with their strengths. Newer artists seemed to be "reinterpreting" the classic songs and didn't seem concerned with any sort of reproduction.

After a few days' pondering, I managed to sum up the difference: older artists seemed to project, "This is so cool!" while newer artists seemed to project, "I'm so cool!"

Paul McCartney and Robert Plant seemed to be able to channel their inner little boys who grew up on Sun Records and be humble and respectful to the material while impressing their own profound identity upon the songs. Newer artists whose souls weren't changed by this music, who didn't grow up on it, didn't seem to manifest the same repect. Their new versions were invariably inferior, and left a bad taste. And I really like Ben Folds.

To my ears, which also didn't grow up on this stuff, but on music two and three generations removed, it's still definitive and classic, and I would never presume to try and change it. Especially on a nationally broadcast television show. But then again, perhaps I lack the ego necessary to do what's needed to get on that show to begin with...

People who seem to think that they're more creative than masters of the form are always less so.

Although, yes, some of the older musicians featured recorded their own versions of classic tunes. Given. But they always seemed to respect the essential soul of the music. M------ mentioned that none of the new artists who were on the show did versions which had a bloody backbeat! This was an essential feature of early Sun music! What's that line from the Beatles' Rock and Roll Music? "It's got a backbeat you can't lose it!"

I'd also like to complain that they showed Brian Ferry (of Roxy Music) during the segment with Mark Knopfler, but he wasn't shown ever doing anything. We were just a couple of days earlier wondering if Roxy Music and Squeeze ever knew each other, and it was nice to see confirmation, but...

M----- and I both think that Brian Ferry would do an amazing job on Roy Orbison tunes, and would also like to comment on the lack of attention on Roy during this program! They showed his picture but never even mentioned his name!!! We're aghast, aghast I say!

But, seriously, go check out the Sun Records catalog, it's some of the best music ever.

One other thing, though, is that Sam Phillips seems to come across as a complete nutjob. I guess you'd have to be a bit loopy to do what he did, but still...

Not mentioned on the program:

I have to note that he recorded, before Sun began, what is arguably the first rock song with Ike Turner, another nutcase, Rocket 88.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Sorry for the long break.

A very dear friend of mine, who's M------'s closest relative, emotionally speaking, has been seriously ill and has since passed quite suddenly.

I treasured her comments about my writing during this little experiment, and in many ways I thought of her as my audience when writing entries. She was actually the only person who ever commented upon my writing and not what I was writing about. That meant a lot. I'll miss her terribly, for that, and for many, many other reasons.

I now realize in looking at the hole in my life that I was looking forward to many years of getting to know her better, as she was certainly a person worth getting to know as well as possible. I'm sorry I didn't use the time I did have to do more in that regard.

Not sure when I'll feel like resuming things, but I'm sure I will eventually.

Thanks for your attention.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Six Favorite Songs, Six Friends Meme

Allright, I got hit by a chain letter. But several factors confluenced to make it inevitable that I'd respond... *sigh*

My sister included me on a LiveJournal "meme", which is a newfancy way of saying "chain letter". If you need to pass it along to more than one person, it's a chain letter. If there's money involved, it's a pyramid scheme.

First of all, it's from my sister, and I've got some weird guilt going on there, since for most of her life she's been living in a different town from me, and the few years we did live in the same town I was being a "need to get my own life going" asshole, and so was a terrible older brother. Not to mention some serious jealousy about my mom's new and happy family which caused me to want to basically stay away...

But, it was a question about music, and this has been one of the few ways by which we've connected even a little bit...

But, seriously, I have no idea what my favorite songs are!

I quipped in her journal that, "I always draw a blank when asked to name my list of favorite whatever. Were I to give astrology any creedence I'd say it simply screams 'libra', but I don't, so let's just say that I operate on a relational rather than a heirarchical paradigm. I usually quip that I couldn't choose between apples and oranges if you held a gun to my head..."

I really don't think this way!

I seriously do not think in terms of better / worse. Except in terms of specific features.

I hate this, but I'm a total and complete Libra about such things. And I don't give any bloody creedence to astrology, dammit! I'm an astronomer and I'd get kicked out of my guild for such crap! But it's entirely accurate.

New contest: provide two things which I cannot find more than three ways in which one is "better" than the other. One or two ways are too easy for me.

To start off, it would be relatively easy to create a little script which would play songs at me from my collection and would have me rank songs as better or not than the previous song played, but this would probably lead into a tangle.

Opinions are weird. It's enirely possible for completely rational people to have circular opinions about things.

Given three songs, normal people frequently do such things as like A better than B, B better than C, and C better than A.

Not kidding, I've seen studies about very serious topics like voting strategies which show this!

And then tonight we re-watched High Fidelity partly becuase Nick Hornby was on Fresh Aire and party because he's obsessive about musical lists and I wanted help!

No help.

The movie just served to remind me that there are just so damn many good songs out there...

Here's a weird list, but the best I can do.

List of significant songs:

CCR, Down on the Corner

My dad created a cool little world in our basement when I was a little kid. I had no idea at the time that it was because he and my mom weren't getting along at all. They were both pretty cool about keeping such conflicts away from me. I would go down there and be with him doing stuff, and he noted that I really liked the CCR song Down on the Corner. So much so that he made a little star on the reel-to-reel tape box. I always looked for that star on the box when I was down there, even when I stopped wanting to hear that song all the time. This was the first song I remember being fond of, because my dad noticed it and made a little note in something which I noticed years later and remembered.

My first mix tape... I only remember the first two songs:

Abba, SOS
Alicia Bridges, I Love the Nightlife

Damn, I wish I could recall the rest! I remember putting so much effort into it, like I seem to have done for every mix ever afterwards!

First music bought:

Goofy Greats (still own it!)

There was also a 50s collection which featured two songs each by the big artists of the day. And a Little Richard collection.

I could go on, but my point is that there is a very powerful emotional resonance whenever I hear these songs.

And later in life, I developed equally powerful emotional resonances with songs.

Sometimes this resonance lines up with songs which I think are good, and sometimes way not.

I could go on in a very trite and pathetic way to relate why Christopher Cross's Never Be the Same just still tears me up... but that's 8th grade and we'd all like to forget such things.

And it's hard for me to not put myself into my self as me of a certain age. Me at 12 had a favorites list, as did me at 17, 21, 26, etc...

My favorites ever? Does 23 trump 15?

Enough waffling! Commit, damn you!

Alright, here's a list, without any qualifications whatsoever...

I'll not waffle like my sister did and list several things under a specific band as one choice. I'm fully aware that I love bands more than songs, and that great songs can be one hit wonders or the like. This has nothing to do with my appreciation of the artists, just the song.

So, just songs only, and songs which I seem to return to time and again, or seem to include in mixes:

(in no particular order)

Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime
Michelle Shocked - Come a Long Way
Rush - Red Barchetta
Allman Brothers - Blue Sky

and my favorite:

John Mellencamp and Meshell N'Degeocello - Wild Night

Yes, it's a cover, but it seems to be a song my brain likes to listen to, as I seem to hear it often. I also respect it on many levels, as it's incredible because it's a collaberation between two fantastic artists, of a cover of another magnificent artist, attacks stereotypes of race, gender, age, style, instrument, raspy voices, and sexual stereotype. Love his guitar and love her bass. Love their voices together. Wish they'd done more toghether. Love that race was irrelevant to the project. Would love to hear more like this.

Anthrax with Public Enemy did Bring the Noise, which I loved but not in my top favorites, but this seemed to squash respect for both bands. Oddly enough.

Okay, the Talking Heads was a total copout! There are Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Diamond Songs which I totally enjoy more as songs! Aaaaugh!

And A Taste Of Honey's Boogie Oogie Oogie is now a great and wonderfully respected song now that I've seen them play it on a PBS special about disco. I had no idea that it was two women, and that they played guitar and bass while singing! And kicked ass playing it! I thought they were a band, not a duo.

Seriously, it's one of the best disco songs ever, and M----- found out that feminist tomes don't give them their props because they're black.

You explore acoustic blues and you have to get into Led Zeppelin, and you explore electric blues and you have to deal with Van Halen.

And there's a whole realm of songs which are metaphors for things.

Not sure what to think of my progressive rock infatuation. Rush, Yes, and King Crimson...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Shell Shocked

We saw Michelle Shocked this afternoon down in Lafayette Square as part of the free Wednesday at the Square concert series the city puts on every year. Great show!

Just like with Jonathan Richman on Sunday, we got rained on. Part of Summer in New Orleans, I guess. Actually, we found a spiffy spot with a clear view of the stage under a huge live-oak tree which blocked the worst part of the rain. We could've been closer, but we'd have been wetter and in the mud.

And the sound guy seemed completely oblivious to a horrible spike around 12KHz which simply killed my ears every time the trumpet went altissimo or the piano went up into the top octaves. I really didn't want to get any closer to the speakers than we already were. I'm listening to one of her CDs now and it sounds a bit muffled, meaning my ears haven't recovered yet.

Paralleling Jonathan Richman, she put on a totally different show here than she did in Cincinnati. Similarly, that show was more straight-ahead and the one here in New Orleans was devoted to more improv and new material. I really enjoyed it, but have to admit to my inner teenager jumping up and down and whining, "why don't you play your hiiiiits..."

She was working with a fantastic array of local musicians. Good enough that they had only started working on the songs together the night before (!) but sounded amazingly tight. It was mostly N'awlins-influenced rockin' R&B souding, but with her unique twist on top, rather than the folky stuff she's usually known for, but it really worked. Evidently she lived here for a while, which I never knew. She seems to have come by the sound honestly as her reason for moving here back in the day was to work with Alan Toussaint, which is enough N'awlins music cred for this non-native.

She's one of those incredible but hard-to-classify artists who seem to keep doing new things. This irritates fans who only want more of the same, but I tend to prefer musicians like this. Especially when they always seem to do the new stuff damn well, like she does. And with a great sense of humor. It's always nice to see people who're having just a fantastic time up on stage.

She did a short acoustic bit when the band left the stage which I loved, as I fell in love with her for her Texas Campfire Tapes, and always will love her best when it's just her and her guitar. She did some of our faves, like Amsterdam, Come a Long Way, and Anchorage, all of which she said people were calling out for. Wonder what she would have done on her own choice? Come a Long Way is one of my favorite songs ever, but I liked the Cincinnati version better. Here it sounded like she was kinda sick of playing it, which doesn't surprise me. She seems like an artist who gets bored easily doing the same thing over and over.

She'd kinda been letting the excellence of the band do the heavy musical lifting for the first set. Not a complaint, and I'm sure it was just great fun for her to be working with such excellent professionals. But when she got up there by herself, and did some stunning acoustic fingerpicking while just belting out some powerfully emotional vocals... *chills*... oh, yeah! she's one of my favorite musicians and this is why!

Her trumpet player came back and added some beautiful and tasteful backup to a couple of songs. Acoustic guitar and trumpet is a combo I never would have thought of, but it was a great musical moment I'm glad I was there for.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jonathan Richman

We saw Jonathan Richman on Sunday night at One Eyed Jacks down in the quarter, and it was a great show.

Not as great as the show we saw at the Southgate House back in Cincinnati, but still quite tasty. We were talking after the show, and both feel that Jonathan got lots more radio support in Cincinnati. We never hear him on the radio here, and radio here is arguably superior in many ways, but there are some notable exceptions.

The before-the-show hassles were extremely frustrating, but we managed to not let it ruin our evening before it had begun. I had expressed a desire for an artery-killing cheeseburger earlier in the day, M----- concurred, so we decided to go down early and eat a late dinner at the new Fatburber in the old Jax brewery-mall, which was mere blocks away from the venue.

I munched some celery around dinnertime to assuage my appetite without blunting it while we watched the Tony awards waiting for the song from Spamalot, and was mightily hungry when we hopped in the car around 8:30. The show ostentably began at 10:00.

It had been raining heavily all day, but the TV weathercritters claimed that it would be ending before showtime. Indeed, there was but a light sprinkle when we departed.

We even found a street (free) parking spot right by the pay parking lot, which was a close to the diner and only a few blocks away from the venue! Amazing luck! Looked like a great evening was beginning...

Right as we were parking it started to rain something fierce, but we were listening to a very cool radio show, so we waited a bit until the rain let up. Which it did, so we started walking... and then RAIN... and we got utterly soaked... but it was warm, and so close to the restaurant... which was just closing as we got there. Grrrf.

As it was still raining hard, we sat under the awning and considered options. M----- wasn't really hungry, but I was, but I couldn't really think of anything nearby which sounded good, so we decided to just trek onward to the club, and waited until the rain let up a bit. It did, a bit, but we got much wetter.

One bitch... the artsy New Orleans balconies which are cast iron rails with balconies built from slats of wood are certainly pretty but crappy rain awnings! The wood slats seem to focus the rain, so that there are fewer raindrops, but underneath these balconies when you're hit with water leaking through it's much more water at once. You get the annoying illusion of being under cover but without much benefit.

At the club, the doors weren't open yet, and there weren't seats available in the foyer bar, so we waffled. And had a long while to wait since dinner fell through. And now the show wasn't starting until 10:30...

My blood sugar began to make me cranky, but I was sincerely trying to not be a jerk about it, which I am wont to do when that happens. I've been known to get highly irrational when not fed, and need to keep on top of it so as not to turn into a raving asshole. But it was really raining hard, and that was making me as cranky as the food issue was. *breathe*... *calm*

We tried to walk up a couple of blocks to check out what might be available when there was a break in the rain, but that just seemed to call an even harder rain squall which trapped us underneath a narrow awning half a block away from the horror that is Bourbon Street.

I was really looking forward to the show, and I knew M----- was really really looking forward to it, so I was honestly trying to not throw a mood on the evening, and I knew my food issue was irritating her.

At this point I decided to be cheerful by force of will if not blood chemistry and we went back to the club. Where the doors still weren't open. I eventually asked the doorman where one could get a quick bite to eat, and finally went down and got some fries where he recommended, which cheered me up immediately. M----- noticed me being more cheerful and that cheered her up!

Soon after this we were let in, and got to see the new decorations of the club. Last time we were there, to see X, the hall was laid-out in some unsuccessful barn decor, which severely didn't work at all with the hipster aesthetic they tried to project to the public. Now under new ownership, they've done a wonderful punky whorehouse motif which we both loved. The velvet nudes up beyond the lights were a nice touch.

One nice thing about the rain was that the show wasn't very crowded. The floor was full but not packed, which made for an intimate energy. We were right up next to the stage, and Jonathan and Robbie were close to the front edge, so things were nice and immediate. He played some of the hits, but lots of the evening was given to improv work. Some of it worked, and some of it didn't, but that's improv. "We try to split the evening between songs we know and songs we don't know."

I wonder if they would have done the same if they weren't in New Orleans, where such things are respected? He certainly didn't seem to in Cincinnati. Nice contrast, but he didn't play Hang On Sloopy here. I like it when I see gifted performers twice and each show is unique. Reminds me that I'm not seeing an amimated jukebox, but a real, live performer, and that this show is unique and very different from any other show. That's the kind of performance which is worth paying for!

However, I totally missed the blonde who was dancing and falling out of her dress, which M----- mentioned during the intermission. Teach me to pay attention to what's happening up on stage! I looked for her during the second set but it seems that the alchohol had shifted gears on her in the meantime and she just sat in the back.

During the intermission, when the band just walked out into the audience and bought a round of bottled water for their friends, we walked up two feet and sat on the edge of the stage. I had to watch where I put my hand so that I didn't move the bass drum mic. I got to peer at the box drum Robbie the percussionist played, which had a fantastic sound. It had a better snare and bass sound than his drum kit's snare and bass! It was a box he sat on to play the drum kit, but frequently he'd reach down and play it hand-drum style.

Turns out it was a Cajon La Peru, a version of a cajon box drum from Latin America.

The last time I saw Bela Fleck and the Flecktones play, Future Man played a box drum magnificently, and it's nice to know what they're called.

Oddly enough, the cajon is very popular in flamenco music, and today M----- asked me to research flamenco rhythms because this weekend she wants to attend a flamenco dance workshop!

Now I'm going to have to look into making one for us.

It's interesting to learn that drums don't have to look like "drums" in order to sound nicely. Then again, anyone who has turned over an acoustic guitar and played bongos on the two tones knows this...

No soap for you!

Well, no one's even entered my Spot the Flaw in the Liberal Rhetoric Contest so I'll just have to put you all out of your misery...

In my earlier post I noted that each teacher has about five classes, but I failed to take into consideration that each student has in turn about five teachers. So, each student's increased earnings and tax revenue needs to be split amongst their five teachers.

I was in effect claiming that 1 = 5.

Bad mathematician! No biscuit!

I still think that my argument's valid, though, but let me borrow some Republican rhetoric to bolster my case... a rising tide raises all boats, a phrase which was used to justify cutting taxes for the rich, also works for the poor, yes?

Poor people who are more capable will earn more and will in turn earn more for the people they work for, who will in turn pay more taxes!

In short, more educated citizens contribute more to fund their society than their education costs, even if education itself costs more than it does now. That's my fundamental postulate, and I stand by it.

A similar argument can be made for more healthy citizens and universal health care, but let me wait on that one until I've got some numbers to throw at you.

A new contest, again for a bar of my elegantly sensual homemade soap: demonstrate how 1 can equal 5...

Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Wars

Just saw Revenge of the Sith this past weekend, closing a chapter in my life opened when my dad took me to see the original Star Wars in the theater.

When leaving the theater Saturday, I almost fell to my knees and proclaimed, "It's over! Over! Thank you, thank you!" In a very real way it felt like a release not just for me, personally, but for science fiction in general.

I don't really want to get into a criticism of the movie per se but am more interested in criticizing the series as a whole. So let me just agree with most everyone else that it's again better than its predecessor in the new trilogy, as that was better than the first "new" movie.

H0wever, I'd like to use a question posed by M-----'s mother to point out some serious flaws I can't seem to get my inner geek to accept.

She hasn't seen any of the movies in the Star Wars saga, and asked if she should see this current one.

Damn good question!

In the original movie Star Wars George Lucas wanted to make a new version episode of a classic theater serial, with new fancy special effects. This is originally why it was called "Episode IV", because like classic serials, you were never expected to see every one of them, and you could start watching in the middle. Therefore, all characters and plots were easy to grasp and understand from any point in the storyline.

Lucas chose characters, themes, and plots from classic legends and mythology, because these are almost universally understood, and were the same types used in earlier serials. Everyone gets it, and everyone likes it.

Everyone got Star Wars, and everyone liked it!

That was the problem... it became too successful, too profitable, and there became too much money involved for new "episodes" to be treated as casually. Instead of continuing in the tradition of independant episodes and universal plots and characters, Lucas created a storyline based upon the original movie, locking everything else in place orbiting around the assumptions of what was supposed to be generic and universal.

Every movie after Star Wars suffered from this, although the immediate successor, The Empire Strikes Back, still seemed to cling to some of the classic cliffhanger type plot twists of the original genre, which Star Wars couldn't explore as a one-off. And it's a great movie, if you've seen the earlier one. So it suffers if looked at as a serial episode, which should be more-or-less independant.

However, the "new" trilogy starting at "Episode I" seems to be fatally flawed. Its whole point seems to be creating the characters of the original movie, and therefore all of the movies are forced to draw upon the energy of Star Wars and miss opportunities to create energy and enjoyable experiences on their own. Again, everything points towards Star Wars and all would have been better if they'd followed the premise of the original and tried to be movies self-contained enough to be enjoyable on their own, but with rewards for fans following the whole series.

None of them are powerful enough to change your perceptions of Star Wars, which would have been incredibly cool. Instead of these three newer movies being arrows pointing at the original, it would have been nice to treat these movies as actually having been released before Star Wars, and there being mysteries in SW which only made sense having seen the earlier flicks, and the meanings actually changed so as to have arrows pointing backward from SW to the new trilogy.

In the original trilogy, we get all of the characters from the first time we see them, and are happy to follow along in their adventures.

In the new trilogy, the only character which matters is that of Annakin, and he isn't developed so much as rationalized. And it takes three bloody movies to do this little character study!

It would have been nice if the six movies' overreaching arc was the rise, fall, and redemption of Annakin/Darth, but the newest three never seem to get the audience to care about him. Instead of a good and loving man whose fall and redemption we'd care about we get an annoying and arrogant little snot whose fall to evil is just an aside.

I originally thought the whole point of the new series was to expand the implicit story of Luke as central character into a more multilayered story of Luke-and-his-father mirrored in the story of the fall of the Jedi and with lots of references to classic father/son power dynamics and some great obvious but hearty metaphors. Classic stuff.

But, no...

So, if you haven't seen any of the other movies, Revenge of the Sithis wonderful theater and is visually spectacular enough to merit seeing big even if you don't care about anything else. It's great space opera. However, you'll miss some of the references and be prepared to not get the last half hour which is just a hasty checklist connecting these most recent movies to the three which ostentably come after them.

It's the most fun a SW movie has been in two decades, so, sure, go see it!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

First Annual Spot the Flaw in the Liberal Rhetoric Contest!

In the grand time-honored tradition of inflammatory political rhetoric, I was able to prove my point about paying some teachers more by ignoring a key fact of mathematics. No one's commented on it so far...

First reader to spot the mathematical flaw in my reasoning about teacher salary wins one free bar of home-made soap. The first person to show that it's not really a flaw, but a feature of the idea wins two bars!

Hint: no, it's not about the rounding, estimating, or outright guessing that I did with numbers. I did cop to that in the original post, yes? It's more fundamental.

Yet I believe the argument still holds water.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Paying teachers more can pay for itself?

If they're the right teachers, yes.

I was going to put this as a response to a comment in my previous post, but I noticed that I was rambling on, so let's just make it a front-page entry. I want more people to look at this.

JMG wrote:
How about a law whereby teacher salary is *inversely* proportional to school achievement? And a strong enough inverse that working in the worst schools is *very* profitable?

but then wouldn't there be a disincentive to actually make the school better? JMG

I can see why you'd think this but honestly, I don't think so.

You seem to be seeing the following process: if teachers earn less the better the school achieves, then they have an incentive to do less in order for their students to succeed less, and therefore get paid more.

Do you think any parents or schoolboards anywhere would put up with this, for one thing? I'm sure more "successful" schools would be very keen on teacher accountability, seeing as how they are the districts with the most affluent and therefore active parents. We can weaken tenure, for one. If you suck, you're out.

Or how about a bonus program where your pension is based upon the earnings of the students you teach?

Secondly, let's link "success" to something which can't be faked so schools can't tell kids to do poorly on standardized tests for the sake of an easy A.

My idea is based upon the notion that an easier and more positive teaching experience is worth more to most educators than relatively small amounts of money.

I offer that the current system offers a doubly powerful incentive for teachers to choose rich school districts, and my modest suggestion is an attempt to provide a bit of balance.

You know New Orleans, JMG. Why is it that private schools can charge what they do but pay teachers almost a third less? Yes, there are powerful racial issues here, but where would you prefer to teach high school bio? What if I offered you twice as much to teach in a disadvaged school?

However, I think a different criterion than standardized test scores should be used for how "good" a school is, like the percentage of the students who go to college, weighted by the cost of those institutions. One Harvard is twenty trade schools or seven state schools (guessing).

I think many extremely talented and / or experienced school teachers would finally be persuaded to teach in underperforming schools if they were paid twice as much. But many others would still choose the excellent classroom experience an affluent district provides, and these districts could probably still pick and choose candidates.

One thing I really need to say is that I'm not suggesting lowering the salaries of any teachers, only increasing those for disadvantaged schools, and it would probably provide less chaos to have this gradually phased in.

Honestly, I think it's not so much socialism as good government, and in the long run would easily pay for itself. Better educated people earn more money and pay more taxes. I think most social programs can pay for themselves if they're structured properly.

Here are some estimates, very rounded to whole amounts, but I'm sure in the correct ballpark, for example:

Let's see, your average teacher teaches, say, five classes of twenty students, or 100 students a year.

Pay her, after taxes, an extra $20,000 a year to teach poor kids.

So, those 100 kids each need to get jobs after graduation (not weighted for inflation, humor me) which pay...

wait for it...

$200 a year more in taxes per kid, or an extra $2000 a year earned in a moderate tax bracket...

Competence in basic math and literacy is worth about an extra $10000 a year, on average, and illiterate or math-less kids tend to be in the lowest brackets, which pay the least or no taxes, so upward trends in earnings pay even more taxes.

I rest my case.

Except to say that I honestly believe that paying teachers more to teach poor kids might one day actually earn the government a profit on future taxes collected comparatively. I was being modest in my calculations.

When government invests in it's citizens, everybody wins.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Okay, it seems like Blogger doesn't want me talking about an odd mathematical coincidence I've happened upon.

I've tried thrice to write about how there is a funky connection between the Number of the Beast and the Golden Mean, but each time I seem to accidentally hit a key wrong and my entry is erased...

Perhaps someone is unhappy with my insight, or I just need to save more often when I'm writing late at night and prone to mis-striking the keyboard, which seems more likely.

In the meantime, there are a few things I'm angry and unhappy about, all of which seem to include things which are situation normal for our society, but which are to my mind making things worse due to inherent contradictions.

For-profit hospitals:

Is there not an inherent contradiction in the Hippocratic oath and running a for-profit, publicly-traded, hospital or care facility?

Seems like the laws of publicly-held corporations are pretty clear: one must do anything which maximizes shareholder value, and if you don't you can be sued and replaced by boardmembers who will, and you might be liable for imaginary profits lost because you weren't profit-maximizing in the meantime.

In a care facility, oaths require one to do as much as possible to care for the patient, being reasonable and respectful for the patient's wishes. So you must maximize the care given within reason.

In a for-profit corporation, one must maximize profit, which means in a medical situation charging more for care and/or providing less care. Charging more quickly leads to less business or greater insurance cost, so providing less care becomes the easiest option when that balance tips.

I see a contradiction, and propose that for-profit medical care is contradictory to the fundamental goals of, well, medical care.

Related, churches.

Any church which posts a profit in excess of 50% of donations should lose not-for-profit status. Or perhaps, NFP status should only be for organizations which lose money, and there be a separate, but generous, progressive scale of taxation for profiters to net those shady churches and charities which seem to be raping the current system.

Secondly, education and why the best teachers aren't in the schools which need the best teachers...

In education, the kids who need the best teachers are in the poorest districts.

In education, the districts which pay their teachers the most are the richest discricts.

In education, the best districts, which are the easiest to teach in, are the most affluent. Rich kids know they need to do well and pay better attention. Rich kids are easier to teach, to sum up, and provide the most rewarding experience for educators. (for the most part, because one gets the most positive response for the least effort)

This is why private schools get away with paying less but advertising better teachers. And this is a strong signal to public schools: better experience is worth more to teachers than better pay.

In education, the best teachers gravitate towards either the most rewarding experience or the experience which pays the most. The teachers with the least experience go to the positions which are most demanding and most in need of experience.

Having the easiest and most rewarding teaching experiences be the same is a guarantee that the best teachers will almost always go to the richest districts. And, that the least capable and least experienced teachers will go to those districts which are most difficult and pay the least.

There are *R*A*R*E* teachers who seem to get the most reward by spending the most effort. These teachers are rare enough that documentaries tend to get made about them. And all of them talk about how they turn down rich job offers from rich districts for the sake of their teaching vision. And all of them seem to work other jobs to pay for the teaching aids they need but can't get funding for.

How about a law whereby teacher salary is *inversely* proportional to school achievement? And a strong enough inverse that working in the worst schools is *very* profitable?

Teachers in the least achieving districts get the most money?

A teacher can choose easy or profitable, with a strong weight towards difficult and profitable. Perhaps this might get more talented teachers where they seem to be needed most.

Inflation and interest rates:

The current model which drives interest rates seems geared towards the people who make the most money.

When inflation rises, the Fed raises interest rates, making money more scarce. This seems like a fine, fine, thing if you're a person rich enough to care about basic lending rates.

The Fed's model seems to assume that the econonmy is rich people, or people who's economy is most tied to fundamental interest rates: again, rich folks.

Poor people need *more* access to money and loans when times are tough and inflation is bad!

When inflation is large, making low-interest loans to ordinary folks makes it easier to pay off loans, makes it easier to start business, and makes it easier to buy goods. In a recession, poor people need more governmental help. It follows that the amount of social help necessarily follows inversely with the strength of the economy.

In a poor economy, providing more money to education and health care seems to make more educated and healthier workers, who work more and pay greater taxes for their more educated jobs, which makes for a stronger economy.

However, in the same situation, you certainly *Don't* want to make easy money available to rich folks, who will just hoard the money in investment shelters. Access to money in a healthy economy seems to be inversely proportional to your status in the economy which is inversely proportional to the rate of inflation in that economy.

The current situation assumes a strict inverse relationship, while I propose a two-valued relationship, needing a balance.

How to create a lever which one swings between rich and poor to drive the economy, instead of just goosing the rich?

Fun questions!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Making soap


I'm making soap tonight.

Some of you may have received a couple of bars for Ambiguous Seasonal Holiday, which was the second batch I made. Tonight is the fourth batch, which is about exactly the same as the third, except that I threw out the distilled water by mistake a couple of months ago, and am just using Brita since I realized this at 11:30 tonight. Which shouldn't make a difference, but one never knows when chemistry rears its complicated head.

I've had one feedback review of the Holiday Soap, and it was positive. Mike and Family ran out of soap, and discovered to their dismay that my soap was the only thing on hand. With great trepidation they used it and, like many things people approach with initial trepidation, discovered that they quite liked it.

They've been fans of Dr. Bronner's soaps for a while, so the lack of lather of homemade soaps wasn't really a problem. Although I'm sure that the lack of text included with my soap led to a less interesting shower than that provided by the Good Doctor's verbosity. Do you know that the stuff they put into soap to make it lathery also makes it dry out your skin?

The lather problem has been ameliorated, with the happy addition of coconut oil to the mix, which adds lather but slight skin drying, which I counter with more olive oil in the superfatting stage...

Although tonight it freaked me out when I opened up the coconut oil tub and it was liquid. Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees, and the last time I made soap it was Winter, when coconut "oil" was a weird, flaky solid which I had to spoon onto my scale or into my pan for making popcorn. Coconut oil makes the world's best popcorn, by the way, which is also another reason to buy it if one is dismayed with having to buy a 32 oz. tub when only needing eight ounces for making soap. Like most "tropical oils" it'll kill you if you eat too much of it, since it's a pretty saturated fat, but it makes great popcorn. And great soap, since the trace elements in it help steer water towards that magical surface tension ratio which makes for bubbles, and which has little or nothing to do with soap's actual cleaning ability.

Really. Bubbles do not equal cleaning and are just a trick of surface tension physics. Bubbles and soap are merely an aesthetic pairing, and do quite well on their own.

I make soap using the Cold Process, or the "easy way" as I think of it. We used the other method in high school chemistry, and only one person in the class made useful soap in that lab!

Cold-process soap is pretty simple chemistry, needing just fat, lye, and water. The lye dissolved in water reacts with the triglyceride fat molecules to form soap and glycerin. The delicate part is in the measurements, as each different type of fat or oil requires a different amount of lye water to produce a particular soap result. Fortunately this is all pre-calculated.

Interestingly, in commercial soap they take out the glycerin, so that the soap hardens more quickly, but then they have to add skin softening agents so that the soap isn't too harsh. It's odd that "glycerin" soap is expensive stuff with glycerin added to the process later to make it clear instead of just leaving it alone!

I prefer a soap which has a decent amount of residual oil left un-transformed, which produces a soap which feels very nice on your skin. It is softer, however, and doesn't last as long. Did I mention that hardening agents also dry your skin?

All the stories about pioneers and harsh lye soaps are all the result of soap which wasn't made with careful attention to chemical balances and wasn't left to age properly. The saponification reaction takes about a month or so to complete after it solidifies into a bar, if it ever does. Most pioneer soaps were actually liquid! And you can make mild liquid soap if you want to, like Dr. Bronner's.

Any soap you use before the reactions are complete, however, will have unreacted lye left in it, which you really don't want in a soap that's getting anywhere near your skin.

It is nice, however, for soap you want to use for cleaning and disinfecting, and can be calculated thusly should you so wish. Harsh lye soap is great for scrubbing and disinfecting! Better than the horrific "antibacterial" crap which may end up killing us all...

When you're getting lye water by dripping ashes, and just boiling on the stove without measuring or weighing anything, it's easy to see how much of the early pioneer soap was still swimming with harsh lye, since if you didn't use enough lye it was like rubbing oily fat on your clothes and skin. Best err on the side of making actual soap.

However, today you can buy pure lye at most any grocery store in the drain cleaning section, and the ratios for nearly any fat or oil you can get are calculated to a far more accurate degree than the postal scale I use, so it's pretty easy to make some wonderful soap.

We've been using soap of the third batch here, and I really like it. It doesn't lather like commercial soaps but there are some small bubbles, yet I feel clean and my skin feels better. One nice thing about homemade soaps is that the glycerin is still in them. In commercial bar soap the glycerin is removed so that the bars solidify more quickly, but this removes one of the skin softening agents, so they have to add other stuff...

One curious thing... the commercial bar "Dove" really isn't soap! In their commercials where they say something like, "Dove isn't soap, it's a 'Beauty Bar'(tm)" they aren't lying. I'm not sure what i is, but it really and truly isn't soap. Dove has a pH of exactly 7, and the mildest soap possible is well above 8. Explains why when I've used Dove I never feel clean, just coated and perfumed. Yet nicely moist.

One of the most fascinating facts I discovered while learning about soap was the origin of shortening and other hydrogenated oils.

One of the biggest realizations in the health world has been that saturated fats are far worse for you than unsaturated fats. And lately artificially saturated fats seem to be even worse than the naturally saturated ones! Anything with "hydrogenated" in it will definately kill you.

When fats are "saturated" or "hydrogenated" they're processed so that they solidify at lower temperatures. Solid or more dense fats are more satisfying to eat, according to just about everyone. The only real difference between an "oil" and a "fat" is its consistency at room temperature, or whether it comes from a plant or an animal.

Interestingly, the process of hydrogenating oils to make them into solid fat-like stuff was created for the soap industry. More solid fats make better soap, and as the country grew in the 19th century, there wasn't enough solid fat to keep up with the country's cleaning needs, so some bright boys figured out how to make vegetable oils into solid fats for the soap industry.

The stuff wasn't considered fit for human consumption until the great depression, when real fat became too expensive for the utterly destitute, who turned to the far cheaper fatty oils produced for the detergent industry. Since capitalism siezed control after WWII ended, the cheapest solution for food fats has become the usual solution, leading to many current health problems according to current thinking. Looks like the original soap chemists were right when they considered the stuff not fit to eat. Still makes great soap, however, and quite cheaply.

From what I read, animal fats make the absolute best soap, but I've never tried them. Lard is actually the best soap making fat according to everyone, and is only slightly more expensive than vegetable shortening, but for some reason rubbing my body with dead animals makes me feel way less clean than with veggies. So I'll stick with vegetable shortening.

I still eat meat, though, but I'm working on that. I've worked down the evolutionary scale to flying lizards mostly except for pepperoni, having tried to forego mammals and seafood.

You'll get my pepperoni when you pry it from my cold, dead pizza.

Which sounds great except that my favorite pizza is mushroom, black olive, and garlic. Onions, green peppers, spinach, tomato, and artichoke are also groovy, but not essential. Anyway...

Tonight I'm making the soap about the same way I did last time, as it worked well, but I'm pouring it into different moulds.

Previously I've used two 18 x 6 x 2 plastic trays which worked well when cutting the soap into 12 bars per tray for nicely sized bars. However, I really like rounder bars which work better for softer soap since they last longer than rectangular bars. Actually rounded oval bars last the longest, but that takes individual moulds for each bar.

This time I'm using Pringle's tubes for circular soap. They're lined with plastic and sealed already, and I can just peel them off the soap cylinder after a couple of weeks of aging before cutting off round cakes of soap which I'll let dry for another month or so. Or at least that's the theory. I guess we'll see.

There's a lot to explore in the soap making universe, and you can start out like I did by typing "soap making" into google, which is recommended. I learned a lot by just digging around. Here are some links I've bookmarked but may not actually be the best pages for you to start out from:

Cold Process Soap for One 12 ox Can of Lye

Elaine's Soapmaking Pages
How to Make Cold Process Soap
Soap Problems
The Complete Guide to Soapmaking
Making Soap!

And the most useful link of all:

The MMS Lye Calculator
which allows you to mix 'n' match different oils and fats, then click and get a chart of how much lye to use to get varying soap results.

I find 8-10% oil remaining produces a wonderful bath bar.

I've been using a 48 oz tub of vegetable shortening
17 oz bottle of olive oil (pure, not virgin, as the cheap stuff makes better soap, and 17 fluid oz is 16 oz by weight)
8 oz coconut oil, available in the oils/shortening section

Since cheap shortening is usually a blend of hydrogenated soy and cottonseed oils, I ran the numbers using a 25/75, 50/50, and 75/25 ratios of each oil, and just really went with the 50/50... the various percentages were less than my scale could measure anyway, so I just went for 9 and a bit less than a quarter ounces of lye.

I mixed the lye and VERY cold water in the plastic tub the shortening came in, after washing it out. It's non-reactive plastic, and I was going to dispose of it anyway!

Use the larger amount of water, as you need to be an expert to use less. The lye and water mixing can make the water boil and splatter with less water, and you don't want that. Do work outside or in a well-ventilated area when pouring the lye into the water, as the fumes are nasty.

Save some olive oil to add after you've mixed the lye water and oils together and have mixed for a while. This is called superfatting and helps guarantee that much of the leftover unreacted oil will be olive oil, which is nicest on your skin. You want the shortening and coconut oils to react the most.

Then you mix the soap, which takes a long while if you want nice leftover oils. You can stir for hours and hours, or use an electric mixer. The soap fluid is dense, and the chemical reaction needs mixing... Seriously. Use an electric mixer, because stirring a superfatted soap by hand can become endless. Use a mixer.

After a long while if your soap has leftover oil, when stirring produces a "trace" which lasts in the mixture, you're about ready to pour the soap into the mould. Add the fragrance oil, if used, at this last stage. Adding essential oils earlier just allows their expensive essence to be turned into soap!

I like lavender.

You can also get soap colorings. Michael's or any good crafty place should carry them, along with soap moulds if you want to get fancy.

I've just touched on the process, so please ask if you want more detail!

Happy saponification!

So why am I doing this, you ask?

For some weird reason, I really enjoy learning about the basic fundamental processes which underly our complicated civilization. I love learning how things work, how things are made, and how to make them myself.

Like soap.

I adore the Foxfire series of books, and similar tomes like How Things Work and so on.

It's interesting to me to learn how the process of something like soap came to be, and what's been gained and lost in that process.

I love computers, and I bought an early single board system to learn how to program in binary and hex, and programmed a clock to make the darned thing useful in today's world. I really enjoy the graphical interface and associated magic which allows me to create and you to read this blog, as well.

My ultimate goal is to make my own wire. At that point I'll feel comfortable that I could begin recreating civilization from scratch if need be.

Seriously. What do you think is the most fundamental technical process necessary for maintaining today's technology?