Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Blogroll Link: Margaret Ryall

Margaret Ryall

Margaret Ryall is an artist and educator in Newfoundland. I found her by Googling around for Birr Castle and the Bothy, as I do frequently, since that place is so dear to Diane's and my hearts. Ms. Ryall stayed in the Bothy for a fortnight in July of 2008, researching a body of work that will ultimately comprise 16 images that, together, "read" the garden of the Demesne.

That alone would have earned her a place in our appreciation. But her insight, expertise, and ability to express the technical aspects of fine art composition and production earn her a place of significant admiration. A seminar conducted by Ms. Ryall and Brian Fies would and should command an impressive tuition, since their talents and teaching abilities are unquestionably above merely top-tier.

As an introduction to Margaret Ryall's abilities, both in creation and instruction, please visit:

Her detailed recipe for critique, and
Her keen advice concerning enriching a center of interest in a visual composition.

While couched in terms of painting, this latter piece is equally applicable to photography. (And while not so directly applicable to cartooning, there is much that she says that could inform line-art structures. I think.)

As I often say, I'm hard-pressed to draw anything beyond a breath, but Ms. Ryall and Mr. Fies's presence in my daily reading allows me to better enjoy the works of those who can express themselves with facility and skill in visual media. They boost me along, sort of, to at least ride along on their wings and help me to enjoy the view.

And their expertise in wielding words is pretty cool, too.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thanks to Ruth: Makin' More Noise than We Did At Home Sayin' the Rosary

(Title adapted from Johnny McEvoy's introductory chatter for his live version of "Spanish Lady.")

Two people whom I have never met, and who I don't think have ever met each other, have unknowingly conspired to take this Friday evening away from me in a most enjoyable way.

Mike Peterson recently posted this list of songs on his website. It's a playlist of sorts, one that his band in his youth, the Bogsiders, might have recorded if they ever had the chance. Longtime friend of this blog, Ruth in coastal South Carolina, took that playlist a step further, tracking down YouTube versions of the songs done by great, great Irish bands, and put them together into a collection that can be played sequentially as an album.

So I did. Several times over.

And I was thrilled, not only by the memories and inspiration and keen sadness and youthful joy that the songs evoke, but by eagerness for Diane's and my next journey to Ireland.

And, inevitably, I was drawn back into our collection of photos from our 2006 stay, and to specific images:

Wicklow High
The high Wicklow Gap, near the site of the battle of Glenmalure, 1580.

"Follow Me Up to Carlow" (performed by Planxty in Ruth's compilation) memorializes the battle's ultimately futile victory:

From Tassagart to Clonmore, there flows a stream of Saxon gore
Och, great is Rory Óg O'More, sending the loons to Hades.
White is sick and Lane is fled, now for black FitzWilliam's head
We'll send it over, dripping red, to Queen Liza and the ladies.

... not to mention to Queen Liza's (Elizabeth's) pirate (Diane's ancestor, Drake) and godson (my ancestor cited in the top bar of this blog.)

Kerry Chickens
Proud redhead, County Kerry, 2006. Maybe when we go back in '10, I'll get a picture of a Kerry pig.

From The Dubliner's version of "McAlpine's Fusiliers":

Oh mother dear, I'm over here and I'm never coming back
What keeps me here is the rake o' beer the ladies and the craic.
I come from county Kerry the land of eggs and bacon
And if you think I'll eat your fish 'n' chips be Jasus your're mistaken.

Portumna end of Lough Derg. This peaceful park became one of Diane's and my favorite places for its beauty and its solitude.

Lough Derg is essentially a wide stretch of the River Shannon, starting at Portumna in the North and stretching several miles southward to the Limerick City area, including Co. Limerick's Garryowen, immortalized in "Sean South" (performed by the Wolf Tones -- a lovely twist of an Irish band monicker -- in Ruth's compilation):

Sad are the homes round Garryowen
Since they lost their joy and pride
And the banshee cry links every vale
Around the Shannon side that city of the ancient walls
The broken treaty stone, undying fame surrounds your name, Sean South from Garryowen.

Mike, thank you for the list. Ruth, thank you for the music. Ireland, thank you.

Sometimes the banshee cry does, indeed, link every vale.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Almost as Nice as Seeing Stars in Little Girls' Eyes...

... is having the wherewithal to put them there.

Setting up a little planetarium show for the girls, Sunday, March 22nd, 2009.
Please, PLEASE, click on the images to see larger, better versions.

This past weekend was one of those on which Ft. Harrington was blessed by a visit from some of our East Bay family. Adam and Lynda brought Grace-the-Granddaughter and her friend Scout down on Saturday and stayed in Boulder Creek until early Sunday afternoon. We figured that Grace and Scout are old enough now to enjoy a session in Granddad's planetarium, so we arranged a private time in the facility for them and other family and close friends. The planetarium is on the route back from Boulder Creek to the East Bay, so it was a convenient place for several of our friends and family to meet on Sunday afternoon.

Saturday evening: "Yes, Emma, you may kiss my hand." Grace now thoroughly understands the special relationship Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have with young humans.

Saturday evening: Grace's friend, Scout, absolutely radiates joy. (She evidently has also radiated away her incisors recently.) Here, she cavorts with the usually-elegant Alnitak. (Guinness, at lower-right, displays the only highly-reflective part of his now-adult body.)

On Sunday morning, I trekked down from Boulder Creek to the planetarium ahead of everyone else, giving myself time to set some things up -- including the above welcoming projection on the dome's simulated daytime sky...

... and it was a big hit with the girls!

Sherwood's workstation.

In addition to Adam, Lynda, Grace, Scout, Diane, and me, a number of other close friends and family joined us in the Planetarium (including Scout's Mom, Dad, and brother, and Grace's mom). My great good friend Paul, the only other full-time astronomy teacher at my college, joined us, too, giving up a good chunk of his rare free time to play with the Harringtons. So, of course, I put him to work.

I still don't have the expertise necessary to photograph planetarium shows as they unfold -- and, actually, I wouldn't have had time to do it anyway. But here's a short rundown of what we did and saw in the Magic Chamber:

Part I: We used the digital planetarium system (data housed in a bank of ten quad-core pc's) to fly around the Solar System. Particular points of visitation included Earth, the Moon, Mars (and Phobos), and Jupiter (and Io.) [*]

Part II: We used the spectacular Konica-Minolta Infinium-S new-generation optical-mechanical star projector (the blue ball in two of the above photos) to tour the nighttime sky as it would be after dark this evening in Northern California, urging everyone to go outside tonight and see it in the best planetarium of all: the real sky. Paul guided this part of the program with his typical good humor and expertise -- despite the fact that I hadn't warned him ahead of time that he'd be doing it!

Part III: We used the Planetarium's digital system to screen a short hemispherical-projection, immersive animation about what it takes to be an astronaut.

I'll depend on Adam to tell you in comments about whether or not everybody enjoyed the show. Meanwhile, I'll let the smiles in the next photo -- taken after we were done -- give you a little clue!

Most of our guests had left by the time this was taken, but we got most of the family members in! Front: Grace and Scout. Lynda is kneeling behind Scout. Back row: Scout's mom, Robin, rests her hand on Scout's brother Turtle's shoulder, two of Scout's neighbors (whose names I didn't write down!), Grace's mom Adrianne, Adam, me, Diane.

(Lucile, Ryan, Christel, and Casey: sorry you couldn't come! But there will be plenty of chances for a next time.)


[* Because there have been requests for it, here's the playlist of the music I used for the Solar System flyaround segments:

Introduction (instrumental): Pastures New by Nickel Creek (Album: "Nickel Creek")
... and a HUGE shout-out to Dann Todd for turning me on to Nickel Creek!
To the Moon and back: Standing on the Moon by the Grateful Dead (Album: "Built to Last")
Out to 30AU: Reasons Why by Nickel Creek (Album: "Nickel Creek")
Mars: Boadicea by Enya (Album: "Paint the Sky")
Jupiter: Mo Ghile Mear by the Chieftains with Sting (Album: "The Essential Chieftains")
Jupiter back to Earth and to California: Heartland by Celtic Thunder (Album: "Celtic Thunder: Act Two")]


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring Pictures of My Dog

There are many, many animals here at Ft. Harrington. Three of them are dogs. Two of those, Emma and Jax, are special beyond expression, and are loved to an extent that would probably be considered obscene in poverty-ridden places.

But they are not My Dog, with a capital M and a capital D. That distinction goes to Kelsey and to Kelsey only. However, Kelsey is not cute by any stretch of the word's use, nor is he the product of multi-generations' planned breeding. He's a mutt, one found wandering in a pack in an industrial area eleven years ago. Taken to the nearest shelter, he wasn't given much chance of being re-programmed to be a good family pet.

Through a long series of co-incidences, though, he wound up in the high forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in a place where he could be some of what he wanted to be, and sacrifice an acceptable amount of the other things: he could be a watchdog, a guardian, a protector... and a lesser member of a pack (not expected to be the alpha, which he was never cut out to be.)

His first two or three years here at Ft. Harrington were tough for all of us, but he eventually learned his place, and our place, and the place of all the other animals here. And so we all have enjoyed a decade of great, great joy: Kelsey in his place, and us in ours, and love and confidence and joy.

He doesn't get much play here, or over on Flickr, or on PicShers, because he's such a working part of our Fort. But he deserves more, so here are recent pictures of Kelsey-the-Dog: (click, please, on each of them to be taken to larger views):

Kelsey, March '09


God bless you, Kelsey-the-Dog.

Updates: Fine Crystal and Astronomical Murder

UPDATE: Waterford Crystal Factory Still Shut Down
The venerable Waterford Crystal glass factory in Ireland is still shut down, despite its sale to an American firm. According to the most recent story in the Irish Times, the rights to the "Waterford" name will be used by the purchaser, American firm KPS Capital, but whether the goods that name will be attached to will be ones actually manufactured in Waterford is still up in the air. If, years from now, you splurge on a fine bit of glass from "Waterford," you might do well to Czech the box to see where it was really made.

UPDATE: Kepler Exonerated! Tycho Done In by Contract Hit!
About a year ago, this blog laid out a series of bits of evidence that legendary Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was murdered, and that a prime suspect in his murder was none other than Johannes Kepler. Recent evidence seems to exonerate Kepler, but swivels the finger of suspicion at a more famous figure of the time, Danish King Christian IV. Christian IV evidently paid off a Brahe family member to off Tycho, based on some sordid family issues. There is now even some speculation that Shakespeare's famous line in Hamlet that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" may have been an allusion to the affair, since that work and Tycho's murder were pretty much contemporaneous.