Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Aerosmith had a heck of a run from the late 80s through the 90s, with an outrageous number of hits and excellent albums for a band that initially rose and fell in the 1970s. The last song of theirs that I consider really good is also one of their "social consciousness" songs, where Steven Tyler waxes philosophical about society in "Livin' On the Edge." The band had some hits after this, and a handful of decent albums, but the creative magic that seemed to flow so effortlessly before slowed to a trickle. Music From Another Dimension was a superficial piece of fluff, for example, with a number of tracks that'd make a decent B side on a single, but nothing that made listeners sit up and take notice. That's fine, I suppose, because there are countless bands out there that will never achieve something as good as "Livin' On the Edge."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The GoGos.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, beaches, Bars & Ballads
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to get caught in a flash flood without really trying

I spent last week in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, camping with my son's Boy Scout troop. While I enjoy camping on occasion, and West Texas in general, this was not my first choice on how to spend the week. But, as things are wont to do, I ended up driving a van packed with 11-14-year-old boys whose idea of high humor culminate in which one can squeeze out the most toxic fart.

The first few days were brutal hot, as one would expect. The nights didn't cool off as much as one would expect in the desert, but the night skies were spectacular, the Milky Way a bright blaze with dust lanes fully visible. I was also amazed to discover West Texas lightning bugs are quite different from the local variety, in that they are aggressive fliers that blaze electric green for up to 6 seconds at a time. Wow. By day 4, however, the weather changed, and began raining intermittently. Until Thursday, that is, when it dropped the intermittent part and rained all evening, all night and into Friday morning.

This was a bit troubling, because we're in a mountainous area with many dry washes and had gotten plenty of warnings about being wary of flash floods. Our assistant Scoutmaster specifically sought out the camp head to ask about the dangers of flooding. "Nothing to worry about," the guy answered. "We have people way up the mountains who will notify us if anything happens. All's clear." So, with the rain easing up, we went on our hike.

The hike took us through Little Aguja Canyon along the mostly dry stream bed. We had about 14 boys in our troop. Several other troops joined us, and once you count all the adults and camp staff, we had a party pushing 60 people. That's a pretty big number, so the hike, which was a short one of 5 miles round-trip taking just about two hours, moved pretty slowly. The line got strung out on the trail so that they had to stop regularly to let everyone catch back up. We reached the Needle--the outcropping of rock pictured above (photo by David O'Neill) about an hour in. I'd thought about bringing my camera, but I didn't have any rain gear and rain continued off and on. So I left it. After a 15 minute break at the Needle, we pressed on toward the Notch, a spring-fed pool that boasted a small waterfall that was reputed to be a gorgeous spot to swim. This deep into the canyon, the air was pretty still and humid, so a swim was looking pretty good.

We met another group of scouts coming back from the Notch at the second-to-last stream crossing. This crossing was actually pretty wet, and tiny tadpoles and baby frogs abounded. They'd started out an hour before us and had enjoyed a good swim. They assured us the Notch was gorgeous and that we were a mere five minutes away. Slowly, our group crossed the stream bed onto a high, grassy meadow strewn with boulders and bordered on one side by the vertical face of the mountain. In the distance, we heard a distant roar. "The waterfall!" folks exclaimed. "That's the waterfall!"

But the roar kept getting louder. Looking through the trees that followed the dry wash along the edge of the meadow, I saw water flowing. Water shouldn't be visible, much less flowing. Our hike leader ran back to the crossing--which the last members of our party had passed--to find it under three feet of muddy, rushing water. She then ran ahead to the last crossing under the Notch and found it in a similar condition. What's more, she discovered a troop of a dozen older scouts caught on the opposite side. She radioed base camp, telling them of the flood and saying "The water's moving really fast." Basecamp answered, "Don't worry, it'll go down in a few minutes. Just wait it out." Two hours later, the water hadn't gone down an inch, and the camp reluctantly dispatched several riders on horseback to help up back.

This is where the fun began. With horsemen on either side of the flooded stream, the men on the hike (numbering about 15) linked arms, elbow-to-elbow, and formed a human chain from one bank to the other. The water was cold, thigh-high, and filled with branches and leaves. And moving very swiftly. The women on the hike (maybe 10) and scouts--some of them under-sized even for 11-year-olds--held on to us as they crossed nervously. A few had their feet swept out from under them, but we were able to grab them and help them get upright again before they went under. More than a chain, I guess you could say we were a human wall. It took maybe 20 minutes for everyone to cross safely. On the other side, we joined up with the group of scouts we'd met just before the flash flood hit, and also the ones who'd been trapped on the other side of the final crossing before reaching the Notch (they'd followed the stream along the opposite bank to meet us, climbing over some difficult rock formations and thick brush to do so). Our group, including horsemen and camp staff, now numbered 93. That's a lot of people. And the flood had not subsided at all. We crossed the stream a couple more times, and skirted up the steep side of the canyon once when the entire trail disappeared under water for a 50 yard stretch. Then we reached the Needle. The scene was... intimidating. Two other washes met here, and although they weren't nearly as flooded as the one we were in, there were rapids galore. The ground changed level several times here, and a sort of raging moat had formed around the Needle rock formation. It was waist deep here, and swift. A simple human chain wasn't sufficient for this water. The horses were none too happy about it, but they carried a thick rope across, which was fastened to boulders on either end. Then we all went across, hand over fist, through waist-deep water, adults interspersed with kids, horses 5-10 yards downstream to catch anyone who slipped into the water. Nobody did. Another crossing demanded the rope, but this time we linked arms over the rope. In all, we crossed that flood 13 times, getting back to camp just before 5 p.m. A 5-ton military truck shuttled us over the final water crossing before camp, and then from the camp sites to the side with the mess hall, etc. The next day, when we packed up to leave, the water had only subsided a few inches.

The thing I remember most is how much gravel ended up in my hiking boots every time we crossed. My hiking boots themselves, several years old, didn't survive the ordeal. Between the gravel and the rocks we stumbled over in the water, the soles were pretty torn up. The insides were coming apart. The "waterproof" aspect of the boots had been pushed beyond all reasonable measure. They went in the trash, never to be seen again.

At no time after the initial crossing was I worried we couldn't handle the flood. It was dangerous, yes, but nothing we couldn't compensate for to get all the kids safely back. The biggest worry of myself, and others, was the constant threat of more, and heavier, rain. Ominous dark clouds gathered and broke up throughout the day, showering us and occasionally rumbling thunder. If a real flash flood, with a six-foot wall of water, came roaring down on us, we'd be in real trouble. That never happened, though, and the kids now have dramatic stories to tell all their friends.

All things being equal, then next time we have a hike in the desert scheduled when it's been raining for an extended period, I believe I'll pass.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Unplugged
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Friday, July 07, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I've been on a Go-Go's kick lately, so it's Go-Go's time on Friday Night Videos! Unfortunately, most of their videos seem to be missing from YouTube, even on the band's official channel. The good news is that one of the videos available is "Head Over Heels," a masterfully-crafted pop earworm. I had the Talk Show album from which this single sprang forth, and it was pretty darn solid overall, showing their growth and maturity as both songwriters and musicians. Alas, which the album did okay on the charts and produced a couple of hits, it wasn't enough to keep internal tensions from breaking up the band for a couple of decades.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jimmy Buffett

Now Playing: David Gilmour About Face
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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Tiki build-along, pt. 8

It's July in Texas! And do you know what that means? It means 90 percent humidity and 100 degree temperatures! It also means my outdoor projects--including the tikification of the back patio--are on hold in favor of things that can be completed in the relative comfort of air conditioning. Fear not--the tiki bar and pool are getting quite a bit of use now as myself and The Wife retreat to our personal tropical paradise on a nightly basis.

The long and short of it is that I'm not likely to have much in the way of build-alongs for the remainder of the summer. Just so you know. But before I temporarily sign off on this particular series, I want to share my efforts on the ceiling. Most traditional tiki bars have interesting ceilings. Very often they're adorned with lauhala matting, fishing nets, bamboo, reed and other texture-rich materials. They look great. They're also almost always inside, in climate-controlled environs. That's not the case with me, and my primary concern was 1) that it not act as a haven for dirt, spiders, wasps, etc. and 2) be easy to clean. Obviously, that's something of a challenge, to hit those targets whilst still being suitably tiki. The existing white ceiling had to go, though, lest I get a scolding from the legendary Bamboo Ben about "No white ceilings!"

Fortunately, The Wife and I had a plan for the ceiling even before we were bitten by the tiki bug. There's a tradition in the Southern U.S. of painting porch ceilings blue. Supposedly this discourages insects (ie mud daubers, spiders, etc.) from nesting there. The blue confuses them, thinking it's the sky, supposedly. We tried this at the old house, painting the unfinished drywall a sky blue. And it seemed to work. A section of the garage we never got around to painting did have mud dauber nests, but the painted sections stayed clean. So for the tiki porch, we'd paint the ceiling blue to simulate a marine environment.

First up, I pressure washed the ceiling. It was amazing just how much dust and grime had accumulated over the years. What had been a dull, grayish-white became a much brighter dull white. Then I used an edger to paint all the corners where the ceiling met the walls. I laid plastic tarp on the ground and taped more plastic to the walls where I was painting, to catch any drips. Regardless of how careful you are, there will be drips. There are always drips. Also, regular broom handles aren't really designed to handle the stress of paint rollers. I snapped two of them and had the roller fall on top of me, making me look part Smurf, before I got smart and bought a metal handle with a reinforced screw thread. No more broken handles.

Note the ugly, UV-yellowed ceiling fans. Until we started painting the ceiling blue, we didn't give them much thought. They kind of blended in with the dull ceiling and went unnoticed. They were effective at moving air on the patio, though, and on hot days make it quite comfortable, so removing the fans entirely was never considered. But oh, how hideous these old fans now look!

Surprise! The Wife gifted me with two new, tiki-appropriate ceiling fans for our anniversary!

Naturally, the old ceiling fan mounts were incompatible with the new ones, so what should've been a 30 minute switch-out ended up taking most of the day. But eventually, I triumphed. And the new fans look fantastic. The lights aren't terribly tiki, though, so I'm reading threads on and taking cues from people like Tiki Skip on how to scratch-build tiki lights. Eventually, the existing lights will be replaced with tiki versions. Two fans down, three to go!

Now, let's discuss best laid plans. In going for an undersea, marine vibe, I took another cue from another home bar build on Tiki Central and tracked down some Valspar color crystals to add to my paint. This is essentially very fine silver glitter, and I added four packets per gallon of paint (It seems Valspar has recently discontinued this product, so finding it in stores became rather hit-or miss, and online options are in price gouging territory). The idea is to simulate a glittery, underwater look, and I have to say the effect is subtle but nice with angled light. The next step, however, didn't work out quite so well. We thought we'd paint caustic ripples--the refracted light pattern you see in swimming pools, etc.--on the ceiling. Simple enough, right? Wrong. I got an assortment of pattern photos and used a projector to throw them onto the ceiling. Looked great! Then I took a lighter blue paint--with the glitter added--and painted over the projected pattern. Looked great! The I turned the projector off. Looked terrible! The fake wood grain texture of the ceiling panels did me no favors, but even without that, it just looked a mess.

We discussed various options for trying to salvage the idea, but ultimately decided it would just be a case of throwing good money after bad. Sometimes you have to accept failure and move on. So move on I did. The caustic ripple patterns had only been step one. Step two is what I hoped would really sell the undersea concept--silhouettes! Again, I used the projector to throw the image where I wanted, and used a black Sharpie to quickly sketch the outline.

I did the projecting and sketching at night, for obvious reasons. Some of the images were too large to do all at once, so I had to break them up into sections, completing one outline then moving the projector and lining up the second section with what I'd already outlined. Tedious work. Also, sweaty work. Even with the sun down, the humidity was sweltering and I was soaked completely through by the time I finished.

In the daylight, I used a 3/4 inch flat brush to paint in the silhouettes. I thought this part would go quickly. I thought wrong. Two hours per silhouette, minimum. Aching neck, aching shoulders, cramping hands were bonus prizes. And, much to my chagrin, a single coat of paint wasn't enough. Single coats looked splotchy and uneven, requiring a second coat to even things out. But the sea turtle--the only one that's received both coats--looks pretty darn good. This one greets visitors when they arrive. Eventually, I'll paint over the ill-fated ripple patterns. That'll be tedious work, so I need to run out of excuses not to first.

Here's the hammerhead shark, the largest silhouette. He's somewhere along the lines of 6-7 feet long. I knew I wanted a big shark on the ceiling, but didn't think a tiger or Great White would present well in silhouette from underneath. A hammerhead was perfect. He still needs a second coat.

I pretty much had to do a manta ray as well. They're huge and instantly recognizable. He needs a second coat as well.

There is more paint work yet to do. Because the water ripple pattern didn't work out, there's a lot more blank blue ceiling that needs attention--there's 64 feet of it, after all. The farthest end will feature a mermaid in profile, but I'm holding off on that one because it will be the most detailed and I want it to be realistic, not cartoonish. That's not an easy target, and I'm still trying to come up with exactly the image I want. And I need more undersea silhouettes to fill in some of the other blank spaces I wasn't anticipating. An octopus seems all but certain at this point, and maybe a sawfish. Beyond that, I'm undecided. Regardless, I'm happy with what I've got at this point.

Now Playing: Talking Heads The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
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