Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gainfully employed!

I had a second interview today, after which I was offered a job. I start next week. I'll be working at Spruce Tree Music, a local independently owned store which sells and repairs stringed instruments. Guitars, violins, harps, ukuleles, etc. It sounds like my duties will be varied, from cleaning, tuning and setting up instruments to answering phones, helping customers, and learning repair. I'm pretty excited about it. The salary is a little lower than what I was earning at my previous job, but I'm okay with that. It's going to be a relief to have a more regular source of income, and working for a local independent business, not to mention working with musical instruments, appeals to me as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Woo hoo!

I had a job interview today. The first interview, actually, the first call, I've gotten since being laid off about a year and a half ago. That must mean the Economic Crisis™ is over, right? But, seriously, I think the interview went pretty well and I'm pretty certain I would like working there. I hesitate to mention where or what kind of job it would be at this point in time, in case I don't get it. I'll write more about it should the position be offered to me.

When I was younger, I tended to be pretty confident when I interviewed. After all, I was offered a job every time I got an interview. I've even turned down job offers in the past. Things are different now, though. For one thing, the only time I ever lost a job before was when the company I was working for went out of business, and the new owner hired me almost instantly. Aside from that, I had never lost a job for any reason. In addition, a year and a half of no calls when applying for jobs has shattered my confidence. Whereas I used to feel that it would be a mistake on the part of a prospective employer not to hire me, now I find myself wondering why anyone would want to hire me. I'm old, unemployed, no college degree, etc, etc, blah, blah, woof, woof, woof. We'll see what happens. At this point in time, there's nothing I can do but wait. Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Anniversary, continued

We had rather grandiose plans for our anniversary and, although some of our plans didn't come to fruition, we went out to dinner at Peppino's, one of Madison's oldest restaurants. Neither of us had ever been there before and we thought it would be nice to eat there at least once while they still exist. The service, food and atmosphere were all excellent. It was a very nice dinner.

Afterward, we took a walk in Tenney Park, which is very close to our house, but, aside from skating in the winter, we don't visit it very often.

A beautiful evening spent with a beautiful woman. What could be better?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Anniversary #22!

Today is the twenty-second anniversary of the day Ms. Geranium (a.k.a. Luminiferous Ether) and I got married. Hard to believe it has been that long. Equally hard to believe is that she has put up with me for that long. Happy anniversary, Suzy, the love of my life and my best friend. I love you!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Appliances-SFB: More Than Enough

I'm trying to finish getting all those Appliances-SFB clips up on the YouTubes. I think, after this one, I have four more to go, and then I'll be done. Yay! Three out of the four that are left are covers of other people's songs, and I'm trying to get permission from the writers, although I don't know if it's necessary. There are an awful lot of videos on the YouTubes of people playing songs written by other people, and I seriously doubt that they all got permission from the authors.

Well, then. Here is "More Than Enough", written and sung by guitarist William Siebecker while Tom Laskin takes over on guitar. If you can understand the words, you'll find that, even though he wrote the song during the reign of The Greatest President In Our Nation's History™, Ronald Reagan (believe it or not, I succeeded in writing that without barfing - anyone who knows me is aware that I consider Ronald Wilson Reagan, a.k.a. Insane Anglo Warlord, to be among the worst presidents we've ever had and it is his policies which have culminated in the mess we're in right now), or possibly during the reign of King George I, the song is still relevant. That's kind of a sad statement, but it's true. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ed Goes Paragliding: The Movie

Coming soon to a theater near you! Look for it on DVD, VHS, Beta, Laserdisc and Those Little Movies You Make By Drawing Pictures On The Pages Of A Book And Flipping The Pages Really Fast™!

In my last post I promised I would get this up "soon". So, here it is. I'll post the video first, then I'll write some stuff that, hopefully, will be at least somewhat relevant and interesting. I figure the video is the exciting bit, at least for me, so you can watch that and then, if you feel like it, you can read the stuff I wrote. My apologies to those of my regular readers (yes, it's hard to believe, but, for reasons that are beyond me, I seem to have a few regular readers) who have already seen the following video elsewhere.

Here's the video!!!!!!!! (Some of you may know about the significance of the excessive use of exclamation points. Some of you may not. If you don't, I'm sorry, but I really am not at liberty to explain. The best I can do is say "read Terry Pratchett!!!!!!!!!!")

My last post was about the trip itself. In this post I am writing about the flying that occurred during the trip. Many people have asked me if I was scared to do this. It's a simple question, but the answer is not so simple. I will try...

Before I left home I was excited, but not scared, to go paragliding. Once we arrived at the site, as I looked down from the top of the hill, yes, I was scared. It was difficult for me to imagine running off the top of that hill. However, Bill, my friend and instructor, was very adept at preparing me for what I needed to do. After two days of training on the ground, which included a couple of small "flights" of a few seconds or so, what scared me the most was the possibility that the weather (wind speed and direction, mostly) would not allow me to fly. Once it was time to attempt a real takeoff, I had enough of a feel for what it would be like that it didn't feel dangerous anymore. Don't get me wrong, I was not under the illusion that I had become an expert. Far from it. Further, I was fully aware that there was potential (mostly due to pilot stupidity) for bodily injury and/or death, but I was confident in the fact that Bill was a meticulous, experienced and knowledgeable instructor who also has a superb safety record, that he had prepared me very well for the site and conditions that we would be dealing with, and that he would not put me in a situation where I would be taking any undue risks. He has, in the past, turned down his fee and refused to let students fly because he felt it wasn't the right thing to do (they were not ready or they didn't have the proper attitude to fly safely) so I felt pretty certain that if Bill thought it was time to fly and I felt it was time to fly (and I tend to be pretty cautious about such things in my old age, unlike my wild and reckless youth when I was, like many young people, nigh invulnerable), then it must be time to fly.

Prior to beginning training, looking at the hill, I tried to imagine what it would be like to run off the hill. In reality, or, at least, in my reality, after the hours of practicing technique, it no longer felt like running off the hill. The best description I can give would be something along these lines: One's normal frame of reference is one of connection to the ground, or being part of the ground. If you jump into the air, you feel disconnected until you are in contact with the ground again. During takeoff, what I experienced was a smooth but rapid shift of my frame of reference from being part of the ground to being part of the glider. Rather than running off the hill and jumping into the air, letting go of the ground, from the moment I began my run the glider began to support me, and the glider lives in the air. The ground simply, very gently, went somewhere else. Or, to put it another way, the ground was like a train that I had been riding for a long time. I had gotten off the train and the train was leaving the station. It was really quite easy and not scary at all.

[Of course, I said "very gently", which was what it felt like at the time, but I had a number of rather dramatic-looking bruises afterward. I don't even know for sure when I got them, as I was only aware of the task at hand during training and takeoff, but they were all located where the harness straps were in contact with my body (upper thighs were the worst - all purple, puffy and ugly, but there were also bruises where the chest-strap crossed my torso and where the "risers" made contact with my upper arms.) I suspect they were mostly inflicted during takeoff practice and, to a lesser extent, takeoff itself. How? Well, this is what takeoff is like: When you begin your run, the glider is just a limp assembly of fabric and lines lying on the ground and attached to your harness. You run as fast as you can, with the risers crossing over your upper arms, holding the "A" risers in your hands to bring up the leading edge of the wing first. Once the leading edge begins to come up, the cells of the glider fill with air and it becomes quite solid. At this point, the glider is perpendicular to the ground and feels like a solid, immovable mass. Imagine trying to pull a tree out of the ground by tying some lines to it, attaching them to a harness and running as fast as you can away from the tree. When you reach the end of the lines, imagine the jolt you feel. Unfortunately, that tree isn't going to come out if you stop there, so don't stop. Keep running. Now pull up another tree using the same technique. Repeat for a few hours a day for two days. I think that's where the bruises came from. Once the wing comes up overhead, there is much less resistance to your forward momentum, but those first few seconds are fairly, umm, let's just say forceful.]

While ground handling, Bill remarked several times that I was catching on quickly. The problem was, I didn't know why, or what, exactly, I was doing right. After a while, I made a few mistakes, which, believe it or not, gave me more confidence. For one thing, the mistakes helped me to understand what I had been doing right. It also seemed like something that had to happen sooner or later, so I was pleased to find out, while still on the ground, what happens when things go wrong. I suspect that my many years as a folkdancer were a big help in this regard. Bill continually reminds you that the glider's job is to fly and your job is to run and do what the glider wants you to do. You can't win if you try to fight the glider. All the feedback you get from the glider about what you need to do is tactile. You can't see it very well when it's directly overhead, so it's important to be able to feel what is happening with the wing. Much of this is also true of folkdancing. When doing line dances from Eastern Europe, couple's dances from Scandinavia, etc, you learn to function either in a line or as a couple, and you have to rely on feel and balance and move accordingly. Ground handling with the paraglider felt an awful lot like dancing. The glider pulls you in a certain way, so you need to respond accordingly, sort of thing.

When you're taking off, as you run you feel less and less weight on your feet. Next thing you know, you take a step and your foot doesn't touch the ground. You see the ground falling away from you. Then, at some point, you look down. All you can see between you and the ground is your legs dangling beneath you, useless for the time being. Wow.

That's my convoluted and rambling answer to a brief and simple question. Maybe there's a future for me in politics. Vote for Enriched Geranium! He can say nothing for a long time! (Paid for by the Committee to Elect Enriched Geranium.)

To anyone reading this who has an interest in learning to paraglide, I heartily recommend contacting Bill at Flyaway Paragliding. You may need to travel to Colorado or California, but plane tickets can be pretty cheap. You'll have a wonderful time and, if the weather gods smile upon you, you'll get a chance to do some flying. You'll be in the hands of one of the best in the business.

Once again, I'd like to say thank you to Ms. Geranium, my mother, siblings, daughter, and, of course, Bill for the trip and the flying instruction. Now I just need to find a way to do some more of this.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Birthday Present

I know, I know, I'm a little overdue for a new post. Yes, my birthday was in April. Whatever. Sorry. Anyway, on my birthday (well, actually, it was the day after my birthday, but there were scheduling complications) the lovely and talented Ms. Geranium presented me with a round trip ticket to Denver. I looked at it and thought, why would she be giving me a ticket to Denver? The only reason I could think of was to visit our old friend, Bill. It just so happens that Bill is also one of the most respected paragliding instructors in the region. I've always wanted to learn how to paraglide, and the birthday present included paragliding lessons! Ms. Geranium had planned the whole thing, got my mother, siblings, and even our oldest daughter to chip in to help pay for the trip, and, on top of that, what with all the people involved, she still managed to keep it a secret until my birthday (well, actually, as I mentioned before, the day after my birthday.)

Wednesday, the day I left, the weather was pretty nasty. Even at 36,000 feet I could see clouds that were higher than we were, and the plane was bouncing around like, well, like something that is bouncing around quite a bit. We eventually got beyond the nasty weather (somewhere over Nebraska, I think), the sky cleared up and, aside from seeing another plane scream past us in the other direction at a distance from our plane that seemed to me to be closer than was intended, the flight was pretty uneventful.

Bill picked me up at the airport, we stopped at a park in Boulder and ate our Fraboni sandwiches. (Fraboni's is an Italian Delicatessen in Madison that makes the best sandwiches. Bill, as a former Madisonian, stipulated that the price of my paragliding lessons would include, among other things, such as signed CDs from the various bands in which I play, sandwiches from Fraboni's, so I picked some up before going to the Madison airport. I was feeling nice, so I also bought him a bottle of Fraboni's secret sub sauce.)

Me with a partially eaten Fraboni's #1 in hand.
Photo by Bill

We did a quick paraglider transplant from his car to the car of his other student (unbeknownst to me at the time, the reason for the transplant was that he needed to make room for all the gear with which we were going to fill his car) and headed to Bill's cabin in Coal Creek Canyon. Bill checked the weather forecast on his computer, which, apparently, he had been watching throughout the preceding few days, and decided that it was not looking good for paragliding on the Front Range, which meant... Road Trip! We were leaving in the morning for the Western Slope on the other side of the mountains, 275 miles from his house. Whilst getting some of my stuff out of his car, I saw some sort of creature running around in the dark. I tried to get a photo of it and went back inside.

"Hey, Bill! There's some kind of critter running around outside. It looked like kind of like a fox, but I can't imagine a fox hanging around your house."

Bill informed me that there were two or three foxes in the area that frequently came around looking for raw chicken. You might wonder why they would expect to find raw chicken at Bill's house? Hmm...

While Bill was feeding raw chicken to the foxes, I had the opportunity to get a few more pictures.

The next day, we packed Bill's car full of camping and paragliding gear and headed to the other side of the mountains. We took our time getting there, making a few stops along the way.

Bill in front of his house.

We drove past this house, made famous in the movie Sleeper.

Stopped at Loveland Pass. (Click on the photo to embiggen it so you can read the orange sign.) Climbed up those stairs in the background so we could get above 12,000 feet.

At 12,000 feet, even those few steps took the wind out of me.

Heading down the other side of the Continental Divide, the rocks changed color. Something to do with cutting through different layers. You might even think it made a case for tectonic shift. Nah! God just made it all that way 6,000 years ago to confuse the scientists.

Stopped to take a bike ride in Glenwood Canyon along the Colorado River, sometimes under and sometimes next to I-70.

The water looked a little rough, but Bill decided to take a dip anyway.

Nice t-shirt.

The Book Cliffs. I guess these guys extend all the way into eastern Utah.

Checking out a potential flying site, Bill decides it's too rocky.
Ankle and toe breaking territory.

Here's a big pile of rocks.

Another hazard for the would-be paraglider: cacti! They were all over the place. Pretty, though.

By the time we got to our campsite it was getting dark.

This is what I saw when I woke up the next morning.

Our campsite.

Bill and I spent the next morning scoping out the various flying sites he has used in the area. Actually, Bill did the scoping. I mostly followed him around and took lots of pictures. We met Bill's other student, Amanda, and spent most of that day and the next training on the ground. It was Amanda's birthday, too! Happy birthday, Amanda.

This is Amanda. Hi, Amanda!
Amanda was an excellent camping and flying companion. She was further along then I was in the paragliding certification program, so I was able to watch and learn from her. She seemed to have no fear. She's a very fun and nice young woman. Bill told me he thinks she is going to be an excellent pilot.

This is Amanda's colorful food.

This is Bill sampling some of Amanda's colorful food.

Bill and Amanda climbing in the Big Ol' Cottonwood tree in our campsite. They found some ticks in the tree. They got out of the tree rather quickly. Smart tree.

The Colorado Beer Bottle Bush. Its flowers look enough like beer bottles that yahoos will pollinate it running from bush to bush looking for beer. Or, maybe, beer actually grows on trees.... er.... bushes in Colorado.

The Car Commercial™.
"The 1988 Suzuki Sidekick. It takes you where you need to go. (Standard Equipment: two out of four electric windows actually functional.)"

The horny toad.

The wind sock. Sometimes it was nice to us.

This town ain't big enough for the two of us.

Amanda training on the ground.

Amanda demonstrating takeoff position.

There she goes!

Bill actually got one photo of me all decked out in paragliding gear, waiting for the wind to cooperate.

On the way back to Bill's house we made a stop and hiked up to Hanging Lake, elevation 7,200 feet.

So, I did get to fly, despite the brevity of my trip. It was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. (Why do people say that? Would a barrel of monkeys actually be fun? I sort of doubt it.) Okay, whatever, it was lots of fun. I want to do it again. I still can't believe Ms. Geranium did all that for me. It was a truly inspired birthday gift. Thanks to Ms. Geranium, the rest of my family and Bill! You're the best!

Coming soon: Ed Goes Paragliding, the movie.