18 degrees of freedom, Four nailed down

I’m not sure I’m counting right when I say 18 degrees of freedom. Really counting it and figuring out which ones are independent of each other would probably give me a headache. Either that or make a good problem for a college mechanical engineering class, which I’m not qualified to teach.

I’ve got an arch to build. I’ve built two legs and a curved top. I want to attach it to Flutterby so that it is properly aligned with the back of my hard dodger to support three big solar panels. I had built all three pieces by the time I left this boatyard last summer. I had started trying to figure out how to fit them together then, but left before I finished.

When I returned, I was dreading this complicated set of decisions, so I decided to make easier progress on the hard dodger, as all the complicated decisions like this were already made. having done some good work there, I’m back at it again.

The saying goes “measure twice, cut once.” If you know how long a piece you want, you only have one measurement. Double-check it and then cut it! That isn’t my problem.

I put the three parts temporarily over the cockpit, about where they will go. Then I started measuring. Two measurements doesn’t even get me started. I’ve got two plumb bobs to check if each leg is at the same angle fore-and-aft. and also inboard/outboard. I’ve got two more to check the height and position of the arch. I’ve got marks where the outside edges of the solar panels will go on both the arch and the back of the dodger. I’ve got rails balanced between the two of them so I can check both that the arch and the back of the dodger are parallel, and that the solar panel edges are at a right angle to both arches. I can check the angle of the dodger, the arch, and the connecting rails with a level. To tweak things right, I’ve got six strings tied to the legs and tugging them in various opposing directions.

Last week, I did something big. I decided to drill four holes. The day before yesterday, I actually drilled two holes in the base of each leg. Doing it took a bit of creative work with a drill press, and it was while an amazing front was blowing through, complete with a tornado warning on my phone and the lights flickering a couple times.

Yesterday I did the next step. Put everything back up together, and drilled two holes into the boat, and put in screws. Boom. Now the bottom of each leg is located in two dimensions. Four degrees of freedom nailed down. 14 to go (plus or minus a few!)

Deciding how to decide can be the toughest part.

The actual decision is easier, but can be tedious. You have been warned. If your eyes glaze over a couple sentences into the next paragraph, just give up and skip to the last paragraph!

Today I went back and re-measured a couple things. Discovered that two measurements didn’t agree with each other. The two rails that should be parallel weren’t perpendicular to the same thing. Scratched my head a bit. Re-measured and found out that the marks where I was locating the outside rails were not the same distance apart on the arch that they were on the dodger. Oops. Fixed that. Noticed that my beam is twisted a bit, with one corner up about a half inch compared to the other. Found that I could clamp it flat without too much effort, and figured I’d do that when I glued it all together. Noticed that while the wheel is vertical, and that the stainless pipe on the front of the binnacle is NOT vertical. Now i know which one to look at when I’m checking the legs.

And I decided that I don’t care if the legs are exactly vertical or not. My masts aren’t at the same angle either, and the boat doesn’t float upside down from that. I still need to set that angle, and I’ve decided I’ll do it based on where it puts the front of the solar panels with respect to the front of the dodger instead. It matters more to me, and it is easier to measure. Double-win!

Another decision. In the morning I’ll re-check a bunch of measurements, and drill two more holes and put in two more screws. I’ll have the fore-and-aft angle of both legs set. Two more degrees of freedom nailed down. I’m chipping away at it. Pretty soon I’ll be epoxying the whole thing together!

Seeking the joy of Facebook

Confession time: I have a dysfunctional love-hate relationship with Facebook.

Today I’m living alone in a boatyard outside of a small town in Georgia. I don’t plan to be here much longer, which is good because I don’t have any close friends here. I am more isolated than I want to be.

Enter, Facebook. Most of my friends are on Facebook. Some of you lurk. Mostly that is what I have done. Some of you share your greatest joys, like your marriage, or moving in to start a new, joyful relationship. Some of you share your sorrows, like the loss of a pet, or your frustrations like that amazingly bad date. Some of you share lighter parts of your life, like a picture of your cat, or your amazing Halloween costume.

And even when I’m not getting that, you share all sorts of interesting things too. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I might have missed the cute catchy song and video “All about that bass (no treble)” I’m certain that if it wasn’t for Facebook, I would have missed the even cuter Star Wars parody of it “All about that base (no rebels)

Facebook gives me a chance to reach out and have a genuine connection with you, my friends and family. Even when I’m thousands of miles away, which I am today. I LOVE this!

More often I don’t. Remember “All about that base?” I look at what someone is up too…and wistfully think how I’d like to be closer. Then I distract myself by following one of you to George Takai’s page… Or that thoughtful article about current events… Or I see a shared link that looks like misinformation and take go trip over to Snopes or Google to fact check, and try to put my finger over that leak in the dike as if it will make a difference… Or get irked by the click-bait teaser links that Upworthy.com is famous for…even when I really like what they are saying.

The next thing I know, two hours have gone by. I’m still on Facebook. And I haven’t had a genuine experience with anyone. I just checked out for two hours, and cannot get those hours back. Facebook as a business model based on making me spend those hours. Facebook has spent millions on research and coding to keep me engaged. They don’t care whether I feel good or bad after I’ve spent those hours, as long as I come back.

This is my Facebook news feed dilemma. I know I’m not alone. Every week or two one of my friends announce some sort of Facebook hiatus, temporary, indefinite, or permanent. I said something about this topic to a friend on the phone. There was no need to explain it. She totally knew. Months ago, another friend chose not to put FB on her phone, only using it on her computer. (I haven’t asked if she is still resisting!)

I resisted using Facebook on my phone too. By the time I got the app, Facebook had done something interesting: Split the mobile app into two different ones: Facebook (for browsing) and Messenger (for chatting).

That inspired a plan for me!

  • Embrace Facebook Messenger. I’ll try to have it open when I’ve got my phone on to receive texts or calls. I welcome all of my Facebook friends to say “Hi” anytime.
  • Limit my use of the Facebook app. It is just a new view into my news feed complete with the same old problems.
  • Share more small parts of my life on Facebook. If it is worth writing for more than five minutes, it is worth writing on my blog instead. (like this) Then share it on Facebook.

If you are struggling with your own relationship with Facebook, or are one of my few remaining friends and family that only read this on my blog, and and aren’t on Facebook, don’t let me drag you into Facebook’s tenacious embrace. Please email, call, or text me directly!

Goodbye, my faithful friend

Goodbye, my faithful friend. You have been with me for over twenty years. Up until last week, you have done everything I asked you gracefully and without any complaint. In the last week, I started asking more of you than you could give, yet you gave it willingly. Today you were grievously injured, but you still did what I needed of you, with nearly the last of of you. Thank you.

Everybody, go ahead and laugh for a moment at me. I am talking about an electric drill. Have your laugh, and allow me to continue. You may stop reading If you cannot imagine loving a tool; this story isn’t for you. It is for my tool-using friends, who can understand.

My Black & Decker Corded Drill
My Black & Decker Corded Drill

This Black & Decker corded drill came into my life back when I was in my third apartment. I think we bought it to drill some holes and stabilize some shelves in the closet. Up until then, if I needed to do a project, I had gone to home and used my dad’s shop and his tools. It must have been 1991 or 1992. Back then, it was just a drill. Cordless drills were so rare that you didn’t have to say “corded.”

You served me more during my years of home ownership. I cannot count the tasks I did with you then. Then you served me well as a boat owner. Soon after starting work on Flutterby, I started taking you for granted. I bought a fancy cordless drill, with a keyless chuck, and I used you a lot less often. I still use some. I needed the wire wheel too long for your replacement’s battery. I was trying to keep your replacement pristine, so I used you for stirring paint.

Your chuck key and chuck teeth started to wear. I finally bought you a new chuck key, but it never quite fit your worn teeth.. Still you did what was needed. Your cord started to fray a bit. I used a lot of tape and stuff, and kept electricity going safely into you. A few years back, Margaret questioned whether we needed you anymore with your cordless replacement. She was right that there isn’t room for a lot of tools here on Flutterby. But I knew you were still faithful, and I still used you for long jobs, and dirty jobs. So we stayed together.

Three days ago, I asked you to do a hard job. Your cordless replacement ran through his battery too fast for this one. I was cutting out windows for the hard dodger. Four windows to go. Twenty corners of those windows. Each one cut out with a hole saw. Through 3/4” of plywood, with fiberglass on each side. I even filed some sharpness back onto the teeth of the hole saw so it wasn’t quite as dull before starting the job. That didn’t last. As you were cutting these holes, I felt you hesitating. I felt your motor getting tired if I pushed too hard. And with such dull teeth, I had to push hard. You made it through that. It was a glorious day of work on my hard dodger. Then after cutting all those holes, I asked put the sanding drum in your chuck and asked you to clean up rough cuts and touch up the corners. I even used you for sanding flat areas. The new belt sander’s motor had already died. You gave me all this willingly at great cost. It was a glorious day of accomplishment for me.

Today I asked you to shape some fiberglass with a coarse sanding drum. I had just filled in the corner between the original ‘whiskers’ on deck and my new hard dodger. I pulled your trigger, locked it in place, and started grinding away. When your body was uncomfortably hot to hold through cotton gloves, I knew something was wrong. I noticed the burned look around your motor vents. I noticed you were not running smoothly. I was mostly done with the job on one side. I sat down for a break. I started shopping for a replacement for you, doubting you would even finish this job.

I wasn’t able to go shopping just yet, so I went back to work. Did other parts with other grinding tools. And when you had cooled down, went back and ground out the other side, hearing your protests that you didn’t have much left in you. Again I had to let you rest, to cool down, so I worked with other tools for a while. At the end of this job, I asked you for a little more fine tuning with the sanding drum. You didn’t let me down.

I know you aren’t healthy or strong anymore. If I ask you one more job, I know you will give me all you have. I won’t be surprised if you have enough.

People have lots of good qualities

Next Time

A number of years ago, my friend Jacqui gave me and Barry a couple of purple rubber bracelets she’d gotten at the Center for Spiritual Living. They were imprinted with the words “Complaint-Free World.”

The premise was simple. To break the habits of complaining, criticizing, or gossiping, you just had to switch the bracelet to the other wrist any time you did one of those three things. If you could keep it on the same wrist for 21 days, then you had broken the cycle and overcome the habit.

Barry and I used them for a lot longer than 21 days. We found ourselves wearing them off and on for years. And I’m still not perfect! But I’m a lot more aware of myself when I do complain, criticize, or gossip. “The purple bracelet,” as we called it, was a good tool for learning new communication patterns.

The problem is, the rest of the world hasn’t taken up purple bracelets. And I have a terrible time receiving criticism. Some people simply wither. Not me. I cry.

When I hear the first few words of criticism, my brain starts screaming “Flee! Flee! Flee! Die! Die! Die!” I begin apologizing non-stop for my flaws, my failures, my looks, my weight, my ancestry, and anything else I can think of. I back out of the room, trying not to bawl until I’m out of sight.

It’s hard for me to learn anything new that way.

To me, “constructive criticism” sounds like an oxymoron. How can it possibly be constructive when it’s hurting my feelings so much?

Lately, however, I’ve found that there is another way for me to learn from my mistakes. There is such a thing as constructive criticism. It requires two simple things: Kindness, and these two words: “Next time.”

The first time I really got “next time” was in August, with Barry’s Dad, Dave. He’d been working out in the yard and had stopped into the kitchen for a drink of water. I’d been filling water jugs for Burning Man and carrying them out to the van; I was about to start packing food from the kitchen.

“Uh, Margaret…” said Dave, politely, “Next time you use the hose, let me put it away.”

I stopped and stared at him, like a deer in the headlights. Was I being chastised? Had I been a bad person? Should I apologize profusely? Or should I just pay attention to the words in his request?

He went on to explain that I’d coiled up the hose without draining it. When I hung it up in the garage, the leftover water in the hose ended up all over the floor. He said it so matter-of-factly, the only thing I could say was “Oops.”

The next thing I knew, we were both chuckling at my mistake. That was a first.

The long hose was so heavy, I had really struggled with it. Dave was kindly acknowledging that under the circumstances, I had done the best I could. He had a better solution, and in the spirit of constructive suggestion, he was offering it to me, free of charge. Of course, I couldn’t change the past, but “next time” I could do better.

I came away from the interaction with a new appreciation for Dave’s communication skills. I’ve always known him to be a super-quiet guy, one of those engineer-types. Coming from my own loud, boisterous family, I assumed quiet people were poor communicators. Now I saw how wrong I was. He used his words so carefully, so sparingly, that I could take him at face value. He only said what he meant.

He still liked me and could still laugh with me, even though I’d flooded his garage.

A few weeks later, I was staying with a friend in San Jose. “Next time you use that sharp knife, please wash it and put it away in the knife block.” Again, there was no chastisement for what I had done, only a constructive suggestion for how to do it better in the future. Again, the sentence started with, “Next time.” Again, it was delivered with a kind smile.

I was learning how to transform criticism — of me! — into useful learning.

Usually, when someone does something wrong, we put our criticism and complaints in the past tense: “You left the toilet seat up!” or “You left the toilet seat up again!” or the worst one: “You always leave the toilet seat up!”

Unable to fix or remedy what we did in the past, people become defensive. “It’s not my fault! The cat was drinking out of it!” Then kindness goes out the window, and an argument begins.

With two simple words, “next time,” we can give each other a graceful way out. We can acknowledge that the other person did they best he or she could and still take advantage of the teaching moment. We can be kind and unambiguous with our words, instead of delivering stinging criticism.

I recommend you try it. Next time.

My window on the world

Faired Hard Dodger
Flutterby’s hard dodger, after filling and fairing, with very rough oversized holes where the windows will be soon.

I’ve been building Flutterby’s hard dodger. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, which is important….but  the pictures don’t look impressive. Filling and fairing  is at least visible, but still not impressive looking: Apply maybe a pound of stuff where you think there are low spots, cracks, or pinholes. Wait for it to cure. Start sanding, and make about a pound of dust. The result is smoother, with an err…interesting? blotchy? mix of colors. The real results will show up after painting..

When the job is done, much of the world around Flutterby will be seen through these windows, from the cockpit looking forward, or just sticking my head out the companionway like a prairie dog. Cutting the hole is a big step. They are hard to relocate if miss-placed. Putting a rounded inside corner where it is supposed to be is complicated too. Today I made a jig to align the center point for a hole saw exactly where it should be next to two edges, knowing that none of the corners are 90 degrees, and none are the same either….and allowing just enough extra to clean it up with a sanding drum that is 1/8″ bigger than the hole left by the hole saw. I’ve already made little tools to trace a line the right distance up off the deck, following all the curves. Today, after all the thinking and planning, I was ready and cut a window out and sanded the hole smooth!

One down. Four more to go. The “figuring it out” part was bigger than the cutting part, and that is already done for all five windows. My window on the world is opening up and getting a lot more refined!

The front port window cut out from the outside
The front port window cut out from the outside
The front port window cut out, from the outside
The front port window cut out, from the outside
Not my favorite dance step

Anti-Social Dance

I told David that dance was my thing,
So he showed me some waltz and some swing,
Then a man with big shoes,
Gave me a touch of the blues,
Now the limp gives my salsa more zing.

Not my favorite dance step
Not my favorite dance step

In a rumba lesson, the man with big shoes stepped forward when he should have stepped back. I have a blue toe and a new appreciation for careful dance partners like my  friend, David Seghers, and my husband, Barry.

 

Let’s do lunch!

It’s been eleven years since I quit,
And I miss all my friends, I admit,
But when you read my book,
You will see, I forsook
Corporate life for a much better fit.

Steve and Meps at Sweet Mickey's
Steve, of Expeditors International, and Meps at Sweet Mickey’s, September 2014

This is especially for my former coworkers, who have kindly encouraged me to be an author and artist, instead of a business analyst, knowledge manager, or systems integrator. I’m probably ruined for the corporate world now, because I can’t remember how to install (is that the correct verb?) pantyhose. I hope I don’t have to wear pantyhose when I make it to the Today Show.

If you’re a former coworker of Meps’, please say hello in the comments!

 

 

Sweet Strangers in Ballard

I hope to see your smiling faces in Ballard tonight, sometime between 6 and 8 pm. If the rain stops, we can make Happy Spots on the sidewalk in front of the store! If it doesn’t, we can make paper Happy Spots inside!

When I walked in right off of the street,
The two strangers I happened to meet,
In their colorful store,
Full of candy galore,
Booked an author appearance there — Sweet!

Sweet Mickey'sIf you’re in the Seattle area, come see Meps on Tuesday, Sept. 23 from 6 to 8 pm at Sweet Mickey’s Candy Shoppe in Ballard (next to QFC on 57th). An autographed copy of Strangers Have the Best Candy won’t rot your teeth. And the fabulous candy and fudge Sweet Mickey’s carries is worth a trip to the dentist!

Puget Sound

Shrieking at Strangers

To the man I shrieked at last April, who was waiting to use the bathroom, I apologize. I was unable to explain at the time, but here’s the whole story:

I was sitting on Flutterby, hauled out in the boatyard in Georgia, and I needed to use the bathroom. It was the middle of the day, the sun was out, and the distance was only about 50 yards. Yet I lingered on the boat, shaking and trying to get up my nerve.

Finally, I put my head down and went slowly down the stairs. I trudged across the sandy lot, looking intently at the ground. My hands were clasped tightly around my elbows to dampen the shaking. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an alligator.

A WHAT?!?

Concrete alligator
A WHAT?!?

I looked again and realized that it was only a small statue, a piece of yard art. But it was too late: Adrenaline was already surging through my system and taking over my brain. The pure chemical reaction made me want to run for my life, screaming.

“It’s only a statue. It’s only a statue. It’s only a statue,” I repeated to myself, as I continued past it to the bathroom. Once inside, I locked the door securely.

But even after ten minutes in the bathroom, I couldn’t stop shaking with fear. I stood with my hand on the doorknob, and some prehistoric portion of my brain was screaming, “Alligator! Alligator! It’s going to eat you! You’re going to die!”

Finally, taking a deep breath, I opened the door v-e-r-y slowly.

Unfortunately, while I was having my crisis in the bathroom, I didn’t realize that a nice gentleman was now waiting to use the facilities. I was so shocked to be face-to-face with a 6-foot human being that I gave a bloodcurdling scream. Then I ran all the way back to the boat and didn’t come out for a couple of days.

At the time, I had no idea what was wrong with me. A few weeks later, I got an answer: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.

In a given year, nearly 18% of American adults will be affected by some form of anxiety disorder, including GAD, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  As you can see from the alligator story, GAD is not a simple matter of worrying about the economy or whether the boat will go aground. Sufferers are unable to cope with excessive, irrational fear of things that are not actually very threatening, like a concrete alligator or a trip to the post office.

Puget Sound
A healing view of Puget Sound from West Seattle

My initial reading about the problem helped a lot. Then I returned to Seattle for months of medical treatment. I had ups and downs. Some days, I got dressed to go to the post office, but I never made it past the bedroom door. Other days, I seemed fine, giving public presentations and newspaper interviews and pitching my book, Strangers Have the Best Candy. All summer, I stayed close to home, never knowing when something unexpected would trigger me.

I had made incredible progress by August, when Barry and I set out on a 2,000-mile road trip in the Squid Wagon. I did fine in Eugene, Oregon, visiting with family. We continued south to see friends in California — Alameda, Oakland, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz. By the time we reached Burning Man, I felt like myself again. Out in the middle of the desert, in the most inhospitable circumstances, I was joyful and strong.

I had arrived back to myself just in time. Five days after arriving at Burning Man, I came down with appendicitis and landed in a hospital in Reno!

Obviously, I survived. I even made it back to Burning Man, and I have some great stories to share. But I wanted to write about the alligator incident, because I’ve struggled with anxiety disorder all summer.

Please, have compassion for people who are acting strange; you have no idea what internal struggles they are facing. And if someone comes out of the bathroom, screams, and runs away, don’t take it personally. She thought you were an alligator, but she’s better now.

Gator at the front door
Thank God it’s just an alligator!