Beach report: Matt’s MC5 Needlepoint

Here’s my update from the beach! Kate, Lydia, Barb, Matt and I are all in Avalon, NJ right now, and we’re all working on our projects.

Matt's MC5 Needlepoint

Matt was interested in my MOL Alligator project. Suddenly, he decided that he should needlepoint a 1960s Gary Grimshaw flyer for proto-punk band MC5 (he came across the flyer in the book he’s been reading at the beach.)

He spent the next 48 hours — almost nonstop — doing art, first in Photoshop and then in Pixen, then he made a trip to Scrim Discovery Needle Work in Ocean City to get some 18-count canvas, a frame, yarn, and a bunch of Sharpies. And he’s been carefully transferring the design from his computer screen to the canvas, using the “make a reference dot every 10 threads” method that I came up with for the MOL gator.

Matt's MC5 Needlepoint
Matt’s plan is to stitch up the pattern, then sew it to the back of a Jeans jacket. I think it’s going to be incredibly great. You can see Matt’s pattern on the left (I’ve hidden the grid-lines and the reference dots that he used.)

Matt walked into Scrim Discovery in a pair of white jeans and a captain’s hat from Hoy’s. He reports that the real-estate agent next door rushed out and tried to head him off before he walked in the store: “Can I *HELP* you, sir!?” No, he said, he was there for the needlepoint, and the agent looked perplexed.

I went in today wearing my pith helmet (and we planned to send Jonathan in tomorrow with a lampshade on his head), so the real-estate agent would think that, uh… I’m not sure what they would think: needlepoint was suddenly becoming popular with seventies adventure-sitcom characters? But the store took it 110% in stride, and I have a new favorite needlepoint store. They were really great, and really helpful.

if you are planning on doing your own beach needlepoint project involving psychedelic federal eagle/television/Illuminati Eyeball combinations, all festooned with jagged crepuscular rays and lightning bolts, and you are wearing a crusader helmet, a fez, or viking horns, I absolutely recommend Scrim Discovery as your shop of choice!

Matt's MC5 Needlepoint
Beach report: Matt’s MC5 Needlepoint

It doesn’t look that clean in person

Basement (before)Basement (During)

The first thing our plumber did when walking into the basement of our house three years ago was enjoy a hearty laugh at our thirty-five-year-old natural-gas furnace. It seemed to bring him genuine joy and delight, like maybe if you went over to a friend’s house and found that all their heat came from a gigantic Rapa Nui monolith in the basement.
Anyhow, “Replace Furnace” has finally come up on our to-do list, so I took a before (left, yesterday morning) and during (right, yesterday evening) picture. We spent last night at Kate’s mom’s house. The fellows are still hooking it up. Our cat is planning Dire Revenge.

It doesn’t look that clean in person

Stylish greetings from THE PAAAAAST

I just this moment got the following email from a very decent fellow named Doug Patteson:
I am part of the 316th FS Foundation, and I do a bunch of historical research on all three Squadrons with in the 324th Fighter Group. I came across your web page on a Google search and pulled this photo for you from our album, which I assume you have seen, but am forwarding in the event you have not. I believe this is your grandfather."
Group Headquarters, 324th Fighter Squadron
It sure is! "Slim" Young is there in the front, looking suitably suave in what appears to be a WHITE SILK ASCOT. Damn. Also: “Hell’s Belles”? Best. Fighter squadron name. EVER. How can a fellow compete with that?
My grand-dad had awesome stories about almost getting lost between tents in North Africa during a sandstorm, and about how after the war, when they were in France awaiting demobilization, they had their hands full keeping the pilots from hot-dogging by flying UNDER the bridges on the Seine. All that, plus a white ascot. Sheesh.
If you want, you can read about JRY’s dad, my great-grandfather, the even-skinnier General Charles Duncanson Young and his runaway spaniel Moppet.

Stylish greetings from THE PAAAAAST

My Dad, the UFO Hunter

1976, at an unpublished location in the hills around Austin, Texas:
In the background, my dad and the other members of Project Starlight International are readying the UFO/VECTOR system they created for a night of UFO hunting.
The “UFO/Video Experiment Console for Transitional Overt Response” system assists Project Starlight in detecting, recording, and communicating with extraterrestrial spacecraft. The team members are wearing white jumpsuits — to better protect from flash burns — and green goggles. Besides looking cool, the goggles protect from the laser, which is transmitting information at 300 baud along a joystick-guided path. There’s a magnetometer that can detect the movement of ferrous objects overhead, and a 100-yard circle of computer-controlled spotlights flashing “pi pi pi” into the Texas sky.
The team’s white jumpsuits have “PSI” logos embroidered on them. They look damn sharp. Who says science on the fringe of respectability can’t look good?
Meanwhile, that’s me in the foreground, gathering rocks in my hat. My mom is taking the pictures, and made the smiley-faces on my knees. I think she was taking pictures that would appear in a Texas Monthly article.
You can some more photos of the hunt for alien life. My favorite is when Ray Stanford, the leader of the project, would stand on his platform, making hand gestures into the sky: “we have no weapons”, he would sign to the stars. “Land over there!”


About an hour after posting those pictures to Flickr, I heard from Ray, who clarified some of my anecdotes (see comments on this post) and let me know what he’s up to now.

I’ve also heard from other members of Project Starlight International, who — in addition to sending me pictures of the kit-build stunt aircraft they’re making in their garages, the R&B groups they’re playing with, and their online rabbinical ministries — and that’s all in one email message — who, I say, have linked me to more information about all the Badass Seventies Technology they were using. Pictured at right: the ring of spotlights used to draw attention to the landing site. I think, but I’m not sure, that the white dots are actually paint carefully added by my mom with a retouching brush.

You can also read about the

Communicate with UFOs by transmitting signals along a joystick-guided laser.

Track and record moving ferrous objects (see comments for correction from Ray) magnetic fields overhead. It’s pictured below — check out the tape drive! And the big capacitors!

Other tech articles are on the main PSI tech page here.

Ray Stanford, the head of the project, urges that UFO to stop begging the government to “WAAH give us the truth”, and instead go out there and GATHER it. Using awesome instrumentation, with giant capacitors, naturally. He needs to be given some kind of Doc Emmett Brown award, especially since he’s now a successful dinosaur hunter(!!!)

What’s the term for stylish seventies science?

Steampunk” is the name applied to mustachio-ed, waistcoat-ed gentleman scientists of the Victorian age, who were half science, half showman, and ALL AWESOME. Project Starlight clearly falls into that mold: Kitty Bo (Hello, Kitty Bo!!!) just weighed in in the comments that they used to be called “Ray Stanford and his Lilly White Space Cadets”. What’s the term for seventies steampunk, done in embroidered jumpsuits?

My Dad, the UFO Hunter

Milking lesson at Seven Stars farm!

Last month, I wrote that we were looking for a milking trainer, so that Barb won’t be one of the Comedically Clueless about Cows at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Celebrity Milking Competition coming up this Friday. Barb has a hands-on approach to legislating (when she needed to learn more about the challenges of trash collection in West Chester, she spent two entire shifts working on the trash truck, not just a photo op.) So I figured she’d be game for some lessons. My ulterior motive is that I wanted a Mister Rogers adventure with Kate and Lydia. And we got one!

I made a number of phone calls to find a trainer. We ended up going out to Seven Stars Farm today. Seven Stars makes organic yogurt — up to 200 quarts a day, six days a week — on their organic farm, which they lease from the Kimberton Waldorf school across the road.

Seven Stars’ co-owner and manager Edie Griffiths, who is a pioneering and veteran biodynamic farmer, showed us the ropes. We got to milk a placid older cow named Renaissance, who was low-key and helpful. And then we got to see the milking machines, the calves, and the yogurt-making operation! All in all, it was a TOTAL Mister Rogers visit, and I had an awesome time. You can see the photoset on Flickr here!

Incidentally, Edie and Seven Stars welcome visitors, and Edie said that she’d give more milking lessons if people are interested. If you want to come out and learn how to milk a cow, let me know! You West Chester Dish folks are very much invited.

Anyhow, a million thanks to Edie and all the hard-working folks at Seven Stars for taking time out of their day to show us around. Their work day starts at THREE. THIRTY. IN THE MORNING, washing the cows down and getting ready for a four AM milking.

PS. there were no kittens around for us to squirt the milk directly into the mouths of, but once I saw how Edie milks, I think it’s just as well there aren’t — she could knock a kitten over at twelve feet with the powerful streams she was urging from those teats at lightning speed.

Milking lesson at Seven Stars farm!

Moments of grace through chicken hackle and bits of yarn

My mom says that my grandfather’s fly fishing and fly-tying hobby was “a pastime for men with exacting professions”, since it demanded precision, patience, and careful attention to detail. That care and patience would then be rewarded, at rare, fleeting, and magnificent intervals by the presence of the ineffable.

The rest of the time, you’re just trying to tie a piece of chicken hackle to a tiny hook with an invisible bit of plastic, and you can’t see any of it, and it’s all a huge pain in the ass.

But those moments of transcendence transform all the rest, retroactively filling them with grace. One of those moments makes a year of tying Royal Coachman flies that look like the cat barfed them up worth it. Well, almost. My Royal Coachmen were pretty bad.

I was talking to my friend and colleague Rem Reynolds a while ago about blogging in the Epic Mode — that is, when you write about your daily cavils as if you were a hero in a Frazetta painting. My contention is that normal life really is epic, at least most of the time, and that the epic is built from thousands of small, inconsequential details. Those details are baby steps on the way to rare, fleeting, and shining moments of transcendence. Which I will call, without sarcasm or irony, the “Dude, I ROCK!!!” moments. I’m completely and totally serious, and YES, I do make the air guitar motion.

Anyhow, Rem’s point was “Yes, John, but not everything is epic, when you get down to it. Some stuff, there’s no payoff at the end, and there’s no meaning behind it.” Which is an excellent, excellent point, and I suppose (here comes the Blinding Flash of the Obvious) that the hard part is to tell two kinds of things apart. Maybe that’s why we have hobbies that are like our jobs — like any job, a hobby can be filled with details, even with tedium, but a hobby rewards you more reliably with cathartic moments of grace. With fly fishing, the moment of getting a fish on the line is magical (not that I’d know too much about that.) Or the moment of stepping out from between the rhododendrons, into the stream, feeling the cold press of water on your waders, and seeing mist on the rocks.

Anyhow, this started out as a post about needlepoint, because needlepoint, like fly fishing, is a pastime for people with exacting professions. Plus, needlepoint is friggin’ PERFECT for computer artists, because it is both like computer art (tiny picture elements assembled into a coherent whole), and unlike computer art (the thing you make actually, you know, exists, has a pleasing, wooly texture, and has every chance of lasting longer than you do.) My big question is whether or not needlepoint is going to provide a big I ROCK moment after many hours invested in the details. Is needlepoint epic? I’m going to hope that it is, and the first time I slap down my finished mono canvas, throw a double deuce at the sky, and shout “YEAH! I ROCK!”, I will be sure to let you know.


Meanwhile, this seems like an excellent time to link to some pictures of the Pohoqualine Fishing Association that my mom took (and developed, and printed in her darkroom) in 1979. Pohoqualine is a private fishing club in Stroudsburg, PA that my great-grandfather and grandfather, and father all belonged to — a Fitzgeraldian bulwark where captains of industry would go to master tiny, niggling details in the hope of catching a moment of grace. Plus, there’s a sock wringer that I always thought was AWESOME.

More to come on the needlepoint later.

Moments of grace through chicken hackle and bits of yarn