Monday, April 30, 2012

Mozart K576

Every year or so I make a complete cycle through my music books, one piece after another while working on mostly on sight-reading, which has always been my weakness. I was so bad at it in college that I would memorize every piece of music as soon as possible so that I never had to depend on the sheet music.

I'm sure it is a type of dyslexia. Even after memorizing a piece and learning to play it fairly well, if I then try to play it while reading the notes, it usually becomes a tangled mess.

In any case, every year or so I come to a piece that put a final end to my music lessons: Mozart Sonata in D major, K576. I was in my final year at college, and my piano teacher asked me to pick a Mozart sonata to play for the upcoming semester. I picked K576. He said, "No, you will never be able to play that sonata. Pick another."

But that was his style of teaching--he could be very direct, known for making his students cry sometimes. But I insisted that I could learn the piece. So I went to work trying to memorize it, hours and hours of work, until I realized that he was right. After several embarrasing lessons he threatened to give me an F for the semester, so I quit.

Every year or so, I try to prove him wrong. I actually am getting better every year, at a snail's pace, so I'm not quite ready to give up. But I've already given up on K576 this year.

Whatever happened to my piano teacher? He committed suicide years ago, on a matter totally unconnected to my playing.

Mozart's K576

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fish and Frog Eggs

I have long suspected that the fish in our pond feasted on frog eggs and small tadpoles but I never had any proof, not until this week. After our rainstorms this weekend we had an orgy of frogs cavorting in the upper pond. Nothing new. This year they all gathered at the base of the leather-leaf fern, a six-foot tall plant with roots that extend several feet into the water.

These roots are very think, and the frogs are laying long strings of black eggs, like small black pearl necklaces, all tangled into the rubbery root spindles. If I were a fish, these would look very nice to me. Except I've never seen the koi interested in the frog eggs before.

But this year the fish went crazy; they rolled and splashed and jumped, and they fought their way through the roots, and not just for a few minutes. This craziness went on for a whole afternoon. Now the koi are fat and lazy and much less interesting in frog eggs.

If they were smart, they'd let the eggs hatch and wait for the tadpoles. But maybe they are smart. Maybe there are plenty eggs left (though I can see them). I am watching them...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Burned at Tea Time

The holes in the ceiling and above the hallway are fixed now, and the complexion above the door, in particular, turned out very nice because you can't really see the repair, which I suppose is what plastic surgery is all about, except that it pays more.

I can't help taking pictures though, if only to remind myself that I'm not just wandering around the house with a bucket and tools.

Jam has become one of those corporate guys who can't move on from the accomplishments of his youth, even though the bathroom project is just a memory now. He will repeat the story to anyone who will listen, of how the project foundered until he came along and organized things.

The new project--refinishing and painting the doors and trim--is much more mechanical, much less sexy, so he is having trouble generating the necessary drama. Coincidentally, I am having the same problem.

Apparently I burned myself with the tea kettle. I turned it on, just there on the counter top, and then proceeded to organize the cabinet above. A smokey, fleshy smell entered my nostrils before I actually felt anything--the underside of my right arm was just inches above the spout, and I now have a big red hole where my skin used to be.

Not enough has been said in this country about the dangers of tea and tea accessories.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hallway Project, Walls

If I look for it, I see the effects of old age throughout the house. Here's a shot of the hallway wall, where a section of the wall expanded and cracked because of moisture from above--it's just inches away from the attic fan opening, and we've had some leaks in the area.

I became intimately familiar with these walls when demolishing the guest bathroom. Unlike the walls of today, which are made from a chalky material, this wallboard from 1924 is made up of fibers and a thin plaster shell, so it expands and cracks when it gets wet. No problem. I've pulled down this entire section am replacing it.

Another thing I've wondered about is this view of daylight from the attic fan opening. In 1924 these louvers would have been opened most of the summer, and the gigantic fan above would pull air from the house. So these cracks would have been no big deal. I'm going to seal the opening.

I've tried the fan in the summer and it is impressive, like watching a small plane get ready to take off, but nothing can take the heat out of a Florida summer. Thinking back to life in 1924, this fan would have been indispensable if, in fact, anyone were here, but chances are that no one actually lived here in the summer--they would have arrived in the fall from somewhere up north. They would have marched up the stairs, first thing, and turned on the attic fan.

Another item on my hallway project is the bathroom door, which is in sad shape. It has been neglected over the years, poorly painted, pitifully primed, dinged and scraped. I'm going to give it a good restoration. All these things can be fixed.

What happens with old age? An opportunity to be young again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fluid Dynamics, Viscous Resistance

Water now flows freely from the well. It bubbles and froths and splashes, streaming over in long sheets and ribbons of water that look clean enough to drink, and it has doing this for over two days, with no signing of relenting. Mystery solved.

After blaming everything else--the pump, the pump's o-ring, the pipe, etc.--I finally resolved that the water itself was at fault. And I was right.

Yes, I was right, but only if the stuff that was at the bottom of the well could be called water, because it was as thick as corn syrup and as black as oil. The pump was trying to push clear water into that thick soup and was meeting with sufficient resistance to slow it down.

The well works like this: it's about 6 feet deep; 3 feet above ground and 3 below, which makes it the same depth as the lower pond--and this makes sense, because the pump pulls water from the lower pond and sends it to the bottom of the well. The white pipe in the picture is the water pipe. The black one is the hose from the shop-vac I used to suck out the goop.

There's a rack suspended about 1.5 feet about the bottom, and on the rack is a filter, and on top of the filter are several bags of lava rocks--what seems like tons of lava rocks--and these enable a chemical process to take place, purifying the water.

Cleaning out the well is a back-breaking, nasty job. At least the stuff doesn't smell too bad. And I'm guessing it is good fertilizer, so I've spread it all over the yard.

It's only taken me eight years to figure this out...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fluid Dynamics and Superstition

As Alice in Wonderland discovered, sometimes it helps to think backwards, especially when it comes to fluid dynamics. I admit that I've been confused about the pond and pump since we've moved in. Sometimes the water flows and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it quits altogether and then starts again hours later. Or it never starts again. To make it work again I go through a little ritual--I might as well be shaking chicken bones and chanting, but it works.

At the center of this mystery is a water pump that pulls (or pushes) water from the pond into the well where it bubbles to the top and flows over into the upper pond, then gravity pulls it to the lower pond, and finally back to the pump.

The water travels from right to left in this picture. The leaf skimmer is on the right and the actual pump is on the left.

My latest suspicion is that a few months ago one of my little fish somehow swam into the 1-inch pipe that goes to the pump and it got stuck and, little-by-little, other debris has piled up, like cholesterol in an artery, and now the water can barely get through. I got out my sewer snake (a long coiled wire) to see if I could sense the obstruction. Nothing. Even so, the theory was fixed into my brain. How could I dislodge that minnow?

I got it! Why not shove a garden hose into the pipe and turn it on full blast? Then I could just open the leaf catcher over and see if water comes out. I did, and of course the hose water just flowed out. There was no obstruction. Normally this sort of news would be encouraging, but it did not bring me closer to the truth.

I closed the leaf catcher and turned on the pump, with the water hose still going. I could sense a great rumbling the well, which is over 6 feet deep and full of lava rock (in plastic garment bags, so I can get them out). It was like a great volcano threatening to explode. Then it let loose. Water rushed to the top and over the edge.

I turned off the hose and the water continued to flow at a very fast rate. Suspicious. And this continued for hours until it went back to its old ways. More suspicious.

It was time to think backwards. What if the problem is at the bottom of the well. Maybe it is so full of goop that it slowly shuts off the flow?

I'm cleaning it today, and it is a messy, messy job.