Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Went to see The Ghost Writer last night. Was only showing in 2 theatres here in Austin so we had to travel a bit but it was worth it. This movie has a very high score from all the major sources so who am I go against the grain....but I must say that as a group, those of us that went last night, we didn't get the motivation of the lead character. Why did he do all of this instead of just keeping his nose down and writing the book? Oh well, it was entertaining, but a back-story that presented the writer as this investigative and tenacious type might have helped me buy it all a bit more than I did. There seemed like there were under currents of other "stuff" that didn't make it into the movie that might have made things less confusing too, but that's speculation. The dubbing of the "F" word was a bit distracting too throughout the film. With that said, it is certainly a good movie. Well written, well acted, well shot. Beautiful in fact. But for being so much, I wanted more. I'm just not sure what is was that was missing that would have made the film wholly satisfying. Go see it. I recommend it. Just clue me in if you figure out what I missed!

Hierarchical Pie Charts Anyone??

So last week I started my new job where I'm working with SQL Server 2008 and Reporting Services. I was anxious to get my hands on 2008 and start playing around. I learned that Dundas charts was integrated into SSRS with 2008, which is cool. Since I'd not done charts before and I'll be doing dashboards with the new job I started playing around with that pretty quickly. I liked it a lot. But then I ran into a snag. And this isn't just an SSRS charts rant, but a exclamation regarding the lack of true hierarchical reporting in a pie chart across the entire IT industry's BI/Data Visualization niche.

So I wanted to do a pie chart with multiple circles that represented parents as inner rings and children as outer rings in sub-slices of the pie (don't ask me why, it's just something I thought would be a clear way of presenting some data that I me a data geek, you're right, I am). Via Google's image search, I quickly found examples of multi-level hierarchical pie charts like this one. BUT, I wasn't able to locate an application that took a hierarchical data table and presented it like this. Excel doesn't do it. SSRS 2008 doesn't do it. Okay, let me rephrase that, SSRS 2008 and Dunda Charts does have the "capability" of creating a report that "looks" like this; however, ain't pretty and is certainly isn't hierarchical in nature. I was appalled at what I had to do to get some very basic hierarchical data to display in the manner in which I thought was intuitive for this type of chart.

So first I scoured the web looking for an application that did this. Apparently, I'm not the only one because MOST of what I found was content from others, like myself, looking for an app that does this type of chart! The names uses for this chart was mind-numbing (multi-level pie, stacked pie, multi-level donut, radial treemap, sunburst). Then looking at the Dundas website, I found this image in their gallery which definitely looks like a hierarchical pie (they call it a doughnut) although the parent/child ordering rings are inverse. So I definitely thought this was possible and just something I had named incorrectly. I WAS indeed incorrect, on more levels than I knew.

So after much trial and error, (actually I had to download the Dundas template and look at their data), I was able to get this chart. I am happy with the results but lord almighty was this something beyond stupid in terms of what I had to do to my data to get the desired results. And beside that, the inner (sub) chart cannot be moved into place with simple drag-and-drop functionality but must be modified with x-y coordinates and length and width variables which is so so very kludgey. What should have taken seconds took much longer and was much less enjoyable as a result. Yes, the data geek got irritated by the UI (User Interface).

So here is the original data (the design elements should be repeated in each section):

But to get the table I wanted, I ended up with data below. So, I had to delete the parent values in all but the first row of each group and then basically I had to put together ratios that would force the items to chart out the way I wanted. The inner chart has absolutely no relationship to the outer chart except that they use the same base table data. Also I ended having to add an ADDITIONAL column with an incremental count so they displayed around the pie in the order I wanted as it didn't do that as the chart got more complex.

I really am shocked that there isn't a tool that does this, or at least not one that it readily available. Dundas appeared to have it but that just goes to show that just because a vendor displays an image of soemthing doesn't mean it's done the way it appears to have been done. Anticipated or not, it's misrepresenting what the tool actually does. Lesson learned.

Basket Weaving 101

I was so excited to get into a basket weaving class since this is something I've wanted to do ever since I was in girl scouts and we made these cute little plastic woven baskets as one of our activities. It was super easy, but I loved it and have always hoped to learn more about basket making and while at a weaving class at HCW, I found they offered classes on basket weaving and I was able to get in!

The instructor, Jill, was very nice and she let us pick on her which made for a lot of laughter in class. She really knows her stuff too which helped me learn quickly. She taught me how to make the bottom quickly while the other students (not beginner's) started working. The class project was a cat's head basket which gets its name from the pointed corners on the bottom that look like a cat's head upside-down. Getting the points to take form is not particularly easy, especially for some making their very first basket, but I hung in there and eventually got it. The weaving was a twill pattern. I picked green reed. I had difficulty getting the rounded shape like the class sample, and my basket isn't perfectly symmetrical, but I'm still pleased with it. In fact, I love it. I am already signed up for a more advanced class that Jill is teaching later this month, a few days after I teach my first viking knitting class. I can't wait!

Weaving 101 - 4-harness table loom

(I get so many hits on this page that I'm thinking there must be a lot of people looking for weaving instructions.  If so, please post comments here and if I get enough interest, I'll post videos on planning a project, creating a warp using a warping mill, warping the loom, and weaving with a 4/8 harness loom.)  I have most of the videos already so I'd just need to get it into my blog. So let me now!)

When I was a youngster, after I'd taught myself crochet (3rd grade), and knitting (5th grade), I was given a basic frame loom so I used some of my left over yarn and tried to make a place mat. It was quickly apparent that I wasn't good at it, so I abandoned the effort. Of course, I had no instructions and no pattern and no book to teach me, so I really was doomed from the get-go. But I've always wanted to take another stab at it. So when I saw the weaving classes offered at a local weaving shop, Hill Country Weavers, I signed up. (Of course I signed friends affectionately call me their "class addict" because I take so many classes, which I kinda like, them making loving fun of me and all.)

So their website is a bit kludgy in the design of the user interface, it's apparent they were going for artsy-fartsy fancy-smancy instead of usability, but if you're patient you'll eventually find the classes (they're listed under "specialty" for each category, which might help). Don't try to hit the back button on your browser though, and don't think you'll be able to cut and paste the store address, class time/description, or anything else for that matter from the website though. Oh well, I'll get off my good web design soapbox now.

So what HCWeaver's is missing on their website, they make up for in their shop and in their classes. Suzanne, one of the owners, is simply the friendliest person I've met. She knows a TON about weaving, and has probably forgotten more than I'll ever actually learn on the subject. She teaches the beginning weaving class which is done on a 4-harness table-size jack loom.

We did simple weave for our first project although others in class did a twill design, mine was a simple houndstooth. I was really nervous since everyone else in class had some loom experience and I had virtually none, none of the terminology, nothing, nada. But I managed quite well and found that I really, REALLY, like weaving. And I realized I have always really liked weaving. Viking Knitting is weaving with wire. Kumihimo is weaving in the round. So it makes sense that I would love this. And I do love this!

Suzanne taught us how to measure out our warp, to make our warp, to warp our loom and how to weave simple weave with 2+ yarn colors in a 2 day weekend workshop. Quite an accomplishment! It was a great class and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning how to weave.

I finished my first project in class, cut it off the loom, and tied the knots. Then I went home and soaked the scarf in warm water with fabric softener in my kitchen sink (I have a front-load washing machine so my fancy machine can't do the stuff I need it to do for my weaving projects, rats!). I then put it in the front loader for a rinse and spin cycle (Suzanne later told me just a spin cycle and no rinse because it will take out the fabric softener, but my machines doesn't have that option, argh!). Then I put it in the dryer on the delicate cycle and it came out all wrinkled and horrible looking! I filled the water in my iron and pressed the snot out of the scarf, blocking it as I did so, and it ended up looking really, really nice. Then I took out the extra knots and pressed the fringe and cut them to an even length on both sides. Voila, my first piece.

I then jumped right into my second piece, which Suzanne still helped me calculate my warp, but that I went home and warped the loom by myself! My second project was an overshot weave which was a lot more difficult to do, partly because I picked black yarn, partly because I picked a stretchy yarn and lastly because overshot isn't exactly a beginner's weave. But Suzanne had explained that I have to alternate between the overshot pattern and a tabby weave shot with every other pass. pattern. tabby. pattern. alternate tabby. pattern. tabby. pattern. alternate tabby.

It took my 3 nights to complete the weave and take it off the loom. But then I had to stop to get caught up in my quilting class (still not caught up). And then its been sitting because of the preparations I'm making for the viking knitting class (samples and drafting instructions) that I've been asked to teach. And trying to help a friend with their resume. And trying to help a local store with their website. Egads! Burning the candle at every end I can find, I think!

As soon as it's finished I'll post picks of it.

So the next project I wanted to do was a waffle-weave but it requires more than 4 harnesses to get a really deep dimensional effect. Most of the weaves I want to try require more than 4 harnesses so the loom I've on loan from the store won't cut it for much longer in terms of the projects I want to do. Suzanne says I'm already becoming a "harness snob" and I liked her for saying so.

As a result, Suzanne invited me to try out the store's 8-harness Mighty Wolf folding floor Jack loom. This of course means I have to dedicate time on the evenings/weekends to weave at the store, which ain't easy with the class schedules I keep! But I definitely want to do this so I'm intentionally trying to cut down on my class enrollments so I have room next month for this. If I like this, I'll need to get a loom for home because her shop is about 40 minutes from my house so not practical in terms of frequent weaving.

There is a national weaver's convention for the Handweaver's Guild of America this summer in Albuquerque, New Mexico called Convergence. I'm hoping to go with Suzanne and the group. We'll see!

I also told Suzanne I'm interested in basketweaving, something else on my list of things to learn. HCW offers basketry classes too but nothing for the true beginner was offered at the time. But, Suzanne, being the sweetheart that she is, got me into a non-beginner basket weaving class, stay tuned!

Sewing 101

I've had a sewing machine for about 20 years and a serger for about 18 years. They've not been touched for any significant project in over 15 years. I'd always hoped to get back into it again. Having seen a Beginning Sewing class offered at a local sewing shop, Sew Much More, I signed up.

I had a great time in this class, the teacher was excellent, my class mates were fun, the projects simple and the results better than I expected. The only uncomfortable part was when the shop representative came in to demonstrate the sewing machine and tried to sell us all one. Bad form. I did have a problem with my serger, and when I mentioned this, she tried to sell me a $1300 replacement. I later took mine into their shop after they reluctantly told me that they serviced older machines. They fixed the timing on my serger and cleaned it for $80. Okay, enough said.

So we made a pillow case first. Then we made drawstring and elastic waist pajama bottom. I made one pair in class (4 weeks long) and simultaneously made 6 more pair at home. I wear them around the house after work and LOVE them. Fun fabrics...batiques, chili-pepper print, flannel-backed satin, kimono fun!

This same instructor will teach a different pattern in May that will be a skirt with a zipper, so I'll probably take that when it comes up. She also teaches a Beginner's Quilting class, but it was full already so I found quilt shop, The Quilt Store, just down the road that offered classes there. Stay tuned for Quilting 101!

Quilting 101

I tried my hand at quilting for the first time some 18+ years ago. I jumped right in with an intermediate pattern that I had no business attempting. It turned out "okay" and my husband at the time had the not-so-wonderful suggestion (yes, I'm divorced) that I give this king-sized kaleidoscope hand-quilted wonder to his sister for her wedding gift. Within a month of so doing, I was no longer on speaking terms with her (with good reason). No love lost there. I have no idea the whereabouts or condition of this first project and deeply regret having handed it off to someone with no understanding of the value of quilts. The last I'd heard the quilt had been given to her son, who was 12. Right.

Okay, so, moving on to something more enjoyable.

I decided I wanted to try quilting again after my Sewing 101 class. The class I wanted was full so I stumbled upon a quilt store down the road, The Quilt Store. I think I had a fabric orgasm when I walked into that place. It is simply incredible. So much fabric. So many colors. Oh my!

So I asked about the quilting class and got the last opening for that class. The instructor is extremely knowledgeable. The classroom accommodations are simple amazing. Everyone gets their own over-sized work table that fits your sewing machine, your full size cutting mat, your notes and your project. Very nice indeed.

The first week we learned how to machine piece the block chosen for us for this class which was a modified 9-block patch that looks like a pinwheel. We were to go home and complete the rest of the blocks for the size quilt we chose (wall hanging, baby quilt, lap quilt, twin, queen, king).

The 2nd week (which I missed most of because I was taking a weaving class, stay tuned!) we learned out to put sashing around each block, and we picked out of border fabrics. We were to go home, finish our blocks if not done already and put sashing on blocks.

The 3rd week we learned how to make to sew a mitered corner and she showed up examples of different batting and quilting (there was not a demonstration of hand or machine quilting though). We were to go home, finish the sashing on our blocks if not already done, and put the borders on.

That's it so far. I'll update this post when I've completed my sashing...but with the viking knitting class I've been asked to teach, I'm busy making class samples, and with my new passion for weaving, well, there is less and less time these days. I'm surprised I'm blogging actually, but well, writing is a passion not to be neglected either!

Happiness Today

While reading The Happiness Project blog, a remnant of my 2009 Year of Happiness, I found this quote:

“In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.”
-- Henry David Thoreau

The first thing that came to mind was that I don't think goals are as necessary as all that in my new way of thinking. Then it dawned on me. I realized something that a friend of mine, Curtis, has said to me on a number of occasions at AFS functions. But I didn't really grasp his message until this moment.

Most people are so busy trying to be successful (in this I mean the traditional definitions of success), that they are missing the big picture. My lightbulb moment, back in October of '09, when I found my passion drummer, had me thinking that I didn't need goals anymore. The first part of Thoreau's quote (above) hits on that. We only hit what we aim for. And my thought on that was that we LIMIT ourselves by only following the goals we've set for ourselves. But I think what Curtis was trying to tell me was that I have a goal still, it's just different from my old goals. My goal now is happiness.

While success has a very different meaning to me now in the realm of the passion drummer, than it did in the goal-oriented world I once lived, I do acknowledge now that I'm still "technically" focused on a goal. The goal however is extremely simplistic. Deceptively so, I might add. The goal is: "Have Fun" or perhaps "Be Happy." Now, I'm not trying to be cheeky here. It's really that simple. And it works. I've seen it, and am just now experiencing full circle, and I have to say it's amazing, almost effortless after you get into the swing of this mindset. I feel like a "get rich quick" salesperson as I say this, but the fact of the matter is that I'm not selling anything except an idea. And that idea is that you can be happy without all the trapping of traditional success, or maybe even IN SPITE OF all the trappings of traditional success. Money doesn't buy you happiness. Success doesn't buy you happiness. Why? Because it's the other way around. Happiness IS success.

So, back to Thoreau's quote. Paraphrased. You only hit what you aim for. So you better aim high.

What dawned on me is that my goal is now single-minded: to have "fun." All I want to do is enjoy life, to be happy. I don't really care how much money I make, or what car I drive, or what neighborhood I live in (although if I have the means, I do enjoy comfort and luxury just like everyone else, but I don't "need" it to be happy/successful). I also don't really care if I'm doing what other people think I should be doing, oh say like getting my Master's Degree, or starting my own business, or being a better parent, or getting married, or focusing on something (any one thing) and stop taking so many damned classes on so many damned subjects. I don't care. I will do what makes me happy. I will do what I think is right. I have a moral compass just like everyone else, and I will do what I need to do for me to be happy, for me to enjoy waking up each morning, for me to look forward to tomorrow and not regret yesterday. How? It didn't happen overnight obviously, and I think I've been on this journey for longer than just 2009 the Year of Happiness, but I don't think I was ready for 2009 the Year of Happiness until 2009. What I did was remake my life, my world, into something that excites me, that I can be passionate about. Is every element of my life bliss? Hell no. As my friend, Roger, so eloquently put it: "you still have to take out the garbage every Thursday." No one finds passion in taking the trash to the curb each week (I hope that's fair to say), but it's a maintenance task of life, like many of the things we do repeatedly, which may, for many of us living in or coming from the goal-oriented world, include our work/jobs.

Look for people that you know that absolutely LOVE their work, not just fake it well, but really truly LOVE it. You'll know these people by your intense desire to smack them for their cheeriness when you're having a bad day...sorry, Roger! Those people have been dancing to their passion drummer, or more succinctly been making choices that allow them to have fun and be happy for most, if not all, of their adult lives. These people have jobs they love, not usually because they focused on a goal and accomplished it (say going to school to learn a profession and a lot of grueling hard work) but because they led a life of passion and they put out that passionate energy into the universe with every step they took and (since we reap what we sow) it came back to them in the form of opportunities that they loved, work they loved, and people they loved to be around.

So I agree with Thoreau's quote ultimately. But I believe aiming high means to look at today and make choices that make YOU happy, do things that YOU find fun, focus on things YOU have passion for, and find new and unusual ways of dealing with the other stuff (those maintenance tasks of life) so they no longer rule your world (and make you unhappy in the process). If you do that everyday, your life with be transformed. Maybe not this month, or even this year, but it will be transformed, and you will be happier.

I used to think it was selfish and irresponsible and immature and all kinds of negative things when I heard messages like this, and you might feel that way too. But I can tell you from experience that I was tied into a life that I hated and was putting me into an early grave from the stress of it all, and I saw literally no way out, even after years of psychotherapy trying to determine why I my life was the way it was. But now, I'm happy. I made hard decisions that didn't make me popular with a lot of people in my life, but those people weren't very happy anyway. The people that really mattered understood what I was doing and why, even when I wasn't sure myself. Those people are happy, and are happy for me. Those were the "keepers" and they are still a part of my life. And I'm better because of them.

Do I still have negative people in my life? Yes. However, those people are limited in my world, and I cut them off when they start pouring their negative waters into my boat. I don't need it and I don't want it and I don't have to take it and I don't care what other people think of me for saying that. Yes, I'll help people in need, those that know me know that I'm the person they can call when they have something really unpleasant that they need to work through. But negativity is another animal, like cancer and I don't cultivate friendships with anyone that swims in those waters. The people I'm attracted to now are passionate, fun and happy, and they are attracted to my passion as well. I'm so happy to be where I am and I hope that I can help you find what I stumbled upon with my passion drummer.

So in the spirit of Thoreau, aim high, aim high TODAY. Find ways to be happy. Find fun. Find a little happiness in this day. It's there, you just need to find it. Do it today, tomorrow, and next week. Keep doing it. Focus on fun. Cultivate fun. Don't forget your "day job" (or you might get fired) but don't let those maintenance tasks of life consume you and bring you down any more. Focus on the stuff that gets you excited. Before you know it, you'll have a job that's more bearable (and it may even be the job/industry you're in now believe it or not!). You'll have friends that make you feel great. You'll have days filled with passion. And the universe will provide you with new and unexpected ways to continue exploring your passions. And your goals will no longer be self-limiting. Try it out. Give it time. Cultivate the mindset. Success in Happiness is worth it.

2010'Q1 Has Come and Nearly Gone

So my first month of The Year of Body was simply AMAZING. I couldn't have asked for anything better in fact. First, I realized just how horribly out of shape I'd let myself become. Next, I found how quickly my body responded to regular exercise. And by the end of the first month, between the yoga and the Bollywood dance class, I was pain free. No stiffness, no back pain, no (well relatively no) joint pain, and I felt younger. That was fast! I was able to skip my weekly back massage for several weeks becaus I just didn't need it. It was WONDERFUL. Notice the past tense in that last sentence?

So the next month, the yoga beginner's class completed. On the last day of class, the instructor, apparently trying to give us a good dose of reality about the "other" more strenuous forms of yoga, put us through our paces and I ended up pulling my lower back midway through class. Did I stop? Of course not, because I'm a dumb-ass. I worked through the pain, making matters worse.

So after my week of recuperation, I find myself unable to go back. I bought the unlimited monthly recurring package. But, nope, I haven't gone, not even once. Pretty disappointing. I feel bad about it too, but that's not enough to get me to go. Maybe I'm afraid that I won't cut it after the last class ... could be. Either way, I'm not going and that's a bummer.

Then my Bollywood dance class. Again LOVED it. By the end of the first month, I could touch my toes again! Not only that, but I could BALANCE and not fall over during every warm up. It was so much fun too. Again, past tense. Seeing any trends??

So the class was 4 weeks. I renewed for another month, and went, but my friend that invited me to this class didn't. So I was there with a bunch of women that I didn't know but was still trying to make a go of it. I was disappointed in that the class only lasted 4 weeks and in the new class you started with a totally new dance routine and never got to learn the whole routine for the song/music from the last class. I'm all about completion and this leaving a dance half done didn't sit well with me. Then I had to miss a couple classes due to conflicts, and I knew that I'd missed so much of the choreography that I wouldn't be able to follow and catch up on my own, and since I didn't have any friends that had learned the routine that could help me, I just stopped going.

So what have I learned about myself, in this first quarter into my Year of Body? My body definitely needs and loves this type of activity, and it responds very quickly to it. The physical changes have been amazing and I feel so much better. But, I am also a mental creature, and my mind appears to need a social obligation of friends expecting my participation for me to continue doing this sort of thing after the novelty has worn off. Also, I seem to respond better to a class where I'm supposed to go to every class, this opt-in thing provides flexibility, but I take that as an invitation to skip out...consistently.

Yes, of course I'm disappointed in myself. I have the time to do these things, but I don't. Even KNOWING I love it. I remember the last couple dance classes, having this great disdain before class, and then after class thinking "I am SO glad I came to class!" It doesn't seem to matter. So how do I go about finding friends that want to do fun physical activity? I really don't know.

I love dance, yoga, tai chi, walking, hiking and a lot of other stuff. I just need to find a group of people or even just one or two people that love the same types of activities and can or are willing to commit to do it weekly, or most weeks. Unfortunately, I have not a clue how to find such a group or such a person, particularly since I'm a bit of an acquired taste personality wise. Being a "bull-dozer" ain't easy, I tell you!

I thought walking the dogs would be in this same vein...they develop expectations and beg to go for a walk when I arrive home from work, if I do it consistently for a week. But even they are not equivalent to a friend's obligatory guilt-trip for showing up.

I don't like feeling bad. And I do feel bad, not physically...yet, but emotionally about this situation. I've found success and yet still failed. How stupid. It's my own fault and I'm well aware of this which only makes me feel shittier.

So on the upside of this whole situation, I do know that if I can find new classes to take that involve physical exercise, I'm likely to stick with the first full session at the very least if I find it enjoyable in the slightest. But finding a group that likes to go do fun physical stuff is apparently the ultimate goal in my case.

If you have any suggestions of where I might stumble upon such a group or people, please post a comment. Thanks!