Holiday Lights – LEDs Part 1

After we remodeled the house, we put up the old holiday lights that had been used at my parents. You can see them in the photo on the remodel pages.

But we were interested in having other options, like orange/purple for halloween, or pastels for spring. Programmable LEDs seemed to be the way to go.

After some research, we settled on the Alitove lights, which are available via lots of on-line retailers. We got the first set last year, and never did anything with them. Finally this year, we put them up and were able to program them with the free app they include, doing a red/green chase. Two strands were enough to do the front porch (about 20-21 linear feet).

We used zip/cable tie adhesive mounts with small/short cable ties to mount the lights on the inside of the eaves, so that the lights showed just below the edge.

The real question was how many lights could be put onto a single power source before we saw fade. The Alitove website doesn’t really say (although they show some impressive displays); the Amazon website description says 3 or 4 strands. Each strand has extra wires for additional power — but what happens if you add power to the middle of a long strand? or do you need to have multiple controllers? (and how do you keep them in sync?) The controller we bought this year does not use the same app as the one we bought in 2018. Now what?

3-Roomba Household

We got my mom a Roomba years ago, and it has sat in the corner gathering dust. We subsequently got ourselves a new one when the WiFi/App versions first came out. And it sat in the corner gathering dust for the most part. Fast Forward to the end of 2019.

After our cleaning service moved out of the area, we realized that the sheer amount of fur the dogs shed each day was going to bury us alive pretty quickly. We resurrected the Roomba 980 and got it running on a schedule in the family room and kitchen. But it always seemed to have problems finding its dock and recharging. And not surprisingly, the collection bin was full every time it ran. Now what?

One of the Facebook groups I belong to had a discussion about the various cleaning robots, including the new Roomba that automatically empties its own bin. This i7 model is not cheap, but as one person put it, it paid for itself in less than 3 months given the cost of a cleaning service. And it encouraged their family members to keep things picked up better.

By the second week of January, we had expanded our repertoire to include the 980, an i7, and an e5 model, each with a designated area of the house.

The i7 coming back out after automatically emptying the bin.

The Devices

The i7 will create a smartmap of the house, and you can designate specific areas by name. Once done, you can have the i7 clean the entire area, or a specific room. It will tell you what it cleaned on any of your prior 30 cycles, and show you areas that were particularly dirty (like near the kitchen trash can and the dog’s food bowls). It’s far quieter than the 980, and seems to be more efficient, running for about 45 minutes or so to do the primary downstairs areas, which are all hardwood or tile.

The e5 does not have the mapping capabilities of either the i7 or 980. We put it in the living room/dining room area, which sees much less traffic than the rest of the house. Because of that, you can’t see where there are particularly dirty areas that might warrent some direct attention. It also seems a bit more prone to getting stuck. We moved a couple of items to provide a wider pathway and will see what happens as we continue to use it.

The 980 has turned out to be a workhorse once properly located. The device homes in on the charging base much better now that it’s on a long wall, instead of under a corner table. It’s still noisier than the i7, and is taking longer for a smaller area, but it’s working on carpet, and it’s catching up on long-term dust under furniture like beds.

“Really? Do you have to clean the family room?”

The App

The iRobot app is pretty straight forward. You can download it from the Apple Store or Google Play. The only limitation is that you can only have one login for the household. You can add multiple robots and give them custom names.

The app allows you to control the robots: start, pause, stop a job. It allows you to review what’s been done in terms of time running, “dirt events,” and will show you a map of where it cleaned if it’s the 980 or i7.

You can also now link with Amazon Alexa, and other smart home tools. You will need to turn on the association from within the iRobot app. And then you will need to discover the devices in the Alexa app. The biggest problem is getting Alexa to actually activate the devices. You also need to come up with a unique name that you can say that is recognized by the smart device. And then figuring out the correct phrase to tell Alexa what to do.

https://homesupport.irobot.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1412/~/compatible-commands-for-a-wi-fi-connected-robot-and-amazon-alexa.

Of course… I’m still waiting for a robot that will clean the stairs!

The best camp shirt pattern

Stephen loves his hawaiian shirts, and we have a couple of friends who wear them a lot as well. I thought, since we had a couple of trips to Hawaii this year with CSA, that I would try to make us some matching/related and geekish shirts. Off to figure out a pattern to use and fabric to buy.

McCalls 2233 Pattern Image

I started with a pattern that had been used for the Single Pattern competition at Costume-Con. McCalls 2233 is a set of pieces designed for kitchen staff — chef’s jacket, shirt, pants, apron, and toque. While the folks using this for the Single Pattern competition were very creative (klingon chef anyone?!), only one person actually made the shirt. It looked awfully big on her, with sleeves at least to her elbows. I decided to make it using some leftover fabric from the stash — the pink camo.

The pattern is actually pretty straight forward, but it’s not a true camp shirt, as the collar is not designed for the open and flat spread. It has an interesting trick of double-folding the front facing and not needing interfacing. And the shoulders are dropped *significantly* — 3″ on me — which is part of why the sleeves end up so long. And it’s really long.

McCalls 2149 Pattern Image

Next up: McCalls 2149. This is a men’s shirt set, with collar options (camp vs band, but no stand collar style) and sleeve options (short vs long). It was interesting to see how this men’s pattern differed from the women’s patterns. It was “old-fashioned” one-size only, instead of the multi-size patterns that have become the norm for most women’s patterns. One of our friends used this for her husband’s geek shirts.

This one used the leftover purple camo, although I was short fabric for the sleeves. I got some plain purple to use for the sleeves, collar, and pocket. The assembly was interesting, as they had you attach the collar, then attach the facing, then clip deep into the collar seam to be able to close it off. It worked far better than I expected. The shoulder seam is forward of center by about an inch (which I top-stitched). The finished sleeves are still nearly elbow length.

New Look 6197 Pattern image

Third time: New Look 6197. This one has both men’s and women’s multisized patterns in the same packet. The difference is in the fit of the body (with darts or not) and hem (straight vs curved). This has a back yoke in addition to the camp-style collar. Both the yoke and collar are cut cross-grain.

I grabbed some fabric from the stash – a green linen that I had picked up for Faire years ago and never used. After assembling the yoke and lower back piece, the assembly is fairly typical. This also used the collar construction as in the McCalls pattern above. However, if you want to have the yoke with two layers (as in most commercial shirts), better to cut a second yoke piece, and attach the inner yoke layer to the front facings at the shoulder seams, and then sew the entire collar down in a single seam – no clip specifically to be able to put in a hem as in the instructions (but you still will need to clip the seam so it lies flat). Then close the shoulder seams and the bottom of the yoke with a fine top-stitch just off of the seamline.
The only problem with this pattern is that there is no indication for where the pocket should be set. I used one of the other patterns for the basic location.
Total time was about 4 hours, from layout/cutting to buttonholes. And the only thing done by hand was the actual buttons.

I had gotten a 4th pattern to try, but the New Look pattern was definitely the winner. So far I’ve done 4 shirts and have 2 more on the list.

1920s Tier-rific Ensemble

1920s Tier-rific Ensemble

I picked up this Decades of Style pattern a few years ago, and never got around to making it. But this year’s Partnership meeting event theme is Chicago Mafia/Roaring 20s.

As is usually the case, I needed to alter the pattern. The kicker is that the waist and skirt are not symmetrical, so you can’t just add something to both sides and have it work. Plastic sheeting to the rescue. (Admittedly, I “copy” nearly every pattern this way, and leave the original intact.)

All of the alternations needed to be on the right-side of the dress, because the angle on the left was critical for the look, with the tiers “falling” off a specific point.

The skirt pieces were easy — just add extend the pattern lines the necessary width/length. But the tops (the under dress and the blouse) required a bit more attention. I started by tracing the existing bottom line and left side lines (side seam, arm scye, shoulder, neckline to the center front). Then I shifted the pattern over and started to do the same thing on the right, just with the alteration. But I forgot that I had to use the seam marking diamond to match up the height where it would be on the new seam, not where it was on the original. This totally changed how the upper part of the pattern needed to be traced. See the silver vs black lines in the image.

The original incorrect tracing is in the black, and the corrected version is the silver.

I cut the test from an old sheet, tried it on, and it fit right the first time. Whew. Time to do the adjustments on the blouse and on the tiers. Calculated the angle (28º), then calculated how much I needed to add to the tier. This was easy as the pattern actually comes in two pieces that you need to tape together. The tiers are identical, but because you have to cut two with the same orientation, and everything else is on a single layer (unfolded) fabric, there are two pattern pieces.

I considered cutting the pattern cross-grain, but the tiers are well over 60″ so this would work only if you wanted to have a seam at the side. You need to have a large flat work surface to layout all of the fabric and the pattern pieces. And you need a fashion fabric that is not too one-sided (the back will show on the tiers)… so off to the store I went again…

Fashion fabric laid out for cutting.

The one that that wasn’t really clear on the initial read of the instructions was that there are two different types of bias used — one is the fashion fabric, and one is a contrasting fabric. The necklines and armholes are all fashion fabric bias. If you lay out your pattern pieces correctly, you will have a rectangular remnant to use to make the bias. I was able to just cut 4 pieces and used the two longer ones (about 42″) for the necklines and the two shorter (about 34″) for the arms with plenty leftover for the overlap seam. For the contrast bias you can either make some or buy it. If you purchase it, you will need 3 packs of double-fold wide bias.

Otherwise, the instructions are quite easy to follow. I tried to sew everything that didn’t involve the contrast bias first, just so I didn’t have to keep switching my threads. The one thing I did differently was put the lower tier on with top-stitching. I did it as instructed, and found it extremely difficult to accurately place the tier upside down. I also found that my tier was a bit short (thanks to the alterations). The drop on the tiers seems like a lot until you get all of the pieces together, and then it aligns perfectly.

After finishing all of the hand work (hems and tacking down the facings on the top), while sitting at the airport and in a hotel room, I made it to the event.

The anesthesia division at the Chicago Mafia event.

Visiting PRONI

PRONI entry display

If you’re into genealogy, there are a few places you want to visit at least once to search records.  One of them is the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, or PRONI.

PRONI is in Belfast, in the Titanic Quarter.  They house original documents as well as microfilms and other copies, taken from churches, businesses, and individuals, along with government records.

I’ve traced all of my lines back to the people who came over to North America, so now have to start searching elsewhere.  When we were in Ireland (technically, the Republic of Ireland) in 2014, we went down to Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown), where my Doyle ancestors were from, and were able to get a little more information from the County Carlow library and the parish.  But those records only really go back to about 1800.

PRONI has records from earlier, although only for Northern Ireland.  The Ferriers are from Belfast according to the records I already have, and the McFarlands were Ulster-Scots from County Tyrone.  And despite options for on-line research, if you don’t know where to start, it doesn’t help.

Once you get registered for access, and get your ID card, you can go upstairs to look at the self-service microfilms, or request specific items to be pulled from the archives.  I was able to look at their electronic index in advance, so knew more or less what microfilm reels I wanted to search.

Despite fairly specific details, I had no luck finding the Ferriers, within 10 years on either side of the info I had.  The McFarlands were harder although there was info to be found.  The specific years that I was searching for had not been microfilmed, but I hoped that I would find related information about the family that might help me hone in on my family.  The specific records from the mid 1700s were microfilmed in no particular order, jumping 10 years from page to page.  Most of the records were christenings, with some marriages, and a few burials.  The handwriting was alternately easy and impossible to read.  The city names in particular were sometimes difficult to decipher.   It took me nearly 3 hours to go through the Cappagh Parish records on microfilm.  Then I had to read my handwritten notes and create a spreadsheet.

The only way to get images is to have the librarian do prints from the microfilms. They are somewhat emphatic that you are not to take “personal photos” within the restricted rooms.

Searching for ancestors on ships manifests is difficult, as until fairly recently, there was no requirement for a captain to submit one upon arrival.  A relatively new database is DIPPAM (Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People, and Migration), which includes many items about ships and transportation.  Using this, I was able to verify that the ship North Star did indeed exist, and departed from Londonderry on 1 June 1812 bound for New York.  I was also able to search Filby’s index*, which showed two McFarland families, apparently on the same ship, who landed in New London, Connecticut in 1811, as well as one who landed in New York City in 1812.  Now to tease out the inconsistencies in my information.  And figure out where the North Star actually landed.

*
Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index: A Guide to Published Arrival Records of … Passengers who Came to the United States and Canada in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries. 3 volumes plus annual supplements. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981-__. This series is a finding aid to published passenger lists. Be sure to read the “front material” to understand how to use the information you find.

Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography, 1538-1900. 2d ed. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1988.

More about Belfast

Fish statue with Samson/Goliath crane in background

We opted to take the Hop On Hop Off City bus tour after the convention was over, to fill in areas of town that we hadn’t gotten to already.

The tour guide, Eoin, explained the history behind the places we were seeing. He referred to The Troubles and their place in history. And it became evident that much of that divide still exists in Belfast.

One of the remaining peace walls that separated parts of Belfast. It’s 3 stories tall.

These walls and many others are covered with murals depicting important people in the history of Belfast, and people world-wide who have been important in terms of supporting and fighting for oppressed people. You can get more information from the Virtual Belfast Murals Tour site.

This series of murals is on Falls Road.

The spectre of Brexit weighs heavily on the Irish, particularly with concerns about a formal border again. The pound was at near historical lows compared to the dollar and euro. Despite this, there was construction going on throughout town as well as renovations on historical buildings.

View from the Observation Dome at Victoria Square.

Titancon – aka Eurocon 2019

Eurocon Banner

The reason we came to Belfast was to attend Titancon, which was also Eurocon for 2019. The convention is very much oriented towards Game of Thrones (it was filmed here), and is much smaller than many conventions we’ve attended.

Although we were definitely in relaxation mode, both of us were on programming. I was a participant on a panel titled “Medbots, Tricorders, and More” about the future of medicine, and moderated a panel titled “Weapons of Westeros” about the various mostly medieval/renaissance weapons used in the show. Stephen reprised the workshop on tea that he did in Dublin.

Stephen makes tea at Titancon

There were about 20 people from the Bay Area in attendance, which was somewhat surprising to many folks (although not us). Although there was less emphasis on the related timing than there was in 2014 (Loncon 3 and Eurocon/Shamrockcon), it made lots of sense for those of us with long trips to spend extra time in Ireland after Worldcon was over.

Glass of Thrones

As we walked along the river to the Titanic museum, we saw this gorgeous piece of art glass. I stopped to take a photo, and realized that it was one of a set of Game of Thrones inspired pieces.

In case you didn’t know, the show is filmed in Belfast, at Titanic Studios, just adjacent to the Titanic Museum.

There are six pieces in total, which were installed in April 2019.

One of the most amusing things to me is the different statements on the side warning folks:
It’s a long way down… Ascend at your own risk.
Climb at your own risk – for the step is steep and full of terror.
Remember Bran Stark – Climb at your own risk.
If you fall, no one will bring you back… Climb at your own risk
.
But nothing to stop you from climbing up.

More details here on the Visit Belfast site.

On to Belfast

Stephen and Andy read the map

We had a wonderful dinner at Fallon & Byrne on our last night in Dublin. We’d been there 5 years ago on the Fab Food Trails tour, although we just went to the wine cellar and shopped.

We took the train from Dublin to Belfast… with a “side” bus to finish the trip because they are working on the train lines. The Hilton Belfast hotel is just across the street from the train station. It was (of course!) raining when we arrived, so we put Stephen into a cab with all of the luggage and the rest of the group walked.

Titanic Museum

The next day we went to the Titanic Museum, which was a nice walk along the Lagan river. There were several interesting historical posts along the fence, as well as fantastic #GlassOfThrones artwork along the way (see here for more details).

Belfast Maritime Trail sign

I hadn’t realized just how big and busy a port Belfast was. Nor had I realized that they have been one of the premier ship building locations for 200 years. Harland & Wolff were premier shipbuilders, and then branched out into wind turbines and other newer technology in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, they declared bankruptcy about a week before we arrived. There are two huge hoists that dominate the Belfast skyline, known as Samson and Goliath, marked with H&W and used to move ships and other large objects.

I strongly recommend visiting the museum, and suggest you allocate at least three hours to go through all of the exhibits, especially going to see the SS Nomadic, which was one of the tender ships paired with RMS Titanic. Nomadic has been refurbished as she was in 1912, although she is in permanent drydock.

Worldcon 77, aka Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon – Part 2

Masquerade Award Ribbons

The Masquerade

We started on Wednesday afternoon with a tour of the CCD Auditorium, and had a chance to meet the professional staff. We verified our plans (made from afar with just drawings of the auditorium), and solidified our volunteer staff.

We got a chance to see how the auditorium would work and the views from the upper level on Thursday evening during the Opening Ceremonies and Retro Hugos. And were able to do some blocking work on the stage Friday morning as they were setting up for the evening’s orchestra/music event.

View from the stage
The CCD Auditorium seats 2000.

Contestant meeting, final tech prep, and then tech rehearsals all started before 10am on Saturday. We had four of the professional staff helping us, Stage Manager, Sound, Lights, and Video, alongside our volunteer crew. Rehearsal finished by 5:15pm, so we all had chance for a brief break and some dinner, before we opened the auditorium at 7:00pm, with two waves of seating. The show started on time at about 8:02pm.

Masquerade Director Kevin Roche
Masquerade Director Kevin Roche
Ric scorted in by Crowley & Aziraphale

We had a total of 35 entries cross the stage. About half were novices. A couple were folks who had first competed in Helsinki 2 years ago. The performance went very smoothly.

Masquerade MC Ric Bretschneider

Our halftime entertainment was Pecha Kucha Karaoke, led by our MC, who has hosted many Pecha Kucha events featuring both prepared presentations and karaoke presentations. The audience was entertained while the judges deliberated.

More photos can be seen in this Flickr album.