Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fundraising For Two - Two - Groups at Once!

High Desert Chamber Music held a fund-raising gala event last night. I loves me some classical music so I just had to attend to support this organization. This was their first such event, and they hope to hold them annually. HDCM was founded in 2008 by violinist Isabelle Senger, with the mission to provide world class chamber music performances year round to Central Oregon.

The event was held at the North Rim clubhouse -- a fairly tony structure in a private neighborhood. We got there after dark so I have no idea what the homes look like. I reckon there were about 40 couples. This was the first time I put on a tie since we arrived here in Bend. Actually Mrs Elliott put it on me: I like to wear bow ties but cannot for the life of me figure out how to tie one despite having studied all the "how to" guides and watched the videos. There's this one step that I just don't get. 

Anyway, there was beer and wine -- reason enough to attend any event, in my mind, even if it is called "gala," and requires a tie. Before dinner the Crown City String Quartet (Isabelle is first violin) performed Dvořák's Quartet in F, Op.96 (the "American"). 

Now, you gotta picture this: after everyone had had a chance to mingle and chat and eyeball the silent auction items, we were invited to be seated at our tables which were in a large clear vinyl tentlike structure erected on the patio. Heating was provided. There were 8 tables under this 30-foot by 30-foot structure, and the quartet performed in one corner. They played beautifully. There were a few people between me and the group, so all I could clearly see were first and second violin, but the sound was excellent and I had no trouble hearing the viola and cello. Nature provided some added sound effects, too: high, gusty winds on the tent caused its metal joints to creak like timbers on a sailing ship. 

The weather here does have its effect on musical performances, I must say. During September's performance of the Highland Trio at the Tower, one of the tuning pegs on the cello shrank so much due to the low humidity here that it just came loose in its hole and the string completely detuned. The performance had to halt until she could get the darn thing to stay in place.  I believe I saw a mallet and some chewing gum applied.

I don't know if Dvořák's trip to America in 1892 was aboard a sailing vessel but I pictured him aboard one anyway when listening last night to this lovely piece of music. [Addition: Dvořák came to America aboard the SS Saale, a steam powered single-screw ship. I'll stick with my image of him aboard the sea-tossed ship.]

The lovely and talented Mrs Elliott was gracious enough to accompany me, looking as pretty as ever. She figured that while she was there she could chat up a few folk to see if she could get sponsorships for a fundraiser she is doing for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Oregon which has been in the news lately because they've run out of money and have had to close their doors, at least temporarily. 

A few days ago she met with Derek Beauvais, program director for the club and he said that the news of their financial situation had resulted in several donations, enough to re-open the club for at least a month. But they clearly need more money to continue operation.

So Mrs Elliott, who has been fundraising for charities for years and years, is ginning up an event to be held downtown for kids. She has already signed up a few businesses to donate gifts and snacks and will shoot all the proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club. 

Chamber music, sports coats and ties, good food and wine, great music with the sound of creaking timbers and hawsers, and a chance to help not only the HDCM, but the Boys and Girls Club as well. That's a pretty nice evening out. 

So Simple . . . Once You See It

"The address is on Emerson Street and 3rd," Mrs Elliott said this morning. She wants to check out a holiday market or something and found a advert in this week's The Source. "Where is that in relation to Franklin?"

So I fired up Google Maps and found Emerson one block south of Franklin. One block farther was Dekalb. 

Hey, wait a minute. They're in alphabetic order! 

This is something that probably anyone who's lived here for more than a week has noticed, but I'm a little simple sometimes.

Alden, Burnside, Clay . . . Underwood, Vail, Webster, Xerxes (I like that) . . . but no "Y"? Oh yeah, there's Yale on the other side of the parkway. Only "Z" seems to be missing. 

Now I wonder if a "Z" street was ever planned but never happened, or what. 

But finding this pattern in the street names was gratifying. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wooten 6, Flecktones 4

Last night I rode my little city bike across the river and downtown in time for a 7 pm concert at the Tower Theatre. A lovely evening, cool and calm.  Chained my bike up right in front of the theater, picked up my ticket at will call and a glass of nice pinot noir in the lobby, and within 15 minutes of leaving my house, I was settled into my seat in the center of the theater, row D, to hear Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

I just have three words to describe it: 

Victor. F#@king. Wooten. 

He's only one member of the four-man band, but to this Sears and Roebuck-grade bass player, he was 60% of the show. He does things on a bass that I didn't know were possible. He gets sounds out of a bass that I've never heard before. He's a rock-solid accompanist with metronomic timing and endlessly inventive bass lines. He makes the impossible look matter-of-factly easy. 

I'm not dissing the other Flecktones, oh no! I bet that the banjo players in the audience were similarly blown away by Bela's playing, that the woodwind players had their socks knocked off by Jeff Coffin's saxamaphoning and transverse fluting, and only the best drummers may have grasped the skill, variety and monstrosity of Futureman's playing. 

But Victor was the reason I went to the concert. I can't speak for what the other members of the nearly fully house of men and women ranging in age from mid 30's to mid 60's came looking for, but with a band this good even the most tin-eared listener could not fail to notice how hot these players were and what a tight f#@king band they are. Enthusiastic applause followed solos taken by all the players, but when Victor soloed, his eyebuggingly virtuosic playing wrung gasps of surprise and amazement from the audience and left me slackjawed and agog with disbelief. 


Oh -- and the sound quality? As I've commented before in this blog, I've been abused my whole life by the shitty sound of so many venues where half of what a band is playing is lost in the blur of a muddy mix of crap acoustics and the neglect of indifferent and apparently deaf sound men that I would have been happy if the sound at the Tower had been merely good. But it was far better than that, it was superb. Every note was audible. Every. Note. 

I rode home a happy man.

I thank the non-profit Tower Theatre Foundation for making last night's performance possible. 
Check out their upcoming events:

[BTW: I didn't take that picture of Wooten, I got it off the web. I was temped to take a camera and binoculars to the show, but didn't know what the camera policy was; and didn't want to deal with the binocs on a bike. I didn't need the former, but my goodness I do regret not having brought the latter. Even Row D isn't close enough to watch a player's fingering and technique. Lesson learned.]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Almost Below the Radar

I'm a weather geek, and have been ever since the third grade when my friend Robert Reed and I built a weather station and gave morning weather predictions to our class at Cathedral Oaks Elementary in Goleta, CA.

The instrumentation was paid for, out of pocket, by our teacher. We had a wind gauge, a thermometer, a barometer, and a sling hydrometer for measuring humidity. Our library had a couple of books about weather but because they assumed an east coast or Midwest location, they were not very useful for  southern California. Thunderheads -- never saw them, as well as many other named forms of clouds that rarely occurred. And of course, precipitation comprised of frozen water simply didn't happen. 

But even so, I recall that our little morning weather updates were more accurate than those printed in the newspaper. Probably just luck.

My love of weather and meteorology still persists even after long decades living in SoCal which doesn't provide one with much in the way of interesting weather. But when storms were approaching, I studied the weather maps shown on TV and in the newspaper, and in the early days of PC-DOS and MS-DOS ran the Accuweather software so I could see approaching fronts. 

Nowadays we can view weather maps and radar images on a number of weather sites. My favorite is 

The PNW gets a lot more, and a lot more interesting weather than does coastal SoCal, which is a Good Thing in my mind. The skies here go on forever, unlike the thick atmospheric soup found at sea level in Socal. The temperature extremes are more so, the variety of precipitation is greater, and storms more frequent. 

But the available radar imagery is marginal. Portland's NEXRAD station, RTX, barely sees Bend, and Bend is beyond the horizon for MAX in Medford.

It's a pity. These two stations can show us what's coming to Bend -- as long as it's coming from the west, but they don't give a clear picture of what's going on around Bend. 

[Update: right now it's snowing lightly, though the sun is shining on our house. The clouds responsible for the snow don't even appear on RTX. My bet is that they are too close to the ground for that radar to see them.]
[Update to the update: I stopped at Pizza Mondo to grab a cheese slice for lunch. As I got out of my car, a pretty girl was walking in front of the Tower Theatre with her arms out, palms turned up. "The sun is shining and it's snowing!" she said, flashing me a happy smile. "Only in Bend."]

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Better Draw

A short while back, October 11, to be precise, I wrote about the need to improve the heating in this house. So as not to repeat myself, that posting is here. One of the issues we turned up (here) was that the lower floor wood stove insert didn't have a chimney liner, so it didn't draw well, and because of that, it dumped ash and smoke into the house whenever the door was opened for reloading. 

I contacted several heating and chimney companies to get bids for dropping in a liner. The first thing that turned up was that some quoted the job with an insulating sleeve, AKA a "fire wrap," and others didn't. This affected the price by a few hundred dollars. 

The point of the insulating sleeve is twofold. First, it keeps the hot stainless steel liner pipe out of direct contact with the inside of the chimney, especially in the tight area going through the damper opening and around the smoke shelf. As it was explained to me, while the inside of the chimney throat has a masonry liner to protect the wood surround from overheating, there is no way to tell how thick those bricks are. If the intensely hot metal liner is pressed directly against the masonry, it can make those bricks so hot that any wood they are in contact with can crystalize and potentially catch fire. By surrounding the liner with an insulating sleeve it protects the masonry from the heat. 

The second reason why an insulating sleeve is a good idea is that the metal liner will be insulated from the cooler air in the chimney for its entire run, and a hotter liner not only draws better, it allows less creosote to condense on it. It's that thick buildup of creosote which is responsible for chimney fires in the flue, and the softwood we have here in Bend makes its fair share of creosote.

Good reasons to pay extra for the wrap, I reckoned. I talked it over with Mrs Elliott and she agreed. The best price we were able to get which included a sleeve was $200 more than the other quotes without sleeves. I called up the two companies who had bid the job sleeveless and asked them how much more it would be to add the sleeving. One raised the price by $220. But Jeff at Cascade Heating said he had a bunch of extra insulating sleeving in the shop from another job that they had overbought for, and he said he'd add that to the job at no extra charge, making them less-expensive from their nearest competition by $250. 

Guess who got the job? 

His installers arrived this morning, as promised, and in four hours had the new liner, sleeving, and top parts (rain covers, chimney seal, etc.) all installed, then left quietly without making a fuss because they were so covered with soot and creosote flakes (they found 3'' thick chunks of creosote in the chimney throat) that they wanted to proceed directly to the nearest shower.

I fired up the stove and I'm here to tell you that it sucks very well now. When the door is opened for re-fueling, there's a stiff breeze into the firebox and the fire shows no interest in exhausting smoke into the room. 

That's an improvement.

Now the question is how good a job that wood insert on the bottom floor will do keeping the upper story warm. There's a vent in the ceiling below through which warm air from the heated room can come up into the living room upstairs, and I've got some muffin fans set atop the vent upstaits to force the air upward. I have a wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer, the outdoor sender portion of which is in the lower room, and the receiver is in the upstairs. With this I can see how much warmer it is downstairs compared with upstairs and check the effect of blowing the warm air up to the upstairs room. 

All I need is a lab coat and a clipboard . . . and an attractive lab assistant named Inga, and I'll start doing some research. 

If the wood insert doesn't work as well as we'd like, then we'll be looking at gas inserts for the upstairs fireplace. But in the meantime I bought a electrically-heated throw blanket for Mrs Elliott to snuggle in. Cheaper, I figure, to heat Mrs Elliott than try to heat the whole darn house. 

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