Model of a record setting plane

Well, I built another model airplane. Like the last one, I built this one up from plans rather than a kit.

It is a scale model of a DH.88 Comet. This handsome plane set a whole bunch of long-distance speed records in back in the 1930s. If you’re an aviation history nerd, the Wikipedia article is a good read. This plane was also a fruitful exercise for the de Havilland Aircraft Company to explore and develop various new technologies and building techniques. Of note is de Havilland’s ability to produce fast and capable airplanes made of wood, like the DH.88 and DH.91. That experience and expertise was put to work just a few years later to create the de Havilland Mosquito, one of the most successful and versatile fighter planes of that era.

But besides all of that impressive history and innovation… it just looks cool! Here’s a video of the actual plane flying around at an airshow:

Form and function together. Those sleek aerodynamic lines…almost art deco?. And there’s something badass about those low-slung engines out in front.

I’ve actually wanted to make a model of this plane for a long time. For at least a couple of years. I learned about it from those wikipedia articles up above, and immediately started searching for suitable plans online. had a couple of plans… but they were for different materials and construction methods than the stick and tissue style that I like (and that I actually know how to do)

But after a little extra searching and sleuthing, I found another site,, that had just the right plans!

Cutting out portions of the plans to transfer to the wood

Trying to fit as much onto the balsa wood sheet as I can.

I use acetone to transfer the print-out to the balsa. This shows a fairly good example of the end result. Incidentally, it is also a good example of careless placement: I failed to take note of the wood grain on some of these pieces, with can lead to warping and/or structural weaknesses.

The fuselage is coming together. (some pieces are not glued in yet – just sitting there – hence the protruding tips.) This is also a good view of the plans underneath.

Applying the tissue paper skin. Of note are the adjustable ailerons, rudder, and elevators on this model. You can see a few of them in this picture. The hinges are made from some thread-wrapped wire I found at a art supply store. The thread made it easy to glue the wire down to the wood. I wouldn’t want to move them too much, since the wire would eventually fatigue. But it’s a neat effect!

I used the same wire to make the outline of the cockpit canopy.

At one point, while I was finishing the addition of the engine nacelles, I damaged the wing. Here is a moment from its repair.

Good as new! 

Displayed on the wall. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but its wingspan is about twice as wide as any other plane I’ve built so far.

You can see a fair number of wrinkles, lumps, and seams in the plane. I am by no means a pro at this. But I’m pretty pleased with the overall result. A lot of people ask if I’ll paint my models… Maybe? But maybe not. I really enjoy the construction process, and the materials. Rather than verisimilitude, I like that you can see the paper and wood for what they are. And the translucency really shows off the structure nicely.



Bicycle is rolling again

I fell a bit behind  with the updates for the 3-speed hub restoration project! Long story short, the bike is back on it’s feet (wheels?) and it’s great to be riding again!

After I got the hub cleaned up, lubricated, and re-assembled, I purchased some new spokes. However, as I was re-building the wheel with the old rim… it did not go so smoothly. Even though I purchased the same length spokes, some now seemed too long? This was the first time I had ever attempted to build a wheel, so I wasn’t sure what was normal and what wasn’t. Back to Bikechain! Upon their advice, I purchased a new rim as well. The old rim was dented and bent, and had a little rust. New rim in hand, the whole “building a wheel for the first time” project went pretty well!

The new rim is great. Still looks good and not out-of-place on the old bike, since it is simple shiny metal. No fussy logos or anything. Bonus: modern aluminum rims do better in the rain than steel rims when it comes to braking. Of course, the real star of the show is that old 3-speed hub. It’s practically good as new.

As soon as it was ready, I couldn’t wait to start commuting to work by bike again. Since my transit commute involved multiple transfers (bus – subway – subway – bus – walk), biking is actually faster. Still a long commute though! About an hour each way. Through the joy of Google Maps, I found a lovely route to get from the Yonge and Eglinton neighborhood to the Birch Cliff area and back. About half of the trip is spent on park trails that cut diagonally across the city, following some of Toronto’s many rivers and streams.

Working on this hub and wheel build has certainly whet my appetite for bike building again! Now it’s just a matter of saving up the money to start the next project…

Ursula K. Le Guin is also just the best

I previously wrote about my love for sci-fi and feminist sci-fi in particular under the title “Octavia E. Butler Was Just the Best.” Still true! I’m sad she died so young. I’m curious to see what the rest of her “Parable” Series would have looked like.

But I’m not here to talk about Butler, but about Le Guin. Another top shelf sci-fi writer. That’s the thing about feminist sci-fi. It doesn’t need it’s own little sub-category. The best feminist sci-fi is the best sci-fi.

Le Guin was a master of the type of science fiction that establishes a world with just a couple of exaggerations or differences from our own world, and then populates that world with humans. That’s it. It doesn’t need to be top-to-bottom aliens and AI and hyperspeed. Just a couple (0r only one) shifts from our own reality, and then she lets everything else play out very naturally. But this is easier said than done! It is no small feat to really make characters and cultures feel naturally human and relatable when inventing them out of whole cloth. Yet Le Guin does this successfully again and again.

Every story is a brilliant thought experiment about human nature. No matter how wacky the premise, her stories feel like documentaries, they play out so naturally.

The Disposessed, for example. A planet and moon are home to twin societies. One is hyper focused on material property. An exaggeration of all of Earth’s capitalist and autocratic societies. The other is an anarchist society where currency, and even personal property do not exist. Put aside any concerns over how difficult it might be to achieve this situation (that’s the suspension of disbelief), and just see how humans would behave in those situations.

Le Guin’s knack for creating such a variety of believable humans and cultures existing in unbelievable circumstances might stem from the fact that she learned about anthropology from such a young age. Her father was a prominent anthropologist. And I imagine she has a deeper than average grasp of the variety of human cultures and behaviors on our planet.

I must confess, I have not read any of her Earthsea books. Most of what I have read of Le Guin is from the loose association of “Ekumen” stories. Since my last post about sci-fi, I’ve nearly completed another book of Le Guin’s, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of short stories. Most of them are in the Ekumen universe. They are all great. Highly recommended!

There is one that I felt would make an interesting film. It’s a kind of diplomatic thriller. An alien diplomat gets caught in the middle of a civil war on a planet with a painful legacy (and present reality) of slavery. The embassy is officially politically neutral but stuck on one side of the divide. While trying to contact the other side, he gets captured and then, well, I don’t want to spoil it. Not that there’s a big twist. It’s just quite well done. It’s not even the best short story in the book, but something about it felt very cinematic.

Hub Restoration Part II

The hub opened up!

In my previous post on this subject, I feared that my old Sturmey Archer hub would never open up again, and I would focus my attention on the second-hand one I procured from Bikechain.

Well, I am happy to report that I was mistaken!

When sitting down to tinker with the new (to me) old hub, I decided to give one last try at opening my original one. Just a spur of the moment decision. And after a few whacks with a hammer and improvised punch, I thought I detected some movement! Several whacks later, and the stuck piece was free!

The inside is pretty remarkable. All that looks like shiny slippery grease is actually hard and dry. The consistency ranges from very sticky and viscous to rock solid. It’s like it’s lubricated with tar. No wonder the pawls couldn’t freely move and engage!

While it is possible this hardened consistency is a result of heating the hub with a blowtorch the other day, I suspect it was already like this. I had discovered similarly fossilized deposits of ancient grease on other parts of the hub prior to heating it up.

Aside from the daunting amount of old residue to clean off, the innards look to be in pretty good shape!

For comparison, the other hub has no hardened residue. However, it does have a little bit of rust around the planetary gears.

Still, they are both pretty good, and I hope to have them both up and running eventually. One will be returned to the Raleigh Sports, and the other might go into a future bike project that I’m still working out in my mind.

Hild by Nicola Griffith

Well dang, this post is several months late.

I read a book (several months ago) that’s really great! It’s Hild by Nicola Griffith.

I thought about writing my own review, but this one says it better than I could. Give it a read!

A few of things I will add:

  • The author kept a blog during the research for this book. There’s some interesting stuff in here and it goes to show just how thorough and dedicated Griffith was in her research.
  • For me, this was a tough read, but rewarding. Tough, because all of the names are alien and easily confused. The book begins with Hild as a small child, and your perspective is limited to what she sees and understands. Grown-up politics will be confusing.But Hild was perceptive and sharp. So she catches on quickly. As the reader, you grow up with her, and start to learn the political landscape as she does. Embrace being a child at the beginning of the book, and try to remain as open and perceptive as she is. You don’t need to solve all the puzzles at the beginning. But don’t skim either. Pay attention.
  • In addition to being a captivating story about a young woman learning to wield her political skills… this book is a fascinating window to the culture and economy of Britain in the 600s. It’s interesting to see the work that nobles did. What the division of labour was. Some of it is familiar, or at least expected. But much is delightfully foreign.
  • The io9 review I linked to above mentions “In her later life, Hild (as she would have been known to contemporaries) became a famous abbess at Whitby, whose advice was sought by political and religious leaders. But we know almost nothing about her early life and young adulthood, before she became a nun. And that is the part of her life that Griffith explores.”

    But it’s more than that, as I understand it (I could be wrong). The extant written historical record makes mention of her family when she was a child, and again when she is a powerful abbess. But where the record leaves off, the state of affairs for her childhood family is dire. Her father, a king, has just died – possibly poisoned by a rival. Hild, her sister, and her mother were left without a home or protection amidst a very volatile and fractious political landscape. Lords are all jockeying for power. Different ethnicities and religions are clashing. In this environment these three women must find a foothold, must find a court to provide them shelter – literally and figuratively.There is not another mention of her in the historical record until she is a politically powerful adult.

    That is a fascinating gap! You just know there is a compelling story there. How does a young woman rise to prominence amidst all the chaos, violence, and bloodshed of seventh century Britain? It’s your classic zero-to-hero story. “THAT is the part of her life that Griffith explores.” emphasis mine.

    The balance between the known history of this time period and what remains unknown seems to be at a sweet spot for an author like Griffith. There is enough evidence that a skilled researcher can really dive into the old texts and bring a lot of authentic details. Which Griffith does excellently. Just read her blog!

    But there are also a lot of aspects about this historical time period that we know nothing about. Not just the major events of the time, but the culture too. The social structure. What people did for fun. How they organized their work. These gaps offer the space for a creative and thoughtful author to flex their imagination. Fill out those vacant spaces with interesting details.

    Griffith stitches these realms together seamlessly. The research is top-notch, and so is the creativity. And the two serve each other well, so nothing feels disjointed or incongruous.

Whoops! I guess I had more than just “a few things” to add. Anyway, go read the book!

All hail the Sturmey-Archer 3-Speed Hub

One of the most important and amazing pieces of bicycle technology is the internal-gear hub.

This goofy video explains how they function, but it can be a little hard to follow at points.

As you may recall, the Raleigh Sports given to me by Ron Richardson featured one of these excellent Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs.

These hubs are remarkably resilient, and last for decades and decades. However, they do benefit from occasional servicing.

Last summer, I noticed that my hub was having some problems. It would often not engage when I pedaled. I suspected that old gummy grease was keeping the pawls from moving freely. I added “overhaul the hub” to my long-term to-do list.

Well, I finally got around to it!

Cleaning the exterior was so satisfying. It had gotten pretty grimy!

Next I removed the cog so I could get access to the ball ring. The ball ring is the part that threads into the hub shell and keeps all the innards securely in place. In order to service those innards, you have to remove the ball ring. Instructional videos like this one recommend using a hammer and punch on the ball ring’s little notches to get it moving.

Sturmey archer also makes a special tool for the removal, but it is only compatible with later models, since the notches on the old ones are a different shape.

Alas… I was unable to get it to budge at home. Fortunately, I live in a city with well equipped DIY bike repair shops like Bikechain! Unfortunately, all the might and know-how of the shop were no match for this stuck ball ring.

We got the hub into a bench vice and used vice grips on the ring to try and move it. No luck. We used other pliers to close the vice grips even tighter when our hands couldn’t close them alone. Still no luck. We tried getting penetrating oil to seep into the threads. We even tried heating up the hub shell with a blowtorch to cause it to expand. Still no luck.

This hub may never open up.

The good news is that Bikechain has lots of used parts available by donation. So while I couldn’t open up my old hub, I walked out of there with another hub of the same vintage. It is in desperate need of some cleaning and lubrication, but at least it opens up!

Coming up: I will document the process of restoring this old hub.

Octavia E. Butler was just the best

There is a lot of good sci-fi literature out there. Oh man, and feminist sci-fi is some of the absolute best. Actually, feminist genre fiction in general is super good. I know, I know, I’m pretty late to this party. This is hardly news. Lots of people have recognized the brilliance of this genre for decades. To be honest, I’m kind of late to really reading for myself at all.

All throughout school and grad school, I read for my classes, and I read for my research. Didn’t have time for anything else! Then after I finished school… I didn’t have any habits of reading for pleasure or personal interest. (I’m talking books here. I’ve always read a lot of blogs and online news. Too much, actually).

I didn’t seek out feminist works intentionally. As a matter of fact, what got me into reading for pleasure in the first place was the TV show, Game of Thrones. I read through the whole series of novels, and was left looking for more to read. So I turned to some of the unread books taunting me from my bookshelf. I also happened to have a bunch of ebooks downloaded: a list of the top 100 sci-fi and fantasy from an NPR poll.

So I started out with some classics: William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series. I liked it all! Lots of dudes though…

What got me into feminist genre fiction was a very unlikely, but happy accident. It goes all the way back to high school. A secret Santa gift exchange between students and teachers. I received Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I think I read the first few pages at the time, but got distracted, and put it down.

But ten years later, on my quest for new sci-fi reading material… I picked it up again.

Of course, I loved it. And I was totally surprised. Not surprised to like it. By this point, I wholeheartedly expected enjoy it. But I was surprised that I had received it from that particular high school teacher in the first place. She was very vocally conservative. Especially when it came to gender issues like abortion. So imagine my surprise when I realize the book she gave me addressed gender politics so brazenly! Did she know the book? Or was it chosen because any sci-fi would do? But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Though she was vocal and steadfast in her convictions, she was also very tolerant of others’ points of view and encouraged others to explore and express their views even if they were different from her own.

Anyway, ever since then, feminist science fiction has comprised a sizeable portion of my overall reading diet. Of course some books are more overtly engaging with gender politics, while others are just damn good sci-fi written by women.

Let’s see, the books in this category that I’ve read recently are…

The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Le Guin
The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
Hild* Nicola Griffith
The Parable of the Sower Octavia E. Butler
The Parable of the Talents Octavia E. Butler
Saga** Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Dawn Octavia E. Butler
Adulthood Rites Octavia E. Butler
Imago Octavia E. Butler

*Not science fiction. But fantasy-ish. Close enough to genre fiction to be included!
**Comic book series, but still so super good.

I loved all of these books and highly recommend them! In the same way that I’ve posted some notes and reviews about films, I want to post thoughts on these books. I’m not very practiced yet, so we’ll see what happens.

I’ve loved science fiction since I was a kid. And gender politics have been important to me for a long time too. I owe a lot to my parents for raising me to be sensitive and receptive to feminist issues. And I owe a lot to some great university professors for teaching me to notice and articulate those issues.

And, paradoxically, I owe it to a conservative high school teacher for helping me realize that the combination of science fiction and gender politics is overflowing with excellent literature!

Edit: I forgot The Disposessed by Ursula K Le Guin! Another great one that I read after the “Parable” books. Since publishing this, I’ve also read The Birthday of The World and Other Short Stories and Four Ways to Forgiveness. I wish I was more articulate and descriptave when I talk about why I like these authors’ work. But they’re all just so good! I have a lot of catching up to do in this genre, but it is an enjoyable experience!

Freelance Writing Gig

I recently started freelance writing for the Hot Docs cinema! That’s where the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival holds its year-round programming.

The centerpiece of this gig is writing the film descriptions for nearly all the films screening at the cinema. But it also involves preparing the box office webpages for each film, the print calendar, and pre-show slides.

I’m pretty proud of the results! Of course, I cannot take all of the credit, or even most of it. My contact (boss? editor?) at Hot Docs edits the content before it goes live. And there’s a designer who puts together the actual calendar. But at the very least, I have a hand in writing most of the text that goes in it and finding many of the images to be used. You can view the first calendar I helped make here. And of course most of the film pages for screenings between December 2016 and February 2017 will have been set up by me.

I’m about two months into a three-month trial in this position. So far I like it quite a bit and I’m learning a lot too. It is good practice to have to write so many film notes on a regular basis. (Now the trick is to muster the self discipline to write for my own site on a regular basis…).

Catching up

Whoa! Where did August and September go? (And half of October, haha)

The industry conference gig at TIFF was very busy, but I had a great time. It was interesting to see a different part of the film festival organism. The conference is not a part that I had any previous experience with, so it was all new to me.

There were a lot of interesting talks! Of course, I didn’t see any live, since I was always busy during the conference itself. Fortunately, TIFF streamed and recorded many of them (at least, many of the ones on the main stage: The Glenn Gould Studio). So I was able to watch some of them afterwards.

Jill Soloway was one of the most anticipated and appreciated speakers at the conference, so I was definitely glad to catch her video afterwards. There are many more interesting talks to be found on that TIFF Live youtube channel!

The conference is such an interesting part of TIFF. Of course, at the bottom line it’s all about the movies. But movies don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of a discussion. And there are important issues that need to be discussed. A lot of the great conversations at TIFF happen at cafes, in lines, and in bars. But it’s great that some of them are given a stage (and a url) so that they can be shared far and wide.

True, there is a layer of exclusivity. To attend the conference in person you have to be an industry delegate or press. But, there are thousands of such delegates. And as mentioned, a lot of the great talks end up on YouTube for all to see.

And of course, the hope is that the filmmakers in the audience take the ideas from these talks and use them in their next films.

The cycle of film festivals continues!

As I’ve posted about previously, I was one of the senior programmers for the Toronto Korean Film Festival this June. I had a brief pause from festival work for July, but in a few days I start my new contract at another festival! And this time it’s the big one: TIFF.

For this round I will be the Industry Conference Coordinator. It’s my first time working specifically with industry events, so I’m looking forward to learning a lot. Looks like its going to be a busy few weeks! Hopefully not too busy to keep posting here once in a while. I have a few ideas kicking around…

Once TIFF finishes in September, work for JAYU will really ramp up. That festival is not until December, but programming work will be quite busy throughout the autumn.