Hillhacks (in Summary)

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Tod & I just returned from Hillhacks, a tech conference for "hacking and making" in the Himalayas. It was an incredible experience for both of us. Dreams came true, doors opened, and plans formed. But I am getting ahead of the story.


Ironically, the one thing that didn't happen on this trip is what took me there in the first place. Akiba and I had planned to get Maru the LED hoop working in time for a Diwali performance, but thanks to my inability to stabilse the power system and a lack of time to focus on the work needed, it didn't happen.


What was I doing, if not the project I'd planned? Mostly I was teaching and hosting school students who attended our workshops.


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At Woodwhistlers: a new circus star; physical math; magnets; making music.


At Woodwhistlers primary school in Naddi, we had two full days of programs. We constructed an improvised orchestra, did Chisanbop finger abacus, made electronic instruments with our bodies, learned to draw maps, played circus games and juggled, and discovered electromagnets. These kids were so enthusiastic and curious. They wanted to stay in at lunch to finish graphing their electromagnet experiment results. The kids in math class were jumping up and down to share their answers. At the end of the second day, the entire school of 30 students decided to stay late so we could finish a circus game. Akiba, Tod, Arun & I taught the classes and along with David Huang, whose photos illustrate this article, and Malik, our event videographer, we all fell in love with Woodwhistlers.


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Scenes from TCV programs: explaining some of the Arduino details; greeting the students; Akiba and the soldering stations; manmade webpage; Tod teaching Tails; hula hooping break on the lawn.


One school came a long way to be at Hillhacks. Twenty high school students from the TCV (Tibetan Childrens' Village) science magnet in Dehradun, about 12 hours away by bus, joined us for six days. We lined up workshops ranging from WordPress to solar lantern construction, Tails OS, classic paper ciphering and frequency analysis, hands-on web, Python programming,  Raspberry Pi, a portable science lab, Arduino, 3D printing...it was so much I can't even remember it all. And of course, hula hoops were available during breaks.


We also hosted a handful of kids from Rakkar, the village where many of the Hillhacks organisers live. They got to make solar lanterns, try science experiments, do circus games, and create a puppet show with filmmaker C K Low from Singapore.


In between all the student activities, I kept myself busy making signs, organising things, and helping out in general. We started our time in Rakkar at the Ghoomakad guest house, then moved to Country Lodge in Ram Nagar (lower Dharamsala) for the main event. Tod was a member of the networking team that managed to have WiFi available for all the participants in both places.


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Diwali performances: fire dance; The Frolicaholics' India debut.


Before we knew it, the student time was drawing to a close and Diwali was happening. Diwali is the festival of lights that combines Christmas, New Year, and Independence Day with presents, sweets and a lot of fireworks. Since Maru wasn't happening, I offered to lead a fire performance if I could find some brave volunteers. A dozen people raised their hands and we did a performance with palm candles. Actually, we did two, one choreographed in two lines and another one freestyle to one of my favorite songs, Fireflies by Owl City. Some new firebugs were born that night judging from the fire in everyone's eyes. The Frolicaholics performed on the musical open stage, too.


Unfortunately, having eaten an unsavoury treat or perhaps some fuel, I was out of commission with food poisoning for the first day of the conference proper. 12 hours of fever, 20 hours of sleep, and 48 hours of fasting later and I was perfectly all right again. Also about 3 kg lighter, though some of that may have been thanks to "sober October" and high amounts of physical activity. :-)


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During the conference: Shreyas and the schedule; Tod & Kondi in the NOC; Tod in a flash talk; me and Cherry giggle/stretching.


The remainder of the conference was great. Shreyas kept the schedule and I helped to MC. My voice carries over almost all conversation and I got drafted to announce upcoming sessions, meals and tea breaks. There were many talks that I enjoyed, including a keynote by Tod on the last day and some extremely interesting presentations on technology and art. I gave a "talk" on Stretching for Geeks that was well received.


...and after the conference, Tod & I started dreaming. The people we met were inspiring, creative, and doing fascinating things all over India. Tod is ready to get back into actively hacking and making again. What if we came back for a while and worked on some of our own projects or collaborated on whatever ideas were floating around? Ghoomakad in Rakkar is a perfect retreat from the hustle of Tokyo and Akiba is hoping to start up a Hackerspace in upper Dharamsala next year so we'd have multiple options for participation. I discovered that there's a local interest in circus, so now I am dreaming of a modest community circus school. An on our last day, I met someone wonderful who can guide me in getting this done.


I think India could be a very happy place for us to spend some time.


Anti-Hoarding

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I am reading the book Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. It's a fascinating and sympathetic book about hoarders, who are often intelligent, kind and lovely people who attach a depth of meaning to their possessions that means they can't let go of them. Cleaning the house today, I am noticing some of those same points in my own thinking. 

"I can use this someday." Yes, but I haven't yet so I probably wont.
"I know someone who would love this, so I'll hang on to it until I see them." Except I never remember to take it to them.
"I haven't finished reading that book yet." I started it two years ago. 
"There's still some life in this old thing." A minuscule bit, perhaps.
"I could sell this and get some money for it." If I took the time to do it, yes, but I never do.
"I promised that I'd hang on to this." Emotional blackmail isn't an excuse for keeping things.
"It's wasteful to throw out things that are not broken or used up." Yes, but the cost of keeping them is high, too.
"This reminds me of a certain time/event/person." Sentimental objects are hard but I attach sentiment to many things.
"I don't really like this, but it's almost new." But I don't like it and I won't use it.
"This was a gift from someone I love." Discarding the object does not lessen my feeling for the giver.

These observations are written about things within my eyeline as I type so I am sure there are other issues behind me and in other rooms. 

Today I am trying to imagine what I'd take with me if I moved into a tiny house. What do I need if I live on the road? I know it isn't much. I'll keep that stuff. Everything else is under consideration for removal from my life. Garage sale time...I wish we did those here.

Weekend in Manazuru

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Tod, Rob & I took an impromptu trip to Manazuru, a rocky little cape in Kanagawa, this weekend. We hiked, relaxed, ate a lot of fish, took a lot of pictures, dipped in the ocean, hooped on the pier, played music in the forest, chased butterflies, climbed thousands of stairs, and wandered along mysterious paths to power spots. An excellent weekend.

A Social Weirdo

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The other day, I was talking to Tod about how seeing people's summer festival photos on Facebook makes me sad. There are a lot of interesting little festivals in Japan - creative events combining music, camping, and flow arts. I rarely go to them, even though they seem interesting and many people I know go.

Because when I do attend them, I see a very bleak side of myself. The one that can't communicate in language or, maybe more critically, in culture. I just don't fit in. As a result of numerous stilted conversations that the other half quickly abandons with a smile and a wave, I spend the weekend feeling alone in a crowd. I retreat to the edges, busy myself teaching, and insert my weird foreign ways as clownishly as I can. A bit Puddles Pity Party, really.

"You're the (insert name of socially awkward friend) of these things, aren't you?" Tod said. Insightful. Ouch, I am. 




Gyoza Variations

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I don't know why this didn't occur to us sooner, but gyoza wrappers work well with non-traditional fillings. We've been experimenting and two of our favorites are spinach and feta (gyozakopita), and potato with sauerkraut (pieroza). You can use your favorite spanikopita or pierogie recipe, or try ours.

Gyozakopita Filling

1 onion
1 clove garlic
2 bunches spinach
1 Tbsp dried dill
handful of fresh aromatic herbs, like oregano and thyme
pinch nutmeg
50 gr feta cheese, crumbled

Chop the onion & garlic into small pieces. Saute until golden. Rinse and shred the spinach; add to the pan with the onion and allow to cook down. Remove from the heat and drain the excess water from the pan. Stir in the herbs, nutmeg and cheese. Season to taste. Allow to cool.

Pieroza Filling

2 large potatoes
1/2 cup sauerkraut
1/4 cheddar or cottage cheese (optional)
salt & pepper

Steam or boil the potatoes and mash them. Add the sauerkraut and optional cheese. Season to taste. Allow to cool. 

Assemble & Fry

15-20 wrappers per filling
water
oil

Spoon a bit of filling onto the gyoza wrapper. Wet your finger and run it around the edge before folding the wrapper in half and fluting the curved edge. Make all the gyoza before you start frying.

In a fry pan, heat some oil and place a layer of gyoza close together. When the bottom of the gyoza are crispy and brown, add some water and cover with a lid to steam them. Tod likes to turn them to get two crispy brown sides before steaming them, but turning is optional. When the water evaporates, remove the lid and let the gyoza fry a bit longer in any remaining oil. 

Plate and serve. We like fried onions to top the pieroza and regular gyoza sauce (soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil) for the gyozakopita. Serve with a culturally appropriate salad.


Women's Genesis Art Retreat in Gifu

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Genesis Art Retreat at the Irori
The Genesis Women's Art Retreat participants, aged 13 - 80, with art gifts.

I spent a pleasant week at a farmhouse in the Japan Alps with Liane Wakabayashi and a group of artistic women that spanned three generations. We gathered to create intuitive art using Liane's own Genesis cards.

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One question with three answers: If I spoke Japanese fluently, how would my life change?

Intuitive art is not about creating Art, but about relaxing into the moment, finding answers to questions, and allowing your subconscious to have expression. The first day was very challenging as I put aside my own drawing style and picked up Liane's softer mediums and techniques. Once I let go of my need to draw my own way, I loosened up and had fun. 

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Sometimes I felt a bit sideways...

The Genesis cards are a bit like a tarot deck.  Each card has a beautiful painting full of colorful details as well as a title. There is a guide book to help you with meanings and ideas in each card. The cards can give insight into questions or help you to add elements to your own art to complete it. It is fun to compare your art to the card you selected, or to ask a question, choose cards and then combine their elements to create a visual answer to your question. Sometimes there are connections you don't even realise, like the design on my shirt reflected in the drawing I did above.

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My favorite of the week, The Princess' Wedding (she is dressing in the tower)

If you are in Tokyo, I recommend booking into one of Liane's workshops. You may discover something about yourself that you didn't even suspect (I did!). Check the schedule or buy your own set of cards: http://www.genesiscards.com/

Memories of Dad at Anam Cara

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This is Dad's window at Anam Cara, a writer's retreat in West Cork, Ireland. I waited until our last day there to go into the room to look at it. It casts a beautiful rainbow on the bathroom wall. The design of palm trees and pampas grass echoes the plantings in the front of the house. I remember seeing his cartoon for the design and hearing about how he crated the finished piece for shipping.

I didn't know, but Sue told me, that he'd shipped some of his glass and materials there to be used on a project he was planning to create on site. Anam Cara has a lot of windows. I am sure it would have been beautiful.

The smaller piece in the lower right of the collage above is a family crest that Sue's children designed and Dad created for her kitchen. The photo doesn't show the details of the glass painting in each triangle, but it definitely has the feel of my father's art.

Revisiting Anam Cara

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Twelve years ago, Tod & I visited Anam Cara for a poetry workshop given by my sister, Jenny Hill, and Jack McGuigan. (My main memory of that trip is memorialised in this poem.) When I realised that we'd be in the area this year for the European Juggling Convention in Millstreet, of course we had to return.

But Anam Cara isn't for visitors; it's a writer's and artist's retreat. You have to be working on a project. So Tod & I agreed to create a project sort of celebrating our 25th anniversary coming up later this year. You'll hear more about that when it is done; for now we are keeping it under wraps.

We had only a few days at Anam Cara and we spent them in a mix of creating, communing with the other writers over meals, and exploring the area on foot and bicycle. 

Unexpectedly, I was invited to do some hooping to help launch a book! Brian O'Sullivan read from his new book, Beara: Dark Legends, at a wine and cheese reception and I greeted people as they arrived with a little hooping and circus-y action set to traditional Irish dance music. It was a lot of fun and made me glad I'd packed a costume.


Building a Geiger Counter

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Meet bGeigie #2209. We built her yesterday. Tod soldered 179 points. I did the non-soldering bits. The build took us most of the day, but it wasn't too hard. I think some of the time was taken up awe, making comments like "Wow, we're adding the smallest disk drive ever" and "This tiny thing is a GPS unit?" and "Gosh, they did a great job making this kit easy to put together."

2209 is part of the Safecast project. Now we can roam around Japan to log radioactivity and report back to the international mapping project. Or we can point her at things and see the lights blink.




Filming "Stars" on Niijima

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Here is the latest video with the Frolicaholics. We filmed it on Niijima during Guru-Guru Camp and it was such fun that I want to share the behind the scenes bits. 

The Recording
We sat in our campsite early in morning - there were no other campers in residence yet - and tried perhaps ten takes, adjusting our position relative to the Xoom recorder. Tod's toy xylophone is a lot louder than my voice and ukulele, so he had to sit back on the bench while I cozied up to the table. We'd brought lots of recording gear, including an extra mic and a stick-on pickup for the uke; we even considered going into town to record in the karaoke room, but...too much trouble. The sun was warm and we didn't want to move.

Rob also filmed the recording session, so there are some clips from it in the video. Look for the ones where my lips sync up perfectly. We'd planned to play back the recording through my amp and sing along to it, but that was just too much work. I am pretty sure we never sang the song at the same tempo twice as we continued filming. The fact that my lips sync at all is Rob's editing magic.

The birds singing in the background at the beginning are the real birds at camp. Our dawn chorus.

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The Filming
Rob wanted to make this video to play with some new gear he's gotten since last year's camp - a very long lens and a star tracker. He'd planned to capture some of us hoopers in front of the moon, but the moon was only a crescent while we were there. So we switched to sunrise and sunset shots. 

Rob & I became adept at waking up before dawn to walk over to the beach. My favorite camp memory is waking at 4 and climbing up to the top the stone monument on the hill between camp and the shore. It was windy up there and a long way down. The koga stone is very grippy, fortunately, as the top of the monument is slanted like a roof. Rob got the shots he wanted of me hooping with the sun rising behind.  First I sat and did poses, then when the sun was up far enough, I stood up to hoop. That waist hooping, which you'll see in the video, is rather wonky and tenuous thanks to the gusty wind and my fear of falling. I didn't topple but it seemed so likely. Pushing my boundaries was a very good experience - and it happened before morning coffee.

Most of the shots of me and Tod playing our instruments were filmed at camp or in the "stone animal zoo" next door. We filmed for two days while camp was relatively empty, and then again as the flood of campers left on the last day. I think I sang Stars about 60 times. 

The kissing bits were taken on the other side of the island at the port ferry terminal - we sneaked up onto the balcony after the building closed to catch the sunset. So naughty. That same afternoon we also filmed on the beach and rocks near the ferry to the general entertainment of passersby.

Actually, I was not feeling well that day and napped in the tent while Tod & Rob went location scouting. They called me two hours before sunset and asked me to come because they had a plan. I put on my costume, shoved our instruments, Tod's costume, and everything else we'd need into my bike basket and pedalled out of camp to a chorus of "Yabai!" from the next camp over. Hmph.

The LED hooping happened on the hill in Habushiura Park one night after dinner. I love the shot of the hoops coming at the camera. Rob was great at directing motions that seemed strange at the time, then look so amazing on screen. Tod, Alice and Harusa did the trippy stuff, Sareh executed a lovely solo even though she was falling asleep, and we all did the impromptu group choreo.

One evening we had a sunset hoop jam on the beach near Yu no Hama Onsen. After some freestyle hooping, we lined up for group movements and Rob got us to frame the sun, then pull our hoops away. The shot is reversed in the video so that it looks like we move into perfect alignment with the sun. Yay for editing.

For Camper
The mysterious dedication, "This video is for camper" is a Niijima in-joke. Our friend, Takashi Miyagawa, spends his free time making tables, benches, and other things from scrap lumber. He's even made barbecues from old gas canisters he saw sin half by hand. He brings them to camp labelled キャンプ用 FOR CAMPER. There is a huge collection of Takashi's practical furniture and we are always grateful for him and his creativity. So this video is for camper.


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