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  • Writer's pictureLeah Sacks

Divergent Diversions

As I work from home right now, I find myself with fewer options for how to spend my time when I am not working. I do a good amount of walking outside (tree picture post round 2 will be coming) but especially in this weather, extended periods outside are very feasible. Looking outside my house this morning, a childhood dream of opening the door to a wall of snow was realized on a very very small scale. A miniature wall of snow on my front steps, and several feet in the yard from build-up of the last few snow falls. As a result, I've had to branch out and try some new hobbies and some new TV shows. This blog is to give you all a quick look at some of those things, particular since they are all a bit.... out of the ordinary.

First we'll look at some new hobbies:


Early in the pandemic, I sought out new possible ways to spend my time off of work, but I hadn't really tried some of them until recently. One of those early ideas, was learn to little or wood carve. I did some searching initially, and it turns out that there are not one or two different types of whittling knives that all have different functions and specialties. This left me at loose ends, trying to decide which single knife to try for my initial dip into whittling. I looked into some beginner kits to try and see which knife is included there. In the past, I've spent some time carving sticks to points for roasting marshmallows, but only used my pocket knife. As I continued to look, I discovered that it is actually common to alter a pocket knife blade to be a more effective whittling blade. This process involves sanding down parts of the blade and fundamentally altering its shape. That sounded like a more involved process than I was looking for for this first attempt. Eventually, I settled on a Beaver Craft knife and purchased a starter guide book of easy whittling projects. And then... as with many new hobbies, I waited for the items to arrive and several weeks later, didn't have the time to actually try anything. Below are images of the knife and book that I bought.

So now, almost a year later, I've finally taken some time to try it out. Unfortunately, I had planned to just pick up some wood outside and mess with it to do my initial projects. But winter in Canada is not the most conducive to that. So instead, my occasional pack-rat tendencies saved the day. I had a block of paraffin wax just lying around, so instead of picking on of the projects in my book, I searched around on the internet to find a soap carving tutorial for project. The was is soft and behaves differently that wood, but I figured it was probably closer to the soap. The result was an elephant carved out of wax! The tutorial calls for decorations and other additions to the wax, but I made my own additions and left off theirs. I used old stud earrings to make the eyes of the elephant.

Here is a link to the to the tutorial I followed:

This is my first attempt at whittling but I was pretty pleased with the results!

Glass Blowing on Netflix

My next two diversions are both Netflix shows about more obscure interests. First is the show "Blown Away" about a glass blowing competition. Here's a trailer from Youtube:

Just recently, a second season of the show came out as well, so there are a good number of episodes for binge watching.

The show drew my interest for a couple of reasons. First, I love fire. This show is all about using fire to create art and to express yourself and I think that is awesome. But secondly, I'm also fascinated by glass blowing conceptually. Unlike a lot of art, glass blowing is very physical. It's a full body activity with the artists in the competition sometimes suffering injuries and heat exhaustion. I like the way the glass looks and I think as a medium it is really interesting and has a lot of possibilities. As a geologist, it doesn't really surprise me that one of my favorite forms of art essentially involves fancy manmade lava.

As I've been watching the show, one of the things that I've been thinking about is the attitude that the glassblowers have. When they are making things out of glass, a single slip up or a problem that may have nothing to do with the artist can result in a bunch of broken glass on the floor. They go from having an almost perfect, sometimes complete, piece to having nothing, in seconds. But even on a shows, where you can imagine they would emphasize any drama, the artists only ever take a second to be slightly upset before they move on and make the best of it. I think their attitude about failure and making mistakes is admirable and of course understandable in this sort of a job.

I've really enjoyed both seasons of the show, even if it can be a bit cheesy sometimes.

Formula One: Drive to Survive

This show, also viewed on Netflix, is completely out of the range of things I normally watch. I do watch some competition shows so those are the closest comparison items. I've never had any real interest in race cars or car racing beyond the Hot Wheels cars my brother and I used to build plastic tracks for in our bedrooms growing up. But I had two separate people, both of whom have different taste in TV shows, recommend this show to me. Both people told me that they are now Formula fans and will be following the competition in the future. Without talking to each other, they both explained that the competition is not as big in America, suggesting lack of exposure as the only reason it isn't more popular. So I decided to try it out. Here's a trailer:

I have to say, even in the middle of my very first episode, I can see the appeal. You very quickly get attached to the drive to win of each driver that you follow. It's a very high stakes competition and each race has the possibility of going drastically wrong, with fortunes changing in split seconds. The suspense as cars tried to pass each other hoping to place high in the rankings definitely had me hooked.

A thought...

The comparison between the competitors in both shows is interesting. In both cases, the results for any given person depend on split second actions and decisions. Competitors can go from first to last in a single moment. But their attitudes are vastly different. The teams and drivers do not handle their change in fortunes with nearly the same grace as the glass blowers. Initially, it would seem that the Formula 1 drivers might be more dramatic because their problems can result in millions of dollars in losses, injury, or the end of a whole season of racing. But upon reflection, it seems to me that in both cases their results can mean the whole world to them. I think it is really the frequency with which the glassblowers fail is the important key. I think the devastating losses in Formula 1 happen less often so the drivers have comparatively less practice at failure.

Going forward

While these activities are some of my ways of spending my time outside of work, I think there are some things to take away from them. Doing the carving gives me an opportunity to do something short-term and make something that I can look at as a success. A tangible product. On the reverse, from watching both shows, I think I can learn some things about how to fail better. As a graduate student, we go through a similar process of trying things and failing as we try to move our research forward. A positive attitude and learning to not get hung up in small failures, or even big ones, is an important skill.

One more hobby...

The last hobby that I intended to try out was calligraphy. I bought a pen and looked up some worksheets and workflows to try to learn. But this hobby has yet to make it across my desk. It is definitely next on the docket... so maybe in a future post!

Sneak peak.... iPhone photography? Banana egg-white pancakes? Research introduction? We'll see!

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