Rapid Test Kits

Throughout the past year and half, Nova Scotia has been focused on early detection of COVID-19 cases. To begin with that meant many Pop-up Rapid Testing sites – staffed by volunteers, in locations where the presence of CoVID-19 was suspected. I helped out with that effort, registering people as they came in. I did that for a couple of months until the number of cases declined, and while a couple of testing sites continued, they were downtown and difficult for me to get to, so I stopped volunteering.

On Nov 9, I joined the Rapid Testing “Test To Protect” effort. For a couple of months volunteers had been making up rapid testing kits for distribution to the airport but the effort ramped up in late October when the NS Department of Health decided to issue kits to school children in order to pick up early warning of COVID-19 spreading among unvaccinated school-age kids. I decided it was time I helped out again. So a couple of times a week, until last week when TTP closed down for the holidays, I helped assemble Rapid Test Kits.

You wouldn’t think putting a few bits and pieces into plastic bags would take much effort – but it did. A four hour shift doesn’t seem like a lot of time – but it was.

When you walked into the assembly room (a large open space with 25 tables – one person at a table, , hands sanitized, wearing a mask) the walls were lined with large labelled boxes – some holding test kit stuff, others already packed with test kits ready for distribution, and on tables dividing the room a WALL of small boxes containing what you needed to make either 30 or 15 kits depending on the batch we were preparing.

You started by adding labels to the bags explaining the “expiry” date on the test strips could safely be ignored. Next you carefully laid out the test components (swabs, test strips, small vials with testing solution) so you could pick up what you needed to place in each bag. Then you filled and sealed each bag and placed it back in the original box.

We started out assembling 30 single test kits; we progressed to 15 double test kits – these to be handed out to arriving passengers at the airport. Working as quickly as I could, it still took me slightly more than 15 minutes to do a single box of test kits. The assembling took a lot of repetitive physical effort (the tables were a bit too high for me – I found it less stressful on my back and shoulders to stand when filling the bags). More difficult was the concentration required to make sure you put the precise number of each component into each bag! You didn’t want to end up short something or to have something left over – that meant you had to go back through all 15 or 30 bags to find where the error had happened! Each bag needed to have the exact number of swabs, vials with testing solution, and testing strips!

I breathed a sigh of relief every time I finished a set of bags neither short something or with any component left over.

In three and a half months, hundreds of volunteers have managed to assemble well over 500,000 test kits for kids and arriving passengers at the airport. A herculean effort. We don’t know yet whether we’ll be called back into action in January but I’m sure everybody who helped out will return, particularly since Omicron looks like it’s set to take off like wildfire here in the province as it has everywhere else.

A Double Rainbow!

Complete Double Rainbow!

I was at my cutting table just how tracing a jacket pattern when I happened to glance out the window – an astonishing complete double rainbow!

The sun had come out behind my building with the rain still falling in front of me allowing the sun to create this amazing sight. Can’t remember when I last saw a rainbow like this.

I used the wide angle lens on my iPhone 12, adjusted the vertical alignment of the building on the right, but otherwise the photo is unedited; this is the colour in its full glory – a glowing rainbow against a dark sky.

I took a raft of photos while the sun shone – it didn’t last long – the rain has returned, the sun gone behind the dark clouds behind.

For a moment it was compelling – I called a couple of friends to share the event.

The “Last” Times

I had an interesting experience about five weeks ago. I needed to change the batteries in the three smoke detectors in my apartment. I change them yearly ( I keep a post-it on the wall in my storage space with the date I last changed them). I don’t want them waking me in the middle of the night screaming when the batteries die.

I had bought batteries. I got out my step ladder, positioned it under the first smoke detector. Climbed to the second step – I’m too short to reach the ceiling from there. I go one step higher – but now there’s not much to grab onto to prevent me from tipping the ladder or losing my balance. I get down, reposition the ladder closer to the doorway, which I can hold as I climb back to the third step to change the battery. I manage to rotate the detector, pull it down, find the battery door, open it, take out the old battery, then fight to put the new batter in. Takes me 5 minutes or so to change that battery. I move on to the second, then the third, both taking less time since by now I have figured things out.

As I descend from the third smoke detector I breathe a sigh of relief – job done. But I also recognize this is the LAST time I am going to do this job myself. I will have to find a younger able neighbour who will do this for me next year!

This was another of those “last time”s I seem to be encountering at this point in my life.

I’m 78. Still exercising three mornings a week at the neighbourhood rec centre. I’m reasonably fit, balance not bad, but after my mattress flipped me onto the floor breaking my wrist and compressing a vertebra two years ago, I catch myself, as I go to do something that could be a bit hazardous, and wonder whether this is the “last” time I do whatever it is, or in fact, was the last time I did it, THE “last” time.

I’ve been thinking about “last” times a lot lately. A year ago I bought an automatic transmission car although I’ve driven a standard stick shift my entire life. I miss shifting gears! But I realized most people don’t know how to drive a standard shift car and were I to be somewhere and find myself not feeling up to driving I’d be stuck unless one or other of the people I’m with can also drive my car. I bought the automatic. It was the sensible thing to do.

I see my world beginning to narrow. I’m probably not going to make that solo drive to Toronto although I love driving long distances on my own; I’ve done many solo long distance trips in my life; but probably not again. Over the past 15 years I’ve travelled to out of way places on my own to join a group interested in textiles without a second thought. The last two times I became ill – fortunately I didn’t require hospitalization, but I know my solo long-distance travelling days are over.

I think this past COVID year and a half has helped me accept how my life plays out from here – taking satisfaction in visiting with friends, enjoying the creative endeavours I undertake, pursuing the iPhone photography in greater depth, making more textile art. I have enjoyed these past 18 months even though there weren’t enough hours in the day to get done everything I wanted to accomplish. I’m getting better at picking up today what I didn’t manage to complete yesterday.

I have longevity in my genetic makeup (at least on my father’s side of the family), so I’m not expecting to wind down anytime soon. However, as Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” reminds us, we all need to be thinking about “end of life” long before an actual end of life arrives.

In the past month I’ve had conversations with two younger friends, both have mothers with dementia, both the daughters with responsibility for making difficult end of life decisions for their parent. Both have had lengthy, searching journeys to get to the place where they are comfortable facing and accepting the near end of life for that parent. I’d suggested they watch Being Mortal on PBS – it has helped each of them take control of the difficult conversations they need to have with medical staff at this point.

I’ve begun keeping a record of my “very last time” moments – not with any sense of foreboding but as an essential aspect of my personal adventure. I’m not exactly slowing down, I’m still getting much accomplished every day, but once in a while I notice that I’ve probably done something I would have tackled without a thought for the “last” time.

I feel like Maggie Muggans – “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow”. Although those “last” times will continue to come along, I know new doors will open when others close. Besides, we ARE living in interesting times!

The “Hum”

The Fairview Cove Container Terminal – Halifax NS

This story goes back at least 45 years! When I lived on Braeside Lane in the late 70s I found myself experiencing a definitely audible “hum”, particularly in the middle of the night, which drove me crazy. It sounded like a very large diesel truck idling just outside my building.

A low frequency hum, almost a vibration, just on the threshold of human hearing. It’s not particularly loud. In fact, you might not have even noticed it yet – but once you do, you can’t stop hearing it. It sounds like a truck, idling on the street in front your house. Or the atmospheric din of an airplane flying overhead, that never gets further away. You can hear it when you’re outside, but it seems louder indoors, and particularly at night, when you’re lying in bed. Maybe it keeps you awake.

If you do hear it, you’re among the roughly 4% of the world’s population affected by “the Hum”, a frequently reported but little understood global phenomenon.

[From The Guardian – July 7 2021]

I struggled with the “hum” for a couple of years before finally I had the brilliant idea to call the acoustic engineers at TUNS (Dal) to see if they were aware of the “hum” and what they knew about it. Not much, it turned out, but they were interested.

Two guys came to my house with some fancy recording equipment for me to use after, say, 2:00am to see if I could capture the noise that for me was so audible and irritating. I recorded the “hum” for a week, after which they came back, collected the microphone and recorder, and analyzed the recordings.

Then they reported back to me. They could definitely detect a low pitch noise (somewhere around 40Hz – they were actually more specific but it’s been so long ago I can’t actually remember the precise number) around 5-10 decibels – loud enough for some people to hear even at that low pitch. They had no idea what the source of the sound was but they assured me it was real.

My Braeside Lane townhouse was constructed on bedrock – a continuation of the Halifax bedrock on which the Fairview Cove Container Terminal was built – so it was not inconceivable that the vibration made by the large cranes or the idling container ships docked at the port, particularly at night, might be transmitting a sound through the bedrock and reaching my house.

No way to prove that theory but I took comfort in knowing the “hum” was a real sound.

I was fortunate, in that I discovered a “node” of that vibration that happened to occur at the foot of my bed, about the diameter of a 15″ platter. Well, that helped a lot – a silent spot in the middle of the thrumming low pitch vibration was a godsend – I was able to sleep comfortably with my head at the foot of my bed and be oblivious to the “hum.” (Although it took some time to feel comfortable/safe sleeping with my head in the middle of the room!)

When I moved to Winnipeg a number of years later, and was looking for a place to live, the first thing on my list of things to watch out for was any “hum”! The realtor and I would visit a place during the day. I’d ask for silence as I walked through the house or apartment trying to listen for any “hum” particularly in the bedrooms. I wasn’t surprised to encounter a variety of “hums” – refrigerators, air conditioners, traffic, railway lines – a city is full of “hums”. I was trying to listen for that unidentified low pitch “hum” I wanted to avoid. I drove the realtor crazy asking to return to a location late in the evening so I could listen to the ambient sound before I’d consider purchasing. I finally found a condo on the Assiniboine River that fit the bill – I was never bothered by the “hum” during the four years I lived there.

When I returned to Halifax in 1997, same thing. House hunting, making sure I wasn’t also buying a “hum” to go along with the house. Again I was lucky. My Chelsea Lane townhouse, although built on the same bedrock as Braeside Lane was further from the container terminal, and “hum” free. I wasn’t bothered by any “hum” for the 20 or so years I lived in it (there was a large CBC radio antenna not far from my place, but I never encountered a “hum” emanating from it).

In August 2016 I moved into an apartment building, 6th floor (top floor), checked for “hums” – thought I’d managed to escape once again. However, on Oct 19, two and a half months later, as I was returning to bed from a trip to the bathroom at 3 in the morning, I was assaulted by a very pronounced “hum” – it persisted for the rest of the night and into the next day. I could hear it – I could feel it thrumming in my head. I could block it out if I turned on the radio, which I did. It wasn’t the highway traffic on the other side of the building – that was intermittent, and besides I really didn’t hear the vehicles, even when standing on my balcony. It might have been the air circulating fans on the roof close to my apartment – but then why hadn’t I heard them when I checked before moving in?

The “hum” was everywhere in the apartment, I could not find a silent node anywhere. I tried identifying the pitch of the “hum” using the keyboard on my iPad. It seemed to blend as a harmonic with F/F#/G two octaves below middle C – I’d lose the “hum” when I played those notes, although I couldn’t pin it down precisely (C1 – three octaves below middle C has a frequency of 32.70 Hz – which is close to the acoustic range mentioned in the Guardian article; it’s also a harmonic with F so it’s possible the base pitch of the “hum” is somewhere around C1 with harmonics further up the scale).

The “hum” never quite subsided, but I discovered an App for my iPad – White Noise – which produced a range of backgrounds to block offending noises. The sound which worked best for me, believe it or not, was the ambient sound of the International Space Station! That, combined with “grey noise” which I was able to pitch closer to F2/F#2/G2 worked to mask the “hum” – so just before turning out the light, I’d turn on White Noise and run it for the night. It allowed me to fall asleep. I used the App nightly for a couple of years and then the “hum” seemed to disappear. I stopped turning on White Noise before getting into bed.

The “hum” returned last evening! At 9:40pm – there it was again – that loud low pitched thrumming – I actually went outside to see if I could see a large diesel truck idling nearby – nope, no vehicles anywhere near the front of the building. Even turning up the volume on the TV couldn’t block the “hum”. I was getting ready to turn on White Noise when around midnight the “hum” subsided. I went to bed and was able to fall asleep.

However, this morning, it was present still, although at a lower level. I can ignore the “hum” during the day – I keep the radio on, listening to CBC or some podcast or other. It generally doesn’t bother me too much in the evening, either, the volume of the TV (to which I knit) generally masks it. And I have discovered that the programs delivered by Brian Cox (professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester) put me to sleep quite quickly! As does David Attenborough. I’ve recorded a collection of programs by both men, which I set to play for a half hour, to mask any disturbing “hums” which might interfere with me falling asleep.

I’m waiting to see if the “hum” is present again this evening! It was very loud and irritating last night. I have found ways to mask it, making living with it bearable.

I just wish the “hum” would simply go away!

More iPhone Photography

It was actually a lovely snowy day today – snowing quite steadily but almost no wind. A perfect occasion to wear my Manitoba winter gear (which I’ve not parted with) and to take photos.

Our building superintendent was stoically shovelling (and reshovelling) the sidewalk in front of our building for much of the day. I just love his stylish snow-shovelling gear! I walked around him until I was able to see both feet not hidden by the shovel – I tried editing a bit, but in the end all I did was crop the image a little.

The Epitome Of Snow Shovelling Fashion

On the way back home I had my eye on hydrants as I passed them. This one seemed more sad than the others so I stopped to take it’s picture. Kind of reminds me of a toy soldier with his helmet pulled down around his ears.

Resolute But Sad

Several months ago I noticed this shelter built from fallen branches in the underbrush. I didn’t think a whole lot about it until today – it certainly wouldn’t afford a homeless person much protection! I wonder what the story is beind this construction….

An Untold Story

BTW – It annoys me to hear people complain about the weather – I learned many years ago in Manitoba that if I dressed appropriately for the day I could enjoy every day – rain, shine, snow. When I say I donned my Manitoba gear I mean it:

Wearing My Manitoba Winterwear (taken 2019)

A warm down parka faced with fur, a good scarf and warm boots and mitts – I’m ready for anything. In fact, I was too warmly dressed today so I unzipped the front of my coat a bit. I was snug at -30° C in Winnipeg mid-winter with this coat.

iPhone Photography

I’ve been sidetracked! A couple of weeks ago I signed up for an online iPhone photography course. To do the course justice, I have to be taking photos. The folks enrolled in the course around the world are taking terrific photos with their iPhones. I haven’t been out and about much for the last few weeks so I’m kind of limited to what I have here in the apartment.

I’ve been trying close-ups of the orchids and the amaryllis which is blooming again. I’m limited because my iPhone XR has a single camera (I don’t want to use the zoom, for technical reasons) unlike the latest iPhones which have either two or three cameras – one of which magnifies 2X. So I’m limited by how close I can get to my subject and still have the camera focus.

In this photo I was trying to keep the dots in the throat of the flower reasonably sharp. Then I edited the image trying to blur the background a bit and strengthen the veins in the petals and sepals.


I tried the same thing in this photo – not quite as sharp – I’ll have to try again on a brighter day. I was aiming to get the petals to be almost translucent

I was quite happy with this close-up of my amaryllis – I wanted to retain the pale green at the centre; I was also aiming to position the camera so the stamens were in focus. Here, your eye zooms in on the floral centre but then follows the stamens and the lines in the petals outward.
I’ve also tried a couple of portraits – using that mode it’s possible to blur the background in an interesting way. I need to take many more images before I’d say I can control of that function of the camera!

I now can intentionally take bursts of photos, use the “Live” function. On to the next module to learn more about what the iPhone camera will do.

And I have to get back to “At Five Islands” later today!

Putting Words To How I Feel…

Yesterday I got to the point where I could verbalize how I was feeling: disappointed and let down. Then my sister Donna sent me a link to Frank Bruni’s piece in the NYT:

Photo From The NYT

It’s always assumed that those of us who felt certain of Hillary Clinton’s victory in 2016 were putting too much trust in polls.

I was putting too much trust in Americans.

I’d seen us err. I’d watched us stray. Still I didn’t think that enough of us would indulge a would-be leader as proudly hateful, patently fraudulent and flamboyantly dishonest as Donald Trump.

We had episodes of ugliness, but this? No way. We were better than Trump.

Except, it turned out, we weren’t….

Some 46 percent of the Americans who cast ballots for president in 2016 picked him, and as he moved into the White House and proceeded to soil it, most of those Americans stood by him solidly enough that Republicans in Congress didn’t dare to cross him and in fact went to great, conscience-immolating lengths to prop him up. These lawmakers weren’t swooning for a demagogue. They were reading the populace.

And it was a populace I didn’t recognize, or at least didn’t want to.

Read the complete article yourself – he wrote it a week or so before the election, I wonder what he’s got to say now. I will keep an eye out for his next article.

How Maps Deceive

When I look at the current election map of the US I am mystified by the enormous red expanse. I’m supposed to believe that the US is almost entirely Republican:

Normal Vote Representation by State

And then I came across this map showing population density – now the election results make some sense! People in the US are clustered on the coasts and in a few central locations – and the vote distribution is clearly more equal:

Vote Map By Population Density

I came across the map in a tweet by Sarah Cooper and then tried to find out more.

“Land doesn’t vote. People do”

Here is the visualization by data scientist Karim Douieb:

Data scientist Karim Douïeb figured that a more accurate way to represent how people voted is to use colored dots, varied in size proportionally to the population of each county. He turned the results into this GIF, which provides a clearer picture:

Pretty eye-opening, no? And yet, while this is clearly an improvement over the ham-fisted method of the first map in this entry, even this is not quite accurate. Within each of those large blue dots, you still have plenty of people who voted red, and vice versa. These results only show you which party won the vote in each region.

What do you think we’d see, if these data represented actual individual votes and we could zoom in on each one? The country is now more divided than ever, and just about evenly split. So all I’m certain of is that zooming out, we’d see a perfect shade of purple.

I guess it’s important to think more deeply about the mundane.

Teacher’s Tool Belt

I got a request the other day to make a tool belt for a young friend of mine. Suzanne’s a vice-principal, constantly on the move during her work day. She needs her phone, her keys, some hand sanitizer, a pen,… with her – AND she needs her hands free.

Teacher’s Tool Belt – Completed

I checked out some possible ideas online and came up with one I thought would do the trick. Suzanne initially requested three pockets but I’ve given her four: one for her phone (with the tab to keep it from falling out), another for her keys (with a small carabiner that slips into the pocket), a slightly wider pocket for a small spray bottle of sanitizer, and one for a package of Kleenex or a small notebook, and two narrow end pockets for pens.

I was discussing the project with one of my sewing buddies who mentioned she had just the fabric weight I was after – a heavy cotton you’d use to cover outdoor cushions. I picked it up.

Next, I selected a complementary fabric from my stash, put the two fabrics together, cut a 10″ strip from the width of fabric for the body of the tool kit, and a second 6 1/2″ strip, also from the width of fabric for the pockets. I cut each width of fabric in half – each piece 22″ wide. (That gives me enough cut fabric for two tool belts – one for my niece as well!)

Teacher’s Tool Belt – Dimensions

I cut two 3 1/2″ strips from another contrasting fabric (width of fabric again) for a pocket facing and waistband and ties.

Layers of Fabric Before Shaping

I trimmed the 22″ x 10″ fabric to 20″ with slightly rounded bottom corners (see “pattern” above). I tapered the sides a bit leaving the top edge 18″ wide. I also ever-so-slightly curved the top edge to accommodate the belly. I placed the pocket fabric on top of the the apron body – aligning the bottoms and trimmed to match the body.

With the fabric shaped, on to facing the pocket.

I cut one of the 3 1/2″ waistband pieces in half lengthwise giving me a 22″ facing strip (the other half becomes one of the ties). With the two pocket panel pieces (outside and lining wrong sides together) I aligned the facing fabric along one 20″ edge on the lining side (right sides together), stitched a 1/4″ seam.

Apply Binding To Pocket on Lining Side – 1/4″ allowance

Folded the facing over the seam allowance toward the front,

Facing Completed on Lining Side Of Pocket Panel

folded under the bottom edge of the facing, pressed and top stitched to the front of the pocket panel.

Pocket Panel Facing Top Stitched

With the pocket panel faced, I laid it on the body fabric (back of pocket to right side of the outside body panel),

Pocket Laid On Top Of Body Panel

covered the pocket with the body lining fabric (in other words, I had a sandwich: lining fabric face down on top, pocket panel, outside body fabric face up on the bottom).

Tool Belt “Sandwich” – with Lining On Top

I sewed down one side across the bottom and up the other side – turned the apron body right side out, pressed – making sure the open top edges matched (I pinned the top edges so they’d stay together when I pinned the waistband in place).

Next, the waistband.  I interfaced the remaining piece of facing fabric to make the waistband more stable, laid it (right side down, interfacing side up) across the top open edge of the WRONG side of the belt, stitched a 1/4″ seam, pressed seam open, folded waistband in half, turned in the raw edge 1/4″, pressed.

Before stitching the open edge to the front of the tool belt, I cut the second 3 1/2″ facing/waistband piece in half lengthwise and attached each half to the ends of the waistband, folded in half lengthwise, turned in the edges, pressed. I folded in the ends of the ties and pinned them.

Then starting at the end of one of the ties, I edge-stitched the end, than the open edge of the first tie, across the waistband, folded edge aligned to just cover the seam, and continuing to the end of the second tie and across the end.

I press the ties and waistband. DONE!

Teacher’s Tool Belt

It all sounds a lot more complicated than the actual assembly is. The second tool belt (to be constructed from the leftovers from the first) will go much more quickly because I’ve already figured out the order of construction.

  1. Cut out and shape outer fabric and lining; cut fabric for pocket facing/waistband and ties
  2. Face Pocket
  3. Make tool belt sandwich) body fabric on bottom / pocket / lining fabric face down on top
  4. Stitch around sides leaving waist edge open – turn right side out, press
  5. Stitch pockets
  6. Add waistband, ties

BTW, I’m not going into production for those other teachers who will want one themselves when they’ve seen the tool belts I’ve made for Suzanne and Maxelle!