Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Thursday, December 25, 2008

(No Longer) Dreaming of a White Xmas

I'm looking out the window right now at snow falling. On Xmas Day. The ground is still white with the remnants of our last snowstorm, and though it's above freezing so the new stuff isn't sticking (much), I finally got to see an honest-to-goodness White Xmas. I also saw a hummingbird on Xmas day. Of all the things I thought I'd never see...

It hasn't been a great year overall, but it's been a decent holiday thus far. I got some new blankets and bedsheets, and some other loot I look forward to hooking up and reading and otherwise employing. Moreover, people seemed to like what I gave them. (I think one of the fundamental shifts that marks the transition from childhood holidays to adult holidays is when one becomes less concerned about what you get and more about how people enjoy what you give.) I went over budget, naturally, but it's Xmas. If you're ever going to go over budget, that's as good a time as any.

Well, it's time to post the results of this year's ornament blitz. To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely happy with the outcome. This is a lesson not to take a year off from a medium before belting out ornaments...

The Ornaments - Work In Progress
I was at a loss as to what to make this year, until I remembered that my aunt wanted a painted feather for Xmas. So wouldn't it be just too clever to make Paperclay feathers and paint on them? Here you see my work-in-progress on six templates. (Two are still half-finished...)

Ornament Feathers Front and Back
Yes, I know the shots are lousy. It turns out that flat ornaments reflect light badly when one is trying to photograph them in a dim basement at one's workbench... Anyway, the images (since you probably can't see them well) are a beluga, an osprey, a cardinal, and a walrus. Not very happy with the way the osprey came out, and I misplaced the fin terribly on the beluga, but deadlines don't allow for much in the way of redos.

How do you spell family?
Immediate family has a way of wandering by my workbench at inappropriate times, so I can't do exceptionally elaborate items. I'm also in the midst of an inspiration drought. So when I was wandering though Micheal's and saw wooden letters, I thought: Hey! Letters! They have names with letters in them! And thus, one of my least creative ornament ideas was born... The holly leaves are mostly there to hide the hanger glue; I don't have a drill, so I had to glue hand-twisted wire hanger loops to the backs. I don't know that the fake holly leaves are a drastic improvement, in hindsight.

The Painted Feathers
Now, let me start with the disclaimer that these feathers were a gift, and I'm 99% certain they're from acceptable sources; one's clearly turkey, and the other one looks like some manner of domestic fowl to me.
Okay, since my aunt wanted a painted feather, and I had no idea what to do for her husband, I decided to paint feathers for them both. My first step was to look up how to paint feathers online. (That's the subject "how to paint feathers" which I looked up online, not how to go about painting an online feather.) I found a variety of instructions, good and bad (mostly bad) from a variety of sources. My test feathers, however, showed no significant difference between those I prepped by various methods and those I painted "raw." I washed some in Woolite and some without. I prepped some with varying intensities of thinned Elmer's glue. I sprayed a couple with varnish. I was able to discern no difference when painting, and saw no difference in drying after over a week. In the end, I winged it. (No pun intended. Oh, okay - I fully intended that pun.)
I carefully picked out the least ragged feathers from the bunch. I used a thin solution of Elmer's and water to help prep the feathers, in theory binding the thing together so it was less likely to split in the painting process. I spent too long hunting for halfway interesting ref pics. And finally, when I'd finished my other ornaments and cleared my workbench and had no more excuses, I started to paint.
It was a whole different process, painting a finished image on a larger feather (the shorter one's an even 12 inches, the longer over 15), than it had been painting test blobs on smaller feathers. The images fought me. The paint fought me. The feathers fought me. In the end, I triumphed... more or less.
This left me with another dilemma I hadn't even considered beforehand: how to present them. The fair where my aunt pointed out the painted feathers sold them loose. I've seen other people selling them in custom mattes (or, more often, as prints of custom matte jobs.) Unfortunately, I've never cut a matte in my life, and this close to the deadline seemed an unlikely time to start. I also discovered that buying a large enough frame was a joke, as I only needed a narrow frame and they're darned expensive to buy, especially if I'd be hacking out half the width anyway. All the precut mattes were made to normal frame proportions; again, I'd be paying for far more matte than I'd be using. The local "fancy" art store also was woefully low on uncut matte board, to the point where I'm suspicious that they're clearing it out. Another desperation run through Micheal's, and I hit upon an idea, or something close enough to one that I snatched it up and ran with it. I bought lengths of flat basswood and basswood dowels, cut them to size, stained them, and glued them up with wood glue. Then I drilled holes*, threaded wire through to secure the feathers, and ran more wire for a primitive hanger. The end results are pictured here. I'm actually happier with the improv frames than I am with the painted feathers. The primitive look makes them pop, I thought. Besides, my aunt's husband has a good woodshop and makes picture frames; odds are the feathers will end up in something better if they find themselves on the walls.

* - Okay, I didn't do the drilling, since (as mentioned earlier) I have no drill. I also didn't do the dowel and blank cutting. My sister has a woodshop, so I got her to do that. I also had to borrow the woodstain and wood glue from her. So she's as much a contributor here as I am.)

So, anyway, I thought I'd get these posted before we headed off to the family gathering. The snow's still coming down, but the roads are mostly bare from what we've heard.

Hope everyone's having a decent holiday season! Bundle up, drive safely, and enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snowy Pictures

Well, if you've missed the news for the past week or so, there's been a bit of snow out here in the Pacific Northwest. How much snow? We got roughly 7 1/2 inches total at our house, though within driving distance they had over a foot. It's made for terrible traffic, but pretty pictures, some of which I'll now impose on you.

The Porch under Fresh Snow
That would be the same hummer feeder that features in the previous blog entry's pictures (the last two, at least.) Notice the difference.
Incidentally, we do still have a few hummers zipping around. They're hardier than you might imagine.

Pickering Lake with Snow
Many, many years ago, within my own dim memory, this was a small airport. Then the developers moved in and built a bunch of retail shops; for covering up major aquafier filtering grounds, they had to create artificial wetlands, the center of which is Pickering Lake, named for the family that owned the land when it was a farm, before the airport. The circle of life continues...

A Light by the Lake
Believe it or not, there's normally a walking path near this light.

Icicles on the Light by the Lake
The temperature's starting to nose above freezing, so we're getting some beautiful icicles. Normally, we don't get too many icicles in snowstorms, but normally we don't get over 7 inches of snow at any given time.

Tree under Snow
Lakeside boughs bow beneath the weight of the weather.

Water Feature near Lake
When they put in the artificial lake, they went all-out, including bridges and a walking loop and this nifty little fountain.

The Bridge In Snow
A self-explanatory pair of pictures...

Never Too Cold for a Swim...
The local waterfowl make a point of stopping by in even the coldest weather, as the lake's fountain (not picture) and related intake/circulation vents create holes in the ice. Here, a merganser and some unidentified ducks enjoy the oasis.

... But It Can Be Too Cold for Coffee
The local bookstore has a cafe in the back which overlooks the lake. It hadn't seen much use today, for some reason.

Fortunately for you, that's all I managed. As of now, it looks like the snow is going to be thawing in fits and starts through the end of the week, and hopefully beyond. We're still not holding our breath on things not slopping up again with refreezing or rain or snow, so we still don't know exactly what we're doing for Xmas. But at least we nearly had a white Xmas, and today at least I got to visit a little winter wonderland.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


This isn't the cleanest photo I will ever take.

Nor is it likely the most exotic.

But it is a photo I never thought I'd even have the chance to take, so I took it.

Apologies for the state of the glass...

Yep, it's a hummer. Yep, it's mid-December. And, yep, that's snow behind her. I'm hoping to get a better shot at the other feeder, but they (yes, there's at least two of 'em) are particularly sensitive to the presence of cameras.

Well, I thought it was cool... no pun intended.

UPDATE - After a day of hummer tag, I managed a couple more usable photos just before it got too dark.

Not a Rubythroat, but a good imitation - The light we're using to keep the feeder from freezing casts a red light on the hummers when they approach from the right angle. These are Anna's hummingbirds; the males have a pinkish-magenta metallic gorget and head when mature, but I've only seen immature males and females around here so far.

The Illuminated Hummingbird - Another shot which I thought looked kinda cool.

Now that I've photographed hummingbirds in snow, I suppose I have one less excuse not to finish the Ornament Blitz... I suppose I'd best get back to that.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

That Nervous Feeling Of Success

I'm suspicious.

Not only did I unofficially meet my unofficial November writing goal, but only six days into December and I technically already have at least one gift for everyone on my admittedly short list. There are a few more things to be ordered, shipped, or otherwise obtained, but if all else fails I have at least one item to give people.

We found a beautifully tacky fiber optic tree at a liquidation store for 20 bucks, and we got it up on the 2nd. It's small enough to sit on our holiday end table without having balance issues, like our other Xmas tree had. I've already wrapped stuff to go under said tree.

I also grabbed a tag off the Rite-Aid giving tree (which seems to have less pretentious requests than the Freddy's giving tree.) Since everyone always goes for the cutesy little kids, I make it a point to look for the older ones who probably know Santa isn't the one to count on to save their holiday. The first tag I saw was a pre-teen who wanted art supplies. I figured any pre-teen who still wanted art supplies deserved better than the 180-item "art set" crud someone would likely lob at them when their tag's still left on the tree just before Xmas. For under 30 bucks I got a fair bundle of art stuff together, and I've already wrapped and returned it to Rite-Aid.

I'm nearly a third of the way through the 2008 Xmas Ornament Blitz, as well. I still have some final design decisions to make, but the hard part's going unusually well thus far.

Today I saw a hummingbird. The Anna's hummers who overwinter at the lake have been nosing around here since the tail end of the Rufous season (before Labor Day.) Last year, the last one I saw was on Thanksgiving. This marks the first year I've seen a hummingbird in December. Judging by the feeders - since we still had hummers, and since the Anna's overwinter locally anyway, we figured we'd leave a couple feeders out until they stopped showing up - we have maybe two or three or so flitting about. I expect they'll head back down to the water when the weather turns colder, but for now it's fun watching the fall hummers in the yard.

I received my holiday gift to myself: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling's collection of Wizarding fairy tales from the Harry Potter universe, purchased on pre-order. Already read, much enjoyed.

So, all in all, thus far it's been a remarkably pleasant holiday season.

If the sun goes supernova tomorrow, I'm sorry.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Unofficial Accomplishments

Anyone with even the most remote dreams of eventual publication has likely heard of NaNoWriMo. If you haven't, and are too lazy to click the link to read up on it, the basic idea is to write a novel in a month, more specifically the month of November. The official goal is a 50,000-word novel (roughly 175 pages.) It doesn't have to be good. It doesn't have to be shared. It just has to be written between November 1 and November 30. The official prize is a little button to go on your website, and knowing that you wrote a 50,000-word novel in a month.

I've been a wannabe author almost as far back as my memory extends. Like so many wannabe authors, my biggest obstacle in becoming a nonwannabe author (also known as an author) is myself. My lack of confidence. My lack of persistence. My lack of willingness to write the reams of crud it takes to produce that shining gem. So NaNoWriMo, which not only suggests but guarantees that the story written will suck spider-infested burnt toast, would be ideal. But another obstacle I face, not only in writing but life in general, is my own cowardice. Every year I intend to sign up for it, and every year I chicken out. There's always a reason; the holidays are breathing down my neck, I have a job, I need a job, I ought to be doing this, I might be doing that. The bottom line is that I'm a coward. (I'm also a major league procrastinator and incredibly lazy, and I'm not winning any beauty contests in this space-time continuum. But I'm getting sidetracked by my own inadequacy.) Putting my name down on a list - any list - where I'd be held accountable, however remotely, for actually producing something... that would be an act of bravery. And we cowards aren't very good at bravery.

This year, though, I decided enough was enough. I have two stories stuck midstream. I haven't come close to hitting the vast majority of my resolutions. 2008 hasn't been the greatest of years on many levels. So maybe, just maybe, I could manage to write an incredibly cruddy story in 30 days, just so I could look back on the year and say I accomplished something. But... 50,000 words. That's 1666.67 words a night. (Actually, it's 1666.66 repeating to eternity, according to my calculator, but that's close enough.) It seemed a little steep. Plus there was that whole adding my name to a list thing.

As November crept ever closer, I hemmed and I hawed, until finally I found myself at the very tail end of October. I'd wasted a significant portion of time in October creating a work shirt for Halloween, and was somewhat disappointed that few people outside my family even noticed the thing. So my creative spirits were a little low going into the end of the year. I needed a shot in the arm. I needed a kick in the teeth and a whack on the head. (I needed health insurance before I got any of those things, ideally, but that's another story.)

"To heck with it," I told myself. "I'm gonna write a novel."

But... there was that whole signing-up thing, and the seemingly steep 50,000 word goal. And I didn't know how to write 0.67 words. And, like it or not, the holiday crunch was about to take a bite out of my time. Like the chicken I am, I couldn't bring myself to sign up on the official site. Again. But I set myself an alternate goal. I would write a 30,000 word novel as an unofficial participant. That was only a thousand words a night. I knew at the outset it was going to suck. I knew going into it it would be unlikely that I'd finish. But, dang it, I had to try. I had to know if I could stick to any goal I set myself.

So, the night of November 1, I picked a story idea out of the thin air within my cranium. I booted up Word. And I sat down and wrote. I didn't let myself revise, edit, or outline. I didn't let myself do character sheets. I didn't let myself even take notes on the world or the history or anything else I do to distract myself from actually writing. I just wrote. One thousand words (give or take a few) a night. It started out not so bad. It went strange. Round about the last third, it grew downright goofy, and then bizarre. If characters had unions, I'm pretty sure I'd have had a walkout on my hands before Thanksgiving. But I didn't stop. I didn't give up. I just kept writing. Every night, another thousand words, come heck or high water, pushy cats or whining relatives. Some of it was written on my tower, some on the Little Black Critter. Once again, I found myself grateful for the existence of flash drives.

Did I pull it off?

Unfortunately, I did not end up with a 30,000-word novel.

I ended up with a 36,226-word novel. It will never see the light of day. I doubt more than a fragment will ever be redeemable in any future works. But I wrote a story in 30 days, and the only person I was accountable to was myself.

Oops, wait - I miscounted. It's actually a 36,228-word novel. Those last two words are my favorites, and ones I don't let myself write nearly often enough: The End.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Me and My Shadow

So, thus far November hasn't been a very productive month.

Thanksgiving's just around the corner, and I haven't even finalized designs for the annual Xmas ornament blitz.

I haven't managed to sell one of my drum ornaments in over half a year.

I still haven't finished a story, let alone tried to market one.

But at least I can see my shadow again.

When my graphics card died last month while finishing Project Halloween Thing, I evidently misread my old card's specs. It wasn't a 7200, like I thought, but a 7600. This meant that the 7300 I replaced it with was technically a downgrade. While this didn't affect much of what I do on my computer, the deficiency became all too apparent when, in a fit of nostalgia crossed with a need to virtually wreak untold havoc on the mythical monster population of ancient Greece, I booted up my copy of Titan Quest. Before, I had everything set on Medium in the Video options, but that was before the new card. Everything stuttered and jerked and drug. I had to drop everything to the lowest setting, and even then it stuttered. The only way to cure it was to disable shadows. Now, shadows aren't integral to the game. There's no need to see them. Heck, I was raised on the Commodore, where shadows were something of a novelty. But as I was playing without my shadow, I realized just how much I missed my old graphics card. So I decided to give myself an early Xmas gift and get myself a new one. 7600's were, after all, a couple years old. I ought to be able to snag one pretty cheap. Right?


It seems that the price hadn't dropped much from what I remember paying for my old 7600. While they are indeed cheaper than the newest graphics cards, they are nonetheless still a bit pricey for someone with just a three-day-a-week job. I could've tried another brand, but, dang it, I love my nVidia, and I know they work with what I have. I decided to keep my eye peeled with the occasional Google search and eBay check. It was eBay that came through for me. I found myself a nice, barely-used nVidia GeForce 7600 that, with shipping & handling, was about twenty to thirty-odd bucks less than anywhere else wanted it new (not factoring in shipping, even.) Now, I've been trying for things on eBay for about a month and kept getting them sniped out from under me, in the last ten seconds of the auction in one case. So, not holding my breath, I entered a bit and waited. And, amazingly, I won it.

Of course, it can never be as easy as that. The seller failed to specify the connectivity of the card, but all the numbers matched off my old one, so I figured it would work with my motherboard and monitor. Well, it snapped into the motherboard just fine, but the monitor... Evidently, there's a format of monitor I've never encountered before, a DVI-I, which my poor old VGA Viewsonic couldn't make heads nor tails of. I was not to be deterred so easily. The Universe had given me a new 7600 graphics card for a discounted price, and, dang it, come heck or high water I would use it!

A quick Internet search revealed that, yes, they do make VGA-to-DVI adapters, and that they were surprisingly affordable (as in, the cost of one still wouldn't make my new graphics card as pricey as it would've been elsewhere.) But where to get one? My first hope was Staples, or maybe Office Hole (a.k.a. Office Depot - I don't like their latest remodel job, and have dubbed them Office Hole in honor of all the items they seem to drop whenever they "upgrade" their stores), and I'd planned to spend today fooling with that. However, in another peculiar twist, the Universe instead handed me a chance to earn the money I spent on this little gift to myself when I was called on Monday with an opportunity to work today. Mondays and Tuesdays being "long shift" days, I would be making back the cost of the card and adapter, plus a little more.

Okay, thank you, Universe, I accept; I can always hunt for adapters on the weekend, or after work on Wednesday when I'm not getting out in the middle of rush hour. So I went to work today at an evilly early hour. (We're still working down the post-Veteran's Day backlog, but we broke a Tuesday record for items sorted, though I think the record should reflect that they had a partial crew working an hour early to help whittle things down. We would've broken it by an even bigger margin, but the boss got it into his head, once we saw that we were going to beat it, to waste five to ten minutes arranging us for a photo op to commemorate the occasion. Hey, you take the thrills you get in a job like this... But I digress.) On the way home, I had to pick up stuff for dinner at Safeway. In the parking lot of this Safeway is a Radio Shack.

Now, I don't know about you, but I have very mixed luck with Radio Shack. Yes, they carry some things you can't get anywhere else, but the help tends to be unhelpful. Downright rude, in a few occasions, if you don't happen to be a technogeek about every thing you're asking. But this time I was armed with the knowledge of what to ask for - a VGA-to-DVI adapter - and since I was pressed for time and too darned lazy to go elsewhere, I figured they were worth a shot. For once, they were helpful. I actually bought what I wanted to buy. Of course, for once there was nobody else in the store, so they couldn't ignore me in favor of someone more important or intelligent (who usually tends to be male.) I got the feeling they were a little desperate in this economy; the guy tried to sell me a flat-screen and a phone while I was paying for my adapter. I told him it wasn't in the budget at the moment, thank you very much. (A polite way of saying,"Dude, if I wanted a flat-screen or a phone, I would've mentioned it before I got to the register, so lay off already!") Of course, another part of my luck with Radio Shack is that the thing they sell me almost never works until I exchange it for a similar but not quite identical product at least once. I hoped this wasn't the case; there were only two such adapters in the store, and I picked the only one that had a female VGA and male DVI connectors. (Anyone else sometimes think the geeks who name these parts spend a little too much time fooling with cable connections in the lab?)

So, anyway, home I went to start dinner, and thence eat dinner. Afterwards, it was time for the big test. Out with the old card, in with the new. Off with the old connection, in with the adapter. Close it up, plug it in, turn it on and cross my fingers. Long story short (too late), it worked like the proverbial charm. The good kind of charm, for once, and not the kind that has a curse or ironic twist attached to it.

November 2008 may not go down in my personal history as the most productive month in my life, but I have to admit it's had its high points thus far. I got extra hours at work. I found a dime when I went for a walk. And, when I'm carving my way through hordes of satyrs, skeletons, and ghouls, I can finally see my shadow again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Autumn Leaves

Now, if that wasn't a self-explanatory title, I don't know what is...

Every year, those of us in temperate climates are treated to a spectacular natural fireworks show. And every year, I mean to experience this show more fully - going out to the passes or something to see the mountain leaves - but I almost never do. There's always a reason. The weather's bad. The car's acting up. We should coordinate with the rest of the family. Maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we should. And then the leaves are gone and winter's here and we have nothing to show for it.

For Project Halloween Thing, I've spent the last two or three weeks searching for good autumn leaves. Not crinkly brown things, not spotted broken things, but good, honest autumn leaves. Leaves with good color and good shape. Leaves without conspicuously missing parts or holes. Leaves that weren't too huge or too tiny. I found a few outside work, and a few more on my walk, but I hit the mother lode of autumn leaves at the local lakeside state park. We were going there to meet my uncle and my grandfather for an impromptu it's-a-sunny-weekend-day-so-let's-have-a-KFC-picnic-before-the-weather-turns gathering. The ground was covered in perfect autumn leaves. These weren't just a flat color, or just one side or the other of peak, like most I'd seen. These were beautiful. Patches and veins and streaks of color. Nice crisp edges and stems. I think I could've spent a whole day just looking at all the leaves in that part of the park. We've had other autumn picnics over the years, and a few halfhearted family leaf excursions, but I don't think I've ever really appreciated autumn leaves until that day in the park.

Not long after, on the drive out to work, the morning sun caught the broadleaf maples along the freeway corridor in a manner that just made them glow with a beautiful golden-yellow light. There was just a hint of mist in the air to catch the sunbeams, and the whole interstate was just ablaze with autumn color, offset with the deep green of the evergreens. It was one of those sights that made you wish you could pull over and paint it. Except I didn't want to get creamed, and I didn't have the time. Or the paint. Oh, yeah, and I don't know how to paint. (It would've made for an interesting call in to work, though...)

A few days ago, Mom and I went out looking for leaves to photograph. It wasn't our only reason for going out; there was a local rock & gem show, and we had a few errands to run anyway. But we brought our cameras, intending to pull over and snap pictures if we saw any leaves worth a photograph. We drove all over in a relatively aimless pattern. Every tree we saw was either just before or just past prime. Every turn we took took us somewhere we didn't necessarily need to be. In the end, we wound up right back where we started, in our hometown. One of the main drags is lined with deciduous trees that simply blaze away in the autumn, each hitting peak at a different time so the chlorophyll light show lasts and lasts. We parked at a shopping center and strolled along a short but colorful stretch. This is just one of the many pictures I took that day; I'll spare you the rest. (That was also the day we saw a fire truck being towed away. I'd never seen a fire truck broken down before; I always assumed/hoped they were so overbuilt and so well maintained that mechanical breakdowns didn't happen they way they did to the rest of us. Part of my perfect illusory world has been destroyed.)

No, I didn't just write a blog post to irritate you with pointless tales of autumn leaves. I'm posting to irritate you with pictures of Project Halloween Thing, which is essentially finished. I might still end up throwing on some glitter or a few more leaves, but this is basically it:
The Front
The Back
Only had a couple iron-on blips, but for the most part it worked suspiciously well. I was a bit nervous, as the colors looked dull when I printed them out, but they brightened up once I slapped them on the denim shirt. I have some leaf transfers left over; I'll look at the shirt again in a while and see if I see any conspicuous gaps that could use a leaf.

Well, despite what I said in the Comments previously, I couldn't resist. So I swung by Michael's after work, went out to the family function Thursday night (Grandpa's 90th birthday), and when I got home...
The glitter-embellished final version
It's hard to see, but the glitter on the talons, beak, and pumpkin is gold, not purple. I also added a small, subtle streak of glitter to the main veins of the leaves. I would've done more with the leaves, but I was running out of time, as I had to be up extra-early on Halloween for a work function. (They had a breakfast thing at work before the shift. I'm willing to feign sociability if food is involved.)
As a footnote, after all that work, only a few people at work actually noticed the guy. Oh, well... I finished it, and that's the part that matters.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Critter to the Rescue

I admit it. I've been neglecting the Little Black Critter (a.k.a. my laptop) lately. I have a ton of excuses, mostly centered around me slacking off on the writing I promised myself I wouldn't slack off on. I've updated it now and again by taking it to a nearby wifi hotspot, but otherwise it's been sitting in its laptop bag, forlorn and forgotten.

My most recent excuse has been Project Halloween Thing, wherein I got it into my head to make a thing for Halloween. After numerous sketches and a shamefully large pile of crumpled paper, I came up with a Thing: a design which, if all goes well, will become an iron-on transfer for a work shirt (denim) to wear on Halloween. Last year's Thing was a very small pocket-sized image swiped from Skyhaven (a chirolupe - bat/wolf cross), so this year I wanted to go upscale. That, and it's a bit chilly to work without a work shirt. This year's Thing - a Halloween gryph - will be somewhat larger and go on the the back of the work shirt, ideally to be surrounded by iron-on transfer autumn leaves (gathered around the neighborhood and from a local park, which I hope to have sufficiently flattened by this weekend to go on the scanner.)

So, anyway, I got it sketched, inked, and scanned in, and after some helpful input from one of the message boards I lurk at, I started shading. I do this in grayscale because I'm too big of a color coward to do it otherwise; I add the tint after I have everything looking decent in grayscale, saving me the terror of working with an open color palette. Anyway, I hoped to have it ready to color by Friday - giving me a solid week to print and iron and assemble - and it looked entirely doable. I was up to the last stage (adding the highlights) tonight when I booted up my computer after dinner. As usual, I decided to screw around with a game before committing to productivity. This let me not only gauge whether or not the cats would let me work - they're half the reason I'm still doing shading work instead of adding color already - but would let me waste time thinking about Project Halloween Thing before committing further action to it.

If you've ever driven an older car, you get used to the sounds it makes that it isn't supposed to make, yet which are "normal" for it. Any alteration in that noise raises a red flag that trouble is coming. In my computer's case, the abnormal normal noise is my graphics card fan. Some time ago, it started making a loud whirring noise on bootup, but it eased off once everything was up and running. I know it's the graphics card fan because I opened the case and - per recommendations read online - used a pencil eraser to stop the various fans and see which one killed the noise. So I've known that the fan on the graphics card has had "issues" for a while, but, like the older car, I grew used to the noise once it became clear that it had an established pattern and didn't seem to effect performance. I also knew, when I booted up this time, the fan ran different; it gave an extra rev-up after it should've leveled off to a background whir, and stayed louder longer that usual. I didn't think much more of it, though, until my game started flickering.

I hoped it was just the game; I'd just downloaded it as a demo, after all, so maybe it was weird. I logged off, but no luck. My Windows screen was fluctuating too. This not only made game play annoying, but made it impossible to do graphics work. Now, I know that my sister has a spare, lightly-used graphics card due to an upgrade not long after she got her computer, but I didn't know where that was. Besides, I like to do such things in daylight, when I have a few hours to allow for problems. But I couldn't lose a night of work, because it would put me impossibly behind schedule, Halloween being only a week away and me still needing to scan in leaves and print stuff out and assemble everything on the actual shirt.

This may seem like a minor failure to some, but I'd committed myself to this. Following through on Project Halloween Thing would prove to myself I could finish something vaguely creative. Furthermore, if I gave up, I would've completely wasted the last two weeks of my life devoted to working on the project, which means I would be even more of a loser for not doing the things I put off to work on it.

When you're the kind of loser I am, these distinctions matter, probably a lot more than they ought to.

I worried. I fretted. I procrastinated while worrying and fretting. Then I remembered: the Little Black Critter was billed as an Entertainment laptop, designed to watch DVDs on. This meant - hopefully - that it could handle Paint Shop Pro X and a Wacom. And it was right there, all alone, awaiting the fulfilment of promises made when it left Hewlett-Packard's factory and began its journey to my home, promises to be used and loved and cherished. Well, what did I have to lose? If it didn't work, I wouldn't be any further behind, and if it did I could at least get a little work done on the project, whereas I wouldn't have gotten any done at all with my dying graphics card. I loaded up a flash drive with my tablet driver (already on my desktop, as I had to reinstall it not so long ago) and my files, grabbed my PSP X disk, unplugged my Wacom, and decided to give the Critter a chance.

Well, the Little Black Critter came through with flying colors. I installed PSP X without a hitch. I uploaded my files. And I found a nifty surprise when I installed my graphics tablet driver. Apparently, Vista has onboard handwriting recognition software... and - impossibly, amazingly - it even recognizes my handwriting! Not just the block printing, either. I mean my cursive, which is so bad that one high school teacher demanded I do all work on computer to spare her having to pick through it. I found this much cooler than I ought to, I suppose. In any event, aside from a slight lag on the pen (which I think I could fix if I wanted to fiddle with settings), the Critter performed beautifully in my hour of need. So well did it perform, in fact, that I'm strongly tempted to leave my Wacom with the Critter and buy myself a second tablet for the tower, so I could work on future art projects away from the cats if need be. (It didn't hurt that I found the stylus and the wireless mouse more natural to navigate with than the laptop touchpad.)

In any event, thanks to the Little Black Critter, my evening wasn't a total waste. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to swap out graphics card and get my tower up to snuff again. And now, I suppose, I ought to head off before the graphics tablet gets snarky again. (And, yes, I'll post pictures of Project Halloween Thing when it's done.)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Tripped Up

Okay, it's more than a week after the fact, but I finally dug through my latest vacation photos from my latest vacation. Prepare to be bored spitless...

September 24 - Departure
At an inhumanly early hour, I crawled out of bed to begin yet another ill-advised trek to Somewhere Else. The destination: Seaside, Oregon, a little tourist trap of a town on the northern Oregon coast. I'd considered just going to Ocean Shores for this jaunt (much closer, generally cheaper), but the weather looked iffy, and to be frank there isn't a whole heck of a lot to do in Ocean Shores in iffy weather. So, Seaside it was. Accompanying me were my mother, my sister, and my aunt. (Defrayed the room cost, if nothing else, plus I didn't have to do most of the driving, which is a definite plus when you're a non-morning person leaving the house before 6 AM.)

(Rock and) Roll On, Columbia
*Shudder* Any Washingtonian who suffered through public schools can cringe along in memory of that song. We could've gone the "usual" way, through Portland before cutting over to the coast, but none of us like to drive the Portland I-5 bridge. So we planned to jog over to cut across at Astoria. Well, we missed the turn we'd intended to take, and wound up tracking along the Columbia River (dividing line between Washington and Oregon, for the Pacific Northwest geographically challenged), which had us backtracking north a bit but got us there in the end.
Along the way, we had to stop a few times to stretch. (That, and the SUV we were in was more cramped than we'd imagined on a trip this long; it defies logic that one can have less legroom in a gas-guzzling behemoth than in a Corolla, but I digress.) It was at one of these rest points that I snapped the preceding photos - and, yes, they were at the same place, which proves just how accurate road signs really are.

A Sign of Things to Come
Not the most auspicious way to start a vacation. If I were exceptionally superstitious, I would've taken this sign as a, well, sign.

The Feathered Flasher and the Bridge to Oregon
That could be a title in a very strange fiction series... While stretching at the aforementioned nitch (our last stop on the Washington side of the Columbia, at least until we came home), I snapped several pics of a flashy cormorant who seemed to enjoy posing for the camera. The second picture should be self-explanatory; I still like that bridge better than the Portland one.

The Wind and the Rock
We couldn't check into our room until 4, and we hit Seaside not long after noon, so after grabbing breakfast/lunch we figured we'd poke on down the coast to Cannon Beach for a bit to photograph possibly the most photographed rock on the Oregon coast (Haystack Rock, and its companions, the oh-so-cleverly-named Needles.) Did I mention before that the weather looked "iffy?" The first photo shows (I hope) the ambient wind, which was, in layman's terms, "strong enough to make you feel you might not make it back to the car." The second shows a fairly generic shot of the aforementioned rock.

Rivertide: A Room with a View (and a View of a Room)
We went a bit upscale for this trip, compared to our usual fare. (If you ever read my trip report of our stay at the Beachwood Resort near Ocean Shores, also known as the giant wolf spider sanctuary, you'll have an idea of our "usual" fare.) For two nights, we stayed at the Rivertide, a hotel that doubles as a vacation condo. In a split from our usual luck, we wound up in what would be termed a "luxury" suite; even though we'd only paid for "mountain view," we actually had a fairly good view of the river, which was supposed to cost extra. Being only three blocks from the ocean, we could see the Pacific, too, but not in what one would call a postcard panorama. Not to worry: the Rivertide features a "crow's nest" viewing area on the roof, where the views were better (and the wind windier.) I snapped the last photo from the crow's nest, looking back and down at our room.
Anyway, back to the room. The beds were great, but the windows were unaccountably drafty. We never did figure out how to get the fake fireplace working, though it looked broken when we got there so that may have been the problem. Though they claimed they had some sort of wireless internet, the Little Black Critter failed to pick up a signal. We were right across the street from a Holiday Inn Express which probably offered it, but the wind was chilly enough that I didn't want to prop open a window to see if I could pick anything up. (The room was also screwy about cell phone signals; one area near the kitchen gave us very weird messages about our subscriptions having expired.) So, all in all, it was a nice place to visit, but I'd be hard pressed to want to plunk down five hundred grand for it.

Scenic Seaside Streets
If you'll forgive me for jumbling chronological order, having shot these on different days... Since the weather was, as mentioned previously, "iffy," we spent a fair bit of time wandering Seaside's streets doing what tourists do best: shopping and taking photos.

The Carousel in the Mall
One of Seaside's attractions was a small shopping mall containing an indoor carousel, which saw a fair bit of business on drizzly, windy days.

See the Seaside Aquarium!
One of those attractions that time forgot, Seaside features a small yet popular aquarium, where you can see fish (including a shy and exceptionally bored Giant Pacific Octopus - not pictured), look at marine specimens, and even pay to feed a tank of harbor seals, if you don't mind getting splashed and getting raw fish all over your hands. (We passed on that...)

Lewis & Clark
Seaside's big claim to fame is being at (or near enough) the end of Lewis & Clark's belatedly-famous expedition to the Pacific Ocean. Hence the statue.

Flashback soda fountain (with Special Guest)
Yep, we had treats there. Mom and her sister had to get a photo with the King, too, because we're tourists and that's why he was there.

Night lights and Morning View
The first one ought to be self-explanatory; the hotel across the river had wonderfully bright and tacky neon lights. The second ones ought to be self-explanatory, too. The Great Blue Heron was in hiding when I had my camera out, and startled me by flying across the river in a spectacular shot I missed - calling as he flew, the first time I've ever heard a heron's voice - before landing on the banks. Curse him...

Counterchanged Clouds and the Light in the Fog
On the last day of our trip, after checkout, we went back down to Cannon Beach, where I shot a bunch more photos of the requisite rocks (which I'll spare you.) Of the two I am sharing, I found the clouds in the first one very intriguing. The second one is just more Fun with Zoom Lenses. Not long after our beach time, while we were eating lunch, the fog moved in; such was the way of the vacation.

South Bend Memorial to the Soldier of the Fallen Reindeer
On the way back home, we took the route we'd intended to take the first time, and found it much more meandering and therefore much less direct than we'd thought it would be. Along the way, we stopped in the speck of a town known as South Bend. A small waterside park featured a sculpture honoring a local war hero which some past tourist or local wiseacre thought needed some embellishing.

All in all, I have to say I enjoyed my little Seaside getaway. It wasn't without its problems - the car was cramped, Mom's new shoes gave her no end of grief, my aunt suffered the start of a prolonged attack of what turned out to be a massive gallstone, my sister broke her favorite sunglasses - but it wasn't all bad. I'd certainly consider going back there, at any rate. Maybe I will, but not before my budget recovers. And not unless we take another car.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Saga of the Taurus (Continued)

When last we left the Mighty Taurus, it had been struck down by a mysterious ailment that defied diagnosis.

Today, a new chapter begins: The Taurus Dies Again.

Since my sister's car work (thus far - we still think something needs adjusting) prompted us to bring the Taurus home, it's mostly been sitting collecting road dust and bird waste in the driveway. We couldn't trust it, what with its bad habit of dying in traffic and not wanting to restart intermittently. It couldn't even be trusted to be untrustworthy. Recently, Dad began trying to force it to stall: he would replicate the last route he drove in which it stalled (out to my job and back to town), and hope it would die as he approached the auto shop. Until today, it hadn't worked. Then we received a call from the cell phone... Yes, the Mighty Taurus stalled out again on the offramp. He tried calling his auto club (Allstate), but they were singularly unhelpful, so we had to try calling a tow truck for him. By the time we managed this, he'd gotten the Taurus restarted and limped into the auto shop, so we had to call and cancel the tow before going down to pick him up.

Part of the flurry of calls during this ten-minute phonefest was a call to the auto shop, so they knew the Taurus was on its way, by tow or not. This Taurus, by now, has quite a long record at this auto shop, so they knew all about it. They were ready for it this time, and gave it a try as soon as it came in. It started fine for them, but Dad, on a hunch, told the mechanic to idle it for a bit. He did, and sure enough the engine stalled out and refused to restart.

Insert the Hallelujeah Chorus here.

This was the moment we've all been waiting for! It had finally acted up in front of a mechanic! Furthermore, by the time Mom and I showed up with Dad's ride home, they finally believed they had a diagnosis! It boiled down to me being right about the electrical system being wonky; no spark, ergo no spark plug action, ergo dead car. They also plan to replace the engine module thingy which we had hoped they would try replacing before, because the only reason it would only pull this at idle is if that module was malfunctioning. And there were a few more thingies and dealies and whatchamacallits that needed adjusting or replacing or sacrificing to. Total damage is expected to be around five hundred bucks, which is less than I could get a reliable replacement.

So there is a very real possibility that I'll get what I really want for my birthday this year: a car I can trust to drive again.

And, after Allstate Auto Club's stellar performance in his hour of need, I think Dad's finally going to listen to us and switch to AAA.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Golden Moon of Summer

Last night, like the previous few nights, was hot and humid and entirely unconducive to productivity. So we decided to take the rental Prius out for a spin. (More car issues, including the sudden blowout of my sister's car and the continued failure of the Taurus to act up in front of the mechanics... won't bore you with the details.) I hadn't actually driven it yet, though I was on the list of approved drivers, and since we're probably taking it back Monday I figured I might as well try it out, just so I could say I drove a Prius.

That car is weird. Very, very weird. It operates more like a computer than a car in many ways, down to the "Power" button on the dashboard. The "key" is a pagerlike box which you insert in a slot on the dashboard; according to the manual, you don't even need to do that much if you use a "smart" key mode, so long as you have the key in your pocket or purse, though the radio waves used evidently might cause issues in drivers with pacemakers. AC and other controls are on the steering wheel. A touchscreen panel controls various things I didn't dare delve into. When you come to a stop, the engine cuts off - unlike the Taurus, it's supposed to do that, and it comes back on the moment you need it to. It wasn't too hard to envision a future Prius model including steering wheels as an option, running instead off satellite feeds and electrical impulses from the driver's mind. Still, even though it has one of the world's worst rear windows for visibility and a mirror-reflected dashboard display that would be a pain to see in daylight, and even though the dead-engine-at-a-stoplight nearly gave me heart failure even though I knew it was supposed to happen, I must say that little Prius handled nicely. I probably could've gotten used to it in the long term, but they're nowhere near my price range when it comes to replacement cars. And I'm still hoping against hope that the Mighty Taurus will be back up to snuff soon.

I had a Barnes & Noble coupon through my B&N Membership card, so we headed out to the bookstore to burn off money I probably should've put toward more important things. Considering how long it's been since I indulged my book hoarding instincts, I restrained myself remarkably. It helps when you habitually blank on the books you want to buy when you walk into the store. It also helps that, when you do remember what you wanted, they refuse to carry it, or at least they don't stock the one in the series that you wanted to buy. I appreciate that in a bookstore. At least, my bank account appreciates it. Still, I did have the coupon to burn off, so I made myself buy three books. (This is a sacrifice tantamount to settling for a hot fudge sundae because the rest of the family is ordering desserts and won't leave you out. A painful sacrifice, but sometimes a necessary one.)

As we came out of the bookstore, walking into the wall of humid heat beyond the comforting drone of the bookstore air conditioning, I looked out over Tiger Mountain and saw a beautiful golden moon, bright enough to lend the subtlest of nocturnal glows to the hills and the clouds opposite the vestiges of a silver-pink sunset. I love full moons like that, with the crisp, clear marks on the surface and the beautiful golden hue like something out of a painting. I wished I'd had my camera, but I've never been able to capture that texture on film or chip; I suspect some special setup is needed, a filter or lens or setting I haven't deciphered, because my best efforts only produce a solid glow across the moon's surface. But I got to see it, and sometimes that's enough.

After the bookstore, Mom decided she needed ice cream. We haven't had a DQ in town for years, and Baskin-Robbins was probably packed to the gills on a Saturday night like this, so we decided to try something different. Recently, Krispy Kreme started advertizing soft-serve ice cream treats. That sounded about right. We swung by and grabbed ourselves a couple hot fudge sundaes, plus a root beer for Dad - and, yes, Mom was buying desserts and wasn't going to leave me out. Shucky darn... Maybe it was the heat, but that soft serve tasted wonderful. So we sat outside and watched traffic and ate our ice cream, and I thought that things weren't alway so lousy as they seem. Yeah, I still have a car that doesn't seem to want to be fixed, and I still can't afford to replace it unless I can get another job - which I can't get to unless I have a reliable car. Yeah, I still haven't sold another drum ornament, and I haven't had the guts to try selling them to other stores or on Etsy. Yeah, my sites are stagnating and my stories are spinning their wheels. Yeah, I've fallen flat on my face this year when I look at what I resolved to do with 2008 back in January. But I had three new books and cold ice cream on a hot night, and I got to drive a Prius under the golden moon of summer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home to the Cold

Temperature and health, unfortunately...

Okay, so I'm back from my little excursion back east. The weather on both sides of the Cascades was dry and sunny and warm... until this morning, when the clouds moved in. Also this morning, my nose started itching in that manner that presages the onset of a cold; I grabbed Airborne on the way home, but I think I started too late to completely avert the disaster brewing in my sinuses.

How was the trip? Pretty good, actually. I made fair use of the Little Black Critter, since we had wifi at both places we stayed. Made a tiny bit of writing progress, but heck, I was on vacation, so I'm giving myself a pass on slacking.

Now, on to the trip in photos. (Yep, knew ya wanted this...)

We headed out midafternoon on I-90, destined for the wild and exotic town of Cle Elum east of the summit.

Lake Keechalus
Two things tell you you're past the summit (aside from the roadsigns): you start seeing pine trees amongst the Douglas Firs, and you pass the Lake Keechalus reservoir. (You also start seeing rivers that flow "backwards," towards the east, but that's tougher to photograph from a car moving at 70 MPH.)

Home Away From Home (Night 1)
The other place we were staying claimed it had no vacancies on Saturday night, so our first stop was here. (Actually, it made us drive through "town" so we at least saw where food places and such were, so it was just as well we were here first.) It was small - so small that one had to squeeze past the edge of one bed to the bathroom through a gap less than a foot wide - but clean. Since I had the Little Black Critter with me, I actually made use of the unexpected wifi to annoy people online.

Retro Look
Nothing says "retro" like the old-fashioned "lean"....

The Cover-Up Uncovered
As the inn slowly filled for the night, a semi with a peculiar load pulled up for a spell. Clearly the government is using these to lure and trap invisible radioactive man-eating moths created by failed experiments with retroengineered spacecraft propulsion technology. Or maybe it's just something they use on a farm.

Only In A Town Like This...
Need I comment?

Anyway, Saturday night was spent mostly decompressing in the inn, with a Safeway sandwich and chips for dinner.

Today we planned to move to our second- and third-night lodgings and poke around the area a bit more. It was my sister's birthday, and she wanted to find a place to sit in the woods for a while. Easier said than done...

Breakfast at the Cottage Cafe
The "hot breakfast" advertized by the Travelers Inn was not, actually, an in-house breakfast. Instead, we were given a coupon to redeem for a free breakfast at the cafe next door. (The hotel across the way also advertized "hot breakfast" on their sign, and I suspect they have the same arrangement. It makes sense, actually, and is probably more cost-effective than providing food directly.) With the breakfast we got a free hot beverage; since we're not coffee or tea people, we opted for the hot chocolate. It came with a generous helping of whipped cream; by eating my way through the center, I got a bit of a hot chocolate volcano going, which I thought was worthy of a photo. This says more about my photographic sensibilities than I probably intend it to... And, yes, it was a darned good breakfast.

Into the Woods
Winding back past Roslyn (where they filmed parts of Northern Exposure) and Ronald (even smaller), we hit what we thought would be a great place to get out and sit in the woods. Turns out that most of it is just campsites, and most of the campsites were occupied. The rest required a day use fee, but nowhere did we find where to pay it. We finally found picnic areas near the Wish-Poosh boat launch on Lake Cle Elum, where it told us what the cost was and where we could go without being charged for camping.

Out in the Country
Beyond the inn, the road wound on roughly parallel to the interstate; it was the "scenic" way between major towns, so we travelled along sceeing what could be scene. It was such quintissential farmland that I felt obligated to take quintessential farmland photos. (This photo and the next were actually taken when we pulled off for photo ops on the way back, so I wouldn't get creamed by cars going 50-60 MPH just to shap a few pictures.)

More Country
The road wound onward past that until we decided not to follow it any longer. We turned around in the middle of nowhere where there was a small store and an espresso stand. Even though there wasn't a town for miles and miles, the espresso stand had a line. If you build it...

Tacky Roadside Gift Place
Okay, not only is it a fiberglass cow (complete with udders), but she's standing placidly over a barbecue... this is just wrong in so many ways... The store she was at inexplicably specialized in Southwestern art. Nothing I needed, and no local postcards to be found. The whole of Cle Elum was devoid of local postcards, evidently.

THE Retro Burger Joint
Yep, big juicy retro burgers served here. Yep, we ate. Yep, it was good and probably horrible for us, too.

Telephone Museum
A little museum of old-time telephones, not much bigger than our house but still decent to walk through.

Stewart Lodge
Where we stayed for the second and third nights of our trip; yes, that's the freeway on/off ramp right there. And a Safeway right across the road. There's also a swimming pool practically in the middle of the parking lot, where we spent some time that evening. And, near as we could tell, it didn't fill up on Saturday night despite what their website said... Bigger rooms than the Travelers Inn (not tough to do), but it was perhaps the dimmest hotel room we've ever stayed in. Still, it did the job.
Later that night, we swung out to the boonies to look at stars. We parked by an old fence that creaked eerily in the night wind, along the kind of country road you'd break down on and never be seen again. Still, it was nice to see starry skies more like I remember as a kid, as opposed to the light-polluted nights we get around here now. We saw a falling star and the moonrise, then headed back to the lodge.

Today we planned to strike further east to explore Ellensburg and perhaps the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, which we've heard about but never managed to visit before.

Getting Drier...
Fewer trees, even pines, and more brown than green show we're getting further east.

They Sound Serious
The museum part of Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park had some serious warnings for would-be petrified wood thieves; the museum had dozens of logs of the stuff all over the place.

A helpful sign if ever there was one...

Another Useful Sign
Didn't see any, though...

The View, A Log, and Petroglyphs
That's the mighty Columbia River down there... beautiful. The petroglyphs were saved when the dams along the Columbia flooded their original locations. Apparently, the art resembles no local tribes; the closest match is similar art found around Mexico, so the makers probably migrated through.

The Gift Shop That Time Forgot (And Proof)
And, yes, those chunks of petrified wood are about as big as they look. Anyway, inside they had a variety of rocks, including local petrified wood. The owners have mineral rights to a private stake near the park, and sales here actually benefit the state park without robbing the park of any remaining petrified wood, so it works out.
As we made our purchases, the lady at the checkout told us that today would be a great day to visit the Wild Horse Wind Farm, not too far away. It just opened in April, she said, and on a clear day you could see Mount Rainier. From Eastern Washington? We were skeptical, but after lunch we figured we'd check it out, since it was (relatively) near. First, though, we'd hit the Interpretive Trail two miles away, where they had some petrified logs protected in their "native" state.

The Winding Road and The Caged Log
The Interpretive Trail claimed to be only a 3/4 mile loop, along which fifteen petrified logs were to be seen, each protected by a cage and labeled as to the species. Well, in the heat, with the climb, it felt much, much, much longer. Along the way, I snapped a picture of the road leading out to it... and on to the wind farm. The petrified log is - or was, I suppose - a walnut. A whole different landscape then; nothing taller than sagebrush grows here now, and even it seems to struggle.

Windmills and The Mountain (with Perspective)
The windmills didn't look so big when we first saw them on the hill. Then we got closer... and closer... Still, impressive as they were, we doubted we'd see Rainier. Round about the time we reached the entrance to Wild Horse Wind Farm (leading to another three-mile climb to the interpretive center and conference hall - and I gotta say, you have to hate your employees to make them attend a conference all the way out here), though, we turned around and saw an old friend from west of the mountains. Yep, there's Mount Rainier coming out to say hello. The last picture is a feeble attempt to show just how big the windmills are. There's something fascinating and creepy simultaneously about the sight of them turning... and the sound.

The Ellensburg Phoenix
Painted on the side of beautiful old block of buildings in the Historical District. Next time we come to Eastern Washington (if there is one), we ought to stay in Ellensburg instead of Cle Elum. It had more restaurants and better gift shopping, plus it had some museums and such to do without trekking all over the state roadway network.

No, no photos worth reprinting here. Today was the day I woke up with the itching nose and uncontrollable sneezing fits of an oncoming cold. It was also our last day. We checked out, hit the Cottage Cafe for hot chocolate and one last breakfast, then headed home via a couple scenic stops along the way. It's tough to hold a camera steady when you're chilled from unaccustomed cloud cover and cold wind and tired from sneezing half the day away.

Speaking of days slipping away, Tuesday's done just that, and I gotta go to work tomorrow if I can even crawl out the door. (Vacations, especially unexpected ones, don't pay for themselves, after all...)

Typos and link issues will be checked tomorrow. I gotta post and get to bed ASAP, as it's nearly 10:30.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Waiting For Departure

In a few hours, I'll be headed off on a vacation I didn't even know I'd be taking. Three nights in the mountains, to celebrate my sister's birthday. She wanted to get away for her birthday, so she picked a place more or less at random and decided she was going there. With the car issues, I didn't even know if I'd be going, but since I can't exactly do much else right now I figured I might as well ride along and navigate. (Yes, she wanted me to go along originally; I just wasn't sure I wanted to go.) Room's already paid for, anyways, and I can't pretend I couldn't use a bit of a change of scenery, even if my bank account is much lower than I'd like it to be for a vacation. Besides, the things I ordered for her birthday are on backorder at Amazon; I'll buy her a cake or something while we're out in lieu of an actual gift. (Aren't you glad I'm not your lazy, cheapskate little sister?)

Oh, the car... I suppose you've figured out by now that the Mighty Taurus hasn't returned from its unplanned vacation at the auto shop. Well, the shop got to it on Thursday and - big surprise - it started fine for them. Since it came in on a tow truck, though, they believed that it was, indeed, not a healthy car. They just can't do much until it acts up for them. So they're using it as a shop errand car and waiting for it to stall out; shouldn't be more than a week or two, given its track record. I'm starting to wonder if it's not the electrical system, which has been suspect for a while. Over time, the keyless entry, driver's side rear auto window, and half the stereo speakers have ceased to respond to controls, so maybe it's progressed to hit the spark plugs or some other vital engine component. Or it could be a worn wire short of some sort that only happens when the wires hit the wrong thing in the wrong way, which might explain why it happens when the car stops and things presumably shift in the engine compartment. (Dad had that happen on an old Oldsmobile of his.) Or it could be something freakish, like the late Ford Fairmont's trick where it developed a high pressure leak in the water lines that was aimed directly at part of the engine; when the car got hot and pressure climbed, the water killed the engine, but it evaporated so quickly it was almost impossible to catch, and after a rest the car started up normally. Dad scratched his head over that one for a while until someone noted that one side of his engine was suspiciously cleaner than the rest of it, and he finally managed to pop the hood quick enough when it died once to catch the sucker in the act; repairing the hose cured it. I can only hope the Taurus can be dealt with so cheaply.

In any event, the shop's welcome to use the Taurus for as long as it takes for them to figure out what's wrong. I can no longer trust it myself until Something is done. (We did remember to tell them about the intermittent coolant leak, at least - it seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the stallout, or any other cause I can determine, but once in a while the coolant level drops enough for me to see that it's dropped, and I'd just as soon not have them blow my engine while trying to fix the frellin' thing.)

Well, it's closing in on 2 PM, and theoretically my sister's going to be home by 4, so I'd best double-check my packing efforts.

Oh - was too lazy to post drum pics last time, so here they are, since the board I posted them on is dead save for one other regular.
Dolphin Front and Back
Dragonfly Front and Back
Phoenix Front and Back
Since the store seems sluggish, I'm thinking of painting up a few to try on eBay, just to see how they do. Just as soon as I get back...

Monday, July 14, 2008

At Least There's AAA

The Mighty Taurus developed a little attention-getting trick a month or so ago. For no earthly reason, it would die at a stoplight. A bit of a fight, and it would start up, and the next several trips it would run fine, but then it would pull its stalling out routine again. We've already done the tranny thing - the last time it pulled this, there was a leak in the transmission - so we moved on to the next thing on the list, the fuel line. Last Tuesday, we had the fuel filter replaced, since we realized that in the decade or more we've owned the Taurus we haven't dealt with the fuel filter. It came home and ran better than it had for quite some time. It looked like we'd solved the mystery.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you?

Oh, yeah. Dead in the middle of the road at a stoplight, not even in the curb lane. No warning at all, not even the token shudder or RPM dip that so often heralded disaster in previous stallouts. And it would. Not. Start. Again. Period. The more I tried, the more tired the poor starter became. I could almost hear it crying.

At least it picked a beautiful day to die.

Fortunately, no testosterone-crazed, cell-phone-distracted SUVs came up behind me, and a cop helped push me off into a nearby parking lot (where I managed to slide the Taurus into the only shady slot available.) Also fortunately, I had brought the family cell phone. Yes, we have only one in the entire family - I know, hideously outdated and impractical and all that, but at least we have the one for just such emergencies. Also also fortunately, I'm a AAA member. Bare-bones basic, of course, but it's at least a number to call, and I was within ten miles of our usual shop so it was free towing.

So, anyway, the car got to the auto shop without mishap, and is now waiting there to be dealt with for the second time in a week. And I got a nice, long walk in getting to the freebie-around-town bus station, so I could swing by Mom's workplace and ask to borrow her car to get myself and my groceries home. Since I'm typing this up, obviously she let me borrow it.

Hopefully I'll move some of my new drum ornaments to help pay for this. (Already posted pics on the usual boards, and am too lazy to repeat now.)

On an unrelated note, we saw WALL*E the other day. Highly recommended movie, with a lot going on and several fun refs for sci-fi buffs. I'd have enjoyed it much more if not for a very loud kid whose parents wouldn't keep her out of the theater; they kept bringing her back in to annoy everyone at the top of her lungs. She officially ranks as the second most annoying child I've ever suffered through a movie with. (The first is still the kid from Pocahontas who literally ran up and down the aisle yelling at the top of her lungs for over half an hour; her mother looked on lovingly, apparently unable to hear the numerous complaints from other patrons.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

How I Spent My Holiday Weekend

Since July 4 fell on a Friday this year, and libraries (and their shipping centers) are closed on national holidays, I got an extra day off this weekend. How is it that one suddenly becomes busier when one has an extra day off, even when one only works three days a week?
First off, as the photo implied, I got to see live fireworks this year. Not the big displays, with the big crowds and big noise and big lines to leave the parking lot afterwards. (I found out that apparently this may be the last year they had the megahuge fireworks in the professional displays, sadly, as they are now cost prohibitive to transport because of their explosive categorization. I smell Homeland Security's dirty little hands infringing on my freedom to celebrate our nation's birthday...) My mother's boss lives out on Lake Retreat, a privately owned lake whose residents annually send thousands upon thousands of dollars up in smoke at this time of year. Instead of one twenty-minute display, we got an hour and a half or more of surround-sound displays coming from all sides. There was some question as to whether the weather would cooperate at first. While we were over at Grandpa's having lunch, we saw dark clouds down at her end of the region. But we got the all-clear call later that day, so we went down. We only had a brief hint of a sprinkle, but we sat it out and it cleared off again. This year, I had a new camera and a vaguely reliable tripod, so I managed to get a few acceptable photos of the festivities. Of course, the trouble with tripods is that they don't move well, and with photo ops flashing all around me, even right overhead, things got a bit tricky.
The end of a nice day over Lake Retreat. Little does the lake know what it has coming...
One of the better displays was launched by the people across the way from us, in a house that, by night, would make a great cover to a dark little romance/horror type novel. With the lake reflection, it was like getting two displays for the price of one - and since we got that one for free, it was an extra treat.
And more fireworks shots, two from the people right next to us - exploding over my head as I snapped - and one from a place across the way. (Just think of all the ones I missed, if I managed to salvage these few...)
Things calmed down on Saturday (relatively - I spent it painting up a drum, which isn't ready to be photographed yet so don't ask.) On Sunday, we headed out again to Tall Ships Tacoma, an annual event wherein numerous elder-day sailing vessels come in to town for tours and cruises and generally generating money. Once more, I brought my camera, and once more I grabbed the digital equivalent of a metric ton of shots. Since light wasn't fighting me, I got many more I liked, but fortunately for you I culled it down to the barest of bare essentials to get the point across.
Two ships, at least, returning from cruises with paying customers (not cheapskates like us, who only coughed up the ten bucks to wander the docks and tour the smaller boats.) There's something about seeing those giants gliding down the waterways, even among flashy new yachts and such, that captures the imagination.
A bowshot of the Lady Washington, a replica of a real historical ship. Star Trek buffs will recognize her as the stand-in for the original sailing ship Enterprise in the holodeck sequence from Star Trek: Generations.
Another ship returns from a cruise, this time the privateer Lynx. She was reputed to be the fastest ship of the thirty-odd tall ships in port this weekend, and I'd believe it.
So... would you like to keep all those lines sorted in your head?
Further down the waterway, the fancier premium ships lurked. One of these was the Zodiac; she startled everyone with a blast from her horn before heading out.
A replica of the famous Nina (don't know how to get the accent marks,) who looked rather pathetic with all the other big ships around her. Is anyone else sometimes amazed that our ancestors survived sea travel at all?
This is the replica of the original Bounty used for the classic movie Mutiny on the Bounty. Apparently, it was made 30% bigger than the original to accomodate the film crew and the actors, who were significantly larger than the original mutineers (especially Marlon Brando.) She also appeared in the Pirates of the Carribean movies.
Gotta love the 15x zoom...
And this would be the biggest ship at the festival, bar none. It was also free to tour, but the lines were longer than the ship. Originally a German vessel, the Eagle was taken after the war (when the Allies discovered that belowdecks it was built suspiciously like a submarine in an attempt to secretly train crews) and is now the only sailing ship in the Coast Guard.
Because it was a darned cool ship.
Have I mentioned that I love my 15x zoom?
So it got a bit warm during part of the day... (What? Just because it's a tall ship festival doesn't mean I can't take a picture of a dog.)
Because Tacoma is an active port, the big cargo ships were lurking about all day. I thought it made an interesting size contrast with the Hawaiian Chieftan, a vintage-style replica ship.
And away she sails... Shortly after this picture was taken, she nearly gave the entire crowd a heart attack by firing a cannon (blank, of course.)
Well, I suppose I've bored you all enough with photos to make you very glad I didn't show you any more. Now, I suppose I don't have any more excuses to put off all the stuff I put off by sorting digital images and writing blog entries about them.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

If Not For Small Victories, I'd Have None At All

Today will never go down in history as a great day. No television specials, school closures, local festivals, greeting cards, or furniture sales will likely ever honor it. But today I had my own small brush with victory. For the first time in innumerable tries, I won one of those hidden picture computer games.

Its name was Magic Academy, and the storyline - such as it was, storylines being mere excuses to move you through levels in these things - follows the player as an orphan girl at a magic academy where her eldest sister disappeared during her studies (and never reappeared. )Weaving ones way through numerous professors and screens loaded with improbably hidden objects, plus the occasional scrambled picture and memory tile game to keep things fresh, "Annie" figures out what her sister was up to and how to get her back. And, yes, there is more than a little resemblance to the grounds and populace of a certain fictional British wizardly institution of youthful instruction, which I'm sure is simply a coincidence. So, nothing earth-shattering in the way of a plot, but you don't play a game like this for the plot depth. But I played it, and I played it pretty darned well, and I won.

Now, I did not purchase this game. At least, not directly. It, and numerous other little timekillers, came with the Critter, the laptop I purchased earlier this month as a free trial. Unlike the download version, I was able to play the full version of the game, unrestricted, except I only got to do so for about two boot-ups of a given game. Most of the freebies weren't my cup of cocoa - racing games, mini golf, sports junk - but this one looked somewhat intriguing, so in the interest of familiarizing myself with the Critter's touchpad controls I booted it up last night. I didn't expect to even like it particularly, as I've never had much luck with those hidden picture games. I just wanted to get better at using the thing, and it looked less tedious than Grand Nitro Racing. So I fired it up... and promptly lost the rest of the night as I blazed my way up the levels, quite unintentionally beating the clock.

I don't know what the difference was. Maybe it was playing on full screen instead of the cruddy little window you get stuck with playing free games online. Maybe it was the Critter's crisp flatscreen resolution. Maybe, as puzzle matching games go, it just happened to be an easier one. Maybe it was the incentive of actually knowing that, if I kept at it, I could win the game and not run into the Free Trial Version wall of frustration at the end. Or maybe it was sheer luck. Whatever it was, I haven't felt quite this involved in a game for quite some time, especially not a puzzle game and certainly never a hidden picture one. I barely paused for breaks. I switched off to my left hand every so often because my right wrist got tired of the level I had the keyboard set at. I even waited until I had the extra hours to spare to fire up the Critter again today and finish it off on the last bit of my free run. (Was it wrong of me to cook pot roast for dinner on the hottest day of summer thus far just so I'd have the extra free time to play while it roasted?) And I actually did it.

I haven't read many books lately. I haven't finished any drums since the White Buffalo Incident. (I've painted up more black rounds for black drums, but no finished ones yet.) I haven't sold anything, or written much of anything, or drawn anything. I haven't taught myself HTML or revamped my websites or mastered 3D computer art. In short, I'm still the same loser I was at the start of the month, the same one I've been for over three decades. But, as I look back on the tail end of June 2008, I'll know that I finally won myself a hidden picture puzzle game. Sometimes, it's the little victories in life that keep it sweet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It Is Done

This morning, I drove out to Best Buy, computer printouts in hand.

This afternoon, I came home with a new laptop. This little guy, which was the best system I could find that stayed under the initial 700 buck limit I put on myself. (I received unexpected refunds from the IRS, both the economic stimulus check and another adjustment on my original refund that I hadn't thought I qualified for, which totalled about 700 bucks, and it amused me to think that the government would buy me a new laptop.) Though I went a bit over budget when I paid the extra 30 bucks for a pre-checked and -cleaned version from the Geek Squad. And I bought myself a new game, Fate, because it looked fun and, dang it, I wanna play once in a while. It was also 20 bucks, and I still have my best lucks with games that cost around 20 bucks. Once they added tax... well, I still think I got a decent deal. And I actually did it, instead of talking about doing it.

I've already booted it up, wiped the trial version of Office 2007, and put on Word 2003 (though I need to hook it up to the internet long enough to validate its codes and such), and I played a round of Spider Solitaire to help familiarize myself with the touchpad controls (which seem a tad touchy, no pun intended, but no moreso than other laptops I've poked at.) I had a brief moment of panic when I couldn't find the Geek Squad folder they handed me when I bought it, but I called and it turns out, no, they don't give you system OS or other vital disks, at least not when you buy laptops. So that's good. I also got the Vista For Dummies book at Barnes & Noble, which, after coupons and in-store discounts and membership discounts, came out to roughly half price. It'll take some doing, but I'm already growing fond of the little bugger.

Yes, I know I still have to clean up and finish the Camp Coyote logo. And I know I have to get cracking on drums and shields and anything else I can throw together to sell to help make up the cost of it. But today none of that is likely to happen. I've earned me some fun time. So, if you'll excuse me, I'm off see about installing my new game.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Wet and Weary Month of June

The sixth month of 2008 has arrived, bringing rain and clouds and snow in the mountain passes. I'm starting to think it was a bad idea to buy tomato plants this year...

Well, it's been a month and a bit since I last posted. Since then, I've mostly been working my tail off getting in as much overtime as I can at work before the Big Bosses crack down on me. There's currently a 69-hour-a-month limit on what we library pages can work, and I blew past that in May. (I say currently because we may be going union - apparently, even though I've been rather happy with my position out in the shipping center, the majority of pages, who work in the libraries proper, are being treated like dirt and are sick of it - and the hour limit may or may not be changing if that happens.) Once the Big Bosses figure that out, I'll get the obligatory "Don't do that again!" letter that restricts me from overtime for a given stretch of time. So long as they pay me for the hours I did work, I don't much care.

You may ask why I've been working so much more. The answer is, I've decided it's time for me to buy a laptop. It's becoming downright impossible to do much on this computer when the cats get in a demanding mood, and as their numbers dwindle they seem to grow more and more demanding. The freedom sounds intriguing, too - no longer would I have to be chained to my desktop tower when I felt like writing. So, even though I'll be stuck getting Vista Home Premium on the thing (shudder), I've started tracking down laptop ads and making my little list of demands. So far, I won't be happy without a dedicated graphics card, at least 2 (preferrably 3) gigs of RAM, and at least 14" of screen space. Ideally, it would be loaded with some sort of word processor which would be compatible with Word 2003, as I hope to use the laptop for writing in cat-free environments and would like to be able to transfer documents back and forth with as little difficulty as possible. It would be nice if it could run simple timekiller-type games, too. I'm leaning toward an HP Pavilion or Compaq, because I don't want to deal deal with Dell or Gateway and I keep seeing disturbing references to a "black screen of death" flaw associated with Toshibas, a problem wherein some of their laptops inexplicably yet with increasing persistence cut out with a black screen and eat whatever was being worked on, requiring a hard reboot. I'm also leaning towards a new machine, because there's not a substantial price difference in refurbished laptops and their specs seem to date fast, like most computers. If I had a clue what I was doing, I'd probably have a lot more I'd want, but right now concepts like battery life and chipsets and WiFi are mere abstractions. Considering the fact that there always seems to be some sort of laptop sale either going on or coming up within a week, and considering that I'm not looking for an ultra-gaming desktop replacement, it looks like I can get something I'd be happy with for under 700 bucks. If any laptop users out there know of anything else I oughtta know about laptops, I'd appreciate some feedback.

It hasn't all been laptop hunting and tomato plant planting. Though various projects have kept me from doing much work at my workbench, I got a commission order for two white buffalo drum ornaments. Sounds simple, right? Well, I'll summarize the experience by saying I was never overly fond of bison before I started this project, and right now if I ever decide to paint another one I should be sent off for psychological evaluation. How bad was it? Well, let's just say I haven't had to cut off the canvas and start over since one of my Xmas ornaments fought me at the tail end of 2007, but I had to this time, only now I didn't have the option of switching subject matter entirely. From ref pic hunting to final gluing, these little white bison have done nothing but fight me. I can't say I'm especially pleased with the results, but there comes a time in some projects where you have to choose between calling it good and walking away and nitpicking on it until Doomsday without significantly improving things. (I say that because stomping it flat, wadding it into a ball, backing over it with the car, and lighting it on fire before chucking it into a ravine while laughing hysterically isn't usually an option.) But I finished them, just about an hour ago, and they get picked up on Monday, hopefully never to darken my doorstep again. I just hope the lady likes them; she asked for a head-on view, but this is as close as I could manage given lousy refs and stubborn buffalo. Front and Back shots. And yes, I know the hooves are mismatched. They also came out a bit crooked, despite having carefully squared them up before painting, requiring some creative use of feathers and hanger adjustmets to help hide it. I've never had images "walk" like that before, and I won't be surprise if I don't have them do it since.

During the Great Buffalo Fight of 2008, I ended up working on spur projects once in a while to keep me from doing irrevocable damage to the things. One of these resulted in a black drum ornament blank. Basically, I painted two canvas rounds black and strung them up with slightly darker crochet thread, without a clue what I was going to do with it. It's hard to describe, but some things, once started, gnaw at your mind until you can complete them. Something about this black drum ornament blank has been doing that. The moment I tied it off, I started looking at it and wondering. What would look good on this? What could I do with this? Images of phoenix feathers glowing against the darkness, dragons against the night, unicorns under moonlight started popping into my brain. I still don't know how I'm going to finish it, but it gave me something to look forward to while I wrestled with stubborn bison. I even painted up more black rounds, and I just got a bottle of black gesso to use on more test rounds (to see if it doesn't make the canvas as stiff as the acrylic paint.) So, between those and the ongoing debate about what I'm going to do with my spirit shields to make them more than just a glorified drum ornament, I figure I ought to be set for a while at the ol' workbench. Assuming I don't lose too much time to the new laptop, that is. Or replanting tomato plants.