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

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.