Quote of the Moment

Maybe you’re just imagining that you have a good imagination.
- from ConceptArt.Org forums

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Year Down the Drain

We're in the final hour of 2010 (in my time zone, at least), and though technically the decade itself lasts for another year longer, tonight the calendar rolls over into the double digits in the second millenium.

It's been a year of ups and downs, with the ups mostly outweighing the downs.  I didn't manage to get a second job, nor did I sell anything more, but I kept the job I had.  One of our pets isn't doing so hot, but none of them have died this year.  Grandpa's increasingly not there, but when he is there at least he's still Grandpa.  The car I drove into 2009 is no longer the car I'm driving out of it.

This year, I saw salmon return in decent numbers to a stream where I, personally, had never seen a single salmon swimming.  I stood close enough to feel the water spray off their fins as they struggled upstream, and understood a bit of the wonder that the overcrowded, undereducational local salmon festival failed to instill in me after over three decades of attendance.

I stood outside on a clear night under an evergreen tree, and as I looked up through the branches a thousand raindrops transformed moonlight into glimmering stars.

I saw the bright magenta flash of an Anna's hummingbird outside our window, for the first time ever.  This fall, I stood less than a foot from a young Anna's as he scolded us for letting the hummingbird feeder freeze up.

I saw goldfinches return to our feeders.  I saw a hawk in the front yard.  I saw a bobcat.

I rediscovered a local trailhead, much improved since my last visit, even if at least one of its visitors disturbed me as few other humans have disturbed me.  While up there, I saw a flock of tanagers.

I stood in the midst of a dragonfly dance.

Not so bad, as years go.

On the Resolution front, without going through the trouble of reposting, I hit about 3 out of my 7 major goals, in spirit if not precise lettering.  I resolved to create more this year, and create more I did: I filled more paper sketchbooks than I have in any previous year, I made more ambitious projects, and I even maintained an online sketch thread on an art board.  I also participated in - and "won" - a NaNoWriMo.  I even relearned basic web skills and overhauled a good chunk of my web site.  So, three out of seven... that's roughly a 43% success rate.  Again, not so bad.

Once the new year rolls over, I'll be posting my 2010 resolutions.

In fifty minutes... or less...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas Ornament Blitz Photos (Plus Bonus)


Inspired by an episode of Animal Planet's The Most Extreme: evidently, our local banana slugs will drop out of tall trees by slime trails in order to avoid baking in the sun.  When I saw that, I knew I had to make a banana slug holiday ornament.

So, I've extracted promises from my victims - er, relatives - that they won't hit my websites until after the festivities tomorrow morning.  Or this morning, actually, as it just rolled over to midnight.  In any event, it's time once again to post my usually cruddy pictures of this year's usual cruddy ornaments.

The Process Begins
This year, most of my family took a trip to the ocean with Grandpa.  It was likely his last vacation.  In honor of the event, I decided to do ocean-themed ornaments. And what's more oceanic than a seashell?  I used a real shell, and formed Activ-Wire mesh around it. (If I'd known how well the stuff worked, I would've used it in another project... but that's in the Bonus section.)

The Process Continues
Once the wire was formed into a shell-like shape, I pressed Paperclay onto it and formed the shell I'd be working with.  Inside first, then outside.  It went surprisingly well, considering my usual luck.

The "Other" Projects
About midway through the process, my aunt had some dental issues involving a front tooth.  All she wanted for Xmas, she declared, was her front tooth... with much repetition of the very similar song.  Well, her wish was my command... provided her husband loans her his ornament.  And provided she doesn't mind shark teeth.  I drew a template of paper, cut  Activ-Wire for the shape, built it up with aluminum foil, and wrapped it with florist's tape (so the Paperclay would adhere better.)

The Teeth Continued
How they built up.  I hadn't done the tops yet; I was going for a Megalodon/fossil tooth look, and wound up using a hairbrush for the rough texturing... more visible in the next images.

The Final Products Front and Back (immediate family: front and back)
Okay, so I skipped a step or two.  I started doing scrimshaw on the shells: I traced pictures onto the insides and scratched the outlines with dental tools, then did an antiquing rubdown to mark the lines.  Unfortunately, the results looked... well, "horrific" springs to mind.  It was my first attempt at scrimshaw on Paperclay, so I suppose it was bound to come out looking terrible.  To salvage them, I wound up doing a wash/shade look.  Then I painted the backs, hit them with glitter glaze and a coat of spray-on pearl coat, and glued pearls in the tops.  The shark's teeth got a similar treatment, except I kept the tops fairly neutral (save a hint of dark glitter for sparkle.) A final topcoat of satin finish to seal them, on with the hangers, and done in time for Xmas Eve.  Well, the evening part of Xmas Eve, at least...

The Banana Slug: Side Shots
More views of this year's personal project.  Well, he amused me, at least...

The Bonus: Operation Double Quintuple Dragon
Since I have confirmation of receipt by the vict- er, person who requested them, I thought I'd post the start-to-finish chronicle of the making of this year's most ambitious project.  What started as a request to add to an existing ensemble resulted in a complete remake.

In the Beginning, there was Wire...
I started, as usual, with no clue what I was going to do, but with a nice wire frame with which to do it.  Having lurked on an art board for some time, I figured I'd try some of their techniques, namely wrapping the wire (for a better grip) and using epoxy to hold together the armatures.  And, as the second image proves, these armatures were completely freestanding! (A personal victory, if of little to no import to anyone else.) Yes, those counting may note only four armatures: the littlest one was fighting me, and currently is little more than a wrapped wire spine.

We are experiencing structural difficulties - please stand by...
No, I'm not dumb enough to gratuitously torture dragons, even incomplete dragons.  The Mighty Putty I used to secure the various parts of the armatures had a few issues.  The only way to fix it was to let them dry without resting any weight on the stressed joints... so I strung them up from the ceiling with old earphone cords, because I didn't trust string not to be cut through by the wrapped wire.

A little closer, but something's missing...
I got the wings fleshed out a bit, and started posing them.  But something's not right...

Oh...
Yeah, dragons do better with heads, you idiot.  Gluing on the styrofoam heads wasn't fun, and couldn't be done while I was working too heavily on posing the beasts.

Fleshing Out
One of the more tedious parts of sculpting (at least, the way I do it)... Aluminum foil gives some structure, and florist's tape gives the Paperclay something to stick to. In retrospect, I should've used Activ-Wire for the wings; wrapping them is a serious pain...  I've also added the digits at this point, and made more pose refinements.

Eye to Eye
I've started adding Paperclay, and I also stuck the eyeballs in their appropriate sockets.  The eyes are just more Paperclay, pre-dried, and are there to give me something to work around as I build up brows and lids and such.  The observant may note that I've added some peculiar jaw projections to the two adults.  While I was remaking the dragon family, I decided to give Master Dragon a beard (and, though it's not visible, elbow tufts) and Lady Dragon a jaw frill.

One Miracle Later...
Roughly a month of off-camera work got me here: sculpted and sanded, the dragons are ready for priming and painting.  The reason for the long jump between progress photos is that, in the interim, they spent much of their time on their backs and sides and other unphotogenic positions.

The Final Product
I started with a base of white acrylic gesso, followed by Christmas Green.  Or at least, it should've been Christmas Green.  Unfortunately, Delta's downgraded their products terribly, so the green I bought refused to cover.  My only other paints - Liquitex - didn't come in a green I wanted, and I didn't trust myself to reliably remix a shade I'd be using so much of.  So, off to the Home Depot and a sample jar of Behr premium paint + primer (flat interior, Par Four Green.)  Worked great*, though I have a ton of Par Four Green left over. It's hard to see, but I've done some spongework and antiquing over the base, in darker greens and metallic gold.  I also glued in the crystal beads (and the teeth, in the case of one chatty little dragonling.)  After this group photo, the dragons were packed and mailed across country... in the middle of some of the worst winter weather to sock the nation.  Fortunately, they arrived at their intended destination.

* - I only recommend this if you watch the person mixing the paint like a hawk; my sister tried using their sample paints for her projects, but she wound up with three bickering twits who not only miscommunicated between themselves, but screwed up her batch so bad it's more like stain than paint.

Anyway, it's been a fairly productive year at the Brightdreamer Workbench.  Hopefully, I can carry this uncharactaristic trend through into 2010.  Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Early Xmas Treat

Because the last post was depressing, and in honor of the winter solstice, I thought I'd post an early holiday treat, mined from the depths of YouTube:

Darcy the Dragon

My next post will likely be ornament photos, after Xmas.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quick Dog Update

First off, no, the infection wasn't back.  Secondly, there was evidently some miscommunication between the first vet and the second vet, a.k.a the biopsy vet who might be able to tell us more about what's wrong; the first vet told us (at least twice) that the second vet had already received the dog's info and would call us when they had reviewed it, while the second vet had never heard a thing about it. (Apparently, when the first vet said she'd faxed over the labwork to the second vet, she was thinking of faxing her order over to the pizza delivery joint or something.) But we finally got the papers exchanged and the appointment made.

The results are not encouraging, on more than one level.

The second vet sounds reasonably certain that the liver "mass" (which the first vet referred to merely as "nodules") was cancerous, and it had increased significantly in size since the first vet's exam.  The bloodwork - which the first vet told us wasn't worrisome - was evidently worrisome after all.  He still wanted to perform a highly invasive procedure to confirm the diagnosis, a procedure that sounded like it was remarkably risky and likely to cause problems without actually helping the dog much.  We kept getting the runaround on whether or not treatment options would be worthwhile in his condition, or if the liver issues were responsible for his lack of strength in his back leg.(They don't seem to know why he sometimes can't seem to stand on it, nor do they seem too interested in finding out.)

So, for now, we're going to try some liver supplements; if it's not cancerous, this might resolve the issue.  We think.  Maybe.  If it's really his liver causing his problems and not an infected appendix or ingrown nostril hairs or something else they haven't bothered to tell us about but will happily charge us through the nose to consider.

Why, yes, I'm just a wee bit cynical that the vets seem to be deliberately obscuring the facts in order to play referral tag and siphon off as much money as possible without actually helping the dog.  Why do you ask?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Hands

The past few days, our region's been in a deep freeze.  As in, when it crept above the freezing level this afternoon, it actually felt warm to me.  Unlike most of the country, we've been spared the devastating blizzards and mudslides and storms and winds, but it's still been very cold.  And very dry.

All day at work, I handle books.  Paper, as anyone who has worked with it can attest, sucks the moisture out of one's hands like nobody's business.

And my holiday projects are all in Paperclay.  An air-drying clay that shares paper's ability to dry out one's hands.

So, basically, despite my heavy-duty cream, my hands are shredded, split, bleeding messes right about now.  But, hey, anything worth doing is worth a little blood now and again...

Thus far, my holiday projects are going decently. (Though I've yet to hear if Phase I reached its intended destination in one piece - it should've gotten there by today at the latest, but I don't suppose the post office takes horrific weather into account when giving shipping estimates.) My holiday shopping's more than half done, save one impossible-to-predict relative.  Tomorrow, I plan to make out holiday cards.  I haven't read a book in over a month (as my sadly neglected book review blog can attest), and my sketching's slacked off since I started holiday project work in October, but, hey, can't complain.  If I'm not precisely on the ball, thus far I've successfully kept the ball from rolling on top of me.  And sometimes that's all one can ask.


Oh... if anyone remembers about the dog who was having issues, he went back into the vet this evening.  To summarize, he'd developed a terrible limp in his hind end that screamed "dysplasia," but was in fact a bad leg infection.  At this time, his liver was found to be disturbingly enlarged.  For the leg, he was prescribed painkillers and antibiotics, but, being the only dog in the planet who carefully chews every bite of food before swallowing, our attempts to pill him failed miserably after a week or so, when he realized his kibbles were tainted.  Nevertheless, he was doing better until a week or so ago, when he started limping again. And pills, as we've discovered, aren't going to help.  The vet said she cold do injections, but she needed to see him first.  So now they're trying to determine if the infection's back (so he would need one kind of injection), or if it's pain (which would require a different injection.) One can be done at home, the other needs to be done at the office.  And the liver will require a biopsy which is a pain in the rear to schedule this time of year; this seems to be an independent issue, near as we can tell.  Hopefully, we'll have an update on the leg/limp end of things tomorrow.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Step Away from the Keyboard

Going through a bit of post-NaNoWriMo withdrawal, here...

For nearly a month, I thrashed around, figuring out characters and world info and plotlines.  I wound up with 58,000+ words that I didn't completely despise, arranged in a manner that could be called storylike.  At least half of it will require extensive rewriting to achieve any consistency.  As for the ending, I admit I already had to fix that. I did that Turkey Day morning, actually, the day after I technically "won" NaNoWriMo 2009.  No, the characters wouldn't leave me alone long enough to go to the family get-together until I'd straightened out their final moments.  Unfortunately, though I like the new ending much better, it still begs a sequel, which I don't even have the vaguest notion of a plot for.  I can't even begin to work on it until I establish a more consistent framework to work in: character histories, the world geography, a quick-sketch history of nations and races... In short, I need to get this story edited into a more cohesive second draft before I can begin the rough draft of Book 2 (of what danged well better be a two-part series.) And editing will take some time.  Significant amounts of time.

December is staring me in the face, with a host of Xmas shopping I haven't done yet and ornaments I haven't finished (or, in some cases, started) and various holiday things that need organizing and deciding and doing.  I also have a nagging feeling that I'll be able to do a much better editing job if I don't have other projects breathing down my proverbial neck... and if I let the story settle for a while after the vigorous stirring and boiling it underwent in the greater part of November.

I've tried distracting myself.  I immersed myself in ornament work most of today.  I've played Solitaire and poked at Sacred.  I weeded old e-mails.  I messed with my blog layout.  Anything to keep me from committing to a premature rewrite, one I just cannot spare the time and energy for until the holidays are over with and I get some creative breathing space back.

Of course, it couldn't hurt just to go back and tweak the dragon's description a bit.... or maybe rework that one scene... rename a town or two... or figure out a less awkward way to fill in backstory on the main character, one that wasn't created to keep my nightly page count quota intact...

I'll just tweak a word or two.  Honest.

I think I'd better step away from the keyboard...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The End... For Now...

I already know I need to do some serious rewriting.  The world lacks integrity and structure, my characters aren't the greatest, the action's all over the map, and I may even have to scrap the ending.  There's also the nagging hints of a sequel, which I'd rather not feel obligated to write.  But I wrote the words "THE END", so that means it's a finished rough draft.

It feels good to finish a draft.  Even a rough one.

It feels even better to accomplish a goal, such as winning NaNoWriMo 2009.

Now, I just need to step back for a while and let it simmer on the back burner before picking up the Hatchet of Editing and having at the thing...

(For the curious, yes, it's a fantasy.  Yes, there's a dragon in it.  No, it's in no fit shape to be shared, unless you like your stories rough-edged and raw in the middle.)

Oh, and Happy Turkey Day to any fellow Americans! (Not that anyone else is forbidden to have a happy day, or to eat turkey on it... or to consume a happy turkey, for that matter.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

One Milestone Down...



I may not have reached the headwaters.

I may have barely cleared the nearest river.

But, like the salmon returning to the local creek after many years of absence, I'm struggling up the final stretch into the unfamiliar territory of the finished draft.

Tonight, I crossed the 50,000 word mark of my NaNoWriMo novel.

I think I have about a fourth of a story left to write, and I still hope to actually write the words "The End" on this draft before December 1.  But at least I won the word count challenge part of it.

Now, let's see if I can one-up the fish and live to do it all again...

TUESDAY NIGHT UPDATE -  Argh... up to 56,000 words and counting.  I think I only have a little bit to go, but for some reason the stupid thing decided to have all the earmarks of a potential sequel.  And I'm still not positive how it'll end... dang it. (Of course, it has to sit on a knife-edge at the end of a writing session on a work night... couldn't have done this earlier, when I could stay up and push it one way or the other.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wayward Salmon and Other Milestones

What with holiday projects, scuzzy weather, and overall laziness, I haven't managed to make myself go for a walk for a few weeks now.  Today, I saw a window of sunshine amid the gray clouds as I ate lunch, and I figured I'd better seize the opportunity.  Besides, my workbench projects needed more drying time before I could move on to the next step in their completion.

By the time I'd eaten, dressed, and gotten my tail out the door, the window of blue had moved further into the distance.  A light sprinkle fell from increasingly gray skies.  But I'd put it off too long.  I'd do at least an abbreviated walk; not to both stop signs that I usually go to, but to one stop sign and a little creek I cross.  It's a small thing, too small to run full time, but it was recently restored by one of the local groups that restores streams, on the theory that it would help the salmon; you know, one of those "every little bit might help, but probably won't" civic things.  In any event, it's a pretty little stream, and it made a decent landmark.  Every bit as good as a stop sign for turning around at.

By the time I'd come to the stream, the skies were more than a little threatening.  But I was too far from home to turn back and stay dry anyway, so I made it to the banks.  As I turned around, I saw a splash.

No way, I thought, but I stopped to look closer.

Another splash.

A wriggle.

Yes, a late season salmon had made its way up the little creek, and as I watched it was making its way even further up.

Back before this area was a growing, light polluting, and overcrowded city, there used to be salmon in this stream.  I heard stories of a neighbor whose sons liked to take home salmon in their wagons; one year they got a female who laid eggs in the bathtub before Mom got the thing out of the house.  But I'd never seen one there myself.  Until this year.

Maybe that restoration project worked, after all.

I only saw the one lone salmon making the run, so I don't know if my little finny friend was simply a loner or searching in vain for a mate with whom to repopulate the restored stream's salmon run. But if I saw one salmon swimming there, this late in the run, then others might very well have done the same.

So swim on, wayward salmon.  Best of luck to you and yours.

--

In the Other Milestones department, I'm disturbingly close to hitting my self-imposed deadline for my first round of holiday projects.  As in, the major sculpting phase is done, which is the part that takes so long.  Of course, I have more stuff chomping at the bit to be started as soon as I clear these from the workbench, but that looks to be happening round about the time I had hoped it would happen.

Helps that I started in early October...

And, if you care to glance at the NaNoWriMo 2009 widget, you'll see the next milestone I crossed tonight.  If the widget isn't displaying, I'll just say that I crossed the 40,000 word mark of the 50,000-word goal.  I'd say I have at least another 10,000 words, likely a fair whack more, worth of story to tell.  I want to finish it by the end of the month, though, no matter how many words it ends up being.  The characters just hit their next little snag ("little" as in "potentially lethal"), so tomorrow I find out how they get through it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Halfway There

Just a quick post, to say that I'm halfway there!

25,000 words down, at least that many more to go!

Track my NaNoWriMo progress via the little widget on the sidebar (at the top over there, just above "About Me).*

So far, so good... I'm getting to the point where I can start doing evil things to people and I haven't run out of things to say yet.

Wish me luck...

* - Sorry, the thing seems very touchy about when it shows up... Anyway, I'm past 27,000 words now, and things are about to take a fairly nasty turn.  About time, too... (11/10/09)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Fall Behind - Er, Back

So, tonight's the night we finally get our magic missing hour back.  The relief of sleeping in one hour late only lasts about a week, but it still feels nice.  Besides, I could use all the extra time I can manage to scrounge, which makes the magic hour all the more welcome.

I started holiday-related projects in early October - much earlier than usual - and I'd hoped to be further along than I am.  By my estimates, I'm about half a week behind where I wanted to be by now.  I may have to come up with a way to shorten Paperclay drying time, so I can squeeze in extra work sessions.

I also did something stupid and impulsive on Friday Night.  I signed up for NaNoWriMo.  This, for all none who don't know of it, is the National Novel Writing Month challenge to produce a flawed but finished 50,000 word  novel (rough, rough draft, obviously) in 30 days.  The 30 days of November, to be precise.  Which, if you're counting, started today, two hours ago.

Oh, wait - one hour ago.

Thank you, magic hour!

Why?  Well, why not?  I feel like I'm making minimal progess in my "regular" stories (the fact that I call them my "regular" stories shows just how long I've been stuck on them), and the whole point of NaNoWriMo is to crystalize the "sit down, shut up, and WRITE!" mentality that actually gets stories finished as opposed to picked at and muddled and ultimately lost.  Besides, my unofficial participation last year (which netted me a 30,000+ word novel, which was my goal) felt oddly invigorating, so I thought I'd up the stakes this year.  So far, I have 2000-odd words written.  Only 48,000 to go...

Here's hoping I don't fall further behind.  Now that we've fallen back, there aren't any more magic hours waiting up ahead to save me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Night Dog Update

Okay, so he spent his day at the vet, and these are the results:

1 - The vet found nodules on his liver in the ultrasound/sonogram/whatever, and possibly a larger mass (not clear on that bit.)

2 - They didn't bother with the Cushing's blood test, as this didn't jibe with Cushing's syndrome.

3 - The possible diagnoses include some manner of cancer or some manner of not-cancer, one being treatable and the other untreatable.  To learn more, we must consult a specialist who can do a biopsy.

4 - Nothing else looked off, so if it is malignant it's confined to the liver.

5 - The vet techs at this animal hospital are rather half-arsed and couldn't even figure out how to use a Pill Pocket treat without botching it.

So, not the greatest news, but it could be worse.  We figure it's worth looking into a needle biopsy; he's worth that much, at least, though if it proves to be the untreatable option we don't think we want to put him through too much misery for no reason.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Wait

One of our dogs has been having trouble getting around.  He has the dreaded "shepherd hips", and he's not exactly a puppy anymore, but with canine glucosamine he's been managing.

Until this morning.

My sister found him stuck outside in the rain, unable to climb the short flight of stairs to the dog door.

So she wrestled him into the car and, along with Dad (to help wrestle him out again), took him to the vet.

That was nearly two hours ago, and I haven't had a call since. (Well, the phone has rung four times, but they were all hang-ups and/or telemarketers.).

I can't decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing...

AFTERNOON UPDATE:  The dog's still at the vet, where they hope to get X-rays.  He may have an infection of some sort, which means that maybe they can do something for his pain.  Fingers crossed and we'll see...

AFTERNOON UPDATE UPDATE:  Well, he's home.  Oddly enough, his hips are crystal-clear on the X-rays: no signs of dysplasia, despite a lifetime of the "shepherd walk." Even the vet seemed amazed.  On the other paw, the trouble walking has been traced to a bad infection originating in a hind paw, which will require fairly intensive home therapy.  They also found that his liver was disturbingly enlarged, so he goes in on Friday for an ultrasound.  Otherwise, he seems to doing decently, with no overt signs of trouble (aside from those already mentioned.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Blazing Hills



It's that time of year again.  The days may grow shorter, the skies may grow grayer, the weather may turn colder, but - for a time, at least - the leaves compensate with their own fireworks show.

Now, this part of the country isn't known for its spectacular fall foliage.  Unlike back East, we have fewer "show" species.  We get gorgeous yellows and golds on our big leaf maples, but to find eye-searingly bright colors, you have to do some looking.  Which is what we did today.

Every year, we mean to go looking at fall leaves.  And nearly every year, we never do.  Things come up.  Family plans fall through.  Nobody pins down a date.  But this morning we had lighter gray skies, and many of the trees around town had been teasing us with color explosions for weeks.  Enough was enough.  Mom, my sister, and I grabbed our cameras and headed up I-90 to look for fall leaves.

 

Our first stop (after gas) was Rattlesnake Lake, where we bypassed the lake itself and visited the Cedar River Education Center.  We hadn't been there before, and were pleasantly surprised.  It featured a cool water feature running around and through the entire facility, a small educational center explaining how water travels from the ocean through the ecosystems, and nice views of Rattlesnake Lake and Rattlesnake Ridge. (No, no rattlesnakes - at one time, evidently,  camas plants were abundant in the area, and their seed pods rattled in a manner reminiscent of rattler tails.)  A central garden area featured rain drums, which are drums played by rain (or rather driplines) in a random fashion.



A trail near the center led by a row of old maples in their fall yellows and golds, remnants of the old company town that worked the nearby hydroelectric projects.



Inside the interpretive center were some neat displays, including this overhead root ball.  Either the illuminated portions were artistic additions, or people should reconsider drinking the water around here...



After that, we poked our way further up the interstate.  On a small side road we happened upon a beautiful stand of vine maples and some neat snags.



More meanderings brought us to this picturesque hollow stump.



Further up the way, more vine maples...



And about as high as one can go, with yet more color lighting up the alpine slopes.

On the way back home, we meandered through back roads filled with autumn's glory.  The sun finally broke through, painting the world in vibrant colors beyond my ability to photograph, let alone describe.

In a few short weeks, the color will be gone.  The grays and browns and rain-dampened greens will again dominate for the long, cold months until spring returns.  I've never minded the grays so much, being a local native.  Even so, I still enjoy this last burst of color.  It may not rank high on a national level, but it's enough for me.

Monday, October 05, 2009

And Thus The Madness Begins

This afternoon, at my workbench, I cut a length of wire.

In and of itself, not so momentous an event, but it marked the official start of the 2009 Holiday Ornament Blitz.

I'd been gathering ideas and materials since early September, but today was the first time I actually started using said ideas and materials in some concrete manner.  For me, it's a relatively early start, but I have a significant workload I hope to tackle this year, and as anyone who has ever made things for the holidays can attest, there's no such thing as starting too early.

Considering that my budget may not allow for much in the way of actual gift purchases, it puts all the more pressure on to make these things perfect, beautiful, and - above all else - finished by the end of December.  Earlier, if I can help it.  It would probably go much smoother if I had a firm plan in my mind, but I usually go into these things with only a rough idea of a concept in my head, letting the rest work itself out as material choice clashes with (in)ability and (lack of) talent.  I almost never end up with what I thought I'd end up with, though over the years I've noticed that the end results tend to look marginally better as I go along.

That simple snip of wire marked the beginning of countless sessions sitting at my workbench, fighting wire or clay or paint or beads.  It marked the start of numerous rummages through disorganized boxes and drawers and untold last-minute trips to the craft store.  It marked the first of many successes and failures and frustrations and all-around hair-pulling that somehow, impossibly, tends to resolve itself into a halfway presentable "thing" in the end.  Even though I knew from experience that the creative road is never a straight or easy one, it felt good to start down it once again.


I wonder how it'll all turn out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lost Treasures and Other Random Musings

I've been poking around Half Price books this month, both selling and buying.  Being a cheapskate on a very tight budget, I naturally gravitate to the Clearance section.  Here, items already being sold for half (or less) of their original retail value are dumped for one, two, three bucks maximum.  Books, puzzles, DVDs, computer games... There is nothing inherently wrong about any of these items.  Some, as in the games, are not even necessarily used.  It's just that nobody else seems to want them.  If they make it to the Clearance bin, even Half Price Books doesn't want them anymore.

My latest game purchase from this area was a little game called Space Colony for the PC. (Yes, I only play PC games.  The kinds of games I like - RPGs, strategy/sim/city-builders, and such - just don't translate to consoles without significant dumbing down, plus it makes it that much more difficult to find mods to enhance gameplay.) I remember seeing it when it first came out, and I never could justify the price.  For three bucks, though, I figured it was worth a try.  Couldn't possibly be a bigger disappointment than some games I paid full price for.
Upon opening the box, I was greeted with my first pleasant surprise: a game manual.  An honest-to-goodness paper game manual.  Game manuals are a lost art.  A good game manual not only explains how to play the game, but sets the stage for the playing experience.  I remember many drives home from the computer store, sitting in the back seat with a new game, reading the manual.  Every page made me more and more eager to load the game.  My personal favorite manual ever was the Arcanum manual, but then Arcanum is my favorite RPG of all time.  These days, you're lucky if you get a slip of paper telling you how to load the game, or even a PDF file on the disk.  Nobody seems to care anymore about creating an atmosphere, setting the stage, whetting the appetite.  Space Colony's manual might not have been as thick as Arcanum's, but it succeeded in a way that sterile PDF files and random slips of paper cannot.  It made me turn the pages. It made me eager to explore the game.  It made me laugh, and anticipate more laughs once I booted up the game itself.  It also made me remember the simple joy of reading about a game, the glorious anticipation that a good game manual creates which even the most cleverly-designed box advertizing simply can't do.
When I finally booted the game up, I wasn't disappointed.  The humor evident in the manual shone through bright and clear.  I've just begun playing, and I'm still learning, but I'm already enjoying it.  No, it's no rival to Arcanum, but it's not trying to be.  It is, however, just plain fun.  It blends shades of classic city-builders with bits of The Sims; keeping the colonists, each with a clear personality, happy is just as important as defending the base from alien attacks and generating wealth.  Sadly, the critics panned it (as they seem to pan anything that's not Grand Theft Auto or another first-person-shooter), so the odds of a Space Colony II are essentially nonexistent.  But, for me, it made a nice little treasure.

On my most recent visit to the Half Price Books clearance shelves, I snagged a couple older-but-popular titles from the sci-fi/fantasy rack, books I've been meaning to read but haven't had the budget to buy new.  One of these was Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom For Sale - Sold!, the first of his Landover series.  The premise - a man buying a magic kingdom through a high-end catalog - intrigued me, and I told myself I'd buy it if I ever found it cheap enough.  It was on the shelf for a buck, which even my cheapest cheapskate gene agreed was indeed "cheap enough." When I got it to the car and flipped through it, though, I realized it had a secret.  On the title page in front was a signature.  A personalized signature, to the previous owner, from Terry Brooks.
I've only ever gotten a personalized signature once.  It was early last year, at a local con, when Naomi Novik (author of the wonderful Temeraire series) was in town.  I didn't even mean for it to be personalized, but she saw my name on my con ID badge and personalized them anyway.  She even spelled my name right, which is something of a feat.  I probably should've said something like everyone else did - how much I loved her series, how much I enjoyed the characters, how I'd sell my soul in a heartbeat if doing so would give me her incredible luck and writing skills - but I figured the very fact that I'd purchased a con ticket, bought her books, and stood in line for roughly half an hour for her to deface them with a pen said everything I could think to say, only more eloquently and without my pesky speech impediment.
At some point, in 1994, somebody also purchased a book.  Perhaps they were at a convention, as I was, and bought a ticket as well.  Or perhaps they were at a local bookstore.  They held in their hands a story they loved, written by a person they admired, and they were getting a chance - perhaps their only chance - to meet that person... more, to be acknowledged by that person, if only for half a minute of their time.  They waited in line, I suspect, perhaps at least as long as the one I stood in, the anticipation and illogical nervousness building with every step forward.  And at last, when they walked away, they bore with them much more than ink besmirching a book.  They bore that experience, that moment of joy, of seeing the person who produced a world they so loved to lose themselves in live.  Whenever they opened that book, they would remember that moment, and it would make the story that much more special.
How did it end up in Half Price Books, being offloaded in the clearance section with other books nobody seems to care about anymore?  Was there some great upheaval that made such treasures expendable?  Did the book get lent to a friend and somehow never found its way home?  Did the original owner pass away?  Or did life just carry them in a different direction, the meaning behind that moment fading as new interests beckoned them forward?
I bought that book for a dollar the other day.  Whatever happened to the memory, or the person who bore it, I cannot say, though I can't help but wonder.

--

In other minor news, I made a pleasant discovery.  Thanks to Mom's electric brick (a.k.a. the dying notebook she was given as a gift), I learned that my flash drive is malware free! (We figured the computer is on its way to Silicon Heaven anyway, so there was no harm in plugging in the flash drive even if it was infected.) So I don't need to reset on my stories, after all!  Of course, now I've lost my excuse to not press forward... unless, of course, I find something else to keep me from writing.  Like coming up with long, pointless blog ramblings on work nights.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blank Slate

The good news: The Big Black Critter's home from the shop!

More good news: The evil program is gone, gone, gone!

The bad news: So is everything else!

Yep, evidently the problem got so bad that Windows actually crashed out, so they did a format wipe and reinstall.  Luckily, my last-minute salvation DVD burn was uninfected, so I saved the pictures I really wanted to save.  Unfortunately, all my settings and programs and such are history.  I'm in the process of reloading stuff as I type. (My latest issue: trying to get Outlook Express to remember how to reach my e-mail account.)

Oh, well... I needed to clean the hard drive up anyways...

So, today has been spent reinstalling programs and various other bits of hard drive clutter (Word files, pictures, games, etc.) I have a few more things to do - restart my Money budget, a game or two I'd miss if I didn't have them on hand - but for the most part I'm back to where I was, with one exception.

I read a rumor online that my nemesis, the evil malware program, might be capable of writing itself onto flash drives, creating an autorun file.  One thing I use extensively is a flash drive.  It has all the latest versions of my stories on it, so I can go back and forth between the Critters.  I haven't touched it since the BBC went in to the shop, because I don't want to infect the laptop with the big boy's germs. Now, I don't want to reinfect (and rewipe, and reinstall) the desktop tower.

I have two options:

1 - Plug in the flash drive and hope against hope it won't contain anything evil.

2 - Chuck the old flash drive and start over from scratch. (Well, not quite scratch - I have older versions backed up elsewhere - but the work of the past several months would be toast.)

Oh, well... I was thinking about restarting anyway.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another Quick Computer Update

The computer shop called this afternoon.

The Big Black Critter is ready to come home.

Unfortunately, I was fighting my way home from the zoo in rush hour traffic, and going out of my way to swing by the shop just wasn't going to happen.

So, tomorrow I find out what damage was done. (The shop guy mentioned something in the message, but his enunciation and accent combined to make his words virtually unintelligible.  I think - think - they had to reformat and reinstall Windows, but they may or may not have saved my info.  All I really could pick out was that my computer was ready to be picked up.)

Hopefully this means I can clear two trips' worth of pictures off my camera, not to mention getting back into story writing. (I'm afraid to use the flash drive I'd been using to store my stories, as one report hinted that Personal Guard 2009 liked to sneak exe-files onto flash drives.  Not that the story was going so hot to begin with, but still, that's a lot of work down the tubes if it's on a corrupt drive.  Maybe if it's the first thing I try to reinstall, so I don't have so much to lose...)

Guess I'll head off.  Got some general websurfing to do.  There's also an annoyingly loud fly in my room that I'm trying to lull into landing; the cats seem uninterested in fulfilling their roles as pest control devices, so it's up to me to eject the unwanted insect.

I think it's finally landed....

Monday, September 21, 2009

Quick Computer Update

Well, it's gone  My computer, that is.  To the shop from whence it came, in the hopes that they can remove the foul infiltrator.  They have a sufficient backlog that they don't expect to even look at it for a few days.  The guy who took the info seemed to actually listen to what we were saying, though, and he read my printout. (I'd written out, as near as I could, what was wrong, what I'd tried to do about it, and what I wanted done, so there'd be a written copy in case of communication issues.) They hadn't heard of PG2009, but I have a sneaking suspicion I won't be the only customer they see with this problem before the year's out; looks like the latest fad in spy/malware is mimicking antivirus software and trying to trick you into "activating" it.

All things considered, today went pretty well, aside from the whole wishing-I-had-my-desktop-back thing.  I made a Half Price Books run that netted me over ten bucks (it was 15 before I bought a PC game on clearance - maybe knowing it has a fun little game waiting for it will encourage the Big Black Critter to cooperate with the repair people and get home all the sooner....) We had lunch out, then grabbed dipped cones at DQ, because we hadn't had dipped cones in ages.  Then we went to the lake to walk off lunch in the beautiful weather.

Today was also another good day for dragonflies.  I've seen a large number of them this year; the last time I washed my car, a huge blue-green fellow hovered within a foot of me to watch the process with evident fascination.  I like to think of them as good luck; if nothing else, they're a reminder of the strange and wonderful things in a world far bigger and more interesting than one's own minor little irritations.

Guess I'll head off.  The LBC wants to update, so I suppose I should let it do so in peace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Curse You, Mercury Retrograde...

I'm typing this on the Little Black Critter whilst I await the results of a bootup virus scan on the Big Black Critter (a.k.a my regular desktop PC.) Spybot found a vaguely worrisome thing, and I've noticed an apparently harmless program that doesn't want to be deleted, so I figured it wasn't worth my while to ignore it.  After Spybot's done, I might give the thing a rest for a bit, then go in with Norton to be extra-sure the problem's resolved.

It started round about the time I last did a Quicktime update; a program called Personal Guard 2009 turned up, and kept turning up.  I haven't noticed any particular "issues" - slow runtimes, corrupted files, etc. - but when I delete a program I prefer it to stay deleted.  Hence today's long and tedious runs through spyware/malware filters and virus scans.

While the BBC was puttering away on that, I booted up the LBC, at which time I remembered that I'd been meaning to get a free antivirus software on this critter for some time. (I refuse to pay for two Norton subscriptions...) Well, no time like the present... Of course, the first thing it wanted to do was a bootup scan.

At least I got some sketching done whilst both computers scanned themselves.

Dang.  The BBC just finished Spybot's bootup scan, which claimed it rooted out the problem, and then Norton squashed something.  And now the BBC seems to think this "Personal Guard 2009" - which I did not download, at least not intentionally - is the default AV program, instead of Norton.  So I'm running a full Norton scan.

I so did not want to get this sucker in to a shop... part of my scanning obsession was that it was about time for me to back up my PC again. (I suppose it's a bad idea to back up files from a potentially infected computer... even if they're just image files, as that's what I'm most worried about losing at this point.)

Oh, well... part of the reason I got the LBC was for just such an emergency...

Here's hoping Norton does the trick.  If not, the LBC just found a site on Google with a removal tool - yes, Personal Guard 2009 is indeed spyware, and potentially malicious spyware at that.

Fingers and mousewires crossed....

UPDATE - Well, it's later the same night.  To cut a long, curse-laden story short, the BBC goes into the shop at the soonest convenience.  It still runs, but I am unable to permanently extract the malicious programs. (It got increasingly annoying the more I tried... and, evidently, it never did reset itself as the default antivirus; that's one of its popup windows, which mimics the Windows screen almost perfectly.) I tried three different spyware tools, and the only one that might have caught it - that "free removal tool" I mentioned - forgot to say that, yes, it may detect problems, but you have to pay a 30 buck subscription fee to get it to actually do anything about what it detected.  Nothing else came near it.  Norton doesn't seem to know it's there, but it seems to block several of its false popup windows.  My sister and I even tried the manual removal instructions, which did exactly nothing.  So unless the bugger went in and activated System Restore, we have no clue where it's hiding on the hard drive.  Just what the budget needed...

Oh, the title: Mercury's gone retrograde, which makes a great excuse for major technological problems.  The computer on the belt at work had trouble last week, and now my computer's been hit.  Keep an eye on your own electronic devices... it may come after you next...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

It is Done (More or Less)

Nearly two weeks of file transfers.

A full day of wrestling with FTP.

And a cold to cap it all off.

But it's done...

Brightdreamer Books - The Reboot

It's a bit bare-bones at the moment, but the content's all there. Feel free to let me know what you think of the new layout and such.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Rainbow Eternal

 
Today dawned wet and cool under gray skies. We were promised storms and thunder, and that's what we got: gray skies, rain in buckets, intermittent lightning, and random sunbreaks. In short, a perfect autumn storm to usher out the last official weekend of summer.

During this wild weather, we also saw a rainbow.

It started as a faint line in the sky, barely discernable against the background clouds. It was so dim, in fact, it was easiest to see if you focused your eyes just beyond it, or to the side: if you stared directly at it, it vanished like a mirage. We were at my grandfather's house with Grandpa, my aunt, and my uncle, so we all looked at the rainbow through the windows and admired it, then went on with our gathering. Several minutes later, I looked outside again.

The rainbow was still there, making a full arc across the sky.

In my experience, rainbows are highly transient phenomena. The precise combination of rainfall, sunlight, and viewing angle tend to be golden for very limited times - often just long enough to see the rainbow, run inside the house, and fumble one's camera out of hiding. The way the storms were blowing through today, I expected this rainbow, and its attendant rain and sunbreak, to vanish shortly.

Ten minutes later, the rainbow was still there.  Brighter than ever. And it now had a faint twin.

That's when my uncle and I went outside to snap photos of the thing.  We watched it for a while longer, marveling at its brightness and completeness - I've only rarely seen full-sky-arc rainbows - before going back inside. Some time later, we decided to leave.

The rainbow waited for us.

All on the drive home, we watched the rainbow.  Sometimes it grew brighter, sometimes dimmer.  Sometimes I was aimed directly at one of the arc ends, sometimes it arched neatly over the roadway.  It followed us through storm and sunshine.  It followed us, in fact, all the way home, when it finally vanished with the setting of the sun. All told, that rainbow lasted well over an hour, easily the longest-lasting rainbow I've ever witnessed in my entire life.

We weren't the only ones who noticed it. At a stoplight, I noticed a small flash in the car ahead of us; someone had just tried to take a photo of the rainbow through the car window. (I don't expect it'll come out, but at least they tried.) On the way home we saw a pair of men pulled over by an industrial yard, one standing in front of ugly slag piles while the other held a camera.; As we drove past, we noticed that the rainbow's brilliant end would appear to be just behind the posing man. I found it oddly reassuring to know that we're not the only people who still look up once in a while.

The rest of the day wasn't so spectacular.  My grandfather's slipping slowly but surely into that oblivion from which there is no return, evidence of which grew increasingly abundant as the day wore on.  My aunt and uncle both have friends going through terrible stretches.  Immediate family sometimes grew irritating in that way only immediate family can irritate.  Somehow, though, knowing there are still beautiful and mysterious things in the world helped me make it through.

Thank you for the eternal rainbow, Universe.  It was greatly appreciated.

-----

For the curious, Operation Mountain Relocation Phase 1 (i.e., updating my book review website) continues to progress, if at the pace of frozen molasses. I'm down to two more letters - M and N, representing 73 reviews - to transfer. After a bit more tweaking and some style refinement, I hope to publish the results by next weekend. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Moving the Mountain

I've been talking about site revamps for well over a year now.  I've poked at books.  I've picked at websites.  I hemmed and hawed and fretted and paced, but I kept not doing anything.  Every time I sat down to make a decision, the whole weight of the site transfer came down on my shoulders.  It was like trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon... and I couldn't decide which teaspoon to use.

Last week, I finally had had enough of myself.

"Self," I said,"you're an indecisive, lazy idiot who needs to just sit down and get this thing started."

Well, I can't talk to myself like that without getting a reaction.  So I wandered off and grabbed a cup of cocoa, then played a video game.

"Self," I said again,"knock it off."

I rearranged some books and hung a picture.

"Self," I sighed,"just sit down, shut up, and do it."

I figured I was pretty serious by this point, and I didn't want to lose my cocoa privileges.  So, one fine Wednesday afternoon, I sat down.  I booted up HTML-Kit, the free site editor I'd scrounged online.  And so began the Great Site Transfer of 2009.  I figured I'd start with Brightdreamer Books, because I wanted new graphics before I redid Skyhaven.  Besides, the book reviews were relatively straightforward, and transferring them from FrontPage to the new program would be good practice.

How far am I?

So far, I've transferred 295 reviews (A - E and S - Z; I find attacking the alphabet from either end helps it seem less monotonous.) If it sounds impressive, remember: I've been at it for seven days.  And I have 629 reviews in total to transfer before I can officially update.

I was right.  I am a lazy idiot...

Of course, it's not so simple as swapping pages.  FrontPage generated a lot more junk code than I'd anticipated, so I'm having to selectively cut and paste each entry.  I've also found several minor errors I needed to fix; grammar, spelling and the like.  Compounding this is the fact that I'm changing the layout of reviews significantly, making it easier to update in the future but a pain in the rear to set up initially.  So it's gonna be a few weeks before the finished product's online for the whole world to ignore.

In the meantime, those who are so inclined can see any new reviews I come up with posted at my second blog, Brightdreamer's Book Reviews.  This will act as the "New Reviews" section for future site updates, with reviews eventually being archived on the site proper.  And, yes, I have a new review there right now.

Guess I'd best get back at it.  The mountain ain't gonna move itself...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monster in the Woods

This afternoon, we went for a walk in the woods at a nearby trailhead. It being a particularly popular trailhead and a sunny Sunday to boot, there were a fair number of other hikers, everything from stick-toting pros to barely-walking infants. Despite the traffic and attendant noise, we spotted a few snakes, a handful of birds and squirrels, and two dragonflies. Among the two-legged fauna, we spotted torn-black-hose Goth chicks, smokers too selfish and oblivious to reconsider carrying smoldering ashes into a tinder-dry forest (who later flicked their dead butts into a lake), and a man yakking on a cell phone and completely oblivious to where he was. (Ironically, he was doing so as he wandered past a trail marker bearing a quote from Thoreau, in which he wondered why anyone would go into the woods if their mind wasn't there with them.) But, disturbing as some of these were, they were nothing compared to the Monster in the Woods.

She had blond curly hair and carried a stuffed blue parrot. She couldn't have been older than four or five. As she walked along the trail, she pointed her finger at everything - stumps, trees, her family, and other hikers. And she repeated the same phrase.

"Bang! I kill you. Bang! I kill you."

"It's just a kid thing," her dad laughed as we stared in disbelief.

The look on that girl's face said it wasn't just a kid thing. She knew she was saying something nasty. She knew she would get away with it. And she enjoyed it. Too much. A little brat with no parental control, completely desensitized to guns and the concept of killing anything and anyone she points at.

Beware the Monster in the Woods.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wish I Was There

This morning, the Golden Taurus departed for a three-day trip to the ocean.

It carried my mom and my dad. It picked up my uncle and my grandfather. At some point, it will meet my aunt.

It did not, you may note, carry me.

This was a somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip, and the spur hit the moment too late for me to request time off. (Which is remarkably ironic, as I received a letter last week from HR complaining that I'd accumulated too many vacation hours.) My uncle's vacations occur at about the same frequency as ice ages, and Grandpa... well, for one thing he's 90 years old, and for another he's a fading shadow of the man I knew growing up. So this may be the last "big thing" they do as a family with him around.

Considering mobility and comfort issues, I figured that the Golden Taurus was a much better option than the other cars the family had available, so I sent it along with them. Meanwhile, I'm borrowing Mom's car to get to work and back.

Today, I slung books with a persnickity crane and stubborn computer that locked up for three hours yesterday, resulting in a massive backlog today. Because it continued to fight us, I get to go in extra-early tomorrow to help whittle the numbers down. (I suppose it worked out okay, me not taking vacation this week, as I'll earn at least two hours of overtime by being here to work them, instead of the standard hours I'd have filed for had I been gone. Still sucks having to get up at 6 AM...) The guy who fills the candy bowl is in Vegas, so we're down to old Tootsie Rolls and a few butterscotch things; the candy bowl is pretty much the main "perk" of the job. After work, I helped wrestle a broken recliner out of the house and pick up the debris generated by furniture rearrangement and washed a sinkful of dishes. Then we drove over to water Grandpa's yard and grab pizza for a late dinner, after which I washed another sinkful of dishes, fed various hungry critters, dumped some trash, and crawled online to clear e-mail and try to shut my brain down sufficiently for an unnaturally early bedtime. Nowhere in there did I manage to pick up a sketchbook or poke at a story, or even just sit down for more than a few minutes.

Today, the Golden Taurus got to taste the ocean air for possibly the first time in its existence. When I called to see if they'd made it okay (Mom was supposed to call when they got there, and round about 5 my sister and I got a bit worried), they were already having a ball. I think Mom needed this vacation more than she realized... not just to the ocean, but away from us for a bit. They'd walked on the beach. They had a big lunch. They saw a doe with three fawns and heard rumors of a cougar sighting in the area. After we talked, they were going to head out to the beach again.

Wish I was there...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Stylin'

In my efforts to bring my websites up to date (or at least significantly closer to date), today marks a small but significant milestone.

Today, for the first time ever, I successfully wrote and implemented a style sheet.

Now, this probably seems like a spectacular non-event to most people, but to me it's big. I spent many years relying on FrontPage to determine how my sites looked and behaved, so taking matters into my own hands and writing out the code - in Notepad - felt like a major accomplishment. No, the results aren't published. Truth be told, they're downright hideous, on purpose. I've been cobbling together a "test web" on my computer to play with, so I wanted to see right away if the style sheet took or not. When they did, and when I successfully modified them without crashing anything out, I wanted to cheer. I probably would have, except I didn't want the cats staring at me, wondering what kind of freak they live with and why she can't let them nap. (They stare at me like that enough already...)

No, I don't have a life...

Unfortunately, the fact that I'm becoming more aware of the power of CSS and coding means I'm even more reluctant to rebuild my sites using software that generates junk code - which, evidently, rules out pretty much all WYSIWYG editors. I do still need some software to check coding, though, and I like having tools on hand to help with some of the drudgery of site generation and maintenance (navigation trees, updating/checking links, etc.) So I've been poking around online trying to track down free/cheap HTML editing software. Right now, I'm toying with HTML-Kit, because the free version fits my budget. (It's only 65 bucks to register and get more toys, which isn't entirely impossible - unlike the triple digits some big name site authoring software wants.) Any recommendations on that front would be appreciated, though I'm rapidly approaching decision time: I expect I'll start actively recoding sites in a week or two, starting with Brightdreamer Books before moving on to a complete re-imagining of Skyhaven (which will not be named Skyhaven anymore - no new name yet, but I'm working on it.)

Guess I'll get back at it...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Meltdown

Temperatures continue to rise locally. We're in the midst of a record-setting heat wave; they predict triple digits tomorrow and Thursday. I work tomorrow and Thursday, and Friday. In the only building the county library system owns that doesn't have AC, despite the fact that not only do we work harder, on an hourly basis, than the other pages, but the Great Machine hates heat with a passion. I'm already little more than a puddle draped over my computer chair and the keyboard.

This, I think, will be Not Fun (TM).

But I relish the opportunity to overheat whilst slinging books in a stifling warehouse with a persnickity crane.

Why?

Because I won't be dealing with the Electric Brick.

I gotta give Mom credit. She's hunting through every dark corner and back alley of the Internet trying to get this thing to work for her. It'll go online happily at the store where she works. It just will not accept a signal from my router, and we cannot find a way to update the driver for the thing. She also can't get around the admin lockouts to clear space on the hard drive.

Amazingly, she actually found a few message boards with posts from people in her exact condition: old notebook-type computers, free from a friend of a friend, with no disks and no proof of ownership and no way past passwords and other annoying crud left by thoughtless previous owners who didn't know enough to wipe everything but the bare bones basics from a computer they're dumping. Unfortunately, the only solutions she's found seem to be Catch-22's. The latest frustration? She found a program that's supposed to reset/clear administrator passwords. In order to use it, one has to log in as the administrator.

Personally, I'm starting to wonder if the XP Pro upgrade's entirely legitimate. I could've sworn all XP versions came with a free unzipping program, but this one has a copy of WinZip that wouldn't work because the "free trial period" had expired. (I jumped on C-Net and got a free-for-everything-forever unzipper, so at least she has an unzipper. Which she used to unzip the program which wouldn't work, because she can't log in as administrator. Oh, and it claims it won't work on laptops, even though Mom found the link to the program on a forum thread answering a question from a fellow locked-out laptop owner.)

Hopefully, the Electric Brick will be on its way to a repair shop eventually. First, we have to call to see if there's anything they can do with it. Short of hurling it through the window, that is.

I'll do that for free.

Happily.

It'll let the breeze in...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stubbornly Productive (Almost)

Today I crawled out of bed before 6 AM. I don't voluntarily do this, but I had to work - I'm going over the 69-hour page limit at work and they're short-handed this month, so I've been picking up all sorts of extra hours. The downside is the early wake-up on days I normally get to sleep in; I'll see the upside when I get the paycheck.

Despite the Great Machine pitching the occasional fit, we finished the load early, but we didn't get to go home early, as is the usual drill; we instead filled out the time chiseling away at the deleted-book backlog. (This is where old library books go to die, or at least be removed from the system.)

I came home and intended to do Something Productive with my day. After all, I have a car that, after our ongoing dry streak, seriously needs washing. I have stories that need editing, and sketchbooks that need filling. I have web stuff to study and sites to plot overhauls on. I have a workbench that needs cleaning up, and projects that need starting once said workbench is cleaned up.

I forgot about family.

I forgot that my mother just got a freebie used laptop, and - because I bought a wireless router - I've apparently been elected Tech Support Person, charged with getting an overloaded third-hand Pentium II dinosaur to play nice with our network.

I forgot about the various yard projects my sister's working on, that occupy the front yard hoses and hose attachments and make getting a hose to my car difficult.

I forgot that I'm evidently the only person capable of making dinner, let alone washing the dishes afterwards and putting them away.

I forgot that Dad tends to let recycling pile up in inconvenient places (like, say, the dish drying rack.)

I forgot that the neighbors' idea of weekend fun is to blast old whiny country music as loud as their stereo will go, until it can be clearly heard all around our property and nearly through closed doors. (I can't seem to gain support for my plan to retaliate with a boom box and a CD of the Wicked Tinkers...)

So, no, I cannot say I filled a single sketchbook page today. I didn't get to work on my websites, nor did I get near my workbench.

But I washed that car, dang it.

And I vacuumed it, too. Just to prove they couldn't stop me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thunder Sky and Website Ponderings

Last night, I watched a spreading smear of gray across the sunset: clouds, towering and wispy-edged. I welcomed them, waiting for the first drops to fall, but none came. All night and through the day, the clouds hung overhead, now dark and gray, now thin and white, but always there. Taunting. Mocking. At last, this evening, I heard them rumbling in the distance. And then the raindrops fell, cleansing the skies.

The rains have come, if briefly, at last.

We of the itching noses and throbbing sinuses rejoice in this day.

--

Nearly halfway through July, and nothing worth blogging about. I suppose that's a good thing, in a way. I'm still hacking away at the mountain of ignorance between me and a better understanding of HTML/CSS and related website arcana. My goal is to post brand-new websites before the end of 2009. To that end, I updated Brightdreamer Books for probably the last time before I overhaul my web presence. I'm still deciding what I want to do with my sites, and how I want them to go about doing it. The more I learn, the more I'm intrigued by possibilities, and the more I'm plagued by too many options. I'd like to keep my reviews up and running, if only because it took me ten years to bust 600-odd reviews and I'm loathe to chuck them in the recycle bin, even if I'm probably the only human being who knows they're on the Internet. Most likely, my book reviews won't change drastically in content, only in style and background coding. (I also need to figure out if there's any way to promote an amateur book review site; it would be nice if I got a little something back out of my Amazon.com affiliation other than an excuse to add cover illos to my reviews.)

As for Skyhaven... well, the days of click-and-take cyberpets seem to have gone by the wayside, save for specialty sites (read: cliques) like Gaia online, Pony Island and the like. (It's possible some cyberpet-like entities exist on MySpace or Facebook, but I don't have accounts at either place and have no plans to get them, as they sound like royal pains in the arse to manage.) No, the trend now is interactive cyberpets, along the lines of NeoPets, Virtual Horse Ranch, and other places designed to eat one's free time (and often one's money: pay subscriptions are gaining ground in the cyberpet world as well.) Even grade-schoolers seem capable of launching (if not necessarily maintaining) interactive pet sites, and I must admit part of me is tempted to give it a shot. Fun as it looks, though, I don't think it's going to happen For one thing, there are only 24 hours in a given day. For another, the moment you deal with interactivity and subscriptions, you open a whole can of worms I've spent my life avoiding: dealing with people. Sure, some of the potential players would be nice and friendly, but it's the Other Kind that ruin things. The idiots who refuse to read rules and spam help forums and e-mail with poorly-spelled run-on sentences demanding assistance. The beggars. The trolls. The disgruntled players (or ex-players) who take out their frustrations with hacks and viruses. I just plain don't want to deal with them.

So, what am I to do with Skyhaven? Delusional as I am, I've always considered the site's strong suit to be the story, the words and the backgrounds I threw together. They were as much the excuse for the adoptable critters as the critters were the excuse for the words. When I tried redesigning the Skyhaven Hunt to eliminate most of the writing, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure "old school" style, I found I lost much of my motivation to continue. It just didn't feel as fun on my end as I thought it might. I guess I'm still mostly a writer at heart, and the new Skyhaven will have to honor that if it's going to survive. Right now, I'm contemplating ways to merge the old-school text adventure style with something that might appeal to today's instant-gratification market. I don't want to abandon all progress, but it needs to be on my terms, and employed in a way that fits with my creative style.

In the meantime, I'm still trudging ahead with my Internet education. Somewhere in that tangle of codes and acronyms and scripting languages lies the key to realizing the future of my sites.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Halfway Mark: Resolution Update

The above is the result of several days of playing camera tag with the local goldfinches. We usually don't have that many - indeed, we stopped feeding nyger thistle seed some years ago due to total lack of interest - but this is an unusual year, apparently. Not only do we have goldfinches hanging around (at least two pairs of them), but the thistle feeder's been perhaps the most active one in the yard; birds'll fight each other for the privilege of a perch. I think it may have something to do with the loss of local thistle fields; most of the open land where they used to find wild thistle has been "reclaimed" in the past couple years. So maybe we're the only game in town for thistle seed eaters. Or maybe thistle is a distant relative of tobacco, and the birds actually are as addicted to the stuff as they act.

Okay, back to the title...

Today being the last day of June, the sixth month of the year, we are now halfway through 2009. In the interest of wasting time and internet space, it seems like a good time to check how I'm doing on that resolution list from January.
  1. Develop More Income Sources. (Bonus: Obtain Business License.) - Well, I can't claim much success on this front, unfortunately.
  2. Spend at least one hour daily creating. (Bonus: Start online sketchbook.) - If "one hour daily" can be counted as "one hour daily, at least five/six days a week," then, yes, I'm definitely seeing progress here. At least, I'm doing much, much better on this front than I was last year. As for the bonus, I started my ConceptArt.Org sketchbook on January 1, and the thread's up to five pages. I think I've posted at least one new item a week, usually more than that. Hooray for me... now, if only I could actually start to show measurable artistic growth...
  3. Follow through on at least one creative book/site/course. (Bonus: Develop 2D/3D/animation program skills.) - I started out okay here, but I seem to have fallen off the wagon somewhere in mid-spring or so. I blame the weather... and the pollen count.
  4. Finish at least one marketworthy story. (Bonus: Submit said story/stories for publication.) - Nope, hasn't happened yet, though I'm forcing my way forward on a couple of my stalled-out monstrosities; with any luck, I'll be able to check this one off by my birthday. I'm not holding my breath, though...
  5. Overhaul web presence. (Bonus: Relearn "basic" skills - HTML, CSS, etc.) - After some serious procrastination, I've finally started moving foward on this project. (The observant may note the new Link of Interest - W3 Schools - where one can learn such things for free online.) As I thought, things have changed in ten years, and the stuff I got away with back when I started the sites looks like it won't work these days, or much longer into the future. I think it'll be easier to start over from scratch than simply retrofit my old sites to the newer standards, but if it needs doing it needs doing. Once more, I hope to have something to show for it this fall, but we'll see how it goes.
  6. Organize, clean, weed out my space. (Bonus: Rearrange shelving/storage.) - I won't lie. I haven't made any progress on this front. If anything, I've backslid. Fortunately, budget issues mean I haven't accumulated too much extra junk.
  7. Walk/exercise at least 3x weekly. (Bonus: Walk even on work days.) - Eh, what can I say? I have good weeks and bad (a.k.a. lazy) weeks here. Hopefully I can have more good weeks than bad by the end of the year.
So, that's how I've been doing. I feel like I'm doing better on resolution follow-through than I was this time last year, so we'll see if I can carry the momentum through to the end of December.

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Anyone Who Has Ever Written or Read Fanfic...

This is probably the least useful or informative post in my entire blog, but I felt a certain obligation to share this.

Basic Instructions: How to Write Fan Fiction (Rated Strong PG)

As a reader and occasional author of fanfic (the G/PG kind), I had to laugh. With so many older shows now freely available to a whole new audience via the Internet, I wonder if this sort of thing isn't being written by a new generation of fans right now. (Assuming, of course, it wasn't written back in the 80's... dear gods of heaven and earth, it better not have been...)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Free as a Dragonfly


This seems to be a good year for dragonflies. This guy was one of a pair who rested in an elderberry tree off our porch; they obligingly waited while I got my camera, and lingered long enough for several shots. Most others I've seen this year haven't been so photogenic, but they have been fascinating to watch. Just the other day, over at Grandpa's house, I wandered into the backyard and found myself surrounded by dragonflies. Huge, beautiful dragonflies, at least five at any given time. They circled and swooped and cornered and dove, moving in manners that seemed contrary to the laws of physics and nature. Not a one ever landed. I quickly gave up trying to capture them on camera. Instead, I simply stood there in there midst, letting them weave their aerial magic around me.

Okay, back to the title...

I'm writing this blog entry on the Little Black Critter, which has been sadly neglected of late. My excuse was that I didn't have a wireless connection to keep it updated, and I got tired of it constantly nagging me for something I couldn't provide without heading out of the house. (Yes, the ability to take one's computer and camp out at any given Starbuck's all day is one of the chief attractions of laptops for most people, but I'm a reclusive and antisocial beast who doesn't think nearly so well when surrounded by cell-phone yakking, caffiene-addicted people. Or most any people, to be honest.)

Back at Xmas, I received a gift card from a relative, which I'd intended to spend on remedying the LBC's connection woes. Alas, time kept slipping away, as time is wont to do, and I kept putting it off. The times I looked online for help, I only got more and more confused by an inpenetrable wall of terminology and conflicting product reviews. And so I cowered, and I waited, and yet more time slipped through my less-than-agile fingers.

As June arrived, the long-awaited digital conversion left us with an unexpected complication. We had thought, as cable customers, that we'd be safe from hassles. According to an e-mail sent out less than three weeks before D(igital)-Day, that wasn't the case. We ended up having to get cable boxes and digital converters installed, a process that turned into a much bigger headache than it ought to.

So I thought about it. It was six months into 2009. We're already wrestling a bunch of new boxes into the house. And the old router seemed a bit fidgety now and again. So, I figured to heck with it - I'm gettin' me a wireless router.

And so I did.

And if this blog entry, written in the living room on the Little Black Critter, publishes, I'll know everything is working right, leaving me with one more toy and one less excuse.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bearing Up


Something's been going after the bird feeders on and off for the past few weeks. We thought maybe it was the coons. Evidently not... This guy and his brother (or sister - I didn't want to get too close, even if they are just black bears) were caught red-pawed this evening. A clatter of a broom against the railing spooked them, but we decided to take the feeders in early. (We've been leaving them up until sundown, because normally nocturnal foragers don't go out before then, but these must be early risers.)

While they were out there, a neighbor called in a panic to let us know there were - gasp! - bears around!!! A prowling cougar might be worth a little panic, but black bears? Generally not troublesome, save the property damage. Besides, our housepets are indoors for just this reason. Sometimes I wonder why certain people moved into bear country to begin with...

We now return you to your regularly scheduled evening.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Yet More Lame Photos

Another Memorial Day Weekend, another Northwest Folklife Festival down at Seattle Center, and another round of exceptionally pointless photographs in a rambling blog entry to commemorate the occasion. (No, this has nothing to do with the fact that I'm stuck on this year's camp logo... nothing at all... really...)

In any event, the weather cooperated remarkably well. Temperatures were in the 70's, which is infinitely better than the rainy 50's/60's or the blistering 90's we've had in previous years. Crowds seemed decent enough, but with fewer vendors and seemingly thinner stage selections it felt a trifle sparse around the edges. But it was still Folklife, as witness the Scarf Man. It ain't Folklife unless you see the Scarf Man. (He used to dance up by the Celtic stage when it was all Celtic stuff; now he hangs out on the lawn by the fountain and sells scarves rather than just dancing with them.)

We ate food and watched shows and wandered about, as usual. The following images are offered in no particular order.

Alien Instrument
Folklife features music and performers from around the world... and beyond it, as clearly evidenced here. The extra neck and strings on this extraterrestrial guitar are evidence of multiple limbs which were hidden by this scout's human form.

More Alien Evidence
No human mind could conceive of this complicated scientific instrument, which appears to be a solar-powered windmill. Whether or not the architects of this device are of the same species as the guitar player, I was unable to determine.

Bad Time to Take A Call
"So what're you doin'? .... Me? Oh, not much - playin' with my band ... My band! ... Yes, I'm playing right now! ... Oh, okay, I guess ... Nah, my solo's not for a while yet. So, what're you doin' now?"
Maybe it's just me, but if your own band bores you to the point where you'd rather talk on the cell phone than pick up your instrument and play, perhaps it's time to wrap things up.

How to Bore a Child
So, imagine you're a kid and your parents are going to take you to the museum. Not just any musuem, but a museum just for you! This, I would say, would have to be the biggest rip-off of all time. (Or maybe I grew jaded during my stocking days...)

Nordic Ship
A replica Nordic ship was on display up by the kiddie area. I cannot imagine having to spend days, weeks, perhaps even months on end in one of those things (if the Vikings-in-America theory is indeed correct.) And the fire hydrant? Well, that is a dragon head on the front - probably a wise precaution.

The Galway Ramblers
We had to sit through a couple iffy groups to get to them (including a Finnish dance band that not only didn't know the names of their own songs but seemed unable to agree on a tempo or pitch between them), but the Galway Ramblers turned out to be fairly decent. Their harpist is a world-class player, and the rest aren't bad, either.

The One-Man Band Man
Another fixture of Folkife is the one-man band guy. The picture pretty much says it all...

Video Killed the Radio Star
The live video man was back, too. Using a Playstation controller, passersby could "play" an unplugged video game. We saw him last year, but this year he had a new "game," entitled Save the Unicorn.

Drummers
You get a lot of drummers at Folklife, but these guys have the best costumes (if not the best reportoire...)

Jam Session In Progress
One of the neat things about Folklife is that you never know what you'll run across. We went to what we thought would be an encore performance by the Galway Ramblers. It turned out to be a jam session with maybe 20-odd players from various groups on various instruments. There's just something hypnotic about being able to stand in the middle of live music that you just can't get anywhere else. We stood there and listened until our feet got sore, then sat and listened some more.

Blackthorn
One of our highlights each year is Blackthorn, an energetic Celtic/folk/Canadian band. They usually set up in the street before the show to practice and earn a little extra money. (Unfortunately, they set up near the ice truck this year... made the acoustics less than ideal.)

Molasses in the Street
One of those bands you hear playing on the street and feel compelled to stop and listen to... Bluegrassy-type old time music, but they had pep. They were called Molasses, and they did indeed have a way of sticking people in the street.

Rebecca Lomnicky
The last show we saw before heading home. She won the Scottish Fiddle Championships four years ago... when she was 13. Great fiddler, even if she made me feel like a no-talent overage wastrel... but, really, who doesn't make me feel like that?

Well, I suppose I've bored you long enough. Best get back to tackling that camp logo that's been giving me heck. (I actually have it 80% done; it's the last 20% that's fighting me tooth and nail. As usual.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

So Much for the Camera Theory


Today, we went back to the little pond park with Grandpa and our uncle. This time, I remembered my camera.

I almost wish I hadn't.

Not only did the eagles return, but they put on a spectacular show. They soared. They dove. They perched right on the water's edge. They screeched. They chased off an osprey. The osprey dove for a fish, and they chased it for the fish. One of them even soared right over my head from a tree I hadn't seen it land in. Even the ducks put on a fine show - they paddled and quacked right under the viewing area. A little stripe-billed gray bird dove for fish almost under my feet. A beautiful blue damselfly kept landing on me.

Later, we went over to a nearby heron rookery. We saw more ducks and a goose. We saw another pair of eagles and a nest. We saw herons building up their rookery. We even, thanks to a chance encounter, saw a Cooper's Hawk nest, complete with roosting Cooper's Hawk.

All of this, I saw while I had my camera with me.

How many shots did I get? How many times did I manage to have the camera out and aimed in the right place at the right time and ready to go? How many pictures came out?

Look at the start of the post. Count.

Yep, even when I had my camera, I could barely manage to get one remotely salvageable shot. The moment I'd have to wipe off my glasses, they flew. When I had to leave to eat lunch with the family, they danced. When I found a vantage point without a tree in the way, they hid.

I swear those birds were laughing at me...

When we finally got home, I happened to glance skyward.

A bald eagle was flying over head.

I heard a pileated woodpecker laugh as I watched it.

Very funny, birds.... veeerrry funny.