bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
A little while after I unpacked and hung a bunch of shirts in the closet, we were downstairs and heard a peculiar noise. We went hunting through the house, trying to figure out what had happened. Presently we discovered that the closet shelves had collapsed! A little investigation revealed that they hadn't been attached to the studs, and were therefore not very well anchored. I extracted all the clothing and stowed it in an assortment of bins and boxes, and stacked the rest of it on top. I then proceeded to remove the twisted wreckage of the original flimsy wire shelves. I hadn't liked the existing arrangement particularly, but the collapse meant I would have to go ahead and deal with it now.

the whole long tale, with pictures )

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (Default)
While doing some gardening, [profile] fizzygeek noticed a bunch of baby mantises (mantids?) on the porch! We'll be trying to take a few to a friend's house.

picture )

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (Default)
Two and a half years ago, I posted that I was debt-free. I've been debt-free ever since. Until today, when [profile] fizzygeek and I spent the afternoon with an attorney. Now we have a mortgage. And to go with it, a house.

It's a nice old farmhouse on 5 acres in Lovettsville, with a nice little creek running through the property. It's out on the edge of town, and they're planning on building a park in some land out behind the neighboring farmer's fields. The previous owners have done some beautiful work on the house, bringing the second floor bathroom up into the attic, giving it a higher ceiling and more light. They've added on a spacious kitchen/breakfast nook with a vaulted ceiling and skylights. There's a deck out back, surrounding a tree. There's a nice little sun porch, lots of built-in shelves, a finished basement, a cedar closet, and a fire pit. The yard has plenty of plantings of native plants, and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Certified Bird Friendly Habitat. Fizzygeek will get to indulge her green thumb.

pictures )

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (Default)
The light for the clock in my car burned out. I looked in the manual to see what kind of bulb it took, but it just said “see dealer”. That seemed ridiculous, it was probably an ordinary wedge base miniature bulb like a #194, the sort of thing I might already have lying around. There’s no obvious way to change that particular bulb without taking the dash apart (maybe that’s why it said “see dealer”), so I took the dash apart, pulled out the clock, and had a look.

It turns out it’s a weirdie plastic twist-on bulb that apparently uses a notched hole in a printed circuit board as the “socket”.

clock and bulb

I don’t have anything like that in stock. So I walked down to the brand new Advance Auto Parts here in town to buy one. They looked it up and said those don’t normally burn out in a car only a few years old, and in any case, they don’t stock them and I’d have to get one from the dealer.

This did not exactly thrill me, so it occurred to me that I could probably find the bulb elsewhere, probably cheaper. But what was it? I didn’t have a type number or anything. Some research on the web revealed that there were a lot of people looking for this bulb, and that it was a Ford part number F5VY-13B765-AA (or perhaps F5VF-13B765-A or maybe E83Z-13466-A). There were a few mentions in the pages I found to this being an 80mA bulb, and that’s a believable current for a bulb like that. The existing bulb is marked “2W”, which might mean that it’s a two-watt bulb or it might not. There’s a chance that the E83Z bulb mentioned above is a 1.2 watt version. There’s also a chance that one of those isn’t a green painted bulb like the original. I don’t know.

I decided to try out the parametric search for light bulbs available on the Don’s Bulbs site. I could make good guesses at the glass type (T-1½), voltage (12-14V) and current (.08A), but what was that base? Happily, Don’s Bulbs has pages where you can search for bases by drawings. After peering at the “automotive” category for a while, I decided it was probably a “neowedge” of some sort, but couldn’t figure out which variant. No problem, the site lets you search on broad base categories, and even a vague type of base narrows down the huge pile of results nicely. The closest match I could find was a GE type 91646, which doesn’t seem to be available much any more. It does sport a B8.4D base, but I wasn't at all sure it was the right one.

I went back to searching the web, adding “neowedge” to my search terms. I found many more pages of people trying to find this bulb, and a bunch of pointers to LED bulb vendors. However, many people had bought the LED replacements, only to have them not work.

This gave me an idea - I could convert the existing one to LED myself and have it fixed the same day! I rounded up a blue LED and calculated that an appropriate voltage dropping resistor would be about 525Ω. Some rummaging around produced some 560Ω resistors, which should run the LED at slightly lower current, for a little less brightness and longer life. I crushed the burned-out bulb so I could solder the new parts to the resulting leads.

base, LED, and resistors

I then assembled the parts into something that should fit into the space occupied by the original bulb.

LED replacement assembled

I remembered the LED bulbs I had made for my pinball machine, which runs its bulbs on AC, so the polarity doesn’t matter. But my car uses DC, so any way I assemble it is likely to be backwards. Then I realized the base was symmetrical, so if it didn’t light, I could just install it the other way. I hooked it up to a power supply to make sure it worked.

LED replacement lit

Then I went to install it in the car. Unfortunately, it didn’t light. I pulled it back out to turn around, and saw that I had broken one of the fine wires. Rats!

I took it back inside, and attempted to solder the wire directly to the terminal, but without success. I tried every flux and solder I own, slowly melting the plastic base, but it was beyond me. I considered finishing building my tack welder, but that’s a biggish project and there’s a pretty good chance I would fry the LED in the attempt anyway.

Greatly annoyed, I called the dealer to see if they had the right bulb in stock. Naturally, they didn’t — and they wanted more than fourteen dollars for the stinking bulb! I reluctantly told them to order one and call me when it got in. They said it would be in by Saturday morning.

Back to the web. I noticed a lot of the references to LED replacements were to the same place, superbrightleds.com so I figured I’d have a look. They have a facility to look up bulbs by car make and model, but didn’t list anything for my clock. So I looked at their “automobile, instrument cluster and gauge, T1.5 Base - New-Wedge, B8 Type” page. After clicking around for a while, I saw they had some nice big clear mechanical drawings of the various bases, complete with 3D renderings. From this, it seemed that I had a B8.4D based bulb. They offer LED bulbs with this base in two brightnesses, and six colors, and they don’t cost much at all ($1.59 for the regular brightness). The original bulb had a green coating, but I thought red would be nice looking, and avoid impairing my night vision. I ordered one each of the red and green, in both regular and high power.

I went by the dealership on the way to Balticon on Saturday, but they had closed early for Memorial Day weekend. Fie on them.

The LED lights showed up in today’s mail.

LED from Super Bright LEDs

I popped the regular brightness red one in, it fit perfectly, and lit on the first try. I’m looking forward to seeing it at night. As for the dealer, I still haven’t heard back from them, and at this point, I no longer care about their overpriced bulb.

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (Default)
My dad had a nice set of hollow shaft nutdrivers that he and I both used. When he passed away, I ended up inheriting them, and I have used them ever since. I don't know when he bought them originally, but they've been getting used for decades, and are still in good shape, although one of the handles is a little melted looking from the time it got accidentally soaked in gasoline.

So why are they so useful? It's the "hollow shaft" part that does the trick. Rather like deep sockets can do some things that ordinary sockets can't, they'll let you loosen/tighten a nut that's threaded way down on a long bolt. And the hollow shafts on these extend the entire length of the shaft.

view up the shaft

If you look up the shaft, you can see all the way up to the handle. It's not just a 2cm recess, the entire shaft is hollow, accomodating anything up to that length. For example, using these tools, it's easy to install long-shaft controls in panels and neatly tighten the nut without fighting with pliers, trying to keep a box-end wrench in position on a thin part, or running the risk of marring the panel.

nutdriver in position on long-shaft control

That's one, on the right, in position to tighten the retaining nut, quickly and easily.

Recently, I realized that a metric set of these would be a very useful thing to have as well, so I went out to see what the offerings were. I was pleased to find out that the original Xcelite HS618 set is still available, as well as the individual drivers. It's nice when useful things are still in production, after all these years. Unfortunately, they don't seem to offer a metric version.

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (Default)
I had a need for a new, different printer. Ink jet printers produce beautiful images, but they're delicate and run and smear when wet. Worse, if I only use the printer occasionally, the nozzles clog and I use a lot of expensive ink getting them working again. If I want to print gold or silver foil, I use my ancient Alps MD-5000, which isn't supported by modern computers.

So I elected to buy a Canon Selphy ES-30 which is a compact dye sublimation photo printer that can also print gold and silver foil. It was listed as having Macintosh support, which is good because I don't do windows. It's a cute little thing, and takes its printing supplies as little cartridges that contain both the paper and the dye sub ink sheets. This makes it easy to switch between different media, and ensures that the ink and paper stay in synch and are compatible. They're specialized enough that they'll only ever be available from Canon, and they're not particularly cheap. But that's fine, it's cost effective for my occasional use.

But then it turns out that the Macintosh support is only partial - you can print color or black and white, but no gold or silver foil. It is my opinion that if you claim to "support" a computer for a product, that you support all the product's capabilities. Otherwise, it's partial support at best, and this should be stated clearly in all sales literature. Otherwise, you are lying to me, and I do not appreciate being lied to.

I waited a while to see if there would be an update that would add foil support, but none was forthcoming. Then I wrote Canon and asked if they would send me the protocol, so I could implement this myself.

They refused, saying the information was proprietary. What? Why? You're not selling printer drivers, you're selling printers, or more to the point, you're selling printer supplies. The more people who can use your printers, the more printers and supplies you will sell. Keeping the protocol a secret is nonsense. I offered to sign an NDA, but no reply at all. I realize that companies avoid giving out technical information because it might lead to more support questions. I explained that I would not ask for further support, nor use the information in a way that would cause this to happen.

Do you know what would have happened, if you had furnished the interface specification? I would have extended the existing Gutenprint Canon Selphy support to include the ES-30, including its metal foil printing capabilities. I would have provided my changes back to the Gutenprint project for inclusion in their core software. This would have given Canon ES-30 support to Linux and BSD users, and since Apple uses Gutenprint to provide their third-party printer drivers, you would have gotten Macintosh support for free. Better yet, customer support for this driver would have come from the Gutenprint project and Apple — saving you support money. I would have written a positive review of the printer, and all my adoring readers would have gone out and bought them. The underserved Macintosh, Linux, and BSD communities would have bought the now-supported printer, and supplies for it. As the cartridges are not easy to replicate (unlike refilling inkjet cartridges), you would have had a solid revenue stream for years to come, that no one could take away from you. You would have enjoyed a positive mindshare in a large, geeky customer base - and their friends, families, and employers.

But no. You decided to take the low road, keep things secret for no reason, and now you're stuck with unpreferred vendor status. I'll buy my cameræ from Nikon, Fuji, and Olympus. I'll buy my printers from Epson and HP. And I'll tell all my friends how you refused to play nice.

Your pointless corporate decision will end up costing you a surprising amount of lost revenue over the years.

bodger: huur girl (huur)
Today started with a 2½ hour dentist appointment. Then I drove to the airport to catch a plane to Charlotte. Then I dashed the entire lengths of the E and C concourses to just make my connecting flight to Miami. Miami has a BIG airport. We came in to gate J10, so the first thing I saw when I walked into the airport was the gate across the way: J9. Thanks, Jeanneane. Then I went down, collected my luggage and headed for the rental cars. Signs everywhere pointed out the Mia Mover, up two floors. It turns out you walk about half a mile on intermittent slidewalks to get to the actual Mia Mover tram. The rental car agency didn't have the car I had reserved, but a Suzuki. Erf. Work probably won't pay for an upgrade. It should be waiting for me in space B45. I find a row for B1-B40 but no B45. Eventually I realize B45 has been tacked on the end of the row, but the sign wasn't updated. It turns out the Suzuki didn't have gas in the tank. So I got back and beat them into switching cars for me, scoring a Ford Focus. Then I head out to the hotel. The address lands me in a seedy industrial neighborhood, where most of the buildings are for sale. No sign of the hotel. I call them, and get directed to a recording telling me to just go up 82nd Ave NW and it's on the left. 3655. Hmm, there's a 3650, then a 3725, then a 3680. No hotel. I call the hotel again and finally manage to get a person, who explains the hotel is actually behind an office building. I go back there, and the lot out front is packed. The lot on the side is packed too. I loop around and around, finally parking a couple of blocks away at an abandoned industrial building. Then I realize I haven't eaten since breakfast, so I punch Steak 'n Shake into my GPS and head back out. Turns out that Steak 'n Shake is now a seafood place. Feh. I go back to the hotel and park back at the industrial building a couple of blocks away. I drag my luggage back to the hotel, and choose to go around to the right, as there's a crowd of smokers to the left. It turns out there's not a way around to the right, so I ended up dragging my luggage over a bunch of grass to get to the door. The lobby is full of flight crews in matching red blazers. Finally all of them get done at registration and I go up, only to be informed there aren't any rooms. They've put me up at a fancy place across town. Said fancy place involves lots of twisty little roads, forking incessantly. I finally find a spot that looks likely and explain to the valet that I think this is where I'm supposed to be. He says no, I need to be back at the first hotel. I explain I WAS there, they send me elsewhere, which may well be here. He tells me to go inside and ask. The folks inside explain that I only have one night at the new place, then I'll check out and spend the rest of my stay back at the first hotel. Great. They give me a map of the property and pick out "Lodge 10" as where I'm staying. There's no parking near Lodge 10, as most of the resort guests apparently use valet parking. I finally choose a spot that seems like it might be nearby. This time, I leave my luggage in my car while I figure out where I'm supposed to be going. I end up in a courtyard between Lodge 9 and Lodge 10, and the only unlocked door is marked "meeting rooms". I go in, and find a young couple as lost and confused as I am. I wend my way around the bowels of Lodge 9, discovering it holds the 900 series rooms. I'm in 142, which is probably NOT Lodge 10, unless there's no Lodge 1. I pull out the map and see that there is a Lodge 1, way around on the other side of the ballroom. So I head around that way and eventually find it. I take the elevator up, and try my key. Sure enough, it works. So I hike back, around the other side of the ballroom complex, to see how the parking lot is laid out. Once I get back to the car, I retrace my steps, and park by the corner of the ballroom, so I only have to haul my luggage around that, the physical plant, another lodge, and some plantings to get back to my room. The room reeks of floral perfume. It's after midnight. I still haven't eaten.
bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
There seems to have been a spate of people complaining about The Big Bang Theory recently, claiming it's making fun of nerds and smart people.

Really? We've had decades of absent-minded professors, mad scientists, and nerds complaining about their childhood treatment and taking their revenge on the world. Now that is something we might complain about.

But Big Bang Theory? Please. Most folks focus on Sheldon, so I will too. Sheldon is portrayed as a good guy. That's right, he's shown very positively. Yes, he has difficulties with social niceties. But he tries. He really wants to learn how to interact with people properly. It's not his fault he isn't very good about it, but instead of making excuses ("I can't act nicer, I'm an assburger"), he tries to learn from his mistakes, learn how to recognize sadness and sarcasm, and react appropriately. When someone needs a large amount of money, he offers to lend it to them, for whatever amount of time they need it, interest free. When someone's feeling down, he tries to comfort them, even though he doesn't really know how. It's tough to attempt something you don't know how to do. But it's the right thing to do, and he tries. Even when it involves touching other people, he does so, overcoming his aversion to doing so. That sort of thing makes the character a good one, in my opinion.

"But they portray Sheldon as a buffoon!", I hear people whine. Really? Granted, Sheldon is often portrayed as a buffoon. But so is everybody else on the series, including most of the guest stars! Everybody's a little off in this show, it's part of the show, not an insult to anybody in particular. That was part of what I liked about In Living Color: they were evenhanded, making fun of everybody. I really can't object to that, as long as it isn't mean-spirited. And if there's mean-spiritedness in Big Bang Theory, I simply don't see it.

That's a subtle difference, and hard to point to, but it's important. Anybody remember The Man Show - the original one with Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel? Lots of folks objected to that, saying it mocked women and objectified them, treating them as nothing more than sex symbols. There were a lot of such shows before, during, and after it that did exactly that (and I include the reboot of The Man Show with Doug Stanhope and Joe Rogan). But the original Man Show wasn't like that. The hosts (Adam and Jimmy) love and respect women, and I can see it in the show. A lot of their gags boil down to "I don't completely understand women, but I adore them". That's why I liked that show, and didn't really enjoy any of the others of that sort.

It's the same way with The Big Bang Theory. While the jokes necessarily revolve around the characters and their personalities, they're not mockery, they're poking gentle fun. And many of the gags are simply standard sitcom fodder - they're laughing at what it is to be human. And that's always going to be funny. If you've read Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For, it has a similar feel. Yeah, a bunch of the characters are lesbians, and a lot of the story lines hinge on things lesbians do, say, and are - including some stereotypes. But the main message I get from the comics is "we're all human, and we all have the same sorts of fun, problems, and laughs." The same with The Big Bang theory - it's a show about being human, with the wrinkle that not all humans are alike. As someone who's "not alike", it's nice to see that explored, whether it's in a humorous vein or not.

And yes, sometimes I'll do or say something nerdy (like "I like to turn the plates so they face the sprayer in the dishwisher"), my sweetie will smirk at me and say "Okay, Sheldon!" It's not mean, it just reminds me that I can be picky about minutiæ. And it makes us both smile.

A spider

Oct. 16th, 2012 09:55 pm
bodger: Sunflower from Plants vs Zombies game (PvZ sunflower)
As I was taking out the trash, I saw some motion as I went through the door. At first, I was afraid it was a stinkbug, but then I got a closer look and realized that it was just a spider. A pretty one, too.

After I had put down the trash cans, I went and grabbed a camera with a macro lense to get a picture of this beastie. I'm guessing it's Platycryptus undatus, the tan jumping spider.

picture and more details )

bodger: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/ (Bap)
A friend of mine sent me some plastic sheets, but something strange seems to have happened to them in transit.

graphic description and pictures of bugs )

bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
I was just watching a romantic comedy* (like I do), and it finally dawned on me what my faint irritation is at most of these films. There comes a scene where the protagonist finally has a chance for happily ever after. It's a weird confluence of events, unlikely in the extreme, but right then everything comes together at once, creating a fleeting chance.

And they bungle it.

Up to here, this is like real life — in reality, this also happens. Whether you realize it at the time or not, life offers up these oh-so-brief opportunities, where, if everything goes right, wonderful things can happen. Sometimes it does, and that's wonderful. But, many times, either reality doesn't coöperate (the party closes just as she was about to offer you her lips, the phone rings, the cat throws up, whatever), or you do or say the wrong thing, or freeze up, or screw up some other way. And then the moment's gone, never to be retrieved. And it socks you like a sucker-punch to the stomach. You realize what could have been.

I've gotten to the point where I occasionally recognize these cusps when they're happening. "Everything hinges on what you do at this moment", I'll realize. Unfortunately, that realization doesn't come with instructions as to what to do. Many times, it's far from obvious what would be the best thing to do. And I'll choose wrong. A lot.

"Quick!", the universe will tell me, "make the right choice — instantly — or lose out. Forever.

And that's the kicker. Many of these things, you only get the one chance. The odds were you'd never get a chance, and you're lucky to have had the one. And you blew it. And you'll never get a do-over.

And that, my friends, is my beef with romance movies. In these stories, the heroes always get another chance. Against all odds, another bizarre occurence happens, and they get another crack at it. And it's always even more hurried than the last time, and they have to deal with the repercussions of the previous disaster, but they somehow make the right choice, they don't get interrupted, and they find true love.

I admit, otherwise, it would be a depressing reminder of how dismal real life can be. But it seems hollow. The characters turn from (sort of) realistic, human people with imperfections and failings, to this blessed couple that magically gets everything right, apparently because they "deserve to" or somesuch. We're all rooting for them, they're made for each other, we're willing to suspend disbelief so they can be together.

But that just makes it sting the more that we don't have our own cheering sections, we don't get the second chances, we just get that one fleeting sliver of possibility, and have to fend off all the external things that can go wrong, as well as make a snap decision on insufficient data and act on it immediately, or spend the next few weeks/months/years second-guessing ourselves and suffering the regrets of the beautiful thing that might have been.

I'll admit that there are films that are more realistic. Chasing Amy was one such. The hero got a cusp handed to him, and it was reasonably clear what he needed to do (good job, Kevin Smith), and he choked. He blew it. And he lost out. He never got a second chance. I hated it the first time I saw it. How horrible, how cruel. I read Smith's writeup, how he felt that his cusp was tied to that film, and his take on it was he could only get the girl in real life if the make-believe character didn't. I find myself having such superstitions beliefs myself, so I can't fault him for that. And I can't blame him for sacrificing the companion cube film version of happiness for a chance of real life happiness. But it stung.

However, over the years, I've come to really like that film. It's painful, yes, but at least it's honest. Life is like that, like it or not.

I still wish I magically knew what to do in these situations. And I wish I was better at detecting them in the first place.

* The Ugly Truth, if you're curious

bodger: (Kim Possible)
Idly looking at a magazine cover, I read "Outsource perimenopause naturally". Wait, what? You can DO that?

Then I read it again, noticing that the first word was really "outsmart".

However, it's apparently possible to outsource worry! A. J. Jacobs mentions this in his article on outsourcing his life.

Then, in his new book "Drop Dead Healthy", he mentions an episode where a reader offered to trade worries with him. Apparently it worked out nicely for both of them. The idea seems to be catching on.

bodger: Morbo demands an adorability scan! (Morbo adorability)
Remember the fellow who had won the iCarly set visit, that I ran into at the Memphis airport? I heard from him again, he'd talked with Nickelodeon and they told him the opportunity was for up to four people. He still had no friends or family who were interested, so he said if I'd chip in, I and one or two friends could come with him. He would still be paying the lion's share of the money, so it was an attractive deal. I'll call him Chris (as that's his name). Chris and I hammered out a simple contract, and I transferred the funds.

Nickelodeon offered him a few choices, and he elected to go on a day that had a long shooting schedule. The package came with 2 nights at the Roosevelt hotel in Hollywood, a visit to the Nickelodeon Animation Studios, a visit to a taping of the Ellen show, and some goodies like script excerpts and an autographed cast picture.

[livejournal.com profile] fizzygeek would come with me, so it would be the three of us. We'd be in the LA area more than two nights, so we needed to find somewhere to stay the other nights. As it happens, our fronds [livejournal.com profile] keighsie and [livejournal.com profile] ayasdollz had moved from Phoenix to LA since we'd seen them last, and were willing to let us stay at their place, and (better yet) get to hang out with them more. Looking forward to seeing Dan Schneider and the cast again, I rounded up the Zoey 101 key I had made (I'm such a fangirl) and made myself a "Generation Love" T-shirt in honour of cast member Jennette McCurdy's charity project.

We'd never been to LA, and we weren't quite sure what to expect. As it happens, LA is a bustling city with gorgeous weather and plenty of things to see and do. We had a fun time hanging out with our fronds, who basically let us have the run of the house when they were out at work, and play with their cat and dogs (including one grandly named PooPooButt!). We had a great conversation about how our lives just refused to be ordinary (my running into someone at an airport, resulting in a set visit to one of my favourite TV shows was a great example of this). The so-called "law of averages" simply doesn't seem to apply to us.

more (with pictures) )

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (Default)
The next day, I got an early start to make sure I got to the airport on time. As it happens, I got to the airport 'way too early, and nothing was open. I found a comfortable bench, fired up my laptop, and proceeded to catch up on email.

Presently, someone wandered by and asked if I had been at the iCarly event last night. I said I had, and he shook my hand and said he thought he recognized me as a big bidder for the day on the set. It turns out he was the winning bidder, but didn't really have any friends or family who enjoyed iCarly. He said he'd try to find out if I could come with him, as I was obviously interested enough to be willing to put down major money. We exchanged contact info.

Finally the ticket windows opened up, and I went to the USAir window to try again to get my flight changed to terminate in Charlotte (where I would be catching my flight to Florida) instead of Dulles. It was still impossible. So I asked if I could just have my luggage marked to come off at Charlotte. The agent looked very flustered and asked why I would want to do such a thing. I explained that I'd be abandoning the Charlotte-Dulles segment and catching some other plane. She snapped "I don't want to hear about that!" and turned away. Hopefully there won't be anything in my luggage that I can't carry on the plane.

more (with pictures) )

bodger: with Liz Gillies at St. Jude's fundraiser (Liz Gillies)
It turns out the event itself is held in a nice function space on the roof of the hotel. I took the elevator up a while before the listed start time, and found just a few folks around, hanging up decorations and so forth. I signed up for a bidder number, as I was quite interested in the auction, where they'd be selling props and memorabilia. After that, I was asked to go out on the roof and wait. I had a nice look at the city - including seeing some areas flooded by the river and I admired the Duck Palace where the ducks spend their nights.

After a bit, I wandered back inside, where there was quite a crowd waiting to get in. Occasionally cast members would exit the elevators and squeeze through the crowd into the function space. I wasn't really sure what to expect, would they be hiding behind desks, protected by handlers, or what?

Finally they let us in, to a generously sized area with several activities scattered around, big screens running clips of the shows, a big food table, and the things to be auctioned. I looked around to see if I recognized anybody. Sure enough, just a few feet away, Jerry Trainor was chatting with a couple of people. I hung around until they wandered off and went to say hi. I blurted out that I was glad to meet him, as my sweetie had told me I really should. I phrased this in a really clever way, and he said "She really said that? Wow!" I wish I could remember how I put it! I saw someone else standing nearby with a fancy camera, and asked him if he could take a picture of me with Jerry. He was happy to, if I'd return the favour. As it happened, he and I became photo buddies, taking each others' pictures with various celebrities through the night. more (with pictures) )

bodger: (Kim Possible)
I've been a fan of some Nickelodeon shows for quite a while. The Amanda Show, Zoey 101, iCarly, and Victorious. One big thing these shows have in common is they're directed by Dan Schneider, who aims to produce good TV, not just "kid TV". This may be why I like them, or perhaps I'm just a kid at heart.

That said, [profile] fizzygeek and I were hanging around in an airport waiting for a flight, and I was browsing Dan's facebook feed when I saw an announcement: he was having a charity meet-and-greet to support St. Jude's Hospital. Dan had asked the casts of both iCarly and Victorious to participate, and they all agreed!

Hoo boy, I wanted to go to this shindig! I asked [profile] fizzygeek if I could go, and she said I should probably think about it first, see if it would be feasible. I considered it for a while, and decided that this would be a popular event and would sell out quickly. I could either pounce on it immediately, and take the chance of paying for it and not being able to go, or think about it on the plane ride and take a chance of wanting to go, but all the slots being gone. Additionally, Andrea couldn't go anyway. I pounced on it anyway, to her vague surprise.

When I got home, I started making arrangements. I booked a room at the Peabody, the hotel where the event would be held, and found an affordable flight to Memphis, connecting through Charlotte.

Then I got another notification - NASA had freed up some additional VIP tickets for the (then) final space shuttle launch. I had tried to buy tickets earlier, but they were sold out, so I got on the bus company's mailing list. This mailing included a URL to buy the tickets, but the URL was mangled in transmission. I reverse-engineered what it should have been and bought the tickets pronto. I remember Spider Robinson writing in one of his books that seeing a shuttle launch from the VIP area was an incredible experience, and it was worth going to a large amount of effort do do so. I had seen the Apollo moon shots go up from across the river, those were awesome, and I'd seen a shuttle launch from on top of the bridge, which was wonderful, but not like a Saturn V. However, a shuttle launch from close up was something I wanted to experience, and chances were running out.

Then I realized it was the same weekend! Now what am I going to do? Okay, calm down, they're not the same day. I can fly to Memphis, meet Dan and his TV show casts, then fly to Florida and catch the space shuttle launch with Andrea. So I went to the USAir web site and tried to modify my flight. Unfortunately, USAir's reservation system isn't too bright - I have to work with the complete flight between Memphis and Dulles, I can't just delete the Charlotte-Dulles segment. And I can't convert Memphis-Dulles into Memphis-Orlando, because there are no more seats on the Memphis-Charlotte segment! Even though I'd be on that plane either way, the computer simply can't accept that I'd be vacating a seat that I'd then occupy. Okay, I'll just call the airline directly and deal with a human instead. No dice - the human uses the same broken reservation system, and can't accomplish it either.

Fine, I'm not going to miss out on the shuttle launch. I went to another airline and bought a ticket from Charlotte to Orlando, and one from Orlando to Dulles. I'll just get off the USAir plane in Charlotte and board a plane to Orlando, abandoning the Charlotte-Dulles segment.

I'm not sure what I'm going to wear - I'm tempted to wear a Gibby's Ice Cream T-shirt, as one of the characters on iCarly is called Gibby. But it might be a fancy shindig, so I also pack a really nice but somewhat outrageous striped shirt that had once listed for $200, but we found on a clearance rack for $20 or so. I emailed the event coordinator asking if there's a dress code, but hadn't heard back.

I get to the hotel and unpack, and find that I have a reply to the dress code - it's supposed to be reasonably fancy, no jeans. And I somehow neglected to pack nice pants. Time to go shopping! I call a cab to the mall. The cab driver takes a phone call on the way, and speaks a language that sounds faintly familiar, but I can't place it. When he gets off the phone, I ask him about it. He explains that he's speaking Ethiopian. No wonder it sounded familiar, I love Ethiopian food, and have learned several of the terms for the dishes. He and I have a great time discussing Ethiopian food.

I get to the mall and do some power shopping, picking up a nice pair of slacks, a belt, and some cufflinks. I'm going to look good. I also scarfed down some food, as I didn't know when I'd have another opportunity to eat, as I'd be getting back to the hotel not long before the event began, and I still had to change.

I have a nice chat with another cab driver on the way back - he's curious as to why I'm in town, and I explain that I'm attending a fundraiser for St. Jude's Hospital. He says they're a wonderfully deserving place, and tells me a tale. There was a boy who'd gone to a conventional hosptial with cancer, and they told him he had maybe two months to live. His parents took him to St. Jude's instead, where he had done quite well. After a year, he was well enough for a trip to the zoo - and that cab driver had driven him and his parents to the zoo.

When I got back to the hotel, there was a huge crowd of people in the lobby. I figured the TV stars had showed up and I was missing things! Out by the elevators was mobbed, so it would be problematic to even get back to my room to change. It took a while for me to figure out what was really going on: the Peabody hotel has a tradition where a family of ducks lives in their fountain during the day, and the ducks march back to their home on the roof at night - via the elevator. Once the ducks had made their journey, the lobby cleared out and I was able to go back to my room and change into my fancy duds.

bodger: Squidward in a wad of gum with eye showing (Squidward gum)
Recently, while enjoying some breadsticks, I heard a little cracking noise in my mouth. A little exploration revealed that I now had a chunk missing from the side of a molar. So I called the dentist. Even though the whole dental office had been on vacation since July 4, they made room in their schedule to see me. It turns out an old crown had failed and needed to be replaced. Amazingly, they said they could do the job then and there. Having the previous crown installed required a couple of visits, with a couple of weeks in-between for the crown itself to be custom made.

But technology marches on, and things are much improved today! It only took a little while to remove the old crown and prepare the tooth for the new one. At that point, technology took over. They puffed some blue powder on the area and took a bunch of measurements with a miniature 3D scanner, both open jaw and closed jaw. Then the computer chewed on it for a while, and generated a 3D model of the new crown, designed to fit neatly between the existing teeth, provide a good match to the attachment point, and meet the opposing teeth properly. The dentist fine-tuned the model slightly (of course, I watched), and pressed the "go" button. At that point, a little precision CNC machine carved the new crown out of a "green" ceramic blank. The green ceramic was actually lavender, amusingly enough. Then the crown was test fit, and some very fine adjustments made, as it was nearly a perfect fit to start with. Then it went into a kiln for firing, and once it had cooled, they cemented it in place, cleaned up some stray cement, and sent me on my merry way.

Yay technology!

bodger: girls in photo booth (photobooth girls)
I've had a Kiron macro zoom lense for quite a while. It's not a fancy sort, but it works nicely - especially for macro shots where I want good depth of field. Most macro lenses are close-focussing ones with a razor-thin depth of field. This beast works in macro mode at a fair distance, with the attendant advantages in depth of field. Granted, it needs a lot of light to work, and shooting faraway subjects with magnification makes vibration an issue, but these are dealable with - an off-camera strobe helps enormously. These days, that's mostly what I use it for. I was trying to get a good picture of the character matrix of a monoscope, and realized the zoom macro would be the tool to use. It took me a while to find it, it had ended up in a camera bag in the basement, where it had lain for quite some time. Unfortunately, it's damp in the basement, and it had gotten fungus or something on the back of the front element. To clean it would require disassembling the lense.

I have a lot of good camera and lense tools, so I grabbed the lense spanner and the lense and peered at it for a while, realizing that the lens retaining ring didn't have spanner grooves. Some research on the internet revealed that some people simply saw grooves into the front ring and remove it that way, but I didn't want to, as it's really easy to ruin something in the process, and the front of the barrel had been dented at some point in the past, so the threads were in poor shape. However, the same research revealed a downloadable copy of the repair manual for it. It turns out this is a popular lense, and has been offered in a variety of versions and configurations over the span of a few decades. The one I had didn't match the repair manual, but it was close enough for me to realize the tiny dimples at the front were actually tiny setscrews covered over with (essentially) black nail polish. With the setscrews removed, the front lense element assembly should simply unscrew.

I rounded up my Wiha precision screwdriver set and selected a bit that would just fit in the setscrew opening. A few turns abraded away the black nail polish, exposing the head of the setscrew. Some careful digging cleared out the slot, and I was able to back out the setscrew nicely. It's a really small screw, about the size of a grain of pepper. There was one each in front of and behind the line delineating the front lense assembly. So I removed both of them. Then I tried to unscrew the front of the lense. It didn't budge. So I found one of those grippy pads used to remove stubborn jar lids, and cranked away at it with that. Success! The front unscrewed smoothly. Now that I had access to the back of the lense, it was simple enough to carefully remove all the fungus without damaging the antireflection coatings (as far as I could tell, anyway). Then I screwed it back on. Replacing the tiny setscrews was tricky, as they wanted to lie in their openings sideways. I finally ended up lightly magnetizing the screwdriver and using it to place the screws in position. That worked a treat, I replaced the screws, and the lense works properly!

With it, and the last sunshine before this afternoon's thunderstorm, I got some good shots of the character matrix, in acceptable focus from edge to edge (I have to photograph it edge-on due to the construction of the tube).

bodger: girls in photo booth (photobooth girls)
Back in 2009, I discovered I had some video editing software on my computer and used the "find video" function to find any video I had happened to shoot with my camera. I just stuck 'em together and tacked on some music, and chopped it off when I ran out of video. It was amusing, but awfully rough. In the intervening time, I've learnt how to actually use the software, so now I have things right side up, cropped, brightness and colour tweaked, audio ducked appropriately, have a semi-coherent arrangement, and even have some semblance of sound synchronization.

As before, several of you appear.

157MB of clippy goodness @ 960×540

Vimeo version.

bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
When I was watching The Dark Knight, I figured the description in the movie of a purported CIA invention called "Skyhook" wherein a person is yanked up into the air by a cable held aloft by a balloon and grabbed by a passing airplane was simply a Hollywood invention that made for a good stunt. But then I was reading a book about declassified CIA technologies, only to find that Skyhook really existed! There was even a tale where a high-ranking official wanted to give it a go, but the pilot figured he'd give a less rough ride by going slower, resulting in the poor guy getting dragged along the ground instead of yanked up into the air.

Another time, I was watching The Sarah Conner Chronicles and one plot point was that cyborgs had been sent back to the past to stockpile "coltan", a material used in making said cyborgs, which was hard to obtain in the future. I hadn't heard of coltan, so I figured it was just a Mineral MacGuffin. Again, I was mistaken. While reading up on a company that sells metals internationally, I saw a disclaimer on their web page, explaining that their coltan was obtained in a humane, legal, free trade fashion. Reading further, I discovered that coltan was an industrial shorthand for "columbite-tantalite", an ore containing columbium (an earlier term for niobium) and tantalum. Further research revealed a large, nasty underground trade supplying high-tech industries. Somewhat disconcertingly, one paper on the subject actually contains links to a site hosted at a skynet.be domain.

More recently, I read about a new treatment that could theoretically eliminate any virus from the body, by causing those cells hosting viral genetic material to destroy themselves by triggering apoptosis. This is an intriguing approach, but it also sounded all too much like the opening scenes of a "science gone bad" disaster flick. And, thinking about it, I realized that prime targets for this treatment are viruses that are difficult to eradicate, such as herpes and HIV. And these, it turns out, like to hide out in nervous tissue. Which, given the horror movie frame of mind I was in, got me to thinking. The result would be the selective removal of parts of the human nervous system. And when you selectively delete parts of the human nervous system, you get ... zombies.

January 2014

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