Thursday, March 30, 2006

Photography != cool

For the non-programmers out there, != is 'not equals.'
Look at this:

I finished painting this guy a week or so ago. He looks pretty cool in person, but in the photo he's a busy, blurry blob. The promo photo from the manufacturer (left, duh) looks great. I am seriously at a loss on how to photo these things. Maybe I'll take another photo from the same angle as the promo pic to get a better comparison.

Honestly, it's getting a little irritating. I did a lot of things on this mini that turned out well and which show an improvement in my techniques. The picture, however, shows almost nothing of the effects that are visible with the nekkid eye. It just looks muddy and indistinct. I'm starting to think I need a better camera to really do these little guys justice.

Enthusiast, not Connoisseur

I like things. Coffee, peppermints, Jazz, various foods... Over my 37-some-odd years I have consumed enough of various things to have a basic idea of what I like or don't like. Occassionally I will share the fact that I like something with others. Often, the extapolation of that sharing by the person is question is to assume that I am a connoisseur of said like. This could not be farther from the truth.

I like coffee, but I don't think I could seriously differentiate what one would call a good coffee from a coffee that I simply enjoy. The same goes for food. I like Mexican food, but I enjoy the dive down the road that serves TexMex probably as much as an authentic Mexican restaurant. It's not that I'm unappreciative of good things; it's more that I'm easy to please.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Echo, best and worst

The campus newspaper here is The Eastern Echo. My colleagues and I have enjoyed portions of it immensely over the years, especially "Campus Blotter" (in which the drunken brushes with the law of students is routinely reported.) Occassionally the Echo gets a little lost in its own sense of self-importance and feels it needs to be the crusader for some misguided cause on campus. Today was one of those days. It was also the day of the best op-ed piece ever. More on that later. First, the misguided cause.

"What Eastern Wants You To Believe" the headline read, "An Echo Special Report." The story went on for two columns on the front page and then for nearly all of page nine, to report that EMU is orchestrating a marketing / recruiting effort for potential students and their parents called "Explore Eastern" this Saturday, and that they actually have the gall to try and cast a positive light on the university to the people taking the tour. The very nerve! The author took the opportunity to point out many of EMU's faults, quoting semi-important people where he thought their words would lend more credence than his own. To read the piece, you'd think that new students were being tricked, decieved into coming to EMU on the promise of a wonderful experience, only to find it an utter hell hole.

Hey, Michael Greenlee, I'm talking to you. Nobody is under the impressive that EMU is some academic utopia. You wanna know the truth? We want students to enroll, and we try and convince them to do so. We don't turn away most of our applicants like our neighbor down I-94 does. We can't afford to. When we run a recruiting event or a campus tour, the intention is to show good things about EMU. How many high school seniors would come here if they were handed a color glossy pamphlet entitled "EMU: Our Many Problems" on their tour? Ford doesn't show film of Pintos exploding in their commercials; does that mean they are deceiving their customers? Should every magazine ad for GM include a disclaimer that the company has lost record amounts of money recently and may not exist in its present form in a year? And it's not even for the sake of disclosure that you are saying all this, because you and I both know that EMU's troubles have been amply reported in the local news.

I also disagree with your critisizm of the sample dorm room decorated by (and clearly shown as such) Bed, Bath and Beyond. To show the sample "corporate sponsored" dorm room and then the "less dazzling space" of some unidentified dorm room was a cheap shot. Have you ever rented an apartment, Mr. Greenlee? Do the demo apartments feature a hand-me-down couch, old TV and a bathroom full of mismatched towels? Is that, in some way, deceiving potential renters (especially student renters) as to what their living experience may be like in that apartment? Was it offensive to you that the room looked nicer than most students' rooms, or that it was "corporate sponsored" (in your words.) Is that inherently evil?

Cheap, Mr. Greenlee. I hope journalism isn't your intended career.

On a completely opposite note, the op-ed piece by Lynn Kargol, called "Good deeds don't stand alone, faith forgives sin" was the absolute most stunning thing I have read in the Echo. In about a quarter page, she states matter of factly that:
  1. Man has sinned
  2. "being good" can't save us
  3. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and only faith in Him can save us
  4. good deeds are important to our faith
Have my eyes gone insane?! Is that a gospel presentation on the op-ed page of the Echo?!? I'm far more used to reading heartfelt treatises on the importance of gay marriage rights or increased aid/awareness for some dilemma overseas on this page, and yet here is one of the most succinctly elegant summations of my faith that I have ever read. Lynn Kargol is now officially my hero. Let it shine, Lynn!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Maya Angelou is my sysadmin

You may recall my stance regarding quotes. We have a calendar in our kitchen published by Guideposts that has a quote for March and April.
"No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present state." Maya Angelou
What glurge.

But after the recent trouble with the upgrade at work, I took another look at the quote. It suddenly became the following:
"No system can be upgraded unless the sysadmin knows what the baseline configuration was and what local changes have been made that may be overwritten by the upgrade process."
Well, that certainly describes my problems well enough. Heretofore all upgrade documents shall be read with the internal narrative of an elderly black woman. Is anything made less authoritative in such a voice?

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Roast update STOP
it rocked STOP
that is all STOP

Stories, Upgrades and Experimental Cooking

My friend Josh was recounting his grandfather's heroism during WWII, which including taking a bullet through his arm at the Battle of the Bulge, then spending two weeks behind German lines surviving by his wits and the few phrases in German he could yell back to people yelling questions. What will I tell my own grandchildren? Will I tell them all the things I saw on 24-hour news? Will I tell them that I owned a 1st generation TiVo? Oh, maybe that time the guys from work and I went to Rally's and ate a triple-double combo! (No way, Grandpa!)

Then again, my sister-in-law's brother served with the marines in Somalia, and he won't talk about it. Maybe a lack of dramatic stories isn't so bad.

The upgrade at work was a failure (read: I screwed it up) so we went back to a lower version to upgrade to. It goes into production tomorrow, and I'm installing it. Hooray.

I just decided to cook a roast, and figured I'd try something I haven't done before. I put a bed of onions in our wide crock pot (maybe 4 smallish onions total) and a cup of water, then put a 2.25 Lbs. chuck roast on the onions, sprinkled with coarse salt, black pepper, garlic powder and some thyme. I put the crock pot on 4 hour high heat setting. We'll see how it turns out.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Firefly, after the fact

I just finished watching the first DVD of Firefly with Stef. I saw Serenity when it came out with Stef and our friend Mark, and was amazed at how good it was, especially since my half-hearted attempts to watch Firefly when it was on TV didn't leave a good impression. Stef, on the other hand, loved Firefly and knew I'd like it if I gave it a serious chance. I felt more attachment, even investment, in the characters of Serenity at the end of two hours than I did at the end of the most recent three Star Wars film.

I have three more Firefly DVD's that I am eager to watch, and simultaneously I am disappointed that the series is finite. Funny... I know books are finite, yet I never enter into reading one with that sense of finality or disappointment. I suppose the sunny side is that I missed the disappointment of having the show canceled out from under me while I was watching it, ala Futurama. I certainly hope there is new material, whether TV, movie or straight to DVD.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Fun Hysteresis

For the non-engineers among you, from Wikipedia: Hysteresis is a property of systems (usually physical systems) that do not instantly follow the forces applied to them, but react slowly, or do not return completely to their original state: that is, systems whose states depend on their immediate history.

I found a file in My Documents that I had apparently downloaded some time ago but had forgotten about. It was a .mod file medley of songs from the game The Secret of Monkey Island(tm). Listening to it swept me back 15 years, and I felt that rush of excitement and anticipation that I felt playing the game originally. Crash. Then the present returns. So I asked myself, "Self? When was the last time a computer game, or any game, made you feel like that?" (To try to be as non-depressing as possible I'm going to keep the topic on computer games, and not life in general.) When was the last time I got that little shiver up the back when playing something? Final Fantasy 7? X-COM? In the last 5 years? 10? The fact is I really couldn't remember anything recent that has done that for me. Even the spectacularly well-made World of Warcraft just felt reassuring and fun, not thrilling. So am I harder to please now or are things just less fun.

Enter hysteresis.

I feel as though it takes more to entertain me. I wish I could categorically say something like "I demand higher quality" becuase even the things that are universally praised as high quality (like WoW) don't thrill me. I fear that I may be experiencing the same stimulus level and just reacting to it less. At the same time, the "coming down" portion is really an inverse hysteresis, since I tend to come down much quicker from positive experiences. I react slower, with lower amplitude, and return to zero much faster.

Is this just what getting older means? Is this why people are reduced to "keeping busy" later in life? Because nothing really excites them, but they feel like they have to do something?

Now, don't make the extapolation and think I lead a joyless existence. It's just that computer games have been central to my entertainment for almost 30 years, and the fact that I don't enjoy them like I used to makes me wonder if it's me or them. Are 20-somethings having the same emotional experience with the latest Elder Scrolls today that I had with Monkey Island back when I was first courting Stef?

I've just decided that it's me. You could easily replace computer games with books, movies or music in this entry, and I have certainly heard my share of curmudgeons gassing endlessly about the quality of (insert medium here) in their day as opposed to the garbage today. I refuse to be that person. I don't get as big a kick out of it, and it's all me. There: blogging is therapeutic and cathartic.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

State of the Dollhouse

(I really should post some pics of the carnage that is dollhouse construction.)

We have sanded and/or assembled the many, many pieces that make up the main walls and their associated windows. Without thinking, we glued some of the acetate windows into their proper places. This will make the process of sealing the wood for painting much more difficult since we will have to work delicately around the windows now. Thankfully, most of the windows are still open and available for the slopping of sealer (50% varnish, 50% alcohol.) We have decided to paint every part of the house rather than stain, since staining and varnishing would be exceedingly difficult.

A Slow Trickle of Frustration

Anyone who reads this is going to have a much better idea of what I hate than of what I love. Writing is a natural venue for venting frustration, and frustration leads to action much more than a positive experience typically does.

Take this morning. Please.

We bought a new kitchen faucet, and like most home improvement projects for couples with kids things didn't really get started until the kids were in bed. I was working late, so Stef and Sheena fought with it for a while, then determined that they didn't have the right tool. Stef took off early in the morning to get the correct tool at Lowe's, but when they didn't have it she returned with something that the person there was sure would work. It didn't. So, back to Lowe's to return it and over to Home Depot to get the correct part.

With the correct tool, the job went much smoother. There is no substitute for understanding or the right tool. When we went to turn the water back on, things went considerable south. In the two places that we had shut water off between the water heater and the kitchen sink, both are leaking like crazy. I am at my wits' end. I hate home improvement projects as it is (see, told ya. Something I hate) and I've already missed half a day or work for this project, and now this. I launch into a temper tantrum (probably mild as far as temper tantrums go, but walking around muttering about how much I hate houses is a tantrum for me.) The irritating part is the change of state of the valves. In the past, just turning them on really hard has stopped any leakage. Now that leak when completely on or completely off, and practically gush in between. These are old metal valves on 3/4" pipes, and I'm thinking I'm going to have to take the rest of the day to solder new valves in place. While I'm struggling with figuring out how the things work (and more to the point, how I can affect them without removing and replacing them) I hear Stef on the phone. Stef has called the local Aco hardware store for advice, and a fellow there named Eric told her to tighten the nut between the valve twisty handle thing and the actual valva body. Guess what? It worked! Aco has won some serious points today.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Speed Painting and the Perils of MetaCafe

I'm most of the way through the first ten dwarfs for Bill's army. These are just rank and file guys, so I'm not lavishing the amount of attention on them that I would an elite model, but I still want them to look nice. It's a nice symbiotic relationship... Bill gets his army painted on-the-cheap and I get to experiment with some speed painting techniques and develop a portfolio. The eventual goal is to get some commission work that pays full price. As long as Bill's happy with the army when it's done, I'll consider it a success. The problem is balancing how much I enjoy painting (and therefore lavishing time on a single model) with the need to get x models done in y hours.

For a few years, Stef has had a program called MetaCafe installed. It's a little peer-to-peer thing that downloads short film clips in the background for you to watch at your leisure. All in all it has been entertaining. It's mostly commercials or short novelty videos; I have never seen anything flagrantly violating copyright like other peer to peer networks tend to have. You don't actively choose to download things. They just show up on your computer via the software. I'm guessing that the MetaCafe owners moderate the items posted to the network. There are also content filters, which leads us to our peril story.

Even with the content filters on we get items that, while not patently offensive, aren't something we want the kids to see. Foreign commercials tend to be racy, photo galleries of celebrity PR shots can be inappropriate for kids, etc. On Saturday however, someone really fell down on the job at MetaCafe. Over the course of the afternoon, 5 or 6 different video clips came in that weren't just racy, they were hardcore porn. Someone had uploaded the clips in categories that the content filter lets through, and whoever moderates the release of content approved it. However it happened, it was fixed by Saturday night, when all the incoming content was back to the normal standards. So let this be a lesson to the 1 or 2 people who might actually read this. Always preview the intenet content before letting the kids at it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Fairy Princess Rules Once More

I decided not to work too late tonight and see my family. Actually, with the doctor appointment for Lily this morning that I attended it came out to an eight hour day. Oh, the shame of this slacker. The girls put on a play this evening in which I was the evil king who usurped power from the rightful fairy princess. Sarah, the brave heroine, swept in to kill me and break the spell put on Lily, the rightful ruler. It was all delightful. Of course, as the evil king I needed costuming, most of which involved the girls putting things in my hair.

I primed 50 or so dwarfs tonight, with another 20-30 to assemble still. It must be nice to have your entire army fit in half an army transport case! My horde of vile rat men could fill two of them at this point. I'm going to start painting over my lunch hour, ensuring that I do not go out to eat (which is a habit I have found difficult to break) and simultaneously do something rewarding. I've really taken a shine to this, so much so that I am considering basic art theory class at EMU just to improve my artistic sensibilities. (Please note that "considering" and "registering for" are not at all similar, and one will not necessarily lead to the other.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Regarding "break"

Lily's nose is not broken! We took her to her follow up appointment, which also happened to be the first appointment she's had with a new doctor. Her former pediatrician had also been my pediatrician back in the olden days, so I suppose it's no surprise that he retired. She still looks pretty beat up, but it's getting better and her nose is almost the correct shape now. Her eye is still viciously blackened.

I painted up a sample "Iron Breaker" for Bill's dwarf army. In theory I would paint the armor a bright silver and then apply a thin glaze of very light blue, giving the armor a bluish tint. In practice the armor turned "old people blue" (as in the car color.) I fixed it by highlighting mithril (the bright silver) on the wide areas and gave it a thin black wash and it looks much closer to what he and I had in mind. I also started a miner, and am in love with the sculpt. I started a new technique for priming and preparing that includes a white primer coat, then a wash of very thin wash of Vallejo charred brown (scorched brown in citadel-ese, burnt umber to the rest of the world.) It does such a wonderful job of bringing out the details, while also sitting so appriopriately in the recesses for shading. I wanted to take a picture of the miner even before painting him. I painted the face as a test and it turned out nicely.