Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Okay, make that 9am-1am

I took my painting kit to work today knowing that there would be some dead time in the upgrade process in which I could probably paint. 30 minutes here... 45 minutes there...

Guess what?! Oh, you already guessed? Oh, Okay. I didn't think I was being so obvious. Well, in any case it was irritating how they just sat there and taunted me all night with their little unpainted faces. Maybe tomorrow then...

Monday, February 27, 2006

Work, and then work!

This week is going to be .... difficult. I am the only functional web team member this week, and I have a bunch of upgrade and implementation to push through. It will probably be 9am-midnight all week for me.

On the plus side, a friend has hired me to paint his Dwarf army. My painting skills have improved a lot in the last year, his desire to paint rank-and-file is diminished, and I am charging him far less than a painting service we perused online. Far, far less for (in my opinion) a roughly equal quality paint job as the service. It all adds up to my first commission painting job.

In the meantime, I have chosen four mini's from Reaper that look to be both fun and a good exercize of the tips given to me on the cmon forums. I'm sticking to a fairly monochromatic palette for each, using my new handy-dandy color wheel to accentuate in colors that are pleasing to the eye. I hope... (nervous laugh again.)

I'll likely start to post more images if this becomes a painting and dollhouse construction blog as much as a rant blog.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Poor Lily, and a Six Year Old Dollhouse

Lily's poor little nose looks terrible. She's such a little trooper about it too. Back at Family Camp in August when her neck hurt so bad she had to keep her ear pinned to her shoulder, anytime someone would ask her how she felt she would respond "Perfect!" or "Great!" from her 90 degree angle. Now we get the same response from her, after she looks like she got hit in the face with a brick. In addition to her swollen and bruised nose, both of her eyes are black and the skin on the left side of her nose is carpet burned. Everyone at church today did a double take when they saw her.

My friend Monty bought Sarah a dollhouse (the Greenleaf Garfield... google it to gasp) when she was less then a year old. It's a beautiful Victorian thing, and weighs about fifty pounds, but we were quite surprised to find out that it's a kit. For six years Stef and I have been intimidated by the enormous box of thin wooden sheets die cut with inscrutable shapes. It got even worse when some of our nephews found the box and extracted some of the pieces from their wooden sheets to use as swords. Now we have a box of sheets and an assortment of parts with no context. Yesterday, we started the process of building it. We managed to get as far as the foundation and floor of the first level. Stef stayed up way too late and managed to assemble a staircase. It looks okay so far, but it needs a lot of putty, sealing and finishing. This thing is so big and beautiful (on the box anyway) that I don't want to do it quick and have it look shoddy.

It's currently on our kitchen table. Stefanie has declared that the kitchen table is repurposed until it is done. I hope it's done by June. (nervous laugh)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Night of Injuries

Stef attends a group called MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) that meets at a local church. Tonight we went to a get together there for MOPS families and church members. It was meant as a time of fun for the adults, so kids had activities in their activity room.

Soon after starting, Sarah shows up crying in the doorway. She has an enormous knot on her forehead. Apparently she fell and Lily fell onto her, smashing her head into the floor. We iced it for a while, then she went back to play. The knot is a gruesome little thing, and I kept wondering if we'd have a concussion to treat.

We ate some pizza and played some games, then things got worse.

We hear a child crying, and someone is rushing down the hall holding Lily flat. Not up on their shoulder, but flat across their arms. The way they are holding her and the way they are half-running down the hall are very troubling. Stef and I immediately bolt from the game we are playing to get her and find out what's going on. Her nose is black and blue, swollen and bleeding, and Lily is crying hyterically in pain. We grab the coats and Jay and run out the door, leaving a wake of apologies aimed at us. We rushed to St. Joe's and she was immediately taken in at the pediatric urgent care. Jay and Sarah were gems the whole time Stef and Lily were in seeing the doctor, and Sarah wrote a little "get better" card for Lily. After only 40 minutes they came out, and Lily's nose was already looking better. It's still swollen, but it didn't have the broken look that it did at the church. It turns out that broken noses aren't treated until several days after the event (and it was not even determined whether it was broken or not) so they sent us home to keep watch over her. Lily is such a little trooper; the nurses gave her a popsicle and she was pretty much back to her old self (albeit a banged up looking version of her old self) in no time.

I'll let you all know if it's broken. My Poor Lily.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ugh. Excuse me.

Apparently 20 years of listening to NPR has not agreed with me, as I appear to have upchucked it onto my blog just now, in the form of the previous post.

The Quotes Rant

Here's a sobering bit of news. You will never be all that clever. You may be clever, but there will always be an abstractly huge number of people who make you look droll and uninteresting. Same goes for "deep", "insightful", etc.

Many people come to this realization and are deeply relieved. Like Hiro Protagonist realizing that he does not need to struggle to be the world's, um... let's say "most dangerous man", each of these can drop the pretenses of having to sound whatever-they-aspire-to and can merely say things that they themselves find entertaining or interesting. For purposes of this rant, let's stick to "clever."

While some accept it, others claw relentless at the idea of being clever. If they themselves cannot be clever then they will harvest cleverness from various sources and deliver it to everyone around them. This always, always comes in the form of quotes. For many years, I myself did it. I had read or heard something that I found clever and would, when appropriate, say it aloud in conversation. Others would agree that it was indeed clever and appropriate.

What I failed to understand then was that each quote delivered gave me vicarious achievement, as opposed to actual participation in the conversation at hand. Like a sports fan who paints his chest and face in the colors of his favorite team and screams wildly at each success, I was not actually doing anything other than leeching off someone else's accomplishment. The movie Waking Life demonstrated this better than I could have hoped, not as an indictment of the behavior but as the most egregious example. Characters in that movie do nothing more than shuffle around on-screen spouting off quote after quote about the meaning of life. It's supposed to sound deep but it came off sound like a bunch of pretentious snobs trying to smear enough pan-cake quotes onto their faces that you might, perhaps, miss the blemishes of their own shallowness. There, how's that for a quotable.

Nowadays, I have a simple rule about quotes. If someone said something that you found insightful, collect the insight not the quote. Freely share the insight with others, but not as a direct quote. If I say something that you find insightful or clever, claim it as your own and share it. The only things that I have found consistantly worth quoting are unique for their verbal cadence, or perhaps their chiastic qualities. My favorite current example of this is "the difference between theory and practice in theory is smaller than the difference between theory and practice in practice." Its humor is derived from the chiasmus as much as from the concept.

So take a quote, extract the concept, own it, and only then share the concept with others. Once we get used to sharing insights with each other rather than recitations of other's insights we will truly be communicating. But don't quote me on that.

A Great Start

I was at work until midnight last night handling call tickets and getting ready for the Luminis portal upgrade today.

So what do I go and do first thing this morning? I break it. I break the development instance of the portal. It's broked and I broked it.

Now I've gotta wait for my boss (who used to do my job) to come in and help me fix it. How humiliating. I broked it and it's all my fault. There must be some special place in the pantheon of stupid for this sort of thing.

In other news, my minis are doing better... low 6's now and getting better. I started a forum thread at cmon asking the veterans there what I could do to improve. The advice was good, but it involved color theory. I have resisted learning color theory until now, but I guess it's time to go get a color wheel. Maybe I'll just paint everything in sepia tones and skip the whole "color" thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

gravity ftw

I reposted pictures of three minis on cmon. They are not doing as well as I would have hoped.... only mid 5's. I was looking for near 7 this time. I brought the Librarian in again to show Brian, but when I handed it to him we had a little miscommunication on who had it and it plummeted to my office floor. The backpack/flag broke off, and the left arm broke off into two pieces... on the glue lines but still hard to find.

Thankfully we had superglue in the front office filing cabinet, so I was able to reassemble him.

He deserves more than a 5.5 :-(


Yup, that 4 ooo's. I am up at nearly 3:00 AM taking digital photos for Cool Mini or Not. I have to work in the morning. Ugh.

Tomorrow: sponsored by caffeine.
(Hey! If my boss is reading this... just kidding!!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Try again

Cool mini or not came back online this morning. All the photo submissions are moderated, so someone actually looks at them before they are released for public viewing. After about two hours, my two photos were online.... and I deleted them almost immediately. I have one of the two figures with me in my office (to show a coworker today, who it turns out called in) and the photo just didn't do the mini justice.

Too often Cool Mini or Not really means Cool Photo or Not.

When I get home I will retake some photos and see if I can get something that truly represents how good these minis look. One can always look at my publicly posted albums at photobucket... I go by hakomike there too.

MENSA called. They said you're dumb.

My wife gave me a MENSA day-by-day calendar to take to work. Each day there is a little puzzle, presumably of MENSA-level difficulty, that you must attempt to solve. Most of the time the puzzles are less than challenging. I feel like someone has handed me a plastic bat and is lobbing whiffle balls sloooowly at me. When I hit one, they jump and clap and tell me how great I am. I suspect that MENSA has played a cruel joke on us.

From within their lounges heavy with pipe smoke, they rubbed their chins thoughtfully. "We need money," declared one. There was the hushed sound of courderoy jackets rubbing upholstery as various members squirmed in their deep chairs and rubbed more fitfully at their chins in response to the assertion. "If we create a product that allows us to ridicule the everyman while simultaneously making him feel intelligent I believe we can achieve our monetary goals while implicitly maintaining our inherent superiority." Nods and mumbles of agreement through pipe stems filled the room.

I suspect the day-by-day MENSA Puzzle Calendar is the fruit of this plan. While I do, in fact, feel intelligent when I solve the day's puzzle in only a few seconds, there's always this nagging feeling that someone at MENSA is playing a cruel joke on me. And laughing.

Monday, February 20, 2006

...or not.

coolminiornot.com is down right now. I'm irritated by this.

I have two pictures out there waiting for approval before they can get to the open voting. I think they represent my best work yet, for what that's worth. Yeah, I'm a mini painter now. Not just a mini painter because I like wargames, but a mini painted because I like painting minis. What started as a means to an end has become the end in itself.

Two years ago, I wanted nothing to do with miniature painting. One year ago I was just starting to paint and play the tabletop game Warhammer. Today I find myself looking at minis and scheming how best to paint them, whether they would be usable in a game or not. In fact I look for games to potentially start playing on the quality of the miniatures alone (cough... WarMachine.)

My circle of friends whom I have conscripted into playing Warhammer like to see what I have painted, and show off their own minis, but almost everyone who has seen my work says something to the effect of "I would go crazy doing that" or "I don't have the patience for something like that." I think it's polite code for "You're a nerd."

Rrrrr. Still not up. The site is responding to ping, but the web server's not working. How am I supposed to reach that coveted 8.0 mini unless cmon is up?!?

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Puppy Saga

Our family has a dog, a pure bred Australian Shepherd tri-color named Faye. When we purchased her from a breeder we entered into a contract to do a "puppy back" deal. We got a good deal on her, but agreed to breed her and give the breeder the number one pick of the litter. It seemed reasonable at the time, since Stef's desire was always to breed our dog and keep a puppy. The idea of our family having multiple generations of the same dog family appealed to her.

A few years pass, and the time has come to breed Faye. After a few false starts with a breeder, including a sterile stud, we finally breed Faye with a Blue Merle owned by our original breeder. The dogs were not closely related, so we didn't think there would be any inbreeding issues. Stefanie was thrilled when we determined that Faye was actually pregnant. What Stef wanted more than anything was to have a Blue Merle puppy. We both agree that Blue Merle's are the most attractive Aussies, and the breeder even bought into the idea that if only one puppy was a blue merle, we could keep it.

Time passed, and we approached her estimated puppy date. (I don't know... what do you call a due date for a litter of puppies?) We had some sort of vision thing done to Faye (ultrasound or similar) to determine that there were five puppies in the litter, which was a surprisingly low number considering that Faye's birth litter had been a whopping twelve dogs. We figured that we would be selling three dogs, keeping one for ourself and giving one to the breeder. A pet quality Aussie can fetch $500, so we were confident that we would be more than compensated for all the vet bills that this was incurring. We bought a kiddie swimming pool to act as a birthing/whelping area for the pups. Anticipation built.

The night Faye went into ... labor?... it didn't take very long to figure out that something wasn't quite right. Our friend Sherry was over to help us (having been through it before) and the stories that both we and she had heard from people led us to believe that it would be quicker than this. Hours passed with no puppies, only an increasingly agitated mommy dog. I went to bed, and Stef stayed up with Faye. In the morning, when the vet opened, Stef took Faye to figure out what was going on. A couple hours later I stopped in to check on them. It turned out that one of the puppies had been deformed severely enough that it didn't survive, and was the blocking factor in the birthing. The other four came fairly routinely after that, and before we knew it we had two tri-colors (mostly black and white, like their mommy) a red merle and (thrill!) a blue merle!

Things started going wrong before we even left the vet. Newborn puppies are more like sausages than dogs, and it took a while before we realized that the surviving red merle had rear leg deformities; the deformed dog that died at birth was also a red merle. Other than that it seemed exactly like the others. We took the whole litter home and put them in the whelping pool (now in our living room) so that Faye could attend to them. There was a sense of relief about the whole thing. We had our puppies! The only troubling part was what to do with "red" as we were calling him. With deformed hind legs he might have special needs his entire life. Let me explain now that my wife is an animal lover. The idea of putting a dog down for a relatively small deformity would torment her. I finally stepped in and offered what she could not bring herself to ask me. If nobody wanted Red, we would keep him. I didn't want to keep him, mind you, but could see no other option.

The next day, Stef called me at work with sad news. We had noticed that Faye paid special attention to Red, licking him ceaselessly. Mother dogs do that, in part, to stimulate defecation. Stef discovered after examining him was that Red had no anus, which was why Faye was frustrated with trying to get him to go. There was the option of surgical correction, but it was complicated and we couldn't see putting this little dog (or us) through it. We had been praying about what to do with this dog, and praise God He took the decision from us. That isn't to say that it wasn't painful, but direction was given and we praise Him for answered prayer. I decided to make it as easy on Stef as possible, so I came home at lunch and took Red to the vet to be euthanized.

Okay, here's a little glimpse into my life. I have had way too many animals die in my arms. I hate it. I can't become callous to it, and it rips me apart in ways that I can't describe. Stef and I owned ferrets before we owned the dog. The oldest of our three ferrets, Rikki, died without notice; he was old and slept a lot, and we found him dead one day. The middle one, Bear, died suddenly. We came home one evening to find him in distress in his cage, half hanging out of his hammock. I scooped him up to hold, comfort and assess him while Stef called the vet. He was having trouble breathing and was stiff. I warmed him and pet him until he rasped, writhed wretchedly in my grip (whatever was happening, it was clearly painful) and then went limp. That was it. He was dead just like that. I could feel the tension leave his body, a chilling and terrible sensation.

Now, there I was about to put this little dog, barely 24 hours old, down. We said our goodbyes to him, and I held him in my jacket for the drive to the vet, the last small comfort I could give him. For no describable reason, I opted to be present and hold Red for the euthanasia. It didn't seem to be painful but it wasn't quick. Newborn puppies are surprisingly resilient. I held him until the nurse confirmed that there was no heartbeat, then drove solemnly home. It wasn't as bad as Bear had been, and I suppose in a way it was merciful, but it left me melancholy and unsettled.

Things perk up a bit here. Three puppies can make a lot of ruckus, especially with a couple little kids to chase and wrestle. The two red merle's had been male and had been deformed. The remaining tri's and the blue were female, and we surmised that maybe something genetic had happened, which the breeder vehemently denied. We had named each puppy according to a physical characteristic, Blue for the blue merls, Ring for the tri with a white ring around her neck and Spot for the tri with the spot of white on the back of its neck. Eventually my girls decided that our puppy, the blue, would be named Cutie Pie (Pie for short.) The other two would be named by their respective owners. The breeder opted to let us sell both tri's in light of the problems we had had so far, of which we were grateful. As it is we might break even by selling the two of them. The puppies grew, my allergies went nuts, Stef was ecstatic about having her blue, and the girls just loved having puppies in the house.

Now comes the disaster. I'm warning you in advance. About 8 weeks after their birth, the puppies were exactly what puppies should be. Not "cuddle in your cupped hand" newborn puppies, but playful, jumping puppies. Fun puppies. Loud puppies. Stef and I were sitting at the kitchen table one Friday morning while the girls played with all three puppies in the living room. Stef turned toward the living room (which was blocked from my view) and said, "Mike, I think there's something wrong with Pie." I assumed that Pie was walking funny or some such, maybe after one of the kids had stepped on her foot. "Mike, there's something wrong! Oh, no! I think she's choking!" Stef raced into the living room, and I followed.

I'm getting nauseous writing this.

When I came around the corner, Stef was holding Pie and trying to figure out what to do with her. She was trying clumsily to perform mouth-to-snout ressusitation. At this point, I said something that haunts me. I just didn't understand why she would be doing that if the dog was choking. "Wrong way, darling," I sneered at her. My own voice cuts at me now. Stef was running out of composure now, and gave Pie to me. She was unconscious, but there was life in her. After feeling Bear die like I did, I was sure of it. I started abdominal compressions, like a dog version of the heimlich maneuver. I was sure it would work. When she became awkward to hold and compress I laid her down on the wood floor to try, but she didn't lay flat enough. I picked her up again, cradling her in my left arm and compressing with my right hand. When she didn't respond in any way, I pushed harder. I had no idea how hard to push.

Blood and foam poured from her mouth. I froze. She was dead.

Stef bursts back into the room, having gotten her car keys. "Give her to me," she sobbed frantically.
"I don't know what happened," I answered. I was panicked and tearful.
"Just give her to me!" she yelled, grabbed Pie and was out the door. She took off in my truck.

I went back to my bedroom and sat down. I was covered in blood. I was in shock. Did I rupture her internal organs? I was sure she was dead. Sure of it. My five year old (at the time) Sarah came and sat down next to me. "Daddy, did Pie die?"
"Yes, sweetie. I'm pretty sure she did."
"I don't want her to die," she said, and then we're both crying and holding each other. After a minute, Sarah looks up.
"Daddy, can we pray?" she asks. We pray together, for Stef, for us, for things we can't even name.

When Stef came back in the door, speckled in blood, she was as lost as I had ever seen her. She was still in her pajamas. I tried to hug her at the door. She just wanted to go back to the bedroom. When we got there, I applied what Sarah had brought to me. "Pray, Stef," I prompted her. Her voice was muffled and soft.
"No, I don't really want...." she trailed off.
"Pray. You need to pray" I begged her.
Stefanie fell to her knees, and cried to her Father, "WHY?" She shook with sobs. "Why? She was so pretty. She was so...." I held her for a while, sitting on the floor with her.

Much later, she told me that making her pray there was the best thing that could have happened. If she hadn't done it then it would have been a long time before she would have come to grips with it.

Unfortunately I didn't learn the lesson that quickly. I held a lasting resentment. For months I questioned God about His part in the matter. Why, indeed? Can't the creator of the universe, in control of everything, manage to let my wife have her puppy? The one thing she had desired for so long? I was angry and could not understand why God would deny her such a seemingly simple happiness. The resentment stagnated in me, until I wasn't sure why we should care about anything around us. If God, in his Perfect Plan, could just sweep anything we love away, no matter how simple or epic the act, then why care about anything? If everything moves according to His inscrutable whim, why endeavor to change anything? Months pass.

Here is one of those moments where you don't see an instant solution, but it occurs to you quite suddenly that things are already fixed. I was mad at God, pure and simple, for what He did to Stef. I simmered in me, but never felt like a pressure cooker, or whatever cooking comparison you wish to use. One day, though, it just suddenly occured to me that everything was fine. That's it. That simple. Everything is fine. Sounds dumb, doesn't it? It was like God had written me a note and stuck it to the fridge that said, "See? I told you it would be fine." Despite my childish tantrums, God was in control of the whole thing, and although I raged at Him for His choices in the matter, in the end everything turned out fine. There was no heavenly fanfare of "Incoming Divine Message!" or other pomp. Just a quiet, calm reassurance that when I was ready to stop being angry He was ready for me to come back. I came back.

We ended up keeping Spot. The namesake spot on her back has disappeared into her black fur, but you can see it if you dig around on the back of her neck. It's her secret spot. We renamed her Lovey, partially after the heart shape on her chest, partially after the Gilligan's Island character with whom we share a last name. A family from the bible study Stef attends adopted Ring, naming her Reilly. They are very happy with her.

This is the story that kept me from blogging for a long time. On my home site, with its kludgy little posting engine, I had created an "I don't like puppies" post. After the disaster I just couldn't write about it. I was still angry and writing reminded me of it. I was prompted to write this by a friend, and I'm glad I did. The lesson I take out of it is to learn that God is in control for the better, not as an indifferent application of power. I'm not sure I would have learned that without a much harsher lesson than I got.

Kudos to you

You may consider yourself morally superior for having found my blog, more so if you appreciate it or get the little references that seem to pepper my everyday speech.

So why hakoMike? Originally, when choosing a name for a business, I chose "Hako Software" based on my study of Japanese language. Hako means "box" in Japanese, and one of the phrases that gained infamy in Japanese class was "hako no naka ni neko ga imasu." In the box is a cat(s). I just thought "box" was so evocative for the possibilities. What could go in a box? Anything. Maybe even other boxes. It doesn't seem quite as inspired now, but what ever does?

More recently I found that in Swahili hako means "absent" which is much closer to reality.