Saturday, December 22, 2007

Apparently I'm still alive!

First off, before I go and talk about myself, I'd like to say Welcome Home, Eric Volz. I can't imagine what the past year has been like for you, but you've had a lot of people praying for you. Your safe return is a huge relief, even for those who have never met you.

I just looked at my last post and realized that my "haven't posted in a while" post was more than a month ago!

Here, look at the pretty picture:

I think it shows a bit of improvement over the same model done in a different scheme about 8 months ago.

For some reason I feel like my pictures are looking better. Don't ask why... I don't know.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Video Interlude

I know I haven't updated in (quite) a while. I've been painting like mad, working like a dog and running around like, umm... a mad dog, I suppose.

Here is something to calm you down. It's from a few years ago, so the animation is rather dated. The story in the video is good if you have the patience to watch the whole thing.

The Wall-E trailer reminded me of this.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hooray for Tim Lison

I met Tim Lison for the first time yesterday. If you don't know who he is, check out his award winning painting here. It's pretty phenomenal. Anyway, Tim was one of the judges in Chicago so I got a chance to get feedback from him on what went right/wrong with my giant. It's currently in the display case at the store, so Tim was able to talk very specifically about the model. Some parts of it the judges really liked but it was the little bits that were a little messy that cost me the bronze. The arm bands were one of the things he pointed out. (I struggled for ages with the gaps in the model right at the arm bands. It's no surprise that they were a limiting factor.) Tim was very encouraging and told me that if I could apply that microscopic attention to detail to fix the little things that weren't quite right then I would be bringing trophies home without question. I'm going back over to the store about 6:30 tonight and Tim said he would show me some techniques for metallic gold, a color with which I struggle. I've got a Harlequin with me to try his technique on, so hopefully I'll be able to raise the bar on these guys. I've been using a lot of gold on the shoulder pads, backpacks and weapons so I can't wait to see his techniques.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Not Surprised

Apparently Mythic Entertainment is shutting down the beta test of Warhammer Online. This post from developer Mark Jacobs explains a little of what is/isn't at the root cause.

I like computer games. No, really. I loved WoW. Like all Blizzard games, it hit the sweet spot with its intuitive interface and dramatic presentation. I played a lot of WoW. Not as much as my friends did, but a lot. I also like Warhammer, not only the tactical game or the miniatures but the overall setting and fluff. Therefore, a well done computer game set in the world of Warhammer would be a good thing for me.

That said, the demo of the massively multiplayer game "Warhammer: Age of Reckoning" (aka WAR) at Games Day was less than exciting for me. I saw people queuing up for it, and watched a bit of it on the big screen they had, but was for the most part uninspired. It looked like a WoW clone. Yippee. All intention I had of buying it evaporated that day. Now that the beta has been suspended, I am pleased to see that one of the things they are going to be doing is making WAR less like WoW. With more than 8 million subscribers WoW is a huge money maker, and I'm sure the temptation (or even pressure) to copy the interface and gameplay as exactly as possible would be intense. It makes me very happy to hear that they are giving WAR its own identity. Cautious optimism is back. Don't disappoint me, Mythic.

Oh, and there better be some pretty fantastic looking Skaven.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Grrr, I want to paint, not photograph!

I am sick of this. Are the photos good enough at this point? Will they ever be? I just want them to have the same general level as everyone else... if my models look mediocre because they are painted that way, then so be it. Trying to show people minis with poor photographs is like running the 100m dash wearing flip-flops. Hopefully I'm at "Wal-Mart brand tennis shoes" at this point.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Good + 2.1Mpixel = Mediocre

I finally decided to post the Skaven Giant on CMON. Is the photo great? Not so much. Is he doing well in the voting? Meh.

A Better Photo

I like this photo better, so I added it to the auction. Hopefully bidders will like it better too.

Horrifically busy at work and home lately. I've barely touched a brush since finishing Alastriel here. I'm eager to get back to Eldar, especially since I found my scan of the Saim Hann autrarch from the new codex, so now I can reproduce that freehand work.

CMON repost link

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Before You Say "Good Enough"

I'm frustrated with photography. I can't seem to take a picture that looks like my subject, which inevitably is something I've painted. The photos just don't look like the mini. Smooth transitions in daylight become stripes in photographs. I find seeming imperfections in the photograph, then can't find them on the model.

Anyway, last night I'm taking pictures of Alastriel and finally just give up and say "good enough." I submit the ebay auction and get ready to clean up for the night. That's when I realized that one of my lamps wasn't on. Take a look at the photos. They are all lit from the right. My powers of observation just weren't on last night. I'll probably retake photos tonight, and eat the $.95 auction fee to repost the auction with the new pictures if they look better.

Another option... get one of my mini painting associates to take a picture of one of my models to see if they look just as poor. My giant from Chicago games day looks really good in the pictures on the GW site, and to my eyes it isn't remarkably better than a lot of these minis that I'm getting low-6's on.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

WTS elf mage PST

Ah, good old Alastriel.

I'll paint her again in a year or two to see how much better she looks.

For now, this one's on the auction block.

eBay Link

Paint, paint, paint. This gave me my fantasy fix. Now, on to more 40k!

Double Goodness

My new computer arrived at work today! Two 19" LCD monitors! Once I got both monitors up and running (with my old system) I was quite pleased. A coworker asked me how they were working out. "Fine ham abounds," I answered. Wow. That's a "Kids in the Hall" drop from years ago. It surprised even me.

I am featured in "Focus EMU" this week, the online newsletter for faculty and staff, for my miniature painting. Other than a bit of exaggeration about my competition performance it is quite good. (For the record, I placed fourth in my category, not fourth overall. )
Link link!

Coming Right Along

I painted quite a bit this weekend. It feels good to be on a roll.

From the WIP photos last post, it should be fairly clear that I spent a little more time on Alastriel than on the Autrarch. He's pretty much done, and I've started his back banner, so I'm feeling pretty good about it. The turquoise and pink harlequin is almost done, but she was up on a shelf when I took pictures and didn't feel like going to get her.

I'm not really sure what to do with Alastriel's base. I wanted a simple platform with a step leading up to it, but I'm not really sure what to do beyond that. Some vines/moss on the platform? The platform is a little rough, so I'd like to obscure it a little. Hmmm.

Water effect tests have all been pretty resounding failures. The only thing I really got out of it was "Fabri-tac", which cures with such a huge number of bubbles (they form during curing!) that it would make a wonderful boiling cauldron effect.

Still thinking about Orks. I passed up an eBay lot that was going for about 1/3 retail cost for a pretty good sized Ork mob, so I'm not completely gone. I did order the Mad Dok figure from GW direct, since it's one of the models that is going away when their direct order changes significantly on November 1.

Edit: Wow, Alastriel looks chunky and lacking contrast in that photo. Maybe the Ott light isn't so hot for snapshots.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Two Nights in a Row?!?

Well this is an unlikely post. I not only took some WIP shots, but I worked on three separate miniatures tonight. The Autrarch is nearly complete, with the freehand on his back and the gemification of the gems as the only notable things left. The next Harlequin is... well... I haven't decided yet. Between pink, blue, black and bone I'm not sure even who she thinks she's supposed to be. Rounding out the group is the ever popular Alastriel, for a direct to eBay mini. I just wanted some fantasy stuff to paint after focusing on 40k so much.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quick WIP Shot!

I'm trying to get into the habit of taking more WIP shots, so here's one from tonight's fun.

I'm not sure if the turquoise shirt and the blue jacket are too close. I was trying for a color scheme based on blues and greens, but it might end up with just too little contrast. Maybe if I make the jacket liner black. Hmm.....

Water Effect Test

I'm testing a two part water effect that Stef bought for me to see if it will be good for the Samurai Rhino's base. I've decided to track the test for the good of the CMON community, but I figure I'll mention it here too.

The product is "Quick Water" made by "Garden Splendor."

I suppose more WIP shots of minis while I had the camera out would have been nice. I wish I would have thought of that earlier. Whoops.

Where Did That Camera Go Again?

Anyone who comes here to see my painting will surely be frustrated by the lack of WIP photos nowadays. I seemed able to post them quite regularly in the past. One of the main barriers is the digital camera itself. I have to 1) find it, then 2) take a reasonable picture, and finally 3) take the memory card over to my computer and upload the photo. The first one can be challenging, the second one infuriating, and the third one merely tedious. It often leads to me packing up and going to bed without taking any photos whatsoever.

The Harlequins continue. It's interesting that these tiny little models are mostly done in patterns, since it is less space to freehand than most of the larger models that have solid colors. I'm getting to like them quite a bit. I'd like to make the real showpiece of the unit the Shadowseer, so he'll be getting a bit of extra attention. The Death Jesters are cool, but tend to get monochromatic paint jobs of black and white. I'll have to do some creative freehanding on the back of their long coats to match the level of the others.

I've also been working on the second Autrarch from that Eldar army box. My friend (and painting mentor) Mark showed me a technique that involves priming white, then painting straight ink onto the model before the base coat. It works really well for Ultramarines, the blue ink undercoat giving them a very vivid blue when you're done painting the ultramarines blue over it. The Autrarch has a coat of red ink now, and I'm hoping that will make the blood red that will go over it much more even and vivid.

Samurai Rhino Gen is almost done. I'm almost done with model itself, leaving only some of the basing elements to paint and the water effect to apply. I tried a little of the 2-part water effect I have at home, and I wasn't too thrilled with the result. After two days it still felt tacky, which I'm not particularly fond of. Maybe I didn't mix the two ingredients in the right proportion. I've also considered just using 2-part epoxy adhesive, but I'm afraid it might change color while curing. I currently have test setups of "Tacky Glue Quick Dry" and Beacon Adhesives "Fabri-Tac" adhesive drying on a shelf. Fabri-Tac is an acetone based adhesive that is clear, so I'm curious to see how it dries. I've used it to glue basing material, and it tends to leave long strings while you work with it, much like hot glue does.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

At Least They're Consistent

One fact about little girls that you may not know... if there are dolls about, especially Barbies, the dolls are probably naked. We have bin after bin of Barbies in various states of undress.

Today I logged into World of Warcraft for no real reason. The kids play it (with the chat disabled) and I know that at one point Sarah had sold all her characters clothing and was running around in her underwear. I was chiding her about it. When I looked at the server that the girls play on I was a bit surprised to find that all of the character they have created were stripped down to their undies. They dutifully carried sword, shield and staff but apparently pants were too cumbersome.

Monday, September 24, 2007

White Dwarf.... probably not

White Dwarf 333 is out, and it has great coverage of Baltimore 2007 Games Day. All the trophy winners were pictured, but none of the honorable mentions. Next month will probably have Chicago coverage, and although I was desperately hoping that my giant would appear in White Dwarf, I have come to accept that it won't.

Next year I fully intend to come home with a trophy, so I'm sure to get a photo in White Dwarf at that point. Ambitions? Definitely. Overconfident? Perhaps. I've barely broken 7 on my best CMON entries, but that 8 is coming.... one day.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Evidence of Progress

I continue to paint! I present to you the evidence!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"The Shakes"

I have endeavored to resume lunch-time painting.

The plan is to paint things for local people (coworkers and friends) during the 30-45 minutes or so that I have to paint, or maybe for myself if I'm feeling selfish. The samurai rhino I mentioned is one of these. The Dwarfs for Bill and Skorne for Brian are also in this category.

Problem: for the last two days I've been shaking so bad at lunch that I can't paint with any level of accuracy. I don't have this problem at night, so I'm thinking it might be a lack of sugar. The doctor had warned me of the symptoms of low sugar (which my recent blood work and diet indicated might be an issue) and shaking was one of them. Maybe I need to have a little pre-lunch snack, some raisins or something, an hour before lunch. It's frustrating to sit down to paint and then not be able to.

Encroaching Weakness

For the first time ever, I am finding myself seriously drawn to starting a new army, in this case 40k Orks. I have toyed with the idea of starting a Hordes army or another Warmachine army. I have even considered starting another Warhammer Fantasy army. By far, this new pull toward 40k Orks is the strongest. The problems? #1: no money. at all. #2: I've never even played 40k! How can I be jonesing to switch 40k armies when I've never even played?!

So what about Orks attracts me? The craziness. It's what attracted me to Skaven originally. I just love the self-destructive mish-mash of Orks. The frustrating part is that it's another horde army, so creating a reasonable Ork force would require a ton of models. I should take a look and see how few models a 1500 point army could be... maybe an Orky Dreadnought or models with tricked out gear. I have to admit, I really want to paint them too.

Grrr. This hobby is harsh. Since my commission painting has become "second job" more than "hobby funding" it's been frustrating to be back at zero budget (nearly... painting expenses still have to come from commission fees.) On the plus side, I don't have a lot of time to paint my own stuff and I still own a lot of unpainted models, so I could theoretically go for an awfully long time without buying a new model for myself.

Side note: today is supposedly the 25th birthday of the smilie emoticon. :-)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

WIP Photos... for once

Hey, I found the digital camera! My photography still stinks out loud, but enjoy! Both miniatures are perched majestically on a jar of P3 "Heartfire" paint. The tasteful background is a Kroger brand coffee filter that I use to wick my brushes (another TAB Stuido tip.)

First up is an Eldar Harlequin, in all his deadly space clown glory. He looks pretty cool (in person anyway... roll eyes) but I just don't think he's tacky enough for a Harlequin. The next one will have to be over the top.

Next up we have the very beginning of a Skaven Lustrian Warlord, which will be one of my competition entries for next year. I really wanted the base to go up and forward, leaving room for detail in front of and below the warlord. This seems to work well.

Space Clowns and Rhinos and Rats! (oh my!)

I've been painting lately. Painting like mad. I'd love to show you a picture, but I can never seem to find the digital camera when I'm done at night.

Space Clowns: I've been working on Eldar Harlequins for a commission job. I tried the ubiquitous diamond pattern for the first time last night, and it seemed to turn out pretty good. My challenge will be to paint them garish enough.

Rhino: I tried the primer/Future mixture that Tracy from TAB Studio (aka Tab Stuido) recommended in her very cool video tutorial, and I love the finish it gave him. Now I need to paint him, paint the base and add the water effect. This is going to be so cool.

Rats: "Build unto me a base of ridiculous proportion!" commanded the Skaven Lustrian warlord. And so I did. This fellow will be my entry into the "Warhammer Single Figure" category at Games Day next year.

Speaking of Games Day, I think I'm going to try entering four categories. Warhammer single figure (the aforementioned rat), Warhammer large model (Ogre Tyrant), 40k unit (either an Ork Big Mek and Mekboy bodyguard or a Techmarine and servitors), and .... I'm still undecided on the fourth category. 40k single figure is tempting (maybe an Ork warboss or a converted Space Marine sergeant) but Warhammer unit interests me too (Skaven Night Runners or Goblin Squig Hoppers.) Even Lord of the Rings single figure is tempting. Given the number of figures I'll already have to paint for the models I've already decided on, Warhammer unit might be too many to realistically paint to competition quality. Then again, I did the giant in four weeks, and he included two extra figures perched on him. First things first: warhammer single, warhammer large model, 40k unit. Once those are done I'll see where the mood takes me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Soft Metal and Nightmare

Two things. I'll only need a sec.

#1: Lead is soft. I realized just how soft when I accidentally drilled through the foot of aforementioned Samurai Rhino. I have a certain ritualistic number of turns that I give the pin-vise when drilling holes for pinning, and far before reaching that number I had completely impaled his foot. Oops.

#2: Remember those nightmares of showing up for a final exam and not knowing anything about the class? I had the opposite of that one last night. When my alarm went off I hit snooze and went back to sleep, without really realizing it. I then dreamed that I dragged myself out of bed and struggled through getting ready for work. When the alarm went off again I had to deal with the realization that I still needed to get up, even though I felt like I had just gone through the whole ordeal. I hit snooze again, and the whole scene repeated itself! When snooze woke me again, I finally roused myself enough to turn off the alarm and get myself going. It wasn't quite as difficult dragging my carcass around the house as it had been in my two dreams, but it still felt like a drag. So that's a first for me... waking up from an unpleasant dream to a less pleasant reality.

Okay, I lied. One more thing. Maybe I didn't make the Journeyman Warcaster's picture small enough to be a good test, but she's getting savaged on CMON right now.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Basing a Samurai Rhino

About a year ago, a friend at work asked me to paint a mini for him, "Gen" from the comic Usagi Yojimbo. I'd heard of the comic, but didn't know anything about Gen, an anthropomorphic rhino. Up until today, he had been mounted on a 40x40mm GW base, awaiting his turn. Today, something snapped, and I decided to rebase him. I molded stones from green stuff and placed them on the base strategically, then molded a tiny turtle as well. I will use the masking tape method that Jeremie spoke of in his Games Day seminar to make a little river effect, with Gen running over the stones and the turtle submerged. It is the most unique base I've tried yet, and I hope it turns out. The mini is out of production and I want to do it justice. I also wouldn't mind getting a few mid-7's on CMON. Right now, I'm the self proclaimed "King of Mid-6."

I chose to upload the Journeyman Warcaster to CMON, altered as well as I could for presentation. As a psychological experiment, the pic is rather small (by my standards.) I know she'd get low scores if I posted her large, but I'm curious if people will vote higher for a smaller photo. I don't really have more photography opportunities, as the piece has already shipped to the owner.

EDIT: I realized that the jpg image I had submitted was badly marred with compression artifacts. I re-edited the photo, included a rear shot and resubmitted. The original version was at 5.9 with about 30 votes. I'm curious to see how the new one does, since it's 350 pixels wide (as opposed to 300), in better focus, and includes another view.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Struggles, Hopefully of the Temporary Variety

I struggle with not only digital photography, but the manipulation required to make it reasonably presentable online. I really liked the way this Cygnar Journeyman Warcaster turned out, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to do it any justice with a photo. I'll crack the code on it one day.

In other news, we're still not bug free. After treatment it takes a few days before you know if you got them all. It's very frustrating, and the psychosomatic itching is terrible.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bug Hunt

You haven't lived until the children of your neighborhood contract head lice. In terms of psychosomatic itching, it's much worse than finding fleas on a pet. In terms of actual treatment, it's long and arduous, especially for girls with thick hair.

They are so small that every untreated surface is suspect, every fabric item a potential carrier. I will never view a movie theater seat with the same reckless abandon. I constantly wonder how long it will be before my kids are re-infested, potentially as the little parasites make their way around the neighborhood again.

I suppose the challenge will be to avoid going all Monk about the whole thing. It really creeps me out though. Really.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Your Gastroenterologist called. Eat more.

Y'all sick of hearing about my health issues yet? Didn't think so!

Yesterday was my gastroenterology appointment, in which a nurse practitioner looked me over and explained the ramifications of my "fatty liver disease." The condition is fairly common, and the nurse explained that it was the third highest reason for people needing liver transplants, behind hepatitis and alcoholism induced cirrhosis. She was caught a bit flat footed when I asked her if she knew the proportions of the top three. Third place certainly sounds impressive, and certainly would be at, for instance, the Olympics. In terms of causation, it might mean that it is at the root 2% of all transplants, behind hepatitis at 61% and alcoholism at 36%. (Attention internet: the previous sentence was a hypothetical. I better not see someone actually using those statistics somewhere like they are facts. If you are going to spuriously collect fun facts from my blog, please use this one: By the year 2035, the only fuel our vehicles will require will be the bottled awesome of a battle between ninjas and Godzilla. On the moon.)

Anyway, back to the point. I got on a real scale at the gastroenterologist, which read 196. Okay, I had assumed it would be lower by now, but it probably only shows that my aunt and uncle's scale was reading a bit low. I received hearty congratulations from both the nurse practitioner and doctor for dropping the weight I have (24 lbs.) then received a warning from the nurse telling me that I could actually contribute to my fatty liver by eating so little. Whoops. She advised me, based on my height, to eat no fewer than 1500 calories a day. Considering that I had been aiming for 1000 to 1200 per day (with the occasional foray into slightly higher) I don't think I'll have much trouble doing 1500. In fact, it pretty much means I can eat exactly what I was eating plus a bowl of ice cream in the evening. Viva la gastroenterology!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Passionately, part 2

I've previously mentioned an old Atari 8-bit computer program that played a song called "Passionately." Friday I found a pristine copy of the disk image, complete with original author credits and correct lyrics.

Now my goal is to capture it for submission to youtube. The only copy of Passionately there currently is a copy in which someone had hacked the Atari binary to change some of the lyrics to profanity and change the author credit. A coworker has a license for a video capture program called.... hmm, I can't remember the name right now. He uses it to capture WoW video. Anyway I tried a little on Friday to capture it, but the emulator always stutters at some point and ruins the recording. I've deleted a lot of crap from my hard drive and defragged in the hopes that writing the lengthy AVI file to a bunch of different areas of the hard drive is what was causing the stutter. In any case, we should have a new, perfect copy of Passionately to see soon. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 03, 2007

What? A Painting Post?!?

Here is my latest WIP, a Cygnar Journeyman Warcaster pictured in front of my glass of ice water. There's something about the way the Ott light and my camera interact that makes the metallics look really chunky. I'm using the fallback position of all mini-painters on this one: it looks better in person.

I've had a lot of problems with momentum lately, feeling like I just can't get anything done. I don't know if I can call it painters' block since it's more a function of having the energy to get started than of not knowing where to go. Getting this mini to the state she is in a few days has helped restore my spirit. I also finished and delivered a Reaper Shadow Dragon that a family friend wanted to give to her father for his birthday. Apparently he was quite pleased.

After this figure I'm going to try very hard to get back on my 5 night schedule, painting certain types of work on certain nights and devoting an entire night per week to either my own painting or perhaps playing. I have a lot of backlog and I need to get disciplined if I'm going to start shipping product again.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Executive Summary

Some of my coworkers are big fans of I'm not.

For those of you who might consider wading through the endless tirade of pompous naivety there, might I offer this succinct alternative.

That's pretty much all you need to know.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Fifteen Minutes

Apparently my little hobby is unique enough that the little Staff/Faculty newspaper here at EMU is running a story on me. I had a lengthy interview with someone doing an internship there yesterday afternoon, and I still need to meet with the university photographer so he can take a picture of me and my work.

The fact that I didn't actually win anything in Chicago didn't seem to phase them.

In other news, Brian and I played Warmachine last night after many months of hiatus. I was over at his place at almost exactly 7:00 PM, and left his place at 1:45 AM. Yikes, am I tired right now. Of course his Khador won against my Menites in the 750 point game, but it was the closest to beating him that I have come in a year. (Did I not mention previously that I stink at these games? I'm pretty sure I did.) The highlight of the game for me was when, after his Man o' War Drakhun (basically a huge armored guy on a huge armored horse) charged in and killed my warcaster (The Harbinger of Menoth) I decided to charge him with the 4 model choir that was hanging out near her before her demise. "The choir are enraged that you killed their beloved Harbinger, and they charge you," I said. Brian looked at me in disbelief. When the dice had stopped, the lowly choir had killed the elite Drakhun. I will never again underestimate the power of the choir or the fun of inventing narrative as you play tactical games. I guess you come up with meta games like that when you lose every stinking time. It's still fun.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Progressive to Me: Get Lost

We've had Progressive Auto Insurance for years now, but I'm a little ticked with them right now. Three years ago, when our van was almost exactly three years old, Stef got in a little accident, and the hood of the van was replaced. Over the course of the next three years, the hood has been very susceptible to stone chips, and has been developing large, deep gaps in the paint, all the way down to the metal. Our local Progressive rep in Livonia, Jason, asserts that this is normal wear and tear for a hood. I am skeptical. Never have a I seen long cracks in the paint emanating from the spot of a stone chip, or from the front corners of a hood. The old hood looked really good right up until the accident, and I would think the new hood would look pretty much the same at this point. Nope, according to them this series of deep cracks is perfectly normal, despite the fact that it occurs nowhere else on the vehicle, or for that matter on any vehicle I have ever owned.

At this point Progressive has used up my customer loyalty. If I can find cheaper insurance elsewhere I'm jumping ship. I pay for insurance so that I can get my car fixed correctly when something happens, not poorly fixed and then discarded. Add to this the fact that the van's CD player wouldn't work after the accident and they flatly refused to fix it, and you'll see why I'm at the end of my patience. I'm paying for a service and I'm not getting the service. Bye bye, Progressive Auto Insurance.

Wait a Minute....

Today The Morning Show had a segment on college murder cover-ups. I was not surprised to hear them talk about EMU's recent tragedy and the administrative debacle surrounding it, but what did surprise me was something said by Robert Dickinson, the father of slain student Laura. He recounted gathering the family and driving to EMU after hearing the news of his daughter's death. He then said he was told by the Washtenaw County Medical Examiner that there was no indication of foul play. Not an EMU source, but a Washtenaw County source, the same source that a report on the incident would claim as having reported to EMU sources that there was potential foul play. So now I'm at a loss of whom to believe. It occurs to me that if the medical examiner had told Robert Dickinson that there was no foul play, couldn't he also have told EMU authorities the same? I mean, isn't that the medical examiner's job to make those kinds of determinations? I know EMU has taken a lot of flak for not informing the campus of what happened, but for the first time I'm starting to wonder if it was the medical examiner who was the source of the controversy. I don't think anyone at EMU can realistically be expected to do the job of the medical examiner, and whether or not the situation looked like foul play to the untrained eye isn't the same as an official finding of foul play.

Looks like there's more of this story yet to unfold.

EDIT: Contrast this to the story from WZZM where Robert Dickinson says "We were told the night they found Laura that there was no foul play. Even when the medical examiner's report said foul-play suspected." All this time I had assumed the we were told meant we were told by EMU, when I now see that it might possibly mean we were told by the medical examiner.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Saturday I went to a family reunion for my dad's side of the tree. While there I noticed a large scale under the claw-footed tub, and realized that this was my first real opportunity to weigh myself since beginning my diet on July 23. I had originally planned on waiting until my next appointment with my regular doctor (September 5) to find out my progress, and for a minute or so I debated whether to just wait or go ahead and step on the scale. In the end, instant gratification won out and I stepped onto the scale .... 195! I had lost 25 lbs. in the past month! I was elated.

I have now set my final goal at 170, a full 50 lbs. less than I weighed in July. I'm hoping that another 2-3 months will get me there. The gratifying part is that it's working, and I think there are a few keys to my success so far. It would probably be more appropriate to talk about this after I had reached (and maintained) my eventual goal, but I feel like blabbing now.

Portion Control. The whole key for me has been a change in attitude toward what a reasonable meal quantity consists of. Once you get yourself accustomed to the amount of food that comprises 1000-1200 calories a day, 2000 calories in a day feels like a gi-normous binge in sheer volume. Getting used to stopping at the point where I would be just getting started previously took an act of will. I don't know if it's physical or psychological, but I don't really have the shut off when it comes to food. I could/can eat until I'm physically uncomfortable and still want to eat more. It's especially difficult in fast food places where the meals consist of a number of small, inexpensive items. Taco Bell is the primary example of this. I order way too much food, then eat all of it. Well, I used to anyway. Nowadays I can safely get one or two small items (after carefully consulting the nutrition guide) that still leave enough room in my remaining calorie allowance for a reasonable dinner.

Availability. As odd as it sounds, having predictable food options easily available to me has helped tremendously. I know that for lunch I'm going to get a Wendy's small chili, and it will be 220 calories. Every now and again, when I feel especially hungry at lunch, I supplement with a side salad, adding another 40-50 calories. It appeals to my frugality (at $1.26 it's the cheapest lunch this side of ramen) and leaves me enough calories to eat whatever I cook for dinner. If I had to pack a lunch I know I would likely pack (and eat) too much food, and the calorie count would be harder to control.

Accountability. I have told enough people about what I am doing that I cannot reasonably deviate from it without being confronted about my excess. At home it's easier to munch and nibble without really keeping track of what I'm eating, and that can lead to uncontrolled intake if I'm not especially careful. It is also incumbent on me to produce the results my doctor has recommended, which helps with the delayed gratification aspect.

Perspective. While at family camp, I decided to make the adult banquet dinner on Friday night a "Diet Free Zone" and eat whatever I wanted. For two days I anticipated how great everything would taste, and how good it would feel to each a steak and a baked potato, and even a dessert! In the end I was disappointed, not because the food was bad but because my memory of food was so much better. I was full after a fairly modest amount eaten, and the taste just wasn't as extraordinary as I was expecting. I had been initially afraid that any return to rich foods would made continuation of my diet nearly impossible, but that has not been the case. I have since afforded myself very small, occasional portions of ice cream or popcorn, keeping rigorous track of portion and calorie count of course, since then. I love food, but doesn't mean I'll enjoy it more if I eat a lot of it. I'm also getting more concerned about my health (gasp! a nearly 40-year old who suddenly is concerned about his health! Unprecedented!) and would like to feel good as I continue to age.

Two things that have helped a great deal are my brother's gastric bypass surgery and my friend Bill's "popcorn diet" concept. The popcorn diet is just a psychology trick. Bill really likes popcorn, so he tells himself, "If I eat a small dinner I can have popcorn later!" Typically, though, the popcorn gets forgotten as the evening continues. This attitude of "not forbidden, just not a high priority" has helped me control dinner time intake. I had a chance to spend a few meals around my brother after his surgery, and was amazed at how small the portions were that he could comfortably eat. That, in essence, was the bulk of how the surgery worked for him. He was stuffed to the point of feeling sick after only a few tablespoons of food, so his caloric intake was dramatically reduced. Maybe there's more to it than that, but it seemed that simple to me. I thought, "Well, I can just eat meals like a gastric bypass patient does, and that will achieve the same effect without going under the knife." I haven't gone to quite the same dramatic portion changes, and I have been wary about entering starvation mode, but the premise seems to have been correct.

Anyway, I'll look forward to a big, fat load of ridicule if I falter from my goals now that I've made my methods transparent.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Less vs. Fewer

Okay, people. I'm tired of this. You can talk about how much of something there is, or you can talk about how many of something there are, but you can't mix the terms.

Less refers to a decrease (either qualitative or quantitative) of a singular collective. I feel less happy. There is less pollution. I ate less than normal.

Fewer refers to a decrease in the quantifiable members of a set. We have fewer employees. I ate fewer calories than normal. I have received fewer emails since the server crashed.

I just sat through a two hour meeting to which the words whom and fewer were apparently not invited. I really like this language, and while I may not always be its best advocate I certainly find some of its misuses to be grating.

Back to Work!

We're back! It was great! Etc, etc...

I moved offices Friday before going on vacation, in anticipation of our team (web) switching offices with the DBA team. Now that switch has been put on hold, so I'm stranded with the DBA's for a while. They comprise a number of my regular friends here, but I still feel isolated from my team.

Painting has re-commenced! Man, I need to make this more of a painting blog and less of a diary.

Weight loss! I have no idea how much I weigh now, but I do weigh less. Taking various people's advice into consideration, I did a little research on what "starvation mode" typically comprises, and am well above the accepted starvation range at 1000-1200 calories per day. Again, I can't really quantify how much I have lost but I'm clearly losing it, as evidenced by belt notch utilization. I'd like to say I feel better, but my recently discovered enlarged spleen is just a bit uncomfortable (rather like having a side-stitch most of the time.) I plan on getting a weight reading on 9/5 when I return to the doctor, and not before then.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Family Camp Time Again

Well, we're off to family camp tomorrow. I plan on taking my paints, just like last year, but I don't know if I'll get to use them.

Things I like about family camp:
  • 24 hour coffee
  • no dogs
  • I don't have to cook
  • in-depth bible study
  • no dogs
The one thing I just can't seem to do at family camp is relax. A lot of the things that people like to do to relax just end up stressing me out.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Phantom Itch

I had a little dentistry done today, namely a crown and a filling replacement. The teeth in question were adjacent to each other, so the amount of anesthesia used was enough to make half my face numb for six hours. The problem came about 6:00 PM, when I experienced an itch on my lip. I went to scratch, but the spot where I thought the itch was located was still numb. I could have scratched until I bled and I wouldn't have felt a thing! It was, without exception, the most frustrating itch I have ever experienced. I could touch the very spot of the itch, and yet I couldn't scratch it.

Posthumous Advice

A manager got laid off here last week. Today, the department secretary and the person who acts as office manager were cleaning out her office as I walked by. At least a year before her departure, on a bulletin board next to the door, the ex-occupant of the office had posted a quote.
It is wise to keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.
--Roger Babson
I'm sure that this seems wise as long as you are not suffering that sort of failure in this sort of economy. By this economy, I mean Michigan. It's bad here. It also might be unfair to brand it as failure, since it was an economically driven layoff. I'm sure it feels like failure. It would to me.

"Medical Week" continues for me. Yesterday I got fitted with an "event monitor" that I will be using to record unusual cardiac activity over the next 30 days. Honestly, I think my doctor was a bit alarmist setting me up with this thing. The sorts of issues I was having were tied inexorably to eating, and my current diet has kept the issues at bay for the past three weeks. I'm still experiencing the heartbeat increase, but the forceful pounding I was feeling is pretty much gone. It irritates me just a tad that I'm going to have to wear electrodes during the week we are at family camp. That's what I get for complaining, I suppose.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Hopefully GW won't crush me for linking an image from their site.

My giant is posted on the GW website! It's on the Chicago Games Day 2007 coverage page, in "Honorable Mentions Page 2."

So check it out and say, "Hey! I know the guy who painted that!"

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Bear with my while I pace the floor awaiting the GW news site to be updated with more photos. I desperately want to see my giant there, and nearly a week after games day the irrational impatience is killing me. It's uncharacteristic of me, or at least I would like to think it is. It takes time to prepare photos for web display, and there were an awful lot of great models that got photographed.

Please enjoy the pretty flowers while we wait.

Off topic, my "get less fat" crusade has been going quite well. I've managed to stay at about 1000 calories a day and maintain daily brisk walks without a significant amount of hunger or regret. When I think about all the food I have decided not to eat in the past 11 days it gives me a startling realization of how many calories I was actually taking in per day. I wonder if there is a maximum caloric absorption limit, after which any potential calories you have ingested just pass through untouched. That theory is the only dubious rationale I can imagine to explain why I don't weigh 500 lbs. Family Camp is Aug. 11-19, and eating small portions when I have a buffet available three meals a day will be a challenge. Hopefully Stef can give me a little willpower nudge if needed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Notes from Jeremie Bonamant Teboul Seminar

Getting the chance to listen to Jeremie talk for 2+ hours about his amazing painting was a privilege, and was the highlight of Games Day for me (yes, even above getting honorable mention. Did I mention I got honorable mention? I'm pretty sure I did.) What follows are the notes I took during the seminar. Some of it is well known technique, but when he mentioned it I decided to write it down for re-emphasis. During the seminar, Jeremie repeatedly stressed that his methods were not "universal truths" for painting, but were only his personal techniques.
  • After white primer coat, apply 4-5 base coats for color consistency. Paint should be about 6-7:1 diluted.
  • Applying paint to change color of the paint underneath is a glaze; to change lighting is a wash.
  • Alternate brush stroke direction between coats to minimize brush marks.
  • Paint transitions in color by applying less pressure with the brush during the stroke. (Practice for consistency)
  • The same brush can be used for the entire model, with different pressure used to create different line thicknesses. He typically uses a 1 or 0 brush, Rafael or W&N Series 7.
  • Paint can be pushed as well as pulled; use decreasing pressure as you move away from the paint source.
  • Remember: complex processes can always be broken down in to a series of small, simple processes. Don't be intimidated.
  • When sculpting, use aluminum foil as filler over your armature. It's cheaper than putty.
  • For a sculpting tool, use a "color shaper" (basically a brush with a rubber tip.)
  • Take a picture of a live model in the same pose you want to sculpt, for reference and correct anatomy.
  • woods chips, cut and connected with milliput, make great basing.
  • for dirt on basing, create a layer of milliput, then press a textured object into the milliput and let harden. (alternative to flocking.)
  • For moss, glue the protective foam from blister packs to model, then rip away. A small amount of foam will remain stuck to the glue.
  • For water effects, use a 2-part epoxy. The label of the product will have instructions on how to color.
  • For glossy objects, mix gloss varnish right into the paint. It adds depth and volume.
  • Owl pellets are a good source for small bones for basing (yuck!?!?!!?!?)
  • Style item: repeat color between the base and the model, for overall theming.
  • For title plaques, print a negative on transparency and then paint the backside with gold paint.
  • Do not just highlight edges. For true zenithal lighting, always highlight surfaces perpendicular to the light source. Surfaces parallel to the light source should receive no blending at all.
  • Zenithal lighting splits planes of light and shadow.
  • Focus more highlighting on the parts of the model that you are attempting to accentuate.
  • For edge lining, highlighting a portion of the edge more than the rest works more dramatically.
  • since metallics reflect things around them, highlights should appear all around them.
  • effective metal can be produced with simply "boltgun" and selectively applied black washes
  • Do not use metallics in shadowed areas. The metal flakes will reflect light and ruin the shadow effect.
  • For scratches, prime white, dab with masking fluid, spray white again, wash brown, then remove masking fluid with cloth. (I think I left out a step in my notes... maybe putting the scratch color on before the masking fluid?)
  • For dust, dab model with foam from blister pack (just a tiny amount of paint, like dry brushing)
  • On gems, do not make a strong line on the bottom of the gem. Small effects help, like tiny white specks on the top.
  • Contrast warm to cold - put some yellow in the highlights and blue/purple in the shadows
And then some things I didn't write down at the time, but can remember.\
  • To "box in" water effects, use masking tape. Once the water effect (epoxy) has cured, the masking tape pulls away easily.
  • Freehand work is seldom precise enough to start. Draw the initial lines, then edge them with background color to make them thin and sharp.
  • Seed pods from tree (silver birch?) make great basing leaves.
I was talking to Marc at the GW store about all this, and mentioned how inspired I was. He said, "Yeah, I was too the first time." Apparently his inability to apply techniques he had witnessed from better painters was frustrating for him. I will not be discouraged!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Honorable Mention!

I didn't just make first cut, but honorable mention! A friend witnessed the judging, and reported that both the winner of the bronze and my model were on the "winners" shelf turned backwards for some time before mine was placed back on the "first cut" shelf, so I'm assuming that means I was even considered for the bronze! I stood back and watched the GW staff photograph my giant along with the winners, which presumably mean that he may be shown on the website, or even in White Dwarf! I will dutifully report here (and presumably brag on the CMON and UE forums.)

Man, I have got to photograph this thing....

The best part, besides seeing all the amazing painted models, was Jeremie Bonamant
's amazing painting seminar. I am inspired.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Well, I'm Off

Next stop: Chicago

The giant is complete... I'm hoping I can resist fiddling with him for the next couple hours. He turned out good, but once assembled and based the overall visual impact wasn't greater than the sum of the parts. I was a little disappointed by that.

Well, I've said it from day 1: may goal is to make first cut!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What a Difference Three Days Makes

72 little hours. No, I won't sing (although it is a great song.)

On my doctors "advice" I have discontinued the use of Sudafed / sinus pills (either phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine), have reduced my caffeine intake and have tried to limit use of my Albuterol inhaler. The result? My heart rate is down from 100+ to slightly fewer than 80 beats per minute in only the three days since the physical.

EDIT: I take that back. After eating lunch (a Wendy's large chili, about 12 oz.) my heart rate went back up to slightly less than 100. Two hours later it's at about 90. I'm going to have to take more data points.

EDIT 2: Now four hours later, it's down to about 80 again.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Economical and Convenient

The trip to Games Day (Rosemont, IL) is 265 miles one way.
530 round trip / 20 mpg = 26.5 gallons of gas
26.5 gallons of gas * $2.85/gal = about $75
If I drove, I would probably have needed to spend the night.

I paid $32 for the round trip bus ticket.

The bus leaves from the GW store about 5 minutes from my house. One of the employees has decided to leave the store open from 8pm when they would normally close until 3am when the bus is scheduled to arrive, so I may actually get in a Nemesis Crown game before the campaign ends.

Last night I finished the "boss rat" completely. That leaves only the engineer to paint (he's basecoated), a mold line to remove/repaint on the giant, and basing work. This is rapidly coming together!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Home Stretch

Tonight I will accomplish the majority of the remaining work on the giant, leaving me two night for touch up and error correction. I've been telling people that I've been working on him for six weeks, which turns out to be untrue. I purchased the giant on 6/30, the same Saturday the family and I saw Ratatouille. That means that from initial purchase until entry into competition at Games Day will be exactly four weeks. Last time I purchased a mini for competition I had four days to work and I won my category. Here's hoping I have some numerology thing going on! Okay, I like to aim big but I know my actual chances are about nil. The goal has always been to make first cut, and I will dutifully report here whether I made first cut when I get home from the event. The chance to actually see some world class minis and the chance to learn from Jeremie Bonamant Teboul are what I am most gaining from this.

Alright then. Off to paint!

Starving and Terrified

With only four nights of potential work left on the Golden Demon entry, I am making the transition from merely nervous to downright terrified. I got a good portion of the "boss" rat done last night, and did some basecoating on the engineer, so at least they're started. The only remaining painting on the giant are another wash on some of the mechanical components, some touch ups on the club/ax and the glosscoating of some parts, like the brain and the tongue.

I had a physical yesterday, and I need to lose 20 lbs. To start. I plan on exercising pure willpower to start a very low calorie, low portion, low enjoyment diet. That way I can plunge down to my target weight, then rocket back up to my current weight using the power of Dairy Queen and Checkers. I've tried to do things like limit portion size in the past, and the results have been fairly unimpressive, but I gotta tell ya... something about having your doctor telling you to lose 20 lbs. is a lot more compelling than just wanting to do it for arbitrary health reasons, to me anyway. Maybe I just trust authority figures. Oh, it turns out that I also have to cut down on caffeine. Limit caffeinne?!? I need that to remain conscious! I also need to have another echocardiogram stress test to see if my borderline left ventricular hypertrophy isn't borderline anymore. Hooray for medicine!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If You're Gonna Be An Idiot.... might as well be one for a stupid reason.

I'm sure by now you've read about the couple who neglected their two children because they were so obsessed with playing online video games. When I first read the AP story, which indicated that the couple was mainly playing a "Dungeons and Dragons" game, I thought surely they must mean World of Warcraft. Sure there's "Dungeons and Dragons Online" (DDO) but who could neglect their children over DDO?!? A couple of us at work tried out DDO, and just couldn't muster much interest in it after a couple days, despite the fact that it was created by Turbine Games (the same company that made Asheron's Call, which consumed years of our gaming lives.) Neglecting your kids over DDO would be like starving to death because you can't tear yourself away from C-SPAN. Eventually I found this story that confirms that it was in fact DDO that the couple were playing. Yikes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Bigger They Are....

EMU's President was fired yesterday, presumably over the Laura Dickinson murder. The Detroit Free Press has the story. Was it a cover up or just gross mishandling? I don't really know, but the buck has to stop somewhere.

In better news, the giant got a great deal of work over the weekend. The fleshtone is coming along nicely, and the face is starting to come together. There is a wrap of scaly skin on his right forearm that people typically paint green. I chose to paint it red to represent the skin of a defeated Carnosaur, a dinosaur looking thing from the traditional Skaven enemy, the Lizardmen. With only twelve potential days to go, I'm getting more and more worried that I will be able to finish him in time. I still have the two Skaven that sit on his back to paint!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

GD Entry WIP 2

Conversion work is almost done. I ended up making a little crow's nest of balsa for the old warlock engineer, and have finished all the machinery on the back. The only think left now are the shields that go on the left forearm and the chains and hooks that connect all the machinery to the giant. I have the first hook assembled (jewelry chain and thin brass rod) and will be attaching it hopefully today. I don't know if I'm going to bother with hooks and chains on the lower part... it's busy enough down there already. I also repositioned the giant on the base (with Mark's advice) so that he's in mid-stride. It levels out the platforms that the Skaven ride on and makes the piece more dynamic overall.

I seriously need to take some photos, and it's almost time to start painting. Including today, I have 17 days to complete this fellow. Time is short.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Girlfriend and Girlfriend

A tale of two ... um... songs. One has anime and the other has the F-bomb.

My girls like the Avril Lavigne song "Girlfriend." They heard it on the pop station Stef and the kids listen to in the car sometimes, and even if Stef tunes away when it comes on they are already aware of it and get all excited when a promo for it comes on or the DJ says it's coming up. Ordinarily, I think it's great when my kids hear a song they like (Sarah has become attached to the song "New York City" by "They Might Be Giants" lately) but I'm none too pleased about "Girlfriend," since the song drops the F-bomb about a third of the way through. I don't know doodely-squat about Ms. Lavigne except that she appears to have been 16 for about the past ten years, and drops the F-bomb in a song my 8- and 6-year old like. Yay.

Link: ... T-53 seconds to cussin'.

When Lily first told me that she likes the song I told her that I liked it too, because I thought she meant the song from Guitar Hero 2. One of my favorite tracks is "Girlfriend, as made famous by Matthew Sweet" ("as made famous by" is their code for "it's not really him") and the girls have seen me play it, and have played it themselves. After watching the above-linked Avril Lavigne video, I decided to search for the Matthew Sweet version.

And here it is: ... go watch. I'll wait here.
EDIT: this one works ...

Not only did I find it, but I quickly realized that I had heard of this video before. Back in 1991, when Matthew Sweet's version was released, anime was fairly rare in the U.S. The fact that a great deal of the video was footage from the anime file Space Adventure Cobra was a real oddity at the time. Pretty much everyone who saw the video told me about it, but I never once got to see it. Until now. And I didn't miss much, did I? First off, how uncomfortable do you have to look before the director of your music video just says, "You know what? Let's just use the animated parts and leave you out, okay?" It's not like these were the early days of music video or something... "Nevermind" came out that same year.... they should have known better.

Anyway, what's the point? I don't know. It's just a contrast for me to point out.

GD Entry WIP 1

I've heard people on forums advise against talking too much about one's Golden Demon work in progress to avoid having anyone steal your idea. It seems kinda paranoid to me. Maybe if I make the finalists this year I'll think about being super secret next year.

I bought the model on July 1, one of the new giants that I'm converting for the Skaven. I'm pretty much done with basic assembly and gap filling. I've created some little balsa scaffolding for the engineer to perch upon as he peers around the giant's left shoulder. I still need to come up with a convincing way to connect all the Skaven mechanisms to the giant's back. The current favored idea is a couple of vertical posts attached to the giant's skin with metal brackets, then having everything else hanging from those main posts.

In addition to the engineer, I'm trying to find a place to put an engineer hero on the model. He's pretty cool, holding a warplock pistol in one hand and pointing with the other. He's an old model, too, which appeals to me for some reason on the new giant. I'm debating whether to put him on the giant somewhere, perhaps on the right hand side slightly higher than the other engineer, or on the base slightly behind the giant, as if he pointed and the giant went. I'm leaning toward the latter.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Two people now have told me that the Transformers movie is great. I'm still unconvinced... I mean come on, it's Transformers. Robots that turn into cars and airplanes and tape decks and handguns and what-not. Maybe there's an implicit buy-in for people who loved them as children. I missed the Transformers age by a couple years so they hold no appeal for me. As a long-time anime fan I even have some affection for robots that turn into other things, although that typically means something useful (even if dubiously so) in anime. I just have no interest in the Transformers brand, its intellectual property, and so I have been unable to muster interest in the film. Now, make an Aura Battler Dunbine movie, and I'll be trying to convince the Transformers crowd that it has potential. Okay, maybe not.

I've been preparing my model for the Chicago Golden Demon painting competition. Creating a Demon entry is sort of like buying a lottery ticket for me... I know I don't have a great chance of winning, but I just can't resist fantasizing about that lifting that sword. I've set my goal this year to make first cut in the judging, but deep down there's that little spark of hope. At the very least, I'll get to see the winners, something I have been looking forward to greatly. If I were going to a European Games Day I'm sure the anticipation would be a bit different. Their competition models are unbelievable, so I'd have zero hope of winning and be all giddy about seeing the entrants.

Monday, July 02, 2007

That's It.... I'm Old

I just went out on my front lawn to yell at some kids across the street who were breaking up my elderly neighbors' decorative white rocks. The kids were throwing the rocks at the street to shatter them, spraying rock chips all over the place.

I yelled at some kids. Next stop: riding my Rascal(tm) out there to yell at some kids.

The Sweet Spot

Stef and I took the kids to see Ratatouille this weekend. Now before I talk about the movie I have a confession to make. I'm a Brad Bird fanboy. His first movie, The Iron Giant, was wonderful, but after it had a less than stellar box office performance I suspected his career in animation was over. I was thrilled when Pixar put him in charge of The Incredibles, which seemed to pay off since the film was commercially successful. I was again thrilled to see that Brad Bird was writing and directing Ratatouille. Sure, I would have wanted to see it irregardless, as I have loved every Pixar movie I've seen (disclaimer: I haven't seen Cars yet), but the fact that they brought Brad Bird back made me actually excited to see it. Okay, enough fanboy action.

The movie itself is great. It has wonderfully exaggerated character design, great voice acting, a compelling plot and a lovely ending. Where it really shines though is in the portrayal of mental state, from the initial visualizations of flavor, to the state of being lost in doing what you love, to being taken back to your childhood by a particular experience. It is also very funny; I found myself laughing out loud far more often than I do in a typical movie.

Side note: I react more to movies and TV since having kids than I ever did before. When I watch things with them I want to share the experience of finding something funny or tragic. I want them to share how they are feeling too, and I don't think sitting stone-faced through a movie really encourages that. I want them to see that I enjoy things and that it's okay for them to enjoy things too. Don't look for too much meaning there.

Okay, back to Ratatouille. Another of it's strong points was the physical comedy. We are accustomed to seeing animated characters in unlikely physical situations and not thinking a thing of it, so I was very impressed at how the physical comedy seemed a little crazy yet still realistic. A good example is Linguini (human main character) wrestling his bicycle in through the front door of his apartment. He has a terrible time of it, but it seems plausible. It could have been done all wrong, like the typical "fighting with the chaise lounge" scene so common in cartoons. Instead, it is beautifully animated with just the right balance of realism to invoke my own memories of wrestling bikes through unlikely places, making the scene all the funnier.

I was somewhat sad when I learned that Disney's last 2D animated film would be "Home on the Range." Not that Home on the Range was bad, but I like 2D animation, and felt that something would be lost in 3D. Pixar has always managed to capture the character of 2D animation, and Ratatouille (or Rapatooey or Rapatooney as my kids would call it) has really shown Pixar as the successor to the animation crown, if I'm not being too pretentious. Pixar movies aren't great for their technical accomplishment; they are just plain great, and Ratatouille demonstrates just how great they can be.

EDIT: Oh, yeah... the title. Something about this film just hit the sweet spot with me, but I can't really say why. I can identify so many things that I liked about it, yet I am unable to identify what makes it great.... more than just the sum of a number of enjoyable elements. I'll suppose I'll have to be content with calling it great with no plausible rationale.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Grade School Humor

The Chinese take-out place around the corner from me has a dish called "Pu Pu Platter" shown on the light-up color picture menu above the cash register.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I Know It's An Old Joke, But....

I just found out that all the volume settings on Guitar Hero 2 go up to 11. It's been 23 years since that movie, and I still giggle at references like that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Going To Chicago!

Well, I bit the bullet and did it. After two years of wanting to go, yesterday I purchased my bus ticket to Games Day Chicago 2007. This is a yearly event in four U.S. cities (Altanta, Baltimore, Chicago and L.A.) and a few other cities world wide where Games Workshop has a dog and pony show. There are previews of unreleased items, seminars and workshops, and the "Golden Demon" national painting competition. I am greatly looking forward to seeing world class painted miniatures in person after seeing only photos of them for the two years I've been painting. I'm going to have my own entry, and I will be thrilled to death if I make first cut. I'd also like to meet any CMON'ers who might be there in person.

One nice thing is that a bus is leaving from the Paint Creek Crossing GW store, about 10 minutes from my house, early Saturday morning for the event. I can veg out for the four hour trip, go like crazy all day, sleep the whole way home, and it costs less then the gas would cost for me to drive the truck there!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fourth Grade Logic

I don't know who Steven D. Krause is. Maybe you do. All I really know about the guy I learned by reading this. Maybe I'm just being cranky, but I didn't find it particularly funny. Okay, maybe a little funny but still exasperating.

Assertion: If you want to run some arbitrary system and ICT refuses to support it, citing "security and support issues," it really means they don't want to or they don't know how.

I work in ICT. We support a lot of stuff. Really. As soon as we take part in whatever server/software you are interested in running, we have to own it. That means every little problem with the system falls directly into our lap. That means that every difficulty the user has with the system falls directly into our lap, even if the software is working exactly as designed. It means that we have to stay abreast of updates, including security vulnerabilities, that this software may have. It means we have to add this system to a backup plan. It means we need a disaster recovery procedure for this system. It becomes part of our job. It becomes part of our life.

In elementary school it was a common activity to try and get peers to do things they shouldn't or didn't want to do. To the mob, reluctance to perform would only indicate that the person either didn't know how or was, heaven forbid, "chicken."

Some attitudes never die, I suppose.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Retroactive Distrust

My trust in my employer, Eastern Michigan University, is wavering. In the past I have given them a great deal of slack about things such as the University House. Now I am starting to wonder if my trust was ill placed.

In December a student, Laura Dickinson, was raped and murdered on campus. The strange part was that we (the university community) didn't know that a crime had been committed until another student was arrested for the crime on February 23. We had received the sad news that a student had died on campus, something that seems to happens once every few years for various reasons, but until the arrest the university's communications with the community (and with her parents) had indicated that there was no reason to suspect foul play. Even after the arrest I wanted to give the university the benefit of the doubt and assume that either officials were ignorant of the facts surrounding her death or that they had some other justifiable reason for the "no cause for alarm" communiques.

On June 8, the board of regents hired a law firm to investigate and report on the situation. I'm no lawyer, but the time frame given in the report (here) sure makes it look like the university performed a cover-up operation. When it comes to conspiracy theories, I have always tended to assume incompetence over impropriety, but this is just too fishy. EMU may have even broken the "Clery Act," a law that requires federally funded institutions to divulge crimes that occur on campus.

I now find myself wondering if any of the slack I had formerly extended the university was well founded. If the default position is "deny everything, but recant and apologize in the face of incontrovertible evidence" then I am hardly inspired to trust.

EDIT: I have met most of the EMU staff cited in these stories during my time here. If someone wants to contact me and set me straight on some of this, especially regarding the "no foul play" communique, I would love to hear from you.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I've been keeping up with Kongregate's challenges for the last few months, collecting their pointless little online cards. The latest one involves (in part) the game LightSprites, and I'd like to take a moment to say how much I love this little game.

LightSprites is a little flash game that involves throwing colored balls at similarly colored circles on a landscape that scrolls by to a sunny little tune. Hit a circle with the correct color ball and a little person will pop up and dance. Hit the circle with the wrong colored ball and a little person will pop up and suffer a horrible fate... burned, killed by a ninja, carried off by a bird... you get the picture.

What makes it so great? Does it have gameplay longevity? No, not really. I'm sure I'll play it over the next month or so and never again. What makes it great for me is the presentation. It looks polished, the game mechanics are solid, and it's fun to watch. I think more games (and even movies and books) should be like this. Pick your scope, execute it well, and move on. Not everything has to be epic.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Outside the Demographic

There is a link to a survey by Games Workshop and computer games publisher THQ on the Games Workshop web site. I decided to participate since I truly enjoy THQ's Warhammer 40k game, Dawn of War.

I started the survey and was informed that it would take me approximately 20 minutes to complete. For question #1 I was asked if I was male or female. I answered. Question #2 asked for my age, to the nearest whole number. I answered.

There was no question #3. My age apparently put me outside the relevant demographic for the survey, and I was shuffled off to the "Thank you for your participation" screen. The 20 minute survey took less than 20 seconds. Am I a little miffed about being marginalized? Yeah, just a little.

Reliving Futurama

Buck and I have been watching Futurama on our lunch break. Despite the fact that I have seen every episode 10 times, watching it with someone who has not seen it before makes it even more entertaining. We watched all of the season 1 DVD's, then I brought seasons 2 and 3 in.

After two episodes of season 2, it became clear that Buck was lost. Things were being referenced that he didn't remember having seen. I have seen all the episodes so many times that I couldn't remember which he had seen and which he hadn't, so then I was confused. It turns out that the last person I had lent the DVD's to had put the season 2 DVD's in the season 3 box and vice versa. Buck and I had started watching season 3 thinking we were starting season 2.

Boring, yet true!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I Miss Jen Morgan

It seems random, but today I thought of Jennifer Morgan. Jen hung out with Stef and me in the late 90's, back when there used to be a Silverman's restaurant on Washtenaw Ave. in Ypsilanti. She worked at a deli in town where Stef was job coaching a person with developmental disability, and she and Stef struck up a friendship. Since Silverman's was open 24 hours, they used to hang out there at all hours. Jen took a fall in the cooler at work and hurt her back to the point where she couldn't work at the deli anymore. Zingerman's certainly seemed to go to a great deal of trouble to deny her any kind of workman's comp.

In any case, sometime around 2000 or 2001 Jen ended up moving to Canada to ... you know, I don't really remember the exact circumstances. I'm pretty sure there was a guy up there, and I think she was also planning on going to school. In any case, she moved and just ... disappeared. We couldn't get in touch with her. Her parent's couldn't get in touch with her. She had just vanished. I know Jen's folks tried a number of avenues to find her, but as far as I know never have. What do you do? I was somewhat dismissive about the whole thing at first.... oh, she'll turn up. It seems naive now.

Jen was really Stef's friend, but I developed a certain kinship with her that I haven't experienced with Stef's other friends. It's difficult to describe.... she just seemed like she was on the same frequency as me, something I would describe only a handful of people in my lifetime as being. She was a firm believer in living your life in such a way as to not be in other people's way. She and I would commiserate about the casual breakdown of societal rules... things like parking right by the door of an establishment because you (or someone in your car) only needed to run in for a second. She hated movies with Bruce Willis merely on principal. She introduced me to the band Soul Coughing.

Jen, if you're out there somewhere, we miss you.

Looking Skyward

Tonight, apparently, the Space Shuttle (STS-117) and I.S.S. will be visible to the naked eye in my neck of the woods. Around 10:00 PM moving from northwest to southeast at about the visible speed of a commercial jet.

Sarah got a telescope for her birthday a year-and-a-half ago. Time to bust that sucker out of the box, says I.

EDIT: The telescope seems to work, although it's not the most stable platform for viewing things. The real problem is the haze... the moon is a yellow crescent blob in the sky, the stars are entirely invisible, and all hope of seeing relatively tiny vehicles is gone.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Family IT Foibles

This one is for the search engines more than anything.

Stef's computer was repeatedly crashing when attempting to play anything from Shockwave games. (She has a subscription to which let's you download and play tons of "casual" games... most are quite good, with high production values and ... back to the point.)

Anyway, the games would lock her computer up after a few minutes of play. I tried swapping out the video card, reinstalling all Shockwave drivers (per tech support) and just generally being "family IT guy" to fix yet another computer problem. Nothing at all helped.

The breakthrough came last night, after I had completely removed Shockwave and Flash drivers from her computer (both files and registry entries) and realized that the games all still played. All this time I had assumed that these were Shockwave content games, especially since their tech support recommended reinstalling the drivers. Anyhoo, the games still ran and still crashed in exactly the same fashion... the screen would freeze and whatever sound was playing would repeat in about a half-second loop for maybe ten second and then the computer would reboot. The sound is what finally tipped me off. I disabled the sound device in control panel and everything started working perfectly (minus sound, of course.) I uninstalled as much of the sound devices as I could, then rebooted and let windows reload the sound drivers, and now everything works perfectly!

So, all you search engine peoples, if Shockwave / games are freezing / crashing / locking up try reinstalling your sound card drivers. It worked for us.

EDIT: Things started going south again, and I discovered that the fan on the video card was freezing up. It may have been a combination of the two issues at the time, but replacing the video card (or in our case, reverting to the on-board video) has solved the problem.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Breakfast Showdown - part 2

Contender 1: Kroger brand "Chip Mates" Cookie Cereal, chocolate chip
Contender 2: Kroger brand "Chip Mates" Cookies, chunky chocolate chip

Cereal: "Chester" the cartoon pirate
Cookies: "Chester" the cartoon pirate

Serving size
Cereal: 1 cup (30g)
Cookies: 2 cookies (29g)

Calories / fat
Cereal: 120 / 1.5g (0 saturated)
Cookies: 150 / 7g (3 saturated)

Cereal: 26g (13g sugar)
Cookies: 20g (11g sugar)

Cereal: various, 10-30% vitamins and minerals mostly
Cookies: iron 6%... but they taste so good.

Verdict: Despite the fact that the cookies somehow have less sugar and carbs than the cereal, I've gotta go with the cereal on this one. Maybe it's the chunky chocolate chips that add all the fat and calories.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Bose Experience ... Guitar Hero 2

My parents got me a pair of around-the-ear Bose triport headphones for my birthday this year. Um, wow. No, seriously. If you haven't tried a pair, I sincerely recommend them. I'm not much of an audiophile so I never would have given much thought to headphone above the $30 range, but these Bose headphones are a thing of beauty. I could hear things I didn't even know were in the original recording. I've been letting my coworkers demo them, and reactions have been consistently enthusiastic. In one recording I have, you can actually hear the orchestra members shifting in their seats during the lulls. Not in a distracting way, mind you, just in a "you are there" way.

Last night I managed to finally get 5 stars on all 40 songs of Guitar Hero 2 on medium difficulty. I went on to complete the first set of songs on hard. I don't think I could ever 5 star hard in a gajillion years. Literally. I've had multiple people ask me if guitar hero was teaching me to play the guitar, and every one of them loses interest in the subject when I tell them that it doesn't. Everyone seems to accept the fact that playing a snowboarding game on a game console will not make you a competent snowboarder or that a barnstorming game is not preparing you to be a pilot. Playing Galaga prepares me to be neither an astronaut nor an exterminator. It shouldn't really be a stretch to assume that the act of simulating an exciting activity is sufficient in itself to be worthwhile. Somehow, if the controller of a game vaguely resembles a guitar then it needs to have some additional life skill acquisition attached to it for them to care. I don't want to learn guitar right now. It's a real skill that requires a serious level of commitment for one to excel. I want to play "air guitar: the game." The key word there was "play."