Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A new toy for Christmas

I got a Xbox 360 over the Christmas holiday. It came with 3 games. A two pack that had Indiana Jones Legos and Kunfu Panda. Both were fun. The other game was Tom Clancy's EndWar a RTS that uses the headset to give commands to move your players around. Not my type of game and haven't spent much time with it.

I ruined my Legos game by leaving it in the Xbox while moving the box and then turning it back on. The disk was off center and spun and made a racket and when I took it out it had a HUGE scratch in it that made it unplayable. Darn I was only about %25 through the game. I did play Kungfu panda all the way through though. Jack Black is always funny.

I rented Fable 2 so Chris and I can play together. We liked Fable on the Xbox. Since I have been sick since Christmas Chris bought me a used copy of Gears of War which I have partially played on the PC. It is a graphic war game that is intense and a lot of fun to play.

I love the graphics of the Xbox 360 on my new 42" LCD TV. I am going to get a wireless connection hooked up soon so I can download demos etc.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Where is my watch?

For as long as I can remember I have worn a wristwatch. I think it started when I was about 10 when my parents gave me my first watch as a gift. My Dad showed me how to wear it on my left wrist since I am right handed and wearing on my right hand would get it much more banged up. Not sure if that was lifelong advice or just what you tell a kid that you want to have the watch you just gave them to last longer than a few months. From that day on for over 40 years I wore my watch all the time. I took it off when I went to bed and put it on when I got up. I took it off to take a shower and put it on when I got dressed. I felt naked when I didn't have it on my wrist. I had many a summer with a watch tan.

Most of my watches lasted for a long time. I usually had 2 watches at any given time. My nice watch and a working watch. I wore my nice watch when I wasn't doing physical labor or things that could mess up the watch. The work watch (usually a much cheaper watch that I replaced more often) was one I didn't care about as much. I have had calculator watches, cheap digital Casio watches, nice Seiko watches and several other nice brands. Nothing expensive just functional.
Well recently since my last watch I bought (with a JC Penny gift certificate from my Grandmother over 10 years ago) had the batteries run out I stopped wearing my watch. Since I started working from home a few years ago I always started carrying my cell phone with me everywhere I go and when I was home I am surrounded by clocks (at the computer and all over the house) so I never needed a watch. Sometimes though I don't bring my cell phone with me and I find myself looking at my bare wrist. I need to get my watch fixed or buy another, I'm just not used to having nothing on my arm and knowing at any given moment what time it is or how much time I have left. I know it is supposed to be freeing to be unleashed from our time pieces but for me it is a part of me that seems missing.
By the way this watch is WAY to big but it sure is cool!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Interesting way to get out of the house

A friend of mine who shall remain unnamed. Uses Dial-up for Internet access (I know, can you believe it!). He says that when he needs the bandwidth he takes his laptop to a hotspot and uses the free Internet. I should probably mention that my friend is also VERY cheap. To his credit though he is much more financially secure than I will ever be. Me and money have this love/hate relationship. I love to spend it and hate it when I never seem to have any.

Anyway, my friends comment of using a public wireless access point for broadband internet made me think that would be a great way to get out of the house more often. I have been cooped up here for a couple of months hardly leaving once a week if I am lucky. If I loaded all my work on a nice laptop I could go to a different public space each day and work all over the city. From Starbucks in the morning to public buildings and other fun areas in the afternoon. I could even meet people and become a regular at certain spots. Problem is I don't drink coffee or tea (never acquired a taste for either). I'd probably spend too much money at all the locations out of guilt for using their free internet. There goes that whole money issue again. Still sounds like a cool idea. Of course I'd have to buy a laptop beefy enough to do my work on first?

Friday, December 5, 2008

HD TV is pretty cool

The DirectTV guys came by a couple of weeks ago and replaced our dish with a HD version and gave me a new HD DVR. It is something else watching HD shows on the TV. BIG difference from normal TV. I setup all the shows to be recorded in HD. Something I learned though...shows you didn't like in regular TV even if they look better in HD still aren't good shows. And it's also funny how some shows aren't HD? For example David Letterman is in HD but the Late Show with Craig Ferguson which is on right after is NOT HD? I prefer Craig over David. Too bad the show isn't in HD.

Also FX, SciFi, TBS are all in HD but Comedy Central isn't? I like John Stewarts Daily Show but it isn't in HD?

It actually been more fun watching shows in HD that watching movies on the new TV.

Now all I have to do is get a Xbox-360 and see what 1080p video games look like. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We got a new TV!

On our way home from the coast we stopped at Video Only and looked at TV's. The talk we had in the parking lot was something like this. We can spend up to X$ if it goes over that we will have to wait a few weeks. So we go in and the 42" LCD 1080p Toshiba TV that was much more earlier this year was exactly X$. So we bought it. I quickly came home unloaded the lugage and brought the TV box into the living room we finished painting the weekend before. The TV was the reward for me helping with the painting and not being a grouch about it. We spent the evening watching movies and TV on our new flat screen. My only complaint is that we don't really have anything to show off the higher resolution. DVD's look pretty good but they aren't HD. The Digital Satalite looks good too but it is still only 480i (4:3). And regular TV programs seem pretty lame at 4:3 on a wide TV. So I ordered a HD DVR and HD service for our digital Satalite. I am also getting a used X-Box 360 which does high res output of games. Still working out all the connection issues and figuring out the best way to set things up but this is a LOT better than our 10 year old 32" tube tv we had.
I love my new TV.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Funny thing happend at the office

I got an email from a friend the other day that was one of those joke emails. It was about the 6 levels of hangovers. It was well written and very funny. In fact, half way through reading it I busted out in a hearty laugh that made my eyes water. Afterwards I thought about it. If I were in an office instead of working from home someone probably would have noticed and maybe even came over to my cube and asked what was so funny and I would probably have been embarased a little. But no one noticed when I laughed because no one was home but the cats and nothing I do seems to phase them. So I wondered if I laughed even more freely because I was at home or if I would have even laughed at a cube? It now also seems a little weird that I did laugh so hard with no one around. But I did enjoy the email.

The 6 levels of hangovers

* 1 star hangover

No pain. No real feeling of illness. Your sleep last night was a mere disco nap, which has given you a whole lot of misplaced energy. Be glad that you are able to function relatively well. However, you are still parched. You can drink 10 sodas and still feel this way. You are craving a steak bomb and a side of gravy fries.

** 2 star hangover

No pain, but something is definitely amiss. You may look okay but you have the mental capacity of a staple gun. The coffee you are chugging is only exacerbating your rumbling gut, which is craving a rootie tootie fresh and fruity pancake breakfast from IHOP. There is some definite havoc being wreaked upon your bowels.

*** 3 star hangover

Slight headache. Stomach feels crappy. You are definitely not productive. Anytime a girl walks by you gag because her perfume reminds you of the random gin shots you did with your alcoholic friends after the bouncer 86'd you at 1:45 a.m. Life would be better right now if you were in your bed with a dozen donuts and a meatball hero watching the E! fashion awards. You've had 4 cups of coffee, a gallon of water, 3 Snapples and a liter of diet coke - yet you haven't peed once.

**** 4 star hangover

Life sucks. Your head is throbbing. You can't speak too quickly or else you might puke. Your boss has already lambasted you for being late and has given you a lecture for reeking of booze. You wore nice clothes, but that can't hide the fact that you missed an oh-so crucial spot shaving, (girls, it looks like you put your make-up on while riding the bumper cars.) Your eyes look like one big vein and your hair style makes you look like a reject from the class picture of Grover Cleveland HS, class of '84.

***** 5 star hangover, aka "Dante's 4th Circle of Hell."

You have a second heartbeat in your head, which is actually annoying the employee who sits in the next cube. Vodka vapor is seeping out of every pore and making you dizzy. You still have toothpaste crust in the corners of your mouth from brushing your teeth in an attempt to get the remnants of the shit fairy out. Your body has lost the ability to generate saliva, so your tongue is suffocating you. Death seems pretty good right now. You definitely don't remember who you were with, where you were, what you drank, and why there is a stranger still sleeping in your bed at your otherwise empty house.

****** 6 star hangover, otherwise known as the "Infinite Nut smacker"

You wake up on your bathroom floor. For about 2 seconds you look at the ceiling, wondering if the cool refreshing feeling on your cheek is the bathroom tile or your vomit from 5 hours ago. It is amazing how your roommate was as drunk as you, but somehow managed to getup before you. You try to lift your head. Not an option. Then you inadvertently turn your head too quickly and smell the funk of 13 packs of cigarettes in your hair. Suddenly you realize you were smoking, but not ultra lights...some jackass handed you Marlboro reds, and you smoked them like it was your second full time job. You look in the mirror only to see remnants of the stamp "Ready to Rock" faintly atop your forehead......the stamp on the back of your hand that has magically appeared on your forehead by alcoholic osmosis. You have to be to work in t-minus 14 minutes and 32 seconds and the only thing you can think of wearing is your "hello kitty" pajamas and your slippers.

Yet drinking SEEMS like a good idea...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Halloween Prop for 2008

I REALLY like how our animated skull for our hearse driver came out this year. This is a project I have been working on for 2 years. Ever since we created a hearse for our graveyard display I wanted a talking driver. A lot of things just came together the right way and it turned out better than I could have thought.

I wrote an initial speech that Chris helped me edit. We found a voice talent guy at HaUNTcon that turned out perfect.

One of my original plans was to use the uMP3 player from Rouge Robotics. It has a SD Memory card slot so any sized MP3 file can be used. It requires a custom cable to be built for use with the EFX-TEK line of controllers but it wasn't hard to make and it works great!

One of my original plans was to use the standard "Bucky" skeleton from Anatomical chart co. that we always use. I didn't want to manufacture any special parts or at least none that anyone could make. The issue with this is that the skull is VERY heavy and most people couldn't figure out a way to make it work. I had one of those creative moments and bought a 2" nylon ball and drilled a hole in it and slid it down the bar that holds his had and then sanded out the base of the skull a bit and it pivoted nicely on the ball. I added a spring to counter balance the head and it now could turn and nod without much effort. I later added a bearing below the ball to make is spin smoother. The rest of the mechanics (placement of servos and linkages) other people had already done so I just copied them.

I also wanted to use an EFX-TEK prop controller that loaded the entire movement show onto the the controller and just played it back on repeat. I didn't want to hook a computer to the animated head (that's how a lot of them are done). Another goal was to use a standard RC transmitter with 2 joysticks to puppeteer the the head and store the movements so we could play them back. I didn't want to have to to manually program each movement while listening to the audio track over and over which is how a lot of this type of thing is done. The joystick option is more how the movie people do it.

So EFX-TEK had a program on their forum that would allow you to use a VEX transmitter which I got off of eBay to move 4 servos using their Prop-SX controller and send the data out it's serial port that a PC could then capture. With the captured data you could create a show program that read the data and played it back. One of the first issues I ran into was that trying to move the head around and make the jaw move was just not practical. So I decided to use a "audio talker" which is a servo controller board that moves a servo based on a audio signal. It automates the jaw movements for you. So this freed up my transmitter to move the turn/nod/tilt servos while the audio played and the jaw moved which was MUCH easier.

After capturing what I felt was a conservative amount of head movement for the 2min speech I took at look at the data. It was just under 3000 data points which is 3 servo positions every 20ms. A lot of the data is redundant since the servos weren't always moving every 20ms so I compressed the data down with a 4th value that was a counter of how many 20ms frames do the servos stay in that position ( a common technique I found out from EFX-TEK). This reduced the data points down to just under 2000. The program area for the Prop-SX is 8K. When I created the reader program combined with all these data points the program was too big to fit into the 8K memory space. The program for the SX was pretty big and the left over memory was pretty small. I decided to try using the Prop-SX which is much slower than the SX but the data reader program is VERY simple and took hardly any memory so I could use the rest for the data points. It still wouldn't fit so I had to reduce the data points by increasing the counter to a minimum of 240ms frames instead of 20ms which created 425 data points. This fit into the Prop-2 but made the head movement a little jerky. I didn't have time at this point to fiddle with it any further so I stuck with the jerky movements. The Prop-SX has a 32K EPROM that you can burn data to but I had never done it or written/used any code that read from the EPROM so it will have to be something I try next year and get my entire 2000 data points in the EPROM.

I still have to come up with a amplifier solution for the audio since the output of the MP3 player is just line level. I found a couple of small amplifier solutions that I think will work.

But I am pretty pleased with how it turned out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Halloween Monster

Here is a exerpt from a chat session with my good friend....

Friend: You bastard

Me: ???

Friend: you really want me to play Portal

Me: oh? sorry. I hacked portal and got the sounds out ot it. Grabbed all of the ones for the companion cube. We are going to have them play from a speaker in the cube Chris is making.
Me: funny sh*t

Friend: when I get a computer that can actually handle it I'll play.

Me: I still think it would make a great console game. But you have to have a 360 or ps3

Friend: feckin' bastages

Me: used 360 would probably be cheaper than a new computer?

Friend: ah but I kinda need a computer. the boys and wife have homework that requires internet access.

Me: WHAT! You living in the stone ages? No Internet?????

Friend: yes we have it because we are borrowing a computer but eventually we have to return it.

Me: ah...I was worried about your geek status. Thought we were going to have to revoke your badge
Me: I see X-Box 360 used on ebay for $189?

Friend: nope...because I know how long the tube used in the Hedron Collider is
Friend: I get to keep my geek badge
Friend: :-)

Me: F*ck you da smart one

Friend: since when did smart become a qualification of being a geek.

Me: long is the tube?

Friend: approximately 20 km

Me: WOW! you even know it in metric!
Me: You must be some sort of Mad Scientist?

Friend: that's all science cares about

Me: Hey I am trying hard here to give you sh*t and you are making it difficult!

Friend: I'd like to say I'm an evil scientist but we both know that's not true.
Friend: roflmao...I'm supposed to play nice and let you give me crap?

Me: but....

Friend: where's the fun in that?
Friend: :-)

Me: fun for me!
Me: me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me

Friend: roflmao...It's all about you until Chris is around. *Evil Grin*

Me: shhhhh

Friend: hee hee

Me: don't tell her....we are being sneaky
Me: I can only do this if I whisper.....if she catches me talking about "me" then I'm doomed
Me: Oh BTW did I mention that I am LOSING MY MIND!

Friend: feckin' christ I can't stop laughing
Friend: where is your mind going?

Me: It is being eaten by the big horrible HALLOWEEN MONSTER!

Friend: does the Halloween Monster listen to light country music and dream of a day when Monsters everwhere can wear pink lace?

Me: yours does THAT too?

Friend: Mine is frends with the Tequillia Monster

Me: seriously, I'm not THAT crazy....yet

Friend: call me when you get there, man.

Me: the HALLOWEEN MONSTER keeps you up at night and steals time when you are not looking and gives you more work to do than you can handle

Friend: Does your's smoke menthols?

Me: no but he smells like CANDY!
Me: lots of milk chocolate and peanut butter

Friend: Mine love's pop rocks

Me: too noisy....wouldn't be able to sneak up on you and wake you up or change your schedule without you noticing

Friend: That's the brilliance of monster design. It's head is so massive ya can't hear the popping until it opens it's mouth and drolls on your head.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Death, a part of life

Wow, 2 posts in the same day. This one came to me while writing that other introspective.

This year I have seen the loss of 2 great people. Earlier this year my wife Chris' grandmother Jeanne Robert passed away. Even though we were only related through marriage I was glad to have known her and have fond memories of her. And this summer I lost my last living grandparent and probably the most influential, my grandmother Maurene Davis. She was the typical grandmother and a strong figure in the family. Both will be missed but lovingly remembered.

But these were not the only losses I have endured. I lost both my grandfathers in their 70's. My other grandmother to cancer in her 80's. Chris' estranged father to heart failure in his 50's. And my mother to an auto accident at the young age of 38. Unfortunately these won't be the last since like it or not, death is a part of life.

I have developed my own thoughts and ways of dealing with death over the years. Probably loosing my mother at such a young age gave me an early start on my thought process. I have never been a big fan of funerals or the grieving process (although pain is a natural feeling after loosing someone dear to us). But I prefer to think about those that I have lost at their best not at the worst. I feel it is my responsibility as a living person to remember those that I knew that are no longer here in the best way that I can. No matter how many mistakes they made when they were alive or how sick they were or how much pain they might have felt. It just seems like such a waste to me to dwell on the negative of a persons entire life instead of keeping the best of them in our memory.

So I prefer to remember those that I have lost the way I want to remember them instead of sobbing with my fellow mourners over how they left us. My hope is that when my time is up that those that knew me would do the same.

My life

I was reading our friend Marc Acito's blog this morning like I do every day. And I re-read his blurb about himself. It says "he leads a blessed life". Forgetting for a moment about the religious sounding tone I asked myself do I have a blessed life?

Truthfully I have always been a little embarrassed about how lucky my life has been. I wonder sometimes if that's what a WWII veteran felt like after surviving 4 years at war uninjured. Not to say that I have not had some tough times or been touched by tragedy. Loosing my 38yr old mother to a car accident when I was 20 is something I'll never get over. I've had to deal with some crappy jobs and had to deal with some tough family issues.

But I think that I have been fortunate to be born a white male and even though I don't think about it much some of what has landed at my feet is probably due, unfortunately, to the way the world works. I've always been able to find a job. And sometimes have made really good money. I've always been able to buy the things I really want and do the things I really want to do.

So what is so blessed about my life? Well, I have a family that loves me. I have a wife who I have spent more of my life with than without and who loves me and who means more to me than anything else in my life. Currently I have a great job situation. Our recent set of cats are the best we have ever had and I have been fond of them all. I have traveled to the UK a number of times and had the chance to see the bigger world and share it with friends and family. I have met and befriended some great people. I have never had to really suffer any real hardship (that alone makes it a blessed life).

That's why I feel so embarrassed about how good my life has been almost without any effort on my part or any real sacrifice. But I wouldn't change a thing. And for what it's worth I will always be greatful for it even if I'm a little bit ashamed about how lucky I am.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking about the past

Damn you! A website where people from High School or College can find out what old classmates are up to these days. I've had a profile for quite a few years and get emails some times about people visiting it. I recently figured out that I can also look for college friends (I previously just thought it was mostly about High School connections). I had to grab my college year books to remember who people where. As usually with this site no one I liked or hung out with is on the site. It did prompt me to contact the Alumni department and get them to send me a yearbook for a year I didn't have! The yearbook and the search for old friends on brought be down memory lane. So let me tell you a little bit about where I spent my first years out of high school.

I attended Whitworth College in Spokane WA. A small Presbyterian college set on a beautiful campus in a small eastern Washington town. I attended Santiam High School in Mill City OR population 1500 or so and the student body was about 200 and my class had something less than 40 students. So I wanted to go to a smaller college where I would have the chance to participate in all sorts of things and not be thought of as a number. Whitworth is a unique school I think. It has a lot of tradition probably like most Colleges do. There is a religious feel to the school but it wasn't overbearing. At the time I enrolled I had all sorts of ambitions. I started out as a Psychology major with the idea of being a youth councilor either through the church or professionally. Within the first year I realized that psychology majors where CRAZY! I also found a job within my first month on campus working for the stage crew. I was always into theater in high school and I even had a drama course I was taking. I quickly changed my major to theater at that point. I schemed my way into taking a winter term in London to study theater and funding it with my student loans. I spent the following summer living on campus and working to pay it all back. I ate spagetti-o's and Top Ramen all summer. The next year I took a computer programming class to fulfill a math requirement. Turns out I loved computer programming and was quite good at it. I got an A without trying too hard. So I switched my major again to computer science. I also found out that there was good money in programming and the hours were a lot more regular than theater. I spent my next summer working at a theater arts camp on California where I met my wife. I took a year off from school and then returned the following fall. It turned out to be too hard to work, go to school and be married all at the same time and something had to give. So I left half way into my 3rd year and moved back to Southern California where my wife's family lived and started my career in computers.

I have often thought about my time at Whitworth over the years. I don't regret making the decision to leave and my choices afterwards have led me to some great memories. But I do wonder what happened to the people I knew then. Where are they now and what type of choices did they make. It was a great time. I was young but independent. I lived in a dorm my first year and then moved off campus during my 2nd year. I hung out with the stage crew and the the staff the managed it. I didn't get involved in as many other groups or activities as I thought I would. The college was huge compared to my high school days. The other day I was thinking back about how we used to play Frisbee golf on campus during lunch breaks in the summer. The course was so unmarked that if you didn't learn it from someone else you'd never know where it was. So I googled Whitworth College Frisbee Golf and found this link called 95 things I love about Whitworth written by a student Dec 2007. Most of it I connect with except for the newer stuff since I was there from 81-84. Looks like the Frisbee (disc) golf is alive and well. Of course they are now called Whitworth Univerity, I don't know when that happened? When I ordered the missing yearbook I sent my payment in for it and got a letter back thanking me for my donation so I guess now I am an official donor to the school?

Anyway. Fond memories.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There is less of me lately

I've always been a big guy. I'm 6' 2" and large framed. I've always weighed more than I look like I do. In fact I remember once when I was at a amusement park as a teenager and they had a guy with a scale that would give you a prize if he couldn't guess your weight with a certain percentage. With the range he allowed for error very few people got anything. But when I walked up there he was amazed at how much I weighed compared to his guess. Wow, a prize for being heavy...who'd have thought?

My size was perfect for playing football at a single A high school for 4 years. I was one of the bigger guys so I played offensive guard and defensive end and was on the field for most of every game. After high school and on to college I wasn't as active and on went the pounds. I spent a summer after my 2nd year in sunny California and lost most of those pounds NOT eating the lousy food at the camp I worked at. It was the first and last time I ever had a tan too. I got married that fall and then the pounds started coming back on again over the years.

When I turned 30 I figured I REALLY needed to do something about my growing weight. So I put myself on a medically supervised fast and lost all of it in about 6 months. I wish I could go back now and tell myself to enjoy the huge weight loss but instead I really didn't change my life that much and in time I gained it all back and more. I did the fast again about 7 years later. Lost almost as much as the first time in 6 months again. I was good at the fasting with no food options but it makes you a little crazy from the deprivation and is hard to control your appetite when you go back to eating. You feel SO good for being so much smaller that you think you can eat anything. And I have always been able to eat a LOT!

Well it's been about 8 years since I last did the fast and with the working from home thing for the past 3 years I have really put on the weight. I didn't want to do the fast and wanted to make a change that would be more permanent. I also wanted to lose more weight but at a MUCH slower rate so I can keep it off. So a couple of months ago something in my head just clicked. I started eating the amount of food a day that I would if I weighed what I want to weigh. And over the past few months the pounds have just started melting off. Not something you could really notice since I weighed so much to begin with. Like I said I never look as heavy as I really am. I figure at this rate it will probably take me 2 years to get to a healthy weight but I will probably be able to keep it off this time.

At my annual doctor visit at the beginning of this year I weighed in significantly more than I did the previous year (a whole year of working from home at a desk). My doctor suggested I try to lose a few pounds before my next visit. He also suggested just trying to loose a little bit. He said the people who are successful at keeping it off are ones that loose it slowly.

What I find amazing is that even though it hasn't even been 2 months yet the weight I have lost has made me feel like a whole different person. I already have more energy and am not as winded as I used to be going up stairs. I'm still a VERY big person and have a LONG way to go but I am encouraged by the way I feel already.

Here is a link to some calculators that might help?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Halloween Electronics

I'm kinda funny about electronics stuff. I'm a computer programmer, I own a solder gun, and I subscribe to Nuts n Volts (electronic geek mag). But I'm really not all that much of a electronics nut. I write programs on a computer and use one every day but I HATE opening up the hardware and touching anything inside. What a pain that can be. I have been known to solder a few things together but if I had to solder each component onto a circuit board it probably wouldn't work and I would be bored. I subscribe to Nuts n Volts just for the ads but I just scan the real geeky articles. I have always maintained that I am more like the Jeff Goldblum character in The Fly when asked by his girlfriend if he is a genius for inventing such a machine and he says that he works with geniuses that build the parts that he puts together. Yea, as a kid I loved electronics (my Dad worked for Bell Telephone and brought home all kinds of stuff). I had a radio shack 101 electronics experiment kit that I fiddled with. I built my own strobe light and color organ from kits. In the 80's I preferred to assemble my own PC's than buy them assembled (mainly to save money). These days most electronic components are so cheap and readily available that you don't need to build much yourself just buy the right parts and connect them together.

So, lately I have gone a little crazy with a company called EFX-TEK that sells small micro controllers and accessories for building Halloween props. A couple of years ago I had 1 of their controllers and used it to make a animated head of a grave digger. Last year I got more ambitious and bought a few more and built a complicated footstep effect for the display. I had intentions of converting the gravedigger head to a more sophisticated controller with better programming but didn't. This year my big plan is to build an animated skull using a more advanced controller. After our last meeting with the guys the run the company in Utah I bought a few more parts to make another project that Chris wanted (those candles you light in a church). Now I have quite a collection of their controllers and accessories. I need to find projects for them all and the time to build them. Most of the interest I guess lies in the fact that the controllers are programmed in BASIC which I am VERY familiar with. Just build a cable here, connect a part there and before you know it, you have a cool effect. Well, I'm having fun at least.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Road Trip

We were invited to give our video effects seminar at a halloween gathering in Provo UT. Instead of flying I thought it would be a little cheaper and fun to drive.

We headed out after work on Thursday and drove to Penelton which is 3 hrs east. Stayed the night in a nice hotel (Holiday Inn Express). We drove the rest of the way to Provo on Friday. We stopped to eat lunch at a rest area and had to get gas a couple of times. We bought a GPS unit (TomTom) a couple weeks before and boy we were glad we did. I can't imagine making a road trip without one. It tells you how far you have to go and what time you will arrive. It will tell you how far to the next gas station and what hotels are ahead in the next town. It even tells you how fast you are going and if you over the speed limit.

We also bought a 12VDC cooler that we kept it plugged into an outlet in the back of the CRV. We didn't need to keep buying ice and everything stays dry. It was perfect for all our food and drinks for the trip.

We stayed in Provo until Sunday Afternoon when we headed home. We drove all the way to Ontario which is on the Idaho/Oregon Border. Stayed in the best hotel we could find which wasn't much. We then drove a few hours to La Grande where we met some haunt friends from Hauntcon for lunch. We then drove the rest of the way home.

It was kind of fun doing a long road trip. We hadn't done that in probably over 10-15 years. It was like the family trips we used to take when I was a kid. I'd love to do more of them but they really take a toll. I'd like to someday do a cross country trip and see some stuff.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Just got back from our yearly trip to Ashland on Memorial Day Weekend. I always have a good time but this year it was even better.

The B&B we stay at called Oak Hill was TOTALLY EMPTY! No guests but us. We got to pick the best room of the house. The hosts Tom and Pat originally from Minnesota are fun to visit with and we were able to talk with them each morning at breakfast by ourselves. They even invited us to have a glass of wine with them and their friends Sunday evening.

This year we only saw 3 plays because there were no plays on Sunday evening. So we went to Jacksonville and had dinner at the Jacksonville Inn. It made for a earlier evening. We also decided not to make the drive up apple valley on the way back home Monday so we got home at a decent hour. The entire weekend was a lot less exhausting and more relaxing than usual.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


If you don't know what a sonic screwdriver is then you have never watched Dr. Who. This one is a replica from the new series. Turns out the prop makers of the show liked the design of the toy version so much they asked for the molds and now the show prop is the same as the toy.
I'm going to put this one in a plexi-glass case and keep it out in my shop. It will have a sign that says "open in case of emergency".

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I have a new flashlight

Last weekend I went to stay at my sisters new beachhouse in Ocean Park, WA. It was a old house that she and her man rebuilt into a nice 3 bedroom 2 bath vacation house. One of the cool things in Ocean Park is a big country store called Jacks Country Store. They have all kinds of stuff including some very unique old fashioned toys. I bought myself a "Space Boy" flashlight with morse code button and siren. Now who couldn't use one of these!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Haunted Houses

I just got back from a 6 day trip that you can read about on our house blog . This anual trip inspires us for halloween. It is also a chance to see some of the best haunted houses in the country. The majority of the attendee's are haunted house owners and employees. So most of the conversation is about running the haunted house. I have always said that after talking with these people this isn't something I would do. Too many horror stories of asshole Fire Marshalls and strange customers. Besides I am not really turned on by making people pee their pants, barf or pass out. But what does turn me on is working on cool projects. One of the things I saw on our trips was a haunted house in a old Morturary. They had completely gutted it and rebuilt the inside. There was a lowered ceiling with wiring for sound, mics, and video everywhere. They had the COOLEST control room with a bunch of flats screen montors and racks of amps. They had some computer controls that managed all the mics, speakers and video. They showed a new exclusive effect that used CO2 fog shot down from a device in the ceiling then projected a video image on the fog. Got me thinking of all sorts of ideas for our halloween stuff. But this haunted house was one I could see myself getting interested in. As long as I didn't have to deal with the Fire Marshall or the customers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

PCS Tour

I did something really fun on Monday night. I went on a technical tour of the theater at PCS . Chris and I have been members of the theater since it began in 1988 . When they built the new theater out of the old Armory downtown we had many offers to take tours of its construction and once completed last year we had invites to get a grand tour. We always put it off. Last week we got an invite to take a technical tour of the place with some other subscribers. I accepted.

The tour was arranged by Jessy Friedt and given by Creon Thorne the General Manager. Creon was involved in the design and construction of the new theater and knew every inch of the space. He gave us a great background on the historical building and all the LEED Certification details. But my favorite part and the reason for jumping at the chance to go was being able to see behind the scenes of the theater. I even brought my camera but was so interested in seeing everything that I never stoped to take a picture. Seeing all the lighting cables and fixtures brought back a flood of memories. The technical booth was very interesting (I wish we could have had some more time in there and a more detailed overview). I loved the feel you get when back stage. The notes left on the walls, the odd decor of the people who worked there. The feeling of family and creativity. I had a great time and the hour long tour just flashed by. I will have to remember to do that again.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Martian Child

Hey, these posts keep getting longer? I'll make this one short. Watched a movie last night called Martian Child. Based on a award-winning short story by David Gerrold (wrote the Trouble with Tribbles episode of Star Trek) about his experience adopting a troubled young boy and raising him as a single parent. Chris picked it out and as usual it was really good. It stars John Cusack and his sister Joan which we both love. Great story. It was one of those movies that you are surprised that 2 hours flew by and it was already over.

Sometimes we all feel like we must be from another planet.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Cats

After posting about working from home it made me think about the cats. I am a big animal lover which is probably one of the biggest reasons I have stayed a vegetarian for over 20 years. As a kid we had dogs, cats, fish, Guinea pigs, and rabbits. As an adult I have had birds but mostly cats. I really love dogs but they are VERY demanding of your time and I hate the thought of not being able to devote the attention they deserve. So I have stuck with cats. They are very independent and can have quite the personality. I got married when I was 20 in 1983 and we got our first cat, Merlin an orange tabby, that same year. He was the only cat we had for many years so he was VERY spoiled. I liked to ruff house with him so he was a bit of a hunter of peoples ankles and fingers. When we lost him to old age at 19 it was like loosing a member of our family and I wasn't in a rush to replace him. By that time we had also lost a female friend of his named muffy a few years earlier We also had a female kitten Chris found at the side of the rode that became Merlins best buddy named Maddie. We lost Maddie to old age just over a year ago but before that we started a new generation of cats.

In 2005 while setting up the Halloween display that we do every year we found a new guest that had the great habit of sharpening his claws on the foam decorations we built. He was a VERY friendly black and white tuxedo cat. After I got laid off I started leaving food out for him which he would gobble up and then hang around and nap and then disappear. We named him "Halloween" or "Hal" for short. As the days started getting colder after Halloween he would follow me to the back door wanted to be held and petted. One day, since I was home alone during the day, I just let him in. At that time we just had our older cat Maddie. Who didn't like the idea of Hal being in the house much. Maddie had always been an indoor cat and hated the outdoors (OK really was terrified of a leaf dropping on her). She eventually warmed up to him after weeks of hissing. Hal loved living in the house and didn't want to go outside all winter. He and I hung out all the time. After year you could see that Hal REALLY wanted to play with Maddie but she was too old to be bothered. Around that time I was taking her to the vet every day to get fluid IV's because of her failing kidneys. One day the vet set a cage out in the waiting room and stuck 2 kittens in it. They put a sign on the cage that said free to good home. The sign said the kittens names were Dorie and Mason. I told Chris about the kittens and after a few days we went down to check them out and brought them home. They were just little things and afraid of everything. Hal took to them right away and Maddie who was already used to Hal really didn't care about them (she was having her own issues with life at that point). Dorie is a grey and white short hair and is VERY small. Mason is a black and white short hair and is HUGE. He has VERY large paws and even after a year is still growing. Hal has fun chasing them around the house and playing with their toys. The kittens just love the open house to play in and have really settled in. Because Hal used to live outdoors in the neighborhood we don't worry about letting him outside. He never goes far and he is always in a hurry to get back inside where the FOOD is. The kittens are curious about the outside and last summer got out a few times and had to be wrangled back into the house. We are trying to keep them as indoor cats since they have no idea what is out there and would end up getting hurt or lost.

Hal will never replace our orange tabby Merlin but he is a unique personality in another chapter of our life. Now that Dorie and Mason are both a part of this house my days are filled with interesting adventures of the cats. Hal wanting in and out during the nice spring and summer days. The kittens finding new and interesting things to play with and get into which keeps me on my toes.

Working from home

Working from home isn't as great as it sounds. Sure, you get to dress how you want and can more or less set your own hours. But you also work alone. Or at least in my case. I don't have any kids and Chris works in an office all day. One of my friends will go to lunch with me once in a while just so I can talk with someone and get out in the world now and then. But sometimes I can go weeks without seeing anyone during the day. THAT can make you a little crazy. Surfing the internet is NOT a subsitute for real human interaction. I sometimes find myself be a little more chatty with the store clerks than I used to. Or if I haven't been around friends in a while I will catch myself dominating the conversation out of desperation.

The actual working is also a mixed blessing. No one disturbs me while I work (except for the occasional phone call) but I don't get to interact with my fellow employee's so I miss out on some of the work communication that goes on when cube hopping. You also don't get as much direction as you would within an office. This way of working isn't for the people who can't be self motivated.

Don't get me wrong I would take working from home over a normal office job any day. Not having to commute up to an hour to and from work, working in a sea of cubes, and conform to each and every corporate policy that is put in place is worth it.

I left my corporate job in November of 2005. I decided after 13 years of working for the same company to take a year off and do the things I didn't have time to do before. Turns out 12 months goes by pretty fast and you don't get as much done as you though you would. I worked as a contractor (which means you only get paid when you work) for a year before getting hired as a full time employee so technically I haven't really been working from home for very long. I will have to learn to deal with the few drawbacks to working this way as I continue to work from home.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My new blog

I started a blog were I can post stuff that interests me. I wanted a place where I could post stuff that didn't have to do with work, my wife and I or about stuff that happens at our house. We have other places for that stuff.

I've always had a fondness for Robots and Space since i grew up watching men walk on the moon and the toys of my generation were all NASA related.

One of my favorite Robot characters is Floyd from Infocom's Planetfall . Back in the day I had numerous little robot figures on my computer monitor all one form or another of Floyd in my mind. I still think I have a copy of the game somewhere?